Bobby was mad a lot. He was 12, and during the first week of middle school a couple months earlier, one of his new school’s not so friendly wiseasses, Tanner Spohr, had seen Bobby’s name on a quiz. They were all passing their papers up the rows to the front of the room, and as the papers passed through Tanner’s hands, Bobby’s paper was on top. Bobby had written his name, Bobby O’Dour, as he always did on his papers, but the repugnant Tanner, who was bummed because he’d not known many of the answers to the quiz questions, let his eyes run over that name and his bad mood encouraged him to take liberties with what he saw. Outside during lunch that day, he approached Bobby O’Dour and rechristened him Body Odor, and unfortunately, as often happens, the degrading name stuck. The smart kid in the class then mentioned, in the aloof, nitpicking, pedagogical way he affected, that they were being rude, calling Bobby that, and they should merely use his initials instead: BO. Then he cackled. No one liked him much.
But, from then on, some kids called Bobby O’Dour Body Odor, while some others, being more miserly with their speech patterns, simply called him BO. All of which explained why Bobby was so often mad. 12-year-old boys don’t like to be called names, and ones that disparage his person are deeply hurtful.
Halloween was coming up soon, and Bobby wasn’t in the mood to celebrate it. He was fretting and stewing in his room, alone as usual, checking out his favorite website, AwesomeDude.com, because he felt some growing empathy for and a connection with many of the characters in the stories there. First off, he went to the Forum section of the site, a place he visited frequently but where he never participated. He was a kid, and the inhabitants there seemed to be very wise and sophisticated men; he was afraid if he made a comment, he might be scorned, ridiculed or scathed as he was at school over his unfortunate name, and so he merely eavesdropped. Uh, eavesread? OK: snooped.
One of his favorite places to visit in the Forum was the Raccoon’s Den, and that was because often this guy who used the strange handle Lugnutz would post funny posters. Bobby didn’t understand some of them, but some were really funny. He was in a dark mood, even darker than usual, because he didn’t know what to do for Halloween this year, now that he had that horrid name. He’d lost his friends because of this new moniker he’d been stuck with, and that meant if he went trick or treating, he’d be doing it alone—something he wasn’t about to do. What kind of a loser went trick or treating alone? Not him, that was for sure!
So his mood was as black as a witch’s nightgown, and he felt a little humor might help. So he went online to the bestest website he knew and yes, Lugnutz had another dozen or so posters to scan.
He was looking through them when one in particular caught his attention. It showed a contract with the devil, a precursor to obtaining worldly pleasures in exchange for eternal damnation. Bobby read it over and over, then dropped onto his bed and allowed his mind to take over. Sure, it was all just nonsense, this devil stuff. But what if…
What Bobby didn’t know—what most kids don’t know—was that the devil is real. Oh, he isn’t a physical entity. Not at all. Instead, he works on a different plane. When he visits the temporal world it is by entering thoughts and feelings, dancing on wishes and desires. His dark magic is best worked in his favorite place of all—in dreams. There he can conduct his business in private with a one-on-one audience and without nettlesome interruptions. Bobby fell asleep during that afternoon’s catnap with thoughts of the devil racing around in his head. Such an invitation wasn’t missed by the Evil One, and the path to Bobby’s subconscious was like a broad highway without guardrails or speed limits. Old Beelzebub, the dire djinn, stepped in, looked around, smiled, and settled in for a visit.
Satan spent some wonderful, productive time with Bobby that afternoon, encouraging, seducing, bargaining, and when he was done, he had what he’d come for. Their contract wasn’t all printed out, neat and final with prerequisites and particulars, entertainments and entanglements, captivations and cautions all spelled out for a notarized signature and date stamp. No, the devil didn’t work that way. He gained acceptance of will, an agreement of spirit, and this often proceeded with the subject, when he woke, unaware of the contract that had been negotiated. But, what the Foul One had accomplished with Bobby was exactly what he wanted. It was an afternoon well spent by the devil.
Bobby was dressed as a devil Halloween night. He’d convinced his parents he should be left to hand out candy to the kids who came calling their singsong trick or treat cries in high-pitched voices. His father was delighted with this as he hated the constant ringing of the doorbell on Halloween night. It caused Fritzi, their Cockapoo, to do her crazy-barking dance—Mr. O’Dour called it her crazy-making dance—and thirty or forty times of this in a two-hour stretch was more than his nerves could take. So Mr. and Mrs. O’Dour were having a pleasant dinner with cocktails at Antonio’s, and Bobby was holding the fort.
‘Holding the fort’ was the wrong phrase. But ‘holding the hell’ wasn’t a term that could be used to draw kiddies into his lair. He’d invite them in, and they’d be inside before seeing the red décor, the crepe paper flames writhing in a fan’s breath, the blinking red Christmas lights draped over an old manikin his mother used for making clothes. The manikin itself was also dressed in red, and Bobby had festooned it with horses’ hooves he’d made out of Styrofoam, painted black. It also had a long tail made from red-dyed twisted rope. Spooky music came from his CD player, set on auto-repeat, accompanied with howling and groaning sounds he’d made.
Kids came and went, scared or not according to their sensibilities. Bobby gave out hard candies and soft, chocolates and gum drops, Tootsie rolls and caramels, suckers and gum balls, and the kids left happy. Except for the scared ones.
As the time passed the kids showing up at the door grew progressively older, their trick-or-treat entreaties deeper pitched. And then it happened.
He opened the door and found Tanner Spohr standing with three of his friends. All four of them had been merciless in their teasing of Bobby. All four of them now confronted him.
Tanner was dressed as a heavyweight Ultimate Fighting Championship bruiser. His cronies were a dog catcher with a fake bottle of euthanizing serum hanging out of one pocket, dog biscuits from another; a flasher with his long coat which he opened when he saw no adults accompanying Bobby at the door, displaying a dildo blinking on and off in red and yellow lights; and a cave man dragging a life-sized girl doll behind him which he was holding by her hair.
“It’s Body Odor! Look, guys. It’s Body Odor! What’re you giving out, deodorant?” Tanner laughed riotously at his joke.
“Don’t call me that,” said Bobby, pressing the button in his pocket that made his eyes look red and smoke lift from his hair.
“Body Odor! Body Odor! Body Odor!” Tanner chanted. The other three pitched in and it sounded like a quartet of squealing rats to Bobby.
“Would you gentlemen like to step into my devil’s den?” Bobby asked, ignoring the taunts.
Tanner entered, bumping Bobby aside as he did so. His posse followed. “Whoa!” he said. “What cruddy faked-up thing is this?!” He reached out to touch the moving flames, then grabbed them and yanked. Down they came.
“And look and this fake devil!” Tanner walked over to the manikin and, striking a UFC fighter pose and scowl, gave it a vicious karate chop, knocking its head off. He grinned. “That’ll show him! There’s a new numero uno in town!”
Bobby watched, expressionlessly. While Tanner was still strutting around, being egged on by the other three, Bobby took the opportunity to say, “You’re not so tough. You’re probably afraid to go into my Devil’s Chamber, where only the foolhardy go, and from which many do not return.” He pointed at the door to the hall closet which bore the hand-printed sign, “Please enter. Fun inside. You betcha!”
Tanner strode over and jerked open the door. “Hah,” he said. “It’s just a closet. A large, empty closet.”
“Yes, that’s what it appears to be,” Bobby said, attempting to sound mysterious. “But that’s deceit. Deception. Trickery.” He drew out the last word, rolled his eyes and pressed the button in his pocket for effect. “If it looked like what it was, no one would enter, and for it to work, anyone going in there has to do so of his own volition.”
“What? What’s it supposed to be?” Tanner asked in a scornful voice, obviously not impressed by Bobby’s closet.
“It’s the gateway to hell. Tremble, ye who enter. Only the innocent shall return.” Bobby said this in as frightening voice as he could muster, which wasn’t very scary at all. But then he changed his tone back to normal, except he managed to add a mocking tone to it. “You don’t look innocent to me, Tanner. I’d really caution you not to go in there. If you do, make sure you don’t shut the door behind you. When the door closes, the light goes off, and that would be the end of you.”
Tanner looked at Bobby incredulously. “Do you expect me to believe that? Watch!”
Tanner stepped into the closet and banged the door shut after him. Then, after a moment of silence, the boys heard a sudden shriek, followed by a sustained scream that faded away as if it was getting farther and farther away till in the end they heard a disquieting silence.
One of Tanner’s friends, after being frozen in place for several seconds, edged up to the door and very slowly, very carefully opened it slightly and peeked in through the crack.
The light turned on as the door opened, revealing an empty closet.
“Wow!” said Bobby. “This is just like a dream I had!” His eyes were alive and sparkling with inner knowledge.
“Wait!” one of the trio said. “Where is he? We need to find him!”
Bobby got a gleam in his eye, a wicked gleam. “Why don’t the three of you step in and see if you can find a clue to what happened to him?”
They all looked at each other, then stepped into the closet. The door swung shut behind them. Their screams were accompanied by the faint odors of fire and brimstone, briefly detected drifting out from under the door.
Somewhere, on an unearthly plane, the Prince of Darkness smiled, satisfied with four new souls, and with his bargain to leave Bobby to his own destiny in trade for a dark soul. Getting four was a bonus.
~ The End ~