• Samuel Bates’ birthday began rather unceremoniously; the harsh blast of metal against metal as his alarm began ringing tore him from a fitful sleep. He grunted wearily as he rubbed his eyes, feeling more tired than he had when he went to bed at about 2:00 that morning. With a grunt, he swung his legs over the edge of his bed and staggered to his bathroom. He’d recently spent the night over at a friend’s house, who’s little sister had hogged the bathroom for literally three hours after he’d woken up; the event still fresh in his mind, he praised the powers that be for his existence as an only child.

    The water from the showerhead pelted him like tiny little liquid fireballs. He attempted to say ‘ouch,’ but still wasn’t awake enough for verbal functions to be fully operational; he got out some half-breed sound somewhere between a yelp and a groan, hitting the cold tab and waiting for the water temperature to equalize.

    His exiting the shower nearly ended in disaster. Despite having actually woken up in the four-ish minutes he’d spent bathing, he somehow managed to trip himself in his own towel and plummet to the bathroom floor, slapping his hand against the counter and digging the edge of it along his palm.


    He glanced at the shallow wound and frowned; already, blood was beginning to well up from his skin. “Damn it,” he grunted, standing and turning on the sink. “That stings.”
    The running water certainly didn’t help. He hissed, ripping his hand back and trying to dry it off. It was his left hand, which was good. He was right handed, so this wouldn’t be too inconvenient. Besides, it was only a scratch. He grabbed a wad of paper towels, and clenched it as he began brushing his teeth.

    A few minutes later Sam found himself shoveling food down his gullet in a rush to get to school. He was already late, but his parents had both left for work earlier than he’d even woken up. His Dad had been going in early every day this week, some big project for a bank or something. He was in network security. Samuel honestly had no idea what that meant, but it sounded cool. His Mom was a therapist for rich people, or something.

    Psychotherapeutic blahbity blah, is about all he ever caught of her talking about it. Both of them always very busy, generally leaving Sam on his own. It was alright- he could always have friends over, or go to their houses.

    Besides, his best friend lived next door. A fact which he was reminded of as a rapping against the storm door sounded through the house.

    “What the hell, Sam? We’re so totally late, and I have a quiz first period!”

    That was Allie Mickleson. Next door neighbor, best friend. As Sam gulped down the remnants of milk from his cereal bowl and opened the door, he removed the bowl-mask and grinned; revealing a full-fledged milk moustache planted firmly across his face. “Sorry, Al. Had to fix this,” he muttered, lifting up his freshly bandaged hand.

    “What’d you do, play with yourself a little too hard?” She joked, laughing crudely and hopping up to seat herself squarely in the middle of the dinner table.

    “Something like that. Took a plunge in the bathroom, and this is what I get for trying to save myself,” he muttered, shrugging. “Reached for the counter, and I got it… But I guess this time it got me,” he said, chuckling as he simultaneously threw his cereal bowl into the sink and his bag around his shoulder. “Come on, let’s go.”

    Sam punched the button on his key, the headlights flashing in recognition of the car unlocking. He swung his door wide open and rooted his behind in the seat, cranking the key in the ignition.

    “Let’s get a little air going in here, it’s already like ninety degrees,” Allie complained, fanning herself as she hopped into the passenger seat. She paused for a moment, confused- she looked even smaller than usual, the seat cranked as far back and down as possible. “Who the hell was sitting here before me?” She asked, scooting forward and vertical. “The jolly green giant?”

    “Close enough. I drove John home from the baseball team’s get-together,” Sam answered, shrugging casually. “Tiny, not Cannonball John.” There were two Johns on the baseball team- Tiny, a six-foot-eight monster, and Cannonball John, named so for his near-professional level fastball. Sam wasn’t really friends with either of them, but Tiny was at least nice enough that Sam didn’t laugh at the idea of giving him a ride home.
    “Christ,” Allie said, glancing out the window. “Tiny is freaking huge, huh? You should really introduce us sometime,” she hinted, nudging him with her elbow and chuckling. “If you know what I mean.”

    Sam just rolled his eyes. He’d come to terms with the strangeness of their conversations long ago. Allie was a secret pervert, and apparently comfortable enough with Sam to joke about it all the time. He knew for a fact that she wasn’t as promiscuous as she might have come off, but it certainly didn’t help Sam’s case. Allie was quite an attractive girl, in all fairness. Light auburn hair just past her shoulders, curly as could be, lightly freckled all over her face and arms. Her eyes were an alarmingly bright green, like leaves with twin suns shining behind them.

    Those eyes turned toxic as the radio turned on; John was a fan of country music, and Sam was content to let him listen. He hadn’t changed the station after dropping him off… And Allie was definitely not pleased when her ears were greeted by the sounds of a banjo.
    “And that’s about all of that I can take,” she muttered, pressing her personal preset station, button number five. Almost immediately they were assailed by the wailing of guitars and impossible thundering of double bass drums, as some manner of metal song cropped up. “Much better.”

    Sam only rolled his eyes again. It was another thing you just had to get used to, with Allie. She’d gone from pop and boy bands to classic rock and alternative, and suddenly metal was her new groove. Sam wasn’t really complaining- it was only a step further down the road he was familiar with. Avenged Sevenfold and Disturbed posters owned most of the space on his own walls, so when Allie showed up one day with an album from two years ago raving about how fantastic it was and how much she’d been missing out, Sam couldn’t help but laugh.

    Then she got even further into the genre than he was, and it was fine with him. He got introduced to new music, which was cool- he wasn’t really too big on the music scene, having all the artistic talent of a salted snail. But he was a pretty damn good baseball player, better than half the guys on the team. So everyone had their niche, and it all worked. More or less.

    Their arrival at school was blocked by a trail of other seniors’ cars trying to parade about the parking lot; with their final days of school coming to a close, the eldest students began flaunting about their superiority every way they could think of. And of course, Sam joined right in. “Whoo, getting out of here!” He shouted from the window, cranking up the volume on the radio. Allie was half out the window already, screaming and flipping the bird to the school.

    That lasted all of five minutes before the administrators started coming out, and half the senior class peeled out. Sam was among that group, finding his parking spot inconspicuously and shuffling up to the school huddled next to Allie. As a distraction, she’d buried herself in her phone. Right about the time they made it to the door, her eyes widened suddenly as technology reminded her of something she probably should have remembered.

    “Saaaammmmyyyyy!” She cried, suddenly leaping at him and swinging wildly. “Happy birthday! One, twothreefourfivesixseveneightnineteneleventwelvethirteenfourteenfifteensixteenseventeeneighteen… And a pinch to grow an inch! I’ll see you at the party tonight!” She shouted, whaling on his arm as hard as she could and pinching the same spot. Once his arm was sufficiently numb, he staggered after her as she skipped off.

    He sighed, rubbing the now-limp limb. The party tonight? His parents never threw him parties. Wait… That’s right. Allie had convinced him to throw a party under the bridge across town. It was the ‘best’ party spot around, and he figured hey- eighteenth birthday, his parents weren’t going to do crap for him. He might as well enjoy himself. So after his family’s dinner- something they only did together on someone’s birthday- he’d sneak out and head on over to the bridge. But first, he had to get through school.

    First period was rather uneventful. History class. The teacher was also the football coach, and didn’t really give a crap about history or any of the students outside of the team; and since Sam was on the wrong team, he fell under that category. The curriculum had been more or less ignored completely, and he’d been done teaching since the second week of school. Sam fell into a dreamless sleep, if only to make up for the lack of it last night.
    The bell signaling the transition to second period startled Samuel out of his slumber- he nearly fell to the floor, but managed to stay seated. Mostly. He pushed himself up, giving a half-hearted attempt to wipe the red marks from his face where it’d been pressed against his arms, and tossed his bag over his left shoulder as he walked out the room.

    Second period. Pre-Calculus. Possibly the most evil class in existence, purely for torturing students. It didn’t help that their teacher was a French woman with a degree in mechanical engineering- the babble she spat at them daily was unintelligible on two levels for Sam. That was one of the classes he had with Allie- and they spent the vast majority of their time in that class in the back corner making fun of the teacher. The poor woman had earned the permanent title of Ms. Weasel, part due to her unfortunate name- Ms. Visell- and part due to her uncanny resemblance to the similarly named rodent.

    “Wonder how Ms. Weasel would react to a full lockdown,” Sam wondered one day. She was a new teacher, this being her first year- this was the first year they hadn’t gone on lockdown, which both spoiled and ruined the woman.

    “She’d probably faint. Or go on her phone and download a new app- the iSurrender,” Allie chuckled, scribbling a crude drawing of the woman holding her phone up- and a white flag emerging from the screen. Her artistic abilities far surpassed Samuel’s own- she was really good at drawing, and even this rough sketch was very well-done. The joke was more amusing when accompanied with the drawing, and Sam couldn’t stifle the chuckle.

    “What is so funny, my children?” The thick French accent smothered the words’ intimidating intent, causing him to only laugh harder.

    Getting sent out of class on his birthday wasn’t what he had in mind today, but it wouldn’t be the first time. “It’ll sure as hell be the last,” he muttered to himself- he’d never really planned on going to college, despite his parents insisting; he wasn’t really sure what he was going to do, but he was definitely done with school.

    In the room for ‘At-School-Suspension,’ or as it was called by students, the a** room, the man at the desk sighed when he saw Sam walk in. Dark brown skin crinkled into a frown as the boy approached the desk. “Hey, Mr. Neil,” Sam muttered, giving a little wave.

    “Sam. You’re a good kid,” the man grunted, scribbling his name on the attendance sheet. “You need to pull your act together. Don’t you want to get a good education, a good job? A good life,” he said, frowning. “Quit fooling around.”

    “But Mr. Neil,” Sam replied simply, shrugging. “Fooling around is what makes life good.”
    He went into the room and took another nap.

    Third period rolled around, meaning one thing in particular- lunch. He hurried into the cafeteria, getting as far as possible towards the front of the line. It was survival of the fattest, and he needed him some grub.

    After grabbing two platefuls of spaghetti, three rolls, hiding a yogurt in his pocket, and a square of cake in his bag, he rolled up to his usual spot and set about devouring it all. One of his favorite pastimes was gorging himself on disgusting government food. Allie sat right across from him, setting down her brought-from-home bag of carrots or whatever it was she ate. She was one of those girls who saw that slaughterhouse video in the sixth grade and never touched meat again.

    “You’re gonna shrivel up and die if all you ever eat is rabbit food,” Sam grunted, smirking as he wiped the last of the icing from his lip.

    “And you’re gonna get intestinal infections and cancer if all you ever eat is frozen, undercooked government issue pink-paste,” she countered, crunching noisily on a carrot. He glanced at her as he often did, momentarily considering her as a potential girl rather than a best friend. She definitely wasn’t shriveling up… But those thoughts were shaken from his head as the ‘popular’ kids stepped up to the table. Sam wasn’t really a ‘freak,’ but he definitely wasn’t popular- he was a pretty average kid, unrecognized and not suitable prey. Allie, on the other hand, was a vegetarian actress with a tendency to overdramatize everything, wear anime-based shirts, and laugh a little bit too loud. Definitely a target.

    “Excuse me,” the ring-leader said. A kid named Lucas, Luke for short, blonde and buzzed, electric blue eyes and a butt crack chin. He was too rich to go to a public school, but with parents too stingy to send him to a private one- so, his parents obviously not loving him enough, sent him to public school to save money. “But I think you’re in my seat.”

    “And I think you’re mistaken,” Sam said, grunting as he stood. He had an inch and a half on Luke, but Luke might have weighed twenty pounds more. Sam was definitely not an expert fighter, but baseball wasn’t the only thing he had a mean swing with. He’d gotten in his fair share of scraps, not quite enough to build a reputation on but certainly enough to know how to handle himself against a kid who probably asked for painting lessons instead of boxing lessons. “So how’s about you cowboy the ******** down, before things get unpleasant?”

    “I’m pretty sure that doesn’t even make sense. Then again, I don’t speak weirdo, so I wouldn’t know,” Luke said, smirking at Samuel all smug-like.

    “That’s a nice comeback, Luke. Did your mommy hire someone to write it for you? Heaven knows you’re not creative enough to come up with anything like that by yourself,” he said, chuckling. He knew that would strike a chord- Luke was in his third period class, Creative Writing, and thought himself some sort of creative genius. In all honesty, Sam was a better writer and he didn’t even try… But he’d never commented on it until now.

    “You little ********!” Luke accused, pointing at Sam’s chest. The rich kid’s posse rounded up close, observing and ready to jeer on if a fight happened.

    “You might want to watch your mouth,” Sam muttered, nodding to a quickly-approaching teacher. He chuckled as Luke’s eyes widened. “What’s the matter? Afraid if you get caught mommy’ll cut your allowance by a thousand dollars? Oh, boo-hoo,” he chuckled, turning back to his seat.

    “You better watch your back, Sam. We’ve only got a few days of school left,” he warned, as if implying he couldn’t get in trouble because it was so late in the year. “I’m coming for you.”
    “Oh, you come on back whenever you want. Just make sure you bring toilet paper,” Sam said, waving him off dismissively.

    “Toilet… Paper? The ******** are you talking about?” Luke raised an eyebrow, obviously confused.

    Sam grinned. He really made this too easy. “Yeah, toilet paper. So you can wipe your a** after I’m done beating the s**t out of you.”

    The look on Luke’s face was absolutely priceless.

    Third period’s actual class time was perhaps the slowest of all. The work was easy enough, just to write a free-topic story, then some of the unluckier class members had to read them aloud. Luke volunteered, as always- his story was about an unfortunate puppy named- you guessed it- Sam- that got hit by a car. It was poorly written and not even funny, but Sam just rolled his eyes. Stupid kid.

    Fourth period passed with all the speed and painlessness of a cancerous death. It was Study Hall, and even though he could see Allie just across the library, all they could do was sit there and make faces at each other for ninety minutes while the clock took its sweet time getting to three o’clock. When that magical time finally rolled around, they were already lined up at the door.

    The final bell lifted an enormous weight from Sam’s heart; he rushed from the library before the teacher could even begin to protest, dragging Allie right behind him- he nearly mowed down a group of freshman on his way to his car, and just about got a speeding ticket halfway home. But he made it, unscathed and out of trouble. A wave to Allie was the only thing that slowed him from getting from his car to the house. He dropped his backpack in the garage, scoffing at the idea of homework, and rushed up to his room. After updating his status on every social network he was part of to “LOLZ HAPPY B-DAY 2 ME,” he closed his laptop and turned on the video games.

    Halfway through a riveting round of slaughtering aliens, a familiar knock resounded on his door. “C’min,” Sam grunted, knowing she would anyway- his mom had very little regard for his so-called ‘privacy,’ basically barging in whenever she wanted. At least he wasn’t doing anything embarrassing this time.

    “Come on down for dinner, sweetie,” she coaxed, peeking her head through the crack in the door. She almost sounded sad, but Samuel was far too distracted to notice. His stomach growled as he turned to look at his parental unit. Black hair in a loose bun rested atop a wide forehead; beady little eyes shining with vitality hung over her plump cheeks, and smile-lines crinkled as she urged him on. She seemed a little off- the shining eyes seemed fake, almost glazed over, and the smile was definitely forced. But his stomach kept him from wondering. He stood, a full head and a half taller than his mother, and followed the woman down the stairs to the kitchen table. Seated there was his father, shiny head and salt-and-pepper beard staring solemnly at the table through thick glasses.

    But infinitely more concerning was the man at the far end of the table, grinning at him with pointed baby-teeth. Fierce blue eyes, cold as ice, gave an empty glare as they watched him approach the table; his slicked back hair almost made him look like one of those old-fashioned mobsters, thanks to the white pinstripe suit he wore. But the most alarming part of this strange figure was definitely the veins visible just beneath his skin; for most people, they were bluish green and hidden. But this man’s arms and neck were crisscrossed with sharp little black lines, almost as if someone had traced over his circulatory system with Sharpie. On closer inspection, the lines writhed beneath his skin- almost as if they were alive.

    The man’s appearance gave Sam the straight up creeps, not to mention he just seemed… Bad, somehow. Allie would have called it an aura. But he glanced between his parents, both solemnly staring at the man, and shook his head. The silence had stretched out for nearly thirty seconds now. “Alright, who the hell is this guy?”

    “Sam, I…” His father began, voice halting as the man leaned forward. The obvious tension and discomfort in the room seemed to be tickling this man pink; he chuckled inwardly as he stood up and extended his hand.

    “Pleased to meet you, Sam m’boy. The name’s Lucifer.”

    Sam instinctively reached for the hand, but the name froze his appendage. “Wait. What? Did you say-“

    “Yes. Lucifer. As in, Satan, the Devil, Father of Lies… I’ve gathered something of a menagerie of titles over the years. As I’m sure you can imagine,” he chuckled softly, nodding again at the hand. “It’s alright, I don’t bite. Much. No, wait. Yes I do,” he said, his chuckle suddenly escalating to a wheezing cackle.

    Sam frowned, glancing between his parents now. “Mom. Dad. Seriously, who is this psycho?” The initial shock of the introduction was over; disbelief was just about the only thing he had in mind now. This guy thought he was the freaking Devil! Sam would have laughed, if the man hadn’t been sitting at his kitchen table. And so goddamn creepy.
    “Sam… Do you remember how your mom and I told you… When you were a baby,” he said, stopping suddenly as Sam waved him off.

    “Yeah, yeah. Really sick, about to die. Then there was some miracle and I made it. I know, I’ve heard it a thousand times,” he muttered, rolling his eyes. “What the hell does it have to do with this guy?”

    “We were so scared, Sam. We didn’t want to lose you,” his mother said, suddenly tearing up. “We’d prayed and prayed… But you only got worse. The doctors said you had a few hours left, and… I couldn’t lose my baby!” She suddenly sobbed, clutching his arm and burying her face into it.

    “So we did something we’re not proud of,” his father cut in, sighing and pressing his glasses further against his face. “We… Prayed in the other direction.”

    The man cackled again, wheezing as he leaned back in his chair, crossed one leg over the other and spread his hands apart. “Ask, and you shall receive… For the right price.”
    Now he was freaked out. His parents, honest, hardworking people, good people, were dealing with the Devil? The honest-to-goodness Devil?

    “Hold on. Just hold on a freaking minute,” Sam grunted, waving his hands in front of his face and backing away from the table. “I’m not even sure you even freaking exist, dude- are you seriously the Devil?”

    “Seriously, honestly and truly. Cross my heart and hope to die,” he said, smirking to himself. He even drew his finger across his chest, but where his finger went, it left a trail of ash; the X he drew suddenly began splitting open, black sludge flowing over his white suit as he pointed to a particularly solid chunk of sludge. It was a heart. Still beating.

    Sam almost vomited at the sight of it, his mother drawing back and shielding her eyes; his father simply closed his eyes and clasped his fingers, as if praying. The Devil pushed his chest back into place, the black sludge seeping back into the wound as he grinned. “Now then. Down to business. You two, you owe me.” He said, pointing to Sam’s parents. They looked to each other, tears flowing freely now; they both took Sam’s hands and hugged him, apologizing in their own way.

    “We did it because we love you,” his father said quietly- his mother was too busy sobbing herself into a coma to say anything understandable.

    “I still don’t… What in the world?” Sam grunted, eyes glancing between his parents. Almost frightened now that his parents were crying, the boy was definitely worried. He wasn’t entirely convinced this guy was the real deal, even after the gruesome display- he was definitely not human, but he wasn’t sure he hadn’t hallucinated the whole night so far. Maybe this was all a dream? Nightmare, he corrected. Definitely nightmare.

    “Yes, yes, very touching. Goodbye, mommy and daddy,” the Devil chuckled, giving a little wave; his parents were suddenly enveloped in shadow, seemingly being sucked into the ground. It was so quick, he almost didn’t know what was going on.


    “Now, Sam. Those were your parents, they sold themselves to me to save you.” the man muttered simply, standing up. “Where’s their thanks? Oh, wait… They sold you, too,” he muttered, chuckling. Sam’s eyes widened at the news, and he backed up a step.

    “That’s right, Sammy-boy. Your a** is mine. Soul, too,” he added, cackling hysterically as he walked through the table. Not around, not over- literally straight through, as if it weren’t even there. “But, there’s good news! Y’see, your parents weren’t so lucky. They got a one-way ticket to the Lake of Fire. But I’m gonna offer you a little proposition, which I suggest you listen to pretty carefully.”

    After another long moment of silence, Sam pushed the sudden surge of emotions back and swallowed whatever outburst he’d had coming. “… What?”

    The pale man grinned at the word, cracking his knuckles as he stepped forward. “Fantastic. Here’s the deal, sport. I don’t know what kind of crazy stories they’ve been telling you down here, but I’m not the bad guy. Not really. Sure, there was a few thousand years where I was a little… Harsher than I probably should have been. But honest, I’m on the same side as you guys. Hell, like, the place… it’s a prison for the souls not worth saving, the demons and such. I’m like… The warden, you might say.”

    The little voice in the back of Sam’s head was too confused to scream bullshit- mind still reeling from his parents’ sudden disappearance, he simply stared blankly at the spot they’d been. As if finally understanding they’d gone, he knelt and touched the spot they’d stood in. Cold, frosted over, black scorch marks in their place. And even those were fading rapidly. He stood, swallowing the sudden rush of comprehension- he didn’t want to go to Hell, but this guy, this Devil- he wasn’t making any sense.

    “I don’t understand,” Sam grunted, frowning at the lack of connection. How was he supposed to stay out of Hell, exactly?

    “Trivialities,” the Devil muttered, waving the topic away like a cloud of gnats. “The important part to remember is this- Hell is a prison. And it’s far from a perfect prison; we have escapes a lot more than people thing. Especially in the last few years. With all the new souls coming in all the time, it’s a lot for me to keep track of. Sure, I’m good… At least, at what I do… But I’m not that good,” he muttered, shrugging. “So what I’m asking of you is simple. You can stay out of Hell, if you’ll go around and bring the escapees back to me. Simple stuff, easy-peasy.”

    Sam paused for a second, raising an eyebrow. “You want me… To capture escaped souls, and bring them back to Hell.” He frowned, struggling desperately to process the information. “Wait. You’re telling me to be a demon hunter?”

    “It’s either that, or go to Hell. Sorry, champ, but that’s just the hand you got dealt. What can I say? Life’s not fair. But at least you got a chance, right?” He chuckled, raising an eyebrow. “So, whaddaya say? Help your old Uncle Satan out?”

    “Don’t call yourself that anymore and you’ve got a deal,” Sam muttered, shakily attempting a joke in an effort to force back the tide. Parents in hell, eighteenth birthday, his soul belonging to the Devil, forced into demon hunting… This was turning out to be a hell of a night.
    “Fantastic. That’s just spiffy,” the Devil said, grinning maliciously as he stepped forward and held his hand out. “Shake on it.” The command wasn’t in the smooth used-car-salesman voice he’d been using so far; there was a subtle undertone of absolute authority. Almost as though, if he refused now, the man would find some terrible way of ending his life. Which, considering who it was, wasn’t exactly a very far-fetched idea. He reached hesitantly for the pale hand, and as soon as he was close enough it snagged him in a cold, wet embrace.
    The Devil’s skin was greasy, ice-cold and slick as if covered in a thin film of mucus. It was like shaking hands with a giant frozen worm. The veins, still visibly black, writhed awkwardly at his touch. He felt sudden pinches in his hands, which grew to a raging fire in seconds. He screamed, trying to pull his hand back, but the Devil held tight; with a grin, the man actually squeezed Samuel’s hand tighter.

    The boy watched in horror as his arms began shaking; the black lines wriggled up underneath his own skin, snaking up his arm. The feeling of flames spread with them, the shrieking agony piercing his skin as the lines met just over his heart. They circled and came to the surface, and the world flashed blue; Sam almost passed out, knees giving out as he fell. Satan held him up with the one hand, chuckling as he tore Sam’s shirt off and smiled at the fresh branding mark. A black pentagram, almost looking like a tattoo, now rested over the boy’s heart. He gave a mirthless laugh, icy eyes locking with Sam’s as the world began fading.

    “Happy birthday.”