“No!” Irwin Ingrams lunged for the power strip, but too late. A flash of heat and the stench of sulfur told him so.
He groaned and slowly swiveled around in his chair. Looming behind him was a seven-foot-tall creature with eagle talons and huge bat wings. Coal-red cat’s eyes glared down from a noseless face, as saliva dripped from vicious fangs.
“I am Gaap,” the demon said, his deep voice reverberating in Irwin’s tiny home office, “prince of Hell, commander of sixty-six legions of demons. You have summoned me —”
“It wasn’t me,” Irwin shouted. “It was some spell spam, a program in my email!”
“— with the sacred glyph —”
“Displayed on the computer monitor!”
” — and by invoking my name ten thousand times.”
“Which the computer played in one second. Didn’t you notice the high-pitched voice?”
“So now I shall claim my bounty and devour your soul!” Gaap took an enormous stride toward Irwin. Then he suddenly stopped, his nose and mouth twisting to one side as if he’d slammed into a huge pane of glass.
Irwin sighed in relief and slumped back in his chair. “Salt Pentacle Office Chair Mat,” Irwin said, smiling and pointing down. “Only twenty-nine ninety-five, on sale. Guaranteed to stop demons flat.”
He pushed his black-rimmed glasses back up and brushed his dark, greasy hair off his forehead. “I knew I should have updated that anti-curse software,” he muttered to himself, nervously scratching a pimple. “Now what do I do?”
He rummaged through his pile of computer manuals, second-hand sci-fi novels and World of Warcraft strategy books, as the demon felt along the barrier. “Ah, here it is,” Irwin said, tossing aside an old issue of Playboy and grabbing his copy of Demonology for Computer Nerds. He quickly flipped through the pages until he found the entry on Gaap. Let’s see…Prince of seventh circle…can instantly teleport people…married seven times, divorced once…captain of the lava polo team…ah ha, ‘How to Dispel.’ “You’re outta here, Gaap.”
He suddenly felt a gust of hot breath on his head. Glancing up, he saw Gaap standing behind his chair.
Irwin gulped. “There’s a tiny gap in the salt circle, isn’t there?”
“Uh-huh.” Gaap seized Irwin by the neck and lifted him to the ceiling. “Foolish mortal, never buy salt circles on sale. Now pay the price!”
“Wait!” Irwin choked out, remembering the chapter on Emergency Measures. “I invoke a Wager.”
Gaap smiled. “A Wager? What do you have to bet? I already have your soul.”
“Uh…” Irwin said, thinking fast, “my first born?”
“Pfft. As often as you date, I’d never collect.”
“You’re probably right,” Irwin muttered. “My collection of classic Jimi Hendrix albums?”
“He plays every month at the Asbestosdome.” Gaap grinned, then opened his mouth, wider and wider until it loomed beneath him like a great white shark.
“All right! All right!” Irwin croaked, grabbing hold of Gaap’s horns and bracing his feet against his lower fangs. He could feel the demon’s upper fangs digging into his ample stomach. “I didn’t want to mention this but — I have an advanced copy of Warcraft DCLXVI.”
Gaap’s mouth snapped shut. “That’s impossible. Even we can’t get a copy of that, and we can do anything.”
“Anything? Can you get lost?” Irwin said hopefully.
“Better guys than you have tried that trick, Tom Swift,” Gaap growled, “and it doesn’t work anymore. Neither does declaring your soul previously pledged to another or getting some fancy-talking lawyer to speak for you. And don’t even think about playing a fiddle. We’ve been practicing. Now, how did you get that game?”
“My old college roommate Loren is on the development team, and passed me a beta version, uh, under the table.”
“Blast. I’ve been working on them for months on my off-time with no luck,” Gaap said. He frowned for a moment, his eyes flicking back and forth. “All right, agreed. But you’d better have that software, or else you’re in big trouble!”
“Worse than now?” Irwin muttered.
“WHAT?” Gaap roared.
“Nothing,” Irwin squeaked.
Gaap snapped his claws, and suddenly Irwin was in a great cavern. A river of lava flowed through the middle, making the rocks on each side glow red hot. A stream of water flowed into the lava, issuing billows of steam. And on each side of the river were two lines of the damned, chained to fourteen-inch computer monitors, their eyes held open with hooks, their wrists the size of overstuffed sausages. The sound of typing echoed in the chamber.
“Oh God, it’s Computer Limbo,” Irwin said.
“Yeah,” Gaap said, gazing appreciatively. “I thought you might want to see your new home before we started.”
Gapp snapped his claws again, and next to him appeared a huge balance scale, like the scales of justice, only the size of a Mac truck.
“Here’s the game. On your side of the scales, I’ll put any quantity of anything you want. I’ll put the same thing on my side of the scale, but twice the amount. Whosever side tips the scales wins.”
“Hey! That’s not fair!”
Gaap grinned. “Fair? Where do you think you are, the other place? Oh, your software is fully compatible with previous versions of Warcraft, right?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Irwin said, biting his lip and fiddling with a button on his flannel shirt. Demonology said nothing about this situation. “What if it’s a tie?”
“Eh, I’ll give it to you,” Gaap said.
“And I have to put something on the scale?”
“Yep. And it’s very precise.” Gaap held his thumb and finger together, reached out and opened them over the scales. The scale on the right slammed down. “That was an electron,” he said, smiling.
Irwin’s collar began to swell with sweat, and not just from the heat. Aw, man, what am I going to do? It’s going to be like working for a temp agency again, only at triple full time and with no vacation, weekends or coffee breaks. And without even Solitaire to break the monotony. I’m sunk.
“OK, then,” Irwin said, taking a deep breath and hoping he had not dreamed that particular day in math class. “I choose feathers.”
“Fine.” Gaap blew the electron off the scales, and watched them balance out. Then three white chicken feathers suddenly appeared in the demon’s claws. One he put one the left side and two on right. The scales dropped to the right.
“Hold it, I didn’t say how many.” Irwin licked his lips. “I choose an infinite amount.”
“Trying to postpone the inevitable, eh? Watch this.” Three more feathers appeared in Gaap’s claws. He waited half a minute, then dropped them onto the scales. Fifteen seconds later he dropped three more, then seven seconds later three more, then three seconds later. He kept halving the time until he was a blur, then not even that as the columns of feathers raced up through the cavern’s roof.
“Zeno would be proud,” Irwin muttered as he watched the right side shoot up twice as fast as the left.
In a minute it was done and Gaap came sliding down his column of feathers. “So, where is the game?” Gaap asked, rubbing his talons.
“Check the scales first,” Irwin said, pointing.
Gaap turned to see the right scale slowly rise until it was level with the left side. “What?”
“That’s one of the weird things about infinity. An infinite amount is an infinite amount. One pile of everything is the same as twice a pile of everything. It’s still everything.”
Gaap frowned, thinking. “Blast. Math always was my worst subject.”
“Uh, how about physics?” Irwin asked as he watched the columns tremble. “What happens when two infinite masses are balanced on an infinitely strong scale?”
Suddenly the columns tipped over, sending a blizzard of feathers pouring down. In moments, the cavern was blanketed in white. Flames leaped from the river of lava. Smoke issued from the cavern walls. And the damned stopped typing for the first time in years as feathers covered their monitors.
“GAAP!” a menacing voice boomed.
“The boss!” Gaap raised a claw at Irwin. “This is not over, mortal! So don’t do anything with that game.” Gaap waved his arm, and Irwin was suddenly back in his office as if nothing had happened.
He looked around incredulous for a moment, then slumped back in his chair. “I hate starting out weekends like this,” he muttered.
He reached for his mouse to shut down his computer, but as he maneuvered it toward the START button, his shaking hand accidentally touched the left mouse button — opening another email.
“NO!” Irwin cried as he dove for the power strip, but the flash of light and the smell of brimstone told him again it was too late. He picked up his Demonology book and slowly turned.
A gorgeous woman in a skimpy negligee stood behind him. Voluptuous hips balanced out her large breasts, and thick, curly blonde hair nicely topped out the package. She smiled, pulling back luscious lips to reveal sparkling-white teeth, and winked at him with a sky-blue eye.
Wow. She’d win every beauty contest there ever was, Irwin thought, if she could just get rid of those goat’s horns and that spiked tail.
“Why, hello there, cutie,” the succubus purred. “Whatcha doing tonight?”
He glanced one last time at Demonology for Computer Nerds. “Now this one I can handle myself,” Irwin said, tossing the book aside.
Andrew F. Rey is a technical writer originally from Pomona, CA, now residing in San Diego with his wife Deborah, son Josh, and way too many pets. Some of his other short stories can be found in the anthologies “Renunciates of Darkover” and “Empire of Dreams and Miracles,” and at ComputorEdge magazine.
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