Mrs Meredith Meets The Devil

......When Mrs Meredith met the Devil, she was surprised. She went to the park most afternoons to feed the ducks, and invariably chose the same bench. It was unusual for anyone to join her. After all, she told herself philosophically, who would want to sit and spend time with a decrepit old lady? So, it was something of a novelty when she found herself sharing the bench with a handsome young man.
......Of course, she did not immediately realise the young man was the Devil. That he seemed to suddenly appear at her side out of nowhere, she put down to missing his approach due to her eyes and ears not being what they used to be. Moreover, the young man did not look like the Devil. True, he wore a dark, pointed goatee beard, but that seemed to be the fashion among the young these days. His ears were a little pointed and his eyebrows were perhaps more arched than the norm, but they did not detract from his attractiveness. His eyes were a little disconcerting however; they were narrow and very dark and somehow they seemed to glow, though the afternoon sun reflecting from them could explain this. Despite these small reservations, Mrs Meredith thought the young man quite devastatingly handsome and felt exceedingly flattered he had chosen to join her on the park bench.
......It was only when the young man flashed a disarming smile at her and began to speak that Mrs Meredith realised she had been quite rudely staring at him for some time. "It's a lovely day, isn't it?" he said in a deep voice that came from a long way down, "It makes you feel good to be alive, doesn't it?"
......What a lovely smile he had! Though, weren't his teeth ever so oddly sharp and pointed? Mrs Meredith felt rather flustered; it was rare nowadays to be addressed so politely by the young, especially one so charming. Dear me, she felt suddenly shy and girlish! "Yes, yes it's a beautiful day. When you get to my age, you appreciate the warmth of the sun. It eases the arthritis; helps you forget your aches and pains," she replied, all in a rush. Then - goodness me, why had she said that? Whatever would he think of her? She had always tried not to be one of those old women that go on about their ailments and complaints, and here she was, doing that very thing. She wouldn't blame him if he stifled a yawn and got up and left her.
......However, the young man did not make a hurried departure. Instead, he moved closer to Mrs Meredith and, his deep voice oozing interest and sympathy, said, "Why, you look very sprightly to me. I can't believe you're troubled by the slightest twinge. Surely, you're still in your prime?"
......"Oh, that's very nice of you, young man," she answered, feeling slightly gooey inside - his smile really was enchanting. "But I can assure you I'm not. I'm seventy-five next birthday - if I ever get there - every day's a struggle and I sometimes wonder if it's worth it." There she went again, burdening him with her problems, he must think her a dreary old bore.
......But if anything, the young man became even more sympathetic, "Really?" he said, his voice a resonating purr, "Surely you can't feel that way?"
......"Oh, but I do. Why, I'd give anything to be as young as you." Why had she said that? She didn't normally feel sorry for herself. There was just something about the young man that drew these things out of her.
......"Oh you'd be surprised how old I am," the young man replied, "I'm much older than I look - much older"
......What a strange thing to say, thought Mrs Meredith, he couldn't be more than twenty-four or five. "All the same," she said, "I wish I was young again."
......The young man drew even closer to her, and for the first time Mrs Meredith felt slightly uncomfortable in his company. She noticed his breath smelled quite unpleasant. Sort of sulphurous, was the best way she could describe it. And his eyes definitely glowed; she was sure of it now. More than that: they glittered and flickered, as if ... as if there was a fire behind them. Now his voice came from even deeper down, so deep it seemed to echo. "So," he said, "You want to be young again, do you?"
......"Er ... well," mumbled Mrs Meredith, "Well, it would be nice."
......"And you'd give anything, would you?" the young man continued, his face inches from hers, "Anything at all?"
......"Well ..."
......"Would you," the young man pressed on, "Would you, for instance, give up a hour of your life?"
......"Oh I ... I don't know about that ..."
......Mrs Meredith felt decidedly uneasy now. A ridiculous suspicion of the young man's identity was growing in her mind. She wanted to get up from the bench and run from him, run and run and leave him far behind. But, her running days were long gone, and if even if they weren't, she knew she'd still be incapable of fleeing. Something held her to the bench. She didn't know if it was the young man's will, some power in those burning eyes that kept her there, or if it was her own curiosity. Could he really give her back her youth?
......"What do you mean," Mrs Meredith asked hesitantly, "Give up a hour of my life?"
......"Simply that," answered the young man, his eyes burning even brighter now he had captured her interest, "You agree to give just one hour of your life and in return you will regain your youth. It's not much to ask, is it? Just one tiny little hour, when you've had so many. Just imagine what it would be to be young again. No more aches and pains, boundless energy, your good looks and attractive body restored. All you have to do is say 'yes' and it could all be yours."
......Mrs Meredith felt very strange. The young man's eyes blazed, his words filled her ears and images flooded her mind. Images of the young woman she used to be long ago before old age overcame her. She felt an aching desire to be that young woman again, to be strong and fit and carefree, to have the world at her feet. At the same time, alarm bells rang loud inside her head. Who was this young man? Was he really who she suspected? What would be the consequences of going along with what he suggested?
......"Just one little word," the young man wheedled, "That's all it will take. One tiny word and ..." The images intensified, taunting, tantalising. "That's how you want to be, isn't it? Not the ancient and crotchety woman who everyone ignores, but the young beautiful one that people stop to admire."
......Mrs Meredith compared her present self with the one she could see so graphically pictured in her mind. The frail and feeble waiting for death against the vibrant and vivacious with a full life ahead. There was no match. She felt an overwhelming, passionate desire to exchange one for the other.
......"Just one single, solitary hour, that's all I ask," persisted the young man, his eyes blazing like twin furnaces. Just say 'yes.' You know it's what you want, don't you? Don't you?"
......"Yes, yes, yes," cried Mrs Meredith. Then - "No, no ... I didn't mean it, I take it back."
......But it was too late.
......The young man was gone.
......Mrs Meredith swore to herself that she hadn't looked away from him; yet, she did not see him go. There was no puff of smoke or anything like that; he was there, and then he wasn't - as simple as that. As if he had never existed in the first place.
......Perhaps he hadn't. Perhaps it had all been a silly daydream. Since she had become old, Mrs Meredith regularly found herself imagining things, things that could not possibly be. It had all been one of her ridiculous fantasies - that's what. Just another symptom of old age. She really was a batty old woman, she told herself with a resigned shrug.
......How odd - she still had some bread left; yet, the ducks were nowhere to be seen. They normally stayed until they'd gobbled every last crumb. Whatever had frightened them away?
......Shaking her head, Mrs Meredith rose with some difficulty from the bench and placed the remaining bread in an adjacent bin. Supporting herself on her walking stick, she shuffled off down the path to the park gates. It was time for her tea.
......After washing up her single plate and cup, Mrs Meredith settled herself in her armchair to listen to the radio. Her memory of the afternoon in the park was vague now, as were all her memories these days. She was such a forgetful old soul! Had the conversation with the young man really taken place? Had the young man actually been there at all? She really wasn't sure any more. How could she have thought he was the Devil? What absurd notions you get when you grow older. The Devil indeed! Dear me!
......Mrs Meredith gave a startled grunt. Where was she? Oh dear, she'd fallen asleep in the chair again - that's something else she was always doing these days. Why, she must have slept through that programme she'd particularly wanted to listen to. What a nuisance.
......Something had woken her, though. What was it? A noise? She did not think so. It was more a sudden strange feeling that things weren't quite right, that something was amiss.
......Whatever could it be?
......The house was silent; everything seemed normal; yet, the uncomfortable sensation persisted.
......With difficulty, she hoisted herself from the deep chair. Her legs were so stiff, she could hardly move them. Painfully, she hobbled around the house, checking each downstairs room and ensuring the doors were securely locked and bolted. Everything appeared well, but still her uneasiness remained.
......Maybe she was simply tired; she so often was nowadays. The old grandfather clock in the hall loudly struck eleven, making her jump. It was always doing that; she really ought to get rid of it. Where had the time gone? She may as well go to bed; there was nothing else to do.
......As always, the stairs were a challenge to her. She really must think about moving to a flat or bungalow. At last, she reached the top and set about preparing herself for the night before gratefully climbing into bed.
......It was a long time before sleep finally came to her, and even then, it was fitful and filled with vivid dreams. Often she woke to find herself soaking with sweat and her vision filled by two huge, burning eyes. Eventually, in the early hours, exhaustion overcame her and she fell into a deeper, less disturbed slumber.
......It was exactly seven o'clock when Mrs Meredith woke the next morning. It was her usual hour for rising, so she got immediately out of bed. Only after she had done so did she realise how easy the process had been. Normally, much creaking of protesting bones and sinews was involved in the slow passage from bed to floor. Yet, today she had risen quickly, easily and fluidly without hint of pain or discomfort. Confused, and suddenly conscious that other things were different, she stood and looked down at herself. She was stunned at what she saw.
......The first thing she noticed was that her nightie no longer fitted her. With the advance of the years, her body had become shrunken and withered, her frame bony and skinny. It had become difficult to dress herself with any degree of style and she had grown used to her clothing hanging loosely and unflatteringly from her. All that had magically changed, however. Now, the nightie was stretched and taut, straining to contain a body that was fully fleshed and voluptuously proportioned, though by no means fat. Mrs Meredith was looking at the body of a young, exquisitely shaped and eye-catching woman. Just like the body she used to own, long, long ago.
......Tentatively, marvelling at how smoothly her limbs worked, she walked to the wardrobe. With effort, she removed the tightly fitting nightgown and, naked, stared at herself in the full-length mirror. She could not believe what she saw; it was like stepping back in time. When young, she had been known for her beauty. Her striking figure and attractive face had always turned heads. She had thought them long-gone; the reflection in the mirror was from the past.
......The face that looked back at her was fresh and fair, without trace of wrinkles. Rich, dark glossy locks that shone healthily had replaced her thin, lank grey hair. Most of all, the saggy, creased and lined body she despised had transformed. Gone were the flaccid, hanging breasts; they were now full and proud, as were her hips and buttocks. Her stomach was flat and smooth, her limbs strong and firm. She was beautiful once more. If anything, even more beautiful than she remembered being.
......She twisted and turned, admiring herself from every angle, unable to believe or understand what had happened to her, yet not caring. She was young again, and that was all that mattered. What if she had made a deal with the Devil? She did not care. He had kept his side of the transaction.
......She danced about the room, revelling in the easy action of her muscles, delighting in her freedom of movement. Again and again, she went to the mirror to glory in her beauty. She couldn't keep all this to herself; she had to share it with the world. She had to go out and let everyone see her; see how perfect she was.
......It was only when she opened the wardrobe that she realised the problem. She had nothing suitable to wear. All her clothes were old women's; she needed ones that showed off her youth and attractiveness. No matter: she would do the best she could from the dowdy, old-fashioned things in front of her and make her first port of call the shops, where she could outfit herself more appropriately.
......Dressing herself was more difficult than she anticipated. She had filled out so much that everything she tried was much too tight for her. Item after item she threw to the floor in despair, clothes that had been slack and loose on her former body she could no longer get into. At last, at the very back of the wardrobe she discovered a dress that the old Mrs Meredith had found too big for her. It was still a squeeze; she had to breath deeply to button it and it gripped her legs and chest too closely, but it would have to do. Even shoes were a problem. Her feet had also lost their shrunken boniness, and the shoes she finally settled on had to be forced on.
......She had a last glance in the mirror. She was unhappy with the way she was dressed, she looked and felt trussed-up, but it couldn't be helped. The sooner she got some new clothes, the better.
......Awkwardly, the tight dress restricting her movement, hobbling slightly in the ill-fitting shoes, she walked from the bedroom and crossed the landing to the stairs. It was just as she was placing one foot on the first step that the clock in the hall began to strike eight. Everything seemed to happen at once. The sudden loud noise in the quiet house startled her, the too-tight dress rode up her thighs, binding them together, and her foot twisted painfully in the uncomfortable shoe.
......She made a desperate grab for the banister, but it was too late. She was falling. Headfirst she plunged down the stairs, the clock tolling out its steady chimes. The clock's clangour was not the only sound she heard as she tumbled down, however. Above its loud pealing, she heard a louder sound - a deep, booming laugh.
......Coinciding with the last stroke of the clock, her head hit the parquet floor of the hall with a resounding thud.
......There was a blinding light, and then - blackness.


......Mrs Meredith opened her eyes. Standing next to her was the young man from the park. He was smiling. She wasn't sure she liked his smile. Confused, she said, "What are you doing here ... what do you want?"
......"What do I want? Why, I want you, of course. I've come to take you with me."
......"But ... I don't understand"
......"It's time to keep your side of the bargain.
......"Yes," replied the young man, "Look."
......Mrs Meredith looked. On the floor at her feet was a body. The very dead body of an old woman wearing a dress that was much too big for her.
......"But you promised ..." she said, realisation slowly dawning on her.
......"That's right. I promised you youth for one hour of your life. Your hour's up."
......"But, but ... I didn't think you meant ..."
......"Ah well, perhaps you should have listened more closely. I always keep to my word - exactly to my word."
......"This isn't fair."
......"No, life isn't fair. Death's even less fair." He held out his hand, "Come on, it's time to go."
......Mrs Meredith took one last look at the old broken body on the floor, sighed resignedly and took the proffered hand. At least her arthritis didn't bother her any more.

Copyright Scorpio Tales 2001. All rights reserved.

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