The Mind Of The Beheld
The Devil himself stood over the famous film actress’s hospital bed. To untrained eyes he appeared in the exotic enough form of the consultant, smoke-hoarse voice tinged with compassion. ‘It’s now or never, I’m afraid.’
Only wind, a sigh, hissed from the parting of her ruined mouth. On her other side, the elderly patient, fringe of blue hair a glowing nimbus under the fluorescents, tried again.
‘There is more to you than the mere physical, my dear,’ he coaxed. ‘Your inner beauty is eternal, no matter your outward circumstances. Do not give up the eternal for the immediate.’
‘As if,’ sneered Lucifer, ‘you can trust the word of an authority which sends a mere emissary rather than showing up himself. Good try, Michael.’
The famous actress had experienced bad dreams in the past, but nothing like this constant reliving the events leading up to the accident which took her face. Speeding to get to the airport on time. Tears and bad weather blurring her vision. She shouldn’t have driven. She’d been drinking after finding that text message on her new husband’s mobile phone. She knew she should have booked a taxi; but after a lifetime of getting exactly what she wanted, she just couldn’t wait.
‘The contract, Miss Blake. All ready for your signature.’
My soul for my face? Her burnt muscles and twisted jaw were incapable of forming the words, but he read her question with ease.
‘Noooo,’ Lucifer smiled, ‘we’ve had your soul, what there is of it, for ages, love. No, no, it’s just a little matter of P.R. which comes up in the case of your demise, if in fact you are not satisfied with the results of our agreement and decide to take the opt-out clause in paragraph 66, line 6. But I wouldn’t worry about that for now. Sign here, and you’ll have your face back, exactly as it was before the accident.’
And her life, if she should refuse? In one word, over. Pure and simple. Her face was her livelihood―her career, her guiding star, her one true love―in short, her existence. Without it (and there was no way plastic surgery could repair this, as the human consultant, reeking of holiday gin, had carefully explained) the thought of life was unbearable.
Her face as it was, just before the accident. Sign the contract. Otherwise you’ll lose everything.
‘He lies!’ the old man’s voice shrieked from the other side of the bed. ‘Lies, always lies!’
The Devil tutted. ‘No. He, I mean I, well, I don’t obfuscate the truth of existence with empty fantasies. And anyway, how can I lie, you old fart, when it’s all here, as promised?’ He flicked a polished fingernail against the sheaf of paper on his lap. ‘Look at that, my dear. In black and white. Now, Michael, why don’t you lose gracefully, and bugger off? That miserable expression of yours is getting on my tits.’
Give me the pen, and before her thought was fully materialised the actress had written her name on the dotted line. She lay back against the pillow, slightly surprised at the lack of blood and brimstone and terrified to ask for a mirror.
‘Not in the budget,’ sighed Lucifer, reading her mind, as his Anderson & Sheppard suit, along with his Bajan tan, began to flicker and fade. ‘And the sight of blood makes me queasy.’ One boiled claw handed the famous actress a glass of congratulatory champagne.
Which she couldn't drink. As the wine spilled down her chin, soaking her hospital gown, it flashed back to her, as it would for eternity, her beautiful face: unrecognisable with its bulging eyes, flared nostrils, lips skinned back over teeth in a rictus of fear. Exactly as she looked, seconds before the windscreen shattered.
Just before the accident.
At least the opt‑ out clause would endear her to millions of young fans as that tragic film actress whose untimely demise in all its gory details, minutiae of which they couldn’t get enough. Books, biopics, documentaries on pop-up tv channels, conspiracy theory websites: the star would truly live, and shine, forever.
‘Bottoms up, sweetie,’ grinned Lucifer, as his companion gently pulled the sheet over the actress’ shattered head. ‘See you in Head Office, and, I must add, we've all admired your work for centuries.’