The Devil’s Pancakes
By: Robert J. Day
Copyright 2011, Robert J. Day
And He (Jesus) asked him (the man), "What is thy name?" And he answered, saying, "My name is Legion: for we are many. -Mark 5:9
Somehow our devils are never quite what we expect when we meet them face to face.
The Devil is a gentleman.
-Percy Bysshe Shelley
Paul Scranton walked into an International House of Pancakes. Where is not important, it was a small town in the middle of nowhere, like so many towns he’d been to. Been through. Paul was a drifter, had been for some time, for almost as long as he could remember he had been going. Going, going, but never arriving at a destination, never stopping, never staying. He was dirty, he was tired, and he was very hungry. He planned to spend his last five dollars on whatever sort of meal he could afford before walking to the freeway onramp and sticking out his thumb, destination unknown.
The restaurant was unusually crowded, even for a Sunday morning. A line of people stood inside the door and out into the parking lot, waiting to be seated. The other patrons all seemed to belong to the same church whose services had just concluded. They did their best to ignore Paul, who looked like he’d slept in a dumpster because he had in fact slept in a dumpster, and talked about what a great sermon the pastor had delivered on the subject of “Christian Charity.“ It was almost an hour before Paul finally scored a booth. He sat down and eagerly scanned the menu, looking for the cheapest things that would be the most filling. It could be a day or even two before he ate again.
“Pardon me” said a deep, pleasant voice, “I couldn’t help noticing that you’ve got this booth all to yourself.”
The voice, Paul saw when he looked up from his menu, belonged to an older man about sixty-five or so, with a perfect pompadour of white hair, dentures that were just a touch too large, and dressed in a suit that while obviously expensive and tailored, had seen better days.
“I don’t mean to intrude” the man went on, “but if you’d be so kind as to share your booth with me, I’d be happy to pay the bill when our meal is concluded. Would that be satisfactory?”
“Uh, yeah alright, sit down then.” Never turn down a free meal. All of a sudden Paul’s bowl of oatmeal with a side of toast was now an enormous stack of banana pancakes with whipped cream and a side order of sausage links and bacon.
“Excellent! I can tell you’re a man who knows a deal when he hears one Mr. um…”
“Scranton, Paul Scranton. Nice to meet you sir.”
“Sir even. My, my, how polite you are. It’s a pleasure to meet you as well young sir. My name is Legion. Mr. Legion. Let me ask you something Mr. Scranton…”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“What is it you want most in the world?”
“Ha! Banana pancakes indeed! And you shall have them for here comes our waitress now. But I don’t mean for breakfast Mr. Scranton. No, no, I mean what do you want most in Life? Fame, Fortune? Women? Or men, I don’t judge? Power perhaps?”
Well, thought Paul, breakfast keeps getting more interesting all the time. “Sure, all those things I guess. I mean, doesn’t everybody?”
The waitress arrived and they ordered. The old man surprised Paul by ordering T-bone steak and eggs.
“Oh and please have the chef prepare it as rare as he can stand would you? Thank you my dear.”
“So,” Mr. Legion continued after the waitress had gone, “where were we?”
“Fame, Fortune, and Women?”
“Ah yes, of course. What would you say, Mr. Scranton, if I told you that I have the power to make all of your dreams a reality?”
“I’d say you were crazy and that I’d be happy if you just had the power to make our food get here faster.”
“Of course you would, rightfully so for you don’t yet know just who it is you’re talking to. Let’s say I did make our breakfast arrive at the table in a more timely manner, would that impress you sufficiently enough for you to then take me seriously?”
“Sure I guess, but how are you going to do that there must be a shitload, uh, I mean there must be lots of orders in front of ours.”
“My dear boy, I’ve already done it. You see? Here comes our food now.”
“Already? That’s impossible we just now ordered! That’s gotta be for someone else, another table…”
“Sorry about the wait!” If the waitress was aware that what she was doing was against all the laws of science and nature she gave no indication. “More coffee?” She placed the food in front of them and was gone with a smile.
“What the hell is going here?” Paul was more than a little confused. “Is this some kind of hidden camera show? Are you putting me on?”
“I can assure you my dear boy that I most certainly am not, as you say, putting you on. I was merely making sure I had your undivided attention. I have a proposition for you but first let us enjoy our meal shall we? Such a fine repast it would be a pity to let it get cold.”
Dumbstruck, Paul began to eat, even though his appetite had faded drastically. Who the fuck was this creepy old guy and how did he do that trick with the food? The banana pancakes were delicious, and went a long way towards restoring Paul’s appetite but he made sure to keep his eyes on his own plate. The sounds of the old man’s oversized dentures working on the bloody rare steak was slightly disturbing.
By the time they had both finished their meals, Paul was feeling better about the whole situation. He must have just misjudged the time and their food just arrived rather promptly that was all. His imagination was just playing tricks on him, maybe it was the hunger, he had been a little lightheaded.
“So Paul,” said the old man, “are you ready to hear my proposition?”
Paul had been propositioned before, more than once actually, during his life on the road. It sort of came with the territory when you hitchhiked. There was always some old pervert, or some deeply closeted homosexual…
“If it’s all the same to you I’m gonna have to pass. I don’t swing that way.”
“Neither do I son, neither do I. It’s not that kind of proposition.”
“Okay then, I’m listening. But if you come off with any of that perv shit I’m outta here!”
“Fair enough. As I said my proposition is not sexual in nature. I want to give you every thing your heart desires, make all of your wildest dreams come true, and in return I ask for only one little thing.”
“And what’s that? No wait, let me guess, my immortal soul right?”
“You’re insane. Who the hell do you think you are?”
“Oh, I think you know. I think you know all too well, you just refuse to believe.”
Paul looked at the man, and he saw him clearly for the first time. His oversized dentures were stained pink from blood of the raw flesh he’d just eaten, there were tiny little chunks of meat caught in-between the teeth. His fingernails were long, curled, and yellow. So thick they were more like the claws of animal. His suit, Paul now realized, looked ragged but was in fact just singed, around the edges, as if the man had recently escaped from a burning building. The hair in his nose, his ears, and on his knuckles was curly and black, and much too long.
But the worst part was his eyes. They burned with an unholy light that made Paul want to find a safe place to hide, and perhaps cry himself to sleep. Eyes that contained not the slightest trace of anything resembling decency or mercy or kindness or compassion. He could only stand to look at them for a moment, and he was instantly nauseous, his cursed free banana pancakes felt like a ball of hot lead in his guts.
Twenty minutes later, a new spring in his step, Paul walked out of the International House of Pancakes and into his brand new life. He’d never felt better. The old man had made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, and when it had come time to sign on the dotted line Paul had barely hesitated.
The Mercedes was parked just where it was supposed to be, unlocked with the keys in the ignition. The tank full of gas and the trunk full of cash, just like he’d been promised. Paul knew that when he died there would quite literally be Hell to pay, but until that day came he had a Hell of a lot of living left to do.