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On the Settling of Ancient Scores

“Another.” The stranger in town pushed his empty glass forward. He sat at the bar, smoking and watching the room through the mirror as the pretty bartender scurried from customer to customer.

“Right away,” said the bartender. She didn’t smile much. Not once in two hours. Her hand brushed a strand of hair from her face.

“No hurry.” He crushed out the cigarette. She bustled off to get his drink.

“Hello. This seat taken?” A man in a white suit. A man wrapped in a suit as white as a snowstorm, right down to the white carnation in his lapel and the scruff of his white beard. It was the Lord.

“Not lately,” the stranger said.

“And this one?” A woman. A redhead, tall, leggy, in a tight black miniskirt and an equally tight blouse. Her tan breasts spilled out of the low neckline. She nodded to the Lord. “Heya.”

He nodded back. “Long time no see.”

The stranger looked from one to the other. She was the Devil. He didn’t need to see her tattoo to know it. He coughed politely to get their attention. “So. You both made it. Good.”

Her smile split her face, and the bared teeth shone. “Of course. I never turn down an invitation.”

God tugged the stranger’s sleeve. “Neither do I.” His eyes were warmer than Satan’s, but mysteries and secrets still swam in them; unexplained management practices danced inside. Neither’s gaze was particularly comforting.

“Well,” the stranger said. “I’m glad. We need to talk.”

The bartender returned, sliding a glass of bourbon into his waiting hand. “Something for your friends here?”

“Not exactly friends, but sure. Whatever they’re having.”

“Merlot,” God said.

“Sounds good,” the Devil said.

“Two merlots,” the stranger said.

She left again.

“Let’s move to a table.” The stranger picked up his drink and then picked his way past redneck loggers and pool-shooting bikers to a table in the corner. God and Satan slid into one side of the booth. The stranger took the other. “Let’s get down to business,” said the Stranger. “The universe is a fucking mess, and you’re both responsible for it.”

A stunned look crossed God’s face as his mouth opened and then shut.

“Don’t look at me,” Satan said, batting her eyes. “I’m not responsible for anything. He made me who I am, and when I tried to set things right, he cast me down with the rest of Heaven’s Free Thinkers.”

“Well, I-”

The stranger cut them off with the stab of a fresh cigarette. “Enough. You’re both responsible.” He turned to Satan. “You can call it what you want, but evil is evil and you are the origin of it. You are the father of lies and-”

“Mother,” she hissed.

“Fine. Whatever. It started with you. You chose that road for yourself. And you knew what you were doing.” He leaned in. “Regardless of what happened in Heaven, there was that bit in the Garden.”

A dreamy smile played Satan’s lips. “Oh… her. She was delicious. So young, so innocent, so… easy.” She laughed. “And he was yummy, too.”

God shook his head sadly. “You see what I deal with?” He sighed.

The bartender zipped in with two wineglasses and then zipped away. Satan and God sipped.

“You’re both responsible. You-” he pointed at God. “You created this mess. And despite free will, you created Satan knowing full well what he …she… was going to do.”

God nodded. “You’re absolutely, completely, correct.”

Satan leaned forward. Her voice whispered like fingers on his thighs-where, in fact, her fingers were. “I’ve never seen him step up to the plate like this before. Bravo!”

“Well, it ends now,” the stranger said. “It changes today. We’re fed up. We’re tired of being played against each other. We’re tired of having to figure out the music we’re supposed to dance to. So… kiss and make up.”

God choked mid-sip. Satan spilled her wine, splattering it on the table like blood.

“I beg your pardon?” God checked his white suit for red stains.

“You heard me. Kiss and make up. Right here. Right now.” He stood. “You two think about it a minute. I gotta pee.”

“What a coinkydink,” Satan said. “So do I.” She showed a lot of leg climbing out and made a great show of stumbling and grabbing the stranger’s arm. He didn’t flinch, though her touch was cold on his bare skin.

She stopped him outside the men’s room door. “You know, I could be a real friend to you.” Her hand slid down his chest, working its way down his stomach. She purred and looked at the restroom door longingly. “We could… play. Right now.”

She moved as though to go inside with him, but he stopped her. “I don’t think so. I don’t wanna play. I wanna pee.”

“You’re no fun.”

The stranger shrugged. “Sometimes I am.”

Her smile went serious, and she stepped back. “I think I know who you are.”

“Really?”

“Yes. And if you are who I think you are, we could help each other out.”

“How so?”

She nodded to the bar, to the man in white sitting patiently at the table. “If he were out of the way, a lot of wrongs could be made right. We could all be free.”

“But that would lead to chaos.”

“Not if someone more …balanced… were in charge.”

“Someone like you?”

She smiled and her green cat’s eyes narrowed. “Would that be so bad?”

“Yes.” He pushed passed her and into the men’s room.

God walked in as he zipped up. The stranger moved aside of the urinal but God shook his head. “I’m not here for that. Let’s be direct, you and I. I know who you are.”

“Omniscience, right?”

“Right.”

“Then you know what I’m here for?”

“Reconciliation. A bringing together of good and evil. An end to the Eternal Conflict.”

“Yes.”

“It won’t work.”

“Why not?” The stranger washed up, watching God in the mirror.

“She’ll never buy into it. I tried. Don’t you think I’ve tried?”

The stranger turned. “No, actually. I don’t.”

God blushed. “It won’t work.”

“It has to. We’re done. We’re tired of the bullshit. You know us; you know everything about us. You know how fragile we are. Like lost little children in a dark wood that you’ve helped create. And every bread crumb we drop to find our way Home is gobbled up before it hits the ground.”

The stranger held the door, beckoned God with a nod to pass through. The Almighty paused before stepping outside, his face collapsing in thought. “You know…. Well, never mind.”

“What?”

He looked at the woman sitting alone at the table. “You could take care of that for me. Then there would just be Good.”

“I don’t want good and evil abolished. I just want them balanced out. I want fairness. I want justice.”

“I now?” God said. “Be careful. You were on firmer ground with ‘we’ than you could ever be with ‘I,’ you know.”

They returned to the table. The stranger drained his glass. “So… do we have a deal?”

God laughed. Satan joined in. The stranger found it pleasant to hear …like harmony… but he knew it could never last.

“Absolutely not,” God said through his laughter.

“Hysterical,” Satan said as she giggled.

The stranger drew his revolver and it barked twice in the noisy room. Satan slumped over, a shiny patch glistening over her heart. God rocked back, a red flower blossoming over his breast pocket. Their eyes glassed over quickly, their jaws went slack. Outside, the wind howled and the bar became strangely silent.

The pretty bartender spoke first. “Why the fuck did you do that? And who’s going to clean it up?”

“We all are,” the stranger said. “All of us. In time.”

“Who the hell do you think you are,” an angry biker shouted, throwing down his pool cue. It clattered on the floor.

The stranger stood, pocketed the pistol, and moved for the door. “I am Everyman.”