“Back again, I see,” the demon said, smiling. “I was beginning to wonder if you wouldn’t keep our appointment.”
“Sorry,” Steve Kornacki said, clearly slightly out of breath. “I was running some numbers on the amount of early votes in Pennsylvania and lost track of time.”
The demon would never admit it, but it was… fond of Steve Kornacki. There was something about his face and his glasses and the way he was literally always in khaki slacks and a tie. Also his smile. If things were different… well, if things were different they presumably would never have met, and at least this way it got to meet Steve once every two years. Once or twice the idea had crossed its mind to call in some favours and shorten the time between elections, but (and it would never admit this bit, either) it wasn’t entirely sure that Steve would manage with so little sleep.
They were meeting, as was traditional, at a crossroads of sorts. Hundreds of years ago, the atmosphere of a deserted, dusty road with a body in the ground beneath was appropriate for the dark deals done with demons, but these days New York City had so many bright lights and so few opportunities to stand in the middle of the road without getting hit by a car that demons had to shift their expectations somewhat. An alleyway was, at least, somewhat spooky, and in the twenty-first century, that was all you could ask for. The crossroads was more figurative now.
“Are you looking for the same deal as last time?” it said, absolutely not looking at how Steve’s hair was a little windswept from the sprint he’d no doubt done to get here.
“Of course I am,” Steve said. “This one’s gonna be a big one, you know.”
“You say that every time,” the demon said, successfully holding back a fond smile.
“This time I really mean it. The polls have Biden ahead, but given the utter failure of the polls back in 2016, and the way that support for Trump is still holding strong in — sorry, you don’t care about all that. But trust me, I don’t want to miss a minute of it.”
The demon would absolutely not ask Steve to explain in detail the intricacies of the 2020 presidential election. First of all, Steve was right, the demon did not care. And secondly, if word got back that the demon was asking unnecessary questions of a victim just to see their face light up and their hands gesture so the demon could visualise the invisible map between them — well, it wouldn’t be good.
“What is the desire you wish for me to fulfil, human? Remember that every request has a cost.” They were the traditional words that began a transaction, and sometimes it felt like they were the only things that kept the demon from forgetting its place. If it started calling him Steve, the careful barrier the demon had erected between them would crumble, and it had no idea what would happen next.
“I want to be free of bodily concerns — eating, sleeping, peeing, washing, that kind of thing — until the presidential race has been called.”
This, too, was traditional — at least, it was what Steve said every time, without fail. Anything that happened three times was a tradition, was it not?
“Do you understand that there is a price for this wish? If you deem the price too high, you may take your request back, but once the deal has been done, there is no cancelling it.”
“Yes, of course.”
“The price for your request is that you will be unable to feel joy for one calendar year except for when you are running numbers for the election. Do you accept these terms?”
Steve seemed to understand that this exchange of words was necessary — the demon didn’t know if he thought they held some ritual significance (they didn’t), but the repetition of the familiar words was a comfort to them both.
For a moment, the air around them seemed to hold a charge, and then as quickly as it began it was over.
“The deal is done.”
“Thank you,” Steve said, making an aborted gesture like he was going for a handshake before he remembered that the demon had never once shaken hands with him, so there was no point in offering. (It wasn’t like the demon was incapable of making itself corporeal, but — well, what if it found itself incapable of letting go? Steve’s hands looked so soft, and humans were so warm, and—)
“Until next time,” said the demon, nodding.
“Until next time,” Steve echoed, giving him a blinding smile and hurrying out of the alley.
The demon disappeared and tried not to wonder if the demon was the one who had paid the price after all.