A puff of yellow, sour-smelling smoke erupted in the center of the carefully drawn pentagram. As it began to clear, Gloria noticed a tall form in the middle of it. She watched a lean, red-skinned demon in a navy-blue suit step forward. He was shorter than she initially thought; a pair of twisting black horns made up the difference. He surprised her with a courteous, customer-service smile.
“Hello,” he said with a surprisingly smooth, deep voice. “Let’s bargain. What can I do for you? Riches? Power?” The yellow smoke dissipated completely and the demon let his eyes roam up and down the frail woman with frazzled, sickly green hair. “A sandwich?” he chuckled. Gloria shook her head frantically.
“Our planet is in danger,” she said. She took a moment to glance out the window at the darkening sky, then she looked back with even more panic in her eyes. “Please help us. You can take my soul to Hell right now. I don’t want anything for me; save the Earth.” The demon narrowed his eyes at her.
“That’s a new one,” he said. “I’m…,” he faltered for a moment. “I’m not sure we can do that. Give me a second,” he said. Yellow smoke filled the room again.
“Damnit,” Gloria mumbled. She ran to the window. In the distance, she saw dozens of skeletons marching toward her house. Gloria sat on the summoning ritual for years, she never felt the need to until she saw the news that day.
Thousands of black portals opened in the sky across the world and rained skeletons. Immortal, unstoppable, murderous skeletons. Gloria watched soldier after soldier fall in front of the walking bones and realized humanity couldn’t win without major help. It was an easy decision to trade her soul for the safety of humanity.
Yellow smoke filled the room again and Gloria whirled away from the window. The demon smiled.
“Good news. There’s no rule against it, so your bargain is accepted. Now, what exactly am I saving the Earth from?” Gloria pointed at the muted TV. It showed a giant black hole open over New York city with skeletons pouring out of it.
In Gloria’s mind, this man was a demon from the deepest levels of Hell. He had to have seen unspeakable horrors that she could not begin to imagine. She was surprised when the demon’s eyes opened as wide as saucers.
“OH HELL NO!” he shouted. He walked to the window behind Gloria and looked out. The skeletons were almost to the house.
“Sorry lady, Hell isn’t equipped to deal with Ballisea. This Earth is already gone; I can’t do anything.”
“You.. can’t or you won’t?” Gloria asked. Tears pooled in the corners of her eyes. “If you let humanity perish who is going to make deals with you? Think of all those innocent souls going to Heaven, you’re losing out.”
“Gloria,” she corrected him. The demon glanced out the window, then back to her.
“Gloria,” he said. “You’re misunderstanding a lot of things about how the universe works. You’ve impressed me,” he said. “That’s not an easy thing to do. Humanity isn’t dead, this isn’t the only Earth. How about I take you to another Earth, free of charge. No bargain, just a simple ride. You’ll get to keep living a life with other humans on a perfectly good Earth that isn’t conquered by Ballisea. Decide fast, because I’m leaving.”
“Are you scared?” she asked. The demon did not hesitate to answer honestly.
“Terrified. You don’t know who she is or what she can do; trust me. You don’t want to find out,” he glanced out the window again. “I’m out in five seconds,” he said.
“She?” Gloria asked. “A person is doing this?” The demon nodded quickly, then spoke.
“Four,” he said. Gloria shook her head.
“Leave already, coward. I’m not abandoning my Earth.” The demon laughed as yellow smoke filled the room again. After he was gone, Gloria heard his voice echo with laughter.
“You’re going to die,” he said. Gloria’s front door crashed open and skeletons started to march in toward. her. She ran toward them to stand out of the smoke and yelled at them.
“I WANT TO TALK TO BALLISEA!” she shouted. Almost instantly, she heard a heavy, dramatic sigh behind her.
“Of course it’s you, it’s always you,” the voice said. Gloria whirled around and saw a tall pale with twisting white horns. “What is it this time?” she asked in a bored voice.
“What do you mean, this time?” Gloria asked. Ballisea gave a half shrug.
“I conquer a lot of Earths and run into your Zeros annoyingly often. You’re usually trying to convince me to leave your Earth alone,” she smiled and winked at Gloria. “Hasn’t happened yet,” she added.
“How can I convince you to leave this Earth alone?” Gloria asked.
“You can’t,” Ballisea said. “But I’m already bored of killing you; off you go.” Gloria felt the floor disappear under her and she sunk like a rock. She landed on a crowded beach with a golden sun high in the sky and families playing in the sand and water. A cool breeze blew across her skin. She heard a voice that seemed to come from all around her, as if she were surrounded by speakers.
“Have fun while you can…,” Ballisea whispered. “I might change my mind later.”