Short Stories by Mark Lawrence

Not For Sale

“Ok, how about this. Genetically engineered puppies. Lifespan six weeks.” Herb sketched out a banner with his hand. “A dog really _is_ just for Christmas.”

Satan waggled his fingers in a noncommittal manner.

“We sell ’em with a return box.” Herb held one up. “Slide dead puppy in here, mail off.”

“To where?” A smouldering eyebrow lifted in mild interest.

“The label says ‘Green-Tree Recycling”, but it’s actually a residential house in Connecticut.”

Anyone I know?”

“Chosen at random . . . you had someone in mind?”

“No.” Satan heaved himself off the couch and started toward the hell mouth. “Try them out. We’ll see how they fly. Stick to budget. Genetics aren’t cheap. I’m buying Christmas here, not pushing back the frontiers of modern science.”




“How’d it go?” Boris crept in, checking the corners. The lingering aura of crushing evil didn’t seem to have dampened his spirits. “He’s gone, right?”

“Sure.” Herb set the dead puppy box on the table and reached for his scotch. “Come in, you aren’t going to queer the deal.”

Boris came in close and gave him a squeeze. “Who’d have thought Satan hated gays so much.”

“Well, he’s gone now.” Herb returned the hug. “And we got the contract!”

“Woo hoo!” Boris punched the air, his grin so big Herb could see it through his beard. “Let’s celebrate.”

“No time.” Herb knocked back his scotch. “We’ve got more company due.”

“We have?”

“Demons,” Herb said.

“Time to hide?”

Herb shook his head. “Out of work demons. There’s the one that makes sure bread lands buttered side down – turns out that physics says it should happen anyhow, so he’s not needed.”

“Tough break.”

“Yup. And the one that kills people who try to invent an umbrella that doesn’t turn inside-out in a gentle breeze,” Herb said.

“Physics again?” Boris scratched at his beard.

“No. People just stopped trying.”

“So why’re they coming here?”

The doorbell rang, three bars from Beethoven’s Fifth. Herb set his glass down and went to answer it.

He came back with a demon at each shoulder. Weedy-looking hell-spawn, thin and with a slight droop to their various horns and spines, as if somebody had found their valve and let just a little air out of them.

“Hey guys!” Boris shone them his trademark grin. “Can I get you a dead puppy? You sure? We’ve got plenty.”

Herb slumped into the leather armchair by the fireplace. “Take a seat, guys.”

“Drink?” Boris reached for the Jack Daniels. “No?”

“Ok, cutting to the chase.” Herb ran a hand through thinning hair. “Narrrlo’thyyype? Did I get that right? Hell, I’m gonna call you Butter-guy, and you Umbrella-dude.” He met Butter-guy’s eyes for a moment, and regretted doing so. The hypno-toad on Futurama sprung to mind. He didn’t like demons at the best of times, shedding on the furniture, and ichor up the wazoo.

“You summoned us,” Butter-guy hissed.

“Yeah, yeah. I adjoin and abjure you, all that crap, yadda yadda. You’re confined to my magic circle until-”

“Magic circle?” Boris looked up from his scrutiny of the JD label.

“The beltway. Now hush up.” Herb sent him a dark look. “So, you guys. You’re reassigned to Christmas duty. Umbrella-dude, I’m thinking teddy-bears. I’m thinking choking hazards and sharp points. We’re sourcing out of China.”

“Christmassss?” Butter-guy had a world class hiss if nothing else. The word seemed to hurt him.

“Yeah, Satan’s buying Christmas this year,” Boris said. “We’re handling the details.”

“Christmassss isn’t for sale.” Umbrella-dude favoured Herb with a dead-eyed stare, and oozed a little ichor into the shag-pile for good measure.

Herb smiled. Credit cards maxed out, nerves frayed, winter flu, black ice fender-benders, ungrateful kids, indigestion, close confinement with flatulent eldsters . . .

“Of course Christmas isn’t for sale,” he said. “It’s a gift.”