Good evening. Please allow me to introduce myself: I am the Devil, but please call me Fred. No need to guess my name …
With these words, in perfect English and with the hint of a smile, the man stretches out his hand out. Automatically, I seize it, shaking it briefly. A firm handshake, a warm, dry hand.
“Good evening. Please allow me to introduce myself: I am the Devil, but please call me Fred. No need to guess my name …”
The words of a stranger addressing me from the subdued lighting, in the middle of the night, at the bar of an airport hotel in the western USA. Words from “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones.
I notice that the hairs on the back of my right hand are tingling, standing up straight. A feeling creeps over me, I don't have a name for it ...
It is three o'clock in the morning, I’ve disembarked from a long flight from the southern tip of South America, and I’m waiting for the connecting flight to Europe. A double espresso is preventing me from slipping off the bar stool. A shower would be bliss, maybe also an upgrade to the reclining seats of first class … But no, spartan economy class awaits me on the plane. Quickly book a hotel room? No, it's not worth it anymore, a small screen between the whiskey bottles is showing the boarding and departure times ... and the devil is talking to me ...
The man has an interesting face, he’s wide awake, dressed casually and elegantly, with short, jet black hair, slightly graying here and there; I would probably buy a used car from him without bargaining. My eyes wander to the empty espresso cup in front of me. I am now certain that I’ve misheard – just as my counterpart continues to talk …
Excuse me for addressing you so directly, but a good conversation cuts the waiting time. However, if you want me to leave you alone, I’ll understand. I always sympathize with … someone's need for rest.
The man draws out the last words, smiling at the same time. What does he want to tell me? Suddenly I’m not tired any more. Curious by nature, I think playing the game could be quite amusing.
No, you’re right, that’s my experience as well.
Wonderful. By the way, I've been looking for you. You are a writer, right?
For some reason, words tumble out of my mouth now as if I had been condemned to silence for years, and now I'm allowed to speak for the first time. Strange …
Right, how did you know? Are you familiar with my books?
My face rarely appears in the media.
You've been looking for me? Why?
And why do you say that you’re the “devil”?
Please take my word for it, that is very important tonight! Well, I'm not a devil. I am the devil.
Fred, the devil. Alright, Fred, I'll play along for now. My name is Thomas, but you can call me Tom. What springs to mind right away is that I actually imagine the “devil” to be something completely different, or someone completely different. You don't come even close to the images of you in my mind.
Instead of answering immediately, Fred smiles and pulls out a long, dark brown cigarillo from the inside pocket of his jacket. Snapping with the middle finger and thumb of his right hand, a small blue flame starts to flicker from the tip of his thumb. Slowly, he moves the flame to the tip of the cigarillo, lights it, extinguishes the flame with the thumb and index finger of his left hand, draws slowly on the cigarillo, and in exhaling blows an artful, bright red smoke curl into the air. Slowly, it expands, transforms into a three-dimensional red heart and then dissolves in the draught of the air conditioner. As I stare at the smoke my breath is taken away for a moment – and Fred continues talking as if nothing had happened.
Tom, if the smoke bothers you, just tell me: times have changed a lot, indeed. Well, it’s understandable, your point of view with regard to the alleged nature of the devil. That just shows me how good I was. My work in this world requires invisibility. Me and my merry men, we work undercover almost without exception. Believe me, hardly anyone suspects how and where I work most successfully. That was part of our craft. Until today … What do you think, how can you recognize a good secret agent?
If you ask me, you wouldn't recognize him at all.
Well said! That’s a basic requirement for my task. Because those who recognize me have often escaped at that very second, at least for the time being. I can only shout after him: “See you next time!”
Are you okay? You look a little pale.
I'm fine, it’s just lack of oxygen perhaps. Good. Alright, Fred, you're right, such a conversation between the worlds can sometimes change lives, I've experienced that myself. Sometimes one single sentence is sufficient. Once, when I took a trip from the cool interior of Argentina to the scorching hot and humid Buenos Aires, I sighed audibly as I got off the charter bus: “If I’d known in advance it would be like this, I would've stayed on the farm.” Which prompted a very sweet elderly lady in front of me to turn around and say serenely: “Oh come on, sweetheart, if you had known before, you wouldn't have been born.” I've never forgotten that sentence.
So then, what leads the devil here to this place, on this beautiful night, to an airport in the middle of nowhere?
I want to talk to you.
To me? Is my time up already?
Don't worry, you haven't been on our list for quite some time. We can't be everywhere at once, that's why we only work on difficult cases which we have to work on continuously and intensively.
Those we do not consider to be a target any longer, we either have them in the bag, or they are no longer worth the trouble because they have chosen the right path – like you, for example.
The word “chosen” was emphasized by my interlocutor in an uncanny way, which sent a light, yet not unpleasant shiver down my spine. I made a mental note.
With people like you, our rules of procedure only require that we prevaricate from time to time, sending one or two temptations so that you don't lose direction. You know, take Job from the Bible, and so on.
But you, my friend, you are a special case. And that's why I am seeking a dialogue with you tonight. Because you could be a great help to me. I would like you to record our conversation word for word and then distribute it all over the world – to the very last corner, if possible.
I'm supposed to help the devil? I'm afraid that could hurt my reputation …
I can't really grasp what makes me do it, but I press the audio recording button on my cell phone. What a strange guy ...
Yes, that would be my wish. And of course, I understand your concerns. But one question here: can you tell me in a few words what is your basic intention as a writer? What do you want your readers to gain from reading your works?
Maybe I sound a little pathetic now, but I want to give all readers useful tools to create a better world, both in the present and in the long term. And in all familiar areas of life – from sensible healthcare to environmentally friendly methods of construction and repair, all the way to successful organic farming and … Wait, didn't you say you know my books? Then you're familiar with my aims. Reading my works is supposed to lead to more independence – and to a gradual turnaround towards harmonious cooperation between man and nature.
Let me hereby affirm that the two of us want the same, we are heading in the same direction. You have good intentions – and today I am dependent on you being successful with your good intentions.
In fact, we both have the same challenges and could perhaps solve them together. For that purpose, you would have to bring our conversation to the awareness of your readers. You shouldn't have a problem in finding channels for that, because there are already so many books about conversations with God, with Buddy, with her friends, with the Masters and Angels, and so on – I believe a dialogue between the two of us would certainly be of interest. As they say in your circles: Audiatur et altera pars.
It was about forty-five years ago that I had last heard Fred´s last sentence. A teacher at my grammar school at that time refused to join in the prejudgment of a student who had been accused of a rather serious prank. Fact of the matter was that no other student was thought capable at that time of dropping a genuine, almost still warm cowpat on the principal´s desk, with a swastika engraved on top of it – definitely to hint at the undisputed Nazi past of the headmaster. Nobody gave my classmate the opportunity to defend himself; perhaps because he himself didn’t even bother to. “Audiatur et altera pars” – “Let the other side be heard as well”. This dictum of the old Roman legal system was quoted by my old Latin teacher, and he kept probing until the accused could prove a convincing alibi. Small wonder, because it was me who’d put the cowpat there. I thought I could get away with it because no one would believe my having the audacity to do that, after nearly nine years of climbing through the grades with a “clean sheet”. In fact, the authorship of this successful prank remained open back then. As if Fred was aware I'd come to the end of the foray through my memories, he resumed his talk.
Good, for the time being, you should bear one thing in mind and think about it a little: from the beginning of time until today and into all eternity – nothing ever happens without me! Your countless conversations with Buddy and her Faithfuls, all those countless books and essays – none of them would make sense if I didn’t exist.
The law of nature is that the good guys do not exist without the bad guys, winners would not have a chance if there were no losers, Yin is just hot air without Yang, any effort to improve and develop would be pointless because it would be without exertion, the Big Bang would not exist, many Nobel Prize winners would look pathetic without their wives …
Just a joke, just a joke! Or rather, this is a special topic that we should perhaps touch on later. No, what I'm getting at is this: the earth would not exist if there were neither challenge nor incentive nor resistance to self-development. The mountaineer´s best friend is not only his ambition but also the mountain.
As far as the Nobel Prize winners are concerned, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Personality cult in any form is abhorrent to me. Role models, idols – I have no use for them. At least that's the way it is today. Even the most objective and factual acknowledgments, credits and award ceremonies can't change my mind. In the past, when I was younger, it was different, but in retrospect I have to say: actually, lifting people onto pedestals has always brought me nothing but disappointment. Except perhaps Beethoven, the Beatles and the Animal Liberation Orchestra. Do you know the band?
You can't argue about taste in music.
Okay, Fred, so: let’s suppose you really are the devil. Well, my first question is: Why do you exist? What exactly is your task on this beautiful planet? To put obstacles in people's ways? Spread temptations? Promote greed, hate, envy? Run “Hotel Hell” in the underworld for the bad guys …? Your reputation is, as I said, truly nothing to brag about.
I can assure you, I am he. And what you are listing there – greed, hate, envy – that’s for beginners; for that, I send out clueless apprentices from our ranks. That's how obviously destructive these things are. And “Hotel Hell”? Let’s save that for later.
My miserable image is, in nearly all its aspects, my own work – a “red herring”, a diversionary maneuver through all times and ages. As I said, in this way I could and can pursue my actual work undisturbed, because almost the whole world suspects me to be where I am not. When people saw the first train in history lurching toward them at 15 mph, hissing and puffing, they yelled: “The devil himself is haunting us!” – and they took off in all directions. We had a really good laugh back then, believe me.
So, you have my word: almost every time one of you preaches or mumbles fearfully: “That is devil's work!”, or when someone paints a super scary image of an “underworld” with brush, idea or word, then it was me who put about this conviction and let it mature into a fixed idea, an obsession – so as to bring my actual work to complete fruition, undiscovered.
My thoughts exactly! Whoever threatens you with the “devil’s wrath” needs help or therapy to get rid of his anxieties – or his fanaticism, which is the same if you ask me. You should simply ignore such conduct, particularly on the part of the media! And above all, these people should not be elected into any kind of office! So, if all this “devil's work” is a distraction, what do you do all day long as secret agent of the underworld, if I may ask?
My tasks can be summed up in a few simple sentences. Let me start this way: I work day and night to convince people that comfort and convenience are their birthright. That standstill is more desirable than movement – physically, mentally and spiritually. I'm the inventor of the “Mañana Dictum”: “Today can wait, tomorrow’s another day!”
You did that? This dictum I know inside out! But what is there to do, after all? I always assumed that the inclination to idleness is an innate human trait you have to resist resolutely. That's what self-discipline was invented for. At least that's what they say …