The doorbell rang. It was the devil. They’d be wearing the clothes and body of the delivery guy, holding the pizza Gil had ordered twenty nine minutes ago. He came down the stairs in no particular hurry. This leg of the negotiation process was merely a formality, and the devil’s appearances had become commonplace. In the form of postal workers hand delivering bills, sickly birds on the windowsill in the process of leaving a mess, or pornographic performers suddenly addressing Gil by name during lonely midnight viewings, he and the devil had slowly circled an agreement.
He opened the door, brimstone and pepperoni gusts mixing with the stale hamper stench of his apartment. He slid his credit card onto the oily box held aloft before him. The devil placed a sheet of parchment next to it, the yellowing becoming darker as it soaked up grease.
“Sign here.” he said.
A red tipped quill was suddenly present in Gil’s hand. He scratched his name clumsily with the feather’s odd balance. His card sizzled into the cardboard, taking on a sheathe of blackened carbon.
“Superb. Beautiful. You’re now a Deluxe Brimstone cardholder, my friend. Congratulations. Let me just get your change from the car.”
The devil’s use of language was perfectly measured to hide only half of his disdain, and proudly display the rest. Gil held the pizza, and watched as the pizzaman’s body rummaged through the trunk. He came back to the stoop with an even more filthy heap than the pizza. It was a ragged bear skin, clotted with desiccated fat and strings of viscera. It was carrion with sleeve holes cut out. The devil held it up by the ears, letting its weight drag the rest down onto the concrete.
“So I just wear this, right?”
The devil didn’t nod.
“It was all in the contract. You wear the cloak, you don’t shower, you don’t brush or floss, you empty out your medicine cabinet, and you save a lot of money on detergent. You can flush, but none of those blue water tablets. No barbers. No razors or scissors. No tweezers. If anything is unclear, I’ll have my people contact your people. Three years.”
Gil pocketed his card, set the pizza box down on the steps, and allowed the devil to clothe him. It was a bit tight around the shoulders, and already he could feel sweat percolating up around his neck. He turned around to shake on the deal, say goodbye, and formalize the completion of the deal, but there was nothing but a black singe mark on the sidewalk, and a disgusting amount of scintillating automotive fluids spelling out “ASSHOLE” where the pizza car had been parked. Typical devil stuff.
Gil grabbed the pizza, and kicked his apartment door close. Dropping the box onto his bed, he dug through his pocket to retrieve his grime encrusted card. He had sixteen tabs open on his computer, ready for his payment details. The checkout processes were only hampered by the number on his card changing each time he used it. The security code on the back, 666, was easy enough to remember after Gil had rolled his eyes at it twice.
After a few hours of reveling in filling up carts and checking out, signing up for streaming services and game accounts, he tossed himself onto his mattress and let the furry mass of the cloak smother him to sleep. The release of pleasurable reward chemicals into his brain had already been blunted. Was this hibernation?
The next day, an hour past noon, he untangled his legs from the cloak and stumbled to the fridge. Could he drink water in a way that’d rinse the grime of last night’s pizza from his mouth? The stink of charred pepperoni was wrapped around his gums. He decided on cola, instead of chancing it. The day was filled with playing online games including slot games as he was an avid Slot Gaming Student, purchasing cosmetic goodies from their built-in cash shops, and waiting for last night’s next-day-shipping to arrive. He half expected every brown shorted deliveryman to slyly ask him how the cloak was working out, but instead they all avoided eye contact. The pens they let him use were blue or black.
Months swam by, and aside from a bird tapping at his window after he wiped his face off on his pillowcase too vigorously while waking up, the deal seemed very much in Gil’s favor. His status online was higher than ever. His generosity and enviable gaming rig, as well as nightly streaming in the kooky bear cloak had garnered him a few thousand followers. His skin was pale and damp, and he often kept the hood of his cloak as low as he could. His few trips outside to buy smokes at the corner store were delayed until it was as dark as possible. It was during these times that the cold night air seemed to cleanse him as much as he could hope for.
He engaged in arguments frequently, defending his lifestyle and “character” as “bear cloak guy” constantly. He filled his days with the same rituals he always had, and though his utter lack of hygiene itched all the way down to his bones, only occasionally wondered what the ultra rich people he heard of on the news had given up to attain their wealth.
About one year in, he decided that he’d have to start utilizing his wealth to its fullest extent. He peeled the hood back from his wet strings of hair and began looking at travel websites. He didn’t have a passport, and he knew he’d be out of luck if he had to be searched. He could drive across the country, but even with solid air conditioning he’d hate having the sun on him for any sustained amount of time. A bus might work, but he wouldn’t want to force anyone to sit next to him. The day ran by, and before the night ended, resolved to simply get his smokes for the next day and put it on hold.
The landlord left notes about the odor from his place, and Gil countered by hiring a maid service. He streamed games nearly ten hours a day, and as inquiries about his personal life and health increased, an elite team of moderators banned people for the slightest impropriety. His tips to the local pizza place had increased, and even though the regular driver (who had once been possessed by the devil) made goodwill efforts at smalltalk, never looked him in the eyes. Didn’t they know who he was? People had written articles about Bear Cloak Guy. He’d done blogcast interviews. People paid attention, and donated money.
The remaining years shed away rapidly. The air conditioning was not enough, and it was two hours past noon, and Gil was laying in bed trying to will some of the accumulated grime out of his eyes and ears and mind. There was a knock at the door. He spent ten minutes ignoring it as it returned and returned. He hadn’t ordered anything in months, none of his pre-orders were due for weeks. He wobbled out to scare it away. He opened the door, the greasy smear of bear face lowered down over his own. He saw the Animal Control van covering up the faded “Asshole” grease spots. A man in mirrored shades and a brown suit not unlike a deliveryman was sizing him up.
“We’ve got reports of a dying bear loose around these parts.” he said.
It was the devil. Gil let him talk.
“Impressive. Really nice. You had three years with nearly unlimited funds and, well, you did…”
The devil feigned peering over Gil’s furry shoulder into the hovel packed with cardboard boxes and soda cans.
“Well, through history, others have accomplished far more with far less. But, the terms of the contract have been met. I’ve arranged a spa day to turn you back into a human. I plan on telling you all of the things you could’ve done with your resources.”
Gil felt his spine straighten as ten pounds of hide and grime were lifted from it. The cloak was gone, and he was chilly in his damp sweat ruined v-neck shirt and boxer-briefs. The dried lines of muck in the creases of his arms were as dark as tattoos.
“I dunno, I’ve got plans.” Gil said.
He turned to a box near the door and began clawing it open with his food stained fingernails. The devil may’ve arched an eyebrow behind those shades as Gil pulled up a clean and well tailored fur cloak from the box.
“I’m streaming tonight.”