Sister Philadelphia lit the candles in the vestibule and inhaled the rich incense wafting from the church. The pews were empty, and darkness yawned across the altar, its maw stretching up to the crucifix where an impaled Savior grinned arcanely at his dismemberment. The flames drew out the stained glass window and outside, an early snow. Sister Philadelphia heard a crow caw in the dripping pine, and she gathered her habit and red shawl around her shoulders as she fared the evening twilight and flakes of ice in the withering sky out to her small cell. Her sisters were fast asleep, tired out from worship, and she had had the evening shift on All Soul’s Eve. Sister Philadelphia gave a happenstance glance at the graveyard, full of weeping angels, and she imagined them singing alleluias in weeping Christ’s passion. How crucifixes and the crutches of Saint Lazarus and wounds of Mary Magdalene, though only of the heart, were strange soliloquies on temptation. It was said Christ harrowed Hell, and Sister Philadelphia was always afraid of the darkness, but so she braved the closing shift, shut the doors of the church, and entered the convent. Just a few footfalls walk to the end of the hall, her boots crunching snow, until she drew out a skeleton key and opened her cell. Inside, a small bed, a tiny nightstand with a Bible, and a candlestick.
A chill passed over the room as her boots, thoroughly soaked through and clinging with orange leaves, were taken off. The vents let in the warm air from the fire in the main hall and she arrayed them so they directed their heat at her bed. Shivering, she gathered herself and turned to the Gospels, her candle drawing out a facsimile of a smile from the cross on her wall. She tucked herself into her blankets and read over John miming the verses and parables on her memorized tongue. It was her favorite. She had always been an outcast in her small Rostock village for so loving study, in a time when women shouldn’t read and were expected to suckle babes then turn dirt in an early grave, half-sick from motherhood and needlework and butter churning. No, she chose the sisterhood, if only to learn to read. The rest of the trappings, from Christ to the Masses, she wasn’t too sure about.
Suddenly, a knock at the door, only she was dressed in her linen night shift. She gathered her skirts, smoothed her dark hair, and peered out the lock with eyes like amber bezels.
Darkness, writhing darkness, and beneath that, boiling red. Wicked heat came from the door’s entrance, like the furnace of a hellmouth.
Sister Philadelphia opened the door to find herself face to face with a man of red skin, ram horns, fineries she had never seen yet plain in the dress like some respectable nobleman, dripping gold from his pointed ears, and curled black locks oiled to shine boot polish bright.
He grinned like a cat arching its back. “Sister, I’m cold, would you but let me warm myself in your blankets?”
His eyes were infernos. All yellow heat and slit iris.
She would have screamed, but it died in her throat, and the Devil takes no prisoners, only the willing.
She saw the chance to test what the priests and sisters taught her. A devilish chance, as it were, but scripture nonetheless.
“If I read, will you listen, oh Dark One?”
The Devil laughed. “I’m a man of the book, Sister. A traveler too. Gypsy or not, I’m afraid I’m a rambler, and I always fancy a word with pretty girls. To hear the gospel from your lips would be celestial temptation most frightful.”
“Then come in.”
Sister Philadelphia was never much of one for God, more for he who taught humanity knowledge and to quote scripture in their sin. To have the Devil at her doorstep, why, on All Soul’s Eve? It was meant to be a test.
And he was a might handsome, as handsome as sin.
She locked the door shut behind them.
“In the Beginning was the Word…”
He draped a blanket around him like a cape, then examined the cross. “Grapes from the vine, yes. To be made into the vintage of wrath or mercy is simply up to the maker of the wine.”
The room was like a dragon’s womb, enchantingly hot, all radiating from the Devil.
He looked at her with obsidian and vice.
“Tell me, you were there. Is it truly as they say? God created the universe in seven days?”
“More like He gave a sneeze and we were all shat out on accident. You must admit, this Book is a bit lacking. Where’s the bit about where bellybuttons come from, their purpose, really? I invented them. I also invented opposable thumbs. And the pearly seat of womanly pleasure. That was my greatest one.”
The Devil examined his claws. “It’s all trite bullshit in the end, this Book. Now I would have written it differently: In the Beginning was a Woman, and she lusted after a Star.”
Sister Philadelphia’s eyes grew wide, curiosity after first succulent bite. The candle stubbed out, but he glowed like coals in the dark. “Eve, yes. I have always loved her, though Father Philip says she is Sin. I gave everything I had for Knowledge, for the Word.”
“In that, inquisitive Sister, we are joined. Woman is born hungry. Hungry for words. A last rib made of ink.” The Devil took the cross down from the wall and respectfully placed it in the nightstand drawer, if only so his Father did not witness corruption. The Devil is a gentleman, after all. “Tell me, Sister, was it worth it? Giving up life for this back country parish? All so you could be a learned woman?”
“We feed the poor. We tend the sick. In those duties, I rejoice. But to read, why, I would have become lame and dumb in order to understand language on the page. Someday, I will write my own books. Like Teresa or Hildegard or Catherine. I have it in my bones.”
“I’ve written many books in my time, sweet Sister. Would you like to taste a Star? It is the drink of poetry. The flesh of God is the Sun. He used to nurse us from His light.” And with that, the Devil pulled a silver pear from his breast pocket. Sister Philadelphia gasped at its succulent scent and without hesitation bit in. Its flesh was blood red but tasted like sugary providence. Fire warmed her belly, and the Devil cradled her head in his hands as she devoured it.
“Kiss me, I have never tasted a man’s lips, and what passes between a Bride and Darkness is best left to the day souls walk the Earth. It shall be our secret.”
“What is your name, sister dangerous?”
“Philadelphia. Just Filly.”
“So Filly, will you give me a prayer each night for my soul in exchange for a kiss? No one has yet to pray for me. I do so grow lonely down below. If you appeal to your God, perhaps Father shall grant me some mercy. You are supposedly a holy woman, after all,and your nightgown smells of frankincense and myrrh. I do so love holy things.”
“I will pray for you until you die, if you promise me you will tell me the truth: will I find what I am looking for here?”
“Than it was all worth nothing.”
“I can make it all worth it. Now be quiet, and know the Morning Star for who he is.”
They kissed like fire and oil, combustion embodied, and suddenly Filly found herself full of light, of burning, and she probed her tongue into his lush red lips and tasted damnation. It was like the chocolate she had once had at a Christmas market in the Black Forest as a child, one she had stolen when her poor parents weren’t looking and the vendor was closing up for the night. He smelled like cloves and oranges and ash. Grasping hands, soft hands, hard talons, cupping her breasts, skimming her back, and soon they were falling into each other’s arms and his broken halo cut her brow like shrapnel and there was blood at her mouth from her forehead. He lapped at the wound with a cat rough tongue, then eased her out of her night shift and was soon working her sex with that same forked tongue like a melody. She came like rain as he used his fingers in a come hither motion then lapped at her pearl like a wild thing.
His mouth wet with her, he suckled at her breasts, and she fisted handfuls of his curling black hair into knots as she apexed beneath him. Soon, his hot, eager member against her belly, wet with precum, and like swans flying north they joined in unholy communion, a sinuous movement bespeaking an ocean of sin. He was hot inside her, pumping and pleasing and caressing and teasing. She cried out as softly as she could so as not to wake the other sisters up.
“Filly, you are sweet,” he growled, taking his fangs and pressing them deep into her neck until he was drinking her lifeblood. “So sweet I could… fall… yet again.”
Words escaped her as their black covenant wrote a whole nother gospel on what not to do on a holy day. She heard the cross shatter as the drawer fell open and God turned away from her blaspheming.
The Devil came inside her in searing spurts, and she felt it pulse upwards to her womb, blinding her belly with serpent seed. He licked her wound shut with his saw paper tongue and then gave a sweet sigh, if the Devil could be said to ever be sweet.
“Come with me away from here, Filly. I will teach you witchcraft, the oath of the Witchfather. Let us travel Germania as Samiel and Brunhilde. The Black Huntsman and his Valkyrie. You are not a meek lamb of God. No, you are a lioness.”
She stroked his back, where his wings of plush leather joined his shoulder blades. “Yes, I think I would like that, Samiel.”
And so they left a train of ghosts behind them, bones rolled in their graves, and the Devil and Filly were ne’er to be seen in Rostock again (at least, not in daylight).