“Excuse me, your excellency, am I intruding?”
The question was reasonable. An appointment had been made through the correct channels. Yet the master appeared engrossed in the contents of a steaming cauldron whilst keeping an eye on several smoking ovens. A starched chef's hat sat perched over one leathery ear and a taloned hand clutched a long, rusted iron fork that he was thrusting, seemingly randomly, under the surface of the broth.
“You're late,” said a voice that dripped with unsurprising malice.
“Sorry, sir. I'm just after a little advice and I hoped—”
“Then spit it out, imbecile!”
“It's about Christmas, sir,” muttered the visitor, his claws nervously cutting furrows in the dirt floor. “I don't really have much experience of it, you see. I've just been transferred from the Orient to Scotland. That's, er, in Britain and—”
“I know where Scotland is, dolt!”
“Of course you do, sir. Only I'm worried my human may take too much interest in all things Christian. So my idea was to book a winter cruise to get him out of harm's way.”
“Lucifer preserve us from dimwits!” The senior devil cast a look of such disdain that the lesser demon came perilously close to voiding his bowels. “Are you completely clueless? Don't you realise that Christmas provides us with one of our greatest opportunities?”
“Yes, sir. I mean, no, sir. I, er, don't understand.”
“No you don't. That's why you were sent to me. As it happens, I'm just putting the finishing touches to this year's Christmas fare. I find this particular concoction so efficacious, I use it with all three score of the humans assigned to my personal care. If you step closer, I'll run you through the basics.”
The junior demon scurried forward, then vaulted up into the rafters to observe the proceedings from a safe distance.
“I find the lengthy run-up to Christmas especially beneficial to our cause,” explained the senior devil. “I like to think of it as my hors d'oeuvre. Wherever your human goes in Scotland, he will be exposed to a constant stream of Christmas pop songs and sentimental carols. Most of these are deliciously inane, a few actually promote greed and immorality. The net result will be to blind your human from glimpsing the awful truth of the incarnation.”
“Moreover, allow your human to indulge himself in kind thoughts about children, small animals and aged relatives. None of these 'appetisers' matter because by the time he's guzzled his way through to the end, he'll be in no state to put any of it into practice.” The devil turned suddenly, opened one of the ovens and pulled out a rancid-looking roast. “I'm particularly proud of this dish. Doesn't really matter when he consumes it; it'll sit heavy in his stomach for months after.”
“What is it?” clamoured the imp from the ceiling. “You must tell me!”
“Why, I shall,” replied the master, amused by the pathetic chorus. “This is the annual Christmas party. With this one fiendish dish your human is guaranteed to be enslaved by lust, drunkenness, slander, and every flavour of debauchery. Really mouth-watering.”
“Bravo,” cried the junior demon, unsettling cobwebs and debris in his heady excitement.
“The pièce de résistance is of course Christmas Day. While he feasts upon turkey and ham, you can be stuffing his soul with lashings of self-indulgence and bitter resentment. Surround him with his nearest and dearest and a room-full of irrelevant and unwanted presents. By the end of the day he'll be so sick of the whole spirit of Christmas, he'll be yours for the rest of eternity.”
“What should I do about church?”
The devil gave an involuntary shudder. “Normally harmless but I do find it opens a dangerous door to the Enemy. My advice is to keep everything ecclesiastical off the menu. Stick to shopping malls.”
“And for dessert?”
“In Scotland I would move straight to liqueurs. Hogmanay is only a few days later and once your human is properly inebriated, you can start the New Year confident that he's as far from redemption as is demonically possible.”
“Marvellous, truly inspired!” chirped the smaller demon, jumping down and skipping out of the room. “It's astounding that we can get away with it.”
“It is indeed,” said the devil, calling after him. “Firstly, humans don't believe we exist. Secondly, they are blind to our schemes. Let's keep it that way!”
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