The task was to write the opening lines of a work of fiction based on one of three plots.
Joanne is the kind of woman who has anything anyone needs and she's always willing to let others borrow. One day Beelzebub knocks on her door with a smile and a proposition. He wants to borrow Joanne's soul for the afternoon.
1. Joanne looked out at the smiling man on her doorstep. He was well-dressed, in a smart black suit with wide satin lapels, a red silk tie, and the most unusual jet-black rose in his buttonhole. He held his bowler hat politely in his hand. Sticking up from his slicked-back hair were two small, tasteful horns. Joanne tried to place the face. "Oh, hello, Mr...."
"Yoohoo! Joanne!" A woman in a loud flowered dress pushed past the man. "Can I borrow your car?"
"Of course, Marcia." Joanne handed over the keys with a smile, and turned back to the stranger. He smiled suavely. "I --"
"Joanne!" A man's voice shouted from across the lawn. "I'm returning your cement mixer. I'll leave it in the garage, okay?"
"Okay, Sam!" Joanne called back. "Now, Mr. Beel, you wanted...?"
"Your soul, Joanne."
"My...soul?" Joanne went pale and took a step backwards. "Oh, but..."
"It would only be for a few hours," Mr. Beel said smoothly.
"May I ask what you want it for?"
The suave smile faltered. Mr. Beel cleared his throat. "Well, if you must know..."
From his breast pocket, he withdrew a piece of black paper. The writing on it appeared to be made of actual flames. "Scavenger hunt," Mr. Beel explained. "'Item five: Soul of the world's most generous woman.' I'll bring it right back," he promised.
"I'm so sorry," she said. "You see, a young man with wings, Michael, I think he said? He borrowed it earlier today. In fact," Joanne checked her watch. "I thought he'd have it back by now..."
"Michael...." Beelzebub frowned. Thwarted again by that sap. Suddenly he snapped his fingers and consulted his flaming list.
"Cement mixer!" he said with delight. "Do you mind if I borrow that?"
2. "Cappucino babe, yeah, thanks." She tried to press down the edginess. High-heeled foot tap tap tapping on the floor. Things just never happened fast enough, people just didn't try.
She sipped the coffee and fingered her laptop, answering mail after mail, most of which really never needed an answer. If people just thought for themselves, it'd be so much simpler. She kept at it, pasting the same answer in for most of the emails. Until the one that gave her pause.
But only just a moment, and then the tap tap tap started again.
Dear Beel, she responded.
I'd like you to be a bit more precise on the details. I understand that it will only be an 8 hour period but, nevertheless, I would appreciate more information such as, for example, whether wearing Prada would be a requirement.
Maybe we can meet up for drinks this evening to discuss?
There was just the trace of a pause before she hit SEND.
3. The outside of a window fifteen stories up was nothing when your feet were covered with thousands of tiny hooks and filamentous pads. Even glass has enough imperfections to cling to in perfect safety. Beelzebub, clinging on with the back four, used one of his feet to grab Mephistopheles by the thorax and the other to punch him.
“Are you sure this is the one?” he said, one of his compound eyes on the woman inside the apartment. “She’s not exactly a model, is she?”
Mephistopheles buzzed his wings. “I’m sure,” he said. “She’s just the sort he likes. Clever, but not enough to intimidate and pretty but not enough to attract other men like… flies on dog poo. She’s perfect, boss.”
“Tell me again what she wants, Phist.” The demon let go of the smaller fly and began washing his eyes. Mephistopheles reached to his abdomen and pulled out a scrap of paper. “A chance to dance at the Academy,” he said, straining to read the writing which looked, even to his practised eye, like it was written in fly-dirt. “We can shoehorn her in for an audition. The stage manager’s one of ours.”
Beelzebub spat in glee. “Right,” he said. “You go back downstairs and get the paperwork drawn up.”
“What will you do boss?” Phist eyed the line of spittle, wondering if Beelzebub would mind if he ate it.
“Me?” The fallen cherub rubbed his feet together in anticipation of a challenge. “I’m going to do a little tempting.”
4. Spring had rarely shown a better day, but the truth was it had in fact shown better days. The clouds had been fluffier and whiter. The sky was a deeper blue. The birds had sung better. But pollution, global warming and corporate America had taken the edge off the beauty of the seasons in even this isolated bucolic English scene.
Joanne Spargo had hoped to turn back the tide. She had stocked everything everyone needed to borrow. Rather than go to some branch of some multinational corporation, they came to her. A collective for tools, for home-made breads and honey and nearly everything else. Without their knowing she had made a commune of the small village. They all came to her, and eventually she would take a council seat because of it.
"You underestimate these people, Beelzebub, just like you underestimated me."
Beelzebub shifted in his chair, his Earl Grey in perfect poise. He wore a three piece suit, hand-made by a little man at Harrods, or so he said.
"Joanne Spargo, I merely ask to borrow something like so many others."
"They live here."
"And are registered to vote. That's why I offer something temporary for something borrowed. I borrow your soul, you get a seat in Parliament. I may not command all hell, but I have enough sway to get this done."
"You borrow my soul for the afternoon? No changes in the time sequence, no killing me off so you don't have to return it?"
"I borrow your soul for the afternoon. It will be one of several thousand. When audit's done I look good and get more territory in hell which I expect to leverage in Hell's politics. You get something that is not your greatest desire but a stepping stone to that desire."
--D Jason Cooper
5. Joanne was on her exercise bike, chuckling at something that plucky little shiksa Joy Behar had said, when the knock came. Fluffing her sweat-moistened gray curls off her neck, she checked her eye shadow in the mirror and unbolted her door.
"Darling, it must be Thursday, because I smell apricot croissants!"
Joanna shrieked and feigned a girlish blush as she leant in to exchange cheek kisses with the Prince of Darkness.
"Oh Satan, you old charmer," she said, taking his heavy red velvet cape from him and folding it over the back of the new recliner.
"Joanne, I've got a favor to ask of you," said Beelebub, examining his expertly manicured chrome-painted nails.
"Shoot, babydoll," she said, presenting him with a freshly poured cup of sweet smelling brown brew and a just-cooked-enough wad of steamy apricot croissant to test.
"JoJo, you're so evil. You know I'm watching my weight," the devil said, shooting her a conspiratorial look and popping the scrumptious deliciousness in his maw. "Listen, can I borrow your soul for the afternoon?"
He unfolded a cut out from the newspaper and flattened it on the table in front of him. "I got an audition."
Her face lit up. "Mazel tov! By all means! The soul is yours!"
"Just for the afternoon," he reminded her.
She waved her hand at him. "Don't be silly. Take it out, have a good time!"
She held still, he snapped his fingers, and instantly a little zest seemed to disappear from the diminutive lady in the lighthouse sweatshirt.
"JoJo, you're the best friend a diety could have."
She wrapped him up a few snickerdoodles, grabbed his cape for him and grinned. "Don't get all ferklempt on me! Hey, and remember – don't let that Simon Cowell give you any hell."
More than anything, Lily wants to get a tan this summer. But handsome dermatologist Steve is determined to protect her porcelain complexion. Who will win in this battle of wills, secret desires, and SPF levels?
The sun beamed on Lily’s egg white body, and she could feel herself prickle. As the heat warmed her skin, she decided she’d made a good choice in tanning accelerator with a tingle factor. It’d only been four minutes in the sun and she was tanning.
In fact, she tingled so good, Lily flipped to her belly. Thirty seconds later, her body stung. Perhaps that was enough for one day since she was pasty white.
Her body flamed as she gathered her ice chest, towel, book, sunglass, and stereo. She looked down and saw her smoldering skin red and swelling when she dropped her things and ran for the house, only to be greeted with locked doors.
She screamed as she rubbed her throbbing body and sprinted for her neighbor’s house where she banged until the door opened and ducked inside under his arm.
“I need to use your shower!” She jumped as her burning body shook.
The man stared at her with crinkled eyebrows before pointing toward the back of the house.
“Go right.” He yelled when she reached a hall.
Lily jumped in the shower and set the water to cold.
The man entered the bathroom. “Are you all right?”
She nodded and lavished in the cooling stream.
“Lily. I’m your neighbor. I locked myself out of my house and my skin was burning from the sun.”
He frowned. “The sun is damaging. You should wear sunscreen while outside.”
“How am I supposed to get a tan with sunscreen on?” Lily tried not to stare at her dark-tanned sexy neighbor.
“Why would you want to tan that beautiful creamy white skin? It reminds me of vanilla pudding. I love licking vanilla pudding.” He approached the shower and began stripping his shirt.
-- Keri Ford
Meter man Harry Burkhart doesn't know what the fellow in 15B is up to, but he knows that he needs 500,000 Watts of power to do it.
Harrry Burkhart tapped the electricity meter with a chubby, gloved finger and grunted. The meter continued to spin as if the needle inside was possessed. He shifted his bulging stomach and squinted at the glass cover.
“This can’t be right,” he muttered aloud. In all his seven years of employ under Johnson & Barney Electric Company, Harry had never seen such a high reading.
“…gotta be a mistake,” Harry grumbled irritably. Slivers of dawn peeped through the canopy of palm fronds above him. It was much too early for meter nonsense. Harry whipped a cell phone from his overloaded tool-belt and dabbed a set of numbers.
“Yeah?” A bored voice answered on the other end.
“Fred, there’s a problem with the meter over at spruce tree apartments… says that someone is using five hundred big ones.” Harry felt a bead of sweat forming just below his receding hair line.
Fred laughed. “Bull, bro. Five hundred thousand watts? God doesn’t use that much power.”
“I know, right?” Harry scratched his ear and studied the impetuous meter. “What should I do?”
“I don’t know. Just go up there and see what he has plugged in.”
“Thanks, Fred.” Harry snapped the cell phone shut and thrust it back into his belt. He turned his squinting gaze to the wooden staircase beside him. A shiver of trepidation tickled down his spine. If the resident in 15B was somehow, impossibly, using that much juice…
Summoning the courage that being an electricity meter-reader demanded, he hefted his enormous girth and mounted the stair. Harry approached a faded door bearing a plastic ‘15B’ sign. He rapped on the door with knuckles.
A moment later the door swung open and Harry’s stomach lurched at what he saw inside the apartment.