A few minutes seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. Now, each night, Mike struggled to remember every detail, in case there were some element or some clue he could use, anything to bring Davy back.
“Look—there’s no reason to get uptight, and there’s no reason to lose our senses,” Mike said, pacing, methodical. “We just gotta remember that we’re dealing with a cool, diabolical mind.”
Only Peter seemed convinced. “Thank you!”
“I’m talking about the Devil.”
“Oh.” Peter wilted. Davy grimaced, not taking his gaze from Peter’s face.
“It’s okay guys, I have everything under control.” Micky held up a stick he’d been sharpening and gestured toward the door with it. “When he comes through the door I’m going to take this wooden stake and…” Abruptly, and with an eerie chime, the stick was replaced with a feather. Mr. Zero had appeared too, and he smiled dryly while Micky finished, giggling nervously: “…Tickle his nose.”
Davy clutched Peter’s arm more tightly, and all four boys shook in fear.
They had barely had time to process the news that Peter had unwittingly signed away his soul for the ability to play the harp before Mr. Zero showed up to claim his end of the bargain. Now he stood in their doorway in his expensive suit, all business, ready to take Peter from them forever because of a stupid mistake.
“Are you ready, Peter?” Mr. Zero asked.
“Oh no, no, he’s not ready,” Micky said quickly, beginning to babble in his nervousness. “You see, he left his suit at the cleaner’s. He’s not ready to go.”
Just stall for a minute, Mike thought with intensity, hoping Micky and Davy could read his mind. I’ve almost got it.
Micky and Davy were clutching Peter’s arms on either side, and Peter was nodding, or shuddering, it was hard to tell which.
“He’s got to write a letter to his mother, haven’t you?” Davy said.
“I’ve got a million things to do,” Peter agreed. “Couldn’t it be tomorrow?”
The three of them were a bundle of nerves, optimistic, clinging to each other. Think, Mike, think.
“Ooh, I remember reading in the paper where, due to a lack of interest, tomorrow was cancelled, so we’ll have to make it day after tomorrow,” Mike interjected, hoping he sounded confident enough to be convincing while his mind raced.
Mr. Zero shook his head without emotion. “Don’t worry, Peter, you’ll like it down there,” he said, taking Peter’s arm and leading him toward the door.
“What about the fires?” Peter asked.
“People are always talking about the fires,” Zero said irritably. “You don’t burn. All you feel… is a sense of depression.”
Zero began to open the door, but Davy ran over and pushed it shut. “Uh, wait a minute, Mr. Zero,” he said, evoking his best semblance of charm over what must have been considerable anxiety. “I’d like to make a deal with you. It doesn’t really matter who you take. Why don’t you leave Peter and take me instead?”
He sounded genuine—too genuine, Mike thought as he exchanged an uneasy look with Micky. His nerves fluttered as he watched Davy gesticulate convincingly. He could barely think over the warning bells that now rang deafeningly in his brain. Mike had a plan to save Peter, he just needed a few more seconds to work it out. It wouldn’t do any good for Davy to play knight in shining armor right now.
“My contract is with Peter,” Mr. Zero said, giving Peter’s arm a tug.
Davy snatched Peter’s other arm and he and Micky began to pull the blond away from the door. When he spoke again there was real panic in his voice. “No, no, you’re not taking him, he’s—it’s…”
Mike opened his mouth to speak, his plan finally taking firm shape in his mind, but it was already too late.
“Wait a minute,” Mr. Zero said, dropping Peter’s arm and turning back to Davy. He grasped Davy’s chin and gazed into his eyes thoughtfully. “You’d truly change places with Peter?”
Davy, no. Mike thought, and his blood ran cold in his veins.
His expression serious, Davy nodded. “Leave my friends alone, and I’ll do whatever you want.”
“How wonderful of you,” Mr. Zero smiled a sinister smile, keeping his grasp on Davy’s chin while he examined the angles of the young man’s face. Mike could see Davy trembling while Peter and Micky looked on, mute with shock. “It’s a deal, David.” He pulled Peter’s contract from his breast pocket and began to unfold it.
Before their eyes, text flourished across the bottom of the page, spelling out Davy’s full name and tracing an ominous black line for his signature.
“Davy, no,” Mike said numbly, as if coming out of a spell. “You can’t.”
“I, David Thomas Jones, as proxy for Peter Halsten Tork, hereby promise, yadda yadda yadda, all eternity, sign here, please.” Zero produced a pen and handed it to Davy.
“Davy, don’t. Please don’t,” Micky pleaded, grasping Davy tightly around both shoulders. Davy looked at Peter, who shook his head vigorously.
“I’m not letting Peter go to Hell,” Davy said, his jaw set. He quickly scrawled his name on the contract and shook Mr. Zero’s outstretched hand. The last few seconds happened so rapidly that later, in his nightmares, Mike relived them with a feeling of paralysis. Davy patted Peter on the shoulder and smiled almost convincingly. Then he spun around and hugged Micky, throwing Mike a meaningful look over the drummer’s shoulder —a look Mike would analyze to the point of agony-- before stepping backward toward the doorway and Mr. Zero.
“Let’s go, David,” Zero said winningly, and in the moment before the two men vanished in a cloud of grey smoke, Mike saw a look of pure terror wash over Davy’s face. Then he was gone.