I know that last beer had been a bad idea.
I hardly drink at all but today I’d needed to. The night out with my friends had been a great diversion yet clouded by the 25th anniversary of his death. Freddie’s death. The 24th November 1991. The day when Queen had lost an essential part. It’s incomprehensible how twenty-five years can somehow pass so quickly and still you can miss someone so much and never stop wishing things could’ve been different.
My knees are wobbly as I hang my coat on the rack next to the door and kick my boots off. I stagger towards the couch and fumble for the remote of the telly.
The moment the screen comes alive his face comes into focus and I hear Freddie’s voice. The tears are unstoppable, proper waterfall that drenches the neck of my t-shirt. I put a hand in front of my mouth while I am sobbing. I want to break free.
One of my favourite songs by Queen. A hymn for many of us who have been in situations or lives they wanted to break free from.
The BBC are showing a Queen live concert from Wembley stadium. It’s probably the event I had attended with my dad many years ago.
That day had been one of the best of my life. I had sat on my old man’s shoulders so I could see the stage. In a sea of fans we sang along with the masses. We’d been too far away to get a good view of Freddie on stage, yet everyone had felt Freddie’s incredible presence. A kind of magic.
I wipe my eyes while I keep on snuffling. Womble, my beautiful fluffy calico cat, is giving me a judgmental stare from her position on the armrest of the sofa.
I reach for the Kleenex on the table. When I sit back down I accidentally press a button of the remote with my bum cheek, switching channels. A music video’s playing.
Fucking Christ on a space station! The new song by Jason Barber. Barber is the epitome of all that’s wrong with today’s music industry. Barber’s a young brat with about three pubes in total, a thin voice and no visible talent. A stupid little kid who believes all the crap his manager has told him about how great he is and that his shit doesn’t smell. If you have most of your teeth left, can stand straight and people don’t projectile-vomit when they see your face – that’s what makes you a star these days.
Barber’s efforts of dancing are cringe-worthy. Rhythm is a stranger to him. And yet Barber is one of the best selling artists in the music industry these days – and back then I had thought the Backstreet Boys were crap.
I blow my nose, grab hold of the remote, wielding it in the air like Excalibur. Jason’s face fills the screen and I growl at him. “I wish you were gone from the face of the earth, you lil’ arsehole!”
With a push of the right button Freddie is back on.
“Oh, Freddie, I would gladly kill Jason Barber if I could just bring you back again!”
Jesus, how pathetic am I? I’m going to suffer a hangover from hell tomorrow.
I haul myself up and trudge to the bathroom. My bladder is raising maximum alarm and it’s time to gift all that beer to the porcelain void.
A few minutes later I’m schlepping myself back out into the living room brushing my teeth. I freeze, close my eyes then count to three before I open them again. Yup, he’s still there.
Richard Armitage is lounging about on my couch, ruffling Womble’s fur which she enjoys, purring like a sewing machine. Eventually he turns his head and looks directly at me. “Good evening.”
I suck in air, swallow toothpaste and cough like mad, holding my hand in front of my mouth to prevent me from spraying white foam all across the carpet. Then I get it. I’m dreaming.
He smiles while he scratches Womble’s head. “You’re not dreaming, darling.”
Oh my fucking God! Richard Armitage is sitting on my couch, talking to me with that low voice that always makes my vagina sing Hallelujah. Well, it is him – and it isn’t. The beer is dulling my senses and it takes a moment to realise what’s different about him. His eyes! The real Richard Armitage has those wonderful baby blues while the peepers of the man on my couch are dark. In the scarce light of the room they seem to be black.
Is this a hoax or… something more sinister? Did he break into my apartment? There’s nothing worth stealing in here. My inner alarm fires signals to my synapses but I’m frozen to the spot.
I try to sound stern. “Whoever you are, I want you to leave my apartment right now! If you want money I have about twenty pounds in my wallet and that’s it.”
He elegantly gets up and I’m retreating a few steps.
“I don’t want your money, love.”
He’s the spitting image of Armitage, though his choice of clothes is a bit dramatic. Clad entirely in black and despite the warmth in here he’s wearing a long black overcoat. For a moment I think I see something moving about inside his coat, strange swirls or …creatures? Holy shit, this is a terrible dream.
He smiles, wolf-like yet somehow still friendly. “I told you before you are not dreaming. And you only had five beers, you’re a terrible lightweight.”
How does he know how many beers I had?
He laughs. “I know everything, darling!” He narrows his eyes and comes closer. “I am here because of what you just said.”
Before I know it I’m pinned against the wall next to the bathroom door.
I look into his eyes. The irises are an all-consuming black with the tiniest sparkles of red, speckles of lava erupting then subsiding with hypnotising repetition.
“What you said about Freddie. You remember?” His breath brushes my face. He smells like a fireplace, of dry wood and warmth and ashes.
I stutter. “What did I say again?”
He grins, a lopsided Indiana Jones grin. His brow furrows slightly as if he tries to help me recall my words.
He’s not Richard Armitage. He is someone else. Or something?
“I prefer someone.”
I hold my breath. He stands so close I feel the extreme heat radiating from his body. And my throat is dry. His lips brush my ear as he whispers. “You said you’d gladly kill Jason Barber if you could only bring Freddie back.”
I look up and all I see is darkness with tiny exploding red stars.
“How did you hear that?” My words are barely audible.
“Did you mean it?”
I squirm. “Well, you know, you say stuff like that when you’re alone, especially when you’re a bit drunk…”
His eyes pierce into mine right down to the bottom of my soul. “If I bring Freddie back will you give me your soul as a thank you?”
“What? No. NO! Anyway, Freddie is long gone.’
He’s disappointed. ‘Imagine what the world would be like if Freddie hadn’t died, the music he would have created in all those years, he would’ve had a chance to grow older… find somebody to love.”
That thought stings my heart so much tears start falling again.
He moves swiftly, catching my teardrops that sizzle like water in a hot frying pan on his tongue that feels ice-cold on my skin. He relishes the taste. “Exquisite.”
I’m beginning to shiver. That’s no ordinary man in front of me, least of all Richard Armitage. “Who are you?”
He’s a bit disgruntled. “Oh, come on, you already know by now?”
There’s a term my mind wants to blurt out but I dismiss it straight away. Utter nonsense! Folklore bullshit!
He grins. “Say my name!” Now he’s teasing me with the Heisenberg number.
“You are…” I can hardly speak “…the… Devil?’”
“Bingo!” He raises both his eyebrows in quick succession in best Thomas Magnum fashion. “Now, shall we discuss business?”
“Business?” My throat is parched.
“You said you would kill Jason Barber if I bring back Freddie.”
I shrug. “Guess I did.”
“Then we have a deal. I give you one week for the task. If you succeed you’ll also get exclusive backstage tickets for the next Queen concert in Wembley.”
I let his words echo inside of me. Freddie – back. Jason Barber – gone forever. If that wasn’t the best deal ever!? But to kill Barber – would I be up to it? Could I actually do it?
He senses my hesitation. ‘Killing Barber is a public service.’
Lucifer’s words are like the sweetest wine being slowly poured into my brain.
I have a clear moment. “What’s the catch? What happens if I don’t succeed?”
He grins. “I am an honest business man, despite all the bad rep I get from the church.” His joyful smile fades. “If you fail, though, I’ll owe your soul forever.”
“Forever is a long time, don’t you think? Can’t we narrow it down to just a Millennium?”
He laughs. “You are a smart arse! Come on, let’s shake hands on it.” He holds out his right hand. “You win you get Freddie back. You lose and I’ll have your soul for a thousand years.”
My arm twitches but I’m reluctant. “I want two weeks for the task. I need time for planning.”
He narrows his eyes. “You’re clever in your negotiations, I’ll give you that. Okay, two weeks it is.”
Without further thinking my right arm shoots forward. Before I can make up my mind he grabs my hand.
I wince as spikes of lava burn through my hand and all through my body. The pain fades in a matter of seconds. I gasp for air.
Lucifer still holds my hand. He’s clearly satisfied. “We have a deal.” He reaches into his long coat. From inside the black fabric a small, parched claw appears, holding something out. He takes the object then presents it to me.
It’s an expensive rosegold Jaeger LeCoultre watch, rectangular shape, double face with moon phase. One I had always dreamed of owning and worth a fortune.
He attaches it to my wrist. “One face will show the normal time, the other tells you how much time you have left to complete your task.”
I start to shiver and feel like vomiting.
He holds my chin up. “If anyone can succeed it’s you. And I always keep my word! See you in two weeks.””
I blink and he’s gone. A slight scent of fresh ashes lingers.
I stumble towards the couch, dropping my weight down, completely exhausted. I reach for the blanket and manage to pull it over my body. Womble crawls onto my chest and I start scratching his chin. The moment he starts purring I fall asleep.
When I wake up the first thing I feel is the wetness where I have slobbered all over my hand. Ugh! I wipe my mouth with the sleeve of my shirt and realise my clothes smell like I slept in a fireplace.
Suddenly I’m wide-awake. I notice the slight bulge underneath my shirt on my left wrist.
It can’t be! That was just an insane dream!
I gingerly slide the sleeve up and hold my breath. My brain tries to process what I’m seeing… 13:11:45:26
Thirteen days. Eleven hours. Forty-five minutes. Twenty-five seconds… 24, 23, 22… the digits are happily counting down towards the inevitable…
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