On a moonless night many years ago, you met a man at a crossroads on the outskirts of town. He offered you many splendid things - all that you could want and more, all at a single fixed price. How could you say no to deal like that?
Now the Devil has come to collect his due. He arrives at your doorstep in crimson and gray, merry eyes dancing like the flames of Hell. When you do not resist, he looks disappointed, as though claiming your soul is another weary chore on a list as long as eternity. Does he want you to weep, to fight him, to beg for another few years? Or perhaps… perhaps he is just looking for a game.
A contest, then? His eyes burn brightly at this suggestion. Yes, there is no doubt about it - you’ve seen that hungry look before, on the face of every compulsive gambler you’ve ever known.
It is the old wager. Should you win, all debts are forgiven, and he gives up all claim over your soul. Should you lose, he will collect his payment in full.
You never learned to play the fiddle, so his first hopeful suggestion is shot down. A game of riddles is no better - the only one you can remember involves a frog in a blender. Chess, then? No, no. You called one of your pieces “the horsey” and he ended the game abruptly.
There’s got to be something you can play, he pleads, voice teetering on the edge of desperation. Backgammon? Billiards? Poker? Golf? But you have never been a competitive person - winning has never appealed to you the way it does to some, and you are not the worthy and driven opponent he craves.
And then… you find it. It’s not what your infernal guest was hoping for, but it’s all you’ve got, and by now he’s ready to settle for anything that offers a challenge. Long nights spent playing against yourself during the lonely years after grad school honed your skills to a keen edge. It’s the last chance you’re ever going to get, and by God, you’re giving it your all.
Anyone passing by your window would see nothing at all out of the ordinary - just two hunched figures, lost in twin concentration, and between you, a Scrabble board.