The Devil is a man in red. With eyes like amber and lips like honey, he seeks his prey as if he is a man desperate and hungry—and longing, it would seem, for his salvation.
On this night, so horribly cold out of the summer blue, he searches for his next victim on the streets of Austin, Texas. Tongue laced with fire, heart made of ice, he walks the road called 6 with abandon that comes naturally for a creature with his affliction. His eyes dance between the landscapes of buildings tall and broad, bright and dim. His gaze falls upon buildings modern and old, brick and mortar, lit and unlit, until eventually he comes upon the clubs where young men dance until they go home with one another.
If one thing is for certain, it is that the Devil does not care who his victims are. He has, throughout his years in America, made it a point to prey upon those whose hearts are filled with pain and suffering. These are the easiest victims, he knows, because no matter who they are—young or old, black or white, poor or rich—they are always tempted to succumb to him.
He stares upon the series of clubs upon the place known as 6th Street with knowledge only a creature such as he can hold. He knows, just from looking at the building before him, that his victim is here. He can almost taste his flesh through the walls.
This is why, after taking only one moment to consider his actions, he enters.
His satisfaction is almost immediate.
The strobing lights that dance over the glistening bodies of men young and old make it almost impossible to see. Arranged, haphazardly, upon the ceiling, and revolving with a mind of their own, they shine light upon those unwilling to take note of the tragedy that will come, or the suffering that will follow.
As he has anticipated, it does not take long to find his victim.
He is a twenty-six-year-old man named Daryl. Long, lean, with hair like fire and eyes like rain, he leans against the wall and breathes effortlessly the stench of alcohol and sweat. The Devil is not unaccustomed to such vices, but seeing his prey falling victim to them will only make his job easier.
Stepping forward, he approached Daryl with a charming demeanor and a smile on his face. “Hello,” he says. “How are you doing tonight?”
“Fuckin’ bored out of my mind,” the young man named Daryl replies. He tilts his head to the side to view the Devil and adds, “Who are you?”
The Devil smiles and says, “A friend, if you would like to have one.”
Daryl looks at him with eyes unsure and cautious. Then he says, “All right. Sure. I could use a friend.”
There is a brief exchange between them. Hands, eyes, lips. They are on the dance floor shortly thereafter, dancing and grinding and kissing to the sound of Madonna and 80s electronica. Stubble scrapes stubble. Bodies touch. Hands roam.
In less than an hour they are leaving the club and returning to Daryl’s home.
There is no intricate way to describe the coupling between two people, but were the Devil to offer his own opinion, he would describe it as beautiful. Sin, in any form—flesh or otherwise—appeals to him, so to strip off a young man’s clothes and feast upon the pleasures of his body is magnificent to say the least. But it is not delight in one’s flesh the Devil wishes to take within tonight. No. It is, by all respects, the body.
What few fail to realize is that humankind is a species, capable of rising and falling and as such spreading disease. They are, like rats, perfect vectors for transmission. This is why, on this night, the Devil begins to orchestrate his plan.
As he couples with the young man who bears little effect on the world at present, he impresses upon him a curse that will one day bear three letters, and will eventually become to be known as The Plague.
The act is gruesome in its savagery, brutal in its intent.
By the time it is over, Daryl is breathless—and lying, face-down, on his bed.
“Damn,” the young man says. “That was the best I’ve ever had.”
But the Devil doesn’t care. For all intents and purposes, his mission has been completed, his seed sowed in the body of another. As such, he begins to gather his clothes—first lifting the dark jeans, the flamboyant shirt, the decorative overcoat. He is soon dressing and walking out the door.
The Devil’s greatest sin is avarice. Filled with greed, rife with hunger, he is unable to resist the temptation of watching the fruits of his labor as they grow. This is why, as he stands upon the roof of an opposing building, looking in on an apartment in which he’d been no more than a day beforehand, he watches the young man named Daryl as he trembles upon his bed. A blanket is wrapped around his body, but there is no way to stave off the chill. Daryl’s suffering will last for several hours, possibly even a day, until his body begins to capitulate to the disease that it has just been exposed to.
In three days or less, Daryl will feel absolutely fine. He will believe that his random bout of illness was nothing more than a 24-hour flu that took him by surprise at the club.
He will forget about the Devil.
But one thing is for certain: the Devil will not forget about him.
Two to four weeks pass, and the Devil is still watching, but from a distance. Daryl, at this point, is sick—very, very sick—but he does not understand this. A rare case in his own right, he suffers not the flu-like symptoms that many of his peers would. It is because of this, on weekend nights, that Daryl goes dancing and takes home men that he does not know.
The Devil watches one chance coupling from his place upon the opposing apartment’s roof. Aroused by the suffering taking place, he watches with a sense of pleasure only the wicked can experience and takes pride in the fact that his work will only seamlessly multiply from here. One will become two, two three, three four, then so on and so forth.
The beauty of the Devil’s work is that it’s silent and is almost always too late to be seen.
The ability to detect his work will not come for another few years, thanks to a government who believes his work to be a contained case within a fragile and misunderstood community.
Then, he waits.
He watches Daryl for several years. A college degree, obtained; a career, found; his health, succumbing. It is during this time that the infection within his body begins to multiply at an exorbitant rate. He finds himself succumbing to illness far more quickly, but does not consider this to be a problem that cannot be combated with Vitamin C and dietary changes. He is, after all, in his opinion, getting older.
One day, while watching Daryl walk into the home he has acquired through hard work and due diligence, the Devil notices a lesion upon his victim’s lower back. It is revealed in but a moment—when, as the young man stretches his arms over his head, his shirt rides up, displaying a simple black splotch that some would believe to be skin cancer along his lower back.
But they don’t know. Not at all.
The Plague begins to hit national headlines only when it has affected too many to count. Cancers, unknown; candidiasis, spotted; pneumonia, exposed—these, and more, are labeled by leading doctors as opportunistic infections, caused by a disease that is primarily being spread throughout the gay communities within America.
It is given a simple anagram, but a deadly sentence.
Otherwise known as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, it is a work of perfect design: incurable and, at this point in time, untreatable. It works by attacking the immune system at its heart—by infecting cells meant to fight infections and replicating within them—and spreads without control throughout the body until it begins to succumb to even the simplest infections.
It is here, during the seventh year after the Plague has officially begun, that the Devil watches Daryl panic. He turns to his partner—a common-law husband by his own right, whom he has been with for five years—and says, “My God.”
There is a test now to determine if one has been infected with this illness.
Daryl decides that it would be best to admit himself to the hospital.
It is determined, by doctors conducting a groundbreaking test known as ELISA, that Daryl is indeed infected by the illness.
There is little he can do in the hospital but scream.
The Devil watches in tandem as nurses approach in an attempt to console the young man who has just been given a death sentence. Afraid to approach, but knowing that they must, young men and women who know nothing of the Plague offer sympathies and condolences. But at this point in time, there is little that can be done, and less than can be offered.
Additional blood work will be required before Daryl will know his true outcome.
However, he and his nameless partner already know that things will not be good.#
It comes to light that Daryl has infected his partner with the incurable illness shortly after his diagnosis. Unable to remain within the relationship, the nameless partner leaves, never to speak to Daryl again.
Daryl only finds out that his ex-partner has committed suicide when he looks in the obituaries a week later.
Still, Daryl holds out hope, despite the fact that there is little that can be done in its current state.
They’ll find a cure, he thinks. They have to.
But when will that be?
It’s already 1985.
How long could it possibly take?
Daryl’s blood work comes back two weeks later, and reports that the viral levels in his body will slowly destroy his immune system.
Still, he holds out hope.
The black spot on his lower back has multiplied and has spread exponentially across his body. It can now be found on his arms, his legs, his buttocks, genitals, and even the inside of his mouth. It is considered a cancer and is known as Kaposi’s sarcoma.
Doctors say it will kill him before they can find a cure.
But still, Daryl holds out hope.
Three months pass, and Daryl is dying. Nurses flock to his bedside, friends pass by in mourning. There is no family to speak of, for they have all abandoned him, and medical treatment is impossible due to his already-suffering immune system. All they can do, doctors say, is wait.
And they do.
Daryl dies on October 3rd, 1988—eight years after he contracted the Plague from a stranger who approached him in a club. His family abandons him, even postmortem.
It is only by the kindness of a stranger that he is buried.
The Devil watches this funeral alone, at which a single woman stands bearing a flower. It is a rose, white in color, beautiful and fragile and delicate in all its nature. She drops it within the grave and waits for those men around her to begin burying the young man who met the Devil on a Saturday night. Dirt is delivered into his grave ceremoniously. The woman’s heart is torn, for she already knows that she will bury more men like Daryl in the weeks to come.
As the man who helped begin his reign of terror is laid to rest beneath the grace of a God who appears not to be listening, the Devil smiles and turns away.
Thirty years later, the Plague is but a memory in some people’s minds. Close to 636,000 people have died from the illness since 1981. Approximately 15,529 died in 2010 alone. And through it all, the Devil has watched, silently waiting for something to come of it.
Medications have been created to help treat the infections, but a cure has not been developed. People are always working, though—in clinics, hospitals, lobbies and more.
He wonders, frankly, if one of his greatest achievements in suffering will ever be cured.
He does not know.
But he also does not stop.
In clubs, on street corners, in bars, online, and in person, he continues to approach those unwary.
The Devil is a man in red.
And he is always watching.