For mid-spring, the day had been unseasonably warm, which helped Ethel’s joints considerably. Not wanting to waste the day, she hummed to herself as she plucked weeds from around the daisies and irises in the flowerbed out front as people in her quiet neighborhood walked by on their usual rounds. As she pulled the final weed in the garden, a glowing rock came with the roots.
The rock looked granite but gave off a pale pink light as it hung from the plant in her hand.
“Well, now,” she muttered, holding the strange object up as she put on her glasses, “that’s odd.”
Ethel reached out and gingerly pinched the stone between her thumb and index finger. A tiny shock, like static electricity, traveled up her arm before something else, seemingly inside her arm, traveled through her. It felt strange, but not painful as it reached her core and spread through her entire body. As it extended out her limbs, she felt the stiffness and dull ache of arthritis fade. When it reached her head, the clear view she had through her glasses vanished.
“What the-” she muttered as she pulled her glasses off, bringing the world around her into clarity once again. When she looked at her hand, the liver-spotted skin cleared, and the wrinkles smoothed into a hand that looked significantly younger.
“Please let me stay,” a whisper said in her head. “Don’t make me go back.”
Ethel dropped her glasses in surprise and looked around. “W-what’s happening? Am I dead?”
“No, no, no,” the voice replied, “I was in the stone you found. Please don’t tell anyone I’m here.”
“Who are you?” Ethel asked out loud.
“Just think, you don’t have to speak,” the voice replied. “If you keep speaking, someone might know that I’m here.”
‘Who are you?’ Ethel thought.
“My name is Azginig,” it replied.
“I’m helping you,” it replied.
‘Why? What are you? Why don’t you want to leave?’
“Promise not to freak out?” it asked.
‘I’m a seventy-six-year-old great grandmother, honey. I’m more confused about how I can see without my glasses and move without pain or stiffness at the moment,’ Ethel replied.
“I’m a demon,” it replied. Ethel could almost visualize the wincing face of the creature as it spoke to her.
‘I thought demons were evil and whatnot,’ she thought.
“Generally, that’s true, but I don’t want to go back to hell. Please don’t make me go. I promise I won’t do anything bad,” it pleaded.
‘Hell? That bad, even for a demon?’
“You have no idea,” it replied. “I’d show you, but it wouldn’t end well for either of us. Let’s just say that it’s always pain, torture, and punishment. I just want to be done with it. I hate my job. That’s why I hid.”
‘I think we all hate our jobs at some point or another, dear, but you can’t run from your problems,’ she replied, a warm smile on her face as she stood up. ‘Running never solves anything.’
“You’ve never met Lucifer,” Azginig replied. “Trust me. This is working out so far. I haven’t been back in six hundred years.”
‘Is that how long you were in that rock?’ Ethel asked. She wasn’t sure how she knew, but she almost felt Azginig nod in response. ‘This is crazy.’
“I just don’t want to be there anymore. I don’t want to torture, tempt, or anything else to do with that place. I want to stay away and change,” Azginig said.
‘I can understand that. Change can be a wonderful thing,’ Ethel replied as she stood up. ‘though I’m not sure that making me younger is going to help anything. I think you should let me be me. You can keep the pain if you want to help, but I can’t suddenly look fifty years younger, dear.’
“Sorry,” Azginig replied, “I’ll fix it. Can I make you fifty years younger in here?”
‘I’m not sure how that would help, but I suppose,’ she replied, ‘what are you going to do when I die, honey?’
“I can let you live forever,” Azginig replied, “You don’t ever have to die.”
‘Everyone dies, dear. Even the Devil himself will perish someday. It’s something I came to terms with a long time ago,’ Ethel replied.
“Where are my manners? I told you my name, but never asked yours,” Azginig asked.
‘Ethel Marth. It’s a pleasure to meet you, but you have to accept that at some point, it all will end,’ she replied.
“It’s scary, though. As long as I’ve been alive, I don’t imagine that there is much for me after. I think I would just stop existing altogether,” Azginig said, “I’m not human with a soul. I don’t have the luxury of existing after I die like you.”
‘I never really thought about that. I’m sorry, dear. I suppose I do have an unfair advantage,’ Ethel replied. She stopped for a moment to consider how it might feel. With each idea, Azginig would add a side she hadn’t considered. ‘Alright then, I’ll make you a deal.’
“You’re going to make a deal with me?” Azginig asked.
‘What’s the harm?’ Ethel shrugged, ‘I believe in doing the right thing. You can help me stay alive long enough for me to find an acceptable person for you to go with, but, and this is the deal-breaker, if you refuse, you can’t let anyone live forever. This deal extends until God signals the end of the world, got it?’
“What if someone doesn’t look for a replacement? What am I supposed to do?” Azginig asked.
‘That’s why it’s important to find a suitable replacement. No lying, and no cheating. If they don’t look for a replacement, you have to let them age and die, like they were supposed to in the first place,’ Ethel said.
“Okay, I can do that,” Azginig replied.
Twenty-two years later, in a remote village in India, Ethel finally found a suitable person to take Azginig from her. It was sad for Azginig, as it had never bonded with a human before, but Ethel had passed all expectations of life by that point, and it had taken longer than expected, even with Azginig’s help, to find a new vessel. Ethel wished him the best of luck and promised to put in a good word with him ‘upstairs’ as he left her, and her heart stopped.