It was a particularly dreadful night. Lightning split the sky in two, causing young Ruthie Thomas to jump. She stared out at the night sky for a moment before turning back to the task at hand. Squinting, she pushed her glasses up her nose as she surveyed the mess on her bedroom floor. She'd have to remember to pick it all up before morning, or else she'd be fried faster than an egg.
Raising a smoking stick high in the air, Ruthie waved it about. Trails of smoke filled the room, and while it didn't smell of incense as the directions had instructed, it would do well enough.
Heather Babbley's 3 Easy Steps to Devil Summoning had painted a clear enough picture: all one needed was blood, a stick of incense (which Ruthie's mother had explained was a smoky, smelly stick earlier in the afternoon), and black candles.
Ruthie's local librarians had hardly glanced at the paper she needed help printing; they'd merely smiled at her and her yellow dress and freckles, making small talk about school. Ruthie was entering the second grade this year; a fact that she'd rather forget. To her dismay, everyone seemed keen on the subject.
"Oh Ruthie," the librarian had said, not even looking at the printer while she punched the buttons. The old beast had roared to life after some coaxing, churning out Heather Babbley's instructions. "I'll bet you're the best student they've got at Farthington's."
Ruthie had smiled and shrugged, knowing well enough that she was far from it. The best student was Mariah Hennings - a girl nearly a full head taller than her.
She'd been filled with horror on back-to-school night when she visited her teacher-to-be's classroom. Mrs. Triton had shown Ruthie to her desk, and while her mother tittered in the back about something Ruthie decided was either taxes or gas prices, she glanced at the desk beside her own.
Mariah Hennings was the name tag sitting there. It was a menacing sight. In an instant, Ruthie could see the entire school year laid out in front of her. It was filled with Mariah's hand in the air, knowing every single answer to every single question. Tests would be handed back and Ruthie would have to go through the agonizing pains of hiding said test while also not looking like she was hiding it. Eventually, and she knew this in her gut (although even that wasn't the most reliable thing as she knew her gut was substantially smaller than her father's, who was never wrong about anything), the day would come when Mariah Hennings saw Ruthie's test scores.
Naturally, Ruthie took things into her own hands. Hoisting up the smoking stick, she closed her eyes. One eyelid slid open just enough to read the incantation on Heather Babbley's instructions.
"My humble sup...supplixon? My humble supilcation be that the devil visits me." Ruthie pushed her glasses up once more, completely unaware of what the word supplication meant. No doubt Mariah Hennings would know - she'd won the spelling bee last year. Spurred on by the memory, Ruthie began reading the second sentence. "On this stormy night I plea, turn up from - oh, uh...hell...this one night free."
Nothing happened immediately, which was expected. Lighting the candles she'd filched from her parent's room, Ruthie repeated the words again and again. Then came the final touch.
While Ruthie had proved herself to be unaffected by the things of the occult, she didn't have much of a tolerance for blood. Unstopping the ketchup bottle she'd snatched during dinner, Ruthie circled the candles, squirting ketchup this way and that. Occasionally she'd stop, glancing at the paper when she forgot the words.
The instant she completed circling the final candle, lightning flashed. Ruthie jolted, nearly dropping the stick. As the thunder rolled immediately after, she turned to look out her bedroom window.
She watched the reflection in silence as the door to her bedroom swung open. In walked a tall, broad figure, swathed in black ribbon that trailed after them, whispering along the floor.
Ruthie spun around, a wide smile on her face. "It worked!"
The devil stopped mid-step, the black ribbons curling around their ankles. Glowing red pupils shot down, landing on Ruthie's slight frame.
"Filius canis," groaned the devil.
Ruthie plopped on the edge of her bed. "What was that? Oh! Are you Mr. uh...Beezle? Belizube?"
A long, gnarled hand appeared seemingly from thin air. The devil dropped its shadowed head onto it. "It's Beelzebub." They glanced down at their phone, which Ruthie craned to get a glance at. Beelzebub was mumbling angrily, tapping at the device.
"Beelzebub," Ruthie sounded out. "I like it."
"Like - like what?" The devil's voice was like a snake sliding up a rock fall.
"Your name," Ruthie said cheerily. "My mom always says unique names are stupid, but I quite like them."
Beelzebub might have blinked, or it might have been a well-placed shadow crossing over their face. Slowly, they held up their phone. "Is this...313 Rutledge?"
Ruthie hesitated, but nodded. "I'm pretty sure. What's the zip code?"
She had no idea what a zip code actually was, but it sounded like the right thing to say in moment. This was, after all, a meeting she'd set up. If she were to invite a guest into her house, she might as well act like she knew what she was doing.
When Beelzebub read off the numbers for the zip code, Ruthie smiled, nodding along. "Yep," she popped the 'p'. "You're in the right place."
"I think you might have summoned the wrong guy," Beelzebub said, sounding apologetic. "Let me - pearly white doves, I think Gabriel changed his number. I'll find a way to get a hold of the big guy," Beelzebub pointed a sharp finger skyward, "This seems better suited to him, you know? It's my mistake, really."
Ruthie jumped up as Beelzebub began sinking through the floor. Something akin to tar bubbled up from where their toes had already sunk through the floor.
"No, I really think this is a misunderstanding -"
"I need your help!"
Beelzebub paused at this, staring up at Ruthie with their soulless gaze. "Help? Help? I don't help, kiddo. I make deals. You get it - the whole gnashing of teeth bit? That's me."
Ruthie snapped her fingers - something she was quite proud of. She'd only just learned last week. "A deal! That's what I want!"
Beelzebub scoffed, and half of Ruthie's shelf toppled sideways. Books flew to the ground, crashing into the window.
"And what, may I presume, is the nature of this deal?" When Ruthie looked confused, Beelzebub pressed on with a sigh. "What do you want?"
Ruthie looked down, scuffing her slippers on the floor. "I want...well, the thing is, I want to be the smartest kid in class." She looked up quickly, trying to gauge Beelzebub's expression. Unfortunately, Beelzebub had no expression, partly due to the fact that their face wasn't solid. It was little more than writhing shadow and mist. Only their eyes stood out, unblinking.
"And what," they finally responded, "will you give me in return?"
This was what had stumped Ruthie for most of the day. What could she give the devil that they didn't already have? What could they possibly want? She might not have been the smartest in her grade, but she was certainly smart enough to know that her mom would kill her if she sold her soul. In the end, she'd come up with only one good idea.
"Have you ever been to a country club?"
Lightning flashed once more as Beelzebub laughed. The rest of Ruthie's shelf fell, landing with a crash. "Of course I've been to a country club! I've been everywhere in the world, kid. They're dreadful places - I've met some of my favorite politicians there."
"Right," Ruthie shuffled her weight from foot to foot. "But have you ever been a member?"
Pulling her father's membership card from under her pillow, Ruthie held it up high for the devil to see. Beelzebub squinted.
"Let me tell you a little about the country club," Ruthie began. "When you're a member, you get access to everything. Unlimited golf games, pool time, and the fancy umbrella drinks my mom never lets me try. And," she emphasized, trying to remember what her aunt had yelled at her dad on his birthday. "Endless, free discrimination."
If Beelzebub was a dog, their ears were perked up. "Endless?"
Ruthie nodded. "But only those that are members get to really join in."
Discrimination was a big word, but even Ruthie knew it was bad news. She'd worked out a few hours ago that bad news was good news for the like of Beelzebub. Indeed, the devil was pacing the room now, glancing at her every so often. They muttered under their breath, ignoring their pinging phone. Ruthie sat still, waiting with bated breath for the big decision.
Thunder crashed as Beelzebub stopped, gasping. This displayed a rather unsettling maw with endless, churning bits and pieces inside. But it was quickly gone, replaced by shadow once more.
"What level is the membership?"
Ruthie shoved her glasses high up on her nose, struggling to read the card in the candlelight. "You look," she said, shoving the card in Beelzebub's face.
They couldn't hide their thrill when they read the word. "Executive? Oh my, that does sound promising, doesn't it?"
"So?" Ruthie encouraged. "One year. It's fair, I think."
"I..." Beelzebub leaned against the wall, their long fingernails tapping against the paint. They paused, sniffing the air. "Is that ketchup?"
Ruthie snapped her fingers again. "I don't have all night, Beezilob."
"Alright, alright! You have a deal!"
Hardly able to believe her luck, Ruthie leapt for joy. Beelzebub recoiled at the sight, pushing her away when she ran in for a hug. "I'll just take this," they said, plucking the membership card from her.
"Oh, thank you! Thank you!" Ruthie cried.
"Don't mention it," they said, a chill filling the air. "I'd better not hear from you again."
Ruthie shook her head vigorously. "Right. It's been a pleasure," she held out her hand for a handshake, which Beelzebub wholly ignored, already sinking into the floor. Tar bubbled and spat as they sank, pausing only when their torso was halfway through the floor to glance at Ruthie.
"Oh, right. Take this."
A black sticky note appeared in their hand, which Ruthie took. She frowned at it. "What's this?"
Beelzebub's voice echoed around her room as they disappeared. "Memorize the spelling."
Before she could ask anything further, the candles snuffed out and Ruthie was left alone.
Three months later, she was crowned the winner of the spelling bee. Mariah Hennings cried in the corner while Ruthie spelled out the winning word.
Hesitant applause filled the gymnasium and Ruthie took a bow. Her mother stood, whooping and hollering despite the nasty glances people sent her way.
"Well done, sweetheart!" She yelled, crushing Ruthie in an hug. Ruthie's father came next. "That judge was...interesting, don't you think?"
Ruthie shrugged. "Seemed fine to me." Glancing back over her shoulder, she grinned at the judge, who was disappearing into the crowd.
She'd recognize those red eyes anywhere.