As the dusk slowly stole its way across the sky, the woman who called herself Nellie Vincent waved goodbye to the last of the schoolchildren and locked the door of her curio shop. For the ninth year running, she had made arrangements with the deli and bookstore on either side of her to sponsor a Lunch-and-Learn for the children from the horribly underfunded elementary school one district over.
Nellie dragged herself slowly upstairs to her apartment. She was tired, but a good tired. Tomorrow, she would be helping with the blood drive at St. Catharine’s Hospital, and then on Saturday her weekly visit to the children’s ICU with her storybooks –
“Envy,” said a man’s voice from the top of the dark stairs. She froze. There wasn’t supposed to be anyone else here. There certainly hadn’t been last night, and no men had come in today.
“What?” Nellie called, “Who’s there? What are you doing in my home?”
“I was Sent,” said the voice, and suddenly all the upstairs lights flared on at once.
The light, oddly tinged with sickly green instead of the usual cheery yellow, revealed a man. He had corpse-pale skin that hung loosely on his skinny frame, as though he had recently lost a lot of weight. He was mostly bald, though a few remaining tufts of hair were wiry black, and he was dressed in nothing but a pair of stained grey sweatpants.
Nellie was sure she had never seen him before. “Who are you? What do you want?”
The man had started coming downstairs, but at this his grim expression flickered into exasperation and he goggled at her. “This? This is what I’m talking about. You’ve been away so long, you’ve forgotten your brothers and sisters.”
She had reflexively backed down the stairs away from him, but by the time she reached the bottom, he drew level and glared at her. “I am Sloth!”
Nellie blinked in confusion. “That… that poor man from ‘The Goonies’?”
Sloth rolled his eyes and pushed past her, into the shop. “No! I’m not a movie character! I am Fourth of The Seven! Letalis Sopor!” He sat down at an ornate table clearly labelled “$1999” in Nellie’s careful handwriting. “I am the Sin of Sloth. I am one of Hell’s bishops. And so are you!”
“Sir, I do not know who you think you are–” Nellie began, but he cut her off.
“I just TOLD you! Oh, damnation, I’m tired of this. See for yourself.”
Sloth snapped his fingers. The click seemed to echo a long distance, as all the light in the shop flickered a deep, black-tinged red for a moment. When the light returned to normal, Sloth was carrying on his back a pair of huge feathery wings, as black as Sin – and so was Nellie.
“Now will you please, for the love of Beelzebub, sit down? I’ve been sent to give you a warning, and I’ve wasted too much time on it already.” He slouched in his chair and tried to look as unfairly put upon as a Sin could.
Nellie’s eyes, which had always been a striking rich green, flickered with verdant light and she frowned. “As if you would do anything other than waste time. You are the living embodiment of ‘wasting time’.”
He glared at her as she sat across from him. “You remember. That’s something, I suppose. You’re not the only one who thinks that; frankly, it’s why they sent me to talk to you. Pride couldn’t bear stooping to be a messenger; Greed and Gluttony kept demanding payment, and Wrath just yelled constantly at everyone to shut up. I agreed to come mostly because it was the easiest way to get away from them.”
“What precisely do you want?” Envy asked.
Sloth snorted a laugh. “It’s so weird to hear that from you. Wanting is your job.”
She glared and said nothing.
Sloth sighed. “Fine. Look, it’s like this. You’ve been away too long. We have a duty to perform, and a very irate Master to please. You have to come back Down with me, right away, or there will be terrible consequences. Which, I am pleased to say, I will not have to carry out. They sounded like a lot of work, all that drawing and quartering and so on.”
“Sounds rather serious.”
They stared at each other. Seconds passed by, marked by various timepieces on the shop walls that almost, but not quite, ticked in unison.
Finally, Envy broke the silence. “I’m not going.”
Sloth blinked and sat upright. “What? But… but you have to! This is an order straight from the Throne!”
“No. I am staying here.” With a rustle too quiet for human ears, a few black feathers dropped from Envy’s wings.
“You can’t! I’m not even certain you can escape punishment if you come back now! They know what you’ve been doing!”
She met his shocked gaze with stony resolve. “Oh, do they? What precisely do they think they know?”
“You’ve been –” Sloth stopped himself, then looked around furtively and lowered his voice. “You’ve been doing charity work! Helping people, smoothing out conflict, generally being an extremely good citizen. I hear you haven’t even unloaded a single cursed knick-knack on the locals in the last three towns – Lucifer’s toenails, what do you think they even gave you this shop for?”
“I don’t care. I’m done with all of that. You can have the shop back if you want it. I don’t find it very needful any more.” Feathers fell all around her, in a nearly-silent deluge.
“You… what? You can’t just quit! This isn’t some volunteer job at the soup kitchen – which I note you’ve been doing, too – this is forever! Sin is Forever!”
“I can, and I do. I’m done. You can tell them that for me – including the Throne.”
Sloth turned, somehow, even paler at the idea of carrying this news to the Prince of Lies. “I really don’t think I can. Damn everything! Who do you think you are!?”
“You tell me, my ‘brother’. Who am I?”
“Envy! Sixth of The Seven! Invidia Totalis!”
All the black feathers had fallen now. For the first time since her unwelcome visitor had arrived, Nellie Vincent – Envy – smiled at him, as behind her spread wings of purest white.
“Yes. I am Envy, who craves the joys others have.” Her smile widened and her eyes glistened, hinting at a kind of love never found in Hell. “Did you really think I would never meet an angel?”