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This is Part 1 of the fiction story Giving the Devil His Due :
It is incumbent upon every man of insight and understanding to strive to translate that which hath been written into reality and action… – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 250.
[With this story, told in six parts, BahaiTeachings.org publishes our first short fiction. THE DEVIL HIS DUE, originally published in Amazing Stories, and reprinted in I LOVED THY CREATION, a collection of short fiction, has nothing to do with the literal existence of a devil and everything to do with how we make use of the resources we’re given. You’ll see how the above quote applies when you read the story.]
Herbert G. (Bert) Wells stared at the dog-eared manila envelope numbly. This was the fifth time—the fifth time—OF BLOOD DARK SKIES had ricocheted off New York City like a badly aimed bullet and ended up buried deep in his mailbox. Gut shot, he shambled down the hallway of his Boston brownstone apartment building, his face wearing the same blank look of despair and puzzlement he’d seen on the homeless wrecks he usually stepped over on the way upstairs.
Down the battered corridor a door opened. Bert froze. Jack Baddely (aka The Jackass) stepped out into the hall, then swung back to lock his door. Bert thrust the misshapen package under the lapel of his coat and tacked a garish grin to his face.
“Hi, Jack,” he said, his voice as bright as the paisleys on his tie.
“Oh, hi, Bertie. How’s the writing life? Any news on your block buster no-vel?” He always said “novel” as if it was some bastardized French word. (It was actually bastardized Italian).
Bert flattered himself that his smile did not slip an inch. “No news is good news,” he said, hurrying past.
“Yeah. Or it could mean the editor ran out of kindling.”
His back to The Jackass, Bert’s face went into a litany of rude expressions.
“Or maybe he needed a door stop.”
Bert kept walking.
“A paper weight?”
Bert made his apartment door and opened it, trying, unsuccessfully, to ignore the raspy chuckle digging, stiletto sharp, into his unguarded back.
“Jackass,” he muttered and hurled the door open. He slammed it shut again behind him and threw the manuscript onto the sofa.
The frayed, stressed manila split at the seams, spilling its contents from the sofa cushions onto the bare wood floor. Snide chuckles sprayed from the ruptured package and scurried to find hiding places in the room. They would emerge later to scoff at him. He’d hear them as he labored at his second-hand laptop—sneaking out from nook and cranny, scuffling among the dust-bunnies, tittering at the man who would be King.
He ignored the litter on the sofa long enough to brew an industrial strength pot of coffee, climb into his sweats and sit down, cup in hand, to assess the mess. After three sips, he was able to pick up the rejection letter and read it. It was a form job, but the editor had scrawled a hand-written message beneath the neatly printed kiss-off.
“Nice, tight style,” it said, “but has no one told you that horror with a social conscience is a dead art form? Not even The King could sell this stuff in this day and age. Bag the metaphysical crap. Give the market what it wants—try cyber-shock.”
A dead art form, indeed. It matched, Bert thought, the social conscience of the age. Deader than a doornail—whatever the heck a doornail was.
Cyber-shock! An AI droid could write cyber-shock: Tales of senseless carnage perpetrated by mindless machines or crazed cyber-men. Luddite rubbish! The publishing industry was clearly in the hands of idiots.
Great, he thought. Right, he thought. Distract us with tales of impossible evils so we’ll forget about the possible ones—the real ones. Exorcising imaginary demons was always so much more gratifying than facing the real ones: Greed, corruption, injustice, excess. He could go on and on.
He checked his watch. Five-fifteen. Writer’s Group wasn’t for another two and a half hours—a long time to wait to get this off his chest.
He sighed, supposing he could just go hang out at the coffee house and hope another of the undiscovered literati would wander by in need of a kvetch-mate. But if he did that, he’d have to drink more coffee and—between the cup he’d just had and the two pots he’d consumed at work today—he was already in a caffeinated time warp. The “High-flight Zone”, the Group called it. He’d only seen one or two of his literary buddies when they weren’t cranking along on a full charge of caffeine-induced adrenaline—it wasn’t a pretty sight.