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Culture

The Smoking Man

Maya Bohnhoff | Apr 29, 2014

PART 4 IN SERIES Giving the Devil His Due

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Maya Bohnhoff | Apr 29, 2014

PART 4 IN SERIES Giving the Devil His Due

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

This is Part 4 of the fiction story Giving the Devil His Due :

[Previously in “Giving the Devil His Due”, wannabe horror writer Bert Wells contemplates a watery suicide because no one wants to publish his socially conscious fiction. He is accosted by a strange man smoking even stranger cigarettes, who seems to be able to read his innermost thoughts…]

The attainment of any object is conditioned upon knowledge, volition and action. Unless these three conditions are forthcoming there is no execution or accomplishment. — Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity.

The Smoker rocked back on his well-heeled heels and grinned. “I wondered when you’d tumble to that. You’re not a very quick study, Jack.”

“My name isn’t Jack, it’s-“

“Yeah, yeah. I know. It’s Herbert. Herbert G. Wells, named after the famous sci-fi writer. Your Mom is a big fan.”

“Well, then why-“

He spread his hands. “It’s just an expression.”

“How do you know who I am? How do you know so much about me? Are you-?” Hope leapt in his breast. “Are you from the FBI—the CIA? Is that it? Is my writing too incendiary? Too dangerous?”

The man guffawed. “Dangerous? Criminy, kid! If you had talent, you’d be dangerous! As it is, you got nothin’ but good intentions and a lot of gall. Dangerous, Saint Chris’s keester! That’s a yuck, bwana-san. A real yodel. Dangerous!” He chuckled, wiped tears from the corner of his eyes and wheezed down to silence.

Bert glared at him. “Get to the point. I have a meeting to go to.”

“Oh, yeah, right. The Literary Group. Yodel number two.”

“The point?”

“The point is—I’m here to help you.”

H.G. Wells

H.G. Wells

You’re here to help me.”

“I thought I just said that. Is there an ech-“

“Oh, please.”

“Okay, okay. Look. You wanna save the world, right?”

“Not the whole world. Only a little of it. Just a tiny piece will do. I…I just want to write well—really well. Convincingly. Startlingly. I want to horrify and edify. Make people see that real horror is in the way they waste time and life and money and resources and-“

The Smoker raised his hands to stem the rush of words. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Writing well? That’s your answer to the world’s problems? World hunger, political corruption, spiritual decay? Kid, you got a lot to learn. Writing is nothing. Money, now, that’s something.”

“Money?”

“Money, celebrity, status—that’s how you change the world. Just think of it: You got money—you can give it away. You got celebrity—you can be visible. You got status—you can throw it around.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Believe me, as a good writer—even a great writer—you’re nowhere. You got zip. You appeal to the so-called intelligentsia and what have you got? A bunch of smug, self-righteous ‘admirers,’ that’s what you got. Know what that is? Zip. They read your books, then sit around on their Bistros agreein’ with your insights and sayin’ how brill you are and how brill they are for recognizing how brill you are. That’s crap. But if you got money, celebrity, status—we-ell, then you put on one of those crummy T-shirts you’re so stiff over and people will notice. You hear what I’m sayin’, Jack? You got to be visible before anything you do or say means a damn.”

“Yeah, so what? I don’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of that happening.”

The Smoker scratched his nose. “Funny you should say that, kid, ‘cause, in point of fact, you got a chance.”

“I do?”

“You do.”

Bert nodded. “Sure. Right. And you’re going to give it to me.”

“I am.”

“How?”

The Smoker took a long drag on his illegal cigarette (which seemed not to have gotten any shorter during their conversation) and smiled. “The mechanics are my problem. All you gotta do is wait. You know what they say: All things come to those who wait.”

They do, huh?”

The Smoker scratched his ear. “Yeah. You know, the famous They. Wha’d’ya say, kid?”

“What do you mean—what do I say?”

“To the deal.”

“What deal?”

The little guy sighed. “Holy Christmas, kid. You are truly dense. Look. You go home, see. Hang out. Do your own thing—whatever the jargon is these days—and I do the rest.”

Bert pursed his entire face. “Fame? Fortune? Status?”

“The works.”

He felt a tiny hope springing eternal in his breast. “You mean, I can go home and keep writing what I’ve been writing and it’ll sell? I’ll become famous and-“

The gloved hands were up again. “Hold your fire, bwana. Gimme a little help here. You do that and the deal is off. No way even I can do that big a miracle.”

Bert scowled, then shook his head. “Wait a minute. What am I thinking? This is crazy. Nobody can do that kind of a miracle except God and up to now He hasn’t seen fit.”

His companion smiled and nodded, puffing vigorously on his smoke. “And so it devolves upon yours truly.”

“Oh? And who are you—the Archangel Gabriel?”

The smile deepened. “Not exactly.”

“Oh, oh, wait! I see. You’re the Devil, right, and you’re offering me all this in return for my immortal soul, right?”

“Your immortal soul is already spoken for, Jack. Besides, I wouldn’t know what to do with it if you gave it to me.”

Bert gaped. “You expect me to believe you’re really the Devil?”

The man spread his arms. “In the flesh.”

“Oh, come on!”

“Hey! Who knew what you were thinkin’, here, huh? Who knew all about you?”

“You could’ve seen me around. Or—or someone might have put you up to this. Like my jackass neighbor. That’s it, isn’t it—Jack the Ass sent you! You followed me here-“

“And just happened to overhear all your innermost thoughts?”

Bert was silent.

“You have a birthmark next to your navel. You love Peking Duck, hate pizza, and think Hemingway was overrated. You haven’t had a steady girlfriend since your junior year in college. You’re a virgin. You wanna hear more?”

“I-“

“Oh, yeah—your most embarrassing moment was during high school when your English teacher found this poem-“

“Stop! Stop! Okay. I believe you’re…something… So, where do I sign?”

“You don’t sign. Remember, I’m Satan-the-Devil.” He said it fast, like one of those televangelists, as if it was all one word. “I’ll know if you’ve been living up to your part of the bargain. All that contracts-in-blood stuff was just bad press. A strong verbal and a shake are good enough for me.”

“Okay. How do I know you’re living up to your part of the bargain?”

“Easy. You’ll become rich and famous.”

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