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This is Part 6 of the fiction story Giving the Devil His Due :
[Previously in “Giving the Devil His Due”, Bert Wells has made a deal with the Devil. He gets to be rich and famous and all he has to do is write commercial fiction. He has a long and successful career. At the end of his life he returns to the spot at which he met the Devil and and wonders what his life might have been like if he had tried to write what once held meaning for him. A voice behind him says, “Hell. It would’ve been pure hell, kid.”]
Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? — James 2:18-20
Bert spun around as fast as his ninety-six year old body would allow and propped his butt against the parapet. “You.”
It was the Devil, of course—taller, younger, more handsome than before and dressed in this year’s latest fashion, but undeniably the same. He was smoking one of the red cigarettes (it could have been the same one, for all Bert knew), but had dropped the Brooklyn accent.
“So,” said Bert, nodding.
“So,” said the Devil.
“So, it’s pay-off time.”
“Well, accounting time, anyway.”
“So, this is where I hand over my immortal soul and go to Hell.”
“Nope. I told you, kid, I wouldn’t know what to do with your soul if you gave it to me. And I’ll let you in on a secret—there is no Hell. He made it up to scare the sinners.”
“You don’t want my soul?”
“You’re not joking with me?”
The Devil pointed up at his lean, good-looking face. “Does this look like the face of a joker?”
“Then, trust me—I’m not joking.”
“But we had a contract—an agreement.”
“Well, when do you collect?”
“I already did, kid. I did what you expected; you did what I expected. Good business, all the way around.”
Bert shook his head. “But I don’t understand. What the hell did I do? I didn’t do anything.”
The Devil smiled. His teeth were perfect and even and very white. “Just what you said, kid. Nothing. You didn’t do a damn thing. You wrote uninspired novels that didn’t do anything but scare people. You never wrote anything even remotely important, never challenged yourself, never challenged anyone else. Except for a few handouts—most of which were eaten up by the overhead those charity organizations lug around—you never did a damn thing to better the world around you. Hell, you even turned into a recluse there for a while. That was great. You might as well have gone to Tibet.”
“I did go to Tibet.”
The Devil shrugged. “Well, see. Even I lost track of you. In short, bwana, you never set forth one original, inspiring, illumined, or impassioned thought. I couldn’t have asked for better than that. I’ll tell you, kid, I wish I had ten billion more just like you.” He clapped Bert on the shoulder and smiled into his ninety-six year old face. “Nice doing business with you, kid.”
He turned then, and stepped briskly away down the promenade, his patent leather Guccis clicking contentedly against the gleaming lightstone of the walk.
Several yards away, he turned back for a last glance at the stoop-shouldered old man perched, like a stranded albatross, on the parapet. He chuckled, appreciating the scene.
“By the way, kid—have a nice forever.”
Copyright 1992-2009, by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
Previously: Let’s Make a Deal