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art by Cheryl Owen-Wilson

Screwtape

Helen E Davis was born just outside of Barksdale Air Force Base just two days after the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Her short fiction has appeared in Abyss and Apex, Mutation Nation, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress. To learn more about her and her other works, please visit sff.net/people/dragonwriter. This is her first sale to Daily Science Fiction.
The man, sitting at the desk, thinks he is alone. His head is bowed and his fingers touch the edge of a grainy photograph. All day he radiates youth and energy, but here he lets himself feel the pain that gnaws at his bones. Weariness shows in the slump of his shoulders, in the sag of his chin. War, pain, grief--all these things have bowed him, but never broken him. He is not the kind of man we can touch.
But now we have our chance. His finger taps what looks like cigars laid upon the ground, if Cuban cigars can be twenty feet long. I taste despair. It rolls across my tongue like a fine brandy; I savor it before I speak. "I can make that go away."
He looks up, face darkening, staring at where my face should be. All he sees is flickering shadow; all he hears is the echo of my voice. There is just a hint of fear in his eyes--this is not our first talk. Then he laughs, this untouchable man. "Can you?"
"Certainly. I'll do it as a favor."
"A favor?" The man leans back, stiffly. "Why?"
"We make things happen. I can stop this, and all your followers will think it is a miracle." In truth, I created it--a temptation here, a favor called in there. All of it done just for this man, just for this moment.
"Then stop it."
He thinks he is challenging me, but I hold the line and the hook. His own hope is the bait. "A favor requires another in return, does it not? You would not want to owe one such as me."
He pretends to consider this, but know that the hook has been taken. If I play the line, if I reel him in carefully, he is mine.
"A favor, not my soul?"
As if a soul could be bargained away. No, they must be given freely, and this man will never do that. He is untouchable. "Just a favor."
"So what is it?"
"Go to a certain city on a certain date. Nothing more."
He taps his fingers on the photograph, the hook setting deeper with every stroke. "What happens to me? To my family?"
I shrug most carefully. "You will fly out the next day."
"And for that, all this will just disappear?"
"It will end."
His fingers tap on as he thinks, as he tries to see the lie. But there is none, for I am careful to keep my promises.
Suddenly he sweeps the photograph to the side. "When, and where?"
"Next November, on the 22nd. In Dallas." Why would I want his one soul when I can have an entire generation? "And take the convertible."
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, November 21st, 2013


This story haunted me for months before I could write it. I knew who and when, but it was not until I saw why that it snapped into place.

- Helen E. Davis

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