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The Devil You Don't Know

Dave Henrickson has a background in computers, engineering, and oceanography but always wanted to be an artist. (Or maybe a dancer.) He won several writing awards while attending the University of Michigan and received a scholarship to the Clarion Science Fiction Writer's workshop. He currently lives in Virginia and spends his free time writing, reading, and killing monsters with his wife Abbie. He is also the author of eight novels--which he might even try to publish one of these days.

The devil showed up last night.
Not in person. In a dream. I guess that's the way it's done these days. I'm sure it's a big time-saver.
And it wasn't The Devil, it was a devil. Just a minor cog in a much bigger machine, putting in his hours before going off to do whatever devils do in their spare time.
Telemarketers from hell. It was kind of funny when you thought about it. If you weren't dying.
Brain Tumor. Inoperable.
I know, sad. Thanks for the kind thoughts. Yes, it has put things in perspective. Yes, I will let you know if there is anything you can do. So kind. Thanks again.
I had already told everyone who really cared. We said all the things you say in those situations. Now all that was left was dealing with the mundane, sordid business of dying while everyone else got on with their lives.
Until the dream.
He was polite about it. Really quite nice for an infernal messenger. Patient, too, seeing as how I had a lot of questions and he must have heard them all a million times before. It would have made his life a lot easier if the organization he worked for could have sent around some promotional material ahead of time to smooth the way.
Once you got through all of the marketing mumbo jumbo, though, it was all pretty straightforward.
No immortality. Well, that was off the table to begin with, he told me candidly. It made sense. If I never died, where would be the pay-off for them? I mean, he could have dangled the offer in front of me, but I knew there would always be some kind of catch so I was just as glad he didn't bother.
No youth. No mountain of gold. No globe-encompassing power. No stable of pliant, beautiful women. (Or men, depending on my preference. No judgment.)
You might find it hard to believe, but I was just as glad about that last one. When you get to be my age, such fantasies are better left where they are. Sex is great, but it all gets to be a little too much work after a while, doesn't it?
Maybe other kinds of people got those offers. Not me. Remission, of unknown length. That was the best he could do. A stay of execution, as it were.
He tried to talk it up a bit, but that's what it boiled down to. Clearly, it was a buyer's market. He didn't know how long said remission would be for either, he assured me, he really didn't. Apparently some things in the universe actually were indeterminate. It may have been a line, or maybe he wasn't privy to that kind of information. He was just the guy who worked the phones, after all.
The procedure was simplicity itself, he went on to explain. All I had to do was sincerely affirm that upon my death my soul would no longer be my own. That was all it would take. I wouldn't even be bothered with the thought of what I had agreed to. The memory would be wiped from my mind and I could go about my life as if a minor miracle had occurred.
Until the moment of truth, when the secrets of all hearts are revealed, to paraphrase the well-known verse. I would even have the use of my soul until the time came, for whatever good it would do me.
He suggested I think about it as kind of a reverse mortgage.
I thought about it. I did. It wasn't like I enjoyed pain and I certainly didn't want to die.
Here was the thing, though. I didn't have anyone depending on me. No wife. No kids. A few friends who would miss me, but we were all getting on these days. No use kidding ourselves. If it wasn't one thing, sooner or later it would be something else.
He was cool about it when I told him I wasn't interested. I don't think he was even particularly surprised. He had done this a million times, after all.
He didn't wipe the dream from my memory. He wanted to give me a chance to think about it, he said. And I will, of course. How could I not? I imagine I'll be hearing from him again.
Probably a lot of people turn the deal down the first time they hear it, only to change their minds on later when things get rough and the end is close.
I think I'll try to tough it out. I didn't even know I had a soul until last night but, if the Devil wants it, it must be worth something.
Who knows, wherever I'm going, it might be the only thing I can take with me that's worth selling.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, January 4th, 2022


Author Comments

I have always enjoyed stories about people selling their soul to the devil and the idea of telemarketers from hell tickled my fancy. I also liked the idea of a character with enough common sense to turn down such a deal. Someone prepared to set off into the afterlife with only suitcase in hand, so to speak, ready to make the best of an unknown future.

- Dave Henrickson
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