Mark Allan Gunnells
Mark Allan Gunnells is thirty-two years old and holds a degree in English and Psychology. He has sold approximately forty of his short stories to various markets. A small town boy at heart, he still lives in his hometown of Gaffney, SC, with his lover of five years.
The Devil looked a lot like David Letterman.
Lisa wasn’t sure what she’d been expecting—a red-skinned beast with horns and cloven hooves, a debonair gentleman with charming eyes and a black mustache—but this tall gangly man with his gap-toothed smile and mop of light curly hair seemed an unlikely Satan. Then again, when one was the Prince of Darkness, perhaps it was best not to advertise.
“Thank you for coming,” Lisa said dumbly, as if the Devil were a coworker who had accepted a dinner invitation. As it was, the Devil had been summoned by a spell Lisa had found in a dusty old tome procured from a small, musty occult shop in the city. The candles and incense still burned in the darkness, the last words of the incantation still hanging in the air, and the Devil had materialized in front of her without the fanfare of smoke or flame. Just one moment empty space, the next the Devil kneeling on the carpet before her.
The Devil looked nervous, fidgety, and his eyes darted around the room as if afraid something was going to leap out at him from the shadows. “Why have you brought me here?” he asked, smiling uncertainly. “What is it you want from me?”
Lisa frowned, wondering if perhaps she had gotten the words of the incantation wrong. Maybe she’d summoned the wrong creature. “Are you … the Devil?” she asked hesitantly.
“The very one,” he said, and Lisa thought she detected a blush creeping into his cheeks. “Not what you imagined, huh?”
“Well, not exactly,” she said with a laugh, embarrassed that he had so easily been able to see the disappointment in her eyes.
“I may not be much to look at, but I assure you that I have power to spare.”
“Good to know, because that is why I have summoned you here. I wish to propose a trade of sorts.”
“Intriguing,” said the Devil. “What sort of trade?”
“My soul in exchange for my heart’s desire.”
“Ah,” the Devil said with a quick nod of his head. “The standard contract.”
“I suppose you must get summoned for this sort of thing a lot.”
“Not as often as one might expect. So tell me, what is it you desire?”
Lisa took a deep breath and said, “I want to be the best singer in the world.”
“Really? The best singer in the world?”
“Yes, music is my passion. I have been struggling to make it in the business for fifteen years and have gotten nowhere. I’m thirty-four years old, not a kid anymore, and I am tired of the struggle.”
“And you’re sure that is what you want?” the Devil said, his expression turning serious. “Think carefully before we make our deal; there will be no turning back once the pact is made. Choose your request wisely.”
“I know what I’m doing,” Lisa said. “I have given this much thought, and I know exactly what I want. I want to be the best singer in the world, that is my desire."
“Very well then. Once I leave this place, you will be the best singer in all the world. I will grant you exactly forty years, after which I will return to claim your soul for my own. Are those terms acceptable?”
“Yes. Do I have to sign something in my own blood?”
The Devil chuckled, completely relaxed and comfortable now. “I’m afraid you’ve seen one too many movies, my dear. Nothing as dramatic or ghoulish as that. A simple handshake will seal the deal.”
Lisa reached out and felt her hand engulfed in his. The Devil’s hand was slightly clammy but otherwise felt like any other hand.
“It is done,” the Devil said with a smile. “See you in forty years.”
Lisa opened her mouth to speak but then the Devil disappeared just as quickly and completely as he’d appeared.
Lisa sat for a moment then began to sing quietly to herself. Her voice was rich, deep, and emotive, and by the end of the song, she had brought herself to tears.
Lisa wheeled herself across the room. The arthritis in her hands was intense this morning, making it a struggle to move her chair across the floor. She wished she had one of those electric wheelchairs, but she couldn’t afford it. She could barely afford her room in this prison they called an assisted living program. Across the room, her roommate snored loud and frog-like.
Lisa stopped at the dresser by the window, pulling open the bottom drawer and removing a thick scrapbook. Less than half the pages were filled, but she turned them slowly, lovingly looking over the album covers, programs, magazine articles—all the momentous of her singing career.
If one could call it a career. Her eyes blurred with tears as she reached the last filled page. Her mouth twisted bitterly as she thought of all the missed opportunities, the unrealized potential. By all rights, she should have filled up dozens of scrapbooks, her shelves should be weighed down by awards, but things had not come to pass that way. As it was, all she had was half a scrapbook of memories.
Lisa had recorded only two albums. The first had produced one moderate hit, a mournful ballad entitled “Guess I Wasn’t Enough.” The second album had failed to produce even that much, selling only fifteen thousand copies. She was promptly dropped by her label, and no other record company had been willing to gamble on her. She had ended up playing small clubs and dive bars, weddings and high school dances. Her aspirations had shriveled up and disintegrated like a slug sprinkled with salt.
Lisa put the scrapbook back in the drawer and closed it, sitting back in her chair with her hands folded neatly on her lap. Her expression was blank, slack, unreadable. She exhibited no surprise when she felt the clammy hand on her shoulder.
“I was wondering when you’d show up,” she said in her raspy, old-woman’s voice.
“Forty years,” the Devil said, squatting down next to Lisa. He hadn’t aged a day. “I promised I would return in forty years, and here I am. To the very day.”
“I suppose you think you’ve come to claim my soul.”
“It is mine to claim,” the Devil said with a patient smile. “That was the deal.”
“You breached our contract, therefore the deal is null and void. You forfeited your rights to my soul.”
“What do you mean?” the Devil asked, but there was no anger in his voice. Only worry, as if he were concerned for her mental state.
“You did not live up to your end of the bargain,” Lisa said.
“I most certainly did. You asked to become the best singer in the world, and I made it so.”
“But I was a failure,” Lisa said, a pleading note infusing her voice. “My voice remained unheard throughout my life. You cheated me.”
“No, I did not,” the Devil said with a sad, sympathetic smile. “You didn’t ask to be a successful singer, only the best.”
“Shouldn’t one follow the other?”
The Devil laughed softly and said, “Dear, you really know nothing about the music industry, do you? Talent, even extraordinary talent, is merely a single ingredient to success. Other ingredients are needed—a certain look, a certain attitude, a certain vibrant charisma—none of which you possessed, and none of which you asked me for. I gave you what you asked for, nothing more. I told you to choose your request wisely; you should have heeded me.”
“But that isn’t fair,” Lisa said, and she sounded like a petulant child.
“Perhaps not, but it was our deal. Now it is time for you to complete the trade.”
The Devil held out a hand, and Lisa took it. Reluctantly, but she took it nonetheless. The Devil helped her to her feet and led her toward the door.
“If it is any consolation,” said the Devil as they stepped out of the room and off the mortal plane, “I really loved your second album.”
copyright © 2006, Mark Allan Gunnells