Thursday, January 12, 2012

Deals with the Devil

In my New Year reformat I'll try to have a Fiction Friday every week, to go with Technology Tuesday. I'll perhaps toss in a Miscellanious Monday or even a non-alliterative midweek post if something else comes to mind that defies categorization but simply must be shared. Today we'll talk about one of my favorite characters. The Devil.

In some ways he's the Professor Moriarty of the Bible, rarely explicitly appearing (was Milton the first to conflate him with the serpent in the garden? Who named him as the accuser in the story of Job? Not, certainly, the original source material), but casting a shadow across the whole canon. The benefit to a writer is that this gives us a canvas that, while not completely blank, still has plenty of room to sketch the details as we wish to. I'd suggest that the Bible as a whole has this quality, given that ancient forms of literature relied more on narrative summary than painting actually detailed scenes. The Devil, however, feels special. He's a mirror through wish we can see our own dark side, he's rebellion, he's the ultimate rebellion against authority and if you accept the idea that he was the snake in the garden then he's the one who made us who we are. No snake means no bite of the forbidden fruit, no knowledge of good and evil, no learning to wear clothes and develop technology and write blogs. If you can read this, thank a serpent.

Following are a pair of deal with the devil stores; both came from prompts my fellow writers shared on the Google+. I don't take these daily prompt stories all that seriously, but use them as sources of inspiration and as a chance to stretch my writing muscles on days when my more serious work feels bit stuck. In one the Devil wins, in the other he loses.

The Devil usually wins by taking advantage of people's greed; the Devil doesn't trick you so much as setting you up to trick yourself. Inspiration for this came from Bliss Morgan's " Nightmare Fuel" prompt-a-day project on Google Plus. For those curious about such things, it was my non-literal take on this image by photographer David Swan:
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Another Brick in the Wall
Aaron made the perfect deal with the devil. No signing away his soul, no performing one innocent-seeming yet surprisingly devastating task. No taking chances on fiddle contests or chess games. Just one cost, and even that was deferred. It would be taken at a time of the devil’s choosing, but Aaron still had it for now.
His voice.
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Success was all Aaron had dreamed of, but he needed to be careful - so careful. He rose quickly and impressively in his law firm, writing brilliant briefs for cases going all the up to the Supreme Court, but always let someone else have the honor of arguing the case in person. There were times he knew he’d do better, but he couldn’t take the chance - no matter how much better he might have been, nothing would be worse than his voice to vanish mid-argument.

Even planning his wedding her remembered to be careful, eschewing the individual vows his fiance wanted for a simple “I do”. He could mouth that, if need be.

He was so careful that the right moment for the devil to strike never came. Decades later, after a long and comfortable life, the Aaron was visited by the Devil one more time. He knew his life was ending, but his lips curled into a smile.

“You never did take my voice, did you? I guess I won.”

The Devil smiled back. “Oh, but I did have it. I had it all along.”
The Devil’s smug smile was the last thing Aaron would see before breathing his last breath, and leaving this world forever.
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Can the Devil lose? Of course he can, but I'm not partial to seeing him tricked, outgambled, outfiddled, etc. He's The Devil. Olderthan all of us put together, and has seen every trick. So how does one win? Perhaps by thinking outside the box, and changing the definition of what it means to "win". Here's a trifle I put together for Nina Pelletier's "dialog" prompt, also on Google+. The text is the Devil's side of the dialog; you can imagine the other half.
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“My, my. So businesslike. I’d offer you a nice single-malt scotch or a glass of Bordeaux, but you seem the type to want your wits about you. Perhaps a nice cup of tea? I have one brewed from the dried husk of a hearty moss growing at the bottom of a stone well, touched by direct sunlight only twice a year. You’d be the only human to taste it.”

“No? Straight to business? Very well, but with an attitude like that I’m not sure you’ll enjoy the fruits of our deal. I daresay that you’re not taking this with a spirit of relish, of enjoyment. Live a little!”

“Ah yes, that brings back such memories. The good doctor would certainly have taken me up on the tea. For one so studious he had quite the sense of humor. The English playwright was far closer to the mark than the German on that score. Funny that.”

“Adjustments to the deal? Why, of course, of course. Times have changed and all that. The doctor was funnier than you, but I can tell that you’re much, much shrewder. You might get a good deal out of this after all. Some do you know.”

“No, really. I keep those quiet. Bad for the reputation. And, don’t tell him I said this, but the big guy doesn’t want word to get out. Let me just say that if anyone’s smart enough to get a happy ending, it’ll be you.”

“Adjust for inflation? That seems only fair, and very smart of you to ask. Tell you what, I’ll double it. That should be more than generous.”

“OK, you got me. Triple, and you keep your wits until the very end. So it’s a deal. Sign here, initial there, sign there.”

“Don’t be silly. That was the Englishman using poetic license. Consider it a metaphor. Ink is fine. There. So, would you like to make your first request now? Kick the tires on this new bargain?”

“Oh, that’s funny. As if you need me to tell you what you want. Should I enjoy the other fruits you’ll ask for too? The riches? The women?”

“You can’t be serious. Perhaps I underestimated you. The doctor never would have asked such a thing. Nor anyone else. Do you call yourself a man?”

“Fine. It is a deal, after all. A poem. He should have asked for a poem.”

“OK. You win. I just put the seed of it in your mind. Stay awake meditating on the thought I just gave you until sunrise, then write the first thoughts that flow into your mind. That’s it.”

“So...do you want that drink now or what?”
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Again, not sure it did everything I was thinking, but it was fun to write and fun to share.

For those interested, Bliss is running another daily prompt project in January and February. You can find her  here.

Happy reading, happy writing! I'll see you all next week to discuss the world of AV on Technology Tuesday

1 comment:

  1. Cool! Over my head stuff...but fun to read...:)

    ReplyDelete