I always loved those little Faustian Exchange stories and wanted to take a crack at one. I read the name Joe Milgrave in one of my books and the title jumped into my head. I liked the meter.
“Wow. You went through a lot of trouble for this,” said the Devil, straightening up. Joe couldn’t see him very clearly in the dim candlelight. It was the body of a trim muscular (if a little short) man of indeterminate age. Joe watched the man’s head turn from side to side, taking in the slaughtered pig, the pentagram drawn in swine blood, the smelly candles that gave off a choking smoke, and the crowning glory; the ram’s skull.
“Geez, son,” said the figure stepping idly across the circle that was supposed to be keeping him prisoner. “Most people just shout out, ‘hey Devil!’ They don’t turn their barn into a movie set from ‘Carrie’.”
Joe didn’t answer, however, as the Devil’s appearance suddenly rang a bell.
“BURT REYNOLDS?” he gasped.
The Devil only shrugged and looked quizzical, his handsome mustache twitching to one side as his thick brows arched. “You must be the millionth person to say that,” he said. “This Burt Reynolds fellah must be a handsome devil… get it?” he joked. He threw his head back for a high-pitched mirthful laugh that sure as HELL sounded like Burt Reynolds. Joe, being a “Cannonball Run” fan was that much more in awe of him now.
“Okey-dokey, Joe. So what did you drag me here for? Didja want proof I existed? Didja want to do the soul-for-favor exchange, or should we chalk this up to ‘dicking around with shit we don’t understand?” The Devil regarded Joe’s trembling knees, and the fervent look in his eyes. “I’d say it was all three, right Joe?”
“I need you to do something for me,” said Joe nodding.
“And what’s that, son?” said the Devil amiably.
“I want you to make my wife agree with me.”
Joe had never met the Devil or Burt Reynolds before, but got the distinct impression that this imposing man was seldom non-plussed. Yet, here it was, the drooping mustache, the eyes wide open and round as golf-balls.
“Mind running that by me again, Joe?”
“I’ve been married to Lida for twenty-six years,” said Joe in a low even voice, “…and she has never EVER agreed with me.”
“Chee whiz, son. I must admit that’s a first. Just agree with you? Why not have me make her obedient? It’s kinda the same thing?”
“No thanks, that’s not a problem.”
“Please elaborate, Joe. Enquiring minds want to know.”
“You know the passage from Corinthians: ‘Wives Be submissive to your husband?’”
“I think it was from Colossians, but go on.”
“Well, Lida always took that passage very seriously. But while she always gave into me, whether I wanted her to or not, she’s never agreed with me. She’d always call me an idiot, or a fool, or she’d just nod and say, ‘well I leave it to your conscience, Joe’.”
The Devil flinched. “Damn, son. You really won the lottery with that one.”
“Even if it’s just for a day, I just want to hear her say, “yes, Joe,” or “you’re right, Joe.”
“And you want that in exchange for your immortal soul??” asked the Devil incredulously. “A day? Son, you’re no poker player. Never go all-in on the first round.”
“How long’d you give me?”
“A little thing like that? How bout until the end of your natural life?”
“You’d do that??” asked Joe agape.
“Well not so fast now. This is kind of like getting a loan. There’s an approval process. Let me just pull out the Milton Index and see how you figure.”
“It tells where you are soul-wise and how likely you are to go to heaven or hell. The way we figured it, there’s no point in giving out freebies for people who are going to end up in Hell anyway,” The Devil finished with a charming grin. Joe blanched a little.
The Devil pulled an oblong box from his pocket and consulted it. To Joe, it looked like an elaborate stud-finder. The Devil waved it at Joe and then shook the device and banged on the side in frustration.
“Well, shoot, Joe! You barely register on this thing.”
“What’s that mean?” asked Joe.
“What it means is that apart from our little meeting here, you are a pious man. And I don’t mean pious in that sense that makes you want to puke. You are a lawful, considerate, caring, God-fearing man!”
“The only real blot on your soul is your desire to get back at your wife. But you suffer quietly and are a good husband to her. What gives, Joe? You’re not a papist; divorce her! Live a good life and go to heaven like the goody-two-shoes you are.”
“But I love her,” said Joe sadly.
“You’re a piece of work, and no mistake, Joe. Alright. You got it. For the rest of your life (or hers, whichever comes first) your wife will agree with everything you say.”
There was a cloud of acrid smoke and the Devil was gone. Shaking and sweating, Joe cleaned up the barn as best he could, so he could be composed when he rejoined Lida in the kitchen.
“And where have you been?” asked Lida acidly. “And why do you stink like dead meat?”
“I’m going to lie down, Lida. I don’t feel so good,” said Joe.
To his amazement, Lida said, “You’re right, Joe. You look terrible.”
Did Lida actually agree with him? No snide comments? No trying to one-up him with an account of her problems? Joe smiled, but it was short-lived. He was now dimly aware of a numbness in his left arm that was rolling over his body and a painful throbbing in his chest.
“Lida…I do believe I’m having a heart-attack,” he mumbled through rubbery lips.
“Joe I think you’re right!” said Lida, agreeing with him again. She ran for the phone. “I’ll call 911.”
Joe was dead before the EMTs arrived, but as they rolled out the zippered bag to the ambulance, no one noticed the shadowy figure in the barn looking out and smoking a cigarette. The figure stomped out the smoldering butt and kicked the ground moodily.
“Shit. I hadn’t done it yet!” spat the Devil.