Speak of the Devil The Devil drops in on two old friends to settle an argument.

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Oct 10, 2017 No Comments ›› admin

FICTION
By Lynn Woolley

Editor’s note: I don’t have an exact date on the writing of this story, but it would have been in the mid-seventies – a time when I was always going for the twist ending. The concept of escaping from Hell isn’t a bad idea, actually – but I think Old Lynn could have written this much better than Young Lynn did.

How we came to speak of the Devil, I don’t really remember. But there we were – Jim and I – walking down an old, country road arguing to beat the band about the finality of Hell.
“Once you’re there – you’re there. Hell is forever; it goes on and on,” I said, spreading my arms as if to symbolize infinity.

Mr. Belial? Nope; this is from “The Howling Man,” by Charles Beaumont, a 1960 episode of “The Twilight Zone.”

“Sure,” Jim said. “I know all the stock ideas about Hell. A fire seven times hotter than any known on Earth; the nether world where the evil do eternal penance; the land of the damned. But there IS a chance of escape.”

“Escape from Hell? Jim, you must be kidding.”

“Of course I’m not kidding. Why I’ll bet people escape from Hell every day. And you wanna know how?”

I indicated that I did.

“They made a deal. The Devil is the greatest gambler known to history. He’ll strike up a bargain at the drop of a hat.”

You won’t believe this, but about that time, Jim’s hat dropped from his head and plummeted to the ground. Suddenly, a sort of mist settled in, and a well-dressed old gentleman emerged from the shroud and introduced himself.

“You were speaking of the Devil,” he said. “At your service.”

Jim and I stared at the old fellow in disbelief. He stared back through gleaming black eyes set in deep sockets. His hair was parted in the middle and slicked back as if with greasy-kid-stuff, with sides meeting at a ducktail on the backside of his head.

His skin was frighteningly pale (almost white), and that caused his rather crimson lips to show up prominently.

He wore a gray, pin-stripe suit, with white gloves, and held a long walking stick in one hand. There was a bulge under the seat of his pants as if his britches weren’t exactly tailored for a certain part of his anatomy.

“Th-the Devil?” Jim asked. “Oh, come on now…”

“You spoke of me as the Devil. Others know me as Lucifer, Beelzebub, Scratch, Mephistopheles, Azmodeus – I kind of prefer ‘Mr. Belial.’”

“Mr. Belial, huh? Okay. Mr. Belial, to what do we owe the pleasure?” Jim was getting just a bit of confidence.

“I came to settle an argument. One of you says there is no escape from Hell; the other says there is. I simply wish to provide you with an answer.”

Jim wasted no time. “Great. So what’s the answer?”

“Not so fast, young man. Escaping from Hell isn’t as simple as that. And besides – I can’t give you the information for free. What have you to offer in return?” He gently stroked his Van Dyke, and all his features were bristling in anticipation.

“In return?” gulped Jim. “You mean – you want my soul?”

“No, no. Heh, heh. Of course I don’t want your soul. You don’t really believe those old wives’ tales about selling your soul? Let me assure you that’s only a myth perpetuated by Christopher Marlowe.” He took a step toward us and we both backed up just a tad.

“Jim, let’s get the hell out of here!” I exclaimed. But Jim was too curious.

“Wait a minute,” Jim said. If you don’t want my soul, what DO you want?”

He avoided the question. Instead, he asked, “Do you really want the secret of escaping from Hades?”

“Yes, Mr. Belial. I’d like to know the secret.”

“Very well. To understand, you must relax. Close your eyes, and put you body at ease. And now, young man, dwell on the ancient theories of rebirth; new life for the orphaned soul; reincarnation. Many condemned souls have escaped the devil’s sanctuary and walked the Earth again.”

Jim’s eyes were closed and he seemed to be listening with his mind rather than his senses. He was almost floating, his arms extended outward, his mouth open, and his lungs slowly, very slowly drawing in the misty air. Mr. Belial continued his ranting…

“They are the same – yet different; an old essence in a bright new package. But nothing really changes. The creature called Jack the Ripper left the Nether World to stalk women again as the Boston Strangler. John Wilkes Booth escaped only to enter the shell known as Lee Harvey Oswald. Caligula returned to slaughter millions as Adolph Hitler. Escaping hell changes nothing. One’s fate is sealed.”

Belial paused for a moment to ponder his handiwork.

“Do you still wish to possess the secret?” he whispered.

“No!” I screamed. You’ve hypnotized him! He’ll agree to anything!”

Belial slapped me to the ground with back of his hand, without ever taking his hell-spawned gaze off Jim. Jim’s trace was so deep that he couldn’t speak at all; he just nodded.

“Good, good,” Said Belial rubbing his hands together. “The secret is not the soul, but the body. Do you give me your body?”

Again, Jim nodded.

Belial smiled – grinned from ear to ear. Then, the grin became a grimace, as if the Lord of Hell was in dire pain. He seemed faint, wobbly, unsure of himself. And he screamed! He screamed as if all the demons of Hell had been loosed and were preparing to throw him into the furnace.

But it wasn’t Belial screaming. Not anymore. The transfer was complete, and as I reached out to grab my friend – in his new body – and shake him to bring him to his senses, I could feel the mystic fog rolling in once more on its little cat feet. The mist gathered about the Devil’s body, and suddenly it was gone.

I turned and looked at the exterior that had one hosted Jim. “You won, Mr. Belial. You tricked Jim into giving up his body. Now he’s in Hell, and you’re free.”

“Free,” repeated Belial, savoring the word to its fullest. “But don’t worry. He will escape again.”

“Again?”

“That’s right. Your friend has lived many lives on Earth and in Hell. You may recall his original name – it was Johann Faust.”

THE END

© 2017 by Lynn Woolley. All rights reserved.

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