The chimes sound. “I’ll get it,” Michael Robeson says to his wife, Denise. “Hospice must’ve forgotten something.” He opens the door and finds a man about shoulder-height to himself. The fellow is wearing a black suit, white shirt, and red bowtie.
“Deal.” the man says.
“You said a few minutes ago that you’d do anything, even sell your soul to the devil, to cure your little boy. I’m Satan, and I accept your offer. Can I come in?”
“Sick asshole.” Michael tries to slam the door, but it stops halfway when the man raises his hand.
“Yee haw.” The man slaps his behind and bucks like a bronco. “After all these millennia, I never get tired of that look on people’s faces. I repeat … Can I come in?”
“You need more proof?” The man claiming to be Satan rattles off details of Michael’s personal life. “I even know your mother’s maiden name. Whadayasay … je peux entrez-vous?
“I say you know how to Google, and you speak bad French.” Michael puts his shoulder to the door but can’t budge it.
“You’re hard hickory, aren’t you? Can Google do this?” The little man’s red bowtie spins free, flies around his head like a mini-drone, then reattaches itself.
Michael kicks the door, but it still won’t close.
The man claiming to be Satan shakes his head. “OK, I’ll give you one more chance.” He describes the moment Michael and his wife learned their son, Billy, was dying. The little man recites the doctor’s exact words, which are burned in Michael’s memory. He describes the way he and Denise collapsed into each other’s arms, what his wife whispered in his ear.
Michael feels light-headed and grips the door handle to steady himself.
“I can save Billy. May I come in?”
Michael swings open the door.
“You have to say it?”
“I don’t … what?”
“You have to say that I can come in. A silly rule better suited for vampires,” he says with a crude, Transylvanian accent. “Believe me — not my idea.”
“Please. Come in and save my son.”
“Denise, Satan. Satan, Denise.”
Satan sits on the edge of the living room recliner, swinging his feet and singing If I were a tall man, ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum. If I were a tall, tall man.
“Why did you let this nut in our house, Michael?”
“I’ll leave the two of you alone a few minutes. Just listen to what he has to say.”
Michael goes into the bathroom, fights off a wave of nausea, then lowers the lid of the stool and sits. Over the course of several minutes, he hears his wife shouting, swearing and sobbing. When she goes quiet, he rejoins her and Satan.
“What happens now?” Michael says.
“You have to ask me to proceed as planned.” The little man shakes his head and rolls his eyes. “I hate bureaucracy.”
Denise stands. “Proceed as planned.”
Satan grips the sleeping boy’s wrist with one hand and Michael’s wrist with the other. “I’ll take away the boy’s disease and remove your soul at the same time. I’m ambidextrous, you see.”
“Hurry,” Denise says.
Michael looks at Satan. “Let me get this straight. My soul will go to Hell when I die, but Billy will be cured now, right?”
“Hell? There is no Hell. Not that I know of.” He looks upward. “Crikey, has someone been holding out on me?”
“If there’s no Hell, what —”
“As I said, I’ll remove your soul. Once outside your body, it’ll vaporize. Pfttt. You’ll lead a soulless life. Guess you can consider that a kind of Hell.”
“What’s a soulless life?”
The little man sighs. “Well, crap. Because you asked, I’m obliged to show you. Grrrr.” He grips both of Michael’s hands.
Michael immediately sees himself in the kitchen standing over his wife, who’s sprawled at his feet. She has a black eye, her face bruised and swollen. Billy runs in carrying his basketball. “Mom, what’s going on?”
Michael, fists clenched, lurches toward his son. “Leave us alone, boy.”
Billy pulls his phone from his pocket. “I’m calling the cops.”
“Wait, Honey.” Denise gets to her feet. “Michael, I’ve put up with your abuse because you saved our son’s life. Gave up your soul. I know you’re just an evil shell of yourself now.”
Michael turns toward his wife and laughs.
Denise holds up her hand. “No more. Either move out or I’ll see you in jail.”
Michael chugs the rest of his beer. “And that is how I came to be this miserable son-of-bitch you see before you. All for that ungrateful kid and bitch ex-wife.”
The bartender wipes the counter. “Sure, buddy. I think you’ve had enough. Why don’t you move along? It’s going get crowded in here shortly when the big game’s over.”
“Maybe I’ll stick around and pick me up some …” He licks his lips.
The bartender motions for the bouncer. The fellow grabs Michael’s elbow, pulls him to the door and shoves him to the curb.
Michael drives to the stadium and double-parks waiting for the crowd to exit. A trickle of people becomes a flood. Michael can’t stand the sight of them — chattering families, skipping children, hand-holding couples. What gives them the right to happiness and not him? The crowd fills the crosswalk ahead of him. He floors the accelerator.
Michael screams and jerks his hands out of Satan’s.
“Michael, what is it?” Denise says.
Michael stares at Satan. “That’s my future? I’m going to beat my wife, turn against my son and mow down those innocent people?”
Satan nods. “Soulless people perform soulless acts. Only seven will be killed. A couple children.
Maybe three. Or is it twelve and four?”
“I … Denise, I can’t go through with it… I can’t do these things, sacrifice all those people. Not even to save Billy.”
“Don’t be hasty,” Satan says. “If your son lives, he’ll become a skilled surgeon. He’ll save many more lives than you’ll take.”
Billy groans again, louder this time.
“Do it,” Denise says. “Save our son.”
Satan holds out his hand to Michael and reaches for Billy. “May I proceed?”
“It’s not that simple,” Michael says. “Those people I’ll kill … maybe they’d’ve saved lives, too. Or their children might. This is wrong, Denise. We have to accept —”
Denise puts Billy’s wrist and her own in Satan’s hands. “You have my permission to proceed.”
“Denise, no!” Michael tugs his wife’s arm but can’t free her from the devil’s grip.
Satan smirks. “On your mark. Get set. Boogie!”
Denise gasps. Billy’s eyes flutter then close. His chest falls. Michael waits for it to rise again. And waits. “Billy?” He puts his finger to his son’s neck. “I think he’s … he’s gone.” Michael turns toward Satan. “What have you done?”
The little man shrugs his shoulders. “Oops.” He lowers his voice. “I’ve been known to cheat at cards, too.” Satan puts his hand on Denise’s shoulder. “But I kept my word with you, fine lady. You’re now as soulless as I. Howzit feel?” Satan’s bow tie spins as Michael raises his limp son to his chest and sobs.
Denise looks at her husband, dead son and Satan, hesitates a moment, then throws back her head and howls with laughter.