Stop 666

Artwork by Barney Bodoano

Artwork by Barney Bodoano

It’s the wanting that does you in.

Some might say it’s the desire to get what you have trapped inside – out, but they’d be wrong. Really, that’s the easy part. I’ve never struggled to get the words down — I’m actually pretty good at that part, but the wanting, well…

I really had done everything right. I did it wrong a lot of times before that of course, but I learned, and I honed, and I polished, and I made. The words. Sing.

But, still. Still, I couldn’t get published.

 

It was frustrating, because, well, I’ve read the other stuff that is getting published. Don’t get me wrong, there is some good stuff hitting the shelves, but a lot of it is complete garbage. I know, I’m not an editor or an English major — or some long established critic, but I read a lot. A Lot. When you read a lot, you can tell what works and what doesn’t.

The truth is, writing is actually hard.

I think some people think it’s just playtime – tapping away at a keyboard as magic flows through your fingers onto the page. I think they think this because there have been some popular movies with cool as hell montages where “The Author” creates this superb manuscript in a single sitting. It ends when he lays the last page on the pile, swigs some scotch, and then cashes a fat check about 2 hours later. But, it doesn’t happen like that. Not for most of us anyway.

This is the part where I’m going to lose you if I don’t tell you something truly interesting almost immediately. When you write, you need to establish a mood and get your reader on your side pretty quickly – especially these days. So, if I don’t tell you right now that I’m selling my soul to a well-known fallen angel in about 20 minutes, your attention is going to wander. The good news is that I actually am meeting with the Prince of Darkness shortly and the plan involves the aforementioned trade.

Why? Why not. I don’t think I can watch others succeed when I sit here writing much better stories and still getting nowhere. But, more than that, at 46 there’s not much time left to make my first book happen and actually have a writing career. Sure, I might get lucky and get a book deal eventually. But, I also, want the last 25 years back. I need that time to build a career.

Doesn’t matter. Regardless of what I say, you’re going to find a reason to disagree with me anyway. Well, most of you are. Some of you probably understand.

Lets move on, because I haven’t told you the interesting part.

Ready? OK. Surprisingly, selling your soul to Satan isn’t easy.

Apparently, despite his celestial – and presumably magical – abilities, he’s got a pretty full schedule. Getting a meeting with him is almost as hard as trying to get a big publishing house’s editor to look at your work when you’ve never been published before.

It took me a full year of working my way through some pretty unsavory characters and another year to navigate a whole platoon of lower level demons to get this far. Finally, the dude who calls himself Legion is going to be showing up in…a little under 10 minutes.

It was a long drive down to Virginia from Salem. A long drive to this particular crossroads. But, every time I look up at the stop sign and the route marker, I can’t help but chuckle. Where else would you meet the Great Adversary besides the place where Route 666 cuts across Paradise Way.

I stare at the night sky and wait. It’s calm and quiet, a bit cooler than I expected. I shiver and pull my coat closer, but the chill remains. My phone rings and I answer.

“Are you there? Are you waiting where I told you to be?”

It’s the one who set up the meeting for me. A less than pleasant fellow going by the name of “Stitch.” I don’t think that’s actually his name – it doesn’t appear on any of Crowley’s charts of demons – or in that copy of Raising Demons for Dummies (Millennium Edition) I picked up from that weird little bookstore on 9th and Pitt – but, I suppose he just doesn’t want me to know his real name. Maybe he thinks it would give me some sort of power over him.

Before I can answer his question, I hear a loud slurping sound through the phone, like he’s sucking a milkshake – or something – through a straw. I wait for him to finish and then speak up.

“Yeah, I’m here.” I look at my watch. “It’s two minutes to Midnight.”

“Good, be patient and stop quoting Iron Maiden titles. We’re just down the road from you.”

There’s enough time for a flock of something not quite like bats, but slightly unlike birds to fly overhead, and then I hear the hum of the tires approaching.

At exactly 12 AM, the black limousine stops in the middle of the road and the door opens.

I wait for a moment, watching. When no one gets out, and the door remains open I realize I’m supposed to get in.

The door closes softly as I take my seat across from the dark figure. All I can make out is his silhouette, his shoulder length hair, and the of the glint of light coming from what seems to be sunglasses.

“You’re a tough guy to get a hold of,” I say with a nervous laugh.

“Am, I?” he says. His voice is smooth and rich with a mild amusement. “I suppose it’s because I work like a millionaire and I live like one too.”

I’m not sure what he means, so I just sit silently.

“My driver tells me you want to trade your soul for a writing career, and the chance to re-live the last 25 years.”

I turn and look over my shoulder but see no one at the wheel. I suppose that’s not really unusual when you’re in the Devil’s limousine. I turn back to him and nod. “Yes. That’s exactly right.”

“I’ll tell you what. It’s a Red Letter Day. I’ll give you half of what you want.”

I ponder his words with a bit of disappointment. I know from my earlier conversation with “Stitch” that we’re in what the real estate people like to call a “buyer’s market.” Lots of souls up for grab and only one interested buyer. It’s pretty obvious that I’m going to have to compromise.

“OK,” I say. “I suppose there are lots of other writers who came to the table late in life. If I can get just my work published, I can get busy for the next 30 or 40 years.”

The Demon laughs and leans forward. “You misunderstand, friend. I’m not making you published author, I’m giving you your last 25 years again.”

I frown and chew at my lip. This isn’t really what I wanted. It occurs to me that this is probably why people say dealing with the Army of One is less than optimal. But, beggars, and choosers and all that…

’“Alright.” I say, “I think I can make it on my own if I have another 25 years to get my work out there – as long as I find a good agent.”

He laughs again. This time I hear the driver laugh too.

“They’re really so stupid,” the voice says from the front seat.

The Demon leans forward and puts his hand on my shoulder, his expression a great stone face. “Son, you’re going to go through another 25 years of writing the best work no one will ever publish.”

“I – I don’t understand, I want to trade my soul to be published. I’m already writing work no one wants to publish.”

“Boy, you can’t trade your soul to me become a great writer, you already did that 150 years ago. We meet here at this crossroads every 25 years since.

Your contract was up a long time ago. This, is Hell.”