John’s Mistake

“I am not supposed to be here,” John said, crossing his arms in defiance as he looked the demon straight in the eye.  Trying to keep eye contact with its fierce, yellow eyes sent chills down his spine, but the alternative- focusing on the rusted iron gateway or the pools of eternal fire- were just as unsettling.  “Clearly, there has been some sort of mistake here.”

“Oh, you poor thing,” the demon replied, its voice dripping with sarcasm.  “Sent to Hell by accident?  No one has ever said that before!  I’m sure it must be a mistake.  We’d better check the ledger, hadn’t we?”  It pulled a large leather tome out from under its podium, and began to leaf through the pages.  “That must be the solution.  The thought of you being in denial about your atrocious misdeeds is obviously not the case.  Everyone who comes to Hell admits their fate willingly, after all.”

The demon licked its claws for emphasis as it slowly flipped through the pages, making a theatrical production out of the whole affair.  “It make take a while to find your name, you know.  We find that so many more people end up here, especially now in the modern era.  I’m sure you understand.”

John clenched his fists, resisting the urge to punch the smug grin off of the demon’s face.  Even if it was just a lowly gate clerk, there was no way he would be able to fight his way out of this.  Anything he did here would be held against him.  If this was going to be a test, well… so be it.

“Ah, here we are.  John Daniels.  Esteemed country musician, yearly charitable donations to the poor… well, that’s all well and good, but the last few years of one’s life usually are.  Let’s just skip ahead to the good stuff, shall we?”  The demon grabbed a handful of pages and flipped them aside.  “We’ve got quite the record on Johnny Daniels, the hot-headed teenager.  We look at your whole record, after all.”

The demon propped its head up on its fist as it began to read from the book.  Its smug grin had become, if possible, even bigger.  “Well, now.  Over one hundred different accounts of gluttonous drinking… countless citations of lust and debauchery… and the wrath!  We had to attach an entire appendix to your file just to get it all in here!” it said, with a deep chuckle.

“And if we start pulling in your pride violations, why… it gets even better!  I’ve never seen an incident so heavily flagged before.  You must have really screwed things up.  Let’s see here… ‘won a fiddle contest against the devil’…”  The demon paused, jerking its head upright.  “It’s you!”  It spoke barely above a whisper, but John could hear the awe in its rasping voice.

“That’s right,” he said.  Relief washed across his body, but he tried to maintain his outward bravado.  Weakness was to be avoided at all costs.  “As I said before, this is a mistake.  So, what are you going to do about it?”

The demon made no reply, instead pulling the coarse rope attached to the wall behind him.  A small squadron of guards walked through the gate, and formed a tight grid around him.  He supposed the demon had summoned them, though how exactly the rope had signaled them, John had no idea.  “The Sorting Department messed up big time,” it said, addressing the whole squadron.  “This is case file #338.  Take him where he belongs.”

The squadron tried not to betray their emotions, but John noticed a few of them widen their eyes when they heard his case number.  He couldn’t help but smile broadly, even as the demons began to poke and prod at his body as they escorted him through the narrow caverns.  Soon he’d be with the rest of his family up in the clouds, and they’d all laugh at the spectacular final adventure he’d had.  Although… were they descending?  John frowned.  He tried to look for visual clues, but what little he could see of the cavern walls through the close flanking of the guards offered no help.  The guards stopped abruptly, and shoved him unceremoniously through an open doorway.  The question was answered for him; he was standing in front of the Devil himself.

“We had a deal!” John screamed, losing all sense of decorum once he recognized the face of evil, just as he remembered it all those years ago.  “I won your stupid bet, remember?  You weren’t supposed to get my soul unless I lost!”

“Oh, come now, Johnny,” he said.  “Do you really think I would go back against our agreement?  I am nothing, if not a man of my word.  I even have a transcript of that day, right here.”  He opened a roll of parchment out of thin air, and began to read.  “Me: …give the Devil his due.  I’ll bet a fiddle of gold against your soul ‘cause I think I’m better than you.  You: My name’s Johnny, and it might be a sin.  But I’ll take that bet…”  He snapped his fingers; the parchment vanished.  “Well, guess what?  It was a sin.  So here we are.  And trust me, I’ve been waiting for this day, oh yes.  I’ve got quite the schedule planned for you.”

“I… but… no!”  John said.  “It can’t be!  How could that possibly be a sin?”

The Devil rolled his eyes.  “Really?  Are you grasping at straws already?” he said.  “Do you seriously think God approves of His children wagering their immortal souls against material riches?  Honestly.”

John began to wring his hands in panic.  “But… our deal…”

The Devil laughed.  “What about our deal, John?  The deal stated that I would get your soul if you lost.  It never stated that I would be unable to take your soul at a later date.  It’s your fault for assuming otherwise.  I never take a bet unless I know that I will win.  Why would I ever be in a hurry to collect souls?  I have all of the time in the world.  Sooner or later, everything pays out to my benefit in the end.  You would do well to remember that.”

John hadn’t even noticed the squadron of guards appear around him, surrounding him once more to lead him to his next destination.  He plodded along, trying to keep up the pace when all he really wanted to do was fall to the ground in despair.  His confidence had vanished, and along with it the resistance to all of the wounds they had inflicted on him earlier.

“Chin up, Johnny!” the Devil called out, his voice echoing down the narrow hallway.  “I’m a man of my word, remember?  That golden fiddle is still yours to keep!  I hope you’ve kept your arm strength up!  We’ll see how much you enjoy it, as we force you to play it for all eternity! “

Neil Siemers grew up in Derby, Kansas, a comparatively small town south of Wichita. He moved to Lawrence to attend the University of Kansas, and hasn't left since. Neil likes to pretend that he is a big shot full time writer, although it's probably closer to a hobby. Either way, it's funded by a full-time job in the insurance industry, where he happily works as a cog in the machine for The Man so that bills can be paid.

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