There was no moon; the streetlights had been shot out. The
apartment buildings, windows covered with sagging plywood and
a few boards, were the last resort for those who were not yet
so desperate as to sleep under bridges.
Into the gloom stepped a figure. His coat, of some rough,
dark material, hung down his
body just past his knees. His wrinkled trousers were almost pipe-stem
thin; his shoes were indiscernible but clicked as he strode forward.
In his left hand was a small, brown paper bag.
The figure sniffed the air, then turned into one of the buildings.
There was no relief in there from the sense of doom that pervaded
the street, no sense of safety from brutish life. The dank hallway
was filled with trash that had lost any form or meaningbroken
glass, the twisted frame of what might have been a baby carriage,
some shapeless rags that vaguely resembled clothingnothing
left that had any remaining purpose. Ignoring it all, the figure
went up the stairs, walked unhesitatingly to one of the apartment
"Who's there?" demanded an irritated voice. "What
the hell do you want? Get the fuck out of here!"
"Let me in. I've got your sandwich." He spoke softly,
yet the old wooden door, scarred from past insults, shrank away,
pressed against its frame from the intensity of that demand.
There was a moment when everything was absolutely quiet. Even
the building stopped its quiet groaning. The door opened.
"My sandwich? What the hell are you talking about?"
The speaker was a tall man with long hair and a shaggy beard,
perhaps in his thirties. He looked down at his visitor, his face
blunt, a no-nonsense face that would have given pause to anyone
rash enough to have knocked that night. But he flinched.
"I'm the devil," his visitor responded, and brushed
past him into the apartment. Any sense of warmth it might have
had was long vanished. There was a hole in the right foyer wall
smashed through to the kitchen. The floor complained bitterly
at the added weight, like an old man given a task beyond his
capacities, ready to collapse at any moment.
"What the hell do you mean, barging in like"
the man started, but the intruder stepped past him into the kitchen.
An ancient, useless refrigerator stood in one corner. Alongside
it was a stove with a hot plate sitting on it, its cord going
almost straight up to the ceiling where it fit into a tap in
a light socket. The open window still had glass in it. There
were two empty coffee mugs on the kitchen table.
The devil sat in one of the chairs. He placed the paper bag
on the table, and, reaching into a breast pocket pulled out a
document that he placed alongside it. "Sign here and you
can have your sandwich."
"Get the hell out of here," said the man, his voice
a whisper, denying his fears of his visitor's identity. "I
don't know who you think you are, but I'm not in the mood for
games. Beat it."
The devil smiled. The vagrant smells in the room became even
more foul. "Exactly fifteen minutes and thirty-two seconds
ago you screamed through that window, 'I'll sell my soul to the
devil for something to eat.' Well, I'm the devil, and I've brought
you a turkey sandwich. Sign here."
"What are you, crazy or something? You heard me and you're
running some kind of game? My wife is sick. I'm not in the mood
for your stupidity."
The man reached toward the intruder to pull him out of the
chair, but jerked to a halt, hand in mid-air, frozen by sudden
comprehension. Instead of the hatted and coated stranger, the
devil now appeared in his familiar formtall and naked,
triangular face with an imperious nose, a sinuous tail that wrapped
itself around his body, cloven hoofs, and red, all blood-red
except for a black goatee and dark, carefully combed hair.
The man wanted to scream his terror, but his words could not
get past his frozen vocal cords. All that could emerge was a
strained gurgle. The thought of attacking this vile creature
kept weaving through the chaos of his thoughts, but it was beyond
A woman came into the kitchen. "I thought I heard voi"
She looked at the devil and stared. "Oh," she said,
"oh... oh... oh," and started to sink to the floor.
The devil grimaced. "Both of you be calm," he said.
The woman stood straight. "What the hell is going on?"
she said in a raspy voice that might have felt painful if she
had remembered she was ill.
"You humans are impossible. I'm just here to consummate
a deal that this noisy oaf offered me, and what do I get? Damned
carrying on, as if I were about to eat him alive. No chance of
that with all his hair and needing a bath. Ugh." Turning
to the man, the devil continued: "Do you want the sandwich
For a moment the man wondered why he was so calm. "Excuse
me, but would you mind putting on that stupid hat and coat? I'm
The woman looked at the now re-transformed devil. "What
is this about a deal?" Her dark hair hung close to her cheeks.
Weariness dulled her, but the planes of her face suggested a
special quality that in different circumstances might yet be
The devil reseated himself at the kitchen table and leaning
back against the chair, opened his arms wide with his hands palms
up in the universal gesture for seeking peaceful accommodation.
"I'm nothing but a business man. I have things that humans
want. Humans have what I want. Nothing more than a simple transaction
between two consenting adults. As usual, I am misunderstood."
As he spoke a gentle expression gradually replaced his exasperated
frown. His eyes grew round and moist.
The man began to feel some concern that the devil might burst
into tears. That possibility seemed almost worse than the devils
true form. But he wanted nothing to do with the devil.
"Get out of here, or I'll kick you back to hell myself,"
he said, his calm still a surprise to him.
"What have I done to you to deserve such hostility?"
The devil's voice quavered. "You offer a deal; I accept
it. What could be fairer? And it's not just about a turkey sandwich.
Take it. It's yours as a token of my good faith." In his
agitation, the devil stood and paced the floor. He was now somehow
shorter, with a slight paunch and stooped shoulders.
"You've come for my soul, haven't you?" answered
the man. I've been an atheist all my life, but if you're here,
it's proof that there's a God, otherwise it wouldn't be fair,
so the hell with you and your deals."
His antagonist burst into laughter and fell back into the
chair. "Oh, no, not that one again." He laughed even
louder. The sound flew though the window to the streets below,
frightening the few people lurking in the darkness. "What
makes you think anything is fair? God is a delusion that you
mortals created to make up for your weaknesses. Go ahead and
pray, for all the good it will do you."
"Maybe we should pray," the woman said. "What
if he's lying?"
The devil grinned. "What? She's caught up in the delusion
too?" He looked around the kitchen. "You'd think that
you'd have figured out by now that there's no help for you anywhere.
You humans are well aware of the reality that you are too incompetent
to exist for very long, so you invent some creature to save you.
How any mass of molecules accreted to form you is beyond my understanding."
He looked back at the woman. "But go ahead, indulge yourselves."
Distant explosions, perhaps thunder, rumbled through the room.
The devil yawned. "Let me know when you are ready to make
"Why do you want his soul?" the woman asked. "If
there were a God then you could count to Him the number of lives
youve destroyed, and laugh at His incompetent creation.
But you say there's no God, so what use is a soul to you... or
"Oh, well," responded the devil, dropping his head
so that the large brim covered his eyes, "we sort of collect
them the way some of you collect stamps, and when an unusual
one comes along, that's all the better. I'm thirsty." He
got up and walked to the sink. "At least the glasses are
The man frowned. "Mine's unusual? How come it's worth
only a turkey sandwich?"
"You can't blame me for trying to get a good deal, can
you? Anyway, I've said the sandwich is yours, free, no cost,
on the house. There are more interesting things that I can offer,
really nice things, like winning the Florida lottery, or meeting
some really sexy... perhaps you and I should talk in private?"
The thunder, for that's what it was, moved closer to the old
"There's nothing private between you and me. I said a
stupid thing, asking for a sandwich, whining about how hungry
we were. I've changed my mind. Beat it, and take the damned sandwich
The devil scowled. His body became more bulky, puffing up
so that his clothing was now too small for him. "You offered
a deal and there's no reneging. I try to be nice, but you get
all huffy. You don't need a soul. It's sort of like a metaphysical
appendix, just the luck of the universe playing its tricks on
us all. Now give it to me, or I'll rip it from you. You won't
like that." The devil leaned further across the table, close
to the man's face, teeth now longer, more prominent in his mouth.
"Your breath stinks," the man said, drawing back.
"Look, my wife and I need to talk this over. It's not such
an easy decision."
"OK, sure, no problem," said the devil, backing
off. "I've nothing else to do. Just wake me up when you
decide." With that, he removed his hat and rested his forehead
on the table. In a moment he began to snore.
The man and woman went to their bedroom. She had tried to
give it life with travel posters of Switzerland, but they disappeared
in the gloom.
The woman spoke. "What do we do? You want to make a deal
The man looked at her face and then sat on the bed. "For
a moment, yeah, just for a moment, I figured it would be OK to
take the sandwich . . . but that's the devil. Nothing good can
come from messing around with him."
"But what do we do? Do you think we should pray?"
"Nah," he responded. "Look, I've just never
believed. It wouldn't make any sense to me to start to pray now.
Besides, even if there is a God, it seems kind of late in the
day to start asking favors. We're on our own."
The woman's eyes opened slightly and she leaned forward. "What
did you say? You've never believed... in God?"
"What are you getting at? Maybe I did when I was a kid.
My folks sure took me to church a lot... and it was miserable.
They beat the crap out of me whenever they said I did something
wrong, and I remember praying hard for God to do something about
it. But I figured out pretty quick that I was on my own. Just
The woman reached out her hand and touched his cheek. "You
never told me about that. I feel sad for the little boy you were."
The man pulled her to him and embraced her. For that moment,
nothing else in the universe had much significance.
"Hey, you two," the devil called, "how about
making up your minds? I've got other clients to visit. Step it
up before I lose my patience."
The man and woman pulled apart. Before he could say anything,
she put her hand over his mouth. He relaxed.
"You need to give us more time," she called back.
"Go back to sleep."
The man lay back on the bed. She joined him, head on his shoulder.
"How come there's a devil, but no God?" he said.
"That doesn't make any sense. Everybody seems to believe
in both of them. How come only one pops up?"
"Who knows?" the woman responded. "Anyway,
what difference does it make? What are we going to do?"
Her raspy throat sounded painful.
"No, it does make a difference. Why should there only
be a devil? If there's no God, what's the devil doing here? It
doesn't make any sense, unless . . . hey." The man sat upright.
"I remember," he said, looking down at his wife. "I
was ten years old. People were starving in Ethiopia. I read about
it in the newspaper. They had pictures of those poor babies that
were so emaciated they looked like leather-covered skeletons.
And their eyes. Staring out, comprehending nothing except the
misery of their existence, and somehow accusing me of letting
The woman sat up, and then stood, staring at him. "What
are you getting at?"
"I decided there had to be a devil. People on
their own wouldn't let little babies die like that. There had
to be something evil in the world that forced everyone to be
rotten. Yeah, and that meant that nothing I did made any difference,
because the devil was too much for me.
"I was a little kid, too young to figure it all out,
too horrified to know what was really going on in the world.
It never occurred to me that if people were doing rotten things,
it was people who did the good things tooorganized
the rescue operations, tried to save the whales, and forced us
out of Vietnam. Good, bad, everything is inside of us."
His fingers squeezed into her shoulders, pressing hard enough
through her thin dress to leave bruises. She remained quiet,
not wanting to destroy his mood.
"It never occurred to me that I was so miserable that
I just copped out. It was easier to believe in the devil than
try to do something to make things better. Hell, I could have
sent a lousy ten cents to help. But I didn't because I believed
in the futility of trying to do anything against evil. Do you
know what I've been doing since then?"
"What?" she murmured, caught up his passion.
"I've been living my life from a ten-year-olds
point of view. A poor frightened ten-year-old kid, who didn't
know which end was up. Everything I've done, everything, was
based on the futility of being human. Damn it. Damn it."
He buried his face in her dress and sobbed. She stroked his hair.
"What's the racket in there?" called the devil.
"I can give you only two more minutes."
They ignored him.
"But I'm not ten years old now, and there still is no
God, I was right about that, but.
He suddenly laughed through his tears. Some of them fell around
his mouth. He licked his lips dry, enjoying the salty taste and
then stood and gave her a quick kiss.
He laughed again. "That son-of-a-bitch, he almost had
me." Taking her hand, he pulled her with him. "Let's
go wrap this up."
They returned to the kitchen. "Well, what's it to be?"
yawned the devil, showing his big teeth. "Do you act reasonably
or do I rip it out of you?"
The man grinned. "In the first place, if you had the
power to take my soul by force, you wouldn't be trying to bribe
me. So drop the threats." He turned to the woman, his grin
growing broader. "They demean our deliberations."
The woman stared.
"What?" the devil said. "Do you want a dem-"
"Don't interrupt," responded the man. He put his
arm around his wife. "This is more important. You say there's
no God? OK, I've accepted that all my life. No problem. What
I figured out, though, is that I've been believing in you.
Hell, that was dumb. If there is no God, I have no reason to
believe in you either. Somehow you're just a damned figment of
my imagination. I even remember when I created you, and I've
been living this empty life ever since."
He turned to the woman. "Honey, let's get rid of the
garbage on the table. It's not fit for anyone to eat. We're getting
out of here. I'm tired of living in these trashed buildings.
Maybe I'll take that job with your old man after all. We've got
some living to do."
He stuffed the devils document in with the sandwich,
compressed the bag into a ball, and tossed it across the room
into the trash can.
"Two points," said his wife, applauding.
The devil stared for a moment and then bellowed, "Have
you both gone mad?"
The force of his words knocked the last few panes of glass
out of the window, sending them crashing to the street below.
He leaped to his feet, again in his true guise, and reached for
the man's neck. Before he could grasp it, however, the man turned
to his wife.
"That was some hallucination we both had. I think the
shrinks call it a foli a deux. Let's go." They walked
out of the kitchen.
Just as they reached the bedroom, they heard a faint pop,
as if a balloon had burst.
"Hey," said the man. "Im still hungry.
Lets get something from that all-night deli." He half-smiled
at his wife. "No turkey sandwiches, though."