By: J.J. Cheesman
So, here is the deal right up front. I was born with a disease called Cystic Fibrosis, also known as CF. CF is a disease that prevents the pancreas from doing exactly what it needs to do, create enzymes for digestion. Patients with CF have to take enzymes in capsule form with every meal; myself included, to make sure they don’t shit out their intestines. Now I won’t bore you with everything that my life with CF entails, except for one relevant detail. Ninety-five percent of all males born with CF are sterile, and I was not lucky enough to be part of the five percent.
My wife Emilia and I have been married for five long years, and we have stuck with each other through the best, and the very worst of every five of those years. Ever since I first met her, Emilia and I were completely inseparable. We were that couple that grossed you out while you waited in line behind us at the grocery store because we couldn’t keep off of each other. We sat on the same side of a booth at a restaurant, and before ending every phone call we would make sure to say “I love you”, because you never knew what could happen.
Not too long ago, I could tell something was bothering Emilia. She seemed disinterested in anything we ever did, and she was much quieter than usual. Then one night while we were getting ready for bed, I confronted her about it. When I did, she told me she was ready for a baby. Now, I have no problem at all with children. I was ready myself.
After months of trial and error and many trips to the doctor, we failed. Emilia became depressed, and the whole ordeal took its toll on her body as day by day she became thinner because she just wasn’t eating. I even suggested adoption, but she wouldn’t have it. There was nothing I could do. The woman I loved was torn apart because I was born broken. I was beside myself in my helplessness.
One night I was standing outside on my porch smoking while Emilia slept in our bedroom. I was horribly depressed, and all I could do was smoke and stare blankly up at the night sky lost in my own thoughts. Then, a booming voice made me jump and interrupted my train of thought. “You look like someone shot your dog, son”. A man, illuminated by a street lamp was standing out on the road at the edge of my yard with a concerned look. “Hey, yeah sorry I was just lost in thought”. The man was sharply dressed, wearing a crisp grey suit with a red tie and a matching kerchief in the suit pocket. He was just standing with his hands in his pockets out there as if it was the most normal thing in the world. “Anything I can do to help?”, the man asked with a sound of genuine concern in his voice. Though the man seemed pleasant enough something about him seemed unpleasant. I decided then that it was best to blow him off and go inside, then hope that he would get the hint and leave. “No thanks, but I got to get off to bed now I’ll see you around!” I gave a short wave and turned around walking back to my door.
My hand was just over the door knob when I was halted by a whisper just behind my ear. “Are you sure about that son?”. I spun around quickly to find the man standing right in front of me. Up close, I could see the man had deep amber eyes seemed to flicker in the light. He had a plain but handsome face, and his suit was pristinely clean. I was about to yell at him but he put up a palm that told me to stop, and a force that I cannot explain held my mouth shut. “Now I am going to cut to the chase boy, no need spending time playing in the garden when you got flowers needin’ tended to.” He reached into my shirt pocket and pulled out a cigarette from the pack inside and then he placed it in his mouth and when the butt touched his lips, the tobacco ignited.
He took a drag off of the cigarette and inhaled deeply, exhaling the smoke after he held it in his lungs a moment. When he exhaled the smoke, it blew right in my face and I felt my head become cloudy, my vision blurred slightly and I was launched into a somewhat euphoric state. “She wants a child, and you can’t give her one right?”, he said nodding toward my house. I tried to say ‘yes’ followed by ‘how did you know?’ but I still found myself unable to speak, So I just lazily nodded my head ‘yes’. “Well, I can” he said. After he said it the man must have realized how that sounded to me and he chuckled. “Well I mean to say, YOU can, with my help of course”. The man took the cigarette out of his mouth with his middle finger and forefinger then spoke on. “I can give you and your wife happiness, for just a little something in return”. Finding myself able to speak again I laughed. “My soul?”, the man raised the hand that wasn’t the cigarette and gave me the finger gun. I couldn’t help but laugh again, “I thought The Devil had horns”. The man didn’t look amused, “Times a wasting Johnny-boy”. The cloud in my head was still making me slightly dizzy, I kept thinking that meeting that man who I now thought to be The Devil, was all part of some dream. I smiled up at his amber eyes then and said, “So do we sign in blood or something”. The Devil let out a hearty resonating laugh that was all together pleasant, but hid a small tinny growl that was barely audible. “No my friend, this will be all that is required” The Devil extended out his hand, holding his cigarette by the butt and offering it to me.
Now if you want me to say I did the smart thing and said no, I’m sorry. I took that cigarette and I took a long, deep, satisfying drag from it. Emilia was my entire world, and I couldn’t bear to see her in such pain. To be completely honest though, that night was so surreal that at the time, I could have sworn it was a dream. The Devil then shook my hand and gave me a wicked smile. Before he vanished he said to me “On the day you die, you and I will exchange words once more”, he bowed and disappeared as quickly as he appeared.
I took the whole experience as just a silly nightmare due to my guilt over being not a good enough man for my wife. Then one week later, Emilia excitedly announced to me she was pregnant. The dream had all but left my memory by then and there was no way I could have prepared myself for what awaited me at the end of the path that I had chosen to take.
I could not have been happier from then on. The tone in my house shifted from a somber chill to an excited warmth. Emilia was in constant high spirits, finally getting what she so desperately dreamed of for so long. My doctor called it a miracle. “You are one lucky man Robert”, he told me, “Having a child naturally is very rare in cases like yours”. Finally, it was time for the baby to come, Emilia gave birth to a beautiful baby girl that we named Heather.
After she was born, Heather became my entire world. Sure, I loved my wife but as anyone with kids will tell you, your children come first. My happiness was insurmountable, it didn’t matter to me that The Devil took my soul away, because my heart and family was finally complete.
Then, a year and a half after heather was born, I was visited by the man in the grey suite once again. Emilia had gone to work that morning and I had the day off to be with Heather. I often had the extreme pleasure of watching over our daughter, a job which I would have taken any hour of any day of the week. Heather’s beautiful green eyes that were just like her mother’s, warmed my heart every time she looked up at me and smiled. Heather and I were in the living room and I was trying to teach her how to walk, when I noticed the man sitting in the recliner in the corner of the room. I scooped Heather up in my arms and held her tight. I glared at The Devil with hate-filled eyes. “What the hell are you doing here!?” I yelled.
“It’s time to collect son”, he said, taking a long drag off of a cigarette. A fear rose in me then as I shook my head slowly and Heather turned and outstretched her arms toward the man in the chair. “I’m not dead” I whispered. The Devil laughed. “Do you really believe that’s how things work?” He stood up in his chair and walked over me taking Heather from my arms, I tried to resist, but once again, my head became cloudy and I could barely move. The Devil rocked my daughter in his arms as he spoke once more. “Forget what you learned about in church boy, when you get to the bottom of the barrel there’s really only one thing that counts, and that’s faith”. Heather giggled at him as he spoke on. “Now I know that’s an old concept but faith comes in many forms you see. You can have faith in god, you can have faith in your future, and of course, you can have faith in your family.” He smiled a smile full of perfect white teeth as he just kept right on rocking my beautiful daughter. “Faith is the only thing that stops me from taking a soul, and it is very hard work shaking someone’s faith without revealing who I am. That’s one of the rules you see, I can’t really let out I am The Devil unless I am making a deal for a soul. Once I make the deal, if someone still has their faith in something they love, the deal is irrelevant and I get nothing for my hard work”. The Devils face melted and contorted then, becoming a mess of twisted flesh and hair. While his face was morphing, The Devil continued speaking, although his voice now sounded like two instead of one. “Of course, I have been doing this a very long time, I have learned of ways to get what I desire”. At the last few words he spoke The Devil’s voice returned to one, except this time it was more feminine as his features reset in his face. His hair grew long and his eyes went from brown to a beautiful shade of green. I cried out in horror as my daughter uttered her first word.
“Mama!” Heather said, and The Devil wearing the face of my wife turned to her and smiled. Heathers beautiful smiling face turned into one of twisted agony then as she began crying, letting out a painful wailing scream. Her entire little body became engulfed in flames, she burned quickly, and she soon became just a pile of ash at The Devil’s feet, and I fell to my knees and cried. “NOOOOO!!!” I wailed. “NOOOO!!!” I said through tears of sorrow as The Devil just stood there smiling my wife’s smile. I was broken and crying, my world had been ripped out from under me, and I was a blubbering mess. “You bastard! What did you do to my wife, what did you do to my little Heather, it was my soul you wanted! She isn’t yours to take!” The Devil threw his head back and laughed Emilia’s laugh. “You don’t get it? There was never any Emilia Johnny-boy, never will be. I was able to take your daughter’s soul because, after all, she IS half mine”.
My blubbering and crying ceased as I felt all feeling and emotion leave me, I became as cold as stone. In that moment I realized not only had my life and my marriage had been a complete sham, but I would never get to hold sweet Heather in my arms ever again. The Devil approached laughed once more as his body began melting again, and his appearance returned to the man in the grey suit. “Don’t feel bad son it will all be over soon. Look at it this way, you never had any wife to mourn AND you got to be with a celebrity, you should feel honored” The man then produced a hand gun and threw it down beside me in my kneeling position. “Why not just take me now?” I asked. “It’s another one of the rules sonny, I can’t kill anyone for a soul”. I looked down at the gun by my knees and planned on grabbing it and using it as The Devil wanted me to, putting it in my mouth, and pulling the trigger. I knew there was no way out, The Devil had succeeded in taking away my very reason for living and it didn’t matter if I did it then or ten years from now. I was still going to burn. ‘But at least’ I thought ‘You’ll be with heather’. I went for the gun until something occurred to me that lit a small ember of hope within my spirit.
“But there was a Heather” I said. The Devil stopped in raised an eyebrow, looking down at me with intrigue. “What?”. “There was a heather, she was yours, but she still had a soul right?” The Devil nodded with a smile. “Well of course, every life has a soul son”. I thought of Heather’s beautiful smile that she gave every time I went to fetch her from her crib and my heart warmed inside. “I want to make a deal” I said.
Laying Heather down in her crib earlier was a bit of a task. She didn’t want to go to sleep tonight for some reason. But, she finally drifted off after many hours of sitting by her crib and reading stories. I normally didn’t mind but I have work to do tonight if I want to keep my quota. One soul a month was what I promised The Devil, and in hindsight I think this might be what The Devil planned all along. It’s awful work, I hate doing it, but I would do anything for my sweet Heather. How do I get these souls you ask? Well, my faith was returned to me when I got back Heather, and my friend Bill from work just brought home his beautiful little baby boy.