Thursday, January 7, 2010

Friday Fiction - Devil on the Bus

In spite of what you may have heard, the Devil doesn’t have cherry red skin, a long pointed tail, horns or even hooves. Maybe. I’m not sure about the hooves, I never saw the Devil standing. The Devil’s eyes don’t glow with hellfire. The Devil doesn’t even really smell of brimstone - more like Chanel No. five. I know this because I met her on the bus.

I was riding to work, absorbed in a book as always. The middle-aged woman sitting next to me was staring blankly out of the window, the way you do when you’re on the bus, watching the panorama of the world slide by. Maybe she was a few years older than I am but dressed more like my mother. Midway through the ride she shifted and said, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

“No,” I replied, expecting to be asked if I had found Jesus yet (no, and I wasn’t planning to) or if I wanted to buy a copy of WatchTower (no, I already had something to read and please refer back to the Jesus answer) or if I knew the time (I don’t wear a watch, so, again, no).

“What would it take for you to sell your soul?”

“Pardon me?” It seems as though we often deny the remarkable when it confronts us.

“What do you most desire? What would you give anything for?”

I was stunned and as my astonishment showed on my face, she smiled a little while waiting for my answer. I guess I was quiet for too long because she added, “Come now, everyone has a price. Do you want riches beyond belief? Power? Beauty? What would it take for you to sell me your soul?”

I have always believed there is more to this world than meets the eye. When I see a mushroom fairy ring in the forest I respectfully walk around. I knock wood. I try to be kind to beggars and lost souls not only because it’s the right thing to do, but who knows? maybe they’re a king or a witch in disguise; besides the karma can’t hurt.

“I don’t think I want to sell my soul,” I replied. “While I don’t know what happens when we die, it seems a risky proposition to let something that go for money or power or looks. Besides, how do I know you are who say you are?”

“But I have said I am no one. Just someone you met on a bus, who asked you an interesting question. Everyone has a price. Let me show you something, maybe this will help.” She rummaged around in her purse, a perfectly ordinary handbag - I caught glimpses of crumpled tissue, a hairbrush, lipstick and she pulled out a gently closed fist.

“I will offer you a few pieces of what might be proof and then maybe we can negotiate. You seem to be of a scientific mind.” Again, that small smile decorated her face.

She handed me a broken piece of wood, smooth and rounded at one end, ragged at the other, about two inches long and as thick as my little finger. “Pinocchio’s nose,” she announced. “The little man so wanted to be human, I was the only one who could grant his wish.”

“But I thought by becoming a real boy he gained a soul. And I thought it was the Blue Fairy -”

“Oh, he did. And I have worn many guises. But he lost that which he most loved, his father, in exchange for his humanity. Without his great love the guilt of his trade consumed him and he just drifted away into grey existence. Last I heard he kept looking for a life at the bottom of a bottle then disappeared into the woods, shouting at the trees that they betrayed him. A wooden life would have been more fulfilling but who am I to judge what people do with their lives.”

I rolled the little nub of wood back and forth between my fingers. It felt smooth and worn, and ever so slightly oily. It felt like one of the millions of sticks I had whittled in my childhood into swords or magic wands and then carried in my pocket until they became splinters. I handed it back.

“And this,” she said, passing me a shard of mirror, wrapped carefully in a silky fabric. “This is a scrap of the mother’s mirror. She told me she wanted to be more beautiful than her pale skinned, black haired daughter. She did not care for my price and tried to fool me with a deer’s heart. Foolish woman. The mirror showed her exactly what she most feared. She would have done better to deal honestly with me.”

A stab of light from the mirror threatened to spark a migraine and I didn’t look to see what would gaze at me from its face. When I handed it back, the woman glanced at her reflection and wiped away a tiny smudge of mascara.

“Well, child? What do you have to say? What would you give everything for?”

I thought about it, sitting there on the bus. How could I not? Money, power, beauty, all of those would be nice but not worth the price she was asking.

Into my silence she revealed a samara, one of the seedpods shed by maple trees every autumn. “This is perhaps my favorite.”

Any good salesman knows that the secret to selling lies in intriguing the customer. She said nothing as I looked at the fragile thing in my hand. Finally, I had to ask, “What is it?”

“It is a wing from a fairy who wanted nothing more than to be human, to be seen for more than a spark in the night.”

“Why would she want that? Wasn’t being a fairy enough?”

“Because no one believes in fairies anymore.”

I do, I thought.

“So I gave her humanity in exchange for her wings.”

“And what happened to her?”

“I do not know. I just made her human, then let her be. There are some things even I do not want to see.”

The bus rumbled into the next stop. The woman looked at her watch.

“Come child, this is a limited duration offer. My time is valuable. What will it be? World peace? Success? Secret knowledge? Revenge? There is something. Everyone has a price.”

I thought about it. I really did, you can’t help but think about it. World peace was alluring but God only knows how she would go about achieving it. Success? Well, I preferred earning it. Secret knowledge? Tempting... but no. Some things weren’t worth it. Revenge? I had no one I hated that much.

I thought of all the things I’ve ever wished for. I thought of the opportunities lost, loves withheld, dreams deferred. And then I thought of her price. It wasn’t worth losing my wings for.

“No, thank you. I appreciate the offer, but I can’t think of anything I want that much, anything I would want enough to give up my soul for. Better luck next time.”

She shrugged. “I do not need luck, most people are happy willing to pay my price. Indeed, I am sure I will see you again.”

The bus shuddered into my stop. I walked down the stairs then turned, watching the bus drive away in a cloud of diesel smoke and perfume.

And then I knew.
Everyone has a price.

(c) 2010 Laura S. Packer
Creative Commons License


  1. Very intriguing story, but you lost me at the end. What did she suddenly know? I liked the rhythym of the tale!

  2. “What would it take for you to sell your soul?”

    Brilliant line and an excellent story. You've got me wondering now... ;)

  3. Oooo, intriguing! He's right, you can't help thinking about it. Fun game to play, as long as you're not sitting across from the actual devil :-) Nice one!

  4. This is a wonderful story!

    I have been on buses with people who could fit a devil classification. Although they were not as polite or business-like as the woman in your story.

    Ending is just right!

  5. Laura, thanks for the feedback. What she knew was what she would sell soul for. But that has to remain unsaid.

    This story was originally a told story (I'm a storyteller) so I wrote it as a challenge to translate told language into written. I can convey the knowledge of "now I know what I will sell my soul for" with body language, may have to think about how to convey that in writing without stating it so bluntly.

  6. Oh, okay! I thought that at first, then I decided I must have missed a clue or something. I second-guess myself a lot. :)

  7. I have to agree with Sam, the line
    “What would it take for you to sell your soul?” was great, makes you think about many things.
    Great work writing what was told :)

  8. I really enjoyed the classiness of this tale, the dialogue was so well-thought out and the ending, magnificent. Good thing she didn't think of it til she left the Devil's presence.

  9. I loved you're story but as Laura said, I too am lost by the end...

    GoingTwinsane via Swap-bot

  10. Very interesting what you say about oral story telling and the changes necessary when transcribing it. How much of our inflection, facial expression and gesture can we afford to transliterate on to paper without dragging the pace of the whole piece down?

    Intriguing stuff

    marc nash

  11. There is one thing for which I would consider selling my soul. It is part of my story of a dream that turned out to be stillborn. Tehuti from Swap-bot

  12. Hello!

    I am visiting from Swapbot. Wanted to let you know that I am following you as part of the "Be my blog follower swap."

    I will be adding a link to your blog from mine. My blog is about book reviews- I think that your stories are very interesting and look forward to exploring further.



True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at
Related Posts with Thumbnails