I’m trying the Post-A-Week challenge – not with the novel I’m currently writing for Xlibris, but for an old short story I’ve had lying around for ages. I called it The Devil of a Chance, and it’s a new take on an old story. Again, thanks for the inspiration, Lawrence. You lead me in all kinds of new directions.
THE DEVIL OF A CHANCE
“So what I’m going to do now is cut you a new deal.” The speaker, a tall, thin man affecting a three-piece tailored Italian suit, leaned casually against the wooden rail of the elderly ship. “I’m getting complaints about our arrangement from the Other Side, and my own boys are none too happy. They say you ain’t a sporting proposition any more.”
“It grieves me that I no longer provide sufficient amusement for the denizens of Hell.” Philip Vanderdecken’s voice was bitter. His hands clenched the spokes of the wooden wheel, largely out of habit, but also to keep them off his visitor’s throat.
“You do need updating.” The thin man raised an eyebrow under his snappy fedora. “That kind of speech went out when Brother Bryan stopped running for president. No wonder the boys say you ain’t worth betting on. This is a new age, Dutchie, the Jazz Era. Why, nowadays a man can talk into a radio in Paris, and they hear him in Topeka.”
“There are also fewer ports where an unregistered ship can anchor,” the Dutchman reminded him. “Last time I had to land on an uninhabited atoll and build an outrigger.”
“That was great initiative.” The thin man’s voice was approving. “You really impressed our new arrivals. I’ve got a lot of navy boys right now, and they were grousing because I didn’t make your skills available during the Great War.”
“I was on the fringes, but they didn’t notice me.” For the first time, Vanderdecken really studied his visitor. “Tell me, Satan, is your appetite for souless carnage really limitless? Do not even you shudder at the mass destruction man has learned!”
“It’s the modern world,” the Devil enthused, “and I just love it. I was really surprised. Humans used to be so stupid, but they’re learning fast these days. I’ve always played on ignorance, but now the game is even better. Now I’m a patron of learning like everybody else. – Which brings me back to you.” Now the flaming eyes really studied his quarry. “We’ve got to update your act. Let’s go have a little sit-down.
Vanderdecken was slow to relinquish his grip on the wheel, and his visitor laughed. “Still don’t like to face that Hussite cabin steward you damned, do you? Don’t worry – your who crew got redeemed by the Other Side when I came aboard. Had to give him a little something to work this deal.”
The Dutchman followed without hope. By now he knew Satan. If one torment was removed, another worse was bound to follow. He found Satan studying his cabin.
“No wonder you ain’t brought a girl here in several hundred years! Sheesh!” He sat down in the captain’s chair and knocked his knuckles on the table. “I got some new brains down at my place, and they’ve got us sizzling again. Seems ships don’t have any romance any more; trade’s been hijacked by those corporations that are sending me so many souls. My brain trust tells me I should give you an automobile and set you off on the roads of this big United States. These automobiles have radios, and we’ll educate you in driving and all the other things you’ve missed floating all over the ocean.”
Now Satan rose and glared at Vanderdecken. “The basic deal’s the same. You’ll be invisible for seven years and then get your chance at redemption. There’s jewels and coins under the back seat; you can set your self up as a treasure hunter. Anything you need on your quest will be supplied. – That girl you’re looking for is still out there, you know; the Other Side keeps her reincarnating around until you find her. Can’t see why they’re so interested in either of you, myself.”
A mist descended, and then Philip Vanderdecken found himself alone, sitting on a seat with a wheel in front of him. Despite himself, his professional interest took over, and he began to study the small vehicle where he found himself. Then he heard a female voice from a lighted dial to his right. “Simple instructions for operating an automobile,” it began in dulcet tones.