I walked back to my truck and got back in the driver’s seat. I turned the key, but knew that nothing would come of it. The front of my car was a mess of smoke and oil and twisted metal. Unsuccessful, I leaned over and whispered in Emily’s ear. Everything would be ok, I said. We would be fine, I said. I would do whatever it took. She didn’t say anything, only whimpered as her breathing became more troubled.
“I can help,” a voice called from outside. My head jerked and I jumped out of the car. I don’t know who I thought it was, but I didn’t for a second doubt the sincerity of the words. I searched around for whoever spoke and saw a beautiful girl sitting on a boulder just off the road, the last traces of light in the sky setting off the copper in her hair. I walked to her, eyes wide and tearing.
“How can you help?” I asked, voice oddly even and numb.
“I can save her. I can save her and make it like this never happened.”
“That isn’t an answer I can give you, Gary.”
“How did you know my name?”
She sighed and beckoned me to come closer. I walked as if in a trance, feet shuffling along and mind blank. It was like I was walking through water. And just underneath, I was screaming.
“Look into my eyes,” she said. I stared into the multicolored eyes and they seemed to envelop me. I was absorbed by the eyes and suddenly I understood.
“You are the Devil,” I said.
She laughed and nodded. “Some folks call me that.”
“Why would you help me?”
“You have something I want.”
“And if I give it to you?”
“I give you your life back. I give you your love. I give you your future.”
I didn’t think about it or even ask what she wanted. I just agreed, instantly. She smiled and reached out her hand to shake. I took her hand in mine and I felt something like a shock run through me.
“What now?” I asked. She pointed to the car and I heard Emily’s voice, calling my name. I started to take my hand away and run to her but I felt the Devil’s hand tighten so hard I almost cried out. I could feel the bones in my hand starting to bend under the pressure.
“Not so fast, Gary. I’m going to take something from you now,” she said as she bent forward. Her lips (red, full lips) parted and touched mine. It felt something like a dry
wind whipped through me, through my belly and out my mouth. I felt a deep pain that made me sob and fell to my knees.
The Devil smiled and licked her lips. “My. That was nicer than expected. Kind of like a nice Chablis, when you open it before it’s ready. Not full-bodied yet, but still quite good.” She looked down at me. “Maybe not for you, perhaps.” She took me by the shoulders and wrenched me upright with inexorable strength. I choked back tears and looked at her, pleadingly. “Go ‘head now, Gary. But I expect you to return for the rest of what you owe me.”
“You’ll know.” She gently turned me and gave me a little push. I staggered forward, quickly recovering and ran to where Emily’s cries were growing frantic. I wrenched the car door open and took her in my arms. She was no longer so pale and her breathing was regular. She looked banged up but fine.
I went to look at the Devil, but the night had fully come and I could see nothing. I got Emily back in the car and went to start it- it turned over immediately. I drove to town, telling Emily parts of the story as we went. I told the police what happened and we went back home. There might have been some problems, but the only survivor of the three brothers in the Lincoln, when he woke, had no recollection of anything.
Emily and I recovered and we moved away shortly after, starting our life fresh. We married, had children, were successful and stayed in love. After our retirement and the years we spent exploring the world, we moved back to where we grew up. We opened a little bookstore and spent the next few years, while we advanced from the dusk of our lives into full night, growing happily and wearily gray.
Emily died a week ago. And I knew I had to return to the crossroads.
“I asked if you regret it,” Lucy repeated.
“Not for a second.”
Lucy smiled, satisfied, and reached out for me. I took her small, perfectly formed hand in my old gnarled one. She pulled me close and parted her red lips. Her lips touched mine and I felt a soft, slow wind rush through me. It didn’t hurt this time. I closed my eyes and heard her as if from a mile away, “It’s time to pay in full, Gary.” She sighed into my ear, a sigh that contained so many layers of meaning and sounds. It built and built in my ear and filled me. I cried out from it, the crescendo bursting me and closed my eyes.
When I open my eyes, Gary is a withered, dessicated thing crumbling in my arms. Smacking my lips in pleasure, I drop the remains to the ground and lay on the rock, rubbing my stomach languidly. “A soul is so much better after it has lived a little…,” I mumble aloud. I can feel him inside of me, his thoughts bumping against all of the others. I take a moment, caressing him in my mind. “Still worth it, right?” I ask. What’s left of Gary seems confused. They all are, in the beginning.
Smiling, I get up and walk on down the road to my next appointment.