In the Fine Print

 by Philip Levin

Joel rippled through the manuscript; trying to suppress his hands’ trembling.

 “What kind of contract is this? It’s sixty pages and full of fine print.”

The demon ginned. “It’s a standard contract. You said you’d sell your soul for a million bucks. For a soul like yours, I’d have offered a hundred grand, tops.” He shrugged his black shoulders, his hairy palms held upward. “But the boss says offer you the million.”

 “I needed the million bucks yesterday.” Joel looked at his watch. “Big Al’s thugs will be here any minute.”

The demon spat on the floor, singeing the carpet. “I got delayed by a nymph. Take it or leave it, don’t make no difference to me.”

The glass window reading “Attorney” shattered as Joel wrote rapidly. “Here, sign this.” He pushed a paper across the desk to the demon, who pulled out a pair of reading glasses from a skin fold in his belly.

“Million dollars for one soul. What’s this scribble on the bottom?”

“Just a little fine print about how to distribute the payment. Could you hurry please?”

Two big men in ski masks and overcoats burst into the room. The demon made his mark on the contract, and grabbed Joel’s hand. Using a sharp claw, he pricked Joel’s thumb, pressing a bloody print on the paper.

“Done,” the demon said with a grin, as an assault of bullets riddled Joel.

Joel’s naked muscles sagged. He found himself in a cold black cavern, fires burning in little smudge pots on various rock outcroppings. “This place is going to be hell on my sinuses,” he thought.

He walked up to a smoldering demon hunched over a large book. “Hello there.”

The demon’s glowing eyes stared at him. “I  was just registering your arrival, Joel.”

“That’s exactly what I wanted to talk to you about. Do you have a copy of my contract there?”

The demon flipped a few pages in his book. “Not a standard contract,” he growled.

Joel nodded. “That’s right. Can you read the fine print on the bottom?”

The demon studied it. “It’s written in Hebrew. It says…... yeah, I can read it. Okay, you’re out of here.”

The world around Joel was dark and warm, quiet and safe. Then the walls began to close upon him. There was a terrible squeezing and his head burst into a cold bright light. Someone stuck something in his mouth. Another squeeze and he was out, crying loudly.

“It’s a boy!” the doctor shouted. “What name did you choose?”

“Joel, after his grandfather,” Joel’s new mother cried happily.

“And look at the time!” the doctor said. “It’s exactly midnight. That means Joel wins the million dollar prize for the first baby of the century! Congratulations! You’ve been twice blessed.”

 

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