Deal With the Devil?
We all know the tropes. From Faust to Dorian Gray’s artwork to the only possible explanation for Tom Cruise’s looks—somebody wants something enough to make that deal with the devil. Eternal youth, power, the 2016 election results… Souls changed hands here.When you’re dealing with the devil, you really only have two ways to hang onto your soul:
- Outsmart the devil. But the wily old snake has been peddling them apples since day 7 of creation, so he’s all about the fine print.
Alan DershowitzDaniel Webster as your defense lawyer and argue that conviction is unAmerican.
- Channel your inner Dorothy, click your ruby slippers together three times, and repeat that if you can’t get it yourself, you probably didn’t need it anyway.
What would I sell my soul for?
Don’t get me wrong. There have been points in my life where I would have considered doing a deal with the devil himself. I’d sell my soul for:
- ME age 12 (And every age up to about 27): Boobs.
- ME age 27: A great career with plenty of authority, independence, and growth potential. (Okay, and boobs.)
- ME age 28: One night of uninterrupted sleep. Or even an hour. (Irony: I finally have boobs, but their main function is ready-meal storage, and they’re attired in possibly the least sexy garment ever devised, the nursing bra.)
The truth is the devil is an amateur. He never even tempted me. But when I had kids, I was putty in the hands of the true pros—my kids and their grandparents.
GRANDPARENTS: You need a break. How about we come to your house and watch the kids?
ME: Okay. But remember what happened last time. So now we have rules—no presents bigger than the child, louder than the child, or with more pieces than a number the child can count to. And especially: no presents that are now or have ever been alive.
GRANDPARENTS: Haha. Shouldn’t you be going?
Distracted by finally wearing a bra that didn’t make me feel I should hang a bell around my neck and communicate by mooing, I went. When I got back a few days later, the first thing I noticed was a gigantic teddy bear.
GRANDPARENTS: Technically, it’s at least an eighth of an inch shorter than Child #1.
ME: And the self-propelled ride-on Ghostbuster van with working siren and theme song?
GRANDPARENTS: Child #3 is MUCH louder.
ME: Where is Child #2?
GRANDPARENTS: We’re outa here…
And that’s when I saw it. Child #2 was standing on the sofa, gazing adoringly at the shelf which had, before our trip, held my carefully curated collection of home decorating magazines and books, in case we ever decided to update our Early Toys-R-Us decor. l followed her gaze.
No sign of books or magazines. Instead, the shelf bore two terrariums. In one, some kind of lizard thing was sunning itself on a (heated, I learned later) rock. In the other, there were a number of seashells, two of which were currently walking around.
GRANDPARENTS: We didn’t see any eyes. Maybe they don’t have them?
ME: And the lizard?
GRANDPARENTS (in shocked tones): We couldn’t just get hermit crabs for Child #1 and Child #2 without getting something for Child #3.
ME: We talked about this. Remember Bluey and Ernie?
We all thought back to the beta fighting fish whose arrival marked the Grandparents’ prior visit and inspired the “nothing living” rule. Before the horrified eyes of my children, Ernie had leaped from his little aquarium into Bluey’s and torn the other fish to bits before going (literally) belly up. Bedtime that night was NOT pretty.
I opened my mouth to protest, but the Grandparents were already saying goodbye to children, crabs, and gecko. As they left, they told me it was all my fault for not being specific in my instructions, and of course, for producing such adorable grandchildren. But, they assured me, I would understand it all when I had grandchildren of my own.
Well, now I am the grandmother. I’ve spent the past month traveling in India looking for presents that will violate any rules my grandchildren’s mother might have specified. I wonder
where you can buy lizards and hermit crabs if my daughter and her husband want to make a deal with me?
Dark Magic by Tom Williams
Baby’s blood… Virgin’s tears… Chainsaws… It’s remarkable what some magicians keep back-stage.
Two magic shows: the Maestros of Magic touring the country, playing provincial theatres; the Carnival of Conjurors successful in the West End. When the Maestros learn that the Conjurors are using real magic – Black Magic – to do their tricks they decide that they must use their own, distinctly unmagical, stage skills to stop them. Soon people are dying on stage – but can the Maestros really beat a team that has the devil on their side?
A darkly humorous thriller by a writer who knows the world of magicians and stage magic.
Tom Williams is the author of six previous books, but this is his first novella (33,000 words).
As long as there have been stories, we’ve had tales of people making bargains with gods and deals with demons. Occasionally it works out for them, but far more often it works the way we expect. The devil has been at this for a looong time and there’s a reason why he’s one hell of a contract lawyer.
What’s so interesting about the deal with a devil trope as it plays out in Dark Magic is that in one sense, you don’t even need it to be actual magic. We’ve all looked at people who are so much more successful than we are, and in our hearts we know a dark truth: we could be better than them. They just have a couple of advantages—more attractive/ richer/ younger/ luckier.
In this novella, the stage magicians of the Maestros of Magic show have mastered their craft, done all the heavy lifting, paid all the dues. But somehow, they are still playing grotty provincial venues, barely making ends meet. So they’re mystified about how their competitors, the Carnival of Conjurers, are successfully pulling in the crowds at their West End gigs, while still just performing time-honored illusions.
It’s not as though the Conjurers are doing anything all that original. Their material is familiar to all stage magicians. They just do it… better. Their technique is so foolproof, so audacious that it almost seems like well… magic. Debbie, a young woman who mysteriously joins them as a potential Magician’s Beautiful Assistant, is the first to say it out loud.
I had a friend who used to work with them. She quit because she was scared. She said they were messing around with real magic — black magic.
The other Maestros scoff at this and wonder if they should rethink offering her a position. But despite their overt skepticism, they wonder… And when a pattern emerges that points to accidents and deaths among audience members, their skepticism turns to concern and then fear. Again Debbie steps in to encourage more investigation, and to provide a dangerous path for further discoveries.
Like the time-honored magic tricks both groups use, Dark Magic doesn’t offer a new take on the deal with the devil trope. It remains a classic example of the genre, right down to the predictable twist at the end. But what makes this such a fun read is the author’s ownership of the world of stage magic, and complete familiarity with stage magic as a physical skill. Because they know how the tricks and illusions are done, the magicians are the people least likely to believe in real magic. Their competitors’ use of actual magic is almost an embarrassment for the Maestros, a form of cheating.
If you like a well-told classic short story with dark humor and even darker magic, if you enjoy an inside look at a skill set whose whole purpose is to fool the eye, and if you see the looming iceberg but you still enjoy the view from the deck chairs on the Titanic, then I recommend Dark Magic.
Book Title: Dark Magic
- Author: Tom Williams
- Genre: Urban Fantasy
- Publisher: Big Red Publishing (31 Oct. 2019)
- Length: 96 pages