This story is by Alicia Doyle and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Two down, one to go. Doug made a deal with the Devil. Three souls in exchange for his happily ever after. Whatever that meant. He’d been in Hell for a long time and played Beelzebub’s New Beginnings Bingo faithfully. Finally, his number came up. The prize? A second chance at living; a chance to redeem his wretched soul.
The world hadn’t changed much since Doug landed in Hell. Society was still broken and full of vice. He’d been a nobody from nowhere on the losing end of a robbery gone wrong. He’d only demanded the clerk empty the till. Instead of pocket change, he got a chest full of lead, and a one-way ticket to the sin bin.
Life had dealt him a rough hand, so Doug only ever worried about himself. Every con, every petty crime, to him, was necessary for survival. He wasn’t a bad guy, but he was far from perfect. He knew he had no right to judge anyone else, so he didn’t ask for details on the souls he had to collect. Just their names and where to find them.
The first two souls did all the work for him. Doug played the casual bystander when each fell victim to an unfortunate “accident.” Nothing too messy or supernatural, just a nudge here or suggestion there to have them in the right place at the right time.
As it happened, Doug did not mind playing Grim Reaper. It was better than being in Hell. He was sure the Devil had the details correct, and the people he was after deserved to be there, right? At times, Doug thought he should feel guilty or something, but he didn’t. He kept the promise of ‘Happily Ever After’ in front of him and could almost feel the air in his lungs again. He was so close.
Soul number three was Evangeline Hardy. Doug would find her in his old hometown. Evangeline was not a common name in those parts. What a coincidence, he thought¸ that his last soul would share his mother’s name. Evangeline worked as a bartender at his old haunt near the college campus. It was a great place to hustle arrogant college kids out of their cash at the billiard table. When he walked in, it was like traveling back through time. Outside the bar, everything looked different, with tall new buildings and busier streets. Inside was exactly how he remembered it.
Behind the bar stood a woman in her early 20’s, polishing glasses and chatting with a lone patron who looked like he’d slept in his clothes. As he approached, he hoped the girl wasn’t his mark. She was so young. Her name tag read, ‘Evie.’
“What can I getcha?” she said. Doug’s reply caught in his throat. The girl looked exactly like his old flame, except her emerald eyes were a mirror image of his own.
“Whiskey,” he grunted, “No ice.”
When Evie returned with his drink, he had regained enough composure to do a little digging.
“Evie? Is that short for something?” He asked.
“Evangeline, after my grandma, who raised me.” She said with a smile. His heart was beating rapidly.
“Why’d your grandma raise you? Where were your parents?”
“My Da died before I was born, and my Mum tried her best, but she couldn’t beat her demons, so my Da’s mother raised me. It happens sometimes.” She shrugged and gave Doug a sad smile before greeting another patron. Her smile broke Doug’s heart. No, no, no, he thought as he stared at his daughter. He needed time to think. He would not be collecting a soul today. He had questions that needed answering.
Doug stormed into Hell’s Central Admitting and slammed his fists on the desk. Abaddon, the clerk, raised his head nonchalantly.
“Doug! Did you get your third soul already?”
“Listen here. What kind of sick joke are you folks playing down here?”
A knowing smirk appeared on Abaddon’s face, “So you met our Evie?”
“My Evie!” Doug hollered.
Abaddon waved his hand dismissively, “Semantics.”
“I won that Bingo, fair and square, and I am supposed to get my happily ever after. You sent me after Evie, knowing who she was and that I had no idea she even existed. That’s sick!”
“C’mon man, this is Hell. What’d you expect? You’ll still get your happily ever after — once we have all three souls.”
Doug stormed out and found a quiet place to think. When this all started, he had no idea what his happily ever after looked like. He thought a second chance at living would give him time to find it. Maybe all his choices meant he didn’t deserve a second chance, but if he played his cards right, he could help Evie have hers. He had a week left to collect the last soul, so he spent it at that bar with Evie.
“Tell me more about yourself, Evie. What’s a nice girl like you doing workin’ in a place like this?”
“Aw, it’s not so bad. I’m using the money to pay my way through med school.”
Doug looked at her with more pride in his heart than he had ever felt before.
“I knew your dad,” he blurted, “I never said it before because I wasn’t sure what to say.” He swirled the whiskey around in his glass, trying to fight the tears he felt welling in his eyes.
Evie stood still as a statue; her eyes were wide but filled with hope. Then she whispered, “What was he like?”
“Oh, he wasn’t anyone special,” he chuckled into his drink, “He seemed drawn to trouble, but he wasn’t a bad guy. He loved your mum and he always wanted kids. He would be so proud of you.”
Evie wiped a tear from her cheek. The radiant smile on her face reached all the way to her eyes. His eyes.
“Thank you,” she said, “For saying something. I’ve gone my whole life wondering if he would’ve cared that I existed.”
Doug cleared his throat, “You would have changed his life.”
When Doug left the bar that day, he’d said goodbye to Evie, and she hugged him, thanking him again for talking about her father. He walked the quiet streets of his old hometown for what felt like hours, and when the sun started to rise the next morning, he knew what he had to do. Doug marched back into Central Admitting and Abaddon looked exactly how he had left him days before.
“I quit,” Doug said.
Abaddon stopped working, and looked over his glasses at Doug, “What did you say?”
“I am done. I’m not bringing her soul. You can keep mine. She’s a good girl. She deserves better. She deserves a chance at finding her happily ever after.”
Abaddon removed his glasses and picked up the phone. He listened for a moment and hung up.
“The Boss wants to see you,” he said. Doug swallowed hard. He was being called before the Devil himself. In all the time he’d spent in Hell, he had never seen Satan. He had begun to think he didn’t exist. When he walked through the frosted glass door, he braced himself, not knowing what he would find.
To his shock, a normal-looking, middle-aged man sat at the desk in a navy blue wool sweater vest.
“Sit down, Doug,” Satan said. Doug sat. “I see you’ve collected two out of three souls required as per the prize conditions, but it seems you’ve met a snag on the last one?” It sounded like a question, but Doug knew better.
“Mr. Satan, er, um — Sir? I would like to stay, you can keep my soul,” he breathed deeply and continued, “You see, I didn’t know the last soul would be my daughter. I did not even know I had a daughter. I would give up a thousand chances at happily ever after to give her even one chance to find hers.”
Satan looked at him with a level gaze, considering what he had said. After an uncomfortable amount of time passed, Satan pulled a manila folder out of the drawer in his desk.
“We knew from the beginning that your daughter would be the last soul. It was a test, you see. For us, one soul is equal to another, but you won our ‘New Beginnings Bingo’ and it was up to you who would get a new beginning. I’d wager that both you and Evie got more than you could have hoped for.”
Doug sat stunned, unable to find any words. Satan continued, “I accept your soul in place of Evie’s, and I’m giving you a permanent position as Grim Reaper. You have my word, the only souls you will collect will deserve it and you can still visit Evie occasionally.” Doug’s smile burned brighter that day than all the fires of Hell. Evie would get her chance at happily ever after, and Doug finally had his too.
D. T. Powell says
Love your title. It really caught my attention as I was browsing through the list of stories. You really made me care about Doug and his situation, and the prose kept me interested all the way to the end.