Unhappiness in Heaven

by Jamie Lackey

Harlan folded his suit jacket and draped it over the kitchen chair. The table was covered with sympathy casseroles, and the stack of unread Hallmark cards teetered on the counter.

He poured himself a scotch and pulled his hunting rifle out of the gun cabinet. The worn stock felt good in his hands. Smooth. Familiar. It reminded him of countless bird hunting trips with his dad.

He’d dreamed of taking his own kid hunting. But that’d never happen, now.

An unfamiliar, Yankee voice broke into his thoughts. “That’s not the best thing to kill yourself with.”

A man leaned against the doorframe between the kitchen and the living room. The summer sun from the windows behind him threw his whole body into shadow.

Harlan hadn’t heard anyone come in. And he’d locked the door behind him. “Who the hell are you?”

The stranger laughed. “Fair question.” There was something odd about his voice, aside from the accent. “I’m the devil.”

Harlan snorted. “Sure.” The guy was probably high.

Then the devil stepped into the room, and Harlan saw his face. Golden eyes bored into his. “You can call me Lucifer, if you’d like.”

Harlan pulled the rifle to his shoulder. It probably wouldn’t do much good, but it made him feel better. “Get outta my house.”

The devil smirked and took a few steps forward. “That’s no way to treat a guest. Where’s your southern hospitality, Harlan?”

“You ain’t no guest of mine.”

“Aren’t I?”

“I didn’t invite you. I had other business on my mind.”

The devil picked up Harlan’s scotch, sniffed it, and winced. “How can you possibly drink this?”

“The same way I drink anything else,” Harlan snapped.

The devil laughed again. Harlan heard a tinny sound, like distant, broken bells in it. “See, this is why I’m here. You don’t want to kill yourself. You’re too good for that.”

“Don’t mean much, coming from you.”

The devil downed Harlan’s scotch. “Not true. Who else could actually offer you what you need?”

“And what’s it I need?” Harlan asked.

“Companionship. You don’t want to be alone. Your wife’s dead, after all. And the baby with her.”

“I hadn’t forgotten,” Harlan growled.

“Oh, but you did. For a bit, anyway. And I can help you forget again.”
Harlan lowered the gun. “Why don’t you want me to kill myself? Won’t I end up in hell if I do?”

The devil shrugged. “Hell’s full of people. We’re won’t miss one more.”

“How exactly are you gonna help me forget?”

The devil’s smirk stretched to a leer. “Oh, I have a million ways.”

Harlan’s skin crawled. “Not interested.”

“You want a child,” the devil said. “Someone to love, to teach, to share your life with now that your wife is gone.”

A spark of interest pulled at Harlan’s heart. “So?”

The devil shrugged. “I can give you that.”

“What’s your price? My soul?”

The devil sighed. “Everyone’s so obsessed with souls. No. I’ll give you your son, but I want your heart.”

“My heart? Will you cut it out and keep it in a box? Like in some horror movie?”

The devil shook his head. “No. You’ll give me your heart, and you’ll love me.”

“Hell no.”

“Why not? You’ll still be able to love other things. Hunting. Football. Your son. Before I came in, you were planning on shooting yourself, Harlan. Is loving me really worse?”

“You’re the devil. And a white, Yankee man.”

The devil shrugged. “I can look however I choose. But it won’t matter to you.”

Harlan couldn’t imagine that not mattering. “If I give you my heart, what happens when I die?”

The devil shrugged. “That depends on you.”

“What’s the catch?”

The devil shrugged. “There’s no catch.”

“They don’t call it a ‘deal with the devil’ for nothing. There’s gotta be a catch.”

The devil shrugged. “If you go to heaven, a tiny part of you will still miss me.”

“You wanna to use me to corrupt heaven?” Harlan asked.

The devil shook his head. “I just like to remind Him that I’m here, sometimes. That it’s possible to love me. It’s between me and Him. It won’t affect you.”

“Except I’ll be in heaven and sad forever.”

“Or you could end up in hell with me,” the devil said.

“Or you could get outta my house.”

“The boy will have his mother’s eyes,” the devil said. “He’ll be the son you would have had, miraculously saved from the accident. No one will remember anything different.”

Harlan’s wife had had the prettiest eyes. “Will giving you my heart hurt?”

“Of course it will. Love always does.”

Harlan touched his chest. Love did always hurt. But if he loved the devil, he’d never lose him in a stupid car crash.

“I’ll throw in monthly supplies of tobacco and scotch. Good stuff, not the crap you’re used to,” the devil said.

Harlan nodded. “Okay. Okay. I’ll do it.”

The devil moved forward, till Harlan could feel the heat radiating off of his skin, like from the highway in the middle of summer. He smelled faintly of burning leaves, sulfur, and Harlan’s cheap scotch. “Close your eyes,” the devil whispered.

Harlan hesitated. He imagined taking his son hunting, teaching him how shoot and track, taking him to boy scouts and high school football games.

He imagined an empty life, alone.

He closed his eyes.

Lucifer’s lips burned against his. “I’ll be back next month.”

When he opened his eyes, Lucifer was gone. There was a new bottle of scotch on the table, and a pouch of tobacco.

Harlan poured himself a scotch. It was better than any he’d ever tasted before. It reminded him of Lucifer. Harlan missed him.

But there was a bassinette in the living room. Harlan walked over to it and picked up his son. The boy burbled in his sleep and nuzzled into Harlan’s shoulder. He smelled like baby powder and clean skin.

It was worth a little unhappiness in heaven.

The End