CLEAR TITLE • by Brian J. Hunt

Bill knew immediately that the Devil had appeared behind him. He didn’t know how he knew, but somehow he just did.

“At least you chose a good gun for killing yourself,” the Devil said as he squeezed around the large table. While not a big man, the close quarters of the tiny kitchen made the move less graceful than the Devil’s slim, dapper appearance would first suggest. It was like seeing Fred Astaire suddenly doing a Jerry Lewis routine.

The Devil picked up the revolver, spun the cylinder then set the gun back down, looking pleased. “The .357 Magnum, it’s not a caliber to pussy-foot around. It’ll certainly get the job done. Boom, splat!” The wall behind the Devil was momentarily covered with blood, fragments of bone, and grey brain matter. Then the gory display faded like it had never been.

Bill frowned at his guest and closed the laptop where he had been composing his suicide letter. “I don’t understand. Why are you here?” he said, his voice low and tight with anger. This was supposed to be his last few quiet moments alone as time slid inexorably towards the instant when he ate a bullet.

“I just want to see this handled properly,” said the Devil as he pulled out a cracked vinyl kitchen chair and sat down at the table. “Contrary to all the jokes, Heaven does have any number of lawyers. Some of them are even good ones.”

The Devil began to rummage in a briefcase that suddenly appeared on the table beside the gun and laptop. “In times past, the souls of suicides came to me no matter what. Nowadays, Heaven’s lawyers are arguing past life stress, alternate reality bleed, demonic interference, and all other sorts of horseshit. So I’m here to make you a deal.”

The contract the Devil produced was on good, quality parchment, hand written in old-fashioned copperplate script. “I will grant you one wish, and in exchange, I get clear title to your soul.”

As Bill reached out to take the contract, he got a look at the Devil’s hands. They had short stubby fingers with dirty spade-shaped nails. The skin was dry with some sort of dark material rubbed into it that made the cracks stand out. It made him remember the stains his father always had on his hands and under his nails. Whereas his father’s stains had been grease and good honest Detroit steel, he imagined the Devil’s to be old blood.

With a bit of a shock, Bill realized the Devil wore his father’s hands.

Thinking of his father brought up old memories he had struggled to put away in a part of his brain so remote he would never have to suffer through them again; but for some reason, here they were as vivid as if it was yesterday.

Going out to the garage and finding his father’s body as it swayed back and forth from the beam had been bad. Standing there paralyzed, he had been hit with the outhouse reek of voided bowels intermixed with the smell of the cars his father had been restoring. He could still hear the ominous sound of the rope creaking under the strain of its burden, a sound that would invade his dreams for decades to come. Bill had been ten years old.

“You’re remembering that Sunday, aren’t you?” The Devil chuckled. “Makes you glad you don’t have a son yourself to horrify that way, doesn’t it?”

Bill choked up, and he simply nodded his head violently.

The briefcase and contract disappeared from the tabletop. “Then don’t do it.” The Devil seemed angry. “Man-up and get through the week. You say you’re unlucky at love? So what! Get a career.” His voice faded from venom to resignation. “That’s what the rest of us do.”

As the Devil got up and started to walk out the door, Bill leaped from his seat and grabbed the sleeve of the Devil’s impeccable suit jacket. “Why? For God’s sake, why do this for me?”

The Devil looked coldly at the hand on his sleeve. Bill let it loose immediately.

“I shouldn’t tell you this, but your father took me up on my offer and made a wish in his last moments. He asked me to talk you out of killing yourself if you ever seriously considered doing what he was about to do. It seemed a decent deal, as it nets me one fully unencumbered soul instead of liens on two iffy ones that I might lose in a custody battle.” The Devil straightened his tie. “Now if you will excuse me I have your father’s soul waiting on hold for me in Purgatory’s escrow department.”

A sly smile crept over his lips. “Contract fulfilled. Let’s see them find a loophole in this one!” And with a tremendous puff of nauseating brimstone smoke, Bill was alone again in the room.

As he stood there looking out the empty door, Bill felt a gust of fresh air clear the room of the Devil’s eye-watering stench, and he thought he heard the sound of wings flapping behind him. When he turned around, on the table he found his laptop open again and his browser window loading the registration page for an online law degree. Lying on top of his keyboard was a two-foot long, brilliant white feather.

An angelic voice whispered in his ear, “We have found no contract is unbreakable, not even the Devil’s. I’ve already filed an injunction on behalf of your father’s soul.”

He could hear the amusement in the disembodied voice. “Take Lucifer’s advice. Get a career. Then, when it’s your natural time to join us, a place will be waiting for you on our legal team; and we’ll work together to get your father’s soul back.”

Bill was stunned for a few moments, and then he sat down and began to fill out the form.

Brian J. Hunt is the editor of several books on vintage art including “The Outlandish Art of Mahlon Blaine”. His stories have previously appeared here and at (now sadly defunct). You can find links to his published stories at His tribute website for legendary bad sci-fi author Lionel Fanthorpe can be found at and his website has been a web classic since 1996.

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