SONGS FOR THE DEVIL AND THE DEAD • by Quinn Baker

When the Devil noticed me, that’s when the trouble started.

I was always a fair guitar player who was just good enough to play at the local pubs on occasion. I had a fire inside me, though. I worked at the local cemetery, digging holes and then filling them in all day, and while I worked, I thought of nothing else but music.

On my thirtieth birthday, I did what I did every night after a long day of work. I rolled up the sleeves, took out my flask of whiskey, and sat against a tombstone to play guitar where no one was around to listen. I beat my old Martin acoustic half to death, playing old folk songs to the dead.

When the Devil came that night, I didn’t recognize him. He wasn’t red, and he didn’t have any horns. My Devil had white hair, a warm smile, and wore blue jeans.

The Devil told me he had watched me play every night to his patrons, and he wanted to help me. He told me to sign my name on a contract, and I would be the greatest guitar player that ever lived. All I had to do was promise him my soul and complete errands for him on occasion. I knew I should have said no, but that fire inside of me couldn’t resist, and I signed my name with less hesitation than I would like to admit.

The next day, I picked up that old Martin and began to play like I never had before. I went to a bar that night and played for the local crowd. My music was more soulful than Willie, smoother than Jimi, and more creative than Clapton. My fingers worked magic on the fretboard. The notes were the same as they had been since the beginning of music, but they were somehow different now, more powerful. I got a standing ovation for the first time in my life.

The next day, I quit my job and packed up my old car. I spent months driving across the country, playing at small bars, open mics, and anywhere that would take me. My name began to spread like wildfire, and the shows started to get bigger. Soon, I wasn’t playing at bars but small concert halls. Those concert halls then turned into larger and larger venues.

In no time, I had everything I ever wanted. Or so I thought.

I was leaning against the side of my tour bus, smoking, when the Devil strolled up to me with the same white hair and grandfatherly smile.

He asked me if I was happy, and I told him I was. We chatted for a while, and I thought that maybe he had forgotten about the second part of our deal. He hadn’t, of course, and when he finally gave me a task, my heart sank. He asked me if it would be a problem, but I assured him that it wouldn’t be.

Just as the Devil had instructed, I found a busker on a street corner. I tapped the busker’s shoulder as I walked by, and his fingers began to fumble. He started to miss notes, and soon he couldn’t play at all. His talent now belonged to the Devil.

I did many tasks for the Devil after that. The requests became more frequent to the point that I never had time to play anymore, and I began to miss shows. My record label dropped me, and my money started to go away. When I wasn’t running errands, I was drinking, or worse.

One day, the Devil came and told me he had another task for me. I begged him to let me quit, but he calmly refused. Eventually, I gave in like I always did.

I found the boy on the street corner where the Devil said he would be. He couldn’t have been more than twelve, but he played the blues on a ten-dollar guitar more soulfully than I ever had. I reached out my hand as I walked by the boy, but something stilled me. Maybe it was the music, or perhaps it was the last good part of me fighting back, but I put my hands in my pockets and kept on walking, leaving the boy and his music alone.

When the Devil came again, he looked the same as always, but his eyes told the truth of his anger. I tried to explain, but there was no use. I told him I would not fail him again, but he didn’t believe me. The Devil only smiled and said that I had signed a contract and had failed to fulfill it. I cried and begged on my hands and knees for just one day of freedom. Finally, the Devil smiled and gave me one day.

I didn’t waste any time. I beat that old Martin guitar to death from sunrise to sunset in a cemetery playing songs for the dead. The only audience that had ever brought me peace.

Then the Devil came. 

I knew my time was up, but I kept playing even when he tried to speak to me. I kept playing until he broke my strings and then my guitar. I kept trying to play until he broke all of my fingers one by one.

As tears ran down my face, I asked the Devil why he needed me to do these tasks for him. Could I not just be allowed to go on the way I was before, playing my guitar for no one?

The Devil smiled that warm smile before asking me where I thought all that talent came from. I told him I didn’t know, but that was a lie. I did know, and I was ashamed.

The Devil left me there in that cemetery, taking my hands and my soul with him. Not knowing what else to do, I sat against a tombstone and hummed songs for the dead.


Quinn Baker is a Canadian writer from the Greater Toronto Area. He studied English and History at the University of Guelph and has previously written articles for The Ontarion, The Artifice, and The Fulcrum. He is currently working on multiple pieces, such as short stories in various genres and his novel.


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