nzric - The Tale of Old Jim (to be told over a pint of lager in a noisy bar) Old Jim Tarrant walked with the devil and he won. He did. The old bugger didn’t know what hit him. This is a yarn about a hardcase bloke and the king of sin, so don’t mind my language if I go blimmin and blastin, and cursin and cussin, ‘cause you’re sure as **** got to have a stronger gut than that if you want to hear any tale of the devil. Now Jim Tarrant lived in a dusty railside hole called Gaviston, what we folks call an outhouse town ‘cause the only souls there are piss poor and **** outta luck. Jim was more of the former than the latter, but the latter caught him right by the short’n’curlies when the devil knocked on his door one day. It was a right old sight, the devil with his horns and his cape and his tail swishing round and banging the patio door with his pitchfork, and Jim said “righto mate, what can I do for you?” “You can invite me in,” the devil said, “I can’t come in if you don’t.” And Jim laughed and said “You’ve got some cheek mate, but you’re the devil after all so I can’t blame ya trying. Why would I invite the devil in?” “‘Cause I can grant your hearts desires” said the devil, and Jim thought that’s a sales pitch if ever I heard one. “Don’t mind if I don’t,” Jim said, “so on your way and don’t bash the camellias on your way out.” And the devil cursed and cussed but he had no choice ‘cause Jim said no. But the devil is the devil and he came to Jim’s patio every day after that. Bang, bang, bang with his pitchfork, “Jim, Jim, let me come in mate, I’ll grant you your hearts desires.” “And if I tell you to bugger off?” “I’ll chase you down and knock your door every day till you make a pact or I drive you crazy.” And Jim knew he would because it was the devil after all. So Jim was in a bind and he said to the devil, “Righto, if you won’t give me peace I need to know what I’m getting in for.” The devil agreed and asked what Jim was on about. “I want you to show me some pacts before I tell you my hearts desires.” And the devil agreed and Jim got one day of rest with no banging and no scorch marks on the patio. He wrote his hearts desires on a piece of paper and put the paper in an envelope and the envelope on the mantelpiece, then the devil came to his door and Jim went outside to walk with him. They walked for years, did Jim Tarrant and the devil. Every day the devil asked for his hearts desires and each day Jim said “I wrote ‘em all down on my mantelpiece but you ain’t shown me what I’m getting in for.” So the devil took Jim to the city of Testimony there was an old man whose wife just died. The man made a pact to bring his wife back and the devil was true to his word, but the wife came all rotten and corpse-ish and the man went full-blown crazy. The hospital came and locked him away where the man was always yelling away “let me see my wife again!”. Then the devil took Jim to the town of Dedication to a man so poor he couldn’t feed his family. And the devil told the man he could make a pact so the family could eat their fill like hogs every night. But Jim was onto the devil and he went to the man and told him not to take the pact, not just yet. Jim was more stubborn than the man was desperate and he stayed while the man worked and toiled and sweated to put food on the table. Every night the man would wring his hands and Jim would say “just one more day at a time mate” till the rains came back and the crops were good, and the family ate well again. And the devil cursed Jim and stamped and strutted but Jim told him alls fair cause the man made his own choice, and they walked again. They walked ‘cross continents, and the devil was on the hunt for his game, and he sniffed out a poor mother in the country of Gharm whose child just died. The devil whispered and hinted and “I’ll give ya your baby back” he said, but she yelled at the devil and chased him out with cussin and the evil eye. Jim was impressed and he and the woman got talking and meeting every day for weeks, so sooner than later they were friendlier than ever. But the devil said “Jim we got a deal” and took Jim away before too long, but not before Jim said he didn’t have a ring but he’d be back if it killed him. The devil said “watch what you wish for mate” and Jim shut up and they walked again. And they went to the city of Knesis to a lazy man with a thick gut and wide appetites. And the man invited the devil in his house and made the pact without thinking twice. He asked for money and women and food and the devil gave him all that. The devil said to Jim “Now this is the right idea ain’t it” and they watched as the lazy man got bigger and drunker and bedded all the women and bought gaudy toys with his money. But Jim made the devil stay to see what the man was getting in for, a deal is a deal after all. Sure as **** the lazy man got tired of his money and trinkets, and jealous of the women, and ill from the food and drunk and when he died early and alone and unhappy everyone agreed he had it coming. So Jim said “Right I’ve had enough” and the devil said a deal’s a deal and they walked back to Gaviston. When they got to Jim’s door he invited the devil straight in, devil hoofs clicking behind him down the hall and the tail knocking picture frames on the way past. But the devil is a gentleman and left his pitchfork on the patio. And Jim got the envelope where inside was six lines on the paper. The devil smacked his lips and rubbed his hands cause the best pacts are the ones from greedy folk. Then Jim read the lines to himself and said to the devil “Righto, on your way.” “What?!” boomed the devil in his big devil voice. “We had a pact. I will grant your hearts desires.” “Well done,” said Jim smoothly, “and you can shove your pact. I’ve had my hearts desires and I don’t need you no more.” The devil stamped and torched the furniture but Jim held firm. He held the list in front of him and took a pen from the mantelpiece. “One. Travel the world. Damn straight we did, right old holiday it was too.” He struck out the line with the pen. The devil cursed and beat the cushions. “Two. See true love in the world,” said Jim. The devil said Testimony didn’t count, the wife was dead and rotten and the husband gone full-blown crazy, but Jim said it didn’t make no difference to them for each other did it. Another line gone. “Three. Save a good man’s soul, and Dedication was the place I did it.” “Four. Find a wife,” Jim said, thinking of his beau in Gharm. The devil said he would never let it happen but Jim said it’s not as if you have any bloody choice in the matter. The pen crossed the line and Jim crossed his heart. “Five. Know the value of a hard day’s work.” The devil said the lazy man from Knesis was his own and he was taking him to hell. Jim replied that some people have it coming to them but at least we can all learn a lesson from it. The devil showed his teeth and said he’d take Jim down with him anyway. But Jim laughed and said “crap to you, we both know it don’t work that way.” So the devil cursed and smoked and fumed, and a great pit opened in the living room and the devil climbed down to hell’s furnace. The pit where the damned souls writhe and cries can be heard echoing through the foul and rancid air. And Jim went to the patio and got the devil’s pitchfork, threw it down the pit and yelled “Now piss off!”. And the pit closed with a pop. Then Jim took his pen and crossed the last line that said, “laugh in the face of the devil”, then he opened his bank book. A train and a plane and a train to Gharm costs a lot for someone from Gaviston and he had a devil of a time getting the money, but Jim of course was stubborn and he made it in the end, and both him and his wife agreed that some things are worth the hard slog. And I’ll drink to that.