Down at the Crossroads

By Linda Niehoff

Iweb went down to the crossroads last night there over the train tracks, the grain elevator on the corner, my guitar slung over my shoulder. It was well nigh to midnight and quiet over the cornfields, the stars shining their mystery.

I saw the orange glow of his cigarette long before I saw his outline. My heart played leapfrog in my chest. He looked just like a shadow come to life, moving darkness down the gravel road. My heart thudded faster as I thought of the earthly glory that’d be mine. And what eternal price I’d pay.

He had long shaggy hair, a black felt hat, and wolf eyes hiding underneath. He didn’t even say hello, just grabbed a small metal case from his shirt pocket. The contract? So soon? But I was ready to sell my soul away under the starshine before the next coal train roared by.

“Smoke?” he asked instead and opened the metal case.

My shaking fingers grabbed one. I inhaled deep, thinking of the smoke and fire I’d breathe eternally.

“So you got a soul to sell?” His voice was raspy, like paint rusting off an old tractor. I’d thought about this moment, waited for it, and now it was here.

I nodded.

“Why?” he asked.

I pointed to the guitar slung over my shoulder.

“Oh that,” he said and sighed. “I gotta be honest. I’ve met my quota already. I’ve got so much going on I won’t see a vacation ‘til sometime next spring. If I’m lucky. Everybody wants in these days and not for guitars. Not anymore. This is the Big Leagues.” He rubbed his eyes and yawned. “It’s more than I can take sometimes.”

He threw his cigarette out, the glowing ember arced like a shooting star in black midnight. It lay alone on the gravel before dying. “I do appreciate you coming down. Wish we had room. Keep me in mind for the future. Don’t know if there’ll be a break anytime soon— Revelation and all that.” He laughed and waved his hand like he was batting away a fly. Then he turned to me and held out his hand. I tried not to look at his wolf eyes underneath that hat. But I knew they were looking at me, wanting to eat me up if they could.

I shook his hand.

He was on his way back up the road past the granary as the next coal train roared by. After it passed, he turned around and yelled, “Man, you ever just try practicing that thing? Your guitar, I mean.” And then he was gone.

This morning, in the light of day, I realized something. I shook hands with the Devil down at the crossroads at midnight. He wasn’t ever gonna buy my soul. He stole it.

___

Linda Niehoff’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Crack the Spine Spring 2013 Anthology, Literary Orphans, Scissors & Spackle and Circa Review. She has been a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award and Short Story Award for New Writers. 


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