Here we go with Short Story Prompt #4 from We Drink Because We’re Poets. As usual, for my readers who don’t follow that blog, I’ll save the reveal of the prompt until the end of the story. Here you go … and yes, there are some adult themes in this one.
“Damn.” I slammed my laptop shut and stared. That blank stare. There were people there, sitting at their tables. Drinking their lattes. Noshing on bagels. All in front of me. I didn’t see them though. I was caught in my head where my story had ended even though I had yet to finish it. There were still more words to write and pages to go, but I was lost, without a clue as to how to write the next sentence.
Gregory had got the girl. Or was it the other way around? I wanted to keep the reader guessing on that. As a result, the wrapping up of the tale had turned into a mighty struggle. Writing each sentence was like a tug of war between sumo wrestlers. A little this way. A little that way. Eventually, something might stumble out and the ending would fall into place, just like the sumo wrestlers on the losing side. Only with my novel, the stumbling might signify success rather than failure.
“Excuse me, ma’am, may I sit down?”
I came out of my head and looked around. There were plenty of empty tables. I looked at the voice’s source. Next to the other chair at my table stood a man. Somewhat the opposite of tall, dark and handsome, he looked to be an inch or two shorter than me. He had a scraggly goatee that ran to wispy several inches below his chin and no other hair on his head. It was shaved clean, silky smooth and shined to a gloss that reflected the subdued lights in the coffee house, almost forming a glowing halo of light about his head. He wore glasses that slipped down his nose on the slick surface of his skin. And, there was this odor I couldn’t place. Almost like rotten eggs. He wore a vest over a white dress shirt with a frayed collar and threadbare elbows.
I shrugged my shoulders. “Sure. Why not?” I was pretty much done anyway. A few more sips of my coffee and I could take my leave of the man.
He pulled the chair out and sat on it. “Belial,” he said and held out his hand, smiling.
I shook it, trying hard not to sniff derisively as I did so. “Hanna.” I tossed around whether I wanted to engage with him or not. Curiousity got the better of me. “Belial. That’s an interesting name.”
“It’s Aramaic. Biblical, shall I say.”
“Interesting.” I chuckled. “Hanna is biblical, too. It means gracious.” I guess I was living up to my name by humoring this stranger.
He began to stroke his chin, bringing his hand down around his goatee. “What are you working on?”
“Hannah. Really? I come in here every Saturday and see you tapping away. It must be something.”
I thought back and struggled to find a memory of ever seeing him in the coffee shop before. I couldn’t, but then there were plenty of times when I was lost in what was on the screen or in what was in my head. I sighed. “A novel.”
“Yes. It’s almost finished.”
“This may just be your lucky day.” He reached into a pocket inside the vest and pulled out a card. I took it from him. A rather simple card, it read in red lettering: Belial Press, Publishers of Literature and Creative Non-Fiction. There was an address and phone number, but I glossed over them. “I may be able to help you out.”
“You’re a publisher?”
“Of course. Isn’t that what the card says?” He laughed, a deep chuckle that rose from his depths and, I swear, it caused the air between us to shiver. Or maybe it was just me, shivering at this stroke of luck that had sat down before me.
“Yes.” His reply rumbled from the same depths. I noticed something then. Even with others sitting at tables and customers at the counter placing orders and baristas shouting back and forth, I heard none of it. We were in a cone of silence.
I shuddered and asked the man, “Would you read it? When, I’m done of course?”
“Of course I’ll read it. I can do you one better than that. I can …” Belial smiled. “I can guarantee you I’ll publish it, sight unseen, if only you will … well, we have to have a deal, don’t we?”
“Hold on a sec.” I held up a finger to him. When he stopped, I opened my laptop and turned it on. As soon as I could, I got on the web and google’d Belial Press. I nervously tapped my finger on the keyboard for the second or two it take for the page to come up. And, there it was. I clicked on the link for Authors and saw a healthy list. I clicked on the link for Published Works and saw that Belial Press had published ten books in 2012, nine in 2011, and fifteen in 2010. I looked up and he smiled. “What’s the deal?”
“Well,” Belial muttered. “Let’s see. I’m thinking it could be rather simple. You could … you know.” He looked down at his lap and looked back up, smiling again, ever so slyly.
“What? You want a …” I stopped to find the right phrase. “A rub and tug?”
“Well, certainly at least that.”
“A blow job?” I began to laugh.
“Certainly that isn’t too much to ask for what I’m offering you. A publishing contract signed right here. My commitment to edit the hell out of your manuscript and produce a book that I will market the hell out of. I can virtually guarantee you will see success and riches you never thought possible.”
I shut my laptop and leaned towards Belial. “Problem is I don’t play in that ball park. Pun most definitely intended.”
“Ah, I see. Of course. Makes no difference to me. There are plenty of girls, and boys, at the gates of hell willing to do my bidding.” He stopped and stroked his beard again, drawing his hand slowly down its length until he let go with a sigh. “Very well. Let’s move to Plan B.”
Belial pulled from his inside contract a document folded into thirds. As he unfolded it and slid the paper across the table to me, he spoke again. “Here is our standard publishing contract. Most publishers would provide you with a 15% royalty rate. We offer 25%. I’m willing to offer you a $50,000 advance. And, as I said, the full weight of our editing and marketing departments will be behind you. I’d like you to see the success we can offer instead of going through the hell of self-publishing your masterpiece and seeing that nobody who doesn’t know you will be willing to put their hard earned cash on the line for you.” Before I could grab the contract to look at it, he put his hand on it and stopped me. “I can guarantee you a best seller, if only you do one thing for me.”
“What? I aint blowing you.”
“Yes, yes. I know. I wish you to do this.” He pulled his hand back and I looked at the contract, glossing over the fact that it already had my name on it and the name of the book. I reviewed the particulars and found it confirmed his statements. “I want you to dance on this table.”
I laughed again. “That’s it? Dance on the table and I have a bestseller?”
“No, no, no. There’s more, of course.” He laughed again, that deep resonant thunderous sound that came from somewhere deep within him. “Dance naked. As naked as the day you were born. On top of this table. Now. And you better make it good.”
Nervously, I laughed again. I toyed with a corner of the contract that lay in front of me. I glanced at my laptop and thought about the 75,274 words I had written and the 5,000 or so I anticipated the finish would require. “What the hell.” I winked at Belial and began stripping my clothes off.
As soon as I could, I clamored to the top of the table and began to twist and turn. For a moment, I closed my eyes while I gyrated and let the silence that now filled the place envelope me. I played a song in my head that allowed me to think sexy. I did my best impersonation of a stripper, even bending down at one point to grab Belial’s beard and pull him close to me before I blew a kiss in his face and released him. He winked and clapped and shouted for more. Soon others were as well and I rode their cheers for a moment or two longer before slowing down.
I whispered to Belial, “Enough?” He nodded slightly and I stopped.
Before he could change his mind, I pulled a pen from my purse and signed the contract with a flourish. “Here you go.” I sat down, still buck naked, and handed the pen to him.
“Well done, my dear. Well done.” He clapped his hands together twice and then picked up the pen and completed the contract.
Six months later, my first novel came out. In the Afterword, I explained how I had got my publishing contract by dancing on a table in a Starbucks in Turlock, California, and that a week later I had moved to a small town along the Northern Coast of California, where I finished writing the book. I left out the part about dancing naked. And the part about the relocation being my plan all along. The advance made it all the easier and gave me the peace of mind that allowed me to dance naked for a man named Belial who promised me a deal I couldn’t refuse.
Belial held up his end of the bargain. He definitely edited the hell out of it. He marketed the crap out of it. And got me a bestseller. Gregory Gets the Girl hit #2 on the New York Times list. Yeah, I know, Belial told me murky wasn’t good. Leaving the reader in doubt was a no go for him.
* * *
Here’s the Prompt:
You encounter the devil…only, you don’t know it’s the devil. The devil makes you a tantalizing offer…and you don’t refuse. What is the offer, why didn’t you refuse it, and what happens when you accept the offer?
That’s not all, though. I want to take you out of your comfort zones. Now, this next part is optional: if you are a woman, write your story from the standpoint of a man. If you are a man, write your story from the standpoint of a woman. If you are neither man nor woman, I’m sorry, I’ve run out of ideas…