He blinked once, twice, but it was for real. He had really made a pact with the devil. To many, he was known as Sam Spade, Wyatt Earp, a myriad of others in grainy black and white with reedy sound in dark movie palaces across the United States. Perhaps he could be happy being a professional legend, perhaps he was only “one step from John Wayne” as many critics had proclaimed. Most would have considered that a high compliment, he only saw it as his limitations. It bothered him more and more, to be so close and yet so far. No one would ever top John Wayne as America‘s Hero. He could be a hero, everyday, in fact he probably was, but every night, the legend of John Wayne would torment him in his dreams.
One night, the devil arrived instead of the familiar face of John Wayne. At first, he though it was a dream.
“This is not a dream,” the devil replied. Would a dream acknowledge that is wasn’t substantial?
“Pinch yourself,” added the devil. He had. It hurt. It wasn’t a dream. The devil sat down at the foot of his bed. “I think I might be able to help you with your problem.”
“How?” He figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.
“It pains you to play second banana to John Wayne in movie roles. Perhaps if you went into the raw, so to speak…” The devil and let him figure the rest out for himself.
“You mean you could make me a cowboy. For real.”
The devil nodded.
“The usual price?”
He thought about it a moment. Was being a real legend worth burning in hell for all eternity? He mentally weighed it, back and forth, the scales rocked. Up and down. Eternity was a long time, but then if he became a legend, he would live forever in a way. He found himself agreeing to the devil, but then stopped himself.
“Wait a minute,” he said, “I don’t want you to play any tricks on me.” The devil sighed; another snag in the scheme of things. All because of that new television show The Twilight Zone. It had done more to damage his profession than all the years the Bible had been in print. Well, after this transaction, he might have to pay a visit to Mr. Serling…
“I repeat, no tricks, or the deal’s off,” he said with a bit of machismo borrowed liberally from the many characters he had played. The devil threw his hands up in surrender.
“Okay, okay, no tricks,” the devil replied. “You will be placed into the real world, now if you’ll sign here…” He took the offered pen from the devil (it was warm) and signed on the dotted line. Then he was somewhere else.
The transition was staggering. His eyes watered from the sudden attack of desert sunshine, unencumbered by clouds or smog. The heat rose up from the sandy ground like the delicate tips of an open flame. As his eyes focused, he found himself in an observation post of a fort not unlike many of the sets he had worked on during his career. The only notable difference was the lack of cameras, everything else was the same, even the Indians looked familiar as they mounted their assault.
Wait a minute! Indians!
He yelled the alarm and in seconds, troops boiled forth like vengeful blue ants. Climbing ladders and setting cannons, he noted, without the efficiency of most of the studio extras. At that moment an arrow whistled past him – not right past his ear like in the movies, but still uncomfortably close. He looked down and realized he was dressed for the part. Complete with holster and .45. He lifted it lovingly from its place and aimed and fired. The gun gave off a thin cloud of smoke and an Indian fell from his horse and was tramped into pulp. Again, not quite like the movies. The devil had promised the real world, and so far he had kept his word. Here he was, fighting the Indians, destined to become a legend.
With a satisfied smile on his face, he cocked and fired again. Despite his excellence, his companions in arms were rather inept. The Indians finally broke through the lines and poured into the compound. He laughed, he would become a legend! This was his moment. Descending from his post, only the thoughts of how he would bravely fight off the hostile tribe single-handedly filled his head. A victory that would be at the forefront of the annals of the west. Who knows? Perhaps John Wayne would be playing him some day.
He jumped off the ladder with the gun in his hand and a broad, if a little greedy smile on his face. An Indian came rushing at him on a white horse with brown splotches here and there. Calmly, he drew his gun, aimed and pulled the trigger.
The last thoughts that went through his mind before the arrow whistled its way into his skull were curses on the devil and his own stupidity. He had wanted the real world, damn him, he had demanded it. And he had gotten it, complete with a gun that only fired six shots.