A Story by Zack Burton

English assignment. Figured I'd post it. "Rewrite 'The Devil & Tom Walker' by Washington Irving in a modern setting."


Nowadays, you see kids like Leo Quirke on every street corner. Black hair, black jeans, black shirts. Chains hanging limp from their jeans. Half-inch-gauge rings crammed in their earlobes. They were like a flock of grumpy crows, their talons hooked over every sidewalk, their eyes staring down your mailbox from across the street. You could almost imagine yourself grabbing your broom and rushing over there, squawking loudly and trying to scare them off. But then you shook your head, squinted your eyes a bit, and they were kids again. Just skinny, lazy kids.

They didn't have jobs. All they did was wake up, go to school, and then stare at your house all day while laughing and chatting amongst themselves. Soon enough, they're leaving behind their worthless refuse. Their used condoms. Their burnt-up joints. And that's when you realize: I picked the wrong place to bring up the kids.

Three months (to the day) ago, the PR guy was telling you: “You oughta move there.”

Move where?”

To East Meadows,” he tells you. You look at him like he's an idiot. “Don't give me that look. It's a nice place. Two miles down from the school, three miles from a Wal-Mart.”

That night, your Facebook status read: “Some jackass at work told me I should move into a subdivision.” All the people who commented on it asked, “Which subdivision?” You told them, East Meadows, and they all agreed with the jackass at work. Your wife did too.

And so, here you are, three months later and staring at the crows " kids, in reality " playing in the street outside of your hyper-conformist suburban lawn. You feel like it was only a couple years ago when you were one of them, hanging in the street with a hundred girls and having the time of your life. Drinking your coffee and reading the paper, you indulge in your memories for a moment before the wife walks in, holding a magazine and asking, “Lemon Delight or Harvest Pumpkin?”

Scented candles. This is the life.

You tell her the Lemon Delight sounds disgusting. This hurts her feelings, and she walks out of the room, disappointed. For a moment you care, and then all of a sudden you see it: Ikea. They're building an Ikea within three miles. Your wife becomes an ignorable twinge.

This is how a man truly lives. $150,000 house. $40,000 car. Making six figures a year as Assistant Regional Manager. And then, last in line: the hot, young thing you met in business school, who's also racking up six figures. In this kind of state, you forget about all your troubles. You don't think about life, or love, or the universe. You just think about growing and expanding your profits. And that's when you realize: This is what Manifest Destiny is all about.

You don't expect your life to ever change.

It's a brisk Monday morning when your previously-extant cares smack you in the back of the head. As you're backing out the driveway, chugging your espresso, listening to some obscure band that the PR guy introduced you to, you back into the kid.

He's got one of those shoddy Justin Bieber haircuts, died black and covering up his eyes. The dumbass can't see a single thing, you grumble, looking in the rear-view mirror and hoping he'll hop back up. He doesn't. Sighing, you think about your future, paperwork, and lawsuits, you climb out of the car. Finally squashed a crow, and you're regretting it.

Jesus, man,” the kid says, slowly getting up. “Don't you have one of those rear-view camera things?”

God no,” you say.

Maybe you should get one, man.” He smirks at you.

You don't smirk. “Always seemed like a waste of money.”

Doesn't seem like a waste of money to me.”

Listen,” you say to him, looking around in the semi-darkness to make sure no one's watching. “You need a ride or something?”

The kid keeps smirking. Then, nodding, he says, “Sure, that'd be great.” You ask him what his name is. “Leo Quirke,” he says, climbing in your car and feeling the leather seats. Where's he go to school at? “Don't go to school. But it'd be sweet if you'd drop me off at my friend Johnny Marx's place.” He's obsessed with the leather.

Johnny Marx is the PR guy, but you don't really think about it. You just drive the Quirke kid to wherever he wants to go and hope he doesn't tell the authorities about you hitting him. He smiles the whole way.

You're a saint for the ride, man. If there's anything I can ever do for you, you just let me know, alright?” The kid's giving you this deep, earnest look.

For the first time, you laugh at him. “Unless,” you say, “unless you can get me a pay raise, I don't really think you can.”

The kid laughs his a*s off, and you think you told one heck of a joke.

But it's that very day, at 11:45 AM, that the Regional Manager calls you into the office and gives you a raise. And, for a moment, you're desperately trying to not urinate all over yourself. Your brain's going wild with superstition. You think you've met some sort of angel.

That night, as you're taking out the trash, you hear: “Hey, man.”

Leo Quirke is sitting on your side of the street with all his buddies. Now, when you look at him, you see an an eagle rather than a crow. Your charming savior.

You're welcome, man,” he says. He asks if you can do him a favor.

The next morning, as you're driving him to the Regional Manager's house, he asks you: Do you want to become something more? Something bigger than the breadwinner. Something bigger than “Assistant Regional Manager.” And of course, you nod like a bobblehead. He got you a raise. He's like a Santa Claus for grown-ups.

You gotta promise me something, man,” he says. “You gotta promise to be as dedicated to me as you can. You're gonna have to make one hell of a payment, man.”

And immediately, the moment he says the word “payment,” dollar signs burst into your head and you start to back off. “What kind of payment?”

Leo smirks. “You gotta sell your soul, man.”


He explains himself. Of course, there's no such thing as a soul, he tells you. It's all figurative, all part of the process. He's like a demi-god of sorts; an angel, if you wanna call him that. He used to work for some uptight, elitist jerk until a couple years ago, when he started roaming around the planet, handing out free gifts to people. A new car to your cousin. A sexy secretary to your cousin. All of this out of his own pocket; his own good will.

All you have to do, man,” he says, “is pledge your eternal allegiance.” Put your wife behind you. Put your past behind you and move forward. You'll make millions, he tells you.

Sign me up,” you say, your heart beating like never before in your life.

And that's when things really take off for you. The Regional Manager comes down with pneumonia the very day you sold your soul to the Leo Quirke; the week after that, it claims his life. You get promoted to the Regional Manager position, and your paycheck almost doubles. The wife rejoices, and goes out to buy a whole bottle of fine wine. But when she gets back, she finds you upstairs in the office, working overtime.

The thing is,” Leo tells you, “you can't ever take this back. You're locked in, man.”

You couldn't possibly care less.

Every day, though, you feel like you're losing something more than your soul. You feel as if you're moving away from the rest of humanity, away from the world. You're just in your own little pantheon, confined with your money for all eternity. And if you grit your teeth and ignore the pleading of the wife, you can't imagine a more perfect heaven.

Suddenly, she's invisible. Silent. You wake up in the morning, alone, you eat your breakfast, alone, and you go to work. When you get back home, you're still alone, but there's a meal waiting for you on the table. It's the same way with everyone else you once knew. All your family members who used to stop by, all your wife's friends " they're all gone.

You can't imagine a more perfect heaven.

It's on your 30th birthday, five years after you met Leo Quirke, that things start to crumble. You start to realize: I'm living in a newer, bigger house in East Meadows. I own a Prius. I have a three-year-old son. You start to wish you had your soul back.

No, man,” you imagine Leo saying. “No way, man.”

So you buy a Bible. Hell, you buy two Bibles. You pay ten, then twenty, then thirty percent of your weekly wages to the church. You donate to charities. You pray and pray your life away, hoping that some big man in the sky exists, ready to defend you from Leo Quirke. That vile, evil teenager. That devil in disguise.

On a blustery, chilly Friday night in November, you walk in the kitchen and find your wife, slaving over the stove and looking almost forty years old. You look at her for a moment, and then all of your life comes back to you. Your past, your present. You feel like it was only a couple of years ago when you were sitting out on the street, hanging with your friends and living a real life. Not a heaven. Not a hell. But a real life, one that you can feel and taste and enjoy, no matter how old you get.

This is your moment of brilliance.

You step forward, grab your wife's hand, and tell her you love her. You love her, and God damn you if you don't. God damn you if you ever didn't.

The face in the window has one of those shoddy Justin Bieber haircuts. Died black.

That very night, the crows swept you away.

Fifteen, maybe twenty years later, your son would move into a neighborhood with his wife, a hot, young thing he met in business school. Or law school, or medical school, or even liberal arts school. It doesn't really matter. It's all the same.

He'll stare out the window and see the kids sitting on the sidewalk and he'll imagine they're crows, and he'll imagine has a broom, sweeping them away.

But of course, one morning, he'll back into one of them, and it'll sweep him away.

© 2010 Zack Burton

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This is a well-written story for sure. I feel like it's more suited for a novel, or at the least a novella. The way it's written, it almost seems like a synopsis or outline.

I'm a huge fan of the protagonist's regret in this story. It's the age old "don't know what you've got til it's gone" sort of thing. But I like that he eventually realizes maybe this isn't so great after all.

My biggest critique is the pacing. Like I said before, it feels like the skeleton of a much longer story. You've got a good idea here, but I'm not sure it's finished. Especially Leo. How did he become this demigod? What's his story? I think that giving more explanation would make any reader less likely to fight against the fact that this story has a surreal edge to it. I need to at least believe that Leo has so human characteristics before I can be okay with him have subhuman characteristics.

I think you've got a really interesting idea with the good versus evil dichotomy in the story. The protagonist's quest to reclaim his soul could easily be 20 pages long if you fleshed out the ways in which he goes about it (like the bibles and the donations). A lot of the things you mention in passing could manifest into entire scenes.

I'm impressed, though. Clean and concise writing. I've got a similarly surreal story up called "Frail Scaffolding." Check it out if you have time.

Posted 12 Years Ago

great assignment, kudos.

Posted 12 Years Ago

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2 Reviews
Added on November 12, 2010
Last Updated on November 12, 2010
Tags: burton, devil, faustian, love, greed, money


Zack Burton
Zack Burton

Felicity, OH

Zack Burton. 17. Art fanatic, book fanatic, tennis fanatic. Inspirations: Joseph Heller, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson. Oh, and Michael Smerconish of The Big Talker 1580. .. more..