Mrs. Callie Ferguson was about to cry. Her whole body was shaking with frustration. With every swing, the golf ball at her feet was digging itself deeper into the sand. She’d held it together through fifteen holes, pretended to enjoy the most humiliating experience of her life. She’d had to; there was so much at stake. But now, after six failed attempts to escape the sand trap, she couldn’t pretend anymore. Her hatred of the game had gone beyond words.
She’d gotten herself into this mess, that was the worst of it. She’d been the one to suggest to her fiancé they spend their honeymoon at Myrtle Beach, playing his game. He’d been thrilled, of course. “I’ll teach you,” he’d said. “You’ll love it.” Callie had just smiled and basked in his excitement as he’d planned out a whole future for them around golf.
Quite honestly, she had thought she would enjoy it. He adored the sport, and she adored him. And she was determined not to become another golf-widow. The thought of being separated from her new husband, for even just one five hour round, was too much to bear. Besides, how could a long walk side by side in the sunshine be anything less than sublime?
But just seventeen hours after her wedding, Callie was already alone. Her husband had abandoned her to chase a slice off into the trees, leaving her helpless in a deep beach sand trap. She could barely see over the lip of the crater, let alone hit out of it.
“Just remember,” he’d said before running off, “open stance, open clubface, aim for the sand two inches behind the ball, and swing through.”
She’d repeated that mantra, his words in her ears, six times, six swings already, and it hadn’t helped a bit. But, short of picking up the stupid ball and lobbing it back onto the fairway, she didn’t know what else to do and she didn’t want to start off her marriage by cheating.
She fought back angry tears and swung for the seventh time. The club hit five inches behind the golf ball and buried itself in the sand. The ball hopped forward two feet and rolled back three, right into a sandy divot.
That was it. Callie’s knees buckled. She couldn’t breath she was so mad. All she could do was hate the grenade of a ball that was threatening her marriage. That last shot had pulled the pin. She’d have tell her husband the truth, that she couldn’t put herself through the misery of even one more hole of this idiot game and that he’d better say goodbye to all their happy fantasies about retiring together on a golf course in Arizona. She shuddered. Arizona was a desert. All that sand…
Callie gave up and reached down to pick up her ball, but all her hand came up with was a fist-full of sand.
“Great, just great,” she muttered to herself as she kicked at the spot where she knew the ball had to be. A dime-sized patch of dimpled white showed through. Callie dug her hand into the sand again. For the second time, she came up with nothing. She swore, squatted down, and started digging in earnest. This was too much; the ball couldn’t just disappear.
Suddenly, her left hand punched though into open space. She pulled back. There was a fist sized hole in the wet sand with nothing but cold empty air behind it. As she watched, the hole’s diameter began to widen, slowly at first, then faster and faster, its sandy sides pouring into the blackness below. She jumped back, but it was too late, the ground under Callie’s golf shoes dissolved and she fell headlong into the dark.
When you open your eyes, and you’re face to face with the devil, you don’t always know it right away.
All Callie saw were ten pale toes on the other side of the deep sandy cave she’d fallen into. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she saw the toes were attached to two long veiny feet. Slowly, the whole shape of a lanky near naked man appeared across from her. He was sitting hunched over, shivering violently, with his arms wrapped tightly around his bony knees. He had long graying curls that might have been golden once, but now hung limply around a pointed face who’s only sign of age was a single deep furrow between angled eyebrows. The furrow deepened as the man’s black eyes narrowed and focused on Callie.
The man had wings. They were full, white feathered, and beautiful. But he was letting them droop uselessly at his shoulders. Why, Callie wondered, didn’t he wrap them around himself to keep warm? She could see goose-bumps on the man’s thin calves. Callie didn’t question how or why the wings existed. When you’re face to face with the devil, you may not know it right away, but you figure it out pretty quick.
“Look,” said the devil, through loudly chattering teeth, “I don’t want to be here anymore than you do, so let’s just get this over with.” He was in a foul mood.
“Get what over with?” asked Callie.
“I know you’re not the sharpest tool in the shed, Callie Ferguson, but don’t play dumb with me. You know why you’re here.” The cold was irritating the devil’s sinuses, making his voice nasal and pinched.
Callie looked around at where “here” was. Except for the hole she’d fallen through, far above her head, there was no way out of the circular, sandy walled, cave. She was trapped. But as far as evil overlords went, Callie figured things could have been a lot worse. Maybe it was the devil’s all too human goose-bumps that made him, frankly, less than intimidating, or the fact that Callie felt she would almost certainly beat him in an arm wrestle.
She looked down. The cave floor was littered with dozens of what Callie first thought were eggs, then realized were golf balls. Some were yellowing with age and some looked almost fresh out of their packages. She wondered which one was hers. Her husband had marked eight of them for her that morning with Sharpie smiley faces, and she was down to her last one.
“Hey, pay attention,” said the devil. He snapped his fingers and Callie’s neck muscles jerked her head back to face him. “I don’t have all day to waste hand holding you through this. I thought everyone knew by now that bunkers are portals to Hell. How else do you think I find so many businessmen and politicians. You thought it was a coincidence that CEOs and Presidents play golf? Please. They’re just getting down to scratch while they wait for me to give them their big break. Convenient for me, convenient for them, no complaints on either side – except for the damn cold!”
A droplet of clear liquid had been collecting under his nose while he spoke. He sniffed it back, then gave Callie an odd look. She recognized it right away. The devil sneezed. It was the weakest, mousiest, sneeze Callie had ever heard. She was a little disappointed.
She’d never believed in the devil and now that she had to, being face to face with him in the flesh, she didn’t see what all the fuss was about. He was rude, no arguing that, and cranky, but without all the fire and brimstone, what was the big deal?
“What do want with me?” asked Callie. She couldn’t help enjoying the fact that, for once in her life, she wasn’t the one with the chill. She was actually quite toasty in her short-sleeve polo and cotton capris.
“You really are a moron, aren’t you,” said the devil.
Callie’s head nodded under his control. She didn’t like that at all. The devil chuckled. Callie didn’t laugh.
“Oh com’on, lighten up.” The devil had a smile on his strangely boyish lips. “I wouldn’t be the devil if I wasn’t a bit of a bastard. You want to know what the deal is? I’ll tell you. I’ll make you an Annika, a Nancy, a Michelle Wie, whatever you want, with all the trimmings. Doesn’t even have to be golf; just say the word.”
“For my soul?” asked Callie.
“There you go, honey. You’re catching on.” His shivering was getting steadily worse and the chattering had become almost constant. He could tell he wasn’t impressing the woman across from him. But he knew the drill. Skeptics always needed the circus.
The devil leaned forward and a narrow fissure opened in the cave floor. A surge of vivid red heat shot up to the roof. Callie covered her face with her hands. Her bare shins felt like they were going to catch fire.
“Watch this,” said the devil.
A space forced open between two of Callie’s fingers and she saw him pick out one of oldest looking golf balls and drop it neatly into the fissure. Spits of flame welcomed it, and the soul it represented, home.
“Doesn’t that look cozy?” he said, sitting back on his haunches with his arms stretched out into the fire.
Callie watched his shivers disappear as he warmed himself over the slowly closing crack. His hands glowed like hot steel and the tips of his wings scorched black, filling the cave with the smell of burnt feathers. Callie started coughing. She had to admit he was more intimidating with Hell in the room, but even so, she thought his sales pitch could use some work.
“Why don’t you just wrap your wings around you, if you’re so cold?” she asked boldly.
The devil laughed. As Callie watched, the blackened feathers turned to ash and were replaced almost instantly with soft white new ones.
“Wouldn’t that be darling,” said the devil, “poor fallen Lucifer cuddling himself in God’s arms, how cute. You won’t catch me playing into his hands so easily. I didn’t jump for nothing, you know. You wouldn’t believe how many little things down there with teeth I’ve let have a go at these wings. They just keep growing back, even when I get them down all the way to the stumps.” He saw her horrified expression and quickly got back to business. “But this is about you, not me. So, what’s it going to be?”
“No thanks.” It wasn’t like Callie had to think about it.
“You sure? It’s really not so bad down there.”
Callie thought of the heat and all those little things with teeth.
“Your husband would love you forever,” said the devil. “He’d be so proud, and you could give him the life he’s always wanted.”
“No,” said Callie. “I’m sure.”
The devil shrugged his shoulders. His wings bobbed. “Suit yourself. It’s not like it matters. I was just trying to cut you a break. You know you’re already mine anyway. I saw you up there in that sand trap, and I heard you. Why do you think I showed up? I’ve got to tell you, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen so much hate and despair and anger. You were all set to march over and break your husband’s heart. After what? One round? You call that love? And why do think you always have a chill? You know what I’m talking about, in air-conditioned malls, in any bit of wind. The extra blanket doesn’t help at night, does it? You’ve been mine for years.”
Callie stared at him. She opened her mouth to argue, but nothing came out. Was he controlling her tongue now too?
“Let me tell you about love,” said the devil. “What if I told you I could make your husband a Tiger. We both know it’s his one impossible dream. And it’s the only thing you can’t give him. If you really love him, I can make it happen.”
Callie shivered suddenly. The devil’s black eyes locked with hers. She couldn’t turn away and her eyelids refused to blink. They were frozen stiff in his power.
“Which ball is Tiger’s,” she whispered. It didn’t sound like her voice, and she hadn’t meant to say it out loud.
“You really don’t know anything about love, do you. Tiger never had a ball here. But the one that used to be right there?” The devil pointed to a tiny depression in the sand, almost hidden in the shadow of his left heel. “That was his father’s. Why else do you think Tiger cried at the Masters? He had to have known. That’s what real love is. I loved myself, so I jumped. You say you love your husband, so now it’s your turn.”
For half a second he almost had her. Then the devil got greedy.
“Besides,” he said, “it’s not like you’re giving anything up; you don’t even believe in God.”
As soon as he said it, the devil knew he’d lost the sale. Callie could feel him pulling at her muscles, even at the neurons in her brain, but there was nothing he could do to stop this new thought that was pushing back.
Callie blinked. The spell was broken.
“You’re right,” she said. “I didn’t. But now, I guess I have to.”
The furrow between the devil’s brows spread right up to his hairline. He growled and pouted and kicked his feet in the sand. He’d convinced her to sell her soul, but to someone else.
“Can I have my ball back?” she asked.
A smiley faced dimpled ball came whizzing at her and she caught it out of the air.
Callie set up over her ball for her seventh attempt to escape the sand trap. As she was bringing back her club, she heard her name, and stopped. Her husband’s familiar face appeared over the grassy lip.
“You’re still in here?” he asked, gasping. He was out of breath from running back with his clubs to check on her. “I was getting worried. I know bunkers can be pretty hellish for beginners. Are you Ok?”
Callie smiled up at her new husband. All she felt was love.
“Honestly,” she said sheepishly, “this game’s driving me crazy.”
He laughed as he jumped down beside her and wrapped her in his arms.
“Great,” he said, “you’re more of a golfer than I thought.”