Devil of a Deal
If I were forced to give up one sense for super-acuity in another, which would I choose for advancement and which—dear God, which—would I sign away as a handicap, dead to me and gone?
“A gift, you say?” I said. “This is not a gift—it is a punishment!”
The devil tapped his foot with some impatience.
“Call it a cost,” said he. “You’ve got here thanks to your books and thinking, into a dimension well out of your space and time; and now you have got to get out. Be happy you leave with your life. But no trip to Hell is made without a lasting impression. Now what will it be? Blindness in exchange for the sensory apparatus of a bat? Taste for the nose of a bloodhound?”
This was a tortuous question.
I had considered at length and with as much objectivity as the individual can when less relies on common sense than on what the heart can endure, and must endure, for the sake of Life. My main point must be, what do I enjoy that I must at all costs preserve at the expense of some lesser—lesser!—ability. I am so far as I am able, a writer, an artist. As a writer and artist the sense of Sight seems primary to my pastimes of reading, writing, and drawing.
Why, then, did Sight seem the most bearable to lose? And what is it in the traditional five—Sight, Smell, Taste, Touch, and Hearing—that the idea of losing even one can make the mind freeze and hesitate? I froze and hesitated, and tried the devil’s patience above his pay grade and below his circle of torment.
“Can I try it before I decide?” I asked. “If I pick deafness for keener eyesight, or a different pair to a different pattern, can I feel it out first before it’s settled?”
The devil stared at me in astonishment. Apparently this was not routine and I had better not press it.
“In that case,” I said, “you must give me more time to think.”
“You have been thinking for two months, five days, seven hours, and fifty minutes.”
Only so long? But there was much to see, much to divert the attention of a thinking person even in one lane of confinement. Dark presentiments and shadowy dreads, the apprehension of the lone swimmer on a vast lightless lake of interminable depth, were all new to me in this sixty-day sampler of the Inferno. I could have spent an eternity there and been no less thrown than I was before.
But I have spoken of blindness.
“If you cannot see,” said the devil, “you will never set pen to paper again.”
No one would be forced to read my interminable papers on the evolution of the novel. Friends would sympathize. Enemies would triumph by default and pity me. Pity is a trial to pride; sympathy, a balm and validation.
“You couldn’t read,” said the devil. “No more books. You couldn’t enjoy pictures. No more Deviantart.”
And what in return? Heightened sensitivity to touch? A better appreciation of music to a tuned ear? But one doesn’t accept gifts from devils without discretion. I admit that I can be foolish, but I have always given due thought where it mattered. If I asked for clearer vision as my poet’s soul ardently desired (to trace the point of every star and follow the plumes and swells of every cloud), I knew the reality would lead to madness. What galaxies, what worlds would open before me, until all other senses declined in being overwhelmed by what was too incredible for one body to realize?
I dreaded too the power of the other Four. What if Touch became unbearable? I could imagine the agonies of a tepid shower. I shrank from the hot fingers of the sun and the cold breath of winter. Perhaps Taste was safe—but what if it became impossible to enjoy food, overwhelmed by a palette of flavors too diverse for digestion? Smell was out of the question.
“Have you decided?” asked the devil.
It was a predictable choice. Almost tried and true. But there is a certain comfort that.
“Yes,” I said. “You will take my sight, but let me hear so well that the practicalities of seeing are irrelevant.”
“So,” defined the devil, “you won’t be run over crossing the street?”
“Or surprised in my house.”
“Do you not think it strange,” the devil mused, “to surrender what you love for fear of losing it?”
“I have made my choice.”
“My mind is clear.”
“You have forced me to it,” I cried. “I would rather preserve my mind as it is than lose it to more activity than the eye can bear!”
“Perhaps,” said the devil. “Shut your eyes.”
I did. And in an instant I felt that it was done. I knew at once that I was on Earth—for I drew in a breath not sulfurous but warm and sweet, and felt the summer wind on my brow. But more than this, I heard—I Heard—the rush and laughter of a little stream over stone and pebble. I heard the breeze combing through the grass, the whisper of the fibrous strands. I heard the motion of the butterfly’s wing, a music all its own in rhythm and softness, and the evening song of a robin took on new meaning, a clear syllable, like the tune, the sound, the voice of Beauty.
I opened my eyes.