Top Fictional Faustian Bargains and an Exclusive 'We Sold Our Souls' Excerpt
Now he's back with We Sold Our Souls, about a ’90s heavy metal band that broke up when its lead singer went off to find fame and fortune as a solo act. Now working as realtors and hotel receptionists, his former bandmates discover that his success came at the price of their souls. In honor of this deal with the devil, Hendrix is recommending five more books about Faustian bargains.
"It’s been since 1937’s The Devil and Daniel Webster that a fictional character has literally sold their soul to the actual devil, but in these five books, normal people become monsters when they take the devil’s bargain: trading what makes them human for something that seemed important at the time but turns out to be nothing more than a mirage," says Hendrix.
"A small New England farming community is promised progress if they give a mysterious stranger whatever old junk they have lying around so he can auction it off to support the police department. Before you can say 'Faust!' the one-man police department has become a private army and the cowed citizens are turning on each other and sacrificing their children on the auctioneer’s block."
"Milquetoast presidential candidate Hunter Peale strikes a bargain with Satan: He’ll let the double-donged dark lord possess his body if he wins the presidency. Preaching fear, hate, and a military that’ll stomp America’s enemies into submission, Peale winds up in the Oval Office, and only a last-minute exorcism by the Pope saves humanity from nuclear annihilation."
"There’s nothing supernatural here. Instead, a babysitter left for two weeks to watch five children while their parents go to Europe finds herself at their mercy when they drug her and tie her up. 'It’s only a game' becomes the password to a world of torture that ends in her death, and the children get away with it, too, only to find themselves hollowed-out, soulless husks, drifting through the rest of their long and haunted lives."
"When Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show comes to town, it promises to make everyone’s deepest wishes come true. The price? You lose your sense of humor about yourself, because the ability to laugh is toxic to evil. For a book that feels as nostalgic as a brisk autumn day in New England, Something Wicked This Way Comes has a deep, deep hatred for nostalgia."
"In a radical deconstruction of H.P. Lovecraft, LaValle gives us a Harlem hustler, Tom Tester, who confronts the devil’s choice: continue to live in a world defined by white supremacy, or unleash the dark Elder Gods who will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. In the end he makes the only choice possible, and it’s a testament to the book’s power that readers understand why he’s willing to lose not just his soul, but the souls of the 6 billion inhabitants of our planet."
Her wrists were bony and weak. The E, B, and G strings sliced her fingertips open. The Musicmaster bruised her ribs where she leaned over it. She wrapped a claw around the guitar’s neck and pressed her sore index finger on A, her third finger on D, her fourth finger on G, raked her pick down the strings, and suddenly the same sound came out of her amp that had come out of Tony Iommi’s amp. The same chord 100,000 people heard in Philly was right there in the basement with her.
She played the chord again. It was the only bright thing in the dingy basement with its single 40-watt bulb and dirty windows. If Kris could play enough of these, in the right order, without stopping, she could block out everything: the dirty snow that never melted, closets full of secondhand clothes, overheated classrooms at Independence High, mind-numbing lectures about the Continental Congress and ladylike behavior and the dangers of running with the wrong crowd and what x equals and how to find for y and what the third person plural for cantar is and what Holden Caulfield’s baseball glove symbolizes and what the whale symbolizes and what the green light symbolizes and what everything in the world symbolizes, because apparently nothing is what it seems, and everything is a trick.
This was too hard. Counting frets, learning the order of the strings, trying to remember which fingers went on which strings in which order, looking from her notebook to the fretboard to her hand, every chord taking an hour to play. Joan Jett didn’t look at her fingers once when she played “Do You Wanna Touch Me.” Tony Iommi watched his hands, but they were moving so fast they were liquid, nothing like Kris’s arthritic start-and-stop. It made her skin itch, it made her face cramp, it made her want to bash her guitar to pieces on the floor.
The basement was refrigerator cold. She could see her breath. Her hands were cramped into claws. Cold radiated up from the concrete floor and turned the blood inside her feet to slush. Her lower back was stuffed with sand.
She couldn’t do this.
Water gurgled through the pipes as her mom washed dishes upstairs, while her dad’s voice sifted down through the floorboards reciting an endless list of complaints. Wild muffled thumps shook dust from the ceiling as her brothers rolled off the couch, punching each other over what to watch on TV. From the kitchen, her dad yelled, “Don’t make me come in there!” The house was a big black mountain, pressing down on Kris, forcing her head into the dirt.
Kris put her fingers on the second fret, strummed, and while the string was still vibrating, before she could think, Kris slid her hand down to the fifth fret, flicked the strings twice, then instantly slid her hand to the seventh fret and strummed it twice, and she wasn’t stopping, her wrist ached but she dragged it down to ten, then twelve, racing to keep up with the riff she heard inside her head, the riff she’d listened to on Sabbath’s second album over and over again, the riff she played in her head as she walked to McNutt’s, as she sat in algebra class, as she lay in bed at night. The riff that said they all underestimated her, they didn’t know what she had inside, they didn’t know that she could destroy them all.
And suddenly, for one moment, “Iron Man” was in the basement. She’d played it to an audience of no one, but it had sounded exactly the same as it did on the album. The music vibrated in every atom of her being. You could cut her open and look at her through a microscope and Kris Pulaski would be “Iron Man” all the way down to her DNA.
Her left wrist throbbed, her fingertips were raw, her back hurt, the tips of her hair were frozen, and her mom never smiled, and once a week her dad searched her room, and her older brother said he was dropping out of college to join the army, and her little brother stole her underwear when she didn’t lock her bedroom door, and this was too hard, and everyone was going to laugh at her.
But she could do this.
Frozen in the right-hand lane of US-22, Kris stared up at what loomed on the horizon and felt her spit turn thin and bitter. Her breath got fast and high in her chest as she witnessed the hideous thing rising over Gurner, sprung up overnight like some dark tower from The Lord of the Rings.
The Blind King was back, staring down at her from the massive billboard with his black, pupil-less eyes. In Gothic font, the billboard read:
KOFFIN — BACK FROM THE GRAVE
Beneath it was a photo of the Blind King. A brutal spiked crown was nailed to his head. Black blood streamed down his face. The digital retouchers made sure he hadn’t aged a day. Across the bottom it read:
FINAL FIVE CONCERTS MAY 30–JUNE 8, LA, LV, SF
Kris stared up at the Blind King, and her guts turned to water. He was vivid. He was legion. Made up of lawyers and accountants and session musicians and songwriters, a colossus that could be seen from space. In contrast, she was puny and small, and stood in the empty lobby of the Best Western, seeing herself reflected in the glass doors, a shadow in navy slacks, nametag pinned to her vest, smiling at people as they ground out their hate on the ashtray of her face.
In the dark storeroom at the back of her brain, the overloaded racks tipped forward and the packages slid to the edge of their shelves, and she scrambled to push them back up. Her hands started to shake, and the world lurched and spun around her, and then Kris stood on the gas, and hauled ass, desperate to get to the toilet before she threw up, yanking her dad’s Grand Marquis onto Bovino Street, taking a right at Jamal’s Sunshine Market, plowing through the Saint Street Swamp.
Back here, abandoned houses vomited green vines all over themselves. Yards gnawed away at the sidewalks. Raccoons slept in collapsed basements and generations of possums bred in unoccupied master bedrooms. Closer to Bovino, Hispanic families were moving into the old two-story row homes and hanging Puerto Rican flags in their windows, but farther in they called it the Saint Street Swamp because if you were in this deep, you were never getting out. The only people living on St. Nestor and St. Kirill were either too old to move, or Kris.
She slammed into park in front of the house where she grew up and ran up the brick porch jammed onto the sagging facade, put her key in the lock, banged the water-warped door open with one hip, and bit her tongue to keep herself from calling out, “I’m home.”
Buy your mom a house. That was the rock-star dream. Kris had been so proud the day she’d signed the paperwork. Hadn’t even looked at it, just scrawled her signature across the bottom, never thinking one day she’d wind up living back here. She ran down the same front hall where her nineteen-year-old self had once stormed out, soft case in one hand, screaming at her mom and dad that just because they were scared of the world she didn’t have to be. Then Kris slammed open the fridge door and let the cool air dry her sweat.
She uncapped a green bottle with a brisk hiss. She needed to slow down for a second. The billboard had her too jacked up. She wanted to go online and get details, but she knew the most important thing already: the Blind King was back.
Excerpted from We Sold Our Souls: A Novel by Grady Hendrix. Reprinted with permission from Quirk Books.
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