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Loophole

5.09.06

by Eric James Stone

Click here for a printable PDF version

Archie’s grip tightened on the wheel as they continued along the driveway. They’d already come at least half a mile on the gravel between perfectly trimmed hedges, and there was no end in sight.

“Uh, honey? How much further is it?” He glanced over at Misty, who was checking her flawless face in the sun-visor mirror.

“Only another mile or so.” She flipped the visor up. “I should have warned you. I’d forgotten how intimidating this place can be.”

“I’m not intimidated.” Again he glanced at her, and saw her amused smile. “OK, so maybe I am, a little. It’s just that I had no idea your parents were so wealthy.”

Misty sighed contentedly. “I know. Just one of the reasons I love you.”

Finally the hedges widened out, and they could see the stately mansion rising before them. Dozens of expensive cars — Ferraris, Rolls Royces, makes he didn’t even recognize — were parked in front.

Archie parked their Honda Accord next to a black limousine and turned the engine off.

“I thought you said this was just a little family get-together for your dad’s birthday.”

Misty bit her lower lip. “I’m sorry, Archie. I’ve been meaning to explain everything to you, but I kept putting it off and putting it off.

“Explain what?”

“My family. We’re . . . My family’s not . . . normal.”

“OK, so you’re filthy rich, and you throw big parties. Anything else I should know?” He tried to sound flip, but he was a bit shaken by the fact that he knew so little about the woman he’d married two months ago.

“Please don’t be mad at me. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell you everything before. But now I have to.”

“I’m not mad at you, honey. It’s just . . . I’m a small-town Idaho farm boy. I’m not used to ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.’”

“That’s not it.” She sounded like she was trying to stop herself from crying. “Look, my family, we’re not exactly human.”

Archie laughed. “I feel that way about my family sometimes.”

“No, I’m serious. We are not human. I’m not human.”

“What, you’re aliens? Here from another world, wearing human forms to fit in? That’s so . . .” He tried to think of a good word to use, but his mind came up empty.

“No. We’re demons.”

“Demons?” Archie blinked a few times in rapid succession.

She nodded, her sky-blue eyes glistening. “Demons.”

“Demons.” He bobbed his head a little. “As in evil creatures from . . . ?” He caught himself before he said “Heck,” but couldn’t bring himself to call it “Hell.” The ingrained habits from his Mormon upbringing still had power.

“It’s not like we’re all evil. We’re just part of an earlier Creation. I’m not evil, honey, I promise.”

“Of course you’re not.” Crazy she might be, but she couldn’t be evil. He should have known there was something wrong when she didn’t want to have any of her family at the wedding reception. She’d said it was because they didn’t approve of her having become a Mormon.

Demons. Well, he’d just have to humor her until he could try to get her on medication or something. “OK, I’ll try to keep this whole demon thing in mind as I meet your family. I do hope I’m not the human sacrifice that you’re bringing to your dad as a birthday present?”

“No, no, nothing like that. As long as you’re my husband, they won’t harm you.” She paused. “I think. Maybe I should go in alone first to tell them.”

Archie widened his eyes in surprise. “You haven’t told them we’re married?”

“Actually, I haven’t spoken to my family in about three years. We had kind of a falling out. That’s when I decided to go to college, which was a good thing, because that’s how I met you.” She looked at him hesitantly.

Obviously she needed reassurance that he still loved her. He still did, so he leaned over and kissed her. “A very good thing.”

She smiled.

Pages: 1 2 3

24 Responses to Loophole

  1. William Morris

    I apologize — I forgot to add an editor’s note.

    Editor’s note for “Loophole”: Comments are open to everything, including sentence-level edits.

  2. Ryan Bell

    Nice work, Eric. Your writing has the polish of an experienced writer. It seems clear that you are more interested in story-telling than showing off, obviously a good thing, and a place I’d like to get to.

    I love your treatment of demons. While in a longer treatment, a writer might spend more time on descriptions and setting up their world and the rules that govern them, you didn’t waste time on that here, which I think is a very good choice. They are a very normal part of the normal world, mostly taken for granted. That made this a compelling read, since I didn’t have to waste my time learning the minutia of these creatures, but got to see their characterizations instead.

    I think there was one problem with the story, that being suspension of disbelief. No, I didn’t have any problem believing in the demons, which I believe you pulled off well. My difficulty was in believing that Archie was just learning about this family for the very first time. He was coming to their house barely acquainted with the fact that they’re rich, and had never had an inkling about them– not only that they were demons, but anything at all. The fact that Misty chose the moment they pulled up in the driveway to unload everything on him, and was still tossing off instructions as they were walking into the dining room took me out of the story. I understand it’s a narrative choice– to have all the information conveyed within the very short spn of the story, but I wonder if there’s some way around that. I thought it was just not that realistic for so loving a couple to be doing this for the first time as they walk in the door. Maybe that’s just me.

    Then again, I know almost nothing about writing, so maybe I’m off on this. As a whole, I thought this was great, and loved the eternal sealing angle. Very cool to work a gospel concept in as a plot point to a speculative work. In so short a story, too, the characters, especially Archie, were well drawn.

  3. J. Stapley

    This was a very fun read. Thanks. I have always toyed with the idea of immortals in mundanity. John the beloved. The wondering Jew. The three nephites. Good stuff. I really like the idea of demons, their early creation and a myhtology of contracts.

    I must admit that I wish that the demon didn’t grow and turn in to a big red thing with claws. I didn’t want them to be cartoonish. I also think about archie. I think his first reaction would be to want to raise his hand to the square and start casting. It would be interesting to see his inner struggle in fighting that urge for the love of his wife.

  4. Johnna

    “It’s not like he has horns growing out of his head” What a great payoff!

  5. William Morris

    This story is not long on characterization, but I like it because it is fun. It hearkens back to when these types of quick stories that revolved around a clever idea were valued more than I think they are now.

    I like such stories.

    It also reminds me a bit of Parley P. Pratt’s “A Dialogue Between Joseph Smith and the Devil” in that the story centers on how Mormon doctrine confounds the demonic because if brings new, “better” truths to bear on life, and it does so with humour. Indeed, the dialogue is generally considered the first work of Mormon fiction.

  6. Elisabeth

    Hey, this is a great story!

    One question I have is why would the demons honor a weird Mormon marriage contract? Seems like that adhering to contracts a significant handicap to the demons’ power. All you have to say is, “Oh, I made a contract about [insert your favorite temptation here], you can’t touch me now!”

  7. William Morris

    I would imagine that demons have developed an elaborate code related to contracts because their society required it for various reasons. ;-)

  8. Eric James Stone

    I want to thank everyone for their comments so far. I’m glad readers are finding it enjoyable.

    > One question I have is why would the demons honor a weird Mormon marriage contract?
    > Seems like that adhering to contracts a significant handicap to the demons’ power. All you
    > have to say is, “Oh, I made a contract about [insert your favorite temptation here], you
    > can’t touch me now!”

    William’s response is correct. Allow me to elaborate.

    One of the things I reasoned out as part of the background worldbuilding for this story is that demons must have rules about contracts — at least for contracts involving demons. (And please understand that the following discussion is not to be taken as a serious exposition of LDS theology related to demons.)

    Consider things from the point of view of your average evil demon who’s out buying souls in exchange for wealth, fame, power, etc. The demon always delivers on his end of the bargain, at least technically fulfilling the contract even if the result is not what the human really wanted.

    But why does the demon fulfill the contract? Why not just renege on the deal and take the soul anyway? After all, he’s an evil demon, and that would be an evil thing to do.

    However, the demons aren’t the only players. Let’s say an angel comes along and wants to take the soul to heaven. If the demon reneged on the deal, he can’t really claim the soul belongs to him. But with a contract for the soul, the demon can say, “This human made a contract of his own free will, so this soul is mine. Taking the soul from me would violate free will.”

    Unless demons respect the contracts they make, there is no reason for the angels to respect them. That is why demons consider contracts to be inviolate.

    Of course, that only applies to contracts where a demon is a party, so they are free to tempt humans to violate contracts. But since Misty is a demon, other demons must respect her marriage contract.

  9. Elisabeth

    Thanks for the explanation – that makes sense. Along these lines – in another story – the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan had to be sacrificed to honor the “contract” Edmund made with the White Witch. But at the end, Edmund was freed from the contract, and became a mighty warrior for good. Even if you choose to make a deal with a demon, there seems to always be an “out” for the human to turn to the Lord or Aslan or [insert mythical savior creature] to void the contract and start over again – regardless of whether the demon lived up to his (or her) part of the bargain. Of course, this doesn’t have much to do with your story, Eric – it just got me thinking. Thanks!

  10. Jonathan Green

    Eric, this is a fantastic story. I enjoyed it. It made me laugh more than once.

    My only technical quibble is with the opening; after the first paragraph, I assumed the pair was walking (a half mile is a long walk but a short drive), and I totally missed the implication of the sun visor in the second paragraph, since “sun visor” is not a word that instantly makes me think of “car”, and I try to ignore anything that any fictional character sees in a mirror. (But what do demons see when they look in a mirror, anyway?) So it was a bit jarring when Archie parked the Honda; where did it come from? I had to re-read from the beginning to figure it out.

  11. annegb

    Hey, Ryan, do you live in St. George? Sorry for the threadjack.

    This story made me laugh, especially “do you want to know more?”

    Is this satire? Because I didn’t take it seriously, just enjoyed the inter-play.

  12. Ryan Bell

    No, Anne, I live in Salt Lake. But I travel to St. George frequently for my work. I’ve pretty much come to think of it as a boring, lonely place because that’s how everything is when you’re traveling for work.

  13. annegb

    Well, give me a call and I’ll take you for a hamburger. Do you drive here?

    gardnera@netutah.com

  14. Steve Evans

    let me be the first to say it: the recent comments feature rules! Thanks William for setting it up.

  15. William Morris

    The thanks goes to J. Stapley who wrote the loverly plug-in that makes it possible.

  16. S. P. Bailey

    I enjoyed your story, Eric.

    Did you consider leaving some ambiguity regarding the the family’s demon identity? Archie wonders whether Misty and her family are simply nuts. Did you consider telling in the story in a way that Archie might leave his in-laws home still uncertain? He might think to himself: I’m glad I came to an understanding with my father-in-law. But is he really a demon? Or just a kook? This has the virtue of keeping one source of tension in the story alive. And it might be fun to plant various clues going both ways throughout the story.

  17. Edje

    [This is my first substantive critique here, so... please insert the usual beggings of license, disclaimers of inadequacy and benignity of intent, apologies for going long, etc, etc, etc...]

    Great story. I laughed when I read it. I laughed when I thought about it later that evening. I laughed when I thought about it this morning brushing my teeth. I’m not sure whether I like it more as a simple story about demons and mormons or as a metaphorical description of meeting intimidating in-laws. I like that it suggests the dual interpretation (even if I later decide that only one works). Did I mention it made me laugh?

    I have, however, a mild concern about characterization: the four main speakers (including the narrator) sound like the same person. Since they say so little we don’t have time for subtle differences to emerge. However, I think a few small changes in Misty and the Dad could make the personalities stand out a little more.

    Daddy Demon
    I imagine the father as being very experienced and world wise (something about being in the business of facilitating damnations since the days of Adam–or have I misunderstood the demonology?) and exceedingly good with words (so that he can negotiate all those nasty contracts). I think he would be more concise–he wouldn’t say anything that didn’t help him get what he wanted. For example, when he goes to kill Archie he says: “Every contract has a loophole. Marriage especially. ‘Till death do us part.’ And I have a feeling death will be parting you two very soon.” I think it could be tweaked to say: “Every contract has a loophole. This one’s is, ‘Till death do us part.’ Death will part you shortly.” Or a few lines earlier, “We’ll see about that” could become, “We’ll see.”

    Another point on Dad’s language, and this leans harder on the demonology: I don’t think he would call Archie a “mortal” but would use a more demon-centric term. If the demons are from an earlier creation and are immortal then their “culture” is older than ours and presumably has more historical continuity (even if they aren’t immortal the point still holds). The mortal/immortal distinction defines demons as a negation: not-human. Since they have an older, presumably continuous, culture they would have had a word describing themselves and then when Adam showed up they would have called humans not-[whatever their word was]. I’m not sure how this translates to modern English. “Un-eternal” sounds silly and forced. “Son of Adam” a la CS Lewis (in Narnia) might do the trick. I don’t have any other suggestions along this line, but “mortal” bounced wrong for me.

    I have another problem with “mortal”: it isn’t derisive enough. Demons are in the business of metaphysical genocide (or xenocide, to borrow a term from Card). For humans, genocide requires creating a separation, usually emphasized and enhanced with derogatory language. I presume (I’m doing lots of presuming; sorry) Demons have a similar linguistic psychology and have derogatory names for humans that help create distance between the demons and the millions of souls they send to roast in Hell. “Meatbag” or “mudmeat” might do the trick (I assume that since the demons can shape-shift that they do not have “flesh” as we understand it). Or, maybe you could take another page from Lewis and invent a word or two, like in Screwtape Letters.

    One other thing about Daddy Demon: This is a chap who damns people for fun and money. When he joshes Archie about wine he’s going to enjoy it a bit more–let him dangle on the hook a little longer. As it is, it sounds like he’s suddenly transformed into an insecure middle-aged man who is anxious to help a new son-in-law fit in. I think his humor would have more teeth. Thus, I would alter the last two paragraphs something to the effect of…

    “Well, come sit down. Have some food. A little wine maybe?” At Archie’s violent shake of the head, he said, “I’m kidding. You’ll have to get used to that, son. ¶He turned to the guests at the table. “Well, what are you all staring at?”

    “…shake of the head, he erupted in raucous laughter and pounded him on the shoulder until he suddenly turned to the guests…” [as usual, I suggest these words to convey the idea; my prose itself leaves much to be desired; those who can't write critique, right?]

    One last, random, thing on Daddy (having nothing to do with characterization): I think you could tighten up the wording of the demon-transformation paragraph and increase the dramatic tension, while at the same time increasing the humor of noticing the teeth in the “confirmatory” way.

    Thus, “With that, he grew to about twelve feet in height, and his skin turned an angry shade of crimson. Black claws extended several inches from the tips of his fingers. He strode forward, and as he got closer Archie could see that, yes, those teeth were sharp.”

    becomes something like: “With that, he grew about six feet taller. His skin turned an angry crimson. Long, black claws shot from his fingers. He strode forward, and as he got closer Archie could see that, yes, those teeth were, indeed, quite sharp.”

    Mistophala
    Her name is great–the transposition and (latin) feminization of Mephistopheles is fantastic in that it makes us instantly think “demonic” and the Misty/Mistophala switch helps bridge the two worlds.

    Misty sounds scared to me up until the point when she should be most scared, and then she suddenly sounds cool and legalistic. Just after Daddy Demon threatens (implied) to kill her dearly beloved (roars, grows taller, “We’ll see about that”), she says, “You know the rules, Dad. A contract is inviolate, and marriage is a form of contract. As long as he and I keep the contract, you can’t break it.” I imagine her as being stressed and scared and talking faster and faster without pauses or breaths, trying to finish before he explodes and cuts her off or cuts him in half. Thus, I expect fewer words and no punctuation, e.g.: “You know the rules Daddy that contracts are sacred and marriage is a contract and as long as we keep it you can’t break it.” [I presume (there I go again) that "sacred" here would not have a religious overtone beyond the Durkheimian, "not-profane"; I think it's better than "inviolate" because it has fewer syllables and is a more natural word choice when you're (I'm?) scared.]

    I think Misty should call her father “Daddy” because she is pleading in an asymmetric relationship and she is desperate and will play any card she has. He has almost all the power: he is willing and capable of killing Archie–would probably enjoy it; she wants to be re-accepted into the family and only he can offer that. The only card she has is the I’m-your-cute-little-she-devil-darling-so-gimme-what-I-want look that is known to soften Daddies, both demon and human, everywhere. The contract isn’t a “playing card”–it only secures Archie’s family-membership as a technicality; she is pleading for their acceptance and inclusion. Further, we need to feel that the demons are, well, “human” in their family relationships–that Daddy Demon really does have feelings for his daughter that will enable him to look past his disgust at her husband, instead of, as Lewis wrote in the intro to Screwtape, being just as happy to destroy her as he would be to destroy him–and I think this helps.

    Besides, I think calling a twelve-foot, angry-crimson, black-dagger-fingered demon, “Daddy,” is funny.

    That’s all for today. Thanks for the story. I liked it. Double thanks for letting me pontificate on it, and in public at that.

  18. Edje

    Wow. That was longer than I thought. What are the rules of thumb on comment length?

  19. William Morris

    Eric said he welcomes all types of comments. Comment length should be whatever length you need in order to convey your response. But I’d say if the comment is longer than the story, it might be too long.
    :-)

  20. annegb

    Edje, I think your comments were pretty good.

  21. Eric James Stone

    I want to thank everyone who’s taken the time to read my story, with extra thanks to those who have commented and given feedback. A lot of great insights.

  22. JKS

    Great story! I loved it.

  23. Scott Parkin

    Late to the game, but here are a couple of comments anyway.

    I was very entertained by this. A fun, quick-hitting piece that understands itself and succeeds on its own terms. Nicely done. Do you have a publisher in mind, or is this just an exercise?

    If I were to nitpick (which I’m clearly about to do), I would get to the premise just a tad quicker. This story’s humor comes from the absurdity of the situation, and I think your first couple of paragraphs could be cut in half to enable that.

    Along the same lines, my credulity was strained quite a bit by his utter cluelessness that something was wrong with her family. He’s never met the parents or any of her relatives up to this point—that fact has become abundantly clear over the last six months, and he must certainly have formulated some fairly detailed opinions on the matter. I suspect he’s repeatedly asked her about it and she has deflected him with some vague excuses that have not really fooled him. He’s respected her secret, but has certainly come to some fairly strong (if misguided) ideas of what her family must be like for her to be so disconnected from them and/or rejected by them.

    Rather than having him clueless, I would let him express some of these well-considered opinions, whether out loud or as internal monologue. Let him be surprised by the truth, but not by the fact that there’s something very, very odd about her family. After all, she got married in the temple with absolutely no presence (or presents) from her family—I guarantee he’s thought about how odd, and possibly tragic, that is.

    At the risk of taking this fun story too seriously, the one question that kept niggling at my mind was how she was able to get all this past the Church/temple administrators without her husband being let in on the secret. Did she simply lie to get past all the interviews (presuming that Heaven itself would allow that and not eject her from the temple)? Did she get a special dispensation? How is it that he was not informed?

    I wouldn’t bog the story down too much answering these kinds of questions, but a line or two that acknowledges the question and gives the LDS reader some answer would be useful. At the very least it shows the reader that you considered it and created some kind of (semi) plausible solution so they don’t dwell on the question (as I did).

    Otherwise, I thought this was quite good. I have no idea where you can sell this, but I like the effort and wish you luck with it.

  24. Mike

    HI! I’m really “Johnnie come lately” on this. I enjoyed this story very much. Which means I won’t do much or any critique.
    I initially thought that this was the “come-on” to a longer story or novel. Which means I want more and a longer story. There seem to be a lot of possiblilities to lengthen this story. (just so long as it doesn’t become a “BeWitched or I Dream of Jeanie” kind of thing.
    I’m related to 1/2 the state of Utah as my mother came from Teasdale-Wayne County so I was pleasantly surprised about the Mormon references.