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Thursday, November 11, 2021

"Bargaining Power" • by Mary Berman


The worst thing about being an apprentice had to be negotiating with the demons.

Here Tony was, clinging to a hunk of flotsam, saltwater already erasing the bloody pentagram he’d hastily streaked into the wood, the waterlogged bodies of the ship’s crew swirling about, and the demon prince he’d summoned to his rescue said regretfully, “I just don’t think that’s a sufficiently low-level task.”

“I didn’t hire you for a low-level task. If I wanted my laundry done I’d have summoned an imp, not a Prince of Hell.”

“Well... grandiose feats of dark magic grow tedious after a while, you know? Everlasting riches this, three wishes that. So in the past few centuries I’ve switched to menial chores. There’s a bit of novelty in it. You’re sure you haven’t got any laundry?”

“I,” Tony said, “am drowning.”

“Ah, yes. Well, there’s nothing for it. I can’t go back to the big stuff now, or soon everyone will be insisting I construct cities for them and murder their ex-wives and whatnot and then I’ll never hear the end of it. Farewell!” The demon shimmered, abruptly transparent.

“Wait!” Tony shouted. “Listen—there’s no job more menial than that of a magician’s apprentice. You’re always running out at four in the morning to buy more powdered wyvern wing, and getting experimented on until you’re covered in boils, and being shouted at all the while. Plus, there’s all the laundry you could dream of. ”

The demon solidified, its fanged mouth pinched doubtfully. “So?”

“I have an idea.”


A moment later Tony materialized in the center of a pool of lava, perched upon an enormous throne, the saltwater on his skin already evaporating. He grinned and wondered which the demon would find worse—drowning, or apprenticeship.

Tony’s money was on the latter.

¤      ¤      ¤



Mary Berman is a Philadelphia-based writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. She earned her MFA in fiction from the University of Mississippi, and her work has been published in Fireside, Daily Science Fiction, Weird Horror, and elsewhere. In her spare time, she takes fitness classes and antagonizes her cat. Find her online at






1 comment:

Pete Wood said...

I think I speak for everybody when I say that we want more photos of this cat.
Make it happen, Bruce.