A struggling, feudal-era farmer is tempted with an easier, more luxurious future, but there’s a catch…
The farmer toiled away past the point of exhaustion, but it was pointless. The rains had never come, and all his crops were dying. It felt like his whole life was dying with it. This was the future of his family. This was everything.
He stared off in the direction of the setting sun down the dirt road that ran near his farm. It led to a castle in which the king and his family sat safe and secure and never worry about food. For a moment, dark thoughts entered the farmer’s head, but he shook them away. They were of no use. The royals had their own problems and he his; best to focus on himself and his family. He said a prayer that something might provide for him and his family, but he could not imagine what. The answer was just the rustling of the brown, dying plants in the callous wind.
And then there was a cry. It took a moment for the farmer to recognize it — it was that of his donkey. The fool creature was barely worth the effort it took to get it to carry a few things, but it was about all the farmer had. The farmer headed toward the sound, which led him out of his field and to a plain that was far too rocky for crops. There he found the donkey with its foot stuck between two stones. The farmer bent down and helped the donkey free its leg, nearly getting kicked in the head as thanks. He sat on the ground for a moment, watching the sky turn red. It would be dark soon. There was little more he could do. Perhaps things would seem less desperate in the morning, but it was a feeble hope.
The farmer noticed a light ahead of him. No one else lived near his farm, and few traveled out onto this empty, useless plain. He stood up and approached. He wondered if he should show more caution, but it was a small thought, and he quickened his pace. At the edge of the plain was a small hill, and in the side of the hill were a number of large rocks. Between the rocks was a glowing opening — a cave. The farmer did not recall ever seeing it before. He entered.
After a short passageway, he came to an open area lit by torches on the wall. He had no idea what this place was. Was it somehow an answer to his prayer? But then he saw something in a dark corner at the far end of the room: two yellow eyes staring back at him, not quite human. The fire light also reflected off the creature’s white teeth that formed a chilling smile. “Ah, you have come,” said a sickly sweet voice.
No, this was not an answer to a prayer. This was something else.
The farmer could see little of the creature beyond its eyes, teeth, and a faint shadow of its shape, but he knew in his heart it was a demon. He felt he should run, but something held him there, staring back at those eyes.
“You have a hard life,” said the demon. “You toil away each day just to survive one more. You serve under a lord who cares nothing for you and who would not lose a wink of sleep if your whole family were to perish, and yet he demands tribute from you.”
“This is the lot I have,” the farmer answered. “Complaining about it will not change things.”
The demon smiled again. There was no comfort in that smile. “But what if I could offer you a different way of life?”
“What different way do you know of?” the farmer asked, now wondering if he had violated one of God’s laws to even listen to this creature. Yet, again, he could not find his legs to flee.
“Very different ways, my friend.” The yellow eyes continued to lock onto the farmer. “Ways far beyond your imagining. I have seen many possible futures, and I can exchange your life here for one of them.”
“What sort of future do you speak of?” The farmer knew he was falling into a trap, but the idea of some life better than the desperate one he lived was too tempting for even him to refuse to at least hear about it.
“Right now, there are kings and lords who claim to own all the land and everything upon it,” the demon explained. “They take what they want, and nothing is truly yours. But I know of a different way. A way in which many men — all men — are allowed to own the products of their labor. And the things they build, they are free to trade with each other and keep the gains.”
“That sounds fine,” said the farmer, “but I don’t see how it leads to much.”
“Again, I said this will all be beyond your imagining,” answered the demon with a small chuckle. “You see, when people begin to trade, it encourages others to make more and find better ways of making things. It compounds and compounds until the entire world is working like one engine to produce treasures for all to consume. What I offer you is the future that comes after hundreds of years of following this path. Shall I describe it to you?”
A small voice in the farmer screamed “No!”, but it was too late. He was drawn in. He simply nodded. The creature continued.
“Instead of toiling away each day under the hot sun, you will but work a small portion of the day, seated in a room that is made warm in the winter and cool in the summer.”
“That’s impossible,” the farmer muttered.
The demon laughed. “I have not even begun to describe impossible things. They are all true. Now, for these hours spent seated in a room of comfort, you will earn such riches and such luxuries that you will make the lords of today look like paupers.”
“I will be a rich man?”
“Oh no. You will be just one of millions. What I am describing to you is considered an unremarkable life for this future. Shall I tell you more?”
Again, the farmer simply nodded.
“You will have food from all over the world brought directly to your home. You will have an abundance and variety that would choke the man who now calls himself a king. Even the poorest of your land will have a problem of too much to eat instead of too little. And no longer will you only know the land around your farm. You will own a vehicle that can take you hundreds of miles away and back within a day.”
“No horse could move that fast,” the farmer answered.
“Your imagination is still too small. There are no horses. And not only that, there are vehicles available to you that can fly. They can take you anywhere in the world in a day. You will see sights from all over this planet, and when you are done, you will return to your comfortable job working but a portion of the day. Oh, and since you will work so much less, you will need entertainment to fill your time. Countless performers are available to amuse you, summoned to your home in an instant any time you desire.”
The farmer tried to wrap his head around these ideas but couldn’t even form coherent pictures of them. “This is almost too much.”
“I’m not even done,” the demon continued. “In your pocket, you will have a device that can deliver all the knowledge in the entire world. And you can talk with anyone in the world at any time.”
Again the farmer tried to understand, but these ideas were too overwhelming. “And you say this will all happen because of people trading things?”
“Oh yes, unfettered free trade.” The demon laughed at a joke apparently only he got. “People producing and consuming and innovating and growing and consuming until all the world is filled with luxuries the rulers of this age could not even fathom.”
The farmer again considered the demon before him. He could scarcely see the creature beyond its eyes and hideous smile, but he suspected what he could not see was even worse. “And you are offering to give me this life?”
“Yes, to exchange your life here for this possible future,” the demon said.
The demon simply smiled again.
The farmer was quiet for a few seconds. “This offer sounds amazing beyond all belief, but I have a sense there is something you are not telling me.”
The demon chuckled, his laughter so cold that the farmer felt his heart nearly stop. “Yes, there is one more little thing — one little catch.”
The farmer braced himself. He knew of demons. You would never get anything from them with your soul unscathed.
“You will get everything I’ve told you,” the demon continued, “but there is one thing you need to know.” The demon’s smile somehow became even more terrible — perhaps the most terrible thing the farmer had ever seen. “In this life you will have, no matter what you do, no matter how hard you work or what you succeed at, someone vastly richer than you will become even richer.”
For a while the only sound was the wind hitting the entrance of the cave as the farmer stared at the demon’s eyes and that dreadful smile. Finally, the farmer spoke. “Excuse me?”
“Yes, you heard me,” the demon said, barely holding back his mocking laughter. “Though you will have all the luxuries I described, every action you take will only increase the wealth of someone whose riches are already far more than you could ever hope to see.”
The farmer furrowed his brow, considering this. “And… um… he’ll use this wealth against me?”
“No,” the demon answered. “He doesn’t even care about you. He’s just sitting there with so much money it will make what you have look like poverty. And he’s only getting richer.”
Again the farmer was silent as he tried and failed to comprehend. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand the catch. I don’t get how this affects me.”
The demon’s smile finally disappeared. “It’s really unfair. There are these rich people who have way more than you and they just keep getting more and more and not sharing it with you.”
“But with what you described, I will already have more than I’ll ever need. More food than I can eat and luxuries and an easy life on top of that.”
“Well, yeah, but you’re still going to have bills to pay,” the demon said. “A mortgage, health insurance, and student loans.”
The farmer shrugged. “I don’t know what any of those things are.”
“They’re things that will be an absolute necessity for you to have,” the demon said, getting impatient. “And they’re expensive. And maybe because you’re paying for all of those things, that magic box in your pocket with all the world’s knowledge might have to be a model that’s a few years old.”
“A few years old?” The farmer grimaced. “The furniture in my cottage was my grandfather’s.”
The demon rolled his yellow eyes. “We’re talking about two completely different things. Electronics versus bespoke wooden furniture.”
“We’re getting off topic,” the demon said, the sickly sweet part of his voice now long gone. “The point is there is going to be someone with way way more than you, and it’s obscene.”
The farmer contemplated this. “So the curse is that while I’ll get a life unimaginably better than I have now, I’ll become greedy and want even more?”
“No!” shouted the demon, becoming angry, yet somehow less threatening. “You’re not the greedy one! It’s the one with more money than you who is greedy! That’s why he keeps getting richer and keeping it to himself!”
The farmer shook his head. “I’m sorry. I guess I’m really not understanding this.”
“It’s called inequality,” the demon explained. “It’s horrible and soul-crushing. There are lots of books on how bad it is.”
“I can’t read.”
“Just trust me, then; it’s really bad. Inequality is terrible.”
The farmer tried to imagine having the life the demon described and being angry about it. “It does seem very unequal to me that the average person in the future will get to work so much less and live so much easier lives.”
“You’re focusing on the wrong inequality!” the demon yelled. “It’s the really, really rich people you’re supposed to be angry at!”
The farmer stared for a moment at the clearly frustrated demon. He took a deep breath. “Thinking of it, yes, this does seem like an awful choice you’re giving me,” the farmer said uneasily. “And though I suspect I may regret it, I will accept this offer.”
The demon snorted. “You’re just humoring me now.”
“I’m really sorry,” the farmer said. “I just don’t get this at all.”
“This was a mistake,” the demon said. “You’re not ready for this. Never mind. I’m out of here.” And the demon faded entirely into the shadows like he had never been there in the first place.
“If you change your mind,” the farmer yelled, his voice echoing in the now empty cave, “I’ll just be here…” He glanced back to the cave entrance that led to his simple, failing farm, “…with the crops.”
Make sure to check out my new science fiction comedy, Hellbender. All Doug did was listen to Satan in exchange for some donuts, and now a simple bit of theft and light treason has left him and his three friends hunted by multiple armies, the mob, and an unstoppable killing machine (the worst kind of killing machine) as they attempt to save the world. And they don’t exactly owe the world any favors.