There's a short story I read when I was a young kid.

In it, a man meets a demon who grants his wish for immortality. The man quickly tires of his new state and tries to kill himself, but his first few attempts fail - I can't recall if he healed from them, or just caused him pain but didn't kill him, or what.

Eventually he tries sticking his head in an oven with the gas turned on. I don't remember if he was just trying to suffocate himself or actually blow himself up, but the gas does explode, turning him into chunks splattered on the wall that are still alive, in hellish agony forever. Pretty intense for a kid!

I'm less sure of the rest, but I think the demon was introduced at the start of the story, without immediately being described as such, just that he was extraordinarily lucky. Traffic lights always turned green just as he arrived, a taxi always came to pick him up just as he raised his hand, etc.

Considering how old I was when I remember reading the story, it would have been published no later than the early 80's.


The closest I can find to this is Hell is Forever by Alfred Bester, but while the ending is as you describe the rest of the story differs. The story was written in 1942 and has been regularly included in Anthologies since. I read it in Unknown Worlds Tales from Beyond, but that was published in 1988 so it's a bit later than your date.

The story is a novella rather than a short story. The protagonist Robert Peel fakes a demon summoning to scare his wife into dying of a heart attack. His wife does have a heart attack and die, but the summoning works and a demon is raised. This go rapidly downhill from there.

Peel does attempt to kill himself in a gas oven but the attempt fails:

When the room was sealed tight, Peel went to the stove, opened the oven door and turned the gas cock over. The gas hissed out of the jets, rank and yet cooling. Peel knelt and thrust his head into the oven, breathing with deep, even breaths. It would not, he knew, take very long. It would not be painful.
He came to with a start and realized that he had been kneeling before the oven for twenty minutes. There was something very much awry. He had not forgotten his chemistry and he knew that twenty minutes of illuminating gas should have been sufficient to make him lose consciousness. Perplexed, he got to his feet, rubbing his stiff knees. There was no time for analysis now. The pursuit would be on his neck at any moment.

He then tries several other methods of killing himself but they all fail. Eventually he uses a bomb that he makes himself by stuffing nitrocellulose from playing cards into a pipe. Then he heats the bomb over a spirit lamp and waits for it to explode.

With a sigh, he drew his desk chair close and hunched before the heating bomb. Nitrocellulose—a powerful-enough explosive when ignited under pressure. It was only a question of time, he knew, before the pipe would burst into violent explosion and scatter him around the room—scatter him in blessed death.

And it works:

There was a blinding explosion. It smashed into Peel’s face with a flaring white light and a burst of shattering sound. The entire study rocked and a portion of the wall fell away. A heavy shower of books rained down from the jolted shelves. Smoke and dust filled space with a dense cloud.

But as you say it leaves him blown into a thousand pieces but still alive:

And a thousand scattered bloody fragments of Robert Peel heard and understood. A thousand particles, each containing a tortured spark of life, heard the voice of Astaroth and understood.

“Of life I know nothing,” Astaroth cried out, “but death I do know—death and justice. I know that each living creature creates its own hell forevermore. What you are now, you have wrought with your own hands. Hear ye all, before I depart—if any of ye can deny this—if any one of you would argue this—if any one of you would cavil at the Justice of Astaroth—let him speak! Speak now!”

Through all the far reaches the voice echoed, and there was no answer.

A thousand pain-thomed particles of Robert Peel heard and made no answer.

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  • ...no doubt explaining how I conflated the two. Thanks! – Sean Sep 19 '18 at 20:39

You may be confusing two stories. The one about the extraordinarily lucky man sounds an awful lot like "5,271,009" by Alfred Bester. In that, the person or whatever helps a young man get through a problem, and there is no immortality granted or horribly-ever-after ending.

In Alfred Bester's "5,271,009," a highly regarded young artist has gone mad since he saw a man with a face that could only belong to a demon. The man with the demonic face, Solon Aquila, helps the artist, Jeffrey Halsyon, escape from an asylum so that Halsyon will be able to paint again.

Aquila tells the artist that he must set aside the dreams of youth: "Lust for power. Lust for sex. Injustice collecting. Escape from reality. Passion for revenges." Halsyon must learn to make better decisions. And how many decisions does a person make in a lifetime? Why, "five million two hundred seventy-one thousand and nine. Give or take a thousand."

This is an extremely clever story. Both the incidents and the dialogue are consistently funny. Aquila has a most distinctive way of talking:

"Hmmm. Perhaps so. You know something, my attic of Greece? I am disappointed. Je n'oublierai jamais. I am most severely disappointed. God damn. No more Halsyons ever? Merde. My slogan. We must do something about Jeffrey Halsyon. I will not be disappointed. We must do something."

Goodreads, "5,271,009" review by Steve

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