by James A. Kenny, Ph.D.
A Middle School teacher began the following story and asked his students to make up an ending:
Hundreds of years ago, a soldier came home from a European war. He was ill and poor and wanted to die. As he lay by the wayside, the devil appeared to him and made him an offer. “I can change your life,” the devil said. “I will give you health and wealth and romance.”
“What must I give you in return?” asked the soldier. “Perhaps nothing,” replied the devil, “on one condition. You must not take anything off, not even to bathe, for one full year. If you succeed in this, all that you gain is yours. If you fail, however, your soul is mine.”
“That’s a deal,” said the soldier. “I accept your offer.” The devil then gave the soldier a ring, telling him to show the ring to anyone and everywhere, and all money and services would be provided.
At this point the teacher asked the students to write the second half of the story. All the stories followed a similar pattern up to the last minute. The soldier complied perfectly about taking nothing off. He used the ring to gain health from a medical man. Whenever he showed the ring, he was given money and he bought housing and a carriage and servants.
When the year was almost up, he came upon a beautiful maiden in distress. He bound up her wounds, gave her money, and took her to her home. She fell in love with the soldier. Her father approved and they planned to marry.
His bride-to-be, of course, was curious about his unwillingness to remove or change his clothes. He explained that he had taken a vow to keep them on for a year. She was satisfied.
And all the stories resulted in the devil being foiled and ended “happily forever after” – except for one. In this single story, on the night before their marriage, the young soldier, happily in love with his bride, gave her his precious ring as a token of his love.
As the young soldier walked to the church to be married, the devil came for his soul. “Oh no,” said the soldier. “I followed all your rules and took off nothing.”
“Not true,” replied the devil. “You took off my ring to give to your lady as a wedding pledge.” And the soldier was taken away and lost everything.
The teacher was puzzled. Why would this young student compose such a different ending? “I checked into his background,” he told us. “Only one thing separated him from his classmates. He was a foster child.”