Soul Debt: Terms of Payment
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Copyright ©2013 Sarah Barimen
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I keep forcing myself to remember how I reached this place.
How many pieces can be shaved from a soul before it crumbles like the last bit of cheese against the grater? What does one become when the soul is gone? We casually talk of soulless people whose eyes are devoid of human feeling or sympathies, using sociopaths and psychopaths as examples, as if somehow merely having a soul makes you a good person and the lack of one makes you a monster. I can tell you most of those kinds of people probably have their souls -- at least until they die, anyway -- and it throws that whole theory right out the window in a glorious shatter of glass. I'm no expert on what happens to psychos and socios after death, although I have my suspicions, but a lack of a conscience is not the same as soullessness any more than color-blindness is the same as legal blindness.
I don't know what will happen the next time he comes to see me.
* * *
In the beginning, when I first began to understand what my contract required, I thought he would shave my soul away in pieces ad infinitum, like a badly animated cartoon character eating from a dish that refills itself between each forkful and the next. It seemed to make sense as a way of prolonging the torment and getting extra payments out of the deal. I know now that isn't the case. The soul does heal and regenerate a little -- that's why there are scheduled gaps between one payment and the next -- but each time takes a little more than was able to regrow, until at last there isn't enough left from which pieces can be planed away. My last one is coming. I know, not because I have charted out my schedule, but because I can feel the tattered remnants of my soul, so thin the wind blows right through them.
* * *
I made a deal with the Devil. If you want me to be accurate, I actually made a deal with one of his henchmen, but the buck always stops at the point of most power, doesn't it? The wizard behind the curtain has minions, the general has soldiers, and the maitre d' has waiters, but we don't mistake those underlings for the people in charge.
The details are like snapshots in my mind: I met the Devil's dealmaker in a swanky club, where I'd gone to see and be seen. I hadn't been in the mood to approach anyone to dance, so I sat alone, breathing in the scent of alcohol, perfumes, weed, and bared human flesh. Somehow, I struck up a conversation with a man nearby who was also sitting by himself. I found myself telling him about having moved to the big city to seek fame and fortune. I told him about Podunk, how the highlights of the year were the county fair and the high school football homecoming, and how I'd bugged out the second I could. First stop, college, because I knew nobody in a city would even look at me without that little piece of parchment; and second stop, Up And Comingsville.
He asked a lot of questions. What did I do for a living? What were my hopes and dreams? Where did I see myself in five years?
I explained about my job, from the spectacular view from my windows and the exhilaration of my role in my company, to my trips overseas including a recent photoshoot. I told him I knew I was moving up in the world, but that I wanted to move higher, faster, harder. Said that way, it makes the world of high finance and fashion sound sexy, doesn't it?
If you'd been there with me, though, watching sleek young women and men dancing past the two of us to the primal beat of the music driving its way through every speaker in every wall, you'd have understood.
He understood, too. He listened politely to most of it, but when I said those last few words, his eyes sparked. First I thought he was coming on to me; the next moment, I thought it was just the reflection of the wheeling mirrorball overhead, and then suddenly he was laying a contract out on the tabletop and inviting me to read it. There was a lot of fine print -- and I mean really, really fine print, the kind you really need an electron microscope to read -- and given the circumstances I couldn't exactly take it to a lawyer for a once-over. I thought I understood the gist of it before I signed, though. It seemed to be standard Faustian boilerplate: we make you rich and powerful beyond your imagination, and in exchange you pay the going rate -- your soul. Yadda, yadda. Right.
"Sign here, please," he said, so I patted my pockets for a pen. He shook his head and handed me a special instrument with a lancet on one end and what looked like a capillary tube on the other. "Blood makes the contract binding."
It amused me. Blood. Sure. If jabbing myself in the finger -- which wouldn't hurt anyway because I'd had a couple drinks -- would make me rich and famous, the price seemed reasonable. I didn't figure I had any use for my soul, anyway. I'd never had any use for it before, except back when I still went to church with my mom, and that didn't seem like much of a loss. I jabbed myself with the pointy end, siphoned up the bead of blood that welled crimson from the wound with the tiny plastic tube, and wrote my name. The text swam in front of my eyes as I wrote. I dismissed it as a silly reaction to the jab. I've never liked needles.
He didn't move away afterward but stayed at my side, ordering me another drink and sitting so close I could feel the heat from his leg while I drank it. I wasn't offended; in fact, it made me feel good to imagine maybe he was enjoying the contact. I didn't swing that way, but he never got overt about it, so it was cool. Together, we watched the sexy women dancing nearby. It was good to sit there and feel my body poised for action, the primal music keeping time with my heartbeat, and the heat from his leg radiating against mine. I didn't even think about the contract. I hadn't gone to the club for business, but to see and be seen, remember? I'd signed it, the deal was done, and I was eager to see where it took me.