Bewildering Stories

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Fine Print

by Beverly Forehand

The Demon holds a smoldering finger to his mouth and smiles. From where I’m sitting, it looks like he’s smoking a cigarette which I’m sure would amuse him. Everything, in fact, amuses him. He is always giggling and chuckling to himself. It disturbs me. This was supposed to be something serious — selling your Soul — it’s not something to give someone a giggling fit. I eye the small pile of paper in front of me and tap it with the ball point pen. It’s nothing special, just a Bic ballpoint.

“Shouldn’t I sign this in blood, or something?” I’d asked him when he handed me the contract.

That had sent him into hysterics as well. “No, no,” he chuckled, “Ink’s just fine.”

What was worse was that he insisted I call him Carl. It isn’t a very good name for a demon. I’d told him that too, but he’d laughed and said that was fine since it wasn’t really even his name. I expected him to say that his name was unpronounceable or that to say it would turn the moon to blood or something of that ilk, but when I hinted at my ideas he laughed again and said, “No, really, it’s Chuck, but I’ve always fancied Carl.”

Chuck. That was appropriate. What a demon I’d landed with! It was like dealing with a used car salesman or the proprietor of a Shoney’s. There he was again, twiddling his smoking fingers and smiling in that annoying way. “Do you have to do that?” I say glaring at him and his fingers and his ordinary smile.

“Oh, sorry, am I bothering your reading? I could go watch TV or something?”, he says, “You have a TV, right?”, he giggles, “Or do you aspiring writer types only stick to the printed word? A newspaper would suffice. I really like the Sun Times, do you have that?” I glare. “I’ll just nip into the living room then,” he says, “Mind if I have a snack? I could bring you something — a soda or water in a bottle?” I say nothing and eventually he leaves the room. I hear the refrigerator open and close and then the TV comes on with its usual click and blare. He is watching Cops. I can hear the intro. It’s one of those shows that I tell everyone I never watch, but secretly I watch each week with a sort of horrid fascination. It’s like slowing down at an accident scene — you can’t help yourself, but you surely don’t admit to it. I hear Carl or Chuck or whatever his name is humming along with the theme song. I tap the pen again.

The contract looks in order. I guess. I mean, I haven’t ever signed my Soul away before. The contract looks like any other contract I’d ever seen. It looks like the contract I’ve signed for my yearly rental agreement and my car loan. I don’t know what I expected — I mean, I’ve read Faust, hell, I’ve seen enough movies to know that these things should be on human skin or have flaming letters or something. CHUCK said that sometimes the contracts used to be like that, but it was too MGM these days. He actually said that “too MGM.” He’s a demon for Chrissake — or not for Christ’s sake — but for Someone’s. I don’t mind telling you I feel a bit cheated.

“Mind if I snag some chips?” Carl/Chuck yells from the TV room. I say nothing but I hear him getting the chips and then the noise of him chewing them. I can’t believe this! He’s actually eating my chips. Like we were pals or something watching the Titans vs. the Colts. God! This is unbelievable.

And, what’s it for anyway? A book deal. A real one. Not some publisher that prints out of his basement. Something big. Someone big with the words HOUSE in their title or TIME or WARNER. I want people to know who I am. I want my face on Oprah. I want to be the goddamn book of the month! Chuck/Carl actually tried to discourage me. Can you believe that? He’s a demon. This is his job, right? He suggested I try a small publishing house. “There’s always PublishAmerica,” he said, “I hear good things.” I hear good things. Un-frigging-believable. And, he’s still eating my chips. My hard-earned-working-all-day-at-Starbucks-with-hardly-any-tips-from-the-customers-chips.

Just wait till I have my book deal and I hit the bestseller’s list, I’ll march right up to my boss, Sarah, and tell her she can stick my job where the beans don’t grow. I hate coffee. I hate the smell of it and the feel of those gritty little grounds under my nails. I hate that stupid apron and I hate the customers — all of them. I hate the smarmy laptop CEO’s, the hipsters with too many piercings, and the doddering idiots that can’t decide which coffee to buy.

I pick up the Bic and sign the first page. There are six places to sign and date. Carl/Chuck has them all highlighted with a fluorescent pink “Sign Here” sticker by each one. Pink. You’d think he could’ve come up with something more dreadful or fear-inspiring. He told me he bought them at Office One in bulk.

Here’s the great thing about selling your Soul. It’s like a kidney. Or it’s like one kidney anyway. You don’t need it to survive. I figure mine’s shriveled to the size of a coffee bean by now anyway. What do I need it for anyway? Chuck/Carl assures me that most of his “customers” get along just fine without theirs. Its like tonsils, I guess. One quick yank and boom! — no more Soul.

I sign another line and think about all the people I hate. All the people that I’ll have a chance to get even with when I’m rich and famous and wonderful. There’s Sarah with those glittery butterfly clips in her hair. She paints hearts on her nails and listens to Sting. Disgusting. My Brother. I hate him. He’s an investment banker. He’s always going on about charity and helping others and trying to make me feel bad. Mr. Carmichael next door. He’s the sort that always looks at you pityingly. Like he’s better than I am! Like just because he has a wife and two screaming brats and that dog that never stops yipping. I hate that dog too. I should get another piece of paper and start making a list right after I finish signing this. I sign lines four and five. Six is on the last page. I flip and initial a couple of times where Carl/Chuck has kindly also highlighted.

He’s standing in the doorway watching me and sipping Diet Coke with a straw. “You can back out, you know,” he says, “You’ve got till the last line.” I throw down my Bic and it bounces off the table.

“What is it with you? Do you not want my Soul? Do you hate your job or are you trying to get fired or something? I was under the impression that this is what you did,” I yell at him.

He blinks in that slow, manner of a dim-witted bank teller and shrugs. “I just wanted to give you the chance, Kid. No biggie,” he says, “Sign. Don’t sign. No worries.”

I lean over and pick the Bic up off the floor. With a flourish I sign the last line. “There. All done.,” I say, “Take my damn Soul and get the hell out of my apartment.”

Chuck/Carl walks over to the table and sets down his drink. He cracks his knuckles and looks at me. “I do have other things to do today,” I tell him. He just shrugs and continues cracking his knuckles. His fingers begin to smoke again and I can see that his eyes have gone dark. He licks his lips like he’s concentrating and I close my eyes. I feel his hands on my chest and I can feel the fabric from my shirt disintegrating with the heat. Oddly, I don’t feel the heat myself. His hands slip inside my chest and I’m aware of it like you are at the dentist when he has you doped up and is drilling away at a molar. He prods here and there like a woman checking a pumpkin for ripeness. I feel him remove his hands and I open my eyes. He’s frowning.

“I don’t feel any different,” I say.

He shrugs again. “I don’t guess you should,” he says, “Nothing there.”

“What the hell do you mean by that?” I shout.

“No Soul,” he says, “I’ve seen it before. It went and died on you.”

“That’s impossible!” I shout, “Your Soul can’t just die.”

“Sure it can,” he says, “Its like anything else. It’s like a house plant. You starve anything and it’ll up and die.”

I open my mouth gaping like a fish unable even to reply. He looks at me sympathetically and pats my shoulder with his smoking fingers. “Sorry, Kid. Really. I would if I could, you know. No skin off my back, but you have to have goods to deal. Capisci ?” He cocks his head and turns toward the door. I hear his hand on the doorknob. “Thanks for the hospitality,” he says, “Those were some great chips. Who’d think guacamole chips’d be any good.”

“Wait!,” I yell, running toward the door and catching him by the jacket, “What about my deal and the book and everything? I made a deal. I said I’d sell my Soul! You can’t just leave. You can’t!”

He opens the door and steps into the hallway. “I’m sorry, Kid. I really am. But, it’s out of my control.”

I step into the hall after him, but he’s already at the stairs and I feel oddly tired. I lean against the wall and let myself sink to the floor. I have the morning shift tomorrow.

“See you later, Kid,” he calls. I close my eyes and weep.

Copyright © 2005 by Beverly Forehand

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