Bewildering Stories

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by Beverly Forehand

Table of Contents
“Fine Print” appeared
in issue 142.

My name is Chuck. I drive a Buick, and I hate my job. It’s not a particularly nice Buick. Its about ten years old and the top lining sags a little so that it hits my head when I drive. I’ve been tacking it up with thumbtacks, but it doesn’t help very much. Now there are lots of tiny sags between each tack instead of one big one.

My job is Corporate Acquisitions. Sure, it sounds important, but it’s not. I’m nothing more than a Bagman. Not even that, I’m a reverse delivery boy. I pick things that people no longer want. I guess I’m sort of like a garbage collector, except they at least get paid holidays and union wages. My Boss hasn’t heard of holidays, and although he may be affiliated with some Teamsters I don’t think that he holds much stock with unions.

Did I mention that I’m a Demon? I guess I should also let you know that my name’s not really Chuck, it’s Carl. But Chuck sounds so much better. I’ve always hated the name Carl, but I find myself answering to it even after all these years of calling myself Chuck. I guess you just get used to things whether you like them or not. Even a crappy job in Acquisitions.

Don’t think that there aren’t any glamorous jobs in Hell; there are, I assure you. But, like everywhere else, it’s all politics and I’ve never been a real people-person demon. Whatever. My motto has always been live and let live, and I guess that’s the real problem. I don’t have any drive. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told that I don’t have any initiative.

I like to go with the flow, enjoy life as it is. That’s what got me into this mess to begin with. It always sounds like a good idea. You know what I mean? There’s always That Guy — you know the one. Perfect teeth, hair that’s never known a bad day, and a way of putting even the stupidest ideas that makes you say, Yeah, that’s going to work. Well, at least I wasn’t the only one listening to him, and certainly not the one with the most to lose.

Today started like any other day. I have a certain number of pick-ups to make, nothing special. I drop off a contract, get a signature or two, stow the Soul, and I’m on my way. A lot of times they back out once they read the fine print or just get cold feet in general, which is fine with me. Hey, it’s one less thing on my list, right?

But the thing that always gets me, even after all these years, is the unexpected ones. I know what you’re thinking: Chuck, you’re a demon, what could surprise you? Well, let me tell you, I get surprised more than you’d think. I bet I get surprised more than the average run of the mill Joe. It always surprises me, for instance, just how dumb and greedy and plain-out mean people can be. I mean, I’m a demon, and I’ve seen Hell and it still shocks the proverbial Hell out of me.

Take this kid, I’m just getting back from a typical pick up job, you’d think he’d be professional about it, but what a jerk. Didn’t even offer me a glass of water and it’s hot enough to fry an egg out here today. This lousy car, company car, doesn’t have A/C. I’m heat sensitive. I break out in hives. That’s why I volunteered for this job. I thought, hey, I’ll be out meeting people, and how bad can it seriously be. I should’ve stayed where I was. I can hear the engine making that low grinding, pinging noise it makes right before it blows. I don’t know jack about cars. I know when one’s a load of crap, but that’s about it.

I have one more pick-up today and then it’s home to my equally crappy apartment. It least it’s cold. I have cockroaches as big as terriers, but it is cold. Also, my neighbor is a real piece of work. He’s one of those people who has no sense of community, you know what I mean? He leaves his garbage outside his door instead of pitching it down the chute. He lets his umbrella drip all down the hallway when it rains, and if he had a dog and it took a crap in the hallway, you can bet it would stay there steaming. Of course he doesn’t have a dog. A dog would be effort. Work. He’s the sort of guy that would trade his Soul if he had any ambition.

I mean, you have to want something to be ready to trade your Soul. Book deal, TV show, money, hot chick, whatever. You have to have aspirations. This guy. He’s not my kind of guy, you know. And, he snores. With the paper thin walls we have I hear every gulp for air. I think he might have that thing, you know, it was on 20/20, sleep apnea or something. He should have it checked out, really. I’d tell him, but he’d just give me that dull stare and blow smoke in my face.

Well, he’d better get his ducks in a row or he’ll end up downstairs; and let me tell you, there’s no solitude down there. It’s wall to wall. And it’s wall to wall with people exactly like him. Not particularly evil people, just ordinary everyday assholes. You know the type. The kind that would watch a puppy drown because they didn’t want to get their shoes wet. The kind that wouldn’t give a guy a quarter to call home. They kind that are just minding their own business.

The problem with Hell, really, is that everyone is minding their own business. All those people who make it a point to pick up the trash, give to the poor, and bake cookies on holidays are somewhere else. So, all you get are a lot of people either minding their own sad, petty business or the busybodies. I don’t know which is worse. The ones that make cruelty for your own good an art or those that would watch a guy get run over in the street without blinking an eye. Just minding my own business. People ought to watch where they’re going. They sure as Hell should.

Well, at least there’s only one more stop today. That’s something. It almost seems like the days are getting longer. I always hear people saying that there’s not enough time, but, in my humble opinion, there’s just too much time. That’s what gets people in trouble. If they only had time to eat, sleep, and do their work, they’d all be fine. But, they have too much time on their hands, and that sets them thinking. Now, they could spend that time with their kids or dogs or helping the community or whatever. But, usually, I’ve found, and believe me, I’ve had plenty of time to mull this over, that they spend it feeling sorry for themselves and wishing they could get something for nothing.

That’s where I come in: the original something for nothing clause. Only, it’s not really something for nothing, it’s something for everything. I mean, a Soul is the only thing a person has that means something. It’s the only thing that lasts forever. You sell your Soul and there’s no Heaven or Hell for you, no reincarnation, no Happy Hunting Ground, no Nothing. There is for your Soul, sure. But, it’s not yours any more.

What, you think the Big Guy is doing this out a sense of charity? Hey, it’s not like he wouldn’t have gotten these Souls anyway, right? I mean, anyone willing to trade their Soul for a big Lotto win, a hit song, or the girl next door is hardly going to be winning the Nobel Peace Prize or vying for Mother Teresa’s seat, right? No way. These guys (and gals, no sexism intended), are out for the Big Number One. But, Souls, divorced from their bodies by consent of the owner, those are a hot commodity. They’re like the ultimate currency in the Nether Realms. I mean, demons don’t have Souls, right? So, what’s the ultimate reward? What’s the really big haul? How does the Boss reward someone that really, really pleases him? You got it. I mean, no problem, right? He’s sure to be getting it back after a while anyway. I mean, we’re not angels, right? At least not any more.

Now, the way I figure it, with my track record, my chance of getting re-ensouled is about the chance of a snowball in Hell. Not that I do anything so bad, really. Maybe I’m late now and then. Maybe I forgot to punch my timecard a couple of times or took a few extra minutes for lunch. Nothing that anyone doesn’t do once in a while, right? But, let me tell you now before you find out on your own someday, they are total perfectionists in Hell. I mean they really cross the t’s and dot the i’s down there. I mean, how could they not: there are so many attorneys and tax accountants, and don’t get me started on the politicians and critics.

So, here’s what I’m thinking, what if I made a dash and grab? I mean, what could they do to me, exactly? Send me to Hell? I mean, once I had a Soul, it would be another chance. And this time, I wouldn’t let anyone sweet-talk me into a really great idea that’s sure to work. I know for sure now that the only thing you get for free is nothing at best and a kick in the ass at worst.

I’ve been tossing this about for sometime, but the problem is that I just don’t want any old Soul, and the ones that are up for grabs are, well, not so great. I mean anyone willing to sell his Soul is a little bit lacking, you know? They aren’t exactly Dr. Faustus with the last-minute conversions. These guys are more than willing to sign on the little black line. Their only complaint is that the experience isn’t Hellish enough. What, no flaming pens or signatures in blood? I mean, what do these guys spend their spare time reading?

I guess this is it. I asked this guy to meet me at the local coffee shop. It’s one of those chain bookstore/coffee things. They have these chocolate coffee drinks that have whipped cream on top. I really love those. Although, I guess I should lay off the whipped cream and sprinkles. I’m not getting any younger or any thinner these days.

I can see the guy inside. One of those corporate types. This one, so the list says, wants to do the trade for the big seat at his company. I think he’s under indictment already, so he probably does deserve the job. I can see him with his head down. Anyone passing by might think he was praying, but it’s my bet that he’s checking his Blackberry.

I walk in and the door does that little tinkling thing. I love that, but the CEO-in training only looks annoyed. You’re late, he says tapping his almost-Rolex with a perfectly manicured finger. This guy is going to fit in downstairs just fine. Hell, he could be running the place in a few years.

Sorry, I say, Traffic. He scowls. I pull the contract out of my briefcase. He curls his lip at the coffee stain I left on the corner. I assure you, I say, that it’s just as binding with or without coffee stains.

He grabs it and starts signing.

You know there’s no rush, I say, You can take your time to read it. He does one of those hand waves at me that people do in traffic trying to will a sullen Buick out of their way. He finishes the signature on the last page and pushes it toward me. So? he says, Is that it?

I nod, Almost. I reach across the table and push my hand through his chest. He gasps a little, but doesn’t move. I always try to be quick. It doesn’t look pleasant. No one around us seems to notice, or, if they do, they don’t seem to care. I pull his Soul out and look at it. It spins, like cotton candy, around my fingers. It’s a sickly brown and green color, like a house plant that hasn’t been watered in a few weeks. I nod at him and put the Soul in my pocket. It’s done, I say.

He gets up, cradling his Blackberry to his chest like a child. He actually smiles, then clicks the unlock mechanism for his car. I hear his BMW chirp merrily in the parking lot and then he’s gone. The door tinkles behind him.

I walk to the counter and order another coffee-chocolate with extra whip cream and sprinkles. I smile at the barrista, and when she’s finished, I walk back to the booth with my drink and put my feet up on the now-CEO’s vacant chair. I smell the coffee. Then I drop the Soul into the frothy mix. Everything is better with a little chocolate. I stretch out my feet and admire the day through the window. I take a drink. It could stand a little more chocolate. I swallow.

Copyright © 2005 by Beverly Forehand

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