by Beverly Forehand
I got a funny email today. Funny, as in disturbing. I know what you’re thinking — half the emails you receive in a given day are pretty disturbing. But this wasn’t your run of the mill junk mail even though the caption did read: “LOOKING FOR A SOUL MATE?” Sure, everyone knows where that’s going, right? Only it didn’t.
Right before I hit the delete button, a little caption caught my eye, “Limited Time Special for Demons Only.” For Demons only? What are the chances? So I kept reading. Under the flashing red and white lettering was advertised “ONE SOUL — ORGANICALLY GROWN.” I clicked the link which lead me to a contact page. I made my appointment. And, that’s where I’m going now. So, here I am, in my car — my ragged, piss-poor company car with no air conditioning and the peeling paint around the rust spots — getting up my nerve to go inside.
It’s a garden store. Not a nice one either. It looks like one of those roadside stands that sell tomatoes and melons in places where people marry their cousins on a regular basis. Only, at least, this one has a roof. I can see a kind of greenhouse attached to the side. It looks like it’s held together with duct tape. Duct tape is one thing I know. It’s what I use to hold the trunk shut on this piece of crap car.
I take a deep breath and I open the door. After all, what do I have to be afraid of — I’m a Demon after all. By the way, my name is Carl, but you can call me Chuck. I never really cared for the name Carl. But Chuck — it’s a name you can sink your teeth into. Carl sounds like someone who takes orders (i.e. who I am), but Chuck sounds like someone who doesn’t give a shit (i.e. the guy I’d like to be).
I walk up to the greenhouse/garden center door and knock. The door actually moves with the pounding and then it opens. “Come in,” a voice in the dark says, and I do. He’s sitting there behind the counter reading a paperback book. It’s an old book, Anderson or Howard or some sci-fi crap. I never could understand why people want to read fiction. The way I see it, life is stranger than anything anyone could make up.
He looks up from the book with one eye and I recognize him. It’s that kid. The Kid. I saw him maybe a year ago. He was trying to sell his Soul. Only he didn’t have one to sell. No kidding. It just up and died on him. I guess he was a little disappointed. Oh well, everyone is in the end anyway. I can tell by the way that he’s looking at me that he doesn’t recognize me but he knows he should. That’s what you call Denial with a capital “D.” People have a way of doing that, I’ve noticed.
“Do you have an appointment?” he asks. Looking at me in that tatty way that receptionists use when they don’t think you should be in the building.
“Yeah,” I say, “1:00 right on the dot.”
He smiles and his eyes sort of twitch. I’ve seen that kind of twitch before and it can get you into a Hell of a lot of trouble pretty quick. He puts the book down. “There’s something you should see,” he says. And, he smiles again. The smile slides across his face like wet cheese, and I, Chuck the Demon, almost back away. But just almost. Instead I follow him with his deranged cat smile into the greenhouse. And, then I begin to get really disturbed. “What do you think?” he asks in a breathy way. I peer into the dark, but I don’t have to really peer since the goddamned things are glowing. Souls. He’s growing Souls.
Soul. It’s kind of a funny word, if you think about it. And, what does it mean anyway? Anything, everything, nothing — it depends on who you ask. I know what it means to me — someone without a Soul. It means a second chance. It’s a second chance at what; that’s the kicker. I mean here they are, rows of them, just waiting to be plucked. But I’m someone that deals in Souls, and I can see right away that something here is just not kosher.
“What do you think?” he asks again. But, I can tell that he isn’t waiting for an answer. He’s striding forward to the rows of putridly glowing things. He has them in plastic pots. He picks one up and holds it at eye level twirling the pot so that I can see all sides. “I got the idea from a Demon,” he whispers almost to himself. “You see, he told me that Souls can die. They can dry up just like a house plant. And, well, it got me to thinking. What can die can grow? Right?” He twirls the sickly thing again. “And, grow, grow, grow, they do!”
“What do they grow on?” I asked him. Not really sure that I wanted to know. The things looked like something you find in midnight caves, in ditches, or on the other side of a madman’s eyes.
“Lots of things,” he said, “Lots and lots of things.” He gave a smug little chuckle. “You’d be surprised, I bet, even you.” I had no doubt that I would be.
“How’d you get my name, or my email, anyway?” I asked.
He looked up and for a minute his eyes cleared and he looked normal, almost. “Oh, I bought it on Listfinders.com.”
“You’re kidding, right?” I asked. “What did you do, just type in ‘Demons’?”
He stared at the plant again, “Demons and Soulless,” he said. “You can’t even begin to think of the market. So many, many, many people all wanting just a little Soul. “ He smiled again, but only with his mouth. “I’ve been selling them on eBay, but I decided to widen the market a bit.”
He held out the neon green and purple thing. It looked a little like a slimy geranium. “Are you interested?” he asked. “I can guarantee it for a year. Full replacement if it doesn’t live, but after that, it’s up to you.”
I look at the thing and then at him. It’s no secret that I’ve been interested in a Soul. I even stole one once, but that didn’t exactly work out. Demons can get in a Hell of a lot of trouble for having a Soul. Immortal things don’t get Souls. That’s the rule. Angels, Demons, Unicorns, you get the picture. No Souls. Souls and immortality sort of go together like peanut butter and trout. They’re definitely an acquired taste and just as likely to make you sick as anything. And even with my complete and utter Soul-lust, I don’t like the look of this thing.
He must see that I’m on the edge. So he pulls out the salesman’s smile. It’s a good smile for what its worth. It’s 100% used-car lot quality. All the teeth and a little extra gleam. Only he’s still holding the Soul that’s not quite a Soul. “It’s fine, see,” he says conspiratorially, “I’m even using one myself.” He smiles again and the 100-watt smile starts to twitch. “Don’t worry about the other buyers,” he says, “I have plenty to go around.”
It’s at that moment that I realize horrifyingly that I am not alone. Or I should say, WE are not alone since the Kid is standing there and there’s a table of potted Souls behind me. But in the corner, standing in a shadow that should not be there especially since we are in a greenhouse, is Someone Else. HE steps forward and I almost catch myself saying, “It’s not what you think!” Come on, if anyone EVER says that to you, then they’re right. It’s not what you think — its something much worse.
I bite down on my lip hard and avert what might have been my last words. And, HE says, “Hello, Chuck.” Only HE doesn’t really call me Chuck. HE calls me by my Name. My true Name. The name I’ve spent the last few millennia trying to forget. The name that was the last thing I heard as they booted my ass out of the heavenly regions for good. HE says my true name again and smiles. It’s a nice smile, but I know HE’s not really pulling all the stops out. If HE were, I’d be running by now.
“It seems,” HE says, “that you and I are on the same mailing list.” HE twirls a strand of perfect golden hair around one finger and smiles again. Perfect. Perfection — don’t underrate it. Imagine trying to sock the most angelic thing you’ve ever seen in the mouth or whack him with a sword. You see the problem. You just keep thinking, “Hey, HE can’t be all bad, right?” That’s right before HE jumps on you with all four claws flying. That’s right before HE rips your eyes out and laughs with his perfect laugh and looks at you with his big, blue, completely Soulless eyes. Looking into those eyes makes you think about Heaven and Hell. Looking into those eyes makes you regret almost everything you’ve ever done. Priests should bring a picture of them to every death bed. I cut my eyes sideways and he smiles again. “It seems that you and I,” HE says, “have had a similar epiphany.”
I shrug. Noncommittal is the best I can come up with under the circumstances. HE steps forward into the light or maybe he’s radiating it. Who knows? I’m trying hard not to look. I’m trying even harder not to scream. The Kid is just standing there. Which, in my book, proves he’s a complete nutcase. My Boss suddenly takes notice of him, the Kid.
“Nice,” HE says gesturing around the room, “Very enterprising.” HE chuckles and his laughter actually rings, just like in fairy tales. “I’m surprised We haven’t thought of this ourselves. Growing Souls. It’s almost a sort of Miracle,” HE says and he laughs again and we laugh with him because we have to. Not laughing, not looking at him would drive you mad. And, I know that if I do happen to survive this day, I’m going to be hearing that laugh inside my head for the rest of forever.
HE turns his full attention to the Kid. “I am in the market, so to speak, for a Soul.” HE smiles radiantly and steps toward the Kid. I take this chance to back away toward the tables. Maybe there’s some way out of here. It’s ridiculous, I know. Where in Hell could I go? Maybe, though, just maybe, I’m insignificant enough to forget about. But, then, HE knows my Name. HE’s taken the time to KNOW MY NAME. It disturbs the Hell out of me. And, even though HE’s not looking my way with his eyes, I know HE’s still watching me. It’s just a good thing, I think, that HE can only read hearts and not minds. HE’s not GOD after all. HE’s not omniscient or even omnipotent. HE can only read your heart and all he would get out of me right now is FEAR, mind-numbing, teeth-rattling fear.
I don’t know what HE’d do with a Soul. HE has access to them all the time. But a Soul of his own. I don’t think it would be a good thing. There’s a reason we don’t have Souls. There’s a reason we want them. I don’t really know what either of them are; but somewhere deep inside me I can hear things breaking apart, and I know that I should do something. I’m not really sure what. So, I fall back on what’s natural to me. I’m a Demon, after all, and Demons break things. So, I casually kick over the table of Souls behind me. It’s a rickety affair and it collapses, knocking into the table behind it. I turn and give the remaining tables a shove and watch the Souls fall to the floor.
I hear another pot hit the floor as the Kid drops his Soul and even though the pots are plastic — I could’ve sworn they were all plastic — they shatter. The pots are all shattering and the Souls, the sickly little Souls are dying. They are going out one by one. Their sad little green lights are dimming and this strange blackish, bluish ooze is pooling around the tables and pot shards. The Kid is screaming. Really screaming. And, I turn around and see him on the floor.
There are two perfect scorched sets of hand prints on his neck. My Boss is not smiling. HE is not smiling at all. His lips have that pinched set look that you see on librarians’ faces when they hear loud talking. HE doesn’t look perfect. HE looks a little sweaty and extremely pissed off. HE looks down at the tables and the bits of Souls. “I’ll remember this, Chuck,” HE says. And, I know HE will. I know HE’ll remember it forever. HE turns and walks out the door leaving the Kid screaming and gagging.
All around me Souls are dying and I feel both happy and sick. I have a strange feeling that I haven’t had in a long time right in the pit of my stomach. I try to help the Kid up, but he bites me and slinks off to the corner. It’s been a long day. I need a drink. I need a bath. And I severely need a new job. I walk outside and all four tires on my car are flat. It figures. HE always was petty.
I start walking toward the setting sun just like in those old westerns. I stick out my thumb and a car actually slows down. It’s a white car with blue trim. I can tell right away that its engine doesn’t smoke and leak mysterious puddles in the parking lot. It must be nice to have a car like that. I bet it’s even nice to ride in. I jog a little ahead and the car is still actually waiting. And, that in itself seems like some kind of a miracle. The door opens and I get inside and there’s even air-conditioning.
“Where you going?” the driver asks. He’s an ordinary looking guy.
“Doesn’t matter,” I say.
“It looks like you’ve had one Hell of a day,” he says. I nod, “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you, buddy.”
He nods back and smiles in a nondescript way. “I got an interesting email yesterday,” he says. I freeze in my seat and say nothing. “But I guess that’s taken care of,” he continues.
“I guess,” I say. He nods again, “That’s good.” He flips out a pack of cigarettes and offers me one. “No thanks,” I say, “I’m trying to get off them.” He lights up and takes a long drag, “I got hooked on them a long time ago. Can’t seem to break the habit. It just, you know, helps you fit in.”
He looks at me with his brown — or are they blue — eyes. “We’re going to have to do something about that face,” he says, “and you’ll need a new car.” I look at him for a long time. “You are interested in a new position, I take it,” he says, “I mean I got the impression that you were between things.” I nod. He smiles and starts the engine.
“Good. We can work out the details later,” he says. “The Devil is always in the details,” I say. He laughs a perfectly ordinary laugh, “Oh, not this time,” he says, “not this time at all.”
The car drives smoothly into the sunset and the air-conditioning is just fine. After a while he turns on the radio and there’s not even any static. It has been one Hell of a day, which just goes to show you that life really is stranger than fiction. I take a cigarette from the pack he left on the seat and he holds out the car lighter. I inhale and exhale. The sky is getting dark and the stars look a little brighter than usual. I don’t know where we’re going and I really don’t care. Ahead of us I can see a perfect red convertible and, as we pass it, it starts to rain. “Imagine the luck,” my new friend says, and I do.
Copyright © 2005 by Beverly Forehand