A Pact

I’m not proud of it, but, some years ago, I sold my soul to the Devil.

What you have to understand is that I was battling alcoholism. It was winning and killing me in the process. My family, my friends, my job…all these and more were being butchered by the demon liquor on my back. I’d prayed, oh, yes; I prayed for God to remove this burden from me. Prayed for God to make me normal, make me whole, save me from myself.

God never answered.

Then I uttered those words into the porcelain toilet bowl and changed everything.

If anyone is listening, God, the Devil, whoever-I’m begging-I’ll do anything to lose the desire to drink-anything.

I retched some more, breathing in the sour odor of my own vomit and the stench of toilet water. I went to sleep after this episode, my head heavy and my mind hopeless. When I awoke, it was dark outside. I turned onto my side to check the time on my alarm clock: 9:46 PM. I felt that itch, that sickeningly sweet desire, and I knew I was done for-I was going to get up and have a drink. My only hope was that my boyfriend wasn’t home, of which there was a good chance, since we’d fought earlier in the day.

I pulled the cord on my lamp and sat up. My closet door, to the right of the bed, creaked slightly open.

Sleep well?

I scoffed and looked around expectantly, searching for my boyfriend.

Brandon, where are you?

He is not here. It’s just us.

The voice was low and pleasant, but very condescending. It seemed…oily. I focused on the closet door, right as the gap between it and the door frame increased. The inside of the closet was covered in darkness.

I’m not in the mood for a joke. Get the hell out of the closet-you aren’t funny.

I know you aren’t in a joking mood because you, Sweet, are in the mood for a drink, and drinking is very serious business.

My brow furrowed as I slid out of bed. If it was a fight Brandon wanted, then a fight he’d get.

Don’t take another step. There are things that cannot be unseen, Jellybean.

I froze as a pressure filled my chest up like helium fills a balloon.

Brandon didn’t know about Jellybean. I’d never told him how my estranged father used to call me that when I was a child. My mouth, already dry from the alcohol-induced dehydration my body was experiencing, somehow became drier.

Wh-who-?

The door hinges groaned as the crack grew bigger. I couldn’t make anyone out in the darkness that enveloped the closet.

You called, I am here. Tell me, Angie, do you want to be relieved of your affliction?

Who are you?

Silence.

T-tell me.

Let’s just say I am the whoever option in the request you made earlier.

No, this wasn’t right. He wasn’t being honest. I heard it in his slick voice.

No-no, tell me who you really are.

Alright, Angie. It’s me-I am the Devil. Do you feel better?

No, I squeaked.

Do you want to be normal? Or would you rather I depart? I’m sure Mother is proud that her college-educated daughter has become a drunken whore.

My knees shook so badly that I had to sit down on the edge of the bed.

Perhaps Father would have returned had you given him something worth returning to-

Stop-

No. Not until you say it. Say you want my help.

He was pushy, but the tone of his voice didn’t betray any urgency.

My heart bounced around. My mind raced.

Yes, OK. I want your help.

I couldn’t believe I’d uttered those words. It was like I was outside of myself, watching this surreal scene unfold.

Good. When I leave, you’ll never feel the impulse to drink alcohol again. But you know what I want, right?

Of course-he wanted my soul. It occurred to me that I wasn’t doing too well with its upkeep. I was fairly certain that I’d ripped it into shreds over the course of my alcohol abuse. Would it really be such a bad thing, if I lost ownership?

Yes, take it. Just make me better, please.

A searing pain tore through my skull, ripping through my body until it reached my abdomen. I doubled-over and screeched as it permeated my gut. It seemed to make its exit out of my navel, leaving me reeling.

Oh, God, I murmured.

You know He can’t hear you.

That was the last thing he said to me before going back to…well, wherever. Hell, I suppose? Or maybe to make another deal with some other tortured soul?

I stopped drinking with ease after our arrangement.

Life without a soul isn’t so bad, I suppose. Only…I felt no real moments of joy, of any emotion, over the next few years. I grew accustomed to feigning smiles and laughs, tears and scowls, at the appropriate moments. It was like navigating my way through a thick fog, not completely present, but not entirely gone.

When he returned a little over four years later, I experienced what was as close to an intense emotional response as I could summon in my soulless days.

I was pulling my black pumps on in my room. I was tired-I was dressing for my mother’s funeral, and it had been a particularly exhausting week, having to give such a performance. Alone in my room, I could turn the crying off and stop pretending. Somewhere inside of me was the longing to grieve. I’d loved my mother.

The closet door came ajar.

I straightened up and stared.

Angie, you look delightful.

I continued to stare.

Missing your soul, Jellybean?

As much as I can, I suppose.

He chuckled softly.

What do you want? I demanded.

I want to make a deal.

As I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, there was a knock at my door.

It’s Aunt Dawn-better send her off, or I’ll eat her liver.

Yes? I answered her knock without opening the door.

You OK, Angie?

Yeah, I just need a moment alone, please. I’ll be out shortly.

Yeah, OK.

Go on, I said to the Devil after allowing enough time for my aunt to walk away.

It must be lonely, being without a soul. I imagine one wishes to feel again, to be apart of the world again. Do you want it back?

I smoothed out my dress and thought of my mother. At the end of her life I built nothing but empty memories with her. Then I thought of Brandon. We’d split up years before, due to the change in me. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he detected a difference. Was I to live out the rest of my life like this? Emotionally and socially isolated? Just to end up in hell?

Why would you give it back?

I want to ask for your help. Make no mistake, Angie, you are not special to me. You are one of many in your shoes. I just happened to think of you first.

A small vial rolled out of the closet, making a tinkling sound on the hardwood floor.

All I ask is you take this to the airport in Atlanta and smash it in the bathroom. That’s it.

What is it?

A strain of the flu. Smash it and walk away. I have money for your escape.

A hand gloved in black leather thrust a bag through the space now and tossed it onto the floor next to the vial. The zipper of the bag was open, and in its slit I could see money.

You want me to start an epidemic? And what about me? Wouldn’t I get infected, too?

No, Jellybean. You will be protected. And you still won’t want to hit the bottle.

I swallowed. If I could’ve felt, I would’ve felt great fear and guilt-because I knew I was going to do it.

Alright.

This is binding, Sweet. No backing out.

My soul re-entered me through the same place it had exited: my navel. The hot pain blossomed into my head and halted almost as soon as it started.

Emotion was back and I wept loudly for an hour straight.

I did what he asked. I even spread the liquid in the unlabeled vial onto every handle in that bathroom. Then I left and drank a couple bottles of wine in my hotel room. He’d said I still wouldn’t want to drink, but I was ambushed by this relapse.

The next morning, I awoke with a hangover. I checked out of the hotel, confident that I was protected from the pursuit of law enforcement and government agencies. Still, I wanted to fly under the radar, so I got on the interstate, unsure of where I was going. Later in the evening, as I pulled into a rest stop, I developed a fever and chills. My body felt worn and mangled.

I have the flu. I’ve tried to rest as much as possible, but I don’t think this is going to end well.

The Devil is a liar.

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