The hand protruded from a stained and yellowed cuff. Filthy fingers with grubby nails still gripped the shot glass that hadn’t seen a drop of whiskey in over ten hours.
Beside the hand was a face, resting on the table. This face had gone unshaved for countless weeks and the greasy mop of blond hair covered most of what the whiskers didn’t. Don, in his mid-thirties and fairly well built would have been a good-looking guy were it not for his exceedingly dishevelled appearance. The stained and rumpled garments only compounded the impression that Don was in the middle of what was undoubtedly, even for him, an unrivalled and record-setting bender.
The table resided in a dark corner of the New Frontier Bar and grill (Live music Friday nights!). Don could be heard snoring clear across the establishment, not so much because his snoring was so loud (although it was) but more so that it was 11:37am on Tuesday morning and there was not another soul in the place.
That there was not another soul did not bother the Old Man so much as the fact that he could not seem to wake Don from his booze-soaked stupor.
The Old Man seemed the antithesis of Don in appearance and just about every other way possible. He looked to be in his late 60’s but was assuredly older than that. He was nattily dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit, complete with matching vest. His loosely curled silvery hair, although just above shoulder length was neatly worn, combed back from the forehead with locks flowing past both horns. His hands were almost ivory white with perfectly manicured nails that on each long finger, came to a cruel point.
In his left hand he held an ebony cane, gilt with gold inlay up and down its length and topped with a solid silver skull with luminous ruby red eyes, whose roundness fit neatly into his palm. In his right hand was a leather briefcase which, by the way it seemed to pull at his arm, obviously had some heft.
Had there been anyone close enough to notice, they would have caught the scent of the $300 per bottle men’s fragrance “Straight to Heaven” by Kilian, which had been lightly applied to his pulse points, notwithstanding the obvious irony.
The Old Man stood silently and motionlessly over Don for what seemed an incredibly long time (but nowhere near an eternity) and simply stared at his body as the breaths slowly raised and lowered his back ever so slightly.
Finally, the Old Man spoke.
“Awake”, he said.
The Old Man looked at the clock on the wall and sighed. It was still six minutes to noon. Well, six minutes was six minutes and a deal was a deal. He would wait.
The Old Man thought back to where he had first met Donald, exactly one year ago to the day. It was another bar with another name in another town but anyone would be hard pressed to know the difference. Even the brownish water stains on the ceiling tiles seemed the same.
And now it was noon. And now it was time.
This time, the Old Man made no shy attempt to rouse the sleeping individual. He set the briefcase down on the table and reached forward with one outstretched finger and touched Donald on the left ear.
Instantly, Don bounded to his feet, no longer the slightest bit drowsy or dull from his weeks of carousing; rather he was fully alert, completely awake and in complete control of his faculties.
“Ah… yes… erm… I mean, I didn’t mean to, you know… I… ah…”
“Yes, I understand completely.” said the Old Man, and he did.
“It’s time to go” he continued. “We’ve already extended our stay beyond what was agreed.”
“I’m sorry, sir. I’m afraid I let things get away from me a little over the past few… months?”
“You certainly did that, and more” chuckled the Old Man. “It’s no sin. Feel no shame. This is what you bargained for and you deserved no less than everything you had. It is time to go however. We mustn’t leave your host waiting any longer. That would not be what he bargained for, now would it?”
And with that, the Old Man lifted his cane until the eyes of the skull were even with the eyes of the human vessel standing in front of him. The rubies glowed hot in the silver skull and two red beams shot across the short distance, boring into the living skull until the living mouth emitted a guttural sound that was not a scream, not a shriek nor a howl, but the wail of the primal essence of humanity. The cacophony continued, growing ever louder and as it did so, the head reared back, the mouth opened to an almost sickening span, so much so that it seemed that the head itself would split to reveal a throbbing mass of grey matter.
And then it ended. Silence came timidly back to fill the void left by the departure of the ghastly din.
Don blinked once, licked his dry lips and blinked again.
“So that’s it?” he mumbled while steadying himself with his hand before plopping back down on the seat his body had recently occupied.
“That’s it” said the Old Man. You’ve lived up to your end of the bargain, now it’s time for me to live up to mine.
With that, the Old Man reached down and with both hands undid the latches to the briefcase with a satisfying “click, click”, to reveal what Don assumed was the promised one million dollars.
“Yes” said the Old Man, “It is one million dollars as agreed to in the contract. Yours to do with… well, whatever you can imagine doing with one million dollars”.
“So, let me get this straight” said Don, “It’s that simple. The guy came and went, just like that. Now I’m back, he’s gone and I have a million dollars”.
“As I told you a year ago” said the Old Man, “that is precisely how it works. As you so accurately put it, it is that simple. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I do have a rather full afternoon.”
“Well, hang on just a moment, will you?”, said Don. “There’s no need to rush off. We’ve just completed a tidy little bit of business here but that doesn’t mean that we can’t find a way to work together again.”
“Actually, it does mean just that”, said the Old Man. “One soul, one deal.”
“Ok, ok” said a somewhat downcast Don. “But one last thing. I’m curious. Who was that guy and where did he go?”
The Old Man paused before saying, “Who he is, is irrelevant. He is… let’s call him an employee. He did some work for me and this was his reward. One year on Earth, in the body of a human. Kind of like when you were 15 and you took your best friend’s father’s Camaro out for a little joyride. You didn’t damage it and no one was hurt… just a little teenage fun, right?
“As you’ll recall from our negotiation last year, I promised you’d return to your… self in a year’s time and your body would be no worse for wear – just one year older. Granted, I would recommend a good hot shower as soon as possible and a shave and a haircut before too long. Other than that, you’ll find that your body is in the same condition it was when you turned it over to me.
“As for your second question, where did he go? Let’s just say that you probably don’t want to know those details. Perhaps one day I might be in a position to show you however. You do you Don, and we just may meet again.”
Without another word, the Old Man turned and walked out the side door of the bar into the bright sunlight. Don saw his silhouette framed in the doorway for a moment, and then the door closed and he was gone.
Author Notes: Hello. Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I am new to writing so I would really appreciate it if you would take a moment to rate or review my story. Thank you!