Leo Stoad’s nose wrinkled in distaste as he examined the slightly shabby exterior of the industrial park offices he stood in front of. He had sealed many an agreement in less salubrious surroundings than these; however the type of deals that involved skirting the edges of legality and morality had in recent years been left to those lower down the food chain. Leo was successful enough now to only descend to the level of personal involvement for projects that flaunted themselves far over such arbitrary boundaries; serenely immune from prosecution and worry by the dubious virtues of his wealth and influence.
For a fleeting moment he considered calling his driver to return and ensconce him once again in the soft interior of his executive class car (limousines having been greatly devalued in status since every shrieking and giggling group of high school girls started renting them for proms). This momentary urge abated when he re-examined the business card he held in his perfectly manicured hands. “Eternal Insurance” it read, in a clean un-fussy typeface with no flourishes. He flipped it over and tapped his nails nervously against the tag line; “Post Mortal Peace of Mind Specialists”.
He had been given the card a few weeks ago by Graham Young, a real estate developer who had ascended to giddying financial heights through the time honoured methods of brutality and intimidation. He had been justly feted for this, and now held the role of Pillar of Society in the local press and media. A position he ensured he kept through publicised donations and private promises of extreme violence to those who would argue otherwise. They had been reclining in the luxurious surroundings of their “health club”, a euphemism for their very exclusive, and very discreet surgeon’s recovery room when Eternal Insurance entered the conversation. It had been a standard fat removal for Leo, with an additional skin polish to keep his artificially youthful glow, whilst Graham was still wincing slightly from his latest hair implants.
“Nice work Foster’s done on your peak there,” commented Leo, “when I had mine done I choose the classic widow’s peak, but I’m thinking of having it re-sculpted into something softer looking.”
“Bloody stings.” emerged from Graham’s tightly pink face. “Worth it for the cameras though, the new housing development’s going through next week and there’ll be the usual press splash.”
Leo nodded. In today’s media savvy and technologically connected world the old fat cat image was a damaging anachronism. Gone were the sweating fat men with comb-overs and veiny bulbous noses, replaced by the surgeon sculpted lean physiques and chiselled features of Leo’s ilk. The ugly virtues behind the facade remained sadly untouched, but a prettier face prevented the public from glimpsing them.
“Speaking of necessary evils, you might be interested in speaking to these guys.” Graham said, casually tossing the business card onto the table between their recliners. “They did me a great deal and if you let them know I sent you, they’ll do the same for you.”
Leo glanced at the card. “Insurance? I hardly need more. Got a great system set up with an organisation in the Caymans.”
“Not like this” Graham rejoined. “They’re very exclusive, you can’t even call them. Just go to their address, alone, very hush hush, and see what they have to say.” He tapped the side of his nose, and attempted a wink, but his taut flesh wouldn’t allow it.
Leo picked up the card and fiddled with it, intrigued. If Graham reckoned they were worth visiting in person there was almost certainly a profit to be made, unless of course he was being set up. Friendly banter aside, either one of them would have cheerfully strangled the other if business needs dictated it.
“Post Mortal?” he read on the back of the card. “What kind of specialists are these?”
Graham grinned as far as his stretched skin would allow. “The last kind you’ll ever need.”
Marshalling his resolve, Leo strode with every appearance of confidence towards the building, and firmly pressed the buzzer by the door, prepared to bark his name. A tinny voice squawked from the intercom and through the hiss of static invited him to come up to the second floor, without questioning his name or business. Leo made his way up the dingy stairwell; lit by cheap fluorescent light that managed to bruise the eyes with its brightness whilst simultaneously failing to dispel the gloom. The second floor opened into a narrow corridor studded with inexpensively frosted glass doors. Behind the doors dust motes danced in blissful solitude, undisturbed by any activity. Leo heard a polite cough from the middle door, which stood slightly ajar, and marched in. Knocking was an activity that happened to other people, and he intended to conduct this conversation as he did his business dealings; firmly on the front foot.
The interior of the office was as unprepossessing as the exterior; a medium sized room containing dust, a cheap desk devoid of any objects, and two old chairs. Leo’s roaming eyes took all this in, and then jerked back to the desk with a start. One of the chairs was occupied, by a gentleman (Leo could conceive of no other word to describe him) in a neutral business suit, with a clipped moustache and neatly parted hair. Leo’s eyes did not seem to want to register his existence, and it was an effort of will to stop his glance from sliding away.
“Aha. Mr. Stoad.” the gentleman said as he stood up, clearly a statement of fact and not a question. “You are interested in our insurance policy. I am Mr. Verin. I will explain your options. Sit.” He gestured in a flowing motion to one of the chairs.
“I’m not sure I’m interested in anything yet. Graham tell you I was coming?” Leo leant strongly and with an attempt at casualness on the back of the chair opposite the desk, however the creaking protest it made at this treatment caused him to stand upright again somewhat awkwardly. Leo felt rattled, a sensation he’d all but forgotten.
Mr. Verin sat back in the chair he had vacated, keeping his spine ramrod straight. He smoothed his moustache and placed his palms flat on the desk. His fingers were long and white, and his eyes never left Leo’s.
“If you were not interested in what we have to offer Mr. Stoad, you would not be here. Should you wish, I will expand upon the options we have available for purchase. You are of course free to leave at any time you should not wish to remain a valued customer.”
His voice gave Leo the impression he used it rarely. He momentarily had the mad idea that Mr. Verin was always waiting silently and unmoving in this office like a ghastly motion activated puppet, only coming to life when someone walked in. Leo had heard some threats in his time, made a good few too, but the shiver that tickled his spine at the thought of no longer being a “valued customer” was new to him. There had been no direct threat, but an undercurrent in the room whispered to his hindbrain that danger was crawling all around him and probing for a way in. He sat.
“We offer a number of plans, with additional add-on options for the discerning customer.” Mr. Verin continued smoothly in his sales patter. “We have the basic Saver’s Soul Cleanse, the Chakra Solution, the Scourge and Flail option for the more traditional clients, there is a Sin-Eating Extra and currently a bargain price discount on the Sacrificial Special.” Having reached the end of the opener, he smiled on cue. Leo wished he hadn’t. It was horribly reminiscent of a man eater’s flash of teeth. He suddenly comprehended why no animals other than humans smiled; the baring of teeth was not a friendly act.
“Perhaps you have a particular religious element you would wish included in your contract? We are open to all faiths, religions, cults, and belief systems.” Mr. Verin paused, and smiled again.
“What…” Leo was disconcerted to hear his voice exit his mouth in a squeak. He cleared his throat. “What, precisely, is the nature of the insurance you are offering?”
Mr. Verin’s smile widened. “Eternal Insurance is our company name Mr. Stoad, and I find it a most adequate description of our services. It is possible of course, to take measures in the physical plane to ensure your reputation remains spotless and gleaming even after death. A type of insurance policy for your reputation, which will always outlast your mortal shell. Secret vices may be buried, debaucheries concealed, and suspect tastes thoroughly hidden from the public gaze. Well paid staff are, I am sure, primed to take the necessary steps in the event of your own demise.” He paused to ascertain that Leo was following his explanation, and upon Leo’s dazed nod he continued.
“The inherent flaw with this system is I am sure immediately apparent to a keen witted businessman such as yourself Mr. Stoad.” Leo nodded on reflex. “Externally, you appear to have lived a good life. But internally, what is the status of your soul?”
Leo had the horrible sensation that this was not an idle question, and what is more, that Mr. Verin knew exactly what the status of his soul was to the last little white lie. Seismic shifts were stirring deep in the recesses of his mind, and previous certainties were crumbling. Mr. Verin’s dress and manners may have been amusingly dated, but every word rang with a fundamental truth that reverberated deep within Leo.
“Just think!” Mr. Verin continued, “All traces of your sins have disappeared from the physical world, but your soul is still dirty, besmirched, blackened with the sins you have committed! What small comfort to know that you remain undiscovered in the physical world you have left behind, when your raw soul is laid bare and quivering to be judged in your afterlife!” Mr. Verin himself was quivering at this point, his splayed fingers corpse white and pressed into the desk, his moustache fairly vibrating.
“However” he held up a single long finger so quickly he seemed to blur, and was once again in immediate and full possession of himself, “this need not be the case. Eternal Insurance has put together a package that is unique in the field. For a fee, we can grant you peace of mind for this life and the next. We delve beneath the surface! We clean your soul. We polish your life and present you, unblemished and free of sin to your afterlife, with all the rewards and eternal benefits as might be expected to be conferred upon a sin-less man.”
Leo had never before granted much time to the consideration of the state of his eternal soul, having vague notions that if it was found to be useful he could one day leverage it. Sitting opposite Mr. Verin in the dusty office, aware of the cold sweat trickling down his neck and the yawning horror growing in the pit of his stomach, he was gifted with the realisation that his soul was not an abstract concept, and it was very, very dirty.
“How?” Leo started and stopped himself. There were a number of questions whirling in his brain, and his natural instincts to turn a deal to his advantage had not abandoned him. His scrabbling brain had no purchase here however, no solid facts and quantifiable knowns to push against. “How is this accomplished? Who does your company represent? What price do you expect?”
Mr. Verin steepled his fingers and attentively looked at Leo as he ticked off these questions. “The process is simple Mr. Stoad. Upon signing a contract with us we take full possession of all of your sins and the consequences thereof. We “download” them, as it were, on a five year cycle. Once we have possession of your sins we ensure that the appropriate recompense, punishment if you will, is meted out to a number of individuals whom we have under contract. Penance performed, your sins are null and void.
In terms of our corporate sponsorship, we are indeed one part of a much larger consortium as you have guessed, an umbrella group with interests in many dimensions. We have been called Tartarus, Hades, and innumerable names through the aeons.” He made an impatient movement with his hands as though to brush these titles away. “I’m sure you understand the value of rebranding every so often to keep your brand fresh.”
“Our contract is open to examination by lawyers of your choosing, although please be assured that the very best can be found in our employ, and their services are free to you regarding oversight of the contract.
And finally, the nub of the matter. As a price, we will take nothing more or less, than your sins and the consequences thereof.” He spread his arms wide and flashed the smile at Leo, the consummate professional at the end of his spiel.
“Hold on.” Leo sat forward in his chair. “You’ll take my sins, and in return, all you want is my sins? What’s in it for you?”
“Mr. Stoad” Mr. Verin stood up, with a sudden startling movement like the unfolding of a deckchair. “Perhaps a short tour of another of our facilities would explain the situation to you more aptly than a description?”
Leo, all pretence at self-possession abandoned, uncertainly got to his feet. “Um, I can call my driver back…”
His sentence trailed off as Mr. Verin raised a polite hand to halt him. “No need Mr. Stoad, I assure you. You may view the facility from here, please” he gestured to the wall of the office “Do take a look at one small part of our operation.”
As Leo turned, the wall of the office shimmered and receded. Leo gulped, speechless, at the nightmare vision that replaced it. “As you can see, Mr. Stoad”, Leo was aware of Mr. Verin’s voice murmuring very close to his ear, but could not drag his appalled eyes from the indescribable scenes before him, “we have sufficient contracted employees to cover a multitude of sins. Aha.” Leo managed to half turn towards Mr. Verin, in whose eyes flickered the dark red reflection of the torture of the damned currently taking place before him. In as much as it was possible to judge, he seemed pleased; satisfied with the work that was being undertaken.
“These…people…”, Leo struggled to recognise some of the more altered forms in front of him as human, but the odd scrap of undamaged flesh revealed what they had once been, “…are they… is this …Hell? Are they,” he swallowed “…condemned?”
“In a manner of speaking, Mr. Stoad. A number of these individuals are paying penances for sins committed in their lifetimes. These souls will, unfortunately, pass out of our realm once their penances are paid.” Mr. Verin seemed almost sad at the prospect. “These are the souls who have no contract with us, and as such, their stay is necessarily short. To these, we are merely a staging post on their journey. Most regrettable.”
He perked up as he turned to face Leo, and smiled. “There are others however, who have taken on permanent contracts with us. These fine souls are the backbone of our operation! Their stay is eternal, their time to perform penances inexhaustible, and they are the souls who will take your penances for you!
It must have occurred to you that the constant creation of new penances and torment is both labour intensive and costly. Sins, however, true sins, create automatic penances! No longer must my colleagues labour to create relationships with the souls they are responsible for, crafting torments with exquisite detail and suitability! A simple download of your sins, spread across a number of farmed souls, and the penances are automatic. Oh,” he chuckled dryly, “we do still like to keep our hand in Mr. Stoad, and with the freeing up of our resources we can utilise our time in crafting torments of such sublime delicacy I am often astounded myself at the imagination of my colleagues.”
Leo sensed this was his cue to say something, but his vocal chords seemed to have atrophied. He nodded again, dumbly, and flailed about in his brain for an appropriate question. He found one that made him panic and he reared backwards from the window.
“Why would anyone take on a, um, permanent contract?! That’s not what you’re offering me is it?”
“Oh no Mr. Stoad.” Mr. Verin hurried to reassure Leo, “Our contract is for the term of your life, and at the termination of the same our services are at an end. There is not, aha, much opportunity to commit sins in the afterlife, creating a natural end to our services.
As to the souls you see before you…they would tell you they had their own reasons for choosing their contracts. In my lengthy experience however, it is almost exclusively the same motivations.” Mr. Verin gazed on them happily. “They craved power, wealth, fame, and all the trappings of material success so greatly they were prepared to barter their immortal service for the same.”
“But surely,” Leo asked “no one does that anymore? I mean, deals with the, um, devil and all that, people are a bit sharper now than they were in the medieval days, you can’t be getting much new, um, custom?”
“From long acquaintance with humanity Mr. Stoad I am of the opinion that people have not changed at all. There are some for whom a lifespan of wealth and power seems adequate recompense for an eternity of damnation. Or at least,” he smiled “it seems adequate at the time. Perhaps, if you have satisfied yourself as to the scale of our operations, we might discuss the specifics of your contract?”
At Leo’s nod, the wall returned to its previously dusty and fully opaque incarnation. With precise steps Mr. Verin returned to the desk and deposited himself in his chair. Leo staggered after him and slumped into his. He leant forward and ran his hands through his hair as Mr. Verin observed him calmly. He wanted this deal badly. An automatic get out of jail free card for the afterlife? Based on what he’d just seen, he more than wanted this deal, he needed it. Where was the catch though? It seemed so…tidy. A passing thought wandered through his brain and he grabbed at it.
“You said this contract lasted the term of my life? Is that my natural life? I’m not signing away any time here am I?”
“Your keen intellect has once again taken you to the crux of the matter. Our service offers you complete peace of mind, and uncertainty surrounding your demise is not conducive to peace as we understand it. To alleviate any stress and uncertainty caused by such non-disclosure, a clause in the contract stipulates that your mortal coil will continue to function, subject to 5-yearly reviews, concurrent with the download of sins. Both parties to the contract must be in full agreement if any, aha, shuffling off is to be commenced.” He raised his eyebrows at Leo, who, mindful of the attempt at humour, dutifully offered a mirthless laugh.
“Hold on. So, with this contract, I’m not just getting my sins wiped out, I’m getting eternal life?!” Leo’s eyes shone and his thoughts whirled. Yes, Heaven seemed in all the preachers’ tales to be a fairly nice place, but it had always seemed a bit too clinical and antiseptic for Leo’s tastes. His heart did not thrill at the thought of hymning hosannas; his blood remained decidedly cold regarding cherubs. What quickened his pulse and throbbed through his body was the thrill of the deal, the turn of the screw on those less able, the indescribable joy that came with acquisition. An eternity of clawing his way to the top of the pile and stamping on the faces of those below him was Leo’s idea of heaven, being surrounded by the souls of the godly and righteous was certainly not. At that moment he was sold. His brain hummed, he straightened in his chair and leaned forwards onto the desk, staring Mr. Verin directly in the eye.
“Let’s clarify. Once I sign this contract, every five years you will take away all of my sins, and grant me another five years of mortal life. You can’t stop me from living unless I agree to it. And if I ever do decide to die, my sins have been paid for.”
“Very concisely put Mr. Stoad. In short, yes, we will take all the consequences of your sins at five yearly intervals, and you will not cease your mortal life unless we both agree to the same.” His polite smile now seemed agreeable to Leo.
Leo’s eyes gleamed, and he smiled wolfishly. “Mr. Verin. You have yourself a deal.”
Leo smiled with contentment as sipped his fine brandy and gazed at the sunset out of his floor to ceiling penthouse windows. Freed from the constraining shackles of the last vestiges of his morality, the previous five years had been a cavalcade of unprecedented successes. His power and influence had increased in direct correlation to his elevated ruthlessness and debauchery, and he could be fairly described to be at the pinnacle of his power. When he spoke, important men listened and took note, the tentacles of his interest and influence had wormed their way into nooks and crannies globally. Privately, his tastes had taken a turn for the debauched, as he explored the full range of sadistic pleasure available to one who had no fear of conscience pricks. He watched the reflection of his perfect gleaming smile broaden as he considered that tonight, all the consequences of his actions would be wiped from his eternal record. Finishing his brandy, he stretched his muscular physique (he had upgraded from Dr Foster three years previously), and sauntered to his sumptuous bed. He threw himself down and stretched out luxuriously. Propping his head on a pillow, he closed his eyes and drifted off into the peaceful sleep of the righteous.
He awoke with a start to the rattling and shrieking of a train passing far too close to his head for comfort. Rolling to escape the noise, he was uncomfortably indented by the rough gravel he was lying on, and his head glanced against a lump of dirty concrete. Shakily sitting up, he cradled his head and gingerly explored the small gash the concrete had inflicted. Having satisfied himself that he was in no immediate danger of being run over or bleeding to death, he looked at his surroundings with growing incomprehension.
He seemed to be just inside a dark railway tunnel, sitting in a stagnant puddle of water he had rolled into in his escape from the train. The soot stained tunnel walls were dank and shone with an unhealthy moisture, the air was harsh and chemically tainted. Leo could conceive of no possible reason for being in such a depressing and unsavoury locale; if he had been kidnapped he would hardly have been brought here and left alone. This thought caused him to whip his head around in a vain search for another presence that could explain his predicament. He could see no one, and hear nothing other than a steady drip somewhere in the darkness of the deeper tunnel. The movement had sent a shooting pain through his neck, and he automatically reached to massage it. He stopped in mid-motion, shocked into immobility at the condition of the hand that responded to his request. In place of the tanned manicured hands he knew to be his own, was a grimy filth-encrusted claw with broken nails and a sickly pallor showing through the dirt. He stumbled to his feet and gazed down in horror at the rest of his body. His sculpted physique had been replaced by an emaciated frame grossly distorted by the protuberant belly of the near-famished. His skin was mottled with scars and abrasions, his gaunt figure swaddled in rags of an indeterminate origin. The rank odour rising from his own body caused him to gag. Clutching his head, his fingers scrabbled across a near bald palate encrusted with flakes of dead skin and dirt, and his probing tongue discovered a mouth full of holes and rotting stumps.
Falling back into the mire, he stared aghast at the wreck of his body. Frantically patting the scraps of material that passed for his clothes, he found no reassuring heft of wallet or phone. He squeezed his eyes shut as he attempted to reconcile what he knew to be true with the conflicting reality that pressed upon him.
The familiar voice caused his eyes to fly open. Mr. Verin, looking entirely the same as he had five years ago, was standing in front of him, regarding him with professional interest.
“As per the terms of our contract, I am pleased to inform you that your sins and their consequences have been removed. Should there be nothing further, I will see you at our next appointment.” He inclined his head, turned briskly on the spot, and started to walk away with those quick precise steps Leo remembered.
“Wait!” croaked Leo, desperate not to be left alone in his confusion. “No, wait! There is something further! There’s a hell of a lot of something further! What the hell has happened to me?! This wasn’t the deal! Why do I look like this?! Where’s my penthouse?! My money?! Where, when you get right down to it, are my goddamn TEETH?!”
“Mr. Stoad.” Mr. Verin’s voice was like a whip crack across the hysterically rising tone of Leo’s wail as he spun about to face him. “I do hope that you are not suggesting that we have in any way reneged on our agreement? That we have failed, in even the smallest particular, to fulfil our designated duties?”
“No, no,” Leo backpedalled frantically at the red gleam that had appeared in Mr. Verin’s eyes. “Well, not as such, but what is this? Why am I here? My sins are paid for! Why am I being punished?”
“Punished?” Mr. Verin’s lifted one delicately arched eyebrow. “You are hardly being punished Mr. Stoad. You seem to have misunderstood the situation.” He pulled across a chair that Leo would have sworn was not in the tunnel a second previously, and sat down.
“What you are currently experiencing is of course a direct result of our contract.” His tone was conversational, as though regaling Leo with a vaguely amusing anecdote. “As per our agreement, which you signed of your own free will, Eternal Insurance has downloaded all of your sins and the consequences thereof. The penances and punishments are already being shared amongst the farmed souls, and the material successes have been subsumed into one of our many earthly organisations.” He looked at Leo expectantly.
Leo did not disappoint. “Material successes? You mean; my wealth, my companies, my power?” he said hoarsely. “Those weren’t a part of the deal. I checked that contract myself. You were just supposed to take the consequences of my sins.” He attempted a confident smile, but it reached his face as a ghastly grimace and died there. “There’s been a mistake.” He said firmly. “No harm done, just put me back.”
Mr. Verin had been listening with his head cocked to one side. At the end of Leo’s speech he smiled sadly to himself. He even allowed a regretful chuckle to escape his lips. “There has been no mistake Mr. Stoad.” He refolded his long legs. “The contract was precise, and as you have stated, we have a binding agreement to take your sins and all the consequences thereof. All the consequences.” He lifted his eyebrows meaningfully at Leo. “Your wealth, your companies, your power? All a direct consequence of the sins you committed and undertook to achieve them. Not a penny of your fortune that had not been dipped in blood, not a shred of your power that had not been beaten and wrested from a competitor. You possessed not a single item or intangible asset that had not been paid for with the wages of sin. Sins that we, of course, now own.” He smiled encouragingly at Leo, who sat dazed and horrified against the damp tunnel wall.
“So, it’s all gone? Everything I worked for? Everything I built?” His head swum as he attempted to take this in. “Hey, well what about my hair?” he suddenly shouted, glaring at Mr. Verin. “Why don’t I have hair!”
“Ah ah Mr. Stoad.” Mr. Verin’s tone was faintly hectoring. “Vanity is a sin is it not? It was vanity that sent you to surgeons and cosmetic dentists, therefore under the terms of the contract, your hair, teeth, and figure are fully deductible as the consequences of sin.” He gazed at Leo with keen attention, looking at him as a scientist observes an interesting experiment.
Leo slumped against the tunnel wall in anguish. How could he go out into the world in his current condition? How could he be expected to claw his way back up and inspire confidence looking the way he did? Having compartmentalised the initial terror of his situation to deal with later, his thoughts started to busily tick over with potential schemes and ploys that would allow him to regain his lost wealth and power. He had run through and discarded a dozen schemes before his thoughts ground to a juddering halt at an appalling realisation.
“Hold on a minute.” He stared at Mr. Verin, who continued to regard him with polite amusement. “You take the consequences of my sins every five years? So whatever I achieve in the next five years, you’ll only take it again?”
“Oh no.” Mr. Verin looked mildly affronted. “Of course not Mr. Stoad. We are contracted to take only the consequences of your sins. Should you build a fortune and power base through virtuous deeds, that would of course remain yours to keep.”
Leo considered the possibility of attempting to create a fortune through virtuous deeds. Without lying, cheating, back biting, blackmailing, pressuring, let alone the more extreme methods he had on occasion utilised. With no option to capitalise on another’s misfortune, or undercut the competition through devious means. Not even a back room deal or an off the record gift to propel him back towards the rich, warm, comforting glow of material acquisition. And other people! He’d have to be constantly (he shuddered as he contemplated it) nice in his dealings with the rest of humanity. His groan of despair at the impossibility of it all reverberated through the tunnel.
“Well Mr. Stoad.” Mr. Verin was standing now, and straightening his suit jacket. “If there is nothing further, I will see you again in five years.”
Leo blinked at him rapidly. “No.” He almost whispered it. “Not five years of this. Not even a minute more of lying in my own filth in this hole, dead to the only world I care about.” He raised his eyes to Mr. Verin. “I choose death. I’d rather have an eternity of a vanilla heaven than a minute more of this hell. I choose to die.” He braced himself.
“I can’t allow that Mr. Stoad.” Mr. Verin smiled sorrowfully at Leo. “By the terms of our contract, both parties must agree to any termination of mortal life. Eternal Insurance sees no immediate, or indeed future need to exercise that clause.”
The full horror of his situation started to batter down Leo’s defences. He felt his sanity dancing on a knife edge and screwed his eyes shut as he moaned quietly into his scabbed hands. “Is there no way out? An eternity of life like this?”
He did not think he had spoken aloud, however he heard Mr. Verin reply in a factual tone. “Our contracts are unbreakable, with the one exception to this being a new contract signed by ourselves, which would then supersede the previous agreement. Of course, you have no such contract.”
Leo stared unseeing into the middle distance as he rocked backwards and forwards moaning. An eternity of living in this body, in this life, threatened to unhinge the last remainder of his mind. He had reached the end of the maze, turned down every alley, and there was no way out.
“My dear Mr. Stoad.” As Mr. Verin crouched next to Leo his voice dripped compassion. “Was your material wealth and status so very important to you? Did the material trappings of your success weigh so greatly in your enjoyment of life? Were the fruits of your sins so very dear to you?” Leo gazed blankly into Mr. Verin’s eyes as his voice washed hypnotically over him. “Were those short years of power and material gain so intoxicating that you cannot bear to be without them?”
Leo’s voice cracked as he replied. “They were everything to me. Everything.” His eyes unfocused as he mentally gazed back on the years of his success. “I’d give anything to have them back. Just for another few years. Anything.”
“I see.” Mr. Verin’s smile expanded like a shark’s maw, and his voice became silken. “In that case, Mr. Stoad, might I interest you in one of our other contracts?”
Halo Garrity currently lives, works, studies, and writes in the UK, having previously done the same throughout Southern Africa, North America, and various antipodean islands. A graphic novel and comic book geek, her first dissertation examined Captain America, and she is currently studying the evolution of psychological warfare. Should you be so inclined you can find her on twitter @HaloGarrity. This is her first short story.