Jim stared at the door, his heart racing uncontrollably. He clutched the satchel that hung around his neck, the pungent odor overpowered by the stink of fear that emanated from his own body. The room’s single candle flickered from a draft that came from nowhere and seemingly went nowhere. There were no windows or air vents, the room designed for the single purpose: isolation. The only way in and out was a single door.
The door had already taken several well placed blows, but by the grace of God, or whatever entity that chose to watch over him in that moment, the wood remained intact. Though after the last strike, it was showing signs of fatigue and distress. The wood was quickly fracturing, splinters littering the bare cement floor. The barrier was yet to be broken which was probably the only reason the door had not given way to the massive weight behind it.
His throat was dry but there was no food or water in that room with him. In his haste for refuge, Jim neglected to bring anything with him. His mind was solely focused on one single notion: run and hide. While every other aspect of his survival had been taken into consideration by his associate, hunger was one that had been overlooked. It seemed that the best laid plans in fact do go to waste. There was no knowing how long he would be trapped inside that room, but he was very aware of the possibility that he could die in there. Jim understood the rule of three: 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food. It would be a miserable existence but it was better than the alternative.
The man in the corner chuckled to himself, his pocket watch swinging back and forth like a pendulum. The faint candle light glinted in the perfect polish of the watch. Though Jim knew the man was annoyed to the greatest extent of the word, he sensed that he was enjoying every last bit of his victim’s torment. There was only the slimmest satisfaction in all of this knowing that this man was certainly earning his due.
Jim’s mind reeled at the possibility that he would actually die. It had been present in his thoughts for the past few days after witnessing such terrible sights and horrible creatures with his very own eyes. At first he thought it was nothing but foolishness. The entire idea was ridiculous, but as time went by and the deadline dwindled from years to days, he was shown a cold and terrifying truth. His entire being, body and soul, was shaken. It was only after that he took action, but by then it was far too late. His only hope was Catrina. She was the only person in the world who could save his soul.
“I don’t like this idea one bit.” Catrina spoke, her voice ringing clearly in Jim’s throbbing head. The bleeding had finally stopped and he was able to sniff without bloody mucus falling down into his throat. She pressed the ice Pack against his tender eye sending a shiver through him. The swelling was starting to fade, his eye shrinking back to a more manageable size. His tongue inspected every tooth it touched, searching for any signs of damage. Two teeth were missing and another probably cracked. The coppery taste of blood lingered in his mouth, but as not to appear rude to Catrina, Jim swallowed the bitter mouthful. He knew he could not keep that up without eventually getting sick though. The human stomach could only hold so much blood before automatic evacuation.
“Don’t tell me you believe that crap.” Jim slurred. Until the swelling in his lips went down, a mumbled mess of words was the best he could do. Catrina only stared at him with cold fear in her eyes. The very idea was something she did not want to be a party to. Too many times she had heard stories of misery and death and this was just too much for her. She loved Jim, despite his many flaws and the risks he chose to take, but it was clear that this love was woefully one sided. The only things he seemed to care about were a bunch of dead presidents.
“There are more things on heaven and earth...” Catrina started.
“Enough of that crap, will ya?” Jim snapped at her. Catrina frowned and for a moment almost threw the compress in his face before storming off, but this was not atypical behavior for Jim. Especially after getting beaten up for not paying his debt to his loan shark, the current incarnation being a Mr. Black.
“I’m just saying that this world is full of strange and wonderful things. You don’t need money to be happy.” Catrina said. Jim chuckled but immediately winced cutting the sound short.
This last attempt at a get rich quick scheme ended in dismal failure. Though he knew betting on the horse races was not a practical way of earning money, it was a sure fire way to make it in a hurry. That is, if you win. Far too many times did Jim learn that it was a sure fire way to lose money as well. To make matters worse, it was not his money he was losing, but Mr. Black’s.
Catrina examined the cut above Jim’s eye, a bloody gash that was no doubt caused by Mr. Black’s men. The “collection agency” ensured that those who could not pay their debt on time would never forget another payment. Most never ended up in the hospital, the injuries superficial, for the most part, and easily treatable. Some do. And some end up in the morgue but that place was reserved for those who made it clear that they would never be able to pay off their debt. Once that had been established, Mr. Black cut them loose.
The injury was not as bad as it appeared. A few butterfly bandages, some gauze and all that would be left in the end was a fairly impressive scar. The other injuries, the swollen nose and the bruised ribs would have to be cared for with the Vicodin that Catrina had in her medicine cabinet. Of course the name on the bottle read, Mrs. Edna Young but Catrina doubted that Mrs. Young would mind if Jim used them, seeing as how she had died earlier that year. And this departure from the living world didn’t stop her Social Security checks from being spent. Before his unfortunate meeting with the collectors Jim had demanded that Catrina give him the money to try and pay off his debt, but she resisted his charms because she knew that they were in need of other things, such as food and rent.
“Catrina, you just don’t get it.” Jim barked. “This may be the only way to get the money for Black.” Catrina sighed as she tossed the bandage wrapper into the wastebasket.
“There has to be another way.” Catrina insisted. She refused to believe that Jim’s plan was the only plan. This was simply met with a cold stare. To Jim, he had thought it out as well as he could, but Catrina, knew it was the same short sighted thinking that got him into the same mess he was currently in. Money was all that mattered to him and it seemed that no matter where the money came from or what it cost to get it, Jim couldn’t care less.
Catrina’s eyes shifted from the love of her hard-knock life to the coffee table. Resting next to the bottle of alcohol, Band-Aids, and a mess of bloody tissues was a small aluminum box no larger than a mint container. The surfaced was faded and worn, dented from much abuse. Trapped within the hinges appeared to be what looked like dirt.
As she stared at the tin, she knew what lay inside. It was not the minty treasures that one would think. No, it was something that would only bring despair for both Jim and her. In her years, she had seen such boxes and every story ended poorly. Jim’s would be no different. He was meddling with forces that he refused to even try to comprehend. This was something not to be trifled with.
“Jim, please don’t do this.” Catrina pleaded, but Jim shook his head dismissing her concern outright.
“No, Cat. This is the only way.” He said.
Jim rose to his feet as best he could but as he stood his ribs reminded him of his earlier encounter with Mr. Black’s associates. Hard metal and rigid ribs were never meant to be playmates. This sudden surge of pain only redoubled his resolve with his decision. Catrina could see his obvious pain and handed him the bottle of pain pills and a bottle of water. Jim only sneered at the water and chose to pull a flask from his now tattered sports coat.
He popped several pills into his mouth, chasing them with the flask as his eyes locked onto the small tin. Alan had made it for him when Jim made a frantic phone call after meeting Black’s men. To call Alan a friend would be a stretch of the word, but he did come in handy. Alan was a “businessman” who had the pull and resources to make things happen; though as a person he possessed questionable traits that made him, as Catrina had described him, scum. He and Jim had come to an agreement long ago. If Alan did a favor for Jim, then he could spend a night with Catrina. Though, this was not in any way something Catrina had agreed to. The first several times Alan had come to collect, she was far from complacent. There was a lot of fighting back but Alan made it clear that if she would not pay Jim’s debt, his first call would be to the police. After all they were living in a dead man’s home.
At the time this arrangement was settled, she and Jim had been living in Mr. Michael McBride’s home, an elderly gentleman who had died in his sleep. Of course, a dead body had not stopped them from using his home for a time and cashing in his Social Security checks. Once properly placed in the basement freezer and sealed up, it was as if he had never been there. It wasn’t until months after they had moved out that the landlord found the body. Unfortunately for him, the electricity had stopped running long before that. From then on out, Catrina was as willing as any woman in her position. She may not be able to stop Alan, but it didn’t mean she had to make it easy on him either. Last time around she broke two of his fingers and gave him a pretty nasty gash on his forehead.
“Who gave you that box, Jim?” Catrina asked. Jim remained silent as he snatched up the tin and stuffed it into his pocket. His silence was all she needed. Alan would be on his way to collect his debt soon.
“I have to go now.” Jim said flatly. His voice had dropped to whisper and he could barely even meet her gaze. It was clear that he was ashamed but at no point did he ever apologize. He never apologized. All he would say was, it was for the good of us and she would return with: Goddamn you, James Davis.
Before Catrina could say anything to stop him, Jim was already closing the door behind him, leaving her alone in the apartment. She stared after him for a long while, her heart aching with each passing second. Jim was making the biggest mistake of his life and as usual she was forced to sit back and wait for him to return.
It was several minutes afterward that Catrina rose to her feet and stepped over to the bookshelf. Her fingers caressed the objects on its shelves, cutting through the thick layer of dust and stopping as she came to a large snow globe. Within it was a small log cabin sitting atop a mound of pure white. The snow had settled to the bottom and by the layer of dust that had collected on the top of the glass, a great deal of time had passed since it snowed last. Catrina lifted it, testing its weight. It was not heavy but not light either.
Her hand rocked back and forth stirring up the snow and her eyes focused on the scene before her. Immediately, she could imagine herself and Jim sitting within that small cabin, with the winter storm blowing outside and a cozy fire raging within. Both would be nestled together in front of the fireplace, acting like a real couple. It was a dream that she had often. Whether it was in a log cabin or on a boat or in an apartment, she wanted nothing more than to be with Jim and not have to worry about bookies or collectors. She desired a normal life, but it seemed that even something as simple as that was slipping away from her.
As she watched the tiny white flecks float slowly drift down around the base, there was a knock on the door. Catrina didn’t move to answer it, she already knew who it was. Alan had come to collect, sooner than she had thought. She sighed and turned to face the door, hiding the snow globe around her back. With grim resolve she knew he would certainly have to earn his payment this time.
Jim stood in the road, staring down the vacant thoroughfare. He was miles outside of the city, the hard pavement having been replaced by gravel and dirt. It took some searching but he found the location Alan told him about. There was a chill in the night wind and it sliced through his jacket like a sawblade. He shifted the small tin back and forth in his hands as he thought over his decision. Alan had told him exactly how to strike the deal but all of it seemed a bit odd. Why someone would have to bury a small tin filled with a chicken foot and other bizarre items in the dirt, seemed a bit excessive, but Alan assured him that this would work. And for the cost of payment, it better.
Jim slowly turned, staring down the roads, searching for the man or woman who would cure all of his life’s ills. The tin was one important aspect of the process and location was the other. The area he was to meet his contact was to be at the meeting point of two intersecting roads. The area was abandoned, nothing but empty roads and clear night skies. His car was the only one within miles, the sounds of the city mere echoes in the distance. His car’s headlights cast a sickly yellow light across the dirt, as if telling him where to dig the hole. It didn’t have to be anything special, just a hole large enough for the tin box to fit into. Alan was vague on the exact details of who this contact was and this bothered him. The last thing Jim needed was to run into any old acquaintances looking to settle debts with bats and blowtorches, but he had no other options, he did the only thing he could. He knelt down in the dirt and using a small hand trowel he had borrowed from Alan, he proceeded to dig in the dirt.
The ground was hard, but manageable. The lack of rain over the past few weeks had made the dirt practically crumble as he broke through the surface. Fortunately, the hole did not have to be deep, just enough to cover the box. One good scoopful was all Jim needed and he was finished within minutes. He paused for a moment, staring at the small tin once more before placing it within the tiny grave. There was a pang of doubt lingering in his mind and Catrina’s voice echoing in his ears. However those ominous words were quickly overshadowed by Alan, whose words were far more enticing. The promise of wealth and prosperity was all Jim needed to hear. Without a second thought, he tossed the dirt back into the hole and gave the earth a few pats for good measure.
“Hello, James.” A voice suddenly called from behind. Shaken, Jim stumbled into the dirt. He turned to see a man standing before him, illuminated by the car’s headlights. The stranger was handsome, his features soft and young. He reminded Jim of the models he had seen in clothing ads, though most recent clothing ads seemed to focus on the irony of selling clothes by having the models wear less and less of them. The stranger’s dark blonde hair was neatly spiked and he wore a pair of rounded sunglasses which glinted in the headlights. This man wore an elegant gray three piece suit and in his left hand was a pocket watch which he mindlessly swung back and forth.
“Who are you?” Jim asked as he climbed to his feet. He kept his distance in case this man intended to harm him.
“The name is Paciscor, but you may call me Pac.” The man said, still playing with the pocket watch.
“Where did you come from? How did you manage to sneak up on me like that?” Jim asked but Pac only chuckled.
“I come from far and go to where I am needed,” He replied, “That’s all you need to know.”
“So, are you the guy that Alan was talking about?”
“I have dealt with a lot of Alans. A lot of Jims too.” Pac said, his demeanor shifting from the pithy courtesy to business. “So why am I here?”
“I need something from you.” Jim said.
“Well that seemed pretty obvious. So what is it that you want?” Pac asked.
“I need money. I need to pay back a man who is going to take me apart if I can’t pay him back.” Jim answered. Pac’s shoulders slumped and he seemed to grow bored as Jim told his request.
“I have been doing this a very, very long time. I can remember every single deal I have made, but this is by far the most pathetic request I have ever heard.” Pac spat. It seemed that Jim had not won the man’s sympathy. “I mean its fine that wish to rely on a petty rapist for help, to each their own, but this is just plain sad.”
“I thought you didn’t know Alan?” Jim asked. Pac shook his head, coolly.
“I said I dealt with a lot of Alans. I never said I didn’t know your associate.” Pac corrected. “Though I have never personally done business with him, a sensible man in that regard, I do know he is the one pointing others my way. In fact after so much business I probably owe him a freebie.” Pac smiled once more but it seemed cold, calculating.
“Are you going to help me or not?” Jim barked. His patience with Pac was wearing thin. He owed Mr. Black money which was due the following evening. He did not want to waste what little time he had left talking to someone who wouldn’t help.
Pac sighed and rolled his eyes, which Jim could not see due to the sunglasses but could sense given the man’s demeanor. He had started twirling the pocket watch halfway into Jim’s story as a way to keep from getting bored. Part of him just wanted to make the deal and then count the days until collection, after all he had other appointments to keep, but money just seemed like such a waste.
“I will help, but come on. Money is all you want? Don’t you want to make this worth your while?” Pac said, egging Jim on.
“What do you mean?” Jim asked, the question making Pac sighed. It was clear that this was Jim’s virgin voyage into this territory and did not quite understand what was in store for him. It also meant he did not understand the risks. This mattered little to Pac, but he felt he could at least let this man truly live for once before his debt was to be paid.
“Let me tell you of an example.” Pac started, “There was a jazz musician. Not bad, but not exactly a chart topper... yet. He and I had an agreement. He wants to be a successful musician and I have the means to make that happen. We deal and he becomes an overnight success. He tastes all of what that has to offer: Money, happiness, women. He was the happiest he has ever been and even upon collection time, he didn’t kick and scream. He just met me back at the crossroads and we completed our transaction.” It was clear Pac was quite proud of himself but this only added to Jim’s impatience and overwhelming annoyance with the man. He silently cursed Alan for sending such a drama queen his way.
“What does that have to do with me?” Jim asked. Pac chuckled as he continued to twirl and swing his silver pocket watch.
“I am offering you a chance to get out from underneath whatever shit that’s holding you down. This life has so much to offer and for the cost you’ll have to pay me, I only want you to have a fair deal.” Pac explained.
“What exactly is the price? Alan was pretty vague on that part.” Jim said.
“Oh it’s not that much if you think about it. All I have to offer you can be repaid by simply giving me your soul.” He said, but quickly added, “When the time comes that is.”
Jim was in awe. He had heard some ridiculous notions, but selling his soul to this devil was something that surprised even him. He had never taken much stock in souls or heaven and hell. As a child, the only system of belief he was exposed to was the back of his old man’s hand and the only words of God spoken in his house were the erotic outpourings from the women his father brought home.
Pac’s offer was that of a mad man. If Jim believed that something as intangible as a soul existed, then he would have sold it years ago to clear his debt to Lenny Carver, back in Phoenix. Instead he had to find another way out and faking one’s own death was not the easiest thing to do. It took days to find a vagrant that was even marginally similar to himself. Not many people were over six feet and had the same bone structure as him, especially the homeless. It had gotten to the point to where, Jim was considering stepping away from the homeless and finding some other random person on the street, but for once his luck had found him a nice tall homeless man. Though he didn’t resemble Jim, the fire that consumed him would cover that fact fairly well.
“My soul. You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m not selling my soul to the devil.” Jim said flatly.
“First off, I’m not the devil.” Pac corrected, “And secondly, it doesn’t seem that you are using your soul, so I figured why not take it off your hands.” He chuckled at this while Jim frowned. It seemed that Pac was his own audience.
“If Alan has told you anything about me...” Jim started, but Pac cut his off.
“Oh he hasn’t I assure you. I already know all about you. I know about all of the innocent people you’ve scammed, stolen from, killed. I know about your deal with dear Alan and poor Catrina. I even know that when you were sixteen you hit a classmate of yours with your car because she turned you down for a date. What was her name?” Pac snickered. “Danielle? No, Robin. No no, Beth. Yes. Beth”
“How do you know about that?” Jim wanted to shout, but his voice only came out as a raspy hiss. A heaviness rested in his chest as long abandoned memories came screaming back to the surface.
“I told you. I know all about you. Danielle was the woman you shot and killed. On accident of course,” Pac said with a chuckle, “I mean if some woman tried to turn me over to the cops for something as small as petty theft then, hey, you get what you deserve.” Jim said nothing as he choked back the words that lingered on his tongue as a roiling hatred swelled within him that threatened to erupt.
“How do you know all of this?” Jim growled. His anger was almost palpable and if he would have come armed he was certain that Pac would be eating the barrel of his .44.
“I know it, because I can see into your very soul.” Pac said, “As if it was written in blood. Your entire life has been a wide awake nightmare, but I am here to offer you something more. Something that you’ve never had: Luck.” Jim glared, staring at his own reflection in Pac’s sunglasses and for a moment, through the dark lenses, Jim swore he saw Pac’s eyes glow a bright red, but assumed it was only a trick of the light.
“You’ll give me luck?” Jim asked flatly. Pac nodded.
“You want money. That’s how you’ll get it. For ten whole years, from the moment our agreement is made, you will be the luckiest man this planet has ever seen.” Pac said, but quickly slipped in, “All it will cost you is your soul.”
Jim took a moment to consider this. If what this man was offering was true then he could pay off his entire debt and live a life he was meant to. No more struggling to pay back debts. No more living in dead people’s apartments, stealing their Social Security checks. Perhaps luck was not a lady but instead a man wearing a three piece suit, sunglasses, and twirling a pocket watch. And all it would cost him was something he didn’t even believe in. It was the deal of a lifetime and one he could not pass up.
“No tricks?” Jim asked.
“No tricks. Ten whole years of unsurpassed luck.” Pac reassured. Jim paused as if weighing some imaginary scale, determining the pros and the cons of such a deal, but only one answer was clear and if Pac could read him like he said, then he already knew the answer.
“Deal.” Jim said. Pac’s face lit up in delight.
“Fantastic!” Pac laughed. He approached Jim, the dirt crunching underneath his expensive loafers and offered a hand to Jim who eyed him suspiciously. For a moment, Jim hesitated but ultimately gave in, after all how dangerous could a handshake be. Suddenly, a blinding pain shot through his entire body as if he was suddenly set on fire. Immediately the face of the homeless man appeared in his mind and Jim shared a momentary terrible empathy with him. Then, as quickly as the sensation surged, it vanished leaving a soothing relief in its absence.
“What was that?” Jim barked, ripping his hand from Pac’s. The deal maker only smiled and raised his hand, exposing his palm. As if carved into his very flesh was an intricate serious of lines and curves set within a circle. The lines glowed bright red for a moment but then vanish leaving nothing behind. Jim stared at his own palm to find the same design glowing in his own skin, but just as quickly, it disappeared.
“Ten years,” was all Jim heard.
As he looked up to ask Pac what had happened, he was staring at nothing but the road ahead of him. Jim was on the crossroads, alone.
Alan lay on the floor, the blood had finally ceased its seemingly endless flow from the open gash in his skull. Fragments of glass and bone littered the floor around his head as if some garnish to the gruesome delicacy. The once pure white specks that resembled snowflakes had been spoiled with the dark crimson that was soaking into the once new carpeting. His mouth was a gape in horror, the look of fear still in his eyes, yet the spark of life had been completely extinguished.
Catrina stared down at the body as a hunter surveying a kill. A hint of pride surged through and though she was not one for violent acts, she reveled in this man’s death. She relished in watching the life drain from his now vacant eyes. No more would he slap and punch at her face, drawing blood and laughing with each blow. No more would he throw her around in a sorry attempt at proving dominance which in fact only demonstrated how weak he was. His days of destruction was over as was Catrina’s life with Jim.
Since she met Jim in that bar back on Lisbon Street so many years ago, Jim always kept her at arm’s length, coming to her only for favors and for money. His charms were nonexistent and though he possessed a rugged quality that she had seen in many men, Jim was different. Perhaps it was his desperation that she saw within his eyes and soul. Or it was when they made love that she felt a real connection with him. But no longer would she wait around for Jim to come to his senses and see that all he needed was right in front of him. This was the last straw. She knew by now that his soul was bought and soon the time would come for collection. In that moment Catrina decided that she could not be there to watch as his world came crumbling down. No, she could not take any more pain. Their partnership, their relationship, was at an end.
Jim stared at the counter, the crystal clear glass revealing a thousand opportunities. They were lined up like soldiers in formation. The multitude of colors and designs drew his eyes from the bottle of Jack Daniels that he was so eager to purchase to the transparent countertop. The clerk waited impatiently as he shifted his weight back and forth. He was a rail thin pubescent boy with a healthy dose of acne and a nonexistent mustache wearing a gas station uniform that billowed on his frail body. The constant chirp from his cell phone that impatiently awaited his attention elicited an annoyed sigh from the clerk. Jim couldn’t care less. His focus was solely on the Scratcher Tickets that stared up at him from the glass. He felt like he was at the pound looking to buy a dog. A hundred eyes were locked on him, a hundred voices calling to him, begging, pleading to be chosen. The only question in his mind was: which one?
“So, like, are you going to pick one or not?” The boy whose name tag read: Chuck, asked. Jim’s eyes never shifted from the tickets.
“Tell me, kid, do you believe in luck?” Jim asked.
“You mean like ‘getting lucky’? Like doing it with some chick?” Chuck replied with a voice far too high and broken to possess the maturity to discuss sexual matters.
“Never mind.” Jim grumbled. The cell phone chirped again and it was then that Jim’s gaze shifted. “You can get that, I might be a minute longer.”
Chuck turned wordlessly to his phone and snatched it up. Jim watched, amazed at how quickly the boys thumbs danced against the screen of his cell. Only a few seconds had passed before the phone chirped once more sending Chuck into another flurry of taps. Jim’s own phone remained silent, almost mockingly so. Catrina was yet to return his phone call and he supposed Alan may be keeping her preoccupied. He wasn’t proud of himself when it came to Alan and Catrina but his options were limited, or so he had convinced himself. He thought about calling her again, but decided against it. She always seemed to shut down days afterward, and really he couldn’t blame her for that. Instead, he decided to turn back to the selection of scratcher tickets.
Pac had promised him luck. That was their deal. Ten years of unlimited luck. How that would translate into his financial situation, that was yet to be determined which was why he decided to stop off at a gas station to purchase a bottle of whiskey and something to test his luck against. He thought about buying a high jackpot lottery ticket, but decided that would not be a wise choice. First of all, the drawing wasn’t until Saturday and his debt was owed by tomorrow. Secondly, even if he was allowed to postpone the payment and he did win, Mr. Black would no doubt want more than his entitled share, perhaps even all of it. No, instead Jim decided that he pay back Mr. Black first and then try his luck at a bigger pot.
“I want that one.” Jim said opting to simply close his eyes and point. A simple $5 ticket that could be worth $100,000. It was more than enough for Jim to pay back Black and still have some left over. Chuck rang up the purchase hurriedly, his cell phone chirping behind him. Jim took the bottle and the ticket and bid the cashier a good night, though he was certain Chuck didn’t hear him.
He slid into the front seat of his car, tossing the bottle into the passenger side. The temptation to partake of his beverage was overwhelming. The conversation Pac was still fresh in his mind. He shook it off, trying to forget everything that had happened between the time he left the apartment to now. With the scratcher ticket clutched in his hand, he reached into his cup holder and removed a well-worn nickel. As he brought the coin to the foil face of the ticket, he paused catching sight of his palm. For a moment, he thought he saw a light glow against his flesh, the symbol reappearing before vanishing again.
With a deep breath, he brought the coin to the ticket and began scratching.
Jim sat in the now vacant apartment. Though Catrina was never really a noisy person, now that she was gone, the apartment was eerily quiet. The only sounds he could hear were horns honking in the distance, the wet sloshing of the whiskey in the bottle as he sipped it, and his own breathing. The note she left remained where he had dropped it, partially crinkled from the flare of anger that boiled before quickly fading. Catrina had confessed that Alan was dead and neatly tucked into the closet. While Jim was happy that Catrina remained unharmed, his associate was dead. In addition to this unfortunate turn, Catrina was gone as well, having left a Dear John letter behind.
While Pac promised Jim luck, he did not promise such fortune for Catrina or Alan. Alan would have to be rid of, all evidence destroyed. Jim already had a plan, mostly involving the old standby: fire. That could wait until later in the early hours of the morning though. For now, he intended to mourn the loss of his associate, the abandonment of Catrina, and celebrate the wealth that resided in his pocket. Though $500 was not enough to pay back his debt. The horse races were.
“Twenty grand in cash. Impressive.” Mr. Black said, astonished. $20,000 was not a lot of money in his experience. He regarded it as one regards a nickel or a dime on the floor. It would be nice to have but do you really want to bend down and pick it up. When a man deals with $500,000 to over a million on a daily basis, twenty grand was nothing. Mr. Black was not astonished at the sum, rather how Jim had approached him. He had learned through channels of how James Davis avoided his debtors. A man who spent much time on his hands and knees, groveling for mercy was not the type of man he would expect to find waltzing into a bar with a bag full of twenties, albeit the bag of an elderly woman.
Mr. Black stared at Jim, his face stoic, expression never shifting. He was dressed in a fine black suit, his white shirt crisp and spotless. His black tie was impeccably knotted, only adding to his impressive appearance. The dim light from the lamps overhead caused his neatly shaved head to gleam brightly. Aside from a few sparse hairs on his chin, his face was smooth, well groomed. His eyes were safely hidden behind a pair of lightly tinted sunglasses allowing him to eye everyone around him, to study the man who just brought him payment, and preventing the others from doing the same.
The bar was empty save for the bartender, one or two patrons, two of Mr. Black’s “associates” and the man himself. The bar, After Hours, was owned by Mr. Black or at least by several of his associates and seemed to be where he did much of his business. The police rarely entered the establishment and those that did were not the most honorable men to begin with. As a result Mr. Black was able to conduct his affairs without the authorities interrupting him.
“So this clears my debt?” Jim asked as one of Mr. Black’s associates placed the bills into the bag.
“Our business has been completed.” Mr. Black said coolly.
“Good.” Jim said shortly. He was eager to leave, not wanting to spend too much time with a man who already had him beaten within an inch of his life, but he sensed there was something that Mr. Black wanted to discuss.
“Tell me, how did you manage to come across so much money in such a short amount of time?” Mr. Black asked. Jim shifted nervously. The memory of Pac and their agreement was still fresh in his mind and for a moment he thought he could feel his palm burn again.
“Horse races. First run this morning.” Jim replied.
“Really? Twenty grand on a single race?” Mr. Black asked. Jim nodded.
“Yup. Just got lucky I guess.” Jim said.
“I guess so,” Mr. Black said flatly, “Well, Mr. Davis. It has been a pleasure doing business with you. If you are ever in need of financial aid, you have my number.” He said, speaking calmly and very politely. For a moment, Jim almost forgot that this man was a loan shark of the highest, and most brutal, caliber. If he didn’t know any better he would have thought Mr. Black worked for a bank or some other financial institution. Of course, the idea of Mr. Black offering his customers a free toaster with the opening of a savings account, almost brought a smile to his face.
“Indeed I do.” Jim said, knowing that as long as he possessed the luck that Pac had promised, then he would never have to visit a man like Mr. Black ever again.
The years had been kind to James Davis, the luckiest man in the world, as many of his associates referred to him as. No one dared bet against him, especially in a game of high stakes. Poker, Races, Boxing, Basketball, even Cock Fighting. If Jim was betting on one side, then one had better bet alongside him because he was going to win big. Few knew his name in the beginning and those that did offered a sneer or winced as if reminding someone of a bad memory. Now, when the name James Davis was spoken, it was with either pride or jealousy.
When the story of James Davis was spoken, it often started as such: He was a man down on his luck with ten loan sharks after him, looking for their cash. (Of course as time passed the number of loan sharks tended to increase.) One day, he happened upon a man who gave him the Devil’s luck and from that moment on he was unbeatable. (Jim never told anyone about Pac, so he didn’t know where that part of the story came from.) He tested his luck with the races winning almost one million dollars on his first try. (Some say it was less, others more. Jim never corrected anyone when they told the story, he just liked to hear it.) Then he played the lottery and won another ten million. (In reality it was only $500,000 but he quickly doubled that.) Then he tried his luck in Atlantic City and cleaned house. The pit bosses of every casino had it out for him and forbade him from ever returning, one of them even went as far to throw him out. (That was true.) However, by then he was already filthy rich and living in a New York high-rise pent house apartment, staring down at the city like Zeus on Mount Olympus. He was a god among men. The luckiest man in the world.
“Are you coming back to bed?” The woman asked, playfully giggling as she traced her hand along the side of her breast. She bit her lip coyly, watching as Jim finished his tumbler of scotch. This was not the first scotch he had that evening. It was not uncommon for him to have a drink after sex but it was uncommon for him to have it before and after. She noticed that during the act his attention seemed divided. On more than one occasion he either gasped or trembled uncontrollably. It was not from an orgasm, rather as if someone had snuck up from behind and scared him. In fact recently he did not seem himself. The once content and excited man had suddenly, and for no reason, become withdrawn and on edge. Often he would stare in horror at nothing or complain about people speaking too loudly when in fact no one had said a word.
Jim slammed the tumbler down on the bar, the liquid burning as it slid down his throat. The tremble in his hand had faded, for now, which meant that the scotch was working its magic. However, the symbol was as bright as ever. At first it had only appeared when luck was brought into the equation, like during a race or a bet. It was brief but he could still see it. Now, it seemed to glow nonstop, bet or no. He had taken to wearing a glove wherever he went so that no one else could see the symbol. Some would question why he wore only one glove and he only offered, because I can and he left it at that.
Jim took a deep breath and turn back to the bed and shuddered. The woman, whose name he couldn’t remember even if it was tattooed on her forehead, was lying in bed completely nude, her fingers tracing the lines of her body, her lips pulled back into a seductive smile. As her finger touched the most sensitive areas of her flesh, she cooed, beckoning for Jim to join her. However, his eyes were not on the woman who desired him, they were instead locked onto the creature that clung to the wall above his bed.
This thing was a horrific sight. No larger than three feet tall with flesh as black as pitch. It clung to the wall with long, thick talons that seemed to sink into the wall, rather than through it. Deep, ragged furrows crisscrossed its body, revealing a dark red liquid that literally glowed but not bleed. It’s black eyes met with Jim’s as its cracked lips pulled back into a wicked smile revealing two rows of jagged teeth. The woman did not seem to notice it, but Jim could not help but. Though, it did not speak, hushed voices, whispers, echoed in Jim’s ears, almost driving him mad.
This was not the first time Jim had seen such a creature, though the other’s he had witnessed were not nearly as clear as this one. Before, he would simply see a shadow shifting, when it shouldn’t. Perhaps something would dart past him, catching it in the corner of his vision. Once, while watching television, his eyes had move toward the couch and then when they went back to the TV, he had seen a blurry darkness sitting on his coffee table. It was only for a moment before it vanished, but this creature remained. No matter how many times he closed his eyes and wished it away, the creature remained.
“Are you coming to bed?” The woman repeated this time more annoyed. Jim stared at the creature, the little monster only staring back at him with its twisted smile pulled across its piggish face.
“Go to hell.” Jim muttered, too low for the woman to hear, but it seemed the creature heard it all too clearly. Its teeth parted and a wicked cackle rose from the depths of its throat, echoing throughout the penthouse.
Jim stared out at the night sky, but could not find any solace in its infinite blackness. The once welcoming dark had been overtaken with a burning red that started from the horizon and spread through the sky, growing brighter as the days passed. At first Jim thought it was daytime, but as the hours ticked away and the sun set, the redness never faded. He was bathed in never-ending daylight, but the source came from no sun and no moon.
The phone continued its ring, the headset pressed firmly against his ear. With each continued ring, Jim’s heart sank further and further into despair. The phone was on its thirteenth ring, a clear sign that no one on the other side was picking up. Jim looked back into his apartment. The woman was gone, having left unceramoniously, almost an hour ago. She had thrown several expletives back at Jim, but her words fell on deaf ears. His attention was far too drawn to the unnatural impish creature that had moved from the bedroom wall to the balcony railing, which was where Jim was standing, phone in hand.
“If you’re here to annoy me then mission accomplished.” Jim spat at the creature, but it simply cocked its head as fluttered leathery wings. “What are you anyway?” Jim asked. He was met with the same blank expression as if the creature could not understand him. He knew this to be untrue. Several times he had cursed at it, using every obscenity he knew in English and even in several other languages and the creature only laughed, nodding with each one.
Jim needed to know what was going on. Alan was long dead, his body having been found in the fire that consumed most of the building. Most of the tenants had escaped but several had been taken by the smoke and flames, mostly crackheads and burnouts though. So with his first source of knowledge gone, he had to move to the next person on his list who may have an idea as to why he is being visited by the black winged creature and stuck in a permanent dusk.
“You are persistent.” The voice suddenly said on the other line.
“If I recall that was one of the reasons you were drawn to me.” Jim said, trying to sound his smoothest, but utterly failing. The creature snickered at the shakiness of his voice.
“What was that noise?” The voice said.
“You heard that?” Jim asked. The fear had faded as he was struck with a sense of excitement.
“Yeah, it sounded… strange.” The voice said, very matter-of-factly. “What was it?” Jim tried his best to describe the creature in the greatest detail. It was not difficult since the creature seemed to pose, so that Jim could take in every scale and scratch. It was mocking him. That he was certain of. “Sounds like an Imp to me.” The voice confirmed.
“Well why is it here?” Jim asked, taking a step away from the creature.
“It’s there to keep tabs on you and pretty much annoy the piss out of you.” The voice casually noted.
“Keep tabs? Why?” He said almost shouting. The voice sighed, clearly annoyed. It was an answer he should have figured out on his own, but it seemed he hadn’t. The voice knew this and did its best not to sound too irritated.
“Because, my love, your time is almost up.” The voice said, “I don’t know about you, but I’ve been keeping track of how much time had passed since you struck your deal.”
Jim’s stomach sank and he immediately felt nauseous as the taste of bile crept into his mouth and he began to salivate. The fear of vomiting was very present and Jim almost dropped the phone in a mad dash for the bathroom. He didn’t though, and the contents of his stomach remained in place. However, a weakness over took his legs and he found sanctuary on the lounge chair.
“Pac...” Jim whispered, just loud enough for the voice on the other end to hear.
“Pac, huh?” The voice said, not sounding the least bit surprised. It was as if she had heard it a million times.
“You know him?” Jim asked, his eyes shifting back toward the Imp who was busy sniffing at the empty glass. As its upturned nose sniffed at the remaining liquid, its face wrinkled with obvious signs of disgust. Jim watched this, darkly amused.
“Like I said, I’ve been keeping track of things.” The voice said. “And it’s almost been ten years to the day in which you made your deal with him.”
“So?” Jim said. He slid a cigarette from its pack and lit it, inhaling deeply. His lungs burned with a welcome sensation as the nicotine started its work.
“And if I’m not mistaken, you promised your soul to him after ten years.” The voice stated. Jim paused mid drag, the smoldering tip flaring a bright orange before dying back down.
“He wasn’t serious... was he?” Jim asked.
“Of course he was!” The voice shouted. Jim winced at the sound. The Imp heard this and began to chuckle.
“I don’t believe this. This stuff is just bullshit. Magic and souls don’t exist.” Growled Jim. The Imp cocked its head curiously at the statement as if silently asking, “Are you serious?”
“Well, let’s see how much you believe in this when a Hellhound is ripping out your entrails and using your skull as a water dish.” The voice said. This caught Jim’s attention. The thought of being disemboweled was not a pleasant one and even if he didn’t believe in magic, he did believe that his life was in danger.
“What do you mean?” He asked.
“Alan, really didn’t tell you anything, did he?” The voice said. Jim mumbled an incoherent response. The voice simply took it as a no. “Pac is a Crossroads Demon. A Deal Maker. A Soul Taker. He specializes in giving a person whatever they want for a certain period of time and then takes their souls when time is up. Usually, violently.”
“And this imp thing?” Asked Jim. The Imp had moved from its position on the balcony ledge to the table next to where Jim sat. It inspected the pack of cigarettes with extreme curiosity.
“No doubt sent by Pac to make sure you weren’t trying to renege on your agreement. It’s been pretty docile, I’m assuming?” Asked the voice.
“Yeah,” Jim replied, “It’s just been kinda hanging around. Really freaked me out the first time but now it’s just like having a mosquito buzzing around.” The Imp poked at the pack of cigarettes, its fingers fishing out one of the name brand cancer sticks and sniffed at it.
“And it’s going to stay that way until pay day, unless you trying anything to stop payment.” The voice explained. “Is there any other unusual phenomenon occurring?”
“There is this constant glow in the sky like it’s always dusk and this symbol on my hand won’t go away.” Jim explained. There was a silence for several moments and what sounded like shuffling papers on the other side of the line. A minute later, the voice returned.
“By my estimation and by what is occurring, you have about two days left until payday.” The voice said.
“What’s going to happen to me?” Jim asked, an obvious tremble in his voice.
“I’m sorry, my love. But you are on a one way ticket to Hell.”
Catrina stared at the pages scattered out in front of her. The hands free headset made it easier to manipulate the pages while still talking on the line. The papers contained arcane knowledge, dark magics that only the truly damned would dare possess. She had inherited books upon books from her mother, pages filled with handwritten notes about Voodoo, Hoodoo, Demons, Devils, Angels, and Magics lost to the ages. Since leaving Alan laying in a pool of his own brains, she returned to New Orleans to start her life anew. However, no matter how far she ran or how hard she tried, Jim remained in her thoughts and the deal he made with the Demon was forever burned in her mind. Though she did not know of the specifics, she knew of Pac. The information she collected was from various sources, starting from journals to direct interaction with the spirit world. It was a name he used centuries ago, perhaps his original name before turning to the service of the underworld. Pac was an elegant solution to difficult problems. He made deals, honored them to the highest degree and then when the time came for payment, the lost soul was to come willingly or dragged to hell in the mouth of a Hellhound. Now, it was Jim’s turn.
Over the headset, she could hear Jim talking to himself asking questions or just cursing, but she wasn’t sure if it was truly to himself or the Imp that had been sent to spend his last remaining days with. Deep down she wished she could do the same. The cool winter New York weather was always a welcome change to the heat and humidity of the bayou, but she knew that would be a mistake on more than one level. She had washed her hands of Jim and his exploits long ago. However, she always kept an ear to the ground for Jim’s doings back in New York. Catrina still had numerous contacts whom she would tap for the latest gossip. From them she learned of his complete turn in luck and the immense fortune he was accumulating. He had gone from shark bait to Capt. Ahab overnight. This threw up red flags almost immediately for Catrina and her contacts. She could have chosen to ignore the entire situation, leaving Jim to suffer his own fate alone, but she still loved him, regardless of how much she didn’t like him. It took a couple of years but contact with the right sources, both living and otherwise, she learned of Jim’s deal with an impeccably dressed Demon calling himself Pac. She knew that once time ran out, Jim would be calling and almost like clockwork, he did.
“There has to be something I can do?” Jim begged. “Please help me.” Catrina sighed. For a moment, she thought about saying nothing and then hanging up, but opted against it. Instead, she shuffled a few pages and picked one up. After examining it for a few moments, she spoke.
“There’s nothing that you can do, but there may be something that I can do.” She said. The information she absorbed was very clear and very precise. The spell was basic, nothing too difficult, especially for her. All she would need was already at her disposal. The only thing she needed, was time.
“What are you going to do?” Jim asked. “You’re not going to sell your soul are you?” He asked only half joking. If he could have seen her expression, there would have been no need for explanation.
“Unlike you, I actually take a lot of stock in the idea and wouldn’t it sell it for anything,” She said, but added, “Not even you.” She said this almost spitefully.
“So what now?” He asked.
“Give the phone to the imp” Catrina said. Jim stared at the imp as it lazily chewed on the cigarette it had stolen earlier. Jim had attempted to light it for sheer curiosity but the imp simply knocked the lighter from his hand as the flame drew near. It was not out of fear of fire, more just to annoy him. As it chewed, it eyed Jim suspiciously. Clearly, it had been eavesdropping on the call the entire time and Catrina knew this. She knew any attempt to pass information to Jim would immediately result in some sort of rebuke by the creature. Instead, she took matters into her own hands. Confused, Jim glanced over at the Imp who promptly swallowed the now thoroughly masticated cigarette. Jim gave a weak smile before slowly handing the phone over. The Imp paused, sniffing at the receiver, inspecting it. Quickly, it snatched it from Jim’s hands who drew back immediately fearful of what may happen next.
Jim could not hear the words Catrina spoke but the moment the creature had taken the phone, the Imp shrieked a hideous squeal as if it had been stabbed with a dull knife before vanishing from sight, the phone clattering on the patio floor. All that remained was the scent of sulfur that lingered in the air for a moment, before a gust of window carried it into the night sky.
“Jim, are you still there?” Catrina called from the toppled phone.
“Yeah. What the hell did you do?” Jim asked stunned as he brought the phone back to his ear.
“I banished it back to hell.” Catrina said simply.
“Seriously?” Jim asked almost on the verge of laughter.
“Don’t get too excited.” She warned. “It’s only temporary and when it gets back its going to be rightly pissed.”
“So what now?” He asked.
“You need to go to my friend Lindsey. I’m going to give you a list of ingredients and tools and you are going to give her that list. Then, you are to follow my instructions to the letter. You need to find somewhere to hide for a day or so.” She ordered.
“Then leave everything to me. If this works, then you should know pretty quickly.” Catrina said, though her voice lacked any true confidence.
“And if it doesn’t?”
“Then you should know that too.”
The room was in the back of one of Mr. Black’s bars, the bar itself being closed for renovations. It was a place that Jim was quite familiar with back in his gambling days. As the years passed, he had shifted his attention from gambling to saving. The knowledge that one would always win, took the appeal out of gambling and most of the fun. He still went every so often to replenish what he had spent or just to make a bit more money, but most of it was now locked away in numerous banks and investment portfolios. The room was the very same one where he met Mr. Black for the first time. It was also where Mr. Black’s men promised Jim that if he didn’t pay up, he would be a dead man. Jim considered the irony of this even as he was preparing his refuge.
Strangely enough though, Mr. Black and he had become business partners over the past decade and both often joked about how completely unlikely their partnership was. Jim invested into several of Mr. Black’s bars and clubs, which in turn granted him VIP treatment in each establishment, along with complete access to the buildings at all times. Though, he and Mr. Black, who Jim came to learn was born Eugene Mason, were not the sort of partners who went golfing or clubbing with one another, they also weren’t the type to go nosing around in each other’s affairs. They possessed a mutual understanding. They both liked money and they both wanted to make more of it. This mutual ideal was enough incentive for them to strike a deal, after all its better to deal with the devils you know.
He inspected the four barren walls of which the only access was the heavy oaken door that was at least a good inch and a half thick. A single bulb dangled from overhead, its light casting a faint yellow glow, barely enough to bathe the walls in its light. A single metal chair sat underneath the bulb, the paint on the legs worn and scratched, no doubt from being tossed around and thrown, perhaps even used as a weapon. The air was stale and it stank of sweat and old blood. Whether the room had been used recently or it was simply the lingering scent of past sins, Jim couldn’t care less. The door was the only access point and once it had been prepared for the evening, then it should keep anything out.
He tossed his black bag to the floor and knelt down beside it, unzipping. As the clock ticked away, his synapses went on overdrive, firing freely and at a moment’s notice. The “side effects” of his deal were growing worse. The whispers were louder now, aided by laughter and screams. At times the earth seemed to split open and insect-like creatures poured from the openings, spreading across the land like water spilling from a pitcher. Jim had watched as a man at a bus stop become quickly covered by the insects and fell to the ground writhing in pain, screaming, but no one paid him any mind. They simply kept reading, texting, or chatting on the phone, the man’s cries going unheard.
Insects were not the only visions Jim was witnessing. Winged creatures soared overhead, swooping down, snatching a pedestrian from the street and then rising back up, the person screaming and shouting for help but there was none to be had. He saw men and women with deformed faces, their flesh blackened and charred or covered with boils and blood. Some had horns, others wings, some with talons. While everyone around the “deformed” didn’t pay any attention to them, they noticed Jim right away, some even waving at him, each with a wicked smile pulled across its face. All in all, the taxi ride from his loft to the magic shop that Catrina told him about was an unpleasant one. Jim practically threw his money at the pale and scarred faced taxi driver, his head appearing to be almost severed from his body. Only pieces of sinew flesh seemed to keep it attached.
Inside the bag were the ingredients for his protection or so Lindsey had told him. She was an overweight yet pretty thing whose ivory skin practically glowed in the overhead fluorescents of her book store. Of course the issue of weight almost seemed nonexistent as she chose to wear the tightest outfit she could squeeze herself into: a simple black t-shirt and black jeans. Her porcelain skin was accentuated by the black lip stick and eye shadow she wore. Catrina must have called ahead to let her know that he was coming because when Jim stumbled through the door, he almost fell face first into her bulbous breasts.
“You must be Jim.” Lindsey said. Her voice possessed a lilting quality and Jim was unsure if this was natural or rehearsed in order to add to her supernatural nature. It was people like Lindsey that convinced Jim that Devils and spirits were nothing but bullshit.
“You must be Lindsey.” He said. Lindsey gave a half courtesy.
“Many call me Mistress of the Shadows.” Said Lindsey, proudly. Jim frowned. His patience was already wearing thin. The only reason he didn’t turn and run out the door was the bizarre dog-like creature that had chased him inside and was still waiting outside the door.
Resigning himself to the nonsense, Jim wordlessly reached into his pocket, removing the list of materials that Catrina had given him. He handed the paper over to Lindsey whose placid expression immediately shriveled into one of concern.
“These are powerful magics.” She said. “You must have done something very bad.”
Jim bit his lip from screaming at her. Instead, he chose to shout obscenities at her within the confines of his mind. He was almost tempted to tell her the truth but Catrina had told him not to. While Lindsey would not be able to determine what he was up to by the ingredients alone, if he told her, there was a good chance she would have pushed him out the door, locking it after him, fearful of demonic rebuke.
“Can you get these things for me?” Jim said, almost growling. Lindsey nodded.
“Yes, just wait here and I shall return shortly.”
Lindsey disappeared into the back of her store and a few moments later, Jim could hear bottles and boxes being shuffled around. He turned back to the door, checking if the dog thing was still waiting for him. It had gone but was replaced by something far less welcoming. On the other side of the glass, staring at up him was the Imp. Its placid face was gone, replaced by a feral sneer which exposed its jagged teeth. Jim staggered back, fearful that the creature would bust through the glass, but it did not. It didn’t even try. It simply stared hatefully at him.
“Oh don’t worry about that thing, it can’t come in. I reinforced the building with various wards and charms.” Lindsey said. She had reappeared from the back of the store carrying a black duffle bag. From the way it swayed, it was filled to the brim, no doubt with his ingredients. Her voice had abandoned the lilting tone, opting for something much more practical, much more matter of factly.
“You can see that thing?” Jim asked, his eyes never breaking from the Imp’s gaze.
“Of course.” She replied simply. He finally broke his stare and turned to Lindsey.
“Your voice...” He started and she simply laughed.
“It’s for the tourists. They love the whole theatric mystical shtick. Customers tend to buy more when you sound like you’re in tune with the other world.” She said, setting the bag on the counter. Jim cocked his head curiously.
“But you are, aren’t you?” Jim asked.
“Yeah, but you don’t need to sound like some brain damaged Marylyn Monroe to be in tune with the supernatural.” She replied. “Anyway, Cat called and told me you were coming in. I was going to try and get you to buy more merchandise but by the list you gave me, this was something serious.” Jim’s eyes fell to the floor, ashamed.
“Well...” He started, but Lindsey cut him off.
“Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. Better safe than sorry.” She said. Lindsey set that bag on the table and approached the door, her eyes locking on the small creature outside.
“I think he’s pretty pissed at me.” Jim said, trying to ease the fear that gripped him.
“He really doesn’t like you.” She said. “I’m assuming Cat had banished it once already?” She asked. Jim nodded.
“Yeah. She said that it would try to stop me if I tried anything to...” Jim started, but his voice fell away. He chose to keep any reference to his deal a secret.
“I can take care of it again so that you can go do... whatever it is you intend to do.” She said. Jim nodded.
The two completed their transaction, the bag of tricks costing close to $600 but Jim didn’t care. As long as it kept him alive, then he would have paid one hundred times that amount. Lindsey joked that as a bonus, she would dismiss the Imp for free. While she thought it was funny, Jim had to force laughter and poorly at that. Like with Catrina, it only took a few words before the Imp vanished once again. Jim figured that if the Imp was coming back for a third time, it might not wait for Pac before ripping in Jim’s soft flesh.
So, locked away in his room with the bag open and the ingredients ready, Jim retrieved several sheets of paper from his back pocket. Carefully unfolding them, he began to examine each sheet. Catrina had given him specific instructions on how to prepare the wards and thanks to the wonders of the internet, she emailed him the glyphs and directions in order to do so. All he had to do was follow the instructions to the letter. Vial by vial, herb by herb, Jim removed the contents of the bag, taking inventory of all he needed and by what the bottles read, he had everything.
Immediately he started construction of the wards. As he did so, he immediately felt extremely foolish. It was no so much just putting ingredients together, but also chanting and performing a ritual to activate or enhance substances required for the wards. This was momentary as he realized that foolishness and desperation often went hand in hand.
The spells were in Latin, or what Jim could assume was Latin. Perhaps it was some unknown dialect that no human should have ever spoken. Regardless of origin, Catrina had ordered him to perform the ritual with as close pronunciation as humanly possible. She had taken Jim’s ineptitude for tongues into account and wrote the spells phonetically for him. Even with the added help, Jim still stumbled and mumbled and prayed that his undoubtedly insulting interpretation was enough to activate whatever magics were involved.
The first of the wards was that of the door. The room’s single opening was the only entry point so it received the strongest protection spell. Jim copied the picture that Catrina had sent as best he could, careful to place every single mark and line on the finished surface. He wasn’t sure if the jar he was using was filled with paint or blood, the smell leaning closer toward the latter but ultimately didn’t care. The finishing touch was a very precise chant and a line of strange black powder laid out in front of the door, spanning the door frame.
The next was around the chair. It was a simple barrier meant to bide time. Catrina had called it a last resort barrier. If something did get through the door, then Jim could hide in the ward, buying maybe ten minutes more. Jim had questioned the point of this but Catrina simply replied that ten minutes was not meant to buy him time.
The third ward was something much smaller and meant to keep him off the supernatural radar, at least from most things. Inside the bag was a small pouch filled with a foul smelling substance. Jim dared not open it, fearful of what he would find, but instead, as ordered, slipped the satchel around his neck.
With the wards in place, Jim took a seat in the chair. In front of him, he placed a large white candle. Slipping his hand into his pocket, Jim removed a small zippo and proceeded to light it, the flame springing to life and then settling to an unwavering glow. Catrina had told him that he would know if she had succeeded... or if she had failed. So he sat and waited.
Catrina completed her circle, the symbols drawn to perfection, the incantations recited verbatim. The air hung heavy with incense, masking the other more pungent odors that resulted from her process. Sulfur was one of the more prominent smells along with other burning scents, but the incense did well at hiding them. The spell was complex, far more complicated than the ones she had given Jim. There were other more powerful wards she could have provided, but with practically no knowledge of magic, it would have been a wasted effort. Powerful spells required precision and skill that novices, like Jim, lacked.
In the center of the circle rested a small object, almost the size of a pebble. It was smooth but lacked the roundness and texture of stone. With it being no larger than a nickel and half the width, one would barely even notice it, but it was all Catrina needed to complete her task. She took a deep breath and relaxed her body, clearing her mind. With complete concentration and focus, Catrina uttered one word.
“What do you think you’re doing?” The voice called from behind. Jim screamed and almost toppled from his chair but he managed to catch himself before losing his balance. He turned to see a man standing in the shadows. His face was obscured by darkness that the dim light could not penetrate, but the pocket watch that swung back and forth, gleamed in the lamp light, telling Jim all he needed to know.
“How did you get in here?” Jim screamed. Pac sighed and stepped into the weak light. He was dressed differently than before. The three piece suit was replaced with a two piece. The jacket and pants were as dark as obsidian and his dress shirt was a dark crimson. A dark black tie hung from his neck with a neat knot at that top.
“I ask again what do you think you are doing?” Pac repeated. “We had a deal.” He did not sound annoyed, rather he sounded disappointed. It was the tone of a parent who caught their child breaking their rules.
“How did you find me?” Jim asked. “I thought this bag was supposed to hide me from you!” Pac chuckled slightly. He shook his head playfully.
“Please. That little trinket? It may have hidden you from my pet Imp but me... not so much.” Pac answered. “Oh and my pet says hello. He’s very angry with your persistent banishments and can’t wait to express his feelings on a more... personal level.”
Pac examined the wards, checking on Jim’s defenses. The Demon knew that Jim was no sort of magician which meant that Catrina had been helping him and by the looks of the wards, she was doing her damnedest to keep him breathing. The wards however, were imperfect and weak in comparison to others he had seen in his centuries of existence.
“Now, I ask for the final time. What do you think you are doing?”
“I changed my mind. I don’t want to lose my soul.” Jim croaked. His pallid complexion glowed in the dim lamp light as his face twitched and quivered with fear. Pac frowned.
“Why is it that everyone always realizes too late that there are such things as souls and hell?” Pac asked, more to himself than to Jim. “I mean, come on. Think outside the box, people.”
“Please, don’t do this.” Jim pleaded. Pac simply shook his head.
“We have a deal. You should have thought about that earlier.” Pac replied. “I mean, your sweet Catrina tried to warn you but as always, you simply dismissed her and fed her to the wolves.” Pac smiled at this last part, almost approving of Jim’s actions. The smile faded somewhat when he said, “So are you going to come quietly or am I going to have to call for support?”
Jim shook his head in defiance, though the action itself was riddled with fear and desperation that Pac detected with ease. His hand clutched the satchel as if it were a magic totem used to ward off evil and his eyes met with Pac. He rose to his feet, his movements lacking any real grace. The strength in his legs had drained the moment Pac appeared, lurking in the shadows.
“No. I will not go with you.” Jim spat. Pac sighed.
“Very well.” The Demon said. He made no effort to try and wrestle Jim down to the floor and steal his soul. He did not transform into some horrific creature and attack him. The ground did not open up into some vortex to suck him into hell. The various scenarios that Jim had concocted in his head never came to pass and this added some relief. For a moment, Jim relaxed. At least until Pac snapped his fingers. Within the very second that sound met Jim’s ears and his synapses fired from his ear drums to his brain, the door to the room actually bulged as something very large and very strong slammed against the wood. The door immediately splintered and cracked from the massive weight. Jim screamed when he heard the sound and watched as the wood shuddered.
“What the fuck was that?” Jim shrieked. Pac began twirling his pocket watch once more, clearly reveling in the moment.
“That is Urorobos.” Pac replied warmly. “My other little pet.”
“Little pet?” Jim shouted as the door bulged once more. On the other side there was a massive growl that shook the very building. “What does it want?”
“It wants you. You see, those who don’t come with me willingly get taken by Urorobos. He’s my contingency plan.” The Demon said proudly.
Unlike Jim, Pac could see the arcane magics that were active. While Jim was the one who employed them, he could not see the end result. He was not attuned to such aspects of nature that others were. As a Demon, Pac had many skills. If he were dealing with an Attuned, then he would be expressing concern for his current deal, but this was not the case. Pac almost laughed as he watched the magical essence fade with each slam of the Hellhound. The ward would not last much longer, perhaps another fifteen minutes at most. Then the inner ward would take almost three minutes and then once that fell, it would be all over.
“What do you want?” Alan spat. He would have literally spat upon Catrina if he had a body to do so. Unfortunately, his incorporeal nature did not allow such actions. Instead, he simply glared angrily at the woman who had ended his life a decade ago, almost to the very minute. “Is that a piece of my skull?”
Catrina fought back an urge to vomit as she looked upon Alan in disgust. The visage that stood before her was that of Alan in life. While she was unsure if this was the form he took in the afterlife, it certainly was the form he took on Earth. His skin was not pale as one would expect. Instead it merely seemed a duller tone than his original skin color, but while his flesh was muted, the blood and resulting stains seemed to almost glow bright red. His tacky sports jacket and white button up shirt was soaked with it. His skull had collapsed in on itself while bits of bone poked through his scalp. Catrina almost forgot how much damage she had done with a simple snow globe.
“Now is not that time for that, Alan.” Catrina said, clearing her throat. Alan grimaced.
“First you crush my skull then you steal a piece of it. Just doesn’t seem right.” Alan said. He stared at his feet where the bit of bone rested. Around it were several concentric circles. Written around each were glyphs and symbols. It was a summoning spell, Alan could see that much. He had friends who used such magics. The inner circles acted as a conduit. Using a totem in the center, the summoner could call forth whomever was attached to the totem and temporarily rip them from the afterlife in order to bring them back to the mortal realm. The outer circle was a security ward. It was meant to keep whatever was summoned in one place and by the intricate nature, Catrina did not want Alan to go anywhere.
“Listen, I know you’re still pretty pissed at me...” Catrina said.
Her thought went unfinished though as Alan cut her off as he screamed “Pissed? Pissed! I’m furious. Do you have any idea what Hell is like?” He growled, then added, “If I could I would tear you apart, piece by piece.”
Catrina sighed. She knew it wouldn’t be easy to summon him, let alone even convince him to help her but there were no options. She knew by now, that a Hellhound would have been summoned and Jim was quickly running out of time. Alan was the key to save him, she only had to convince him somehow.
“This isn’t about me or you. It’s about Jim. He needs your help. After all you are the one who put him on this path.” Catrina said, but her point was quickly trumped by Alan’s guffawing.
“What?” He laughed, “I’m not the one who couldn’t quit gambling. He was already damned, you know this and I know this. I just expedited the process.” Catrina’s eyes narrowed into slits.
“You are the one who sent him to the Demon...”
“And,” Alan cut in, “I’m the one who gave him another 10 years on this rock. So, what now bitch?” Catrina glared at him as rage roiled within her. She wanted to curse him, to kill him but he had been to hell, how does one threaten a soul that has endured the horrors of hell.
“So you won’t help?” She hissed. Alan smiled devilishly.
“I didn’t say that.” Alan replied. “I’ll help. Just not for free.”
“What do you want?” Catrina asked. There was a sinister nature in his smile that she had never seen before, whether because she just didn’t notice it or because it wasn’t there before, it didn’t matter. It sent shivers down her spine and for a moment, she almost regretted asking the question.
“I want you.”
The door exploded in a spectacular fashion, shards of wood scattered throughout the entire room. Jim stared in utter horror as his eyes locked onto the horrific creature that stood in the doorway. It was the size of a grizzly bear but lacked the warmth and gentleness of one. Its flesh was black and uneven. Thick, razor sharp claws dug into the floor, slicing into the concrete like a hot knife slicing through butter. Its small ears lay against its massive skull, its jaw snapping open and closed. A deep guttural growl escaped its mouth, passing through its sharpened teeth.
“Urorobos,” Pac called and its dark red eyes shifted from Jim to its master. Pac smiled as he said, “Fetch.”
In a moment, the beast was through the door and lunging at Jim who was paralyzed by fear. The creature roared so loudly that Jim couldn’t even hear his own screams. Pac watched with pride as the beast fell upon its prey.
Catrina swept the mop across the floor of her shop. The once intricate designs had been expunged from the tile, the glyphs and wards wiped from the face of the earth. The bone fragment had been safely disposed of in the furnace where in about a day or so would be reduced to nothing more than ash and all traces of Alan would be lost forever once more. As she straightened her store, a deep sadness had overtaken her. The joy of sending Alan screaming back to the depths of hell was short-lived as she thought of Jim spending an eternity there as well. By now Pac would have taken claim of his soul, leaving a mutilated body behind for someone to find. She thought about finding him but quickly decided against it.
Alan had offered her Jim’s salvation at the cost of her own. She was to be his slave, selling her soul in exchange for his. Knowing Alan, it would have been an eternal nightmare for her, absolute torture. The notion to agree to his demands did pass through her mind, but ultimately she turned him down before sending him kicking and screaming back to hell. She knew the deal was uneven. Though she loved Jim with all of her heart, she knew that some deals just shouldn’t be made.