Caliban's Bargain

Submitted into Contest #215 in response to: Write a story about someone making a deal with the devil.... view prompt


Fiction Suspense Sad

Chris had always been a cautious man, careful not to slip into the abyss of risks or uncertainties. He had his life planned out like a meticulously crafted blueprint—until the terrible day when everything went south. An important business venture had failed miserably, taking with it his life savings, his reputation, and worse, the trust of his family.

Just as he was contemplating the shattered pieces of his life alone in his home office, there was an abrupt knock on his door. It was 12 p.m., an odd time for visitors. “Who the hell is here at this hour?” 

He swung the door open angrily to find a peculiar man standing there. Dressed in an incongruous blend of styles—Victorian ruffles meeting 22nd-century synthetics—the man grinned hauntingly, revealing an unnervingly perfect set of teeth.

"Chris, isn't it? How would you like a chance to fix your mistake?" he asked.

"Who are you?" Chris questioned, trying to not explode with anger with skepticism etching his face.

"Name's Cal, short for Caliban. I'm a... let's say, a time-traveling salesman."

Chris would have shut the door right then if it wasn't for the glint in Cal's eyes. It was as though he knew something, something profound, something that intrigued Chris deeply.

“Listen, Cal was it?  I don’t have time for B.S. at this hour, I have enough of my own problems to deal with.”  Chris said as he started to close the door on Cal. 

“WAIT, just one second!” said Cal. 

"I really can offer you a trip to your past to amend that one choice that ruined you. You get to fix it, live it differently. But of course I get to take something in return," Cal clarified.  “As with any exchange of goods or services” 

"Sure I’ll humor you Cal, what's the price for this impossible service you provide?" Chris smugly questioned. 

"A memory. A good one. You'll never be able to relive it, think of it, or even know you had it," Cal said, his voice quivering with an almost insatiable excitement, like a predator looking at his prey. Drooling. 

Just one memory for a fresh start—it sounded almost too good. Yet, desperation clawed at Chris.  Thinking of his hopeless financial situation and how he really has nothing left to lose he said “Fine.  I’ll agree to this.  It’s not like anything is actually going to happen anyway and I’ll be able to go to bed finally.”  

Cal’s eyes seemed to light up like flames in the distance of his pupils.  Dilated with excitement. 

With a flick of Cal's gilded pocket watch, they were there, in the boardroom where Chris had made that dreadful business decision. Chris rubbed his eyes. It felt surreal, watching his past self, trying not to scream out the correct answer. As his past self left the room with his head held low in disappointment, Cal nudged him to go and take his place.

Chris did. He relived the whole meeting and made all the right decisions he didn’t before, invested where he should have, and abstained where he needed to. It felt like winning a long-lost battle that had been playing in his mind for a long time now. 

With another flick of the pocket watch, they were back in the present, but things had changed. His apartment had transformed; luxurious décor replaced the earlier modesty. Sitting in amazement Chris looked about and reached into his pocket.  A quick check on his phone revealed his accounts brimming with money, more than he could ever need. Everything was as it should have been.

This is incredible Cal!   I don’t know what to say to you.

"Payment time," Cal announced, gleefully.  Then he closed his eyes and the joy seemed to suck right out of the room. 

A jolt of pain ran through Chris's head as he felt a piece of him, something warm and comforting, yanked out. Cal smirked, "Pleasure doing business with you," and vanished.

Chris laying in his bed awoke suddenly from what seemed like a crazy dream, but as he looked around his new fancy apartment he knew what transpired last night was no dream and it worked.  I can’t tell my family about this, they will just think I’m crazy. 

Weeks passed and Chris found himself surrounded by the luxuries that money could buy—yet an unexplained emptiness haunted him. He had his loving family, but couldn't shake off the feeling that something precious was missing. Every laugh felt hollow, every hug incomplete, as if a crucial element of his happiness had been excised surgically.

After a long time of feeling like this Chris decided to consult a psychologist, Dr. Anderson, renowned for his work on memory and consciousness.  He could now afford the best help available and being the cautious and careful man he’s always tried to be, didn't want any stone unturned. 

"Chris, you are living what most would call the American Dream. Perhaps it's the sudden shift that has you feeling like this," the psychologist reasoned.

Chris knew better. "No, it feels like I've forgotten how to be happy, like something integral is missing."

They conversed like this for the rest of their session together, but he didn’t feel it was going anywhere that would help. 

As he was leaving, he noticed a photograph on Dr. Anderson's desk—a little girl, presumably the doctor's daughter, blissfully riding a bike.

"Do you ride bikes with her?" Chris asked.

"Every weekend. Those are the memories that make life worth living," Dr. Anderson smiled.

Memories. The word stung Chris. It was like a phantom pain that he couldn’t put his finger on. On his drive home, he started to realize the weight of the price he had paid for his 'perfect' life. A single, priceless memory could hold the essence of joy, love, or friendship—emotions that made life complete.  That warm something that a person holds onto to ensure them that it’s all worth the hassle of the terrible things life throws at you. 

As he pulled into his luxurious home driveway he realized that he could amass all the wealth in the world, yet he would remain bankrupt in the only currency that truly mattered. Cal had taken more than just a memory; he'd taken a piece of Chris's soul, a slice of his humanity, a sliver of his core.

And so, Chris found himself forever wealthy but continuously incomplete, successful but broken—a man who had traded the very essence of life for a hollow illusion of happiness.

Cal the “time-traveling salesman” had indeed lived up to his name, a modern-day Caliban disguised as a savior. And Chris was left to ponder if fixing a past mistake was worth a lifetime of incomplete smiles and hollow laughs.

For the first time, Chris wished he'd been less cautious, less eager to mend the unfixable. For what is life if not a series of choices, mistakes, and memories, each irreplaceable, each invaluable in teaching us how to live, love, and perhaps most importantly, how to be human.

September 11, 2023 16:20

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John Jenkins
17:24 Sep 21, 2023

I liked this story. It had an excellent moral. Here's my take. Beginning: Okay, the business leader has a meeting with a "time-traveling salesman". He tells the man, to paraphrase, that, "It's the wrong time of day for B.S." Which leads one to ask, "What is the ideal time of day for B.S.? Seriously. I'm asking for a friend/family member." Middle: Then the protagonist gets his wish. He goes back and reverses all of his mistakes, but there's a cost. He can't remember how to feel happy. This may not seem important to some, but many a life has...


Gary Phipps
18:36 Sep 21, 2023

Thank you very much for that feedback John. I really like having vague, but obvious lessons in my story's. I think the reader has more of a chance to mold the story to fit their situations in life and seem more personable. I would love to do a continuation of this story one day and maybe I can tac it onto this first one somehow. Much appreciated!


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