“This is all for you. It’ll be worth it. You’ll see,” Nadine whispered as she snipped one of the curls that swirled around her two-year-old son’s head.
She added the lock to her ziplock bag that already contained a few other bits of hair, some dark and some light.
The demon had asked for the hair of those closest to her. A surprisingly simple request and a small price to pay for securing her future, her family’s future, and the lives of their future children. Forget college funds, this was going to be funding for life.
She couldn’t imagine what he would do with just hair but if that’s it, compared to what she would get in return? It was worth it.
Perhaps the demon was acknowledging how much work, pain, sweat, and tears she had already put into writing her first novel. That had been enough sacrifice, as far as she was concerned.
The demon wasn’t specific in what he meant by “hair of the people that were close to her in life”, but she was sure it was those who she saw frequently and were emotionally and physically close to her. She’d gotten hair from her husband, her best friend, the closest coworker in her office, and finally, her toddler son.
Her best friend didn’t know Nadine had taken the hair from her brush when she’d come to visit, asking for a moment to use the restroom.
Her husband’s hair had been even easier as he always left some in the shower drain. Usually, it drove her crazy, but for once it had been convenient.
The hardest hair to grab was her coworker’s. She didn’t know if his hair was even needed as she wasn’t all that emotionally connected to him. In fact, she found him annoying and frustrating, but since she spent most of every day in every week with him, he was technically someone she was close to. She didn’t want the demon to extort her through any kind of loophole so she figured it was better to get it, than not.
It had taken her several days to figure out how to get it from him. If she could have picked a single strand, it might have been easier, but the demon had specifically said “lock of hair”. She figured that had meant more than a strand, just to be safe.
Nadine couldn’t just ask Josh for some hair. She knew he already thought she was weird, and she didn’t need him thinking she was any weirder. Plus, he would probably say no and what would she do after that?
They worked in an office, the desks spread out across the floor without any cubicle walls. It was to create “cohesion” among the workers. At least that’s what the administration had said when they’d removed all the flimsy barriers.
The idea had come to her while she was watching her favorite TV show. An advertisement showed talking about DNA kits and how you could send in DNA to learn more about yourself. She knew that Josh was proud of his German heritage as he often spoke about it.
“Hey, Josh. It’s your birthday, soon, isn’t it?” Nadine had asked, taking a sip from her coffee as she paused in her typing.
Josh glanced up from his monitor to look at her for a second before returning to his work. “Yes, why? I don’t want an office party. Those things are for people who are desperate for attention. Good work is what gets me attention.”
“Of course. No, I was just thinking that I might get you a birthday present.”
“Why? I don’t think you’ve gotten me one in the last three years we’ve worked together.”
“I got a cupcake for you last year.”
“I recently got into some family history, lately. I’m going to submit my DNA to get some more information about my ancestors. Have you heard of companies that do that?”
Finally, he was giving her all his attention, pulling himself away from the computer. “I’ve heard of those. It would be pretty cool to see where in Germany my family comes from.”
“Would it be okay if I did that for your birthday? I wanted to get you something special.”
“I guess, but don’t expect this to get you any favors later after I’m promoted.”
“Oh, of course not. All I need is a lock of your hair.”
And it had been that simple. It didn’t matter that the DNA results would never come in the mail because once this deal was done, she wouldn’t need to go back to that purgatory with those judgemental people.
Summoning the demon the second time was a lot easier, mostly because she knew it would actually work. She was also less nervous and more excited than she had been the first time.
She was careful as she poured the table salt in the straight lines of a pentagram. Her lines were stronger from more practice. The black candles flickered as she lit them, illuminating the wooden floors of her basement and throwing dancing shadows across the concrete walls.
“Who summons me?” The demon’s voice was raspy but shrill. Nadine had made sure to summon a small demon, one who wasn’t too powerful but could still make deals. “Oh, it’s you.”
“Yes, did you think I was too scared to follow through?” She made sure to have a commanding tone and looked confident, shoulders back, head held high.
He shrugged his grey, boney shoulders. “Didn’t really think much about you at all.”
“Fine.” She thrust the plastic bag of hair towards him. “Here is my part of the deal. What do we do next?”
“You are eager, but I suppose you wouldn’t be summoning a demon if you weren’t.” He peered at her with narrow eyes but didn’t reach out of the circle to grab the bag. “Did you bring the book? It was a book, right? I don’t get those as often as lottery tickets these days.”
“I did. It’s here, too.”
“Okay. Fine. Let’s get this over with. Toss them inside the circle and I’ll give you what you want.”
“And what I want is to be a successful author, selling this book for over a million copies, which in turn, leads to a series of five books, and six movie deals. I will also make several million dollars in the process and create lasting connections for future success. All this is in the deal, right?”
“Ugh, humans. Yes, you’ve done your research and been very clear and precise about what you want. Good for you.”
“All in exchange for this bag of hair?”
“Yes, that’s the deal. Are you ready?”
Her phone chimed a notification and she pulled it out of her pocket without much thought, habit ruling out over the novelty of talking to a demon. She’d gotten an email from an interested agent, asking to see a copy of her manuscript. Nadine’s eyes scanned over the email, noting that the agent seemed excited.
She glanced from the phone to the demon who was tapping his foot and giving her a look.
“Well?” he said.
Thinking about her son, she put the phone back into her pocket, squared her shoulders and nodded her head. “Yes. Let’s begin.”
It was all going to be worth it, she told herself over and over as the demon burned the hair in his smoldering hands and blew the ashes all over her once-pristine manuscript. Its mouth unfurled into a thin smile, not unlike the Grinch's, and Nadine’s heart thumped hard in her chest.
She didn’t keep tabs on Josh after she quit her job so she had no idea that he’d been forced to quit after a rousing speech in the breakroom about his German heritage..
Before the first check came, Nadine’s husband left her, taking their son to his mom’s.
Her best friend moved away just before the second book was released. They promised to keep in touch but afterward, barely did much except wish each other happy birthday on social media.
She’d gained everything she’d asked for in the deal but lost everyone around her.
Years later, she sat on her absurdly expensive couch, eating ice cream, and watching cooking shows in the early hours of the morning.
Her last book hadn’t sold well and she had finally let herself ask the question: had it really been worth it?
She looked around the large room filled with the latest trends in interior design, but no matter how many couches she bought or antique vases she brought home, the entire mansion always felt empty.
Not for the first time, she wondered about the initial agent who had asked about her manuscript. She had declined him for someone the demon had given her, ensuring her success, and she'd always wondered if she had taken that path, would her family have taken the other one?