The name’s Xander, and let's just say I make a business out of helping others. They come to me, sick, weary, and wanting, and I make their wretched lives better—much better than what they could do on their own accord. You see, I got powers that can grant most wishes, and people like that about me. They seek out my office in the basement of a no-name, dirty back-alley bar—frequented by those with nothing to lose.
Don’t be so judgmental; I got class. I’m a respectable businessman, don’t be annoying. I dress better than you ever could: fitted black suits, red-silk shirts, black ties with red embroidery, and silver accessories that add just the right amount of flair to make the heart rife with envy.
Why the underbelly of a filthy bar then? Well, because when people come looking for me—trying to make a deal—I know they will be desperate. It makes things smooth and easy when I tell them the kind of payment I take. Here, I’ll show you what I mean. I have a potential client coming in now.
There’s a hesitant knock on my office door.
“Come in,” I say.
Slowly, the door opened, and in walked a man in his late twenties. He was a wretched thing to look at: Slightly overweight, with clothes that looked as if his mom bought them for him years ago. His patchy neck beard screamed he had no idea how to make himself presentable. He needed my help.
“Welcome,” I said, motioning to the red-velvet chair centered in front of my polished-oak desk. “Please, have a seat.”
He quickly did as he was told—without a word—squirming uncomfortably beneath my black-eyed stare like the worm he was. I leaned back in my executive chair, crossed one leg over the other, laced my fingers together, and placed my hands comfortably in my lap. The warm light of the desk lamp reflected off my exposed cuff links, drawing his attention to them.
“What’s your name, young man?” I asked.
He shifted nervously.
“Chuck,” he croaked.
I grinned, already knowing this was going to be an easy sale.
“You already know what I do, I presume?”
Chuck nodded. Stains of nervous sweat started to show through his shirt.
“Then what is it that you want?”
He was silent for a moment, hesitant about what he wanted to say, and then he cleared his throat.
“I want to be confident. I want to feel wanted and desired . . . like people I see on TV. . . like, I want all the ladies to lust over me and－”
I smiled and nodded as the wretch gave me the same long, drawn-out explanation I had heard a hundred times over. Though the words differ from person to person, their whiny reasoning was always the same: Please help me, Xander, I feel uncomfortable with myself and want to be beautifully different. By the time the wretch was finished, he was out of breath and mouth-breathing, obnoxiously. It was pathetic.
“Ahh, yes,” I said with a devilish grin, “I believe I can help you, young man.”
I pulled out an aged piece of paper from my desk drawer. The writing on it, was fresh, with beautiful lettering that gave it an official appeal. I slid it across the desk to him and he didn’t bother reading the fine print. His lazy-ass probably hasn’t read anything of importance in a long time.
“What’s this?” he asked, dumbly.
“It’s a standard contract. Basically stating that I will fulfill your desire for confidence, masculinity, and attention and that you agree to the payment owed.”
“What payment do you take?”
I pull out my onyx-crafted fountain pen from inside my coat and pass it to him.
“Your soul,” I said, with words as sweet as honey.
I always loved seeing the mixed reactions I got after saying this. A millennia ago, it was hard to come across anyone willing to come to such terms. I mean, they had to be DESPERATE, but then the internet came along and . . . oh man . . . my clientele skyrocketed with people eager to trade their soul for things that were popular and fleeting.
Chuck looked up at me, rather dumbfounded.
“It’s simple. You sign the dotted line, I give you what you want, and then you give me your soul.”
“Really? That’s it?” Chuck said with a clever smirk. I drank in his impious stupidity like sweet wine. “Sure, okay.”
He took the pen in his limp grip and signed the contract.
Like I said, easy sale.
He passed the pen back to me and I wiped it off with my red-silk handkerchief before placing it back in my pocket.
“Give me your right hand,” I said.
He did as I said and I took his hand gently in mine.
“You know, when I heard people talking about you on the online forums, I thought you to be the fictional character in someone’s poor excuse for a short story. I never knew－”
He screamed as I sliced his palm with a black, rune blade. The wretch squirmed, trying desperately to take his hand back, but I held it steady without much effort.
“Now to seal the deal,” I said and then took his palm, flipped it over, and slammed it on top of his signature. Immediately, the words on the parchment flared to life. Chuck screamed, louder than he probably ever had before, but as the fire of the letters intensified, his appearance began to change. His baby fat melted away, revealing something the artists of the renaissance would have studied for their marble sculptures. His beard filled out and the muscles beneath his skin grew. As the letters quelled back to their original jet-black color, I released him, and he fell back into his chair, panting heavily.
“What . . . what did you do to me?” he breathed. His voice was deeper now.
“Exactly what you wanted.”
I snapped my fingers and fire flashed between them. When the smoke dissipated, Chuck saw a silver mirror in my hand.
“Whoa!” he cried, leaning forward and touching the chiseled jawline beneath his trimmed beard. “Oh my!”
After looking at himself three times over, he stood to a respectable height.
“Oh, thank you!” he said, a wide smile coming over his face. “This is exactly what I imagined!”
“Of course,” I said, waving my hand toward the door. “Now go live the life you always dreamed of. I will collect my payment at the end.”
“Right,” Chuck said.
I reveled at the sound of his ignorance.
This is how it works, you see. People sign the contract and I use a portion of my power to fulfill my end of the bargain. At the end of the client’s life, I claim their soul, and if I do my calculations correctly, I gain more power than I gave out. If I do the math wrong, well then, I just make sure I collect early . . . If you know what I mean. Do this over a couple millennia, and you acquire untold amounts of power. That’s called smart investing.
Chuck left my office a new man, happy as could be. I glanced down at the contract. His blood had formed an intricate blood rune over his signature that bound him, permanently, to the deal. Unless there was some divine intervention, there was no way for Chuck to back out of the deal without my permission. I smiled, rolled up the parchment, tied it with a black ribbon, and snapped my fingers. There was a flash of fire, and the contract disappeared into the nether space between my world and this one, able to be summoned back at my beckoning call.
I sat at my desk for the rest of the day, playing cards, but when no one else came-a-knockin’, I closed up around 8pm. After locking the office door, I headed upstairs and chatted with the bar owner for a bit. She’s a good friend of mine, very clever and witty. One day I hope to convince her to come downstairs to my office, probably when the signs of old age started to show, but I don’t know. Though she’s a soul I wouldn’t mind hanging on to, she’s got standards, I guess. Around 10pm, I made my way downtown for a night of devilish fun.
Civilizations are cyclical, you see. They have their glorious ascension, a brief period of good fortune, and then—when they sit in the seat of power for too long and the coffers start to swell—we move in: Me and all my brethren to prey upon ignorance and dissent. Then, once everything crumbles, we move on.
I walked the crowded streets, a wolf among sheep, and headed to a popular club my brother, Hector, owned called The Pit. It’s a respectable establishment and garners the attention of those that seek to let loose their carnal desires. Already there was a line outside that stretched halfway down the block. I walked past the miserable creatures, receiving jealous looks from the most pitiful of wretches, and let myself in. The music was bumping to the beat of some lady rapping about money, sex, and fame—all things I came here to peddle. The dance floor was a writhing mass of people, jumping, grinding, and moving. I made my way up to the second-floor bar and started working my magic.
Not magic, magic, don’t be annoying. I don’t work for free. I just simply tell people what they want to hear. Humans are simple things, you see. Get enough of them to do something and the rest follow. Every conversation I have is an opportunity to get people to participate in the behavior I feed off of, and that kind of behavior is contagious. Spreads like wildfire, you see.
“Xander, you crazy son of a dog!”
A fat man in a white suit approached me carrying two martini glasses. He passed me one, and we both clinked our glasses together and took a drink.
“Been a while, Hector,” I said, “how’s everything?”
Hector swept his hand over the dance floor below and gave a devilish grin.
“I can see that.”
“What about you? Are you workin’ tonight?”
“So far I got a married man to go home with a woman that is not his wife and convinced a young lady to experiment with hard drugs.”
“What fun!” Hector laughed, “I remember my time as a soul collector: Push people to fulfill enough temporary desires and eventually they come-a-knockin’.”
We both laughed and drank together for a while longer, exchanging funny stories of how we liked to mess with people. Hector, however, loves to drink a lot more than I do, and I eventually had to excuse myself when I felt the room get a little wobbly. Hector gave a bellowing laugh and smacked me on the back.
“Farewell, Xander! May you keep corrupting hearts till the end of time.”
I left the club and started making my way back to the office.
Yes, that’s where I sleep too, stop being such a snob.
It was around 2am and I dared not linger—the city streets weren’t safe at night—but along the way, I saw a homeless man lying on the bench. Normally, my wits would have kept me walking but the excessive drink made me overconfident. I felt the irresistible thrill of an easy sale rise up within me and I skipped over to his side. Leaning over him, I said, “Are you tired of this life? Lying on cold, hard benches and digging through the trash to find your next meal?”
The homeless man’s eyes slowly opened and he turned his head to look up at me.
“I can make it all better,” I said, “I can give you the life you always wanted.”
He sat up, narrowed his eyes at me, and then stood.
“Who . . . are you, stranger?” he asked.
“I’m Xander, a businessman of sorts.”
Suddenly he reached out and grabbed my shoulders with a strength I never would have expected. His eyes flashed a brilliant blue, shimmering like light reflecting off lakefront waves.
“I’ve been looking for you for a long time, Xander.”
“No . . .”
It was, undoubtedly, an angel of the Lord. They always hunted the cities at night, looking for evil things to slay.
“Let me go! Please.”
“You may go,” he said with a smile. “Back to your foul master.”
He placed his right palm upon my head.
“No!” I shrieked, struggling to loose myself from his iron grip.
There was a flash of white light, a searing pain, and then I felt like I was falling. Down, down, down I went, through clawing darkness that tore at my skin, revealing the demonic form I harbored beneath. Then, the blazing fires of Hell appeared and I landed upon a floating brimstone platform. I lay there for a while, incapacitated by the sweltering heat coming from the lake of fire, miles below. Blood streamed off my scaly, red skin, sizzling as it dripped upon the brimstone.
How could I be so foolish!
“Because you are foolish, young Xander,” a musing voice echoed in my head.
“Oh, no,” I cried. A light, like a falling star, hurtled down from the smokey, swirling clouds above. I quickly leaped to my feet, but when the light took on a humanoid form with silvery wings, I remembered my place and knelt before it.
“Lucifer . . . ,” I breathed. He was beautiful, far more so than how I remembered him when he walked the mortal world.
“Your life has sadly ended, but our contract still stands. Time to pay up.”
A cold shiver electrified down my spine.
“No, please. I can still be of service. Please. Send me back up!”
“A deal is a deal. I give you the power to collect souls and you get to live like the “god” you always wanted to be. Now that that has come to an end, you—and all the souls you have collected—belong to me.”
I dropped to both knees and placed my horned forehead upon the searing brimstone.
“Please, not like this.”
“Sorry, Xander, but I’m a businessman and got things that need to happen before Judgement Day comes.”
He leaped forward and hoisted me up by the throat. My feet dangled in the air.
“And right now, I need more power,” he said and then threw me from the platform. I fell to the lake of fire below, and as the searing flames swallowed me whole, a single thought crossed my mind.
How could I think this day would never come?