Rose walked through the aisles of the bookstore, her eyes wandering the shelves. Twenty minutes until she had to go back to work. At least she could go back with a book to keep her occupied.
The mall was practically deserted. The only crowd was for a "modeling school" holding tryouts for kids. Unfortunately, the kiosk where Rose worked selling cell phone accessories was far from the stage. It meant she didn't have to deal with the crazy mothers and their bratty kids, but it also meant no entertainment. Fortunately, the bookstore was only a five-minute walk away.
It wasn't a big store. Rose often wondered how it managed to stay in business when most of its kind had long since disappeared. There was an unusually wide selection. Probably more than the local library, but that wasn't saying much. The town was too small to have anything interesting to read for free.
Her wandering brought her to the self-help aisle. She looked over the books. Does any of this actually work? She supposed for someone with self-control and good focus, the plans in the books might have something to offer. But if she had either of those, she wouldn't still be stuck in this little town selling cell phone accessories.
She sighed heavily and ran a hand through her short hair. It was the only unusual thing about her, dyed in rainbow hues and cut to frame her face perfectly. But the face itself, the mind behind it, and the rest of the body below were all quite ordinary. As average and boring as the halfhearted St Patrick's Day decorations in the bookstore.
Among the diet books and religious manuals and endless series of "positive thinking bibles", something caught Rose's eye. It was a small book with a black leather binding that didn't quite fit in with the bright colors and smiling people in lab coats. She picked it up. Embossed in small, gold letters on the front were the words How to be Extraordinary.
Rose raised an eyebrow. Okay. I'll bite. She opened the book.
Nothing. Every page was blank.
She rolled her eyes. Of course. Just some novelty gag gift. She put it back and walked with determination to find the trashiest romance novel in the store.
Ten minutes later, Rose was sitting in her uncomfortable chair in the kiosk. She flipped to the start of the romance novel, looking forward to plot holes and explicit scenes with no context.
The tap of a cane interrupted her. She looked up and saw a man in a suit smiling at her. "Good afternoon, young lady."
"Hi." Rose smiled back with a practiced expression. "Looking for something particular?"
His smile widened slightly. "Always. I noticed you in the bookstore. Felt compelled to seek you out and introduce myself."
She kept her smile in place. Be nice. You're at work. "You're sweet, but I'm seeing someone."
"No, you're not." His smile seemed almost too wide. "But this isn't about anything like that. I saw the book you picked up. The only one on the shelf that caught your eye."
She glanced over her shoulder to the mall cop. Satisfied that he was nearby, she looked back into the man's eyes. "What's interesting about that?"
"Do you want to be extraordinary?" He brought his cane in front of him and rested his hands on top.
She let the smile drop a little. "Look, whatever you're selling, I'm not interested. Now please move along. I have to get back to work."
He chuckled. "Yes, because you're so swarmed with customers." His voice dripped with sarcasm, but his smile never left. "At least hear me out before you dismiss the opportunity."
Rose looked at the mall cop again. He caught her eye and nodded to indicate he was watching. With a sigh, she looked back at the man. “Fair point. Okay. What are you offering?”
“As I said, an opportunity. To be what you want to be. Special. Admired. Adored.” He leaned on his cane slightly. “To live a life that you never could on your current path.
She laughed. “And all it’ll cost is my soul, right?”
“Rose.” He shook his head. “We’ve had your soul since you were seven years old and shoved Johnny Wilkins down a flight of stairs.” The too-wide smile never faltered. “He still walks with a limp, you know.”
She blinked. Then she waved at the mall cop. “Can I get a little help here?”
The cop started walking towards the kiosk. The man sighed. He took one hand off his cane and waved it in a dismissive gesture. The mall cop stopped walking, then abruptly turned around and walked in the other direction.
Rose watched him walk away with a growing sense of dread. She looked back at the strange man. “How did you know about that? What is this?”
His smile was back. It struck her as predatory. “Exactly what I said. Twenty years of the most extraordinary life you can imagine. Whatever you choose to do, you’ll find every door open. You can live however you want, be whatever you want, with no fear of failure or the ache of mediocrity.”
She nodded slowly. “And what does it cost?”
He shrugged. “In twenty years, I’ll come back. I’ll decide then what the price will be. It could be an eternity of servitude. It could be your firstborn child. Or it could be some small favor that doesn’t bother you at all.”
“That’s helpful.” Rose grimaced. “So either you’re crazy and I agree just to get rid of you, or you’re playing a prank on me for some reason and I agree just to get rid of you.”
“Or this is real, the offer is valid, and you’d be crazy to pass it up.” Somehow his smile widened even more. “What do you have to lose?”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine. Whatever. I agree. Now go away.”
He gave a short bow. “The deal is done, then. Here.” He lifted a hand from the cane and conjured a small book out of thin air, then held it out to Rose. “For you.”
She snatched it out of his hand in annoyance. It was the book from the store. How to be Extraordinary. The words reflected in the lights overhead, seeming almost to glow. She flipped through it, confirming that there was still nothing on the pages. “This book is blank.”
The man was already turning to walk away. He chuckled. “That’s because you haven’t written it yet. See you in twenty years.”
She watched him walk away. When he was gone, she looked down at the book. Rose had to admit that her life was going nowhere. Maybe it’s worth a shot.
Twenty years later, Rose smiled as she put the finishing touches on her last entry in the journal. Her life had been very satisfying. As the strange man had promised, every door seemed open to her. Her days were filled with adoring fans and rave reviews from critics. She liked to think she had even helped a few people along the way.
“Hello, Rose.” The voice was familiar, echoing from the depths of her memory. She turned to see the man standing next to her. He looked exactly the same as he had twenty years before, right down to the unnatural smile. “Have you enjoyed it?”
She closed the book thoughtfully. Her hand ran over the embossed title on the front. “Yes. I have. I didn’t know if you’d really come.”
He rested his hands on his cane. “I know. No one is ever quite convinced until the debt comes due.”
She nodded. “That’s understandable. So. You definitely did all you promised. What’s the price?”
“Come with me.” He reached out a hand.
“Right now? I have an interview in the morning.” She stood. “Will we be back by then?”
His smile never wavered, nor did his hand drop. “There’s no need.”
She turned around, knowing somehow what she would see. There is was. Her own body, slumped over her desk. She wasn't breathing. “Damn. I was really looking forward to that.”
“No, you’re not.” She turned back with a grin. “Is this the part where you drag me screaming into hell?”
“I would hardly come personally for that. You’re going to work for me. Making deals.” He chuckled. “I think you have a talent for it.”
She laughed. “Are you kidding me? All the talent I ever had came from you. From our deal.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Do you really believe that?”
When she shrugged, he chuckled again. “I just open the doors. Everything else is up to you.”
“Huh.” She shifted her weight. “Is it fun?”
“Sometimes.” He tapped his cane on the ground, then nodded to his outstretched hand. “Shall we?”
Rose nodded and took his hand. “You’re the boss. Lead on.”