"Of course, but there is a catch."
It's a phrase I've said a thousand times to a thousand different people about a thousand different things. Sometimes the people actually HEAR the catch and walk away. I can't waste my time thinking about what could've been with them - only that I need to keep going. Sometimes they're ready to sign on the proverbial dotted line when some long-dead animal instinct kicks in and they run away.
But sometimes they sign and those times are the best times.
Who am I? What do I offer? It all really depends on where we are and what you need. I've given a handful of seeds to farmers in Mesopotamia who were desperate for food to save their family. I've provided Roman consuls protection from usurpers and allowed them to cling to power for longer than they should have. I've given soldiers the ability to shoot straight and have them see the end of conflict unharmed.
Who am I? Does it really matter as long as I deliver?
I've plied my trade for a long time and been to every corner of the globe during my travels. I've met with kings and pauper alike but my last go-around was unlike anything I've ever done before and even I'm not sure of the consequences of my actions. The person I met with was me.
I was as confused as you, dear reader, but I didn't show it. When you've been around for a long time you can see some pretty unbelievable things. The idea of there being doubles of people all over the world - and time - that is very true. You all have doubles and triples. But staring back at myself was something I wasn't expecting.
I heard the call late at night. “I'll do anything...” When those words hit my eardrums I can feel my body vibrate with excitement. I'll do anything means just that – nothing is out of bounds. I've granted wishes big and small. I've helped to change the course of a person's day or mankind's history.
Now, it seemed, I was going to change my own path.
The call came from an unusual location - a dimly lit street near the port. A heavy fog blanketed the ground and there was a chill that cut straight to your bones. I don't shiver but I imagined my doppelganger was freezing. He was leaning against a lampost in an old trenchcoat smoking a poor quality cigarette.
He didn't look surprised to see me.
"How are you doing," he asked, stubbing out his smoke on the bottom of his shoe.
"I should be asking you," I said with a smirk, "after all, you called me."
He nodded and put another cigarette into his mouth. "I did do that," he said lighting the smoke. He took a drag and then exhaled a plume of smoke. "Why do you think I did it?"
"You desire something," I said, "I can provide."
"Oh, I know that," he said, "That's why I called."
"What do you want?"
"Simple. I want you to stop what you're doing."
"I know you don't enjoy this because I do it too," he said exhaling a plume of smoke. "I hate it - lying to people, stealing their souls. It's mentally exhausting and, quite frankly, not great for my well being."
"What do you mean 'you do it too'," I asked, incredulously. "There is only one of me and it's me."
"Well, yes and no," he said with a smile, "You are you and I am I but we are the same thing."
"How can that be," I said more than confused.
He shrugged, "I have no clue. My guess," he said exhaling more smoke, "is that somewhere down the line, the good in you split and created me. Since then, you've traveled around providing ironic wishes and harvesting souls while I've promised people and square deal...."
"And harvested their souls."
"Well, yeah, but I don't like to talk about it. Gives me the willies."
"What would happen if I agreed to this wish? Do I harvest my own soul?"
"Can you harvest something that isn't there," he asked.
"I...I don't have a soul?"
"Maybe," he said with a shrug, "I don't know to be honest. No one has ever bothered to ask us."
"That's true," I said trying to think back to my earliest memories. They get foggy after a few hundred years.
"Lemme ask you this: who is our boss?"
"Yeah, who the hell set us down this path?"
"We did - or I did, I suppose."
"Because we had to."
I didn't know.
"So why do we keep doing this?"
"I enjoy my work," I said, "I've seen and experienced so many things over my time."
"Yeah, me too, but aren't you sick of it?"
I was about to answer but I had a pause. Was I sick of it? Maybe? I wasn't sure. I had never allowed myself time to think about. I never really thought about anything outside of my work.
"I don't think I can stop," I finally said, "but I can help you stop."
He pinched his cigarette and tossed it to the ground. It sizzled when it hit the damp concrete. "I'm game if you are," he said.
"Are you wishing to no exist," I confirmed.
"Yep. Take me out. I never wanted this and I'm exhausted with it all. I will miss smoking but it's a small price to pay for relief."
"Once I do this, it's done," and then I paused, "will you 'reabsorb' into me?"
"Only one way to find out. If I - we - have a soul, we go onto the next plane of existence and live our lives. If not," he trailed off.
"I can't convince you to stay?"
"No. I'm sorry if this is giving you pause because of the unknown, but that is your concern as it is your job."
"I didn't think I had a good side or a bad side," I said, "and I never really noticed that the good side was gone until this moment."
"No one ever realizes they've changed until it's too late. Humans call it an 'epiphany' but I call it a cruel joke."
"I hope you find peace," I said.
"I hope we do too."
I snapped my fingers and the figure in front of me melted away into the early morning fog. I stood there in the sudden silence and waited for something to happen. Nothing did.
"Odd," I mumbled to no one in particular, "I don't feel alone."
That's when I heard another voice pierce the silence. "You're not."
I looked around but couldn't find anyone. Then I realized it was coming from inside my own head.
Then I felt it. It was a wave crashing through my body and mind. I wasn't alone anymore. Two was made back into one.
"Reabsorbed? Seems like," he said, "there is always a catch to these things, huh?"
"Will you be in there forever?"
"For as long as you exist, I'll exist as well."
"As a voice in my head?"
"Humans call it a 'conscience'," he said.
I suddenly felt the need for a cigarette.