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Nathan Hall
Faustian Bargain

“Good evening, world. This is Samantha Renalds with U.S.C.E News. Last week we brought you a special piece on Mr. Robert Day, who has recently beat the record for longest living person–reaching an amazing 124 years of age. He has asked me back to his home for a one-on-one interview, which he promises will be far from anything we’ve covered before, and I, for one, am looking forward to it.” With that, the cheery blonde moved the microphone away from her face and the robot machine that was with her rolled in as well. “How did that sound, Mr. Day?”

“Perfectly fine. I just thank you for coming here to listen to me today.”

“It’s not a problem. It may be my big break after all.” She looked around his living room, small, mostly empty. “I don’t see how you live in this small place. No offense.”

“None taken.”

“I’ma have to cut you off there, Mr. Day. Commercials are about over.” Her machine moved in closer, casting a bright light over his apartment, dark and poorly kept. She gave a thumbs up and a red light lit up on the contraption. She pulled some papers out of her bag and looked at the old man.

“So, Mr. Day, I have to say I’m really curious as to what you’ve got to say. Let’s start. When were you born? How has the world changed?”

“I was born in 1978, before we went in debt to China. The world itself has changed a lot. Technology wise, anyway. The robot you have traveling with you, back in my day, we were just figuring out how to make those things. It’s astounding, really.”

“Do you think that has something to do with why you have no ‘bots serving you?”

“That, well, that is for different reasons. But many other things have changed as well. When I was growing up, Steve Rogers wore red, white, and blue, not red and yellow. He kept the stars and dropped the stripes. Another thing, back then it was the U.S.A, United States of America --not U.S.C.E, United States of the Chinese Empire. Really, the debt we put ourselves in was pathetic. I could go on, but my worldviews are not what I wish to pass on here. That’s for the youth to decide.”

“Okay, so why don’t you begin telling us about it.”

“Well, it all started in 2001. I was a stupid 22 year old. Like anyone my age then, I was listening to music with my friends and ignoring the road while I was driving. But things played out different than what the other people our age were used to. I wrapped my poor car right around an old oak tree.”

“An oak tree? You must have gone pretty far out of the way to hit one of those.”

“No, trees were a normal sight on roadsides back then. . . . Where was I? Oh, yes, I wrapped my car right around that old oak tree. My two buddies didn’t pull through. I barely did.”

“Sounds awful.”

“It was. Ended up on life support for a few months. But the biggest change of my life occurred due to that. I saw Heaven.”

“Heaven?”

“Not common knowledge now? It was glorious, something beyond words.”

“Nothing is beyond words, Mr. Day.”

“Says your day and age who believes themselves to know everything. I could attempt to speak of it. But no matter the description I used, it would fall so short of the actual scene.”

“We will hear more after the break. I’m sure people have had their interest peaked.” The red light flashed again and the machine flipped the other off. Miss Renalds sighed and tilted her head back. “Is this how the whole thing is going to go? Mr. Day, it’s really not what I came here for. I wanted a look back through history, not the ramblings of a senile old man.”

“Senile? If that’s what you want to think of me, Miss Renalds, go ahead. But I called you here to get my story out and off my chest.”

“No offense, Mr. Day, but this seems a bit bizarre.”

“Think of it this way, Miss Renalds: If my story is a success, you are. If it flops and everyone thinks I am crazy, well, you interviewed a crazy old man. This can do you no harm, and you are already here.”

She considered this. “Fine. Commercial’s almost over. So be quiet and wait for my cue.”

Robert nodded. The light flipped on, forcing him to blink his eyes. “Hello, everyone, and welcome back. Mr. Day, please continue.”

“As I was saying, I saw Heaven.”

“Which you stated was something beyond words?”

“Far beyond. But it was a sad realization when I came to.”

“Why so?”

“Well, you see, I was out for quite some time. Missed most the year lying in bed. I was over sedated and barely breathing. But the sad part was waking up from that vision.”

“Dream.”

“No, it was a vision. But waking up from that to find my two friends didn’t make it. That, and also knowing I was so far off achieving the gift of going to Heaven.”

“So this Heaven is a reward for?”

“Heaven is the ultimate reward you achieve by following the teachings of a book called the Bible, but I didn’t follow the teachings, nor did the world as a whole. I didn’t think I could redeem myself. I then remembered as a boy hearing a story about a man who sold his soul to Satan–”

“Satan?”

“An angel who fell from Heaven, depicted as the ultimate evil. Imprisoned in hell?”

“Oh, I remember childhood stories of him and God.”

“More than likely your parents were reading you the Bible. But anyway, these pacts dated back to old stories. I always wondered about it, and I had decided what I wanted to do. I wanted to sell my soul to get to Heaven.”

“Okay, to make sure I remember right–your soul is what goes to Heaven or Hell after death?”

“Yes, I thought you didn’t know of Heaven.”

“I knew of it. But it hadn’t crossed my mind you would mean the place in those old stories.”

“Okay, then. May I continue?”

“In a few moments, let’s take another break.” The lights flicked off after the red light died.

Samantha stood up and stretched. Robert eased himself onto his cane and started toward the kitchen.

“Want anything, Miss Renalds?”

“I’ll take some bottled water.”

“I’m afraid I don’t have any. Will tap do?”

“I’ll pass. I don’t want to be poisoned. You do know tap water will rush you to your grave.”

“I’m 124. Rushing isn’t a problem.” He ran a glass of the dark filth before making his way back to his seat.

“If you don’t mind me asking, where are your kids?”

“It’s simple. They are all dead.”

“Grandkids?”

“Dead.”

“Great Grandkids?”

“Dead.”

“Gre-”

“Never had any.”

“So you drink tap water, live in this dump, no offense, and have no family. How do you make it?”

“I have no choice.”

“Unresolved goals or ambitions?”

“Nope, just can’t make it to the grave.”

“What’s that sup--oh sorry, we need to go back on air. Wait on the qu-”

“I remember.” Lights, red light, and they were back for the billions worldwide to see.

“Before the break, Mr. Day was beginning to tell us what happened after he left the hospital. Please, Robert, it’s okay if I call you Robert, isn’t it? Please continue.”

“As I was saying, it was after I got out of the hospital: I was wrapped up in an old flannel jacket to keep warm and on my way to the nearest crossroads. It was a stupid idea, but I was young and reckless. I knew the potential consequences. But I didn’t care. It was my best shot. I arrived and saw nothing. I kept thinking to myself, how do I do this? What will let Satan greet me with his presence?

It was a very awkward thought and the fact the passing cars and the sight of my own breath were all that was there to entertain me didn’t help. But moments later a voice called out for me, and from behind a coal truck sat a man on a highway sign, waving me over. He was in a very fine suit, wearing sun glasses, and had a chain around his ankle, right before his shined shoes that ran straight into the ground and seemed to disappear.

“Robert James Day, 22. Birthdate, May 3rd, 1978. All-time favorite band, Smashing Pumpkins.”

“You are?”

“Lucifer, or Satan, as you’d apparently like to call me.”

“How did you know I was waiting for you?”

“Some computers are harder to crack than the human mind. It’s sad. Not to mention I can sense temptation a mile away.”

“Okay.”

“Before we discuss business, let me look you over first. Black Tee, ripped jeans, commoner’s shoes. With the way I see things going, I may need to dress like you in the future. Stir up some trouble.” He looked me over. I felt awkward, a bit frightened. But not as much as I figured I should be. My parents had always said he was the most beautiful angel. I’d be lying if I didn’t say he was far better looking than myself. Or anyone else for that matter.

“Can we get this over with?” I asked.

“Ah! The eager type, are you? So what do you want? Money? Power? Inhuman strength? A couple of extra inches? To be the true master of something? What about all medical knowledge? To play guitar or violin amazingly? You look like a violin man. Come on, let me hear it, boy.”

“I want a guaranteed passage into Heaven.”

“You want what? This is a new one. I, I like the way you think. You’ve tossed me a nice little curveball.”

“Can you do it?”

“Hey, don’t doubt me. If humans can make their way there, I can give you a way there. Only problem is, what do I get? Normally a deal with me costs some souls.”

“Tell me the cost. Let me hear what my choices are.”

“Impatient, are you, Robby.”

“It’s my afterlife we are discussing here. I think I have a right to be impatient.”

“Sure you don’t want super powers?”

“No.”

“Ungodly charisma?”

“No.”

“A pet turtle?”

“Lucifer, you know what I want! Stop playing around!” Some people would call yelling like that at the embodiment of evil stupid. At the time, I wasn’t thinking. Too many thoughts were swamping my mind.

“Fine, here is the deal. You, Robert Day, have my word that in death you will have passage into Heaven. But, in return, as you live out the rest of your days, I’ll keep your soul in hell with me, like a trophy to show off to the other idiots who made deals with me.”

“A trophy?”

“Yes, I want to show off. All those souls I’ve had pass through my fingers. Then there is you.

The guy who had the perfect request. I want to show them just how greedy and dumb they really are. That’s right! Keep smiling. You know, throughout this whole thing, you’ll be conscious and able to live. Nothing will change except the outcome.”

“How do I know I can trust you?”

“I let the blacksmith go, didn’t I?”

“What?”

“Never heard the story? Here is the Master over all Masters? No? Well, let’s put it this way. It was your idea; you sought me out. Don’t second-guess yourself. Don’t back down to the Devil.”

“Fine, I’ll do it.” Then right before my eyes fire came from his hand. An old-looking piece of paper formed. On it were the details of my deal in red ink. The bottom had some weird symbols that I assumed was his signature. All that was needed was mine, and I signed away quickly.

“Miss Renalds, after the signing of my Faustian bargain, I felt so alive. Like I could live without regret free of the burden of the afterlife. But like I said, I was young and dumb.” Miss Renalds was now leaning forward, listening.

“So you sold your soul to the devil? That’s interesting. Bizarre but interesting. Do go on.”

“There isn’t much to tell about our meeting after that. Once my name was signed, he jumped off the sign and walked away.”

“But he was chained. How did he manage that?”

“The chain moved with him, still going into the dirt. But no matter how far he walked, it didn’t pull him back or so much as move the very dirt it went into.”

“Sounds like magic.”

“Miss Renalds, he is Satan after all.”

“I guess so. Well, what happened next?”

“I went home and my life began.”

“You mean that’s all to your story?”

“All I wish to share.” With that he stood up. Her ‘bot’s camera continued to follow him. He hobbled into the next room. He could hear some mumbling outside the door, which he took as her wrapping up. Moments later, a knock.

“Mr. Day, I decided to call it quits for today. But now you have me interested, and I’m sure many more want to hear more about you. Personally, I think you are crazy. But just like sex... crazy sells. Well. So how about I call you to set up another taping?”

“I have nothing more to tell.”

“You are 124, Mr. Day. People will want to know more. You just told us you sold your soul to the devil. Yet you say you have nothing more to share?”

“What more do you want to hear?”

“We should receive some calls. That will give me all the questions I need to ask. You rest up.” With that, he watched her and the robot leave. He longed for rest, but he wouldn’t fall asleep for good. He wished he could, but all these years waiting and suffering and it had yet to happen. Why hold his breath?

Next day, a new appointment was scheduled. He had three days to stare at the grey walls, and stare he did.

Robert let her in and the machine rolled in beside her. She looked around, disappointed.

“Mr. Day, I thought I asked you to clean up?”

“I’m 124, Miss Renalds. What did you expect to do? Get on my hands and knees to clean? Lying in the floor till someone visited me to help me up? You must be senile.” She scoffed and pulled up a chair.

“Let’s get started then. We had many callers to ask questions.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes. Mostly, they wanted to know what you were taking back then.”

“What?”

“They believe you to have been on drugs, Mr. Day. But let’s have the light come on. Wait for my cue.”

Then the red light appeared, and again, he was live. “Good Evening, world. This is News Reporter Samantha Renalds from U.S.C.E here to bring you part two of Robert Day’s life story. Now last week we heard a tale of a car crash and visions of Heaven and a meeting fit for hell. Due to the unbelievable things mentioned, we left it up to you, the viewers, to decide if we should return. Despite the ridicule, the majority vote was yes–we are interested. So Robert, how do you feel about answering some questions for our viewers this time around?”

“Well, they heard me out, so I guess I owe them that much.”

“Thank you. First question, since, as you say, you have a free pass into Heaven, did you ever act out?”

“Yes.”

“Now, Mr. Day, I think the people at home would like to hear a bit about it. Not just a simple yes or no.”

“Fine. It was that summer when I realized what I had done. June 30th, I believe. It had just settled in. I could do no wrong in regards to affecting my afterlife. At the time if things got bad, suicide was always an option. During this time I’d become a pill head. It wasn’t so casual back then as it is now. Trust me. But I’d started shoplifting. Mostly, I stayed intoxicated. Drinking with people, sleeping in the streets. Really living.”

“Being homeless? That’s really living?”

“Being free, I was on my own. No payments to hold me down. Stolen goods to eat on or trade for alcohol and pills when I got the ole itch. I was rolling with the punches.”

“You were homeless.”

“Miss Renalds, you believe it to be homeless. I think of it as freedom. It was harmony.”

“Okay, next question, this had a lot of call-ins. Who was your wife? How did you meet? What happened to her?”

“I was dreading this.”

“It’s an intriguing question. Seeing as how marriage now is looked down upon and hardly ever permanent. People find hope in things like this.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Please, Robert.”

“Okay. Where to start? November 2002. I was still sleeping in the streets, buying in to this small group of angst teens protesting against Bush and Iraq. They made sense. Oil, oil, oil. But that isn’t where I met her. One of the boys had a job so he bought some cheap beer from the gas station where he worked. The other traded pills, or handed them out so we could all have a great time. Little did I care, but mixing pills and beer was an incredibly bad idea. I somehow found myself wandering out from under the old bridge and onto the streets to a bench where I overdosed. Between the phasing in and out, I could see the brunette with thick-rimmed glasses and a coat with a fur hood standing over me. She had found me on a bench, called 911, and then sat in the waiting room until I was able to speak. At the time I looked almost as bad as when I wrecked, tubes running in and out of my arms. Laid up in a bed in a big white room with humming fluorescent lights. I felt awful."

Then she came in. It wasn’t any of the slow motion walk-ins you’d see in movies. More like a worried, angry march. Come to think of it, her reaction to a total stranger in such a warm and scary manner was part of her appeal.

“Who are you?”

“Gretchen Ross.”

“How do I know you?”

“You don’t.”

“Am I dead?”

“You would be if I hadn’t walked past you.”
“When?”

“Yesterday, you were lying on a bench stoned out of your mind and barely alive.”

“I was not.”

“Yes, you were, not to mention your arm was bleeding.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind. What’s your name? Who are your parents? The nurses need to know. Because at the moment I’m responsible for you.”

“No, I am responsible for me.”

“Which is exactly why you ended up nearly dead on a bench with a bottle of Jack Daniels in your hand.”

I later discovered Gretchen had stayed there overnight. She was one of the most innocent people I had ever met. I eventually came to and stopped sounding like an idiot. Gave her my parents’ names but explained that they were both dead. When Gretchen found this out, she had no choice, she said, but to come back to make sure I was okay.”

“You get out in three more days, James.”

“It’s Robert, not James.”

“I prefer calling you by your middle name. I saved your life so you can get over it.”

“Why are you even still coming here?”

“Because someone has to show up, and since your parents are gone, you have no siblings, and obviously you can’t take care of yourself, I promised the doctors when you get out, I’ll give you a place to sleep.”

“Why?”

She shrugged.

“You know what, Miss Ross?”

“What?”

“I’ve never seen a girl look so good with thick-rimmed glasses before.”

“You are not allowed to flirt, James. You’re a charity case.”

“Miss Renalds, Gretchen ended up stuck with me. After a few months I was clean and living in her home, sleeping on the couch. She wouldn’t have admitted it, but she liked my company. I had picked her to mend me, which her good nature wouldn’t allow her to decline.” “It’s sort of sweet when you put it like that. She fell in love with her charity work. What happened to her?”

“We went on to have three children. Autumn Day, Rainy Jane Day, and Gabriel Day. We were married before they came along. Gretchen, sadly, died in a car crash. She wrecked nearly in the same spot my friends and I did. She took Gabriel and Autumn with her. Rainy was all I had left. This was September 2009.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. What became of your daughter Rainy?”

“At the time of her mother’s death, she was a month and three days old. Later on, she was relatively normal, opinionated, and rebellious, although in political ways, without the drug and alcohol influence. She ended up married at 18 to the high school boyfriend. She was going to change the world and have him by her side. But he ended up killing her four years later during a argument about his drug abuse. She left behind a son, who the father took after his charges were dropped by some twist of fate. My grandson killed himself at age 18.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Mr. Day, let me ask, have you ever attempted suicide to claim your reward?”

“Yes, I have. After Rainy died and that bastard husband of hers got off and kept the kid, I figured to hell with the world; it was already there. So I tried. I tried to hang myself. I ended up breaking my neck and surviving. I crawled to the phone to call 911, something the paramedics say I shouldn’t have been able to do. Later I cut my wrist, but the bleeding on my arm was no blood at all. It was my contract. Anytime I was supposed to die, it bled through my arm.”

“The one you signed for your deal with Satan. Correct?”

“Yep, watch.” Her eyes widened. She watched the blade run over his wrist. The letters began to form as the blood dripped from his wrist. Her mouth dropped.

“This, it–it raises so many questions. Oh, Robert, stop.”

“Miss Renalds, it’s simple. I am Satan’s example to the world that he always wins. I thought I had tricked the devil. But he just laughed and now shows me off as a prize. That, or this is God’s way of saying I was a flower that cheated to bloom and not worth picking. So I get to wither here.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“I think we’re out of time, Miss Renalds.”

“Yes, thank you. We are out of time.” With that the light flickered off and she stood quick. “I want to thank you for the story and your time, Mr. Day.”

“It’s fine, Miss Renalds.” Soon she was moving, toward the door, her ‘Bot following her out.

This interview was over. Later, Robert sat alone in his grey living room. “How much longer do I have to suffer?” he asked aloud, right before a familiar figure stepped out of the kitchen, dressed in an old flannel jacket, a black tee shirt and old tattered shoes, chains clanging against linoleum.

“That’s simple, James, until the End.”

Nathan Hall, 19, of Jackscreek, is a BSCTC student. He said his story “Faustian Bargain” was inspired by the music of his three favorite bands.

 

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