Every Man has a Price
I laid my oldest daughter down to rest. The events of the day had taken her energy away; so much so that she could not keep an eye lid up. A gentle kiss to her forehead, and then I pulled the comforter just up to her shoulders and turned out the light. As I closed the door I wondered if she will ever consider the actions I was about to take.
On my way past the kitchen I saw my pack of cigarettes on the counter, next to a very worn Zippo lighter. I paused a moment, and decided to leave them. I grabbed my favorite black trench coat â€“ the one that is really more of a three-quarter length duster than coat â€“ and headed out. Latching the screen door I pondered going back in, getting my smokes and calling this off, but I've never been a man to back out of a deal.
The night air was unseasonably warm, though I didn't take off my coat as I walked down to the end of my street. At the rusted stop sign the city never seemed to replace, I turned left toward a street with no lights; not house lights or lamp posts. The darkness and my thoughts were the only things awake.
Soon I was walking down a dirt road and the land was flat in every direction. A wooden sign post marked an intersection of another dirt road. The sky was clear, the moon was full, yet no stars shown in the deep black. It occurred to me this was a bit clichÃ©, but I should play my part. Social rules are important in times like these, they hold our sanity in place. Slowly I dropped down to my knees, lowered my head, and spoke his name.
As I raised my head, a pain in the back of my neck caused vision to blur. I could only make out a man approaching. The closer he came the better my eyes could see. He was about six inches over my height, and had a very slender build which was accented by a tight, black, long sleeve t-shirt. He wore a pair of dark Levi's that bunched up only around his silver snake skinned boots, and an earring in his left ear; a small silver circle that held an inverted cross by a short chain. There was no cape, no red skin, and no horns. So much for clichÃ©.
â€œI am glad you came, there aren't many who make this final step.â€ His voice reminded me of a grunge singer after a long night in a club: thin and reedy.
â€œI am not one to back out of a deal.â€
â€œWe do not have a deal yet, you still haven't asked something of me. You know my price, so you have only to ask. First though, let us sit a moment and talk.â€ He motioned to a bench behind me. I doubted it existed there before but did not doubt it was real. I took a seat and as he sat next to me he pulled out a pack of Lucky Strikes and offered one.
â€œI understand this is your brand.â€
â€œYes, it isâ€ I said as I took the offer, figuring there was no harm in accepting. I noticed something odd about the pack though but couldn't place just what it was. Before I could ponder too much, he held out a Zippo for me to use. I then knew what it was: this was my Zippo and these were my cigarettes. As I let out my first drag I said;
â€œI didn't know those were part of the deal.â€
â€œThey aren't, I just find it puts someone at ease to have their own close at hand.â€
He was right, but I thought it a bad choice to tell him so.
â€œWell then, what do we talk about?â€
He took one of the cigarettes for himself, and handed me the pack. I lit the Zippo for him and after a few puffs he sat back and looked up at the deep black sky.
â€œI'm not allowed stars, most people don't know that. You would think there would be many other things on my mind, but that gets at me the most. Tell me, do you gaze upon the stars at night?â€
â€œNot anymore, they offer no comfort now. I used to though. As a kid I would dream of traveling between them, seeing things I could only read about. I would get lost for hours in their twinkles and wake up late for school because of it. I've never seen a falling one though, never had a chance to make that wish.â€
A long pause followed as each of us finished our cigarettes. I was looking down the road I came while he just stared into the void hanging above us. I jumped slightly when he finally spoke.
â€œSo what do you ask for in return?â€
A deep laugh escaped him, betraying this clever disguise he had crafted. I was then frightfully aware of the demon that sat beside me, and that if I saw him in true form my eyes would burn from the pain of knowledge. He regained his prior voice, and asked
â€œPeace on earth and goodwill toward man is it then? This is a first!â€
â€œNothing so altruistic as that.â€
â€œSo there is a war then you want me to end, return someone back home?â€
â€œNo, that is not my request either.â€
Now for the first time he looked at me with a puzzled expression. Tiny sparks danced just behind his eyes and the light of the moon glimmered off his earring.
â€œWhat, then... what is it you ask?â€
â€œI want peace for myself. To no longer be torn in my heart, to no longer have my mind race at night. To remove these thoughts and feelings that act as talons, tearing at my soul. To finally be able to rest and begin again. To have peace.â€
He turned away from me and looked at the ground. A small laugh, but this time no hint of the demon with this skin. He stood, but did not turn to face me as he spoke;
â€œI'm honor bound to my deal, many do not know that as well. I must give what is asked, and though I'm known for irony in my words I cannot promise what I cannot give. I'm afraid this is something I cannot give, for it is peace that is my price and I can't very well give back what I'm asking in payment.â€
With nothing more said, he began to walk down the road he came. A strong gust of wind rose, and I had to shield my eyes from the dirt it raised. When I took down my hand, the stars were out again, and I was sitting on the curb of my street. I stood up to dust myself off, but no dirt was on me. This didn't seem out of place, and I turned and walked back in my home.
As I stood in front of my bed I began to ponder the last words said to me. Was I hopeless? Was I asking for something that could not be? Was this all there was for the remainder of my life? Or... was I merely asking the wrong person?
I knelt down beside my bed, clasped and raised my hands to my lips, and spoke His name.