He awakes.
He awakes in bed.
He awakes in bed, confused.
But he shouldn’t be.
A deal, is a deal.

The bed is on the ceiling, and now, he is finally wide awake; staring at the floor through the locks of his long hair. They hang heavy, damp with something viscous dripping downward. Downward with the pull of gravity. He tosses his head around from where he dangles to rearrange the mop of sodden curls away from his eyes.

The thin nylon rope wrapped around his arms and legs and the sheets and the bed-frame hold everything in place at the top of the cave. It was easier than one might think, bringing him here, bed and all, through thin air, to me. Through the void; all I must do is call. The air in this room is think and humid with oil. It tastes like kerosene. His eyes are wide because he understands his error, you see. In short time, he will understand so much more of who I am and why he is soaked in accelerant and why he is suspended from the ceiling as I, below him, am stacking the wood.

“Who are you?” he asks me through the dark.

“You know who I am,” is my reply.

He is crying now, drawing in a snotty breath he asks, “yes, but why?”

“You know the why,” is my reply.
And he does know. You can see it in his wild eyes. He shudders and struggles and tries to squeeze those wild eyes tightly to shut away the vision below. The vision of me. His eyes try to black it all away with a tight little squeeze.

But that’s not the deal. I’m not a figment. I am real. Once come to me, in the marsh, where the magic is made in the woods and we make the deal, you cannot simply renegotiate. His contract was signed in blood.
“It’s unnatural,” he cries loudly, “It’s dark! Evil!” he shouts, “I changed my mind! I don’t want this! I–I’ll turn myself in! I promise.”

Unnatural, dark or evil is no matter of mine.

A deal, is a deal.

“Just because a deal, is a deal you shouldn’t make,” I begin, “doesn’t make that deal, a deal that you can break.” I smile up at him. My face is gaunt and wrinkled with age now and black with the charcoal runes I’ve smeared. I can see it reflect back to me in the fear of his eyes, laden with tears. “You said anything, even a soul, and so I’ve come now to take what is owed.”

He looks angry now, “this wasn’t our deal!” he shouts.

“Oh but it was, in fact. You performed the ritual as I instructed. You signed in your blood.”

“I asked you to bring him back! You tricked me!”

He is making me angry now with this talk of semantics, “Tricks! You said bring him back, and that’s just what I did!”

“No! He’s–changed.

Something’s–gone,” he weeps openly now.

“Of course ‘something’s gone.’” I chuckle, “dead for a day and a night, that one.”

“We don’t have a deal because this isn’t what I asked!” he attempts, “he’s gray. Just moans! Doesn’t speak. His skin is peeling away. His teeth rotting and falling out of his head–and the blood, the blood that strings from them is black like tar. When I asked for your help–to bring him back, I didn’t mean like that!”

“No you did not. On that, I’ll agree.” I chuckle here as I continue to stack. Log on log beneath him into the shape of a pyramid. A pyre a dozen feet tall. They don’t quite reach him, but the fire will still be able to lick him with its curling, curing tongues. Roast him till he splits open and my payment rushes out. I’ll still get what I came for. I remind him: “You did not specify condition, you just said back, and back is back, and now you pay for that.”

Now quietly, almost a whisper–a plea: “What happens to him? My boy?”

The boy conveniently now steps out from the shadows, as if on cue, but his ears no longer hear. His eyes are gray and unseeing and focused on something up and away, just outside the cave. His skin is peeling. His skin is gray.

I smile at the man and take the boys hand, “he sleeps again in death, as he should have from the start.” I lead the man’s son over to the pyre and gesture to the can of kerosene. His dead eyes do not see the gesture nor the can, but even unseen, he understands. He lifts it over his head and tilts it downward.

“But!”

“You should have thought of this before you killed him. This is your doing. Your consequences. I’m just here to collect on my deal.”
“It was an accident! I had too much–please!” he begs, “this is why I came to you in the first place!”–“you can’t just kill him again!”

I chuckle, “I should leave him like this? Would you?” I ask, and then on second thought remark: “probably you would. I am not quite so cruel. He is braindead–the blood thickened. A heart dead that long isn’t strong enough to pump jelly. You were too late, sir.”

“You–you tricked me!”

I did not. I do not deal in tricks.
I deal in deals.
And…
A deal, is a deal.

“You came to me on the night of the last full moon, begging me to bring back your son. Here he is, back as requested!”

The boy at the pyre, a boy of eleven, had fallen victim to his father’s rage. The purple marks on his neck, the prints of hands, made the story plain enough to see.

“You said you would give anything. I told you blood magic means a life for a life. It means your soul. You agreed. Did not believe, perhaps, and yet you agreed. I did what was asked of me. A specific time-frame was not discussed and I am not cruel. I cannot leave this boy in this state, and you cannot renegotiate.”

“No!” he shouts as I head for the cave entrance. He struggles against the ropes that bind him. “We had a deal!”

I light the match.
We did.
And we still do.
A deal, is a deal.
A deal for his soul.
And I’ve come to collect.
The evil one I’ll take.
The boy’s can pass on.
I don’t deal with the pure ones.
They don’t last as long.

As I sit atop the cave, over the chimney, breathing in the smoke, I can feel it enter through my lungs. Invigorating my old soul with it’s company. Devouring its youth.
I’ve made hundreds of these deals and I won’t have to make another one again for a few decades, so if you find need of my services in 2038, seek me out. The house is the one you’ll know. The one on stilts in the marsh. You’ll find it if you look for it–or more accurately, it will find you.

The deal is for a soul,
Every twenty years or so
Mine starts getting old.
Then it needs to eat.
So don’t go making deals you
Don’t intend to keep.
And it’s probably good advice to
Not make deals with me.
Because no matter what you think:
Once you agree,
A deal, is always a deal.