I decided I could get by without a soul, so I gave it up to the highest bidder. His name was Reginald, and in exchange for my soul, he delivered words to me in a Mason jar adorned with raffia ribbon. Printed on heavy white cardstock in Proxima Nova font, the words were tossed together, imperfect on purpose, behind the glass like any other photo-worthy collection you’d find on your favorite social media site. I could envision them receiving likes and favorites alongside jars of lavender bath salts, river rocks, and layered soup mixes.
Every night, Reginald slithered into my room through the heating vent and replaced the previous day’s words with new ones. Sometimes I was there to witness the spectacle of his slimy body shredding to pieces as he made his way through the vent cover and him reassembling himself on the other side. Once he regained his wits and the use of his appendages, he’d make a few hocus-pocus gestures over the jar on my desk and ooze back from whence he came.
The nights I didn’t see him, I was out doing what I thought soulless people might do. I started off tailgating scared teenage girls who were making their way home after working the closing shift at Taco Cabana. I’d lean out the car window and yell at panhandlers to get a job. I bought malt liquor and filterless cigarettes for skater punks who loitered outside the 7-Eleven. I yelled at store clerks and left twelve-cent tips for waitresses at Denny’s. My pièce de résistance was rearranging the letters on readerboards in front of churches, making sure everyone in town knew that Jesus loved everyone but them.
At dawn, I’d go home, shake my word jar, and toss its contents to the floor. The words fell together in perfect sequence every time, and I’d spend several hours transcribing the next chapter of my novel. Then I’d sleep until I had to go out into the world and be an asshole again.
My dirty deeds felt neither satisfying nor regrettable, but spreading negative energy in the dark of night was part of the deal. One night, I came home earlier than usual and went straight to bed. I awoke to the moistness of Reginald’s finger tapping my forehead.
“We need to talk,” he said.
I knew what was coming: He wanted me to step up the depravity. With visions of cockfights, arson, and grand theft auto in my head, I sat up and faced him.
“I need you to engage more with your social media followers.”
“You know, network a little. If another writer says he liked your latest story, go read one of his and pay him a compliment. Give people an update on what you’re writing. Post a word count. Congratulate a fellow writer on her success. Say something about your obese cat. Be genuine.”
“But that’s so embarrassing. I’m not one to put myself out there like that.”
“I know, but you’re building a readership. And when your novel comes out, maybe people will want to buy it if they know you’re a real, likeable person and not a total wanker.”
“But you’re supposed to take care of the audience.”
“No, you asked for a novel to be delivered to you.” He pulled a small black notebook from his back pocket and flipped through the pages until he found the right one. “Yep, right here. ‘Novel,’ written in your own blood.”
“But the audience and the sales are implied.”
“Nope, you still have to work for that.”
“Then what’s the point of this deal? I already know how to write, and if I still have to do my own promotion on top of that, why should I bother going out and doing evil things for you?”
Reginald laughed. “I never asked you to do evil.”
“Of course you did.”
He shook his head. “That was all you.”
“No, that’s not right.” I tried to remember the night we struck the deal at Terry’s Roadside Tavern, but all I could recall was drinking tequila and crying in the corner booth because the vilest human being I knew had just announced his new publishing contract on Twitter. Reginald waited while I racked my brain and came up with nothing.
“I want my soul back.”
“I never took your soul. You turned your back on it.”
Reginald placed his cold fingers around my upper arm and led me to my desk. I sat in front of my laptop and read a few paragraphs of what I had transcribed earlier in the day. It conveyed a hollowness I hadn’t noticed before.
“Any semi-literate schmo can string words together,” Reginald said. “But without the right energy behind them, the words won’t resonate with anyone.”
My head hung, I surrendered the jar to him and went back to fighting hard for every word like a good soul does, stopping once in a while to thank a reader for his kindness or comment on a photo of someone’s sandwich.
Originally published in Kazka Press Monthly, April 2014