Saturday, 27 May 2017

Bye, soul - Silver Lining

Jack knew his soul was missing not long after waking up. Waking up face down behind a dumpster in some dank alleyway he didn’t recall entering. Though, to be fair, he didn’t remember much of last night. Not much after the blonde with the sly smile had handed him another of those weirdly addictive green drinks. But, yeah. Soul – missing. A strange, empty hollowness in his core. A void he couldn’t quite explain.

All this went through his mind in the seconds it took him to sit upright, then stagger to his feet. A dizzying wave of nausea coursed through him and he closed his eyes, fighting the rising bile. A cold film of sweat broke out over his skin and he shuddered violently. Vomit spattered the pavement, splashing his shoes and pants . Great.  Now he smelled like a tramp as well as looked like one.

Jack wiped his mouth with a trembling hand and looked around. Where the hell was he? He straightened, patting his pockets. No surprises – wallet and phone both gone. He looked at his wrist – watch too. Almost two grand out of pocket and, of course, no insurance cover. He never thought he’d need it.

A rustling sound caught his attention. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a scrap of paper. No, wait, a napkin. He opened it up , squinting at the scrawl on it in....was that blood? He sniffed it. No, red ink. Definitely red ink. He laughed nervously,  self-consciously, shaking his head. Too many crappy sci-fi shows and horror movies. But. There was the issue of the missing soul.

He glanced at the napkin again. It looked like an address. 66 Sixth Street. Six. Six. Six? Really? Fucking cliché of the week. Had to be bogus, right? Still...he had other things to worry about right now. Here he was, covered in puke, God knows where, with no money or phone to call for help. He limped to the opening of the alleyway, got his bearings. Looking around he realised he was less than five blocks from home. Home, a hot shower and report his lost wallet and personal effects to the police and phone company. The clock above the bank across the street told him it was still only six am. That explained the relative quiet of the streets. Five blocks wouldn’t take long at this time of the day.

Just over an hour later, Jack was freshly showered and in clean clothes. Reports had been filed with the credit card company, a new phone was on the way and his bank cards cancelled. Miraculously, his accounts were intact. Either the scumbag hadn’t had any luck trying to scam the cards or hadn’t had time to try before they were stopped. One small consolation. Just the police report to make now.

A bored sounding officer took down what details Jack was able to provide. Yes, he was drunk. No, he didn’t see who mugged him – he couldn’t even confirm he’d been mugged rather than been the victim of an opportune thief. He wasn’t hurt, no apparent injuries at all. Apart from his missing soul – and he wasn’t about to mention that to the police. Not right now. Not unless he wanted a swift visit from a shrink with an all-too-eager habit of locking guys up in the loony bin. That was the last thing he needed right now.

Thanking the officer and putting down the phone on his platitudes, Jack swallowed the last of his coffee and took stock. He couldn’t shake the feeling, no the certainty that his soul was missing. He was confused and curious how he knew it was gone. It’s not like he’d spent all his time contemplating it, examining it, thinking about it. He was no good ol’ Catholic boy forever at Mass. The last time he’d been in a church was his father’s funeral over a year ago. He hardly ever went to services. He wasn’t sure he actually believed. And, yet. Here he was, sitting at his breakfast bar, knowing without a shadow of a doubt that he was soulless. The thought should have terrified him, appalled him, turned him into a gibbering wreck. He’d taken it all rather calmly, he thought. With the same Big City ambivalence as losing his wallet, watch and phone. He wasn’t sure what that said about him as a person – or if, in itself, it was a symptom of his missing soul. The hole in his being, his psyche, was like a missing tooth. A rotten hollow prodded and poked.

He looked at himself in the mirror over  the fireplace. No difference that he could see. No horns, no red, glowing eyes, no forked tongue. Just Jack. Maybe a bit tired looking, hungover, been through the mill of tying a serious one on last night. Not that much different to how he looked most Saturday mornings, if he were honest.

The shrill ringing of the phone made his jump, startling him from his reverie. He frowned, not recognising the number on caller ID. He snatched up the receiver thinking it was maybe the mobile phone company calling him back with some red-tape bullshit about a replacement. He knew how those guys operated, always trying to screw the customer over.

‘Mr Tennyson?’ a dry, oddly formal voice enquired.

‘This is he. Is this NetTech?’

There was a pause. Jack thought he could hear the wind sighing over the line. ‘No, Mr Tennyson. I’m afraid not. We represent our client.’ The pause again.

‘Your client? Who is your client? What the hell has your client got to do with me?’

A dry, mirthless laugh. ‘All in good time, Mr Tennyson. We need to ensure that we are speaking to the correct Mr Tennyson. It isn’t the world’s most unusual name.’

‘Look, pal,’ Jack growled, ‘I’m not in the mood for games. I had a rough night. You called me. I’m giving you nothing. For all I know you’re trying to scam details to rip me off. I’m not stupid.’

A brief hiss of static. ‘Stupid enough to sell your soul, Mr Tennyson?’ There was the hint of a smirk in the bone dry voice.

‘Sell my....what the hell are you....look, who the fuck is this?’

‘From your reaction, Mr Tennyson, I think we have the right person. Let’ do you put it....cut the bullshit.’ All trace of mirth was gone from the voice. Jack shivered and goose bumps broke out all over his flesh. There was a tone in the voice that disturbed Jack, somewhere on a deep, primal level. His mouth was suddenly dry.
‘We have something of yours, Mr Tennyson. Something we believe you may have disposed of in haste and poor judgement. We’re not.....unreasonable, Mr Tennyson. We understand you weren’t quite in possession of your full faculties to make a deal with our salesperson.’ The voice couldn’t disguise their distaste.

‘Salesperson?’ Jack echoed. ‘I don’t understand.’

A weary sigh. ‘Must I spell it out for you? Did you sell your wits as well as your mortal soul? Last night you were drinking – rather heavily, I might add, at Ziggy’s Bar on East Street, were you not?’ Jack grunted agreement.

‘While you were there, you met one of our operatives. At the time she was in costume as a blonde female in provocative clothing. Is any of this familiar, Mr Tennyson?’ A pause. ‘I shall take your silence as affirmation. Unfortunately, our operative decided to improvise. Go off piste, as it were.’

‘I’m still not following.’ Jack’s head was starting to pound in time with his heartbeat.
‘She was not authorised to carry out the transaction, Mr Tennyson. No sanction was requested from her superiors. In short, Mr Tennyson, your contract is null and void. Invalid. Not worth the, ah, napkin it was written on.’ Distaste on the word ‘napkin’. He could almost feel the disapproval down the phone line.

Jack’s head was spinning. If he’d actually, really sold his soul last night what had he got in return? You didn’t sell your soul for nothing, did you? There was always some amazing perk, wasn’t there? At least in the movies. Wealth beyond measure, luck, fantastic looks, all he women he could ever want. Jack looked around. His apartment looked exactly the same. From the conversation he’d had with the bank earlier he knew there were no miraculous millions in his account. His face had looked the same when he had shaved this morning and, well, to be crude, his dick was the same size as it ever was. What the fuck had he got out of  this bogus deal?

‘Look, pal. I just need to clarify the small print before I take any more of your crap. You’re telling me one of your.....staff went rogue? Made a private sale?’

‘That is correct, Mr Tennyson. Rest assured she has been reprimanded.’

‘Assured nothing. What I want to know is what this means for me? Why are you telling me all this? Surely if the contract is invalid I just get my, er, goods returned, like ‘zap’? No harm, no foul? Chalk it up to a drunken experience and move on?’ Jack’s palms were sweating and he wiped them on his jeans. He noted the tremble as he did so.

The mirth was back in the voice ‘Oh, that it could be so Mr Tennyson. We really wish it were that simple.’

‘So what do you want me to DO?’ Almost shouting down the phone now.

‘You are aware of the address you were given? Meet us there in one hour. We will be able to resolve this matter to mutual satisfaction, we are sure. One hour, Mr Tennyson.’ There was a click and the line went dead.

Jack sat on the arm of the sofa, suddenly wearier than he’d ever been in his life. His head was spinning with what the voice on the end of the line had said, what had happened, what he had done. Wait...what had he done? He was no clearer about what he had got out of the deal last night, bogus or not. There was nothing as far as he could tell. Unless it had already been taken back because of the void contract? There was nothing for it. He’d have to find the address on the napkin and go see these jokers, whoever they were. Sixth Street wasn’t too far away. Better seize the bull by the horns and get this whole mess sorted.

The day was turning out cloudy and humid. Sweat was trickling down Jack’s back and his hair was soaked by the time he found the address. The way the day had been going he’d half expected the building to have mysteriously disappeared – or to be a dark and dingy hovel crammed between a pawn shop and a strip joint, but apparently the cliché only lent itself to the address. Sixty-six Sixth Street turned out to be a relatively new building, all chrome and glass, brightly lit and clean. A brass nameplate was screwed to the wall declared ‘Legio Associates’. Jack took a deep trembling breath and pushed the buzzer. After a brief pause a dry voice he had come to recognise only too well came through the speaker. ‘Right on time, Mr Tennyson. Do come in.’  The door opened with a click and Jack pushed his way into the lobby. Another impossibly attractive woman sat behind a gleaming desk. She looked up as Jack approached and pointed to an elevator with an immaculately manicured fingernail. ‘Floor six. You’re expected.’ Returning to her duties, she dismissed Jack as if he had never been there.

The elevator doors already stood open and Jack entered, pressing the button for the sixth floor. The doors slid noiselessly shut and he began his ascent. Tinny muzak he could almost recognise played discreetly and he hummed along. It was only just before the doors opened he realised it was Danse Macabre and he shook his head in wry amusement. Nice touch, guys. He was beginning to think that maybe this was all some elaborate prank, something arranged by the guys at work. But, still. That emptiness, the feeling of not quite being whole nagged at him. That was something he couldn’t explain away with thoughts of office banter.

There was a ping and the elevator doors slid back to reveal a large but sparsely furnished office. An impressive oak desk stood in front of a large north-facing picture window that was partly shaded with blinds, high backed chairs arranged in front and behind it. To the right a straggly potted palm desperately in need of water, to the left a tall oak filing cabinet ornately decorated with brass handles and fittings. A bland grey carpet finished the room. No, wait. Just to the edge of Jack’s vision was a large painting by an artist he didn’t recognise. A disturbing picture in shades of red, black and deep orange which, on closer inspection, appeared to be made up of images of tortured men, women and children, their faces contorted in agony and fear. An involuntary shudder ran down Jack’s spine and he turned away from the painting.
A man was standing directly behind him. Jack started and cried out. He hadn’t even heard anyone enter the room. There was nowhere anyone could enter from other than the elevator, as far as he could see. The man smirked and extended a hand. ‘Welcome, Mr Tennyson. You made good time, I see. Coffee?’

Jack shook his head wordlessly. The man was painfully thin, skin stretched tightly over his skull accentuated gaunt features and the bones of his hands and wrists jutted beneath his shirt cuffs. Dark hair clipped very close to his scalp did nothing to alleviate the skeletal illusion. The man viewed Jack impassively with intelligent eyes so brown they appeared almost black. ‘Sit, please.’ The man gestured to one of the chairs, sitting himself in the one behind the desk. ‘This shouldn’t take too much of our time.’

Jack perched tentatively on the edge of the chair, trying not to show any sign of nerves. He was aware of the sweat patches under his arms and the slight musky smell he gave off. If the man noticed, he didn’t let it show. Despite his racing heart, Jack decided to try to take control of the situation, take the ball back as it were. He looked around the office dismissively, ‘So,’ he smiled, ‘What’s with the hokey address?

The man looked up, an expression somewhere between irritation and confusion on his face, ‘I beg your pardon?’

‘The address. Sixty-six Sixth Street. Six, six, six? The number of the beast? All a bit theatrical, isn’t it?’

This time the man gave Jack a long, unimpressed look – like Jack was some spectacularly dumb child giving wildly incorrect answers to the simplest of questions. In a weary tone he replied ‘The rent is reasonable and the office comes with a cleaner. Anything else is merely happenstance or an overactive imagination caused by too much bad fiction. You appear to be reading far too much into unnecessary trifles, Mr Tennyson.’ A pause. ‘Perhaps you should have paid as much attention to detail last night?’

Touché, you sanctimonious asshole, thought Jack.

‘Now, if we may attend to business? We have discussed the invalid contract between you and our employee, Mr Tennyson,’ the man began, affecting to look at some document in his hand. ‘I don’t propose to waste our time going over old ground. In short, you traded your soul,’ that hint of distaste again, ‘in an unauthorised transaction with a junior employee. That transaction is therefore invalid and we intend to straighten this matter out for all concerned. Let it not be said that we are anything but fair.’ The man smirked and looked at Jack over steepled fingers. His attitude was irritating, like this was some amusing joke to him. It was starting to piss Jack off – and you didn’t piss Jack Tennyson off if you knew what was good for you.

Jack cleared his throat, fixing the guy with a withering look. ‘Straightened out. Hmmm. I see. Forgive my ignorance, but what exactly are we straightening out? As far as I can see – as far as I can tell – your ‘employee’ got me drunk, took advantage of my addled state and conned me into selling you my soul. Now you’re telling me that, because she hadn’t run the deal past you in triplicate for rubber stamping, it’s void. That’s it’s invalid. That, in short, you’re trying to wriggle out of the deal?’

‘Now, wait, Mr Tennyson....’ the man held up a placatory hand.

‘No. YOU wait. First I was incapacitated and metaphorically robbed by your employee. Then I was dumped in an alleyway and actually robbed of all my personal effects by some low-life while I was sleeping it off. Your employee has to take some responsibility for that loss, as well, Mac....’

‘Believe me, Mr Tennyson, she most certainly has.’ The man snapped, voice cracking like a whip, ‘Please be assured that she has been well reminded of her responsibilities. Of her place in the order of things.’ His tone left Jack in no doubt that he wasn’t referring to a stiff talking-to and loss of parking privileges. Not that he particularly cared what happened to her. It was her fault he was here in the first place, stuck in this office with this control freak. A control freak who hadn’t even had the manners to introduce himself. Jack began to sweat again despite the air conditioning, wondering again about the sense in coming here. After all, no-one even knew he was here. He ran a finger round his collar, trying to loosen it while attempting to look casual.

‘Now,’ the man smoothed an imaginary crease from the sleeve of his jacket, ‘What do you remember about last night?’

‘I’ve already told you, I was drunk. She got me drunk. I can’t remember a thing!’

A sigh. ‘Mr Tennyson, I’m trying to help you here. Close you eyes and think. Remember.’ As if reading Jack’s thoughts he added ‘I assure you that you will come to no harm. Close your eyes.’

In spite of himself, Jack did as he was told, sitting back in the chair, letting his eyes close and his mind drift. Slowly, images began to form. Faint hints and flashes. Still nothing very clear. He’d been out with the guys from work, invited last minute, as an afterthought probably when he’d wandered over and asked what they were talking about. There had been a brief, awkward silence, exchanged glances and then a muttered, half-hearted invitation. He’d tagged along to spite them and because he really hadn’t had anything better to do.

They’d gone to a few bars, had a few drinks. There had been stilted small-talk at first, some attempt to include him in conversation – how did he think the football would go this weekend, where was he going on holiday. Barber shop talk. Then conversation had turned to women and sexual conquests, dirty stories and offensive language, jokes at his expense. The crude, cruel laughter reminding him of school, of college, of life. He left and they hadn’t even noticed, too wrapped up in their macho posturing and tribal banter of Men.

He had walked, just walked, for some time. Lost in thoughts of self-pity and self-loathing in equal measure. When he finally looked around he was in an unfamiliar part of town, not somewhere he’d been much before. The streets were near empty of people, even though it was relatively early, at least for this town. He knew he was a fair way in the complete opposite direction of his apartment. He looked up and down the street but could see no cabs. A long walk, then. To add to his discomfort a thin, miserable drizzle began to fall. He turned up his collar and began to trudge home.
He saw the club then – dingy, shadowy, not his usual kind of place. He didn’t know what had drawn it to his attention, why he’d gone in. He paid the girl behind the counter, but he couldn’t recall what she’d looked like. Made his way into a small, dimly lit room – a few tables, occupied by faceless couples locked in embraces, lost in each other. A bar along one wall was lined with bottles of booze in various colours. Jack’s eyes flickered behind his lids as he recalled the scene.

Music. There had been music. Not a tune he knew. Slow and easy. A melancholy double-bass was plucking chords like heartstrings. A mournful saxophone, crying like a long lost soul. A shiver of brushes on drums like fingers on his spine, the caress of a lover, an acquaintance, a stranger. Sometimes in the dark they’re all the same.

He had made his way to the bar, trying to catch the bar-tender’s eye. He had felt her next to him rather than seeing her approach, even though the back of the bar was mirrored. Warm flesh pressing against his arm. Blonde hair, vivid blue eyes – surely coloured contacts, too blue to be anything but. Red, red mouth. Perfect body in a little black dress. But he could remember nothing else about her. Nothing. Every time Jack tried to recall exactly what she’d looked like her features swam away from him, blurred and melted.

She had smiled with that red, red mouth. Whispered something in his ear about buying a bottle and sitting down, saving all the hassle of returns to the bar, of interruptions in conversation. Her breath had been hot and she had smelled of cinnamon and cloves, exotic spices. She had caught the barman’s attention and ordered a bottle of some green drink, sauntering off to a table leaving Jack to pay an eye-watering sum without a second thought. He had followed her to a table, sipped the green drink at first. It had tasted faintly herbal, very moreish. Next he was swigging, tossing down glass after glass as she had watched and smiled that red, red smile. The hours slipped by unnoticed. He had talked and rambled, told the same jokes he always told. Then the room was spinning, looping lazy circles around  him – and he didn’t care. He was here in this great new club, with this amazing, gorgeous woman who actually seemed to like him. She certainly listened and laughed in all the right places, which few women normally did, and she had touched his hand, his arm, his face, his thigh – so, so high on his thigh. He felt amazing, incredible, invincible. He would sell his soul to feel like this every single day for the rest of time ................

And there it was. Sell his soul to feel powerful, important, liked. Sell his soul to feel like every Joe Schmoe did after a few drinks. With some game-playing bitch stringing him along, looking to get him wasted and rip off his wallet. A million lonely men, a million drunken Friday nights, all being played out the same way.......but this time, this time, there had been much more lost than dignity and dollars. She had smiled again, oh that smile. Her eyes had sparkled as she had laughed at this. Wouldn’t it be funny, she had said, if they pretended he HAD sold his soul? ‘Let’s have a giggle and pretend you sold your soul to me, in exchange for always feeling the way you do now, for being confident and care-free, cocksure. Feeling like a somebody. Being a somebody.’ He had found this hilarious, a terrific wheeze. She’d taken a pen – a novelty pen shaped like a syringe full of blood he’d noticed, from her bag, scribbled something on a napkin and handed it to him. He’d signed without reading, of course. It was just a joke, just a drunken prank between two new friends whose chance meeting was showing definite promise. The napkin disappeared into her bag and she scribbled something onto another, tucking it into his pocket with a sly smile. Her phone number, maybe? ‘Just in case you ever need to contact me.’ She had purred.

She had taken him by the hand, then. Led him outside into the cold, damp night. The air had hit him like a sledgehammer and now the memories were truly gone. Just a vague recollection of walking, walking, walking – her hand warm in his as they stumbled along and the soft swell of her breast against his arm. He was Jack Fucking Tennyson and he owned the world.

His eyes snapped open. Shame and humiliation swept over him as the realisation of what he had done sunk in. The man was watching, impassively. It seemed that he had known what had happened, had seen it all unfold in Jack’s head. How he had made a fool of himself. Sold his soul to feel good about himself. Sold his soul for an illusion of confidence – a real con trick.

‘So you see, Mr Tennyson,’ the man said at last, ‘You do you say it....hoodwinked. There was nothing actually given in return for your soul. No fair exchange. You gained no real advantage from this, even if you’d been in your right mind. You could go out tonight, buy a bottle of expensive alcohol, or cheap booze, or street-brewed moonshine and, in the right company, would feel exactly as you felt last night, how you felt this morning. That is why there is no contract between us, Mr Tennyson. Not only because of the way our employee behaved, not only because you gained nothing that could not be gained by other means, but – quite simply – a soul taken under the circumstances it was isn’t worth the paperwork.’ He looked down his nose at Jack.

‘In short, Mr Tennyson, you have nothing to offer us. Nothing we want. You are no-one, you will amount to nothing, you have nothing to offer us. You aren’t a powerful senator who can arrange things to our advantage, you aren’t an important or wealthy businessman who can influence your acquaintances to our way of thinking. You are a pathetic, middle-aged salesman in a pathetic job, with no ambition, no prospects. You have what you have because of careful saving and investment and generous parents. Not because you are important, or clever. You still felt like someone this morning because you believed you were. We all know what belief can lead to, don’t we? All this...’ he gestured at Jack dismissively, ‘is a hangover thought from last night. You were sold magic beans, Mr Tennyson. Magic beans.’

Jack felt cold, sick, stupid. Is that all it was? Strung along by his dick and booze? The right word from a pretty face at the time he needed it most? It had been that easy to take his soul from him? The humiliation burned but not, he hoped, as hot as that bitch was burning now. He wanted to wipe that smirk from this sonofabitch’s face, too. He envisioned himself leaping from the chair, across the desk and punching, punching, punching the smug bastard until he was a bloody pulp. His legs even twitched at the thought, ready to launch.

‘I wouldn’t carry out that thought, Mr Tennyson.’ the man said mildly, straightening his cuffs. He looked directly at Jack with those near black eyes and suddenly all the urge to fight was gone. The bravado and confidence ebbed away, the old doubts came creeping back in. Was he really just Jack Tennyson? Good ol’ Jack. Wouldn’t say boo to a goose, give you his last dollar, apologises when someone else steps on his foot or spills his drink. Jack the nobody. Sad Sack Jack the office laughing stock. He slumped in his chair, silent for a long moment.

‘So, if you will just sign this waiver that we have agreed the contract was void we can finalise the return of your property within the hour,’ business-like, the man began to open drawers in the desk, take out papers. ‘No harm, no foul as you said.’

Jack took a deep breath, let it out slowly. ‘No.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ the man froze mid-movement. He looked at Jack as though he were mad.

‘I said, no.’ Jack repeated. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was saying, why he was saying it. It was as if someone had taken over his body. ‘Keep the damn thing. If it’s such a worthless pile of crap, you’re welcome to it. Doesn’t seem like it’s much damn use to me, either.’ He laughed. The man was actually goggling at him. ‘Seems to me the thing’s been holding me back. Keeping me in my place. Such a useless, pathetic goody-two-shoes soul, “yes, ma’am” and raise your hat, discretion is the better part of valour BULLSHIT,’ he was standing now, shaking with rage, full of piss and vinegar, as his dad would have said. ‘You’ve actually done me a favour, you smug bastard. Without that millstone of decency around my neck I can start being the kind of person I’ve always wanted to be. You’re wrong, buddy, it wasn’t the booze that gave me the confidence to be a real man, it was the freedom from guilt, the release of conscience, the...........emancipation!’ He spread his arms like a gospel preacher and grinned into the man’s face, ‘I am REBORN-AH,’

The man stood, suddenly appearing nervous ‘I don’t think you understand the implications of this, Mr Tennyson.’

‘FUCK the implications!’ Jack cackled. ‘Fuck YOU! I don’t want to hear about any fucking stupid implications. I. DON’T. CARE. I LOVE this. Listen, you smarmy asshole, you take this down. I, Jack Harcourt Tennyson, hereby bequeath my immortal soul bunch of jerks, to do with as they please. I relinquish all claim. I RENOUNCE MY SOUL!’ He raised his arms theatrically towards the heavens. Somewhat disappointingly there was no dramatic crash of thunder, no lightning, no flames. No choir of angels or crying of anguished demons. Just the ticking of a clock somewhere and an awkward silence as both men sat down again.

After a few beats the man cleared his throat ‘Well, if you’re absolutely sure, Mr Tennyson...’

‘Sure as eggs.’ said Jack. He didn’t even know what that meant and he snorted laughter.

‘Very well. Then there’s nothing more to say. You have willingly handed your soul to us and seek nothing in recompense. You have waived your right to cancel the contract and you do not wish us to return it. It is therefore ours, by right, for all eternity. Is that correct, Mr Tennyson?’

‘Completely and utterly correct. Couldn’t be more correct. You’re now the proud owner of my piece of shit, lily-livered soul. Have fun with it.’

The man leaned forward and spoke into an intercom somewhere on the desk, ‘Mr Tennyson is finished here, now. Kindly allow him to leave the premises’. He looked at Jack, stood and offered his hand ‘I’d like to say it’s been a pleasure, Mr Tennyson. I can’t, but you appreciate the sentiment. It’s certainly been an unusual day at the office.’

The elevator pinged and the doors slid open. Jack was half-expecting a huge thug or capering demon to be waiting for him, but it was empty. He stepped inside and pressed the button for the ground floor.

‘Goodbye, Mr Tennyson. See you soon.’ The doors slid shut and the man was gone. Jack whistled happily to himself. He felt good, he felt powerful, he felt invincible again. And all it had taken was getting rid of some Catholic guilt-tripper he’d called his soul. If he’d known that’s all it had taken he would have done it years ago! First thing on Monday morning he was going into work and telling them to shove it. Tell all the guys with their macho bull and shit-eating grins exactly what he thought of them. He’d wanted to do this for years but had been too afraid to, been too ‘Corporate Yes Man’ to do what he wanted to do. Now things were going to be different. All change now. This was The Year Of Jack Tennyson.

He stepped out of the elevator and, bidding a cheery but unreciprocated goodbye to the woman at reception, went out into the street with a spring in his step. The clouds had cleared and the day was bright and blue, the sun beating down from the sky. A perfect day for a brand new start. He squinted up and sketched a comic salute to the cosmos. Yes, things were certainly looking up for him, now.

They say he just walked into the road without looking. They say he never saw the truck barrelling towards the junction. They say there was nothing the driver could have done, anyway. The damn fool in the cheap salesman’s suit had just stepped off the kerb and straight under the wheels. There had been a terrible thud and a crunch and.....well, sorry to say it, a squelch. The happy, smiling man had been reduced to a pile blood and gore and broken bones. Hardly recognisable as a human being anymore. Passers-by had been sick in the gutters and the driver of the truck had collapsed in a dead faint he didn’t stir from for two days. The only person who hadn’t seemed traumatised, eye witnesses told police, had been the skinny guy with near black eyes who had been standing on the corner watching impassively. When the truck had hit he had smiled a self-satisfied smile, nodded contentedly and disappeared in the crowd. The police never found him. The street-cleaners followed the ambulances and the accident investigators and hosed what was left of the guy into the sewers and everyone had gone home to upload their phone videos of the scene and tell their friends they had been there, even if they hadn’t. The sun set and the world went on.

Jack knew his soul was missing not long after waking up. Waking up face down behind a skip in some dank alleyway he didn’t recall entering. Though, to be fair, he didn’t remember much of last night. Not much after the blonde with the sly smile had handed him another of those weirdly addictive green drinks. But, yeah. Soul – missing. A strange, empty hollowness in his core. A void he couldn’t quite explain.

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