Satan’s Contract

via Daily Prompt: Fraud

By Rob Queen

(Apologies to the Charlie Daniel’s Band)

Marketing sucks. Or so Johnny thought.

It went against everything that everyman that Johnny was. Good-looking, maybe smart, possibly successful, of the inclination to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. But at heart, he was a people-pleaser. He achieved his best work before an audience, or when he had someone outside of his own flesh saying “I need this.” These people gave him concrete reasons to do the work that he needed to do. They gave him a focus, they gave him someone to please.

When marketing for his books, Johnny had to push out – to reach out in ways that he considered rude and obnoxious. Work was work – it was him and a computer, or him and an audience, producing something. Marketing, however, was sales, and fewer things bothered him as much as an annoying salesperson constantly looking over his shoulder, or refusing to let him go when he had already said “No.” As a people-pleaser, Marketing was like becoming a bull to enter a china shop. It was incongruous, awkward, and horrible to see. It turned Johnny from a good person who was willing to work hard for someone into someone who begged, manipulated, and stole from the very people that he wanted to please. Or so it felt to him. Not being a sales-man, Johnny outright avoided it whenever given the option. As a story-teller, however, sales of the work was always an important part of the business, and unless he found a different means of producing his work, he would never find success.

Cue Satan. The demi-god approached Johnny with bombastic enthusiasm and a desire to see his work done for him. Johnny listened at first and turned him down. Satan’s ideas were interesting, but they weren’t quite what Johnny wanted to play with – after all, he had pages of notes for stories all on his own, he had his own stories to tell, he was working on a number of projects already, and Satan’s deal just didn’t offer him enough. But Satan was determined. He did not become the ruler of Hell by being turned aside so easily. Taking a page from Johnny’s notebook, Satan threw everything at the wall of Johnny’s consciousness, hoping that something would stick. For seven months, nothing did.

“Hey, I just got a job with a Big 2 (company). I want you to help me tell these stories.”

Johnny listened to Satan’s spiel. He took in Satan’s details about how – despite Satan’s utter inability to formulate a sentence, his poor grammar, his lack of cohesiveness or narrative flow, his simple One-Dimensional characters, inability to do any kind of dialogue, his derivative story lines copied directly from other sources of entertainment, and Satan’s utter lack of ability to describe anything more than just the sheer basics – the Big 2 asked Satan to write a series of novels for them.

It sounded so ridiculous, but Johnny listened. More, he was thinking to himself, “Tell stories with a Big 2 behind me? Why that sounds like a dream come true.” He had doubts, of course. He doubted Satan’s abilities as a writer. He doubted just how this would all come together. He wanted to speak to the man who had “hired” Satan. To appease Johnny, Satan arranged an email meeting, where the three would converse with one another – a three-way chat. The Boss managed to answer a number of questions that Johnny had.

“What about a contract?” Johnny asked.

“You would receive a contract after a six-month trial period.”

“That won’t work for me,” Johnny said.

“That’s what we’re offering,” Satan and the Boss both said.

Johnny clammed up to consider the situation. He would be working 18 hours a week Monday through Friday, in an effort to bring these stories to realization, while also being required to do a number of other things – outlines, character descriptions, bios, and all that. All for nothing for 6 months. This is what anyone else in the business would call “Spec Work.”

But Johnny wasn’t thinking about that, nor had he explored just what kinds of other hells were in the Story-Telling business, and was ignorant of what “Spec Work” looked like. Indeed, he was thinking only about the Big 2, and how many doors that would open for him down the road. He was thinking that he had just found a means to avoid that horrendous bull-in-a-china-shop hell that came with marketing. He was thinking that he was about to get a massive box of fun toys to play with, and he was thinking about how Satan had just provided him with a means to fulfill his dreams, all while staying so busy that he couldn’t even think straight. After all, if one kept busy, money would just sprinkle down after a while, right?

Oh, Johnny. How the naïve are duped.

When the contract finally started (after 6 months of significant work), Johnny was thrilled to sign what was the ugliest contract he had ever seen. Nothing seemed professional about it. It was riddled with typos, offered no State of legal sanction for disputation, and quite simply, should not have been accepted by anyone, anywhere. But Johnny took it and signed it. He did so because he was naïve and because Satan’s words to him, seducing him to do the work, were exactly what Johnny wanted to hear. Finally, by this point, Johnny had already put in 6 months of work. To have it all be thrown away after Johnny had already produced a whole novel and countless other small things – well, it would just have been too much. So Johnny signed away his soul to Satan.

And with Johnny’s soul, Satan let out a titter that grew to a guffaw which could be heard around the world. Satan had Johnny’s soul, which meant one thing above all – utter servitude. See, Satan was not pleased that slavery had been so thoroughly abolished the world over. While some kinds of slavery endured in various pockets of civilization from Algiers to Luxembourg to Slovakia to Zimbabwe, each new soul that he could enslave was like a tiny victory in his quest for dominance. It was a drop in the bucket to what he once enjoyed, but it nonetheless gave him that old high.

With Johnny’s soul firmly bound, Satan allowed his depravity to seep through. The demands were fueled by the whim of an erratic mind. Who could guess what Satan dreamed? But Johnny found himself on the receiving end, swamped with work that had no consistency running throughout. Johnny was trapped, forced to work, and buoyed by his dreams’ resolution.

Friends and family saw the madness that had grappled Johnny to the heart and throttled him with an utter absence of life beyond the work that Satan threw at him. They told him to put his feet down and get his money – money promised in the contract. And he did make his demands known!

But Satan’s claws were too deep in Johnny’s soul. He responded with lies – blatant, ridiculous, and preposterous lies, and followed them up with a simple fact and topped this all off with a question. “If you stop working now, all that you did will be nullified. Do you really want to throw it all away?”

Johnny bowed his head. Whatever else, he was pleased with the work that he did. To see it all disappear would have been heart-breaking. His work was now the hostage in the scenario – perhaps it always was. That was why Johnny kept telling outsiders to have patience, that one day, it would all pay off. Like any prisoner of the power of Stockholm Syndrome, he began making excuses on behalf of Satan.

For nearly two years this went on. Slavery to deadlines, manipulation, lies, more lies, criticism, a multiple-personality-disorder of a workload, and through it all, Johnny endured, wondering when he would get his payoff. So long in an abusive relationship, and the abused becomes used to it. It becomes normal. It becomes a way of life.

Being immortal, however, Satan had made his own enemies over the long years. Eventually, one came and called out the liar for his ridiculous ideas. Johnny had long since been beaten into silence and acceptance, but the prior abused made such a stink that it undermined all Satan had created with johnny. He packed up and disappeared. Johnny was thrown to the side of the road, abandoned by Satan’s lies. Shock was the first sensation, for he had no idea what he was doing, where he was, or what would happen next. He had gotten so used to the 5 hour dictatorial phone calls, the stalking of Satan whenever he went online, the constant text messages demanding updates – so used to the slave that he had become that the silence was deafening. He dropped to his knees and screamed. The truth was ugly. But it would not go away. Despite it all, and as he feared it would, the work disappeared.

There was nothing to show for the past two years of slavery – no contract, no Big 2. Johnny had given everything away, and got exactly what he had been promised all along: nothing.

Heart hammering in his chest, silence surrounding him, he found freedom terrifying. He looked about him and upon a nearby mountain, he saw himself from two years ago. The question was how to get back there.

A nearby river reeking of his broken dreams sludged between him and the mountain, and he approached it. In the depths, he could see the remnants of his work, washed away from the scorched out plantation house of his ambition, the one Satan lorded him from.

It was always about the work to Johnny. And with his soul back, he tightened his belt and refused to let it wash away. In the burned plantation of Satan’s sanctuary, from where he commanded his slave, Johnny trudged. Embers of the incineration lingered in the foundations, and a shadow fell on him. Johnny paused at the door.

Behind him, he gazed back at the dwindling sun. Standing there, casting their shadows on him, he saw them – the others. These were the people who would not lie to him. These were not Satan. These were the people who would sing their songs on Johnny’s behalf, who were always there for him, no matter what foolishness Johnny threw himself into. The sun twisted on the horizon behind them, warping their shadows into something alive. The darkness curled into Johnny’s own shadow, twisting it up in them, to be hammered tightly into steel by his beating heart. Reinforced thus, Johnny pressed on into Satan’s sanctuary.

“What do you want?” Satan asked him.

“My money.”

Satan scoffed. “You were never going to get a dime for your work. Not from me, anyway.”

“Then give me my work.”

“Why? It was written for The Big 2. It is useless to you.”

“That is for me to decide. This is my work. I will forgive your debt for my work.”

“You have no leverage over me,” Satan said, the corners of his mouth curling into a sneer.

“Then I challenge you. You watch the whole world, do you not? Give me my work. Watch me. Two things could possibly result from this. Either I succeed, and show you that I can surmount this hell that you have bound me to, scarred me with. Or else I fail. And then you can enjoy yourself from afar.”

“So you will not go to the authorities?”

Johnny shook his head. “There are no laws that protect the victims of your Satanic lies. The contract you created for me was deliberate garbage, and it will never carry any weight in the world beyond this cotton-field of words. There is only you and me.”

“You will be starting from scratch,” Satan mocked.

“They can be reworked. I will find my audience.”

“Will you?” Satan asked.

“Neither of us will ever know until I have my work back in my hands.”

Satan’s teeth shone red in the disappearing sunlight. “Then I accept your challenge. Find those who would listen to you. Do that which you most fear, and I will be watching. I have forever. But you? Your mortal’s existence is so limited. I accept your challenge.”

Then Johnny did what he should have done at the very beginning. He presented a contract, one that he made himself. One that would bind Satan rather than allow himself to be bound. It was written by one of the shadows on behalf of Johnny, one that worked to protect him. Though they could not trust Satan’s signature, this contract provided Johnny with just enough leverage to take his work and move on.

“I’ll be watching,” Satan mocked.

“I know you will,” Johnny said, walking out the door towards the mountain of his future. He hefted the heavy sack of his ambition on his shoulders and looked up at the peak rising before him. Up there, far away from him, in weeks, or in months, he knew he would have to deal with the demons of funding and of marketing again. It would be another hell that he had to get through, but whatever it was, it would be better than the slavery he had just emerged from.

With a sigh that tasted of smoke, ash, and the faintest hint of springtime growth, he took his first step.

It pleased him.

 

 

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