Fiction

Collections

My name is Luke. I’m 240 years old, same as America. My work keeps me young. I’m a procurement agent for certain forces and parties who find it difficult to operate openly.

What my bosses want are souls, or at least the nourishing parts of them. Being so involved with their bartering, extraction and transportation puts me in the position of receiving a ‘contact high’, as it were, and this marginal osmosis effect is what has kept me so vital all these years.

My line of work has me rubbing shoulders with some real pieces of shit. I’ve met mass murdering Satanist warlords who trembled when they saw me, afraid they’d accidentally summoned me for an exchange. Soul trafficking is a racket for only the least scrupulous out there. The majority of my mortal clients are psychopaths with ESP who fancy pulling a Faust one. And like the eponymous soul-trader of that fable, they all think they’ll somehow outsmart me in the end.

Take right now, for instance. I am stood outside the estate of an up until now cooperative trader. Sold his soul 10 years back for 3 years of unbridled (if trite and unimaginative) excess, and has been delaying final payment with the souls of others, mostly teenage runaways. But as we keep reminding him, the Pact was for his soul and it’s ours by right. He hasn’t provided us with any alternative payments this year, so his account has moved into ‘collections.’

It’s 2am in Hollywood and it’s raining. I expected to manifest in his bedroom but I’m on the street, which means he’s laid down some protective glyphs inside. Irritating. I’m still mortal, I simply work in a field which allows me certain supernatural benefits. When you cut me, I bleed. And when I get rained on, I’m wet, so I’m already in a bad mood tonight. I press on his buzzer (no need to leap straight into the mysticism) and see, in the corner of my mind, a trembling hand pushing a plant pot off a balcony and into the wet night. I watch it fall towards me and step aside, seeing terracotta shatter into a hundred earthen, soaked fragments. I feel a gaze from the camera above me and stare blankly into it.

Just once, I’d like someone to conduct themselves with a little dignity during a collection. It’s always a snivelling, pleading farce and always leaves me with a sour taste.

I feel the space, invisible sensory tendrils creeping up to the house. I can’t sense beyond the glyphs on the threshold, but I can feel them out like brail markings.

Hm… camphor and silver… plush… ah, should have guessed: Thelema, the Taekwondo of esoteric systems. I close my eyes and make a quick trip to the Abyss. Well, one of them. Moments after ‘arriving’ I feel Choronzon bristle in the darkness. I sense acquiescence at once and depart. Me and It have something of an understanding; the Powers I represent are worth more bother than the Lurker in the Abyss can really handle, so he grants me immunity as and when I need it.

I’m back in my body and I feel something give behind the door. I glance at the lock and it clicks open. I phase forward-

-and I’m in the house, glyphs and sigils just smouldering scorch marks on the hardwood floor now. I can feel the whole building now.

Fear. Fear hangs in these halls like the reek of cheap incense. I can work with fear. I consider just appearing next to him in his wardrobe but I’m still wet and feeling pretty raw about it, so I walk, slow and heavy, and with every step the stench of panic rises and almost chokes me. Panic smells like wet aluminium on a hot day, if you’re interested.

——

As I walk up the stairs to the first landing, I can see him through the walls. I am able to perceive several spectrums unavailable to the unaltered human eye. UVA, UVB, thermal, auras, even a bit of past and future, though that’s mostly a composite of everything available and a bit of guesstimation. He’s still in his walk-in wardrobe, trembling behind several fur coats. Urine is hot on his legs. How to explain… the way it looks to me is as if this entire house and everything in it suddenly became made of purple glass. He’s bright as day, a white human shape with a pink outline, flaring dirty yellow sometimes when his fear rises. It looks as though I could walk straight to him, but I can just about make out the surfaces around me. Walls and doors stand in my way, though at this point the sigils laid down are entirely useless for preventing my approach. If Choronzon obeyed any kind of ethical structure it’d most certainly have breached it here; no doubt this poor bastard paid dearly for those ‘protections’. If he was given protection on the weight of his word alone, I’ll probably drop him off in the Abyss when I leave. I don’t owe Choronzon anything, but I feel a bit bad about just swooping in on it’s action and leaving it high and dry. Even soulless husks can provide the Lurker with a little entertainment, and he’s never been one to forget a courtesy.

I’m on the landing, and a dog is staring at me from the other end of the hallway. Doberman; lean, aggressive, ears clipped. That really annoys me, when people mess with their pets to make them look better. The dog is staring me down, and though his stance, stare, teeth and tail are all blaring “DANGER, DANGER, BACK OFF” signals at me, there’s an unmistakable lilac mist coming off the animal. The dog can smell that I’m not… right. I phase forward and am suddenly in front of the dog. It darts it’s head up to look at me, but doesn’t react with surprise. She sussed I wasn’t human soon as she saw me.

I look deep into this dog and I see abuse, I see fear and hunger. I see loud noises, attack training in backyards with car parts strewn about. I see a dog who has never known the love of her owner, and as such cannot conceive of it. I lend a hand; I gently blow a small parcel of light towards the dog’s face. It snuffs the air above it, trying to figure out if it’s some kind of treat, when the light suddenly darts into the dog’s forehead. There’s a moment of confusion, and then the parcel splits open inside and the emotional understanding of affection and loyalty are suddenly clear as day to the animal. Without another thought, it pads past me, down the stairs and out the door. It knows now; there’s nothing for it here.

I’m outside the bedroom now, and I can see that our man must have not had total faith in his glyphs; there’s an elaborate system of pulleys and ropes, all of which in the service of ensuring that an old double-barrelled shotgun on the dresser will fire if the door opens. I’m bored now. In an instant I’m in the room, and it’s nice. Not as tacky as I was expecting, though there is a… Hellenic vibe, which I always find unsettling. Maybe one day it won’t mean what I’ve come to expect, but I’m still waiting.

I sit on the bed and think about how I should proceed. In a moment it comes to me; I close my eyes and concentrate. Inside the wardrobe the trader has stilled. He hasn’t heard anything in a while, but isn’t feeling brave enough to venture out. Suddenly, he hears a violent growl, two barks, the sound of claws skittering across hardwood and a harsh scream, muffled out by the growling and sound of tearing. There’s a sudden burst of footsteps towards the bedroom, claws clacking behind it, and then the trap gun bursts into brief, volatile life, both barrels. Then nothing, not a sound. After five whole minutes, the trader stands up, shoes wet with urine, and pokes his head around the doorway.

The guy from outside is dead, a steaming chest cavity black with gunpowder and ruin. Behind him the mutt, head entirely pulverised by the other barrel. Oh well.

For a brief, blissful moment relief floods him. He’s still free as a bird baby.

He smirks as he walks towards the corpse, then freezes. The corpse is gone. It didn’t fade away or disintegrate; it just isn’t there anymore. What’s more, there’s no dog, the door’s closed and it doesn’t smell of gunpowder anymore. He turns in confusion and sees me on the bed.

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‘canvas’ – some kind of metaphor

There’s a canvas. White, pristine and unmarked; a blankness that seems to stretch on forever. Almost seems a shame to leave a mark, but that’s what it’s there for. A few splotches of colour settle onto it, breaking the spell. These strokes are foundational, basic, the first impressions of a young mind whose sense of wonder and discovery have yet to be broken against the cruel shores of reality. As time goes on, more is added to the canvas. Likes and dislikes decide the tone of the following layers. Routine, familiar faces, your slowly expanding perception of this world. Along the way powerful moments that influence you deeply, whether you know it or not, leave their traces, guiding much of what will be added. The years pass and now more intricate lines appear as you begin to draw your own conclusions about the world. They may be influenced by lines drawn by those who raised you, or they may drive off wildly in the other direction. Soon, the original blankness is covered by a mess of colour that continues to grow in vibrancy, unique to you. Along the path you may reconsider some of the earlier work and make efforts to correct that which you now consider unwise, naïve, or simply unwanted. Sometimes this is easy enough, but some stains dry deep into the fabric and are hard to work around. You may spend the rest of your time trying to ignore these colours, or you may simply work to incorporate them into your new, fresher strokes. After a time, those original marks are completely covered over, but many of them bleed through to the surface, often explaining that which was laid down later.

But sooner than you think, it all begins to dry. The hot sun bakes away at the once fresh, wet paint and it begins to crack, flake and fade. The later additions often slip off first, the foundational colours peeping through, tones you’d almost forgotten about by this point, now coming back to you at unexpected moments. And eventually, time does its job; the brilliant, vibrant whirl of hue, tone, colour and definition crumbles, dust to be picked up by the wind and carried off into the ether. But the canvas remains, a white void that you now, despite having lost everything, realise has always been beneath all that you thought actually mattered. It stretches on, seemingly endless, leaving no hint as to how many works of grandeur and complexity have stained its now once-again pure, burning potential. A few new foundational splotches land upon it, and another magnum opus commences.

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