By Amanda Cessor
So, I’ve decided to sell my soul to a demon.
I know what you’re thinking, that seems a little extreme, but, hear me out.
I have spent so much time, money and energy trying to fix myself. I’ve tried and tried and tried to rid myself of my myriad of mental illnesses, only to watch my life fall apart around me again and again and again.
At this point, I’m either going to sell my soul or off myself. Either way, I wind up burning in Hell. I might as well make the most of the years I have left on this dumpy planet before I spend eternity swimming in a lake of fire.
So, here I sit — on a Friday — that way I have the weekend to enjoy my newfound neurotypical brain. Who knows, maybe I’ll even take a shower.
Big plans, you know?
Honestly, I’m really surprised by how little is required to summon a lord of night? A little sulfur, some graveyard dirt, a few black candles, and a couple drops of my blood. Considering the state of things, it isn’t hard to part with.
I start by drawing a pentagram in chalk on a clearing I’ve made in the clutter and mess on my coffee table, using my sleeve to buff out a coffee ring on the cheap furniture. I place a black candle on one corner for fire, graveyard dirt on another to symbolize earth, sulfur on another for the element of air, a glass of red wine on yet another corner for water. Finally, at the very top, I prick my finger and smear a fat glob of blood to link the spell to me and to represent the fifth element of the soul.
“Hear me, O, knights of Hell,” I say, my voice warbling with my own embarrassment. “Rise from your fiery pit and heed my call!”
This is all the ritual said to say, but once done, I only catch the faint whiff of the sulfur and watch as black wax trickles down onto my already-ruined coffee table. I run a hand through my oily hair and sigh. I’m stupid to think this would work. I’m stupid for even trying it.
I’m about to head back to bed and sleep the day away when the doorbell rings. I jump at the sound — I have visitors so infrequently that I have long forgotten what it even sounded like.
I stand up and go to the door, peeking through the grimy, smudged peephole. Outside of my door, I see a vaguely person-shaped blob. I figure it’s a neighbor that’s come to complain about the smell of rotten eggs. I unlock the door and open it, finding a smartly dressed man with black hair.
And … horns?
“You called a demon?” he asks.
“May I come in?”
“Yeah, of course.” I scramble as I step out of the way.
He lets himself in and strides to my sofa where he sits and wrinkles his nose at the lingering odor of the sulfur I had used to call him. Then again, I haven’t been able to clean the apartment in the last two months. So, maybe he’s reacting to that.
I shift between my feet awkwardly, and he pats the seat next to him, beckoning me over.
I come sit with him, and he snaps his fingers, producing a manila folder with my name on it. He opens it. A pen materializes and drops into his hand, and he jots something down.
I can’t see what he’s writing.
“Alright, so why did you summon me today?” he asks.
“Uhm — I was hoping to make a trade.”
“Mhm — and what are your proposed terms?”
“My soul? For uh —” I sputter, “a properly functioning brain and ample neurotransmitters?”
He lifts his head and looks at me, his eyes scanning from my greasy hair to my stained T-shirt to the sweatpants I never bother to wash.
“I’m not sure if you’re aware, but Hell is rather overpopulated right now,” he says as he sets my file off to the side. “We aren’t really trading for souls unless the soul in question is rather remarkable.”
I stare at him for a solid fifteen seconds.
“Are you telling me,” I say, “that I’m such a mess that I can’t even trade my soul away for some peace?”
“I’m telling you,” he responds, “that between all the politicians, the billionaires, and the mega-corporate CEOs, we don’t have much space for anyone else. And, to be quite honest with you, your soul is worth more than a trade for mental health.”
I let out a laugh. It sounds unhinged.
“Well, I guess I’ll see you when I work up the gumption to end it,” I retort.
“Unlikely, we don’t take suicides anymore either.”
He scans my apartment again and then looks at me.
“You’re not in treatment.”
It’s not a question.
“What’s the point if it can’t fix my broken brain chemistry?”
“It isn’t about fixing you, there’s nothing to fix.”
“I can’t get out of bed before one in the afternoon. I haven’t showered in five days. I have no friends, and I can’t keep a tidy home. How can you say there’s nothing to fix?”
“Those are just symptoms of an illness.”
“Yes — the illness I’d liked to cure,” I say. “I just want to be normal.”
“What is normal? Who’s to say that I grant you the cure for your depression, your anxiety, and your ADHD and you don’t later wind up with some other problem down the line that you can’t control? Illnesses just require a little management.”
“I don’t want to manage it. I want to cure it. I can’t be happy until I fix it.”
My tone is getting more and more angry. Tears burn my eyes. The demon sighs and looks around my apartment again. He stands and begins to gather garbage in his hands. Empty instant noodle cups, candy wrappers, soda cans.
“Do you know anyone with diabetes?” he asks.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
He goes into my kitchen and grabs a trash bag and starts filling it with garbage. Anything he can find.
“You don’t see diabetics giving up on life because their bodies can no longer process sugar the way everyone else’s can. They take medicine, they find alternative sweeteners, they learn how to work around their malfunctioning pancreas.”
I watch as he continues to clean my apartment, waving his hand like he’s Mary Poppins and levitating a stack of my books onto my bookshelf. I wince as he opens my blinds and my windows. A breeze flows into the room and I realize just how stuffy it’s been lately.
“Why should your mental health be treated any differently?” he continues.
“Diabetes doesn’t ruin friendships?”
“Says who? Alcohol metabolizes as sugar. What if your friends only like to drink and party? What do you do when you can’t drink anymore?”
“Those don’t sound like very healthy friends.”
As soon as the words tumble out of my mouth, he sets me with a deadpan look. One perfect brow arched as if to say you’re proving my point, you idiot.
“Losing friends because of your mental health is more of a reflection of those friends, not you.”
“But, I get so clingy and needy. I lose my mind with people.”
“Because you’re not in treatment. Those things get better when you go to therapy and start taking medication for your poorly functioning synapses. You learn tools to regulate your emotions, and you find people who understand you when you can’t regulate.”
He tosses a dishrag at me and starts doing my mountain of dishes. I stand up and join him at the sink and a quiet falls between us as we work away at the stinking pile. I put them away as I dry them. When the pile is nearly done, I finally ask him.
“Why are you doing this?”
He looks at me before looking back to the dish he’s rinsing.
“You’re in a bad way. You just need a little stepping stone. A clean flat is a good start. Then, maybe after a long shower, we’ll call some doctors and schedule you an appointment so you can get the treatment you need,” he says. “If you don’t feel better after getting the help you need, I’ll take your soul. But you better think of something more fun to trade for than curing your depression. Give me a challenge, for God’s sake.”
I laugh first. And then I cry. The kind of crying that seems endless — streams and streams of tears that seem to come from some bottomless reservoir. He pats my back, and I feel catharsis for the first time in months. Maybe even years.
Is this what it’s like when someone understands you? When someone can see your pain and can speak directly to it?
“I can’t believe I had to summon a demon to get something so small as help cleaning my apartment and scheduling a doctor’s appointment,” I say.
“I bet there are people around you that would have been happy to help you — I bet you struggle with asking.”
“It’s hard,” I say through hitching tears. “I’m so ashamed.”
He nods and offers me a black handkerchief; I take it and wipe the wetness from my face.
“It gets easier once you get the help you need. Medication, therapy — those are stepping stones too. And once you’re well enough to do these basic care tasks, then you can tackle finding friends that care about you, curating goals and dreams you want to accomplish,” he says. “Living is a lot easier when you have something to live for.”
I have no idea how he reads me to filth, but I appreciate it.
“Now into the shower with you — I’ll get the flat cleaned in the meanwhile.”
When the demon is ready to leave four hours later, my apartment is spotless. It smells like peaches (he gave me some scented candles), and I have both a therapy and psychiatrist appointment booked for the following week. It has been a long time since I felt hopeful. For once, I see light at the end of the tunnel.
When he stands to leave, I don’t want him to go. He seems to sense this because he sighs and looks at me.
“I’m afraid I can’t stay, but you know where to find me. I’m your caseworker now, so if you have need something — and I do mean desperately need —” He holds out his hand, and I watch curiously as a wisp of black smoke spins there, faster and faster, thicker and thicker, until it solidifies into a band of black stone, “use this. Spin it on your left index finger three times counterclockwise, and I’ll come to your aid.”
He holds it between his elegant fingers and drops it into my hand. I slide it onto my index finger, and it fits perfectly. Made just for me.
“How do I repay you for everything?” I ask.
“The sulfur and blood will do. I’ll check in after a few months and see how you’re faring,” he says.
I nod and smile at him. “Thank you, again, for everything.”
His lips curve slightly in an enigmatic smile.
And, then, he is gone.
Amanda Cessor is a historical fantasy author and ghostwriter living in southern California with her husband, her dogs, and her cat. She has words in Full Mood Mag and drafts the serial The Hollowed Wilds. When she’s not writing, she’s usually either playing table top RPG’s with her friends, or crying over fictional characters in her friend’s books.