Sincerely Yours

This is the closing story in my upcoming collection, “Stories we tell our Dead.” This is the only story in the book without a dedication. The book will be out this spring. Please read and enjoy!

Sincerely Yours

The dreadful sound came from a tree branch. It scraped and clawed at the window, the wind slapping it around as if to carve its name in the glass. Aiden took no notice as he was in a vital trance of concentration. For the last three days he had locked himself away in his cabin in the woods to work on his latest novel. In the last seven years Aiden has produced two novels every six months. Fourteen books have all been best sellers, award winners, and future movie deals, several which had been green-lit within the past year. In his seventh year as a writer, Aiden wanted to release a third book instead of two.

This was an ample project for Aiden. Most of his work has been produced effortlessly and this was no different. Horror stories were his work, and the words slipped out of his fingers onto the keyboard. Aiden never edited his novels, for it was perfect to every sentence he produced. It was uncomplicated, but a third novel in a year would surprise his fans. It would be a stunning task if he could finish the book before he would take his family on a vacation next week.

The vacation spot in particular was Paris. His wife, Amy had always wanted to see it. Their two children were young, but Aiden would make sure they got whatever they wanted. Their son, Markus was four and the child was only concerned with actions figures that he recently discovered at his last birthday. Melena was only three and laughed at anything colorful. Aiden was positive that she wouldn’t mind Paris at all, assuming that she will have plenty to laugh at.

Stretching back from his laptop he took a sip from his tea cup and almost spit out the contents. The heat was gone and Aiden noticed that it had been over three hours since he first brewed the tea. The clock read a half past ten and he could hardly believe it had been that late. For an early spring night he could feel a chill in the air and he decided to take a small break to build a fire.

He walked over to the fireplace, stretching his legs as he did, and began placing logs within. A few moments later he had a lit fire going and Aiden hurried over to the kitchen to make a fresh pot of tea. As the water began to heat up, Aiden grabbed an apple and bit into it. Amy had constructed a wall of fame for Aiden’s work and he couldn’t help but smile while looking at it.

It was her first idea when the cabin was bought. It was supposed to be their romantic getaway from the world on weekends, and first thing she did to it was place all of his writing awards all along one wall. Pictures of Aiden were in between all the different awards, usually being presented with an award or him doing an open mic reading. She even framed his honorary degree he earned from the college he dropped out of.

Since the kids were born he used the cabin to write and he knew that he only had a couple days to finish the novel before he took off for his trip. So, he needed to buckle down and get it written. Aiden just couldn’t take his smile away from the wall of fame. He looked at the wedding photo of his wife. Amy was just as beautiful today as she was then. He had met her at his first book signing. She was the manager of the store and also quite the fan of his first novel. It has been said to Aiden that some fame even with writers can attract the bookworm female types and Aiden didn’t waste any time. Amy was the first one and the only one. He never let the fame get to his head, he just wanted her.

Aiden had every little thing you could imagine. Money, fame, and all the stuff in between, but the thing he cherished the most was the family he created with Amy. The family was everything to him, his motivation to write the next best seller, to give his children and wife everything he didn’t have growing up. The family Aiden came from was broken with three different fathers, drug abused mother, four half siblings that rejected him. His only friend was his best friend, Dylan Moss. Aiden’s only friend before he became successful. How he wished Dylan could see him today. Dylan had committed suicide a couple weeks before Aiden’s first novel was picked up. Aiden honored his deceased friend by picking up his last name for his pen name.

Aiden Moss. One of the best writers in the world, with the perfect life and family. There was a lot to smile about these days. Dylan’s suicide was the last sad moment in his life. Seven years of great memories.

When the tea kettle started to whistle, he made himself a fresh cup and positioned himself back in front of his laptop. Aiden checked his emails, his blog, and any social media site he had to interact with his fans. He placed a couple lines of dialogue from the new novel for his loyal fans to drool over.

Coming across some old emails, he found a video message his wife sent him. Aiden was about to answer it when his phone vibrated. It scared him for a second because it came across loud and fierce. It was sitting by his cup of tea and Aiden didn’t recognize the number.

“Did you forget?” The text said.

“Forget,” Aiden said. “Forget what?” Aiden typed the response and placed his phone down. He didn’t know the number but he was hoping he could message the person the right questions to get the responses that would reveal to him the person texting. When no reply came, Aiden went back to work on his novel for a couple minutes, almost forgetting the text entirely.

The tree continued to scrap at the window as Aiden tried to think of what to type next, but his mind was blank. This has never happened to him before, not in the last seven years. He could not comprehend why he felt this way. It seemed like his muse had vanished and he spun around in his chair staring at the cabin.

Aiden’s eyes caught the little wooden plaque across the top of the outside door. It read “Home Sweet Cabin.” A terrible phrase, but it was a gift from their neighbor, Bill Hartford and Amy felt it was right to place it in the cabin. Bill was an elderly Vietnam vet who was a little too political for Aiden’s taste, but Amy was fascinated with him. The man did have more than enough stories to tell and most of them were filled with humor that anyone could love. Occasionally a Vietnam story would surface and the humor was gone. Most of the time Aiden just wished the old man would go back inside his home.

These thoughts crossed Aiden’s brain when a knock came from his door. It startled Aiden a bit. He hadn’t expected anyone at all. He climbed up from his chair and walked over to the window to have a look out. The tree branch still made its music against the glass. Aiden made a note to cut that branch down in the morning. Nothing out of the ordinary appeared to him. The outside light didn’t turn on when anyone approached the door, nor was there a car in the driveway beside his own. All Aiden could see was the dark and the forest was illuminated by the moon light.

Suddenly a more forced knock startled him. It was loud enough to shake everything in the room.

“I’m coming!” Aiden yelled and wondered over to the door. He unlocked both locks and pulled the door wide open. Darkness was all he saw, the cool air touched his skin gently. The smell of the wilderness was intoxicating. However, on the ground laid an envelope. Nothing written on it at all. No name, no address, not even a stamp. Aiden picked it up and examined it. The envelope was sealed and very warm to the touch. It was almost too hot to handle. Aiden peered again into the darkness and saw nothing out of the ordinary nightmares. No sounds of footsteps in the dark, no moving shadows nearby. Aiden appeared to be alone, somehow. He shut the door and latched it.

Aiden open the envelope, tearing at the seal.

“Dear Mister Aiden Moss” He read.

“I have come to the understanding that you may have forgotten about our agreement we made about seven years ago. I know you must be busy given your success and all, but we must discuss the outcome of the events that have conspired over the years. Our agreement seems compromised and I wish to speak with you in person if you can find the time in your busy schedule. If you can make time to leave your wife and kids alone I know you can make time for your old friend. Just speak my name and I will be there.”

“Sincerely yours,”

“Del Four (IV)”

Aiden paused and felt a cold shiver slide through him. A memory rose into his head as if long buried in a repressed state. “The wooden chair.” Aiden spoke, his voice broken in disbelief.

The memories flashed through his head, he could almost feel the tears that shed from his face as he sat in the chair. They tasted of salt as they slid down his cheeks and dropped between his lips. The memory was real but long forgotten and Aiden was left in disbelief.

“How did I forget that? It was so strange.”

Aiden reread the message, trying to find links between the lines that told him some kind of secret. The part that bothered him the most was that the writer, Del mentioned his family left back at the house. A sour feeling invaded his stomach and he tried to remember Del Four from that day at the cemetery. What did the IV stand for? His best bet was to let himself type it up. Aiden knew he was a master story teller so he decided to let his muse take a break from creativity and went real life. He turned to his lap top and opened a new document and began to type. Aiden couldn’t believe his fingertips as if they were controlled, typing sentences by the seconds. He couldn’t pull his hands away until they had finished the memory. A sloppy story it was becoming, but it wasn’t a time for creativity, it was a time to solve a mystery. Aiden began to read what was written.

“The rain was far off, but I could smell it coming in the air. I stopped at Dylan’s grave and stared. Flowers lay at the headstone and the dirt was still bare of grass, since his burial was only completed a week ago. Tears rolled down my face and I could taste the salt when it hit my lips. I wiped them away with my hands when I saw an odd chair sitting by the grave. It was a wooden stump with a triangle carved to act as a back. Crude looking but it seemed to be a chair to sit for visitors to grieve over. I didn’t pay the best attention to it, since I was trying to remember the good memories of my friend. I took a seat in it, with my head buried in my hands. That is when I heard the voice say, “I’m sorry about my crafting skills, but I was never the best carpenter.” I looked up to see a man dressed in a black suit standing in front of the grave. I was shocked to see him since I couldn’t remember a man standing nearby. He seemed to just appear out of the thin air. He wore a long sleeved black dress shirt with matching pants, black shoes, pale white skin, platinum blonde hair, and sparkling blue eyes that seemed to have no eyelashes. A curled smirk was displayed on his thin red lips and I was instantly afraid. Wiping the tears away I said, “I am sorry. Is this your chair?” The man replied that “It was always meant for you to find and so you have. My name is Del Four and I am here to make you a deal.” I couldn’t really understand what was being said, so I asked the dumb question, “What?” Del laughed as if I told some outstanding joke. His laugh was high pitched and almost hurt my ears. When he finished he said, “What do you want more than anything in the world Aiden?” I was confused over everything so far, but I was even more confused about how he knew my name.”

Aiden read it all and realized the story wasn’t finished. The memory came back, but was incomplete. “What happened?” Aiden read the last part of the letter again, “Speak my name and I shall appear.”

Aiden waited and contemplated on what he should do. The nearby clocked ticked away, the fireplace crackled against the logs inside, and the dreadful tree branch continued to scream against the window. Aiden took a deep breath and said, “Del Four.” It came out in a voice like a whisper, he almost didn’t hear it himself, but suddenly a sound, loud and thunderous hit the door. It knocked three times in a slow rhythm, and everything in the cabin shook. The lights flickered and the fireplace roared to life as if gasoline had fallen into the flames. Aiden knew that if he answered that door and let him in, then all of his questions would be answered, and that is what he feared the most.

Getting up from the chair was the hardest part. His bones ached as if his body had no desire to witness the man dressed in black. If the brain tried to shut out the memory, then it must have been dreadful for the body as a whole. The floorboards squeaked as he walked slowly across them. It was like the boards were saying, “stop.” Aiden payed no attention as he touched his hands on the latch and unlocked the door. He turned the knob and opened as quick as he could.

Del stood before him, His hands latched together in front of him, legs crossed as if in a pose, the smile sent a nervous twitch through his body, and those blue eyes horrified him the most. They were locked onto him like a snake staring down a rat right before it strikes and coils the life out of its prey. The no present eye lashes brought chills across Aiden’s skin. The temperature of the cabin as a whole seemed to drop several degrees colder, even with a roaring fire to keep it warm.

Seconds had passed and Del’s voice was light and eerie. “Hello there,” Del said. “It is usually polite to invite guests into your home, but I guess this isn’t your home is it?”

“Of course. I’m sorry, come in and have a seat.”

Del didn’t move at first, letting a couple seconds pass, “Oh, how kind of you!” He moved fast and with wide struts with his legs and arms. Del Four’s black suit was shiny and stunning. His movement under his garments was fascinating. The man was like an animal in his body language. His eyes were poised like a panthers, his smile was filled with the white teeth of a shark, and lastly, his garments were like the skin of a black widow spider, moving as if to spin a wed to catch his prey.

Aiden shut the door, not bothering to latch it. He already wanted Del out of his cabin as soon as possible. He turned and stared at Del who was already across the room admiring all the photos Amy had put up on the wall.

“Interesting. Lots of success over the years, and a beautiful family to show for it. Wealth, fame, and all the fine wines to drowned the world in. More of a whiskey man myself. I do find it odd that you have not put up a picture of your best friend Dylan. Why is that? If it wasn’t for his unexpected to death you wouldn’t even have this cabin, wouldn’t you agree?”

The man in the black suit liked to talk a lot. “I guess so.” Aiden replied, basically it was all he was physically capable of saying.

Del crossed towards him saying, “Common courtesy is to offer your guest something to eat or drink when they enter your homestead. As I mentioned earlier, I do enjoy whiskey. Would you happen to have a bourbon of some sort that I could use to quench the thirst I have acquired since I entered the cabin?”

“Of course.” Aiden crossed to the upper cabinet and opened to find an assortment of bottles, “My wife, Amy has kept this stocked. She has always assumed that since I am a writer that I keep myself liquored up while writing, but honestly I only drink when I am being social.”

“Cute of her to think that way,” Del said. “Thoughtful when you really think about it. Amy must be a peach.”

Aiden grabbed the 21 year aged bottle and showed it to Del. “21 years good for you?” he asked.

“18, but who is counting?” He chuckled as he stretched his arms out. “Of course, it is just fine!”

Retrieving a couple drink glasses he said, “What about you Del? Any wife or family at all?”

Del didn’t say anything at first, just watched Aiden pour the booze into the little glasses and when he handed it over to him, Del finally said, “No, not in a long while. I have had my share of a paramour of all shapes and styles, but they never interested me long. You have been married to your wife for about six year’s right? With a couple little ones to occupy the time?”

“Yes, it been crazy how fast it went, but it’s been great.”

Del’s smile widened. “I am happy to hear that. Let’s drink to your family.”

The tapped their glasses together and they both took a sip.

“Now, let us take seats, we have much to discuss tonight.” Del pointed to the two arm chairs by the fire place and they both sat in each one. Aiden took another sip of his drink and felt the smooth aged liquor stiffen him up.

“Now, Mr. Four about the letter you sent me….”

“Hush now Aiden! Let us not get right down to business yet! Let us have a few minutes of small talk before we get into business. Also, please reframe from calling me by my last name. I dropped those dreadful Roman numerals for a reason. Please, call me Del.”

Aiden realized that is what the IV stood for. “Sorry, Del it is.”

Del stared into the fireplace, watching the logs burning. “Tell me about your day Aiden.”

“Fine. I woke up, had a bowl of cereal, and went for a hike, stopped to skip rocks across the lake like I did as a kid. I came back for lunch, took a nap, called Amy and kids, and then I got to work on my latest novel. What about you?”

Still focusing on the burning logs, Del took a sip of his drink and said, “I woke up and read the morning news. I ate some grapefruit with a side of wheat toast. I usually tried to ignore business as long as I can, but I noticed some debts needed to be paid. Yours being one in particular. I first, however, had to visit my old friend William first.

Silence fell between them for several seconds. Aiden spoke, “Does your friend William have some debts he needed to pay?”

“Not quite, I just had him do a favor for me.”

“What kind, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Oh, back in one of those wars he was praying to whoever was listening to him to get him out of harm’s way. He really wanted to get back home to his wife safe and sound. This occurred after his friend was blown apart in front of him. He almost fainted when his friend’s head rolled between his feet. Since God and the others are dead I guess I had to answer him. I kept him safe as long as he did a favor for me when I needed it. With the amount of horrors he saw during the war I thought this fit right up his alley.”

Aiden remembered his neighbor, Bill was a Vietnam vet. The old man who gave them that awkward plaque, and the last time he saw him was before he left. He offered Aiden a wave as he backed out of the driveway. “What was the favor you asked?”

“Oh, I cannot discuss the agreements I have made with my clients. I am sure you understand?” Del raised his glass and took another swallow.

“But you told me half of the story,” Aiden began. “Your part of the bargain was to save him from the war, that’s half the agreement.”

Del laughed, “I guess you are right. I have been doing this for so long that I begin to wonder if all I have to say is about bargains and agreements.”

An alarm went off in Aiden’s head, but he wasn’t sure of anything. He waved it off as he was becoming anxious to get this meeting over with. From what he learned of Del Four was that the man seemed to have an old fashioned taste with an old school approach to common courtesy. Aiden’s best approach was to present the man with the same common respect.

“Del, not to rush you or anything. You are more than welcome to my cabin it’s just that I am anxious to talk about our agreement.”

Crossing his legs, Del finished his drink and sat it on a small table between the chairs. “I had eleven brothers and sisters when I was growing up. I was the so called, Black Sheep.” Del said, tugging on his shirt sleeve to prove his point. “The real runt of the litter. I never got along with any of the other siblings. Tell me, Aiden, did you ever get along with your siblings?”

Aiden was very aware that that Del ignored the question. “No, but they were all half siblings. I haven’t spoken to them in years.”

“That is right, you had a few step fathers. Your mother was a very busy woman.” His smile was cruel and insulting.

“How was your mother?” Aiden asked, sipping at his glass. “With twelve children, she seemed quite busy.”

Del laughed. “You have me there, Aiden. You have me there. Amy is getting there herself with two kids to begin with. Tell me, which of your children do you believe will become the black sheep of the family?”

“Well, we plan on having more so my answer would be invalid.”

“Do you?” His face grew serious.

“Yes,” Aiden felt uneasy given the stare that Del was giving off. “Melena is too young to guess right now.”

“You could say so.” Del said. He crossed his legs and put his hands together as a gesture of positivity. Aiden wondered how he could be so certain.

“Now, let’s discuss the letter I sent you. I am guessing you have several questions to ask about the contents that I had written in it?”

“Yes, like how did you know I was at the cabin and my wife and children were home alone?”

“Aiden, can you please retrieve the letter and the bottle of bourbon. I have a need of a refill and I would like to look upon my written words once again.”

Drinking the rest of his own glass, Aiden did as he was told and brought the letter and bottle to Del. This time Del poured his own glass up to the top.

Aiden went to return the bottle when Del said, “Fill your own glass to the height of mine and leave the bottle on the table.”

With every command that Del tasked him with, Aiden did quickly, for each order given was a rise and change in Del’s voice. Aiden took his seat and watched as Del walked over to the fireplace and dropped the letter into the flames and they both watched it smolder away.

“To answer your question Aiden, I have been able to follow you since you first sat in my wooden chair at the cemetery.”

“Yes, I can remember the chair. I sat in it and you appeared and we made some kind of agreement. Some agreement I have no memory of. Why was that?”

“Those are the rules Aiden. If you sit in one of my wooden arm chairs you have to make a deal with me.”

“But why? How does that work?”

“Aiden,” Del began. “Why is the sky blue? Why is your hair auburn and your eyes blue? Why is the moon not made of cheese? There is a simple science to all of it, but we are not scientists, so let’s not waste our time on these kind of questions.”

The alarm is Aiden’s mind was really set off this time. Del seemed agitated but never lost the smile or the energy behind his eyes.

“Can I ask about the agreement?”

“Of course.” Del said. He sat down and took a long pull on his drink, sucking half the liquids down in seconds.

“What exactly did we agree on?”

Aiden, I had asked you that I will grant you one thing that you get to keep for as long as you want, as long as you sign over your soul to me after seven years. I offered you the ability to speak to the dead, so then you could keep Dylan in your life. I could unfortunately not bring him back to the light of day. His soul is wondering around in the cold dark for all I know. Look at your life now and tell me what you asked for.

Aiden’s eyes glanced at his wedding ring and he rubbed it gently, “The one thing I never had that I always wanted. A loving family.”

Del exploded in laughter and almost choked on his drink. “No! That’s what you wanted, but you lied to me in the cemetery that day! I could read your heart before your head spoke. You wished to become a famous author, if not the greatest author of all time. I couldn’t tell you why you lied to me that day, but I didn’t care. I just wanted you to sign the contract in blood.”

The story seemed off, but his heart told him true. He lied to Del that day and Aiden thinks he knows why. One thought took him off the most. “I signed in blood?” Aiden said.

“I snapped my fingers and a cut formed on your palm, like this.” Del snapped his fingers and Aiden felt a pinch on the palm of his right hand. Upon inspection, a gash had appeared across the hand and the blood spilled out. The blood or the pain had no reaction to him. Witnessing the blood brought all of it back to Aiden, every aspect of the memory. The smell of rain was fresh for a brief moment.

“You handed me a crow feather, and I stuck the pointy end into my palm and wrote my name in blood.”

“Exactly! Well done! The memory usually comes back with the sight of blood.”

“Why is that?”

Rubbing his chin, Del stared into the fire and said, “Blood, we can lose it, regain it, but there is always a few cells that have been there since the start. It witnesses everything! The slight attack on the body and the blood knows. Why did ancient tribes preform sacrifices and blood rituals? It’s the blood that links life together. Blood is the road to the heart and the heart is the way to the soul.”

Aiden thought this over and sipped at his drink, watching the blood spreading in his hand, as it painted him, wiggling his fingers to smear the blood around.

“Look at that,” Del said. “Booze really does thin the blood. I would propose you get a bandage for that hand.”

“So my seven years is up? You have come for my soul?” Aiden knew the truth even before Del nodded his head slowly, and he felt dread like he never has before, but he remained calm, keeping himself steady. He just hoped Amy and the kids could move on. Aiden had made enough money to keep them going for a long time. The only thing he wanted was for them to be happy, his own death wouldn’t matter if that could be accomplished.

“Is there any chance of a bargain?”

“You can’t bargain what you don’t have?” Del said sharply.

“What?”

“As I told you in the letter, I believe over the years our agreement has been compromised. That soul of yours was no longer in your possession and it hasn’t been in a while. I have been waiting to see if you could get it back before the seven years but you never did and now our agreement has taken a different turn.”

Aiden was baffled. “What are you talking about? My soul is right here, inside me. I couldn’t be talking to you if I didn’t have a soul.”

“Why is it that all of you people think that the fact you are alive means you have a soul? What you have is a life! I am not coming for your life, I want your soul. In some time period the definition became the same for so many people.”

“So you are not here to kill me?”

“I should since you gave your soul away, but I will not.”

The news was bliss in the mind of Aiden, but he knew he was still in hot water. Del looked amused but a bit angry with a dose of hunger than felt cold to look into his eyes.

“Tell me something Aiden? Why did you lie to me that day seven years ago? I know in your heart you know the truth, and I believe I do as well. If you could be kind enough and humor me with your explanation?

Aiden remembered and he gave his best answer. “Back then, before the fame and family I really had nothing. Something Dylan always told me was that if you want something, just take it. Lie, cheat, ruin the system that so many people can be blind to. Sometimes it could be something as simple as stealing a candy bar from a gas station. Dylan and I would both do it. I was different back then. Dylan was the only person I had in my life and I followed his lead. The thing about him was he always dove in head first of the situation. If he wanted something he just took it and ran. I was the clever one. I planned out a scenario and I would pull the strings in the right way to get people to move like puppets. It got to be simple and sometimes people just gave me things because of the lies I would sell. It never worked on my family though. That day in the cemetery was honestly unbelievable at the time. I didn’t believe a word you said. I thought you can’t trick me! No one can. So I decided that if there was a small chance any of this was real I was going to trick you into giving me everything off one simple wish. I liked to write, secretly wanted to be a writer so I asked to be a famous one, because if I wanted a loving family I could just buy one. If someone tells me they love me, I would rather hear a gold digger lie than not hear anything at all.”

“You are not as clever as you think.” Del said slowly, but his face was expressionless.

“How so?”

“Not long after the encounter, you had forgotten the event ever happened, but for some reason you felt the urge to give this woman your all. This woman who loved you for who you are and everything I made you into. You got what you wanted all along and in your wedding vows you never lied. When you held her at night you told her the truth and you never tricked her. Do you remember a line you once told her when you proposed to her, that you later stated in your vows?”

Aiden thought for a minute and remembered the proposal. He took Amy back to where they had their first date. The little quiet sandwich and soup place and they both ordered a Rueben, the restaurants specialty. After they finished, he took her hand across the table and told her many things, leading to the proposal. One thing he said struck Aiden like an arrow in his heart and he said it outload to Del.

“I give you every little thing. My heart and soul as well.”

“Your heart and soul as well!” Del yelled, and sounded angry as he threw his glass of bourbon into the fire place where it erupted. Aiden flinched and saw a smiling look on Del’s face.

“I can’t very well take that away from Amy! There has never been an agreement with her, last year she was visiting her grandma’s grave and I even placed a chair there just to see if she would sit in it and she did not, sadly. I cannot take souls unless you agree to it and you gave it away when you already promised me it was mine!”

Aiden felt good inside. He was still terrified of the man in front of him, but he realized he accidently tricked Del and now he was safe, but if he could cut his hand at the snap of his fingers, Aiden dreaded what his punishment was going to be. Aiden was still confused on one thing.

“I understand what I did and I am sorry for that, but can you at least tell me what a soul really is?”

“It’s a force that drives you to keep on living. You no longer are living for yourself, you are living for your wife. Most people who get married still live for themselves or at least a piece of them is. You are not at all! You are trying to write a third novel this year before you leave for Paris. You say it’s for your fans but you are still lying to yourself. You are doing it so you can spend more time with your family. She owns you, and I cannot.”

“So where do we stand?” Aiden asked.

“You beat me! You want to hear me say that? You beat the bad guy.”

Aiden felt relieved and a smile finally formed on his face. He even laughed a little. It was when he looked into Del’s eyes he saw something that made the room feel chilled. Del was staring into Aiden’s life with frozen eyes.

“Would you like to know what I do with the souls I collect? I take them to the darkest place where I reign as a Forever King. It’s really cold there and I place all my little souls into a little frozen lake and they swim around in the bitter frost, lost in the dark. The energy it gives off is delicious and captivating. It’s what keeps me alive and happy. It’s my life support and the only reason I am alive to this day, and all the other deities died out years ago. My reign will last another eternity or two. Perhaps, even forever.”

“I guess you are one soul less this time.” Aiden said, very aware of the arrogance in his voice.

 

“You feel very proud of yourself, don’t you? You were proud and arrogant for every book you wrote, and for the record, I controlled your hand and wrote every book you have published. Those are Del’s works, not yours. However, you still get to keep on writing. The agreement wasn’t just for seven years. I just claim your soul after seven, you still get what you want till you lay cold and dead. You may go on to be the greatest who ever lived and I still go without a soul! I should just warn you that even with the God you know is dead, you should probably remember one of the deadly sins.”

“Which one would that be? I have never been much for religion.” Aiden said happily.

“That’s why you were ripe for the picking, but what you are suffering from is the sin called, Pride, and that is my most favorite sin!”

“Well I guess you are just going to have to enjoy it this time around. Nothing you can do about it right?”

“Oh you’re wrong. I have already dealt with it, thanks to my good friend William! Remember him? I never did tell you what was the favor he did for me.”

“Honestly I don’t really care now. My worries are gone!”

“There it is again! That pride of yours! Lovely!” Del said happily, taking a flask from the inside of his jacket and started gulping it down. He offered it to Aiden and he shook his hand to refuse.

“I insist you take a drink.” Del said. His voice sounded that it had come from a void of nightmares. Aiden drank from it freely and felt the liquid scorch its way down the throat.

. “He probably wouldn’t want me to tell you anyways! He is already annoyed with me for calling him, William. I guess only his wife is allowed to call him that.”

This interested Aiden a bit. Aiden had always had a simple name and had no need to have a nick name. He remembered one of his stepfathers was named, Robert, but he always went by, Bob. That thought is what made Aiden’s heart sink forever and the cold crept into his bones and froze his pride in place. In that moment Aiden realized that a shortened name for, William was, Bill.

Aiden jumped out of his chair and looked at Del who started laughing into hysteria. The heart in Aiden’s chest was working like it was having a panic attack, dismay flooded his whole body and he had so many thoughts ripping through his mind he felt a hurricane of madness running him down where he stood.

Del stood up, “You know when William Harford looked into the dead face of his friend after the head rolled between his legs, and he noticed the eyes were twitching. Tell me, Aiden, Do you think the eyes of his victims twitched as well when I lead him to kill them?”

“What!?” Aiden’s voice asked, a voice splattered in horror.

“Look into the fireplace, Aiden Moss.” Del’s voice grew dark and sinister. The flames turned blue and a cold came from them. Deep into those cold flames Aiden looked and soon he saw images. Images of Bill walking into his wood shed, grabbing an ax, hoping the fence and entering Aiden’s home from the back door. Aiden saw his daughter crawling on the floor and didn’t even see Bill raise the ax up high, it jumped to an image of Bill walking into Aiden’s son’s room. Little Markus raised his action figure up as if to shield him. It jumped to the last image as a deranged Bill chasing Amy through the house till she was cornered in Aiden’s personal library. She yelled and pleaded but Bill drove the ax down multiple times. Aiden could smell the scent of fresh blood as it came from the smoke. Copies of Aiden’s books fell on the floor, blood splattered across the covers of the books. His stomach was sick and he was frozen in place.

“I didn’t get to have your soul Aiden, but I still had it taken away all the same!” Del said laughing.

“NOOOOOOOO! YOU!” Aiden yelled as he jumped at Del. Aiden went straight through him as if he wasn’t even standing there. He landed into one of the arm chairs and flipped it back, Aiden rolled with it. He jumped up yelling and ran towards Del. His left hook went through Del’s face as if it was air and it connected with the fire mantel, tearing at his knuckles. He swung a thousand more times and never hitting him. Del was laughing as if this was the greatest tragic comedy he ever witnessed.

Aiden finally hit the floor, broken and devastated, fresh tears rolling out of his eyes.

“If you look into the fireplace again. You will see the outcome of what Bill did after. That may cheer you up!”

When Aiden looked all he saw was Bill smashing his face in with the ax in Aiden’s garage. He saw it but didn’t care, the damage was done.  His wife, and kids were dead. As was his soul.

“For breaching our contract, Aiden, I hear by sentence your punishment as living in the cold your soul never made it to. For now until you die at a very old age you will live your life accordingly. You will still write my books, collect your paychecks, and talk to your fans, but you will never love again, nor will you have any desire to live, but you can’t commit suicide, because I will be there to keep it from happening! Maybe a crazy fan will try to kill you? No, I will be there to stop it! You will die old and alone in your bed, with no desire but everlasting peace. Every single day that you wake up will be the greatest torture of all. No taste to food or drink. All the drugs and alcohol in the world will have zero effect on you. With no soul your life is a blank void, and a smile on your face will tear every muscle under the skin. This is a permanent state, and not even a gold digger will want to touch you for your skin is too cold to the touch. It will hurt after a while, as if your skin is burning from frost bite, but you will have no wounds, only pain and soon you will come to know my cold. In time you will think of it as home. I can be in a thousand places at once. I will be watching and smiling with all the pride I took from you!”

Aiden stared only at his hands, silently crying. He watched the beads of crimson roll off his fingertips. The warmth and happiness was leaving with the blood. The sun was setting in his heart and he could feel the cool of the night coming for him. The night was going to be lingering and frigid.

“Well, I best be going. It was so grand of you to let me into your lovely cabin and show me hospitality. Honestly, I would have killed for some roasted almonds, salted peanuts or something. I have a soft spot for edible seeds. It is much like eating the children of Mother Nature. Wouldn’t you agree, Aiden?”

Aiden stood up and walked to the door, opening it slowly, only looking at the floor. Del walked happily towards it and turned back and said, tell me, who did you think was the Black Sheep out of your children?”

“Melena.”

“You sure know your children…. or did! You will see me again, but it will be a long time from now. I’ll be at the end waiting for you and perhaps, maybe you will take my hand as if greeting an old friend at last. Sincerely yours Aiden Moss! Sincerely yours!”

Aiden shut the door and latched it accordingly. The branch still scraped against the window, but Aiden took no notice. The only thoughts on his mind were the images of his wife and kids. He strolled over to the fire, which has since returned to normal and he placed his hands into the flames. His hands did not burn, nor did the fire felt hot, it was cold to the touch. Aiden took his hands out and went back to his computer. When he sat down he look at his emails and saw the one Amy had sent him earlier. He opened the video message and watched the playback.

It showed Amy and his children in front of the camera. “Hi, Honey!” She said to him. “Kids what do you want to tell Daddy?”

“We love you Daddy!” Markus said and Melena attempted to speak it.

“Come back to us soon Aiden. I love you!” She blew him a kiss and the video was over.

Aiden started crying worse than ever, but silently, as if he could not release all his grief at once. Aiden knew he would never be allowed to. He sat watching the video on repeat, his finger leaving a red fingerprint on the key as he kept tapping.

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