For one hundred pounds I will sell you my soul…
There was nothing that Julian Hart loved more than getting something for nothing. He had dedicated his life to just that; setting up convoluted deals in which people unwittingly bought things which they already owned. All it ever cost Julian was time and ingenuity – and he had plenty of ingenuity to spare.
When he saw the advert in the newspaper, Julian was horrified – horrified, that is, that he hadn’t thought of it first:
For one hundred pounds I will sell you my soul.
And then an address – somewhere in London, judging from the postcode, he thought. Nothing else.
Was that what a soul was worth? He wondered. A high price for something so inconsequential; something, perhaps, which did not even exist. Julian tried to imagine what kind of man – or woman – would want to purchase a soul. He already knew what kind of man would sell it; a clever man. An inventive man.
The kind of man Julian simply had to meet.
Julian looked again at the address; it was not far from where he lived. He tore the page from the newspaper, folded it neatly into his pocket for future reference and then promptly forgot about it.
Andrew King was not an impious man. Nor was he an especially intelligent man. He was, on the other hand, especially poor.
It had not been his idea to place the advert – it had not, in fact, been Andrew who placed the advert at all.
“The only thing you have of value is that blimmin’ soul of yours!” His wife had growled.
“And that more valuable than anything else a man can possess.” Andrew had told her. Perhaps he even believed that – and certainly if you asked him he would tell you that he did.
“Not more valuable than a roof over our heads and full bellies.” Andrew’s wife’s belly was fuller than most, but he didn’t tell her that. He would have liked to but, although he was not an intelligent man, he was not so foolish as to commit marital suicide.
“If you spent as much time working as you did polishing pews with your backside, I’d be a wealthy woman.” She continued.
“Man shall not live by bread alone…”
“Man shall not live at all if he doesn’t have a little bread!” Andrew’s wife scolded. “And man shall not keep a woman like me by the purity of his soul. Gawd, it must shine like silver, the way you keep at polishing it!”
“A soul is worth more than silver.” Andrew had told her. “More than its weight in gold…”
What is a soul worth, Andrew’s wife had found herself wondering the next morning. She wondered a great many things in the mornings since all of her chores were by now so familiar that she could have done them blindfolded. Where would you find a buyer for a soul?
Certainly, there were stranger things bought and sold in London. If you went to the right place, you could sell your honour for fewer than five pence. But surely a soul would be worth more than that. At least, a soul like Andrew’s must be.
They let her place the classified for free. The young man who noted down her address was pink-faced with merriment at the idea. A soul! For sale!
“You must sell us the story afterwards!” he insisted.
“Of course.” If she could sell a soul then she was certainly prepared to sell a story. As she made her way home, she found herself wondering how much she could charge per word. A woman like her did not give her word cheaply, she thought. For as many words as a whole story would need, she might well be able to charge a whole pound.
“I have come for your soul.” The man said in a deep and foreboding tone – or, at least, in as foreboding a tone as he could muster.
“Well you can’t have it!” Andrew told him. He slammed the door shut and then apologised to it. On the other side, he could hear the man laughing as he made his way down the street.
“Why did you do it?” He asked his wife. “Surely you knew…?”
“Don’t you come all clever with me!” Andrew’s wife blustered at him. “How should I know that trying to sell your soul to keep your dear old wife in bread and butter would end us up like this?”
They had been knocking at the door all morning; jokesters and ministers and all manner of curious people, all wanting to see the man who wanted to sell his soul.
“By rights you should be thanking me!” She told him, although she didn’t explain why. Perhaps Andrew would have asked if there had not been another knock at the door.
Andrew King was a well-mannered man. Too well-mannered to ignore a knocked door if he was on the un-knocked side of it. Wearily, he drew himself up to his feet and made his way out to the hallway.
“Is it taken?” The man twitched as he spoke, as if at a moment’s notice he might leap up and flee down the road in search of a burrow in which to take cover.
“What – ?”
“The soul, man! The soul…” He spoke the word ‘soul’ with the same covetous reverence with which another man might say ‘diamonds’ or ‘princess’.
“I – ”
“This is the right place, isn’t it? You are selling a soul?”
“Yes. I mean to say no. Somewhat…” The man was becoming twitchier by the moment. It was infectious, in a way. Andrew could feel the urge to twitch creeping up all over his skin. The man looked so uncomfortably forlorn that Andrew couldn’t help feeling sorry for him.
“Perhaps you’d better come inside.” Andrew said.
The man hesitated on the threshold of the door, as if simply by passing through into a house he was committing some unspeakably unthinkable crime, before entering.
“Have a seat.” Andrew gestured towards a chair with one arm and the man flinched back as if struck.
“I’ll stand, if you don’t mind; I prefer to stand.”
There was an uncomfortably polite moment as both men waited for the other to speak.
“Who’s this?” Andrew’s wife asked.
“Is it taken?” The man asked again, as if the sight of Andrew’s wife had somehow jolted his memory. “The soul – is it taken? Do you still have it? Can I – can I see it?”
“I – ”
“Of course you may!” Andrew’s wife interrupted him. “Do you have the money?”
“I have it.”
“Why do you want a soul?” Andrew asked. The man’s eagerness was making him feel more and more as if he were about to become the victim of some bizarre kind of robbery or other.
“No reason.” The man told him.
“One hundred pounds worth of reasons.” said Andrew’s wife.
“Then sell him your soul.” Andrew told his wife.
“Ah! But is my soul worth that much?”
“I’ll take them both.” The man said. “One hundred pounds for each of them. I have the money with me…”
“Take hers,” said Andrew, “you can’t have mine.”
“He means, of course, that you can’t have his for just one hundred pounds. Mine – huh! – yes, mine you can certainly have for that, but my husband’s soul is polished like silver. It is a beautiful soul and you will be lucky to have it at two – no! three – hundred pounds.”
“I’ll take them both.” The man repeated. From his pocket, he took a handful of crisp bank notes and began to count them out onto the table.
“Four hundred pounds,” he said at last. “Now can I see them?”
“Of course you may! Andrew – show the gentleman the mettle of your soul!” Said Andrew’s wife. “For myself, I carry mine with me always. Look – here it is.” She held out her hands, cupped together as if to hold some precious trinket or other.
“I – my soul is a part of me. I can’t just take it out. I can’t – ” Before Andrew could stop him, the man had taken hold of his hand and was examining the palm as if it held the very secrets of creation.
“Yes,” He said at last. “I’ll take them. Both of them.”
“Hand over the money and they’re yours.” Andrew’s wife promised.
“Oh! But – the contract. There has to be…” The man patted at his coat from top to bottom. When one of his pockets made a scrunching sound, he reached in and produced a tattered piece of paper. “Like this.” He said. He unfolded the contract and tapped at it with his finger.
“Write one down and we’ll sign it – do it on the back of this one if you like. It doesn’t matter.” Andrew’s wife told him.
The man produced a pen from his top shirt pocket and smoothed out the piece of paper as much as he could. On the blank side he wrote:
We, the vendors, condemn our souls to the possession of the holder of this contract for the price of four hundred pounds and no pence (which has been received in full).
“I’m not signing this.” Andrew said. “’Condemned’; what exactly do you mean by that?”
“Hand over the money and I’ll sign for us both. I’m his wife, after all.”
The man pressed the money and the pen into Andrew’s wife’s hands.
“Sign!” He said. “Sign!” Andrew noticed how wide his eyes were. The man licked at his lips.
“No. I’m sorry, but you can’t have mine. I never intended – ” Andrew tried to snatch the pen away but it was too late. ‘Mr and Mrs King’ his wife wrote.
“There.” She said.
The man snatched up the contract and tucked it into the same pocket from which he had taken it out.
“Two souls.” He said in a voice which was almost dream-like. “I have two souls – and you have none!” He laughed, then. A terrible laugh which went on and on until tears ran down his cheeks. “None at all!” He pointed at them with one trembling finger. “You are soulless. Soulless creatures. I have two souls and you have none at all.”
“I never agreed to this.” Andrew said.
“As if that would make any difference! No – you put your soul in her hands and she gave it away for pittance.”
“Two souls.” Andrew’s wife repeated. “Not three?”
“Two souls, dear Madam Soulless. I had none of my own.”
“What Satanic creature are you, then?” Andrew made the sign of the holy cross as best he could. The man laughed.
“No Satanic creature – no more than you yourselves are. A Satanic customer, you might say. Two souls – two of them!”
“What have you done?” Andrew turned to his wife. “Woman what have you done?”
“Two souls!” The man repeated once more. “I sold my own for a pittance – and for a portion of a pittance I have purchased two more!”
It wasn’t until Julian walked past the house itself that he remembered the newspaper clipping. He pulled it out of his pocket to check that – yes – this was the right place. The paper had become brittle and torn around the edges – had he sent his overcoat to be washed with it still in there? He wasn’t sure.
Since I’m passing by, he thought. There’s no harm in knocking.
“If you’ve come about the soul then you’re too late.” The man who peered around the door at Julian Hart had wide, red-rimmed eyes which moved constantly but never seemed to blink.
“No, Sir – not at all! I came to congratulate you on your singular ingenuity.”
“Oh.” The man said. “I see. Well – “
“I myself have considered following your marvelous example…”
The door seemed to fling itself open as if it had been pushed outwards by tightly coiled spring.
“I will buy it.” The man said. “I’ll – come in! Please come in!”
Julian stepped into the house and closed the door. The man was already half way down the corridor – Julian followed him and found himself in a modest living room. A wild-haired old woman slept in a chair in one corner. To her chest, she clutched a small bundle of filthy bank notes.
“Quiet.” The man said. “Quiet – don’t wake her. I will buy it from you… but you mustn’t wake her.”
“What’s this then?” Julian asked. “A trade in souls? I sell it to you for sixty and you sell it on for one hundred?”
“I’ll pay you double that for it. Triple. What do you weigh, sir? I’ll pay you your weight in gold when I can get it. Just – do you have a piece of paper, sir? There has to be a contract. It has to be – “
“What’s this?” The woman was awake. She eyed Julian hungrily, the way a half-starved dog looks up into a butcher’s window. “What’s this? A man?”
“Dear lady, I’ve come to sell your… your husband?” The woman nodded. “I’ve come to sell your husband my soul. A foolish venture you may think, but – “
“Whatever he’s offered you, I’ll pay double.” The woman seemed to leap out of her chair, gripping at Julian’s wrist with sharp- nailed little hands. “Double that, if I have it. Can I see it, sir? Can I see?”
“You’ve woken her!” The wide-eyed man sighed. “I knew that you would – I knew…”
“Ah!” The woman squawked. “Ah! You would have bought it and left your dear wifey to suffer, would you? Would you?” She looked up at Julian, her hands still tightly locked around his wrist. “Sir, you must forgive me. You must – “
“You must not give it to her!” The man hissed. The woman turned to glare at him. “You must not – woman, if you don’t release him, I’ll tell – “
“Tell what?” Julian asked.
“Fool!” The woman almost shrieked. “You soulless, mindless fool!”
If it was an act or a scam of some kind, Julian couldn’t work it out. No matter which way he turned it in his mind, it didn’t seem to fit.
“Don’t give it to her!” The woman moaned and dug her nails still deeper into Julian’s wrist.
“Just – just show it to me. Please – before you go. Just show me…”
“How – ?”
“I’ll show you how, lovely sir. You just let me and I‘ll show you how.” The woman crooned. She twisted Julian’s wrists together, pressing his hands so that the fingers formed a cup.
There were marks on Julian’s wrists where the woman’s nails had dug into him. One of them had broken the skin and a prickle of blood had risen up to the surface. His hands shook a little, although he didn’t notice them.
He had sold so many other things in the past. – most of them things which had never belonged to him. Those which had – his dignity and his pride – had not seemed to matter at the time, although now he feared that they were simply small parts of something much more valuable.
“He doesn’t have one.” The woman had pushed away his hands. “No more than we do – who did you sell it to?” She had asked him. “What did you get? How much – ?”
“I – ”
Julian didn’t know. Perhaps he had never had a soul to begin with. How would you know? What difference would it make?
Except that now he knew for certain. He knew that he lacked.
Was it visible – obvious to everyone but him? Beauty, he knew, was in the eye of the beholder. Was soullessness in every eye but yours? What would they do if they caught him? What would they do to him?
Somewhere behind him, he heard the crazed laughter of a soulless creature and the desperate sobbing of another.
Bio: Rebecca L. Brown is a British writer based in Cardiff. She lives with her partner and two cats.