“And how many years did the doctors give you Mister Winters?” said the man with a red business suit, a red necktie, a red fedora hat and a spotless, white dress shirt. Coincidentally, this man's name was Red. He wore sunglasses inside the office, sitting by the edge of Mister Winters' desk with his legs crossed.
“Six,” said Mister Winters.
“Oh, my kind of number,” said Red (he liked numbers that were divisible by three).
Mister Winters sat behind his desk with a document between his hands. It was six pages long and was printed on a legal-sized paper from a dot-matrix printer. His eyes scanned every word, every sentence, every punctuation. He flipped a page and began reading the “Terms and Conditions.”
Red looked around the office and was depressed by it. The executive walls were barren except for a calendar and an industrial sized clock. The floor was checkered black and white. Book shelves were filled with company reports, profit-&-loss reports, revenue reports, some sales strategies and, probably, some motivational books. Red turned to Mister Winters' desk: pens were organized by height and color; stacks of paper were piled without a page askew; the computer screen was dead; and his nameplate was clean, metallic.
“How's your family Mister Winters?” asked Red, scanning the office for a picture frame or any adornments.
“Thrice divorced. Seven children. Five are graduates. Two are dead-beats. None deserve the company.”
There was nothing inside the room that was interesting: not one photo of a family member or a friend, not even a photo of himself. No pots of plants. No vase of flowers. Red turned back to Mister Winters who was now staring at him. It startled Red.
“Once I sign this,” said Mister Winters, “I gain 20 more years to live. Correct?”
Red nodded and feigned a smile.
“And a breach of this contract, stated on page four, will refund my soul to its original state and will be placed neither in hell nor heaven but limbo. Correct?”
“Is that a 'yes' or a 'no'?” said Mister Winters in a stern voice.
“It's a yes.”
Mister Winters broke his stare and returned to the document. Red invited himself to the bookshelf with the reports and strategies. He checked if he read anything else besides numbers, graphs and charts. There was a Venn-Diagram somewhere in 1995's Sales Strategy. Red dragged his finger on the dusty shelf, drawing a smiley face near 1994's Revenue Report.
“Mister Winters” said Red, drawing a flower, “what do you do for fun?”
Mister Winters didn't respond. He continued reading the document, scanning for any loopholes. He heard him but brushed it aside, pretending he didn't hear.
“Do you play golf like the other businessmen? Do you fornicate? Commit adultery? Read the Sunday Times perhaps? Do you have any hobbies Mister Wint-”
“Please,” said Mister Winters, “Be silent. I would like to thoroughly examine this agreement in peace.”
Red smiled in response, but he was growing impatient. His previous deals weren't this boring. Also, this was the first time Red had been creeped out by a mortal who was dying of some sort of cancer, which Red didn't care to learn. Also, the mortal smelled funny – like decaying newspaper.
Red played with his fingers, stacking his thumbs upon one another and drumming his palms with his finger tips. He sashayed and pranced across the floor, pretending to be the white queen ready for a checkmate. He took quick glances at Mister Winters who was still embedded on the document. Red made noises with his nose and lips, inhaling and exhaling in differing degrees to make different sounds. Some were whistle-like, some were horse-like.
“Okay Devil,” said Mister Winters.
“Please. Call me Red.”
Mister Winters looked up. Red teleported at the front of the desk with his hands behind his back – he was still fiddling with his fingers.
“Red,” continued Mister Winters, “I'm ready to sign.”
Mister Winters took a steel-cased pen from the metallic pen-cup. He placed the tip on the dotted line labeled “Wishee,” which was adjacent to the dotted line labeled “Wishor.” Mister Winters applied graceful pressure to the document and made his loops and curls and a binding strike. No ink displayed his signature.
“These kinds of deals,” said Red, “need not mortal inventions Mister Winters.”
Out from Red's pocket was a glass pen. He handed it to Mister Winters who was enchanted by the wisp and smoke within its hull. He looked closer. There were spaces within the wisps: they resembled stretching mouths and twisting eyes. He thought he had heard wails and screams – and a grave warning.
Regardless, Mister Winters pressed the tip against the “Wishee” line, began with an upward stroke and crossed it with a loop. He made more inward strokes and outward strokes, a semblance of his first initial and last name. The signature was etched, but the agreement wasn't sealed: the “Wishee” line remained blank.
Red noticed the technical difficulty. He drew out a similar pen from his pocket and gave it to Mister Winters. With a loop-de-loop and some gobbledygook, the agreement remained moot. It was still blank.
“Mister Winters,” said Red in a firm tone, “Please look into my eyes.”
So he did. Red pulled his sunglasses down and revealed what lay beneath: his eyes were as hollow as November mourning's eve, and they had a faint, red glow within their chasm. And behold, Mister Winters saw his almighty father who told him he was stupid and would amount to nothing. And he saw his loving mother who told him he was the love of her life and was everything to her. And he saw himself scale the highest mountain called “Master of Business Administration.” And he saw his self parting a sea of people as he walked through his warehouse, his lobby and his building named “W Enterprises, Inc.”
Mister Winters gasped for air. Red hid his eyes with his sunglasses, and then he snatched the document from Mister Winters' hands and turned around for the door.
“What? Where are you going?” said Mister Winters still struggling to catch his breath, “God damn it! We have a deal to close!”
Mister Winters just broke a rule in the Ten Commandments, a rule made up by a mortal named Moses which, supposedly, he received from a god. The rule – or commandment – states, “Thou shalt not take the lord's name in vain.”
“There is no deal Mister Winters,” said Red, “In order for the contract to be enforced, the agreement requires at least one soul – You sir, don't have one.”
Mister Winters sprang up from his seat, slamming his fists on top of his desk.
“What do you mean I don't have one? Everyone has a soul!”
“For some reason Mister Winters, you lost yours,” Red retorted.
The last time Mister Winters showed grief – fear – was the time when his mother died. That was 44 years ago when he was only seven years old. And he was fathered by his almighty father who didn't make breakfast, who didn't make lunch and who didn't make dinner. That was a woman's job. And his father told him that he ought to be diligent, ought to be cold and ought to be ruthless. That was a man's job.
Mister Winters was pushed back down to his seat. He was like Atlas, burdened by his revelation which he couldn't easily shrug. He attempted to cry, but his tear-ducts were as empty as an abandoned car's gas tank. He looked up to Red, begging.
“How,” said Mister Winters, “how do I get it back?”
Red let out a long and deliberate sigh.
“Well, for starters,” said Red, “take a six-week vacation.”