My dearest, most beloved Candace –
Today, for the first time ever, I had the thought that maybe it’s better that you’re gone, that you left me alone in this house for the little time I have left before I come to join you. I still miss you like the dickens, Candace, but the trouble that came home and found us today – well, I can almost say I’m glad you didn’t live
to see it.
It’s Bartholomew. I haven’t seen that lay-about grandson of ours or even heard
from him since the day we buried you, and today without a word of warning he just walked into the yard. I was kneeling in the garden, planting beans to see if they’ll sprout in that north-eastern plot where nothing ever seems to thrive except weeds. I looked up, and there he was. And he wasn’t alone, either. He had this wisp of a thing with him, looked like a summer breeze would blow her over, blonde and quiet and skin as pale as fresh-churned butter. I could tell from the look on their faces that they weren’t here with good news.
You always said we were the closest thing that boy’s had to a home, and when he left here you told him he’d always be welcome. I wasn’t about to start dishonouring your wishes now. So I got up, wiped my hands on my jeans, and brought them into the house. I put out some cold cuts, mustard and bread, even gave the boy a cold beer. I offered one to his friend, too – I’ll be damned if I can remember her name – but she declined. So I figured she was in a predicament – these young girls are so strict about drinking now – and that she’d want to stay here for a while. I went to make up the guestroom, but Bartholomew stopped me. Just like that. The gall of that kid: “For God’s sakes grandpa, I’m twenty-six years old. We’ll both stay in my room.” I was all set to get into it with him, in my house I run things my way, tell him that bed-sharing was what had got him into this trouble in the first place, but believe me, Candace – I just don’t have the heart for it anymore. I’m an old man – I could feel my blood pressure rising, and I wasn’t going to have a heart attack over it. So I kept my mouth shut.
After I wrote to you and had a bit of a nap, I spent the rest of the day in the garden, figuring those two kids needed to talk things over. I left some potatoes and carrots on the counter. I didn’t say anything, but I was hoping they’d have them peeled and cut up by the time I came in. They hadn’t lifted a finger: not Bartholomew, for all our trying to bring him up right, and not his mousy little friend, either. Turns out her name is Emmanuelle – French Catholic. The two of them sat there like lumps expecting me to cook for them, a prince and his princess.
Dinner was bad, Candace. Bartholomew helped himself to wine from the cellar, and he drank too much. Emmanuelle kept asking him to stop – she calls him “Bart” on top of everything else – but he didn’t listen to her. It’s like he barely sees her. I think he’s lost his senses. He was raving. He told me that he sold his soul to the devil.
Of all the crazy things! I’ve seen a lot of drunken men make bad excuses in my time, but never have I heard such utter and complete nonsense. And he really believes it. He says it’s some kind of computer program that’s popular now. Says he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for a career in music.
You know how he was always talking about being a rock star? Well I guess he did it. After he left here he started up a band (he called it “Dead White Doves,” can you imagine?), and they got really popular. He plays guitar, and he’s been all over the world performing concerts. He won two Junos, something called an “MTV Award,” and then he won a Grammy. All in the past three years. Least he could have done was let me know, that’s what I think. And I said so, too.
But the kid thinks all this happened because he sold his soul to the devil, and the girl seems to at least go along with it. Bartholomew says that all the famous rock stars die by the time they’re twenty-seven, going out in a blaze of glory. And that’s what he wanted – to be a famous rock star until he was twenty-seven, to never lose his edge or grow old. His twenty-seventh birthday is this Thursday night, and the devil’s supposed to come the night before to end his life and take his soul. That’s why he’s here. The kid’s scared out of his mind.
It’s got to be drugs. He seemed so much like his mother during her really bad times… it broke my heart. Eventually I just came up to bed, left him ranting downstairs. I didn’t know what else to do.
Candace, things are getting stranger.
Bartholomew went out today – he said he wanted to see some childhood friends in town before “the end.” Emmanuelle stayed behind, and she explained things to me.
Remember when Bartholomew taught us how to use the email? And how one of us would always forget and pick up the phone while the other one was trying to send something? Well, computers have changed a lot since then. I can’t believe how fast they change. Emmanuelle got the interweb right there on our kitchen table –it’s something called “wireless” that’s just floating in the air all the time. Like radio waves, I guess. And she showed me this thing that Bartholomew has been yelling about, called an iFaust. It’s a little star, or a pentagram, I guess, and you just plug it into the side of your computer, the same place we put the cord for the digital camera. It reeks of sulphur, this gadget, I could smell it right away. It feels evil, Candace, even just to look at it.
So when you put this doodad in your computer, it brings up all these things called menus, but not like any menu you or I ever saw at Mel’s Diner. These “menus” listed different demons, with pictures and names and symbols, hideous blasphemous things, runes and letters of the Greek alphabet and inverted Christian symbols, and you can choose to summon them or to communicate with them by the email. There’s all these different choices for what you can get in exchange for your soul, promises of money and fame and talent. You can make yourself smarter or better looking, even. And there’s all kinds of sexual stuff Candace, things I didn’t even talk about with the guys when I was in the army, and this girl showed it to me without even blushing.
She showed me everything. There’s something called a “contract wizard” that sets up your contract for you; what you want to get in exchange for your soul, each of the different clauses and the fine print. All you have to do is click on “I Agree.” I thought it was just fantasy, a pretty sick game, but she says it’s real. The things computers can do nowadays – how I am supposed to tell what’s real and what’s not?
And she showed me Bartholomew’s contract. She looked so scared and helpless. I asked her what Bartholomew had said about her predicament, if he’d offered to marry her, and she smiled and said he doesn’t know yet. He’s been so preoccupied he hasn’t noticed anything, and she doesn’t want to worry him. Can you imagine? She doesn’t want to worry him. She asked me not to tell him, and what could I say? I told her I would respect her wishes.
Every day, Candace, there are things I wish I could tell you. How I mixed sand into the varnish and covered the stairs you always thought were too slippery. The colour of paint Mrs. Peters helped me pick for the garage door this year. How terrible the choir sounds at church without you to lead it. I never wanted to be telling you anything as terrible and disappointing as what Bartholomew’s done. Nothing like this.
When Bartholomew got home, I gave it to him, my heart be damned. How could you do this? Sell you soul to the bloody devil? I kept screaming, as though it would change something. We brought you up better than that! I even brought you into it, Candace, saying that you’d be rolling in your grave if you knew what he’d done.
He said at first he thought it was a hoax. But when everybody started buying these iFausts, when he saw his friends actually having all their wishes come true, getting rich and famous, or suddenly developing talents they never had before, getting women and cars or whatever it was they wanted, he bought one too – just walked into a store and bought one, for not much more than we paid for our last television. And you know what he said next? That he thought he could trick it. Isn’t that just like him? Always trying to weasel his way out of anything resembling responsibility. He said in a lot of the folklore, people outwit the devil on some minor point, some question of interpretation. Do you know what his brilliant plan was? To set the clock on his computer back, so that it would never reach the date of his twenty-seventh birthday. But it turns out he can’t do that – the computer updates automatically by satellite, something like that.
The boy is scared, Candace, that’s for sure. Mad as I was, I could see that. He really thinks he’s going to die the day after tomorrow. That look in his eyes. I feel sorry for him. Or I did, until he hit me with this:
Grandpa, he says, there is another way. Then he looks at me with those big, wet, frightened eyes, pupils as big as doughnut holes, and he says: I’m allowed to do a trade. It’s in the contract’s fine print that I can trade another soul for my own. I asked him where he thought he was going find the sorry fool to make that trade, and he looked me square in the face and said, Well, Grandpa, the thing is – it has to be a blood relative. Candace, I thought I was going to die right there from the shock. That kid has never given anything back to us, never a thank you, not one red cent from all of the rock star money he’s apparently made, not so much as sent me a Christmas card since you died. And then he shows up with this crazy mess he got himself into, and he wants my soul to get him out of it?
He says, You know, since you’re so old, and you’re probably going to die soon anyway. Well, I lost it at that. It was everything I could do not to throw him out of the house. Sitting on my couch, and asking me to trade my soul for his? I walked right out of there. I couldn’t even start writing to you for half an hour, my hand was shaking so bad.
I’m at a loss, Candace. What should I do? How do I help him? I’m going to go talk to Fr. Dominick tomorrow.
Fr. Dominick says it’s real.
The Church won’t say anything officially yet, but that it’s all internal bullshit (sorry honey) – it’s afraid to speak out against the big company that makes the iFaust. But they’ve been advised that the demons are real and that people’s souls really are in jeopardy. If someone confesses that they’ve sold their soul, parish priests are supposed to offer absolution, but apparently even that doesn’t always work: there’s a clause in some of the contracts that says the agreement is final and negates any future sacraments or states of grace.
I asked Fr. Dom about the trade. He said he couldn’t advise me, that he just doesn’t know what the theology is. He said the trade would be a noble and charitable action – that the Church has a long tradition of rewarding self-sacrifice – but that he couldn’t say for sure where my soul would end up.
What do you think I should do, Candace? I could be wrong, but I feel sure that you would take the trade. He’s just a dumb kid, twenty-six years old – how can I stand by and watch him die? But I don’t know that I’m ready to take his place, either.
Then there’s the matter of us, honey-bear. I can’t know for certain where God in His wisdom has put you, but how could you not be in Heaven, basking in His glory? If I take this trade… well, that’s not where I’ll be going, is it? How can I live forever without you?
Candace, what should I do?
I can’t do it, Candace. I just can’t. I’m seventy-four years old, and I’ve spent my life making sacrifices and enduring hardships, always trying to do what I thought was right because it was right. Not for reward, not for fame, not even from fear of damnation, but because they were the right things to do. I’m not willing to give up the hard moral work of a lifetime to get punished for the sins of my twenty-six-year-old grandson, who gave away his most precious possession – his soul –for some record deals and a world tour.
I had made up my mind about this already, but before I went to tell Bartholomew I got Emmanuelle to show me his contract again. I read the fine print, Candace, all of it. And the anti-repentance clause isn’t in there. He can repent! If he just goes to confession, says that he’s sorry, he can get out of the whole thing!
But the damn fool won’t do it. You know what he told me? That he didn’t believe in organized religion. I had nothing to say to that; it was Emmanuelle who stated the obvious: If you don’t believe in it, why don’t you just repent anyway? He looked at her like she was the village idiot. He said he’s not going to go kneel beside a priest inside a church and tell a lie. He says he’s not remotely sorry for doing it, that it was bloody well worth it (though he said something much worse than “bloody”). That the only thing he regrets is not making a better deal and not including a renegotiation clause.
He’s so bloody stubborn, Candace. More than you were, more than his mother was. I don’t know how to react to it, how to cut through. It’s nice to think the boy has a backbone and a conscience in there somewhere, but why did he choose to use it now? The whole thing makes me so damn angry I don’t care what happens to him.
Of course I care. But I don’t know how to show him, or what to do. I’m too old for this.
Bartholomew and I aren’t speaking to each other. There’s nothing left to say. He won’t repent, and I’m not willing to make the trade. We’re all just sitting around the house in silence. Bartholomew is smoking. The devil is supposed to come at midnight. Two hours from now.
I haven’t heard anything from downstairs. I’m frightened, Candace – my ticker is working overtime. Is it possible a devil made flesh is going to walk into this house – this house we lived in together for all those years – to take away our grandkid? To take his soul to hell for all eternity?
It’s too much to bear. I can’t let it happen.
Forgive me, Candace, but I have to make the trade. I hope you understand. I hope that somehow our souls will be together, but if we’re separated for eternity, know that I only did it to save Bartholomew. I will miss you as long as I exist. No torment of the Devil can be worse that being without you. I love you forever.
Oh, Candace – what else will I live to see?
I went down there at quarter to twelve, and as soon as I left the bedroom I could smell the sulphur. Walking down those stairs was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Is it here already? I asked, but no one was in the sitting room. I found Bartholomew at the dining room table, distracted, drinking a bottle of wine and chain smoking. I wanted to tell them both about my decision right away, as I didn't think I could bear to say it more than once.
There wasn’t much time left. Where’s Emmanuelle? Bartholomew pointed at the kitchen: She’s been in there for a while. She'd shut the French doors - first time I've seen them closed in half a decade. I could see her through the glass, standing at the counter in front of the computer. She had the iFaust plugged in, making that stink I'd thought was a devil on our doorstep. When I was about to ask what the hell she was doing, she shut the computer and looked up. She held my gaze for a second, then opened the doors and went to the table to join Bartholomew.
I took care of it, she said. Babe, what the hell did you do? Bartholomew said. She looked at the floor. I had something he wanted, so I made a deal. You get to live, keep your soul. For eighteen years, the devil is going to take really good care of something that's mine, going to make it so that no physical harm can come to it, nothing bad will happen, only the good things in life. And then, it'll be his. Please don't ask me what it is - if I tell you the whole deal is off.
Bartholomew sat there. Pour me a glass of wine, she said. And I knew what she’d done.
Candace, I feel so terribly, terribly old. I wish you were here. No, I don’t – I wish I were with you, wherever you are. I’m done.
Angels and ministers of grace protect us
Published On: February 14, 2010
Permanent Location: http://www.forgetmagazine.com/100214e.htm