“It will be easy money!”
With those five words, Chrissy had convinced me to join her in this business. But today, as we stood under the scorching afternoon sun, our flip-flops frying like eggs on the pavement, I was beginning to regret it.
“Where’s that easy money that you were going on about?” I asked her.
“I’m sure it’s coming,” she said, “Just you wait.”
We had been standing in the parking lot of Leadbetter’s Convenience for what felt like hours, trying to get passerbys to buy what we were selling. Making our pitch like we were in some kind of perverted infomercial. I didn’t like who I was out here, bootlicking every person I could with no pay off. Even my fast food job was dignified compared to his.
I shouldn’t have quit. God, why did I have to quit?
“Hey, Lane. Over there. He looks like he could be interested.” Chrissy nudged me and pointed at a man wearing a stretched-out red NASCAR t-shirt and cargo shorts. He was standing at the edge of the parking lot, staring into the street. He looked like he wanted to kill himself, I thought.
“You’re sounding like a broken record at this point,” I told Chrissy.
She ignored me. “Let’s go talk to him.”
Without a shred of self-respect left to lose, I followed her over to the NASCAR shirt man, swinging my plastic grocery bags along the way.
She came up beside him and prepared a smile. “Hello, sir.”
He was startled, nearly jumping out of his eyebrows. “Oh! Hello.”
“Me and my friend here are wondering if you’re interested in what we have to offer.”
“Uh… What is that, exactly?”
Chrissy nodded at me.
“We’re selling souls,” I said.
The man squinted at me through his squarish, black frame glasses. “Human souls?”
“Yeah, human souls.”
“At a crazy low price,” Chrissy added, “just $150 a piece. Bargain. Crazy bargain, believe me.”
“Is that what’s in those bags of yours?” he asked us.
“Yeah, the souls are in the bags,” I said.
Chrissy reached into one of her bags and pulled out a soul, turning it in her palm. “These are 100% genuine. Straight from the source.”
He tilted his head, inspecting the thing in Chrissy’s hand. “What kinds do you have?”
“Lane,” Chrissy said, looking at me expectantly.
“Okay,” I said, “We have… All kinds. Young, old, rich, poor. Deaths of tragic and natural causes. Secretaries, sex offenders, lawyers, teachers, clowns, whatever.”
“We even have a magician,” Chrissy said.
“Alright,” the man said.
Chrissy dropped the soul back into her bag. “Sooo, which one do you want? They’re all just $150.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” he said, eyes down at his sneakers, “I don’t have that kind of cash on me. Sorry, ladies.”
“But you’re interested.”
“Yeah, I was curious, I guess. I don’t have that kind of cash on me, though.”
“See, you say that, but-”
“You know you want one,” I cut in.
The man shrugged. “I dunno.”
“He can’t take it,” Chrissy said to me, her voice lilting into a tease, “He’s afraid.”
The man frowned, his features stiffening. “No, no, that’s not true. If I’m being straight with you, $150 isn’t good enough. That’s the issue here. My buddy gets them for $135.”
“The difference is,” Chrissy explained, “ours are real quality, and this is the lowest price real quality comes at.”
There was only the sound of cars speeding down the road and the smell of deli meat.
“No,” he said.
Chrissy sighed, rolling her eyes. “Fine.”
“Sorry, ladies.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Chrissy brushed past me and I followed her lead. “Pig,” she murmured once we were out of his earshot.
We were back where we started now: Under the Leadbetter’s awning, our backs to the window. The cool, inviting window into a forbidden oasis.
“What now?” I asked the thick open air.
“Her now,” Chrissy said before tapping a woman in neon spandex on the shoulder. “Excuse me, ma’am, but are you interested in what we have to offer?”
The woman turned to face us. That tan was fake. “Huh?”
“We have something you might want.”
“Souls,” I said.
The woman’s gaze floated down to our bags. “Oh. I see.”
“Just $150 a piece,” Chrissy said, shaking her load emphatically, “It’s a crazy bargain.”
I nodded. “We have all kinds: Young, old-”
The woman held up a hand attached to an athletic banded wrist. “Thanks, but no thanks.”
“Believe me,” Chrissy said, “You’re never going to get a deal like this again.”
“No, it’s the moral question that concerns me.”
“What moral question?” Chrissy asked, but the neon woman had already walked into the store.
“Damnit,” I said.
“She thinks she’s so high and mighty. She’s too good to buy souls! Ooo! Whatta saint. She looks awful in that spandex.”
I sat down on the pavement. “You know, Chrissy, maybe it’s too hot out to sell souls. Like, you know, hot cocoa in July. People want ice cream or lemonade or popsicles, and that’s not what we have in these bags.”
“Stop with that mindset, Lane. It’ll only hurt us.”
I was more than ready to give up for the day. My arms were heavy like lead and I could feel the sunburn starting to creep into my scalp. We had four bags full of souls and zero dollars in our pockets.
I wasn’t going to make rent this month. I was going to be out in the streets and live in a cardboard box with a family of spiders. If I was a nice guest, I might get lucky and have a share of their flies. Better to accept my grim fate now instead of later, I figured.
“All we need is a change of scenery,” Chrissy said, “Come on, let’s go to the back and see what’s up.”
“Okay,” I said.
Behind Leadbetter’s was just as sweltering and just as deadbeat as the front, but reeked of dumpster juice on top of that. I had no idea what Chrissy was thinking.
“And just what sort of customer base do you expect us to find here?” I asked her. She didn’t answer.
About 30 seconds later, a Leadbetter’s employee came through the backdoor to take out the trash. He looked to be twenty something and didn’t seem to mind the wetness dripping from the trash bag onto his slip-safe shoes.
Chrissy saw the opportunity the same as I did, and she took it. “Hello, there!”
The employee stopped in his tracks and stared at us. “Hi… Do I know you?”
“We’re selling souls,” I said.
“Yeah?” he said. He tossed the trash into the open dumpster and took a few measured steps in our direction. “For how much?”
He was trying to grow a mustache, and it wasn’t going well.
“Super cheap,” Chrissy said, “Only $150 a piece.”
“Let me see one.”
I reached into one of my bags and pulled out a sample for him.
“Mm,” the employee said, nodding, “Not bad.”
“Just $150 and it’s all yours,” Chrissy said, flashing him a megawatt smile.
“Wait, are they real?” he asked, suddenly suspicious.
“Completely genuine, yeah. Straight from the source.”
“From the bodies, you mean.”
He wiped his hands on his apron. “Okay, if you say so. Then I’ll take two.”
“Really?” I said.
I felt Chrissy’s elbow lodge itself into my side sharply. “Great,” she said, “You won’t find a bargain better than this one uh, what’s your name?”
“Colby,” he said.
The question is, I thought, looking this rumpled Leadbetter’s cashier up and down, Does ‘Colby’ have the cash on him? Seemed unlikely to me.
“That’ll be $300,” I said. Testing.
“Oh, for sure,” Colby said, reaching into his back pocket and retrieving a wallet stuffed with dollar bills, “of course.”
“He’s good for the green,” Chrissy whispered into my ear. I nodded.
He was observing our bags now, unpacking them with his eyes. “I’ll have a young one, and, and, and an old one. Both female. I don’t care about the life story, it can be whatever.”
Chrissy and I reached into our bags. I pulled out the young soul and she pulled out the old soul. They were warm in our hands, like dying miniature suns.
“Wait, do you have Paul Newman?”
He handed the two of us $150 each, and we handed them over to him.
“Nice,” he said, stuffing both souls into the pocket of his apron. They bulged against the pinstriped fabric uncomfortably, like tumors.
Colby turned and went back into Leadbetter’s, leaving Chrissy and I alone again in the shade of the dumpsters.
“Hell’s gonna be fine, I think,” she said.