This story is by Glenn Ravan and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
His crooked smile revealed old nicotine-stained teeth. “Call me . . . Lou.”
“Do I sign something?” Jackie’s eyes flitted nervously around the other tables as he blotted moisture from his top lip. “You know, like a contract?”
“Would you feel better?” Lou sipped his coffee, eyeing Jackie sympathetically. “I can have one drawn up.”
“How do I know you’ll honor it if I don’t have something in writing? You know, to cover myself.” Jackie raised his eyes, making contact with Lou’s. “Just in case.”
“I completely understand, Jack. May I call you Jack?”
Jackie nodded almost imperceptibly.
“As I was saying, I understand your . . . concern. I assure you, a piece of paper is no more binding than a verbal agreement. Verbal – handshake – signed paper; they’re all binding.”
Jackie stared at his soda and nodded.
“If the terms are acceptable, just say you agree.”
Jackie shifted his gaze towards Lou. “What’s in it for you? Your boss, I mean.”
“Let’s just say we’re happy our competitor will lose you as a customer.”
“Okay, I agree. But how do I know your boss . . .” Jackie tilted his head.
“Will uphold his end of the deal? As I said, you can’t lose.” Lou fixed Jackie with a cold stare. “Remember, you wanted this. You inquired. We met, I heard your story, and my boss and I felt you could benefit from his offer. I’m not a door-to-door salesman trying to sell you something you don’t want.”
“What if I change my mind?”
Lou pursed his lips. “Well, that would be unfortunate. First, this isn’t costing you anything . And I’ve made certain obligations in your name, for which backing out isn’t an option. So no. No cancellation. Plus, you already agreed, and are now bound by the terms. Should you still choose to . . .”
Jackie raised an eyebrow.
“We would require you to work off the rest of your debt at our headquarters. Due to overcrowding however, my boss would prefer not to use that option, but if you left him no choice . . .”
A look of horror washed over Jackie’s face.
“But you won’t do that, so there’s nothing to worry about.” Lou grinned, downed his coffee, and winced. “Always hotter than you expect, isn’t it?”
“How will I know when I . . . I have it?”
Getting to his feet, Lou chortled, running a smoothing hand over his greasy hair. “Jack, you already do.” He grinned. “You doubt my boss’s ability.”
“No, it’s not tha-”
“You think it’s impossible then.”
Jackie dropped his head. “I don’t know.”
“Go to the men’s room.” Lou cocked his head.
Jackie glanced over, and when he looked back, Lou was gone. “Excuse me.” He flagged the waitress.
“Another soda, Hon?”
Jackie waved a dismissive hand. “Where’s your restroom?”
The waitress smiled, pointed towards a doorway, then moved to another table. “More coffee?”
Stepping into the empty restroom, Jackie’s heart was racing. Was it that simple? He didn’t feel any different. As he walked to the urinals, he peered under each stall. Empty. Maybe he dreamt it; wishful thinking. Disappointment settled in his stomach. Standing at the sink, Jackie splashed water on his face, then jumped at seeing Lou’s reflection.
Lou glowered at him before grabbing Jackie’s hair, pulling back, and quickly dragging a razor across his throat.
The flesh parted in the wake of the blade as Jackie frantically grappled at the wound; torrents of blood flowing down his chest.
Lou pointed the razor at Jackie’s collapsing body. “You EVER doubt my boss again, I will personally see you in Hell!” Spittle sprayed Jackie’s face. “You better learn your lesson, Jack.”
Jackie, shock etched on his face, stared at Lou until unconsciousness rescued him.
Beeping, faint at first, began tapping on Jackie’s eardrums. The smell of disinfectant and rubbing alcohol filled his nostrils. Blinking away the darkness, he focused first on the tubes and IV bags hanging above him, then the monitors and wires by his bed. The beeping quickened as he instinctively grasped at his throat. Bandaged. He swallowed and winced, gingerly touching the bandages. A nurse caught his attention, and Jackie’s voice rattled as he tried to speak. As the figure turned, Jackie’s face turned white. The beeping quickened again.
“Hello, Jack.” Lou flashed a toothy grin. “You’re Mister Miracle around here. It’s only been a week, and look at you! Says here,” He flipped through Jackie’s chart. “carotid arteries and jugular veins were severed. You’re lucky. But, you and I know it ain’t luck.” Lou winked and pointed at the chart. “Here’s your proof. My boss upheld his end of the deal. Now all you have to do is . . . live.”
“Why!?” Jackie put a hand to his throat.
“A lesson. Never question me again, Jack.” Lou’s stare made Jackie shudder.
“But the pain. I didn’t -”
“Careful what you wish for, Jack. What the hell did you expect? Yeah, it hurts; you had your throat cut for Christ’s sake! And survived. You’re alive. That’s what you wanted. You’ll have one hell of a scar, but who cares? So, what’s Jack Franklin going to do with the rest of his life?”
Slowly, the realization of what Lou said began to germinate. Jackie could start to live again; begin his life anew. Go anywhere, do anything. No more tests, no more surgeries, or chemicals. No more doctors. Maybe he would go extreme and rob a bank. But what if he got caught? Then again, what’s twenty years to him now? He looked Lou square in the face. “Lou,” Jackie’s voice, raspy but confident. “I’m going to have to think about it. It’s like winning the lottery. I’ll need to take my time deciding what to do.”
“True.” Lou nodded. “Since this isn’t as painless as you initially thought, you’ll need to ensure the benefits outweigh the costs.”
“Exactly!” Jackie winced from the pain.
A nurse knocked and entered the room. “Hello Mister Franklin, I’m Gordon, your nurse. I’m here to check your vitals. If you need anything, just let me know.”
Jackie started, and in that moment, Lou was gone. He looked back at the nurse. “Where’s my clothes?”
“In there.” Gordon motioned towards a small closet. “They had to cut your shir-”
“That’s fine.” Jackie quickly got to his feet. “I’ll borrow this gown.” Alarms sounded as he pulled the electrodes off his chest.
“You can’t do that Mister Franklin!” Gordon tried in vain to calm the situation as more staff came to his aid.
“Stop me.” Jackie grinned as he pulled the rest of the tubes and cables from his body.
“Mr. Franklin! You need to heal!” One of the doctors screamed.
“Send me the bill.” Jackie waved as he exited the hospital. “Look out world. I’m back.”
Carefree and confident, Jackie started across the intersection. He never saw the car.
That strange beeping was tapping on Jackie’s eardrums again. There was that smell of rubbing alcohol, too. He opened his eyes. Nothing. He tried in vain to move, wiggling his fingers and toes. Calling out for help, his voice didn’t rattle and the pain was gone, but it sounded like he was shouting down a well. No response. The beeping quickened then slowly calmed. Suddenly he heard an unmistakable voice.
“Lou! Is that you?! Where are you?! I can’t see! What’s going on?” No response. “Lou?!”
“I’m here, Jack.” Lou’s voice came out of the blackness and settled like a dank fog. “I’m here.”
Jackie could sense him; in his head. “What happened? Where am I?”
“You don’t remember?”
“Leaving the hospital?”
“Wait! Yeah, I remember. I was headed to the bus stop, but . . .” As hard as he tried, Jackie’s memory failed him.
“You crossed an intersection while the light was still green.”
The beeping quickened then calmed.
“You didn’t look both ways, Jack. You stepped in front of a car. Truck actually.” Lou chortled. “Apparently, your head hit the hood before smashing the poor guy’s windshield,” Lou chuckled. “then bounced a few times on the road!” Lou belly laughed for a moment before regaining his composure. “You! Mister Miracle Man. You were a mess! No one thought you’d survive . . . again.”
“I don’t understand. Why can’t I see?”
“Oh, you’re in a coma.”
“Massive head trauma. Think Humpty Dumpty.” Lou laughed, wiping a tear from his eye. “Your brain’s too damaged . . . there’s no recovery.”
“But . . . our agreement! You promised!”
“Yes, and we’ll uphold our end of the deal. You will live, but that doesn’t mean restored. A man who loses an arm doesn’t regrow it. The wound heals and the man lives with what’s left. A broken leg that isn’t set still heals; just crooked. Your wounds will heal, but your brain; it will never be the same.”
“No! You tricked me!”
“You wanted immortality, Jack.”
“Lou! LOU!!! . . . Lou?”
The beeping quickened then calmed.
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