Charlie awoke, dizzily, to find himself in a large dim room, sat on an uncomfortable sort of bench. It didn’t take too long for him to become aware of the rest of his surroundings, as they were… distinct, to say the least. Rows of pews. An altar. A church, presumably. Charlie hadn’t been in years; work had made attendance difficult. As his eyes slowly adjusted to the low lights, in the form of candles strewn about the room on various benches, and two by altar at the front of the room. This drew his attention first. The altar itself consisted of a bronze statue, not of a cross, or of Mary, as one might expect. A strange, satyr like creature, sat cross legged, hands outstretched. Charlie didn’t know what kind of backwoods religion worshipped such an unsettling creature, and, if he was honest, didn’t want to know, he had other things on his mind. For example, how the hell he could leave? He took another look at his surroundings after a few minutes of getting used to the lighting, or lack of. There were pillars, benches, and altars, sure, but there were no windows, no lights aside from the candles strewn about the place, no doors.
This was the first unnerving thing that struck Charlie. It sparked two particularly important questions in his mind:
1. How did I get here?
2. How can I leave?
Before he could even consider the questions, a voice spoke out behind him. Smooth, quiet, and calm.
“You died. This should help in answering both of your questions.”
Charlie quickly turned. Behind him, dimly illuminated by the various candles, between the rows of benches, stood a figure he hadn’t noticed on his first look around the room. They were thin faced, and across the face, a calm smile lay. Neat, red hair, a black suit with a red shirt, and a red tie. What struck Charlie as most strange, however, was the androgynous nature of the figure. It was uncanny, no defining feature that distinguished them as an identifiable sex. The same went for their voice, which, while having a sort of beauty to it, sat on a particularly strange, even creepy tone that gave no indication of what lay under the suit and hat. Of course, that wasn’t the only thing that was intimidating. They were intimidating through their aura of pure confidence, the figure standing tall, smiling knowingly. Intimidating through the fact that they managed to enter the room when there was no door in sight, like some sort of ghost. Intimidating due to the fact that Charlie couldn’t tell what the figure wanted. Charlie spoke up with a stutter:
“You. Died.” The Stranger leaned in, smiling wider.
Charlie wasn’t keen on being kidded around too much. He spoke up:
“Ok buddy, don’t mess with me here, where in the hell–”
The Stranger gave a quiet laugh, interrupting him. Charlie should’ve been angry perhaps, but he got chills. The Stranger spoke in their strange, smooth voice:
“Apologies, but considering the circumstances... Ah, never mind, I shall explain, since you’re clearly confused.”
The Stranger cleared their throat and moved across the room to sit next to Charlie. They leaned in eagerly, the smile still clear. Charlie shuffled away slightly.
“The reason that you are here, in this room, a room I might add which has no exit or entrance, is because you are dead. This is an afterlife of sorts–”
“Prove it,” Charlie cut in, his hands crossed, eyebrow raised.
The Stranger’s smile grew at this interjection.
“Check your pulse,” they said, offhandedly, leaning back in its seat.
Charlie paused for a moment before rolling up his shirt sleeve. He took two fingers and pressed them against his wrist.
He leaned back and looked to the Stranger, whose expression remained smug. “Satisfied?”
After another pause, Charlie responded, sitting back up in his seat. “Nah. Nah, I’ll need more than that, I mean, this could be a dream couldn’t it?” The Stranger beckoned with a thin hand.
“Give me your arm.”
Charlie hesitated, clutching his arm slightly as he stared at the strangely dressed figure.
“You want me to prove you’re awake? I’ll give you a pinch.”
He didn’t budge.
“If this a dream, you’ve got nothing to worry about, surely?” the Stranger asked, teasingly. At this, Charlie outstretched his arm, sleeve still rolled. The Stranger proceeded to put his hand a little ways below it, opening his palm. Before Charlie realized what was happening, heat spread through his arm, first warmth, then pain. He wrenched it back with a yelp, waving it frantically in the air as if to cool it. The Stranger, meanwhile, laughed quietly. Furious, Charlie stood, clutching his arm.
“You fuckin’ creep, that hurt! I oughta beat the bag outta yah, I oughta… I…” And what else Charlie had planned he didn’t say as the Stranger rose out of their seat, a whole head taller than him. Charlie sat back down, looking elsewhere, clutching his forearm. The Stranger did the same.
Charlie didn’t say anything.
“Good! Clearly the, uh… ‘pinch’ got the point across. You’re dead. It’s a shame, but that’s the way it is.” The Stranger’s tone didn’t really convince Charlie that it was ‘a shame’, but he kept quiet nonetheless. “So, I’m here to give you some options about… well. What happens next. You can ask some questions if you like, before we begin.”
Charlie stared. He had a lot of questions in his head, too many to count, but there was only question that really required immediate asking for him.
“How’d I die?”
“You were killed by your best friend.”
Charlie sat in the silence for a little bit. His brain wasn’t working as it should’ve been, and every second seemed to drag on as the quiet lingered. Seconds passed, which felt like centuries. The Stranger, however, broke the silence, eager to continue.
“He did it while you were sleeping. Smothered you, I mean. No one’ll know it was him.”
The silence hit once more.
“You seem surprised. May I ask why?”
Charlie awoke from his dumb stupor, surprised that this Stranger, who seemed to know everything, was asking a question of their own.
“Of course I'm… I’m fuckin’ surprised. My best… what… Jesus, Markus… why… He was my best friend! Hell, what’d you think I’d be?”
“Well… Think about your position, Charlie.” The Stranger leaned in. “You nabbed a managerial position of the bank firm you’d only been working at for a few months, a firm that your buddy Markus pointed you towards, and you took every opportunity you could to climb the ladder up and up. I mean, don’t get me wrong, greed is good, but it has consequences.” Charlie raised his voice at this:
“I wasn’t greedy!”
“Well. You know what you are? Dead. Dead, and your best buddy doesn't give two hoots about it. I mean, to be fair to the fellow, you didn’t give him much choice. Think about it, you ‘warn’ your higher ups that the man that got you the job’s not up for any sort of promotion because he’s emotionally unstable-”
“That motherfuck, Markus killed me!”
“Well, he wasn’t emotionally unstable back then, was he? Not before he found out what you did, to the man who gave you so much as well!. I mean, cut him some slack. You got what was–” Charlie, again stood up. He really wasn’t used to getting such lip.
“Alright, listen here, I didn’t deserve shit! It was business goddamnit, business, no one should be backstabbin’ me because I wanted to succeed! I didn’t deserve death for God’s sake, not from him, especially!” Silence permeated the room for a little while. Charlie, breathing deeply, noticed that the Stranger hadn’t stood as they’d done previously. They sat, a very large smile on their face, eyeing Charlie, almost giddily.
“Oh…?” the Stranger cooed, “You don’t think so?”
Charlie stayed standing, though an eyebrow was firmly cocked upwards in confusion.
“Well… Well of course not, that bastard shoulda’ just let business be business. So no. I don't.”
“Hmm…” The Stranger stroked their chin before leaning in, speaking in a quiet voice: “Would you like some sort of retribution? Something to ease the pain?”
At this, Charlie sat and held his jaw in his hand.
“Well, shit yeah, but… before you get any ideas… I’m gonna have a wild guess and assume you ain’t from the man upstairs.”
The Stranger’s smile, for the first time, wavered slightly.
“I was once. We… had some difference in opinion. A bit like you and Markus! Either way, any sort of conceptions of who I am you might have are probably right.” They gestured to the red suit. “I mean, the red’s a bit of a giveaway.”
“But if I take an offer from you… surely, surely I won’t get… well... in the good books?”
At this, the Stranger’s smile returned, alongside a chuckle.
“My friend, trust me when I say you are in no books which are in fact good. Either way, taking the deal or not, you won’t be escaping… Well. It.”
The Stranger’s emphasis on ‘it’ made Charlie shudder. The Stranger moved on quickly. “But what’s important is that you can still leave a mark. Specifically, you can take someone, who most certainly deserves it, down with you.”
Charlie sighed, bitterly.
“He sure as hell would deserve it.”
“Exactly!” At this, The Stranger leaned in, making their final pitch. “And that’s where I come in, Charlie, that’s where I can perform on your behalf and… take him down.”
Charlie’s hand stayed locked to his chin for a long while. What could he say? He was literally making a deal with the Devil, what do you say to that?
Charlie knew what would be foolish not to ask, in this scenario at least.
“What’s the catch?” The Stranger sat back down. “The catch is this. I Inhabit your body for a day. I… ‘take down’ your betrayer.”
“Take down… how?”
“Oh, I could do a lot of things. I could kill him, of course, or… perhaps something a little long lasting is up your alley. I could make sure he falls from grace, and lives on the streets for the rest of his days, maybe that’s more up your street.”
Charlie smiled, chuckling quietly.
“That’d be perfect…”
He blinked, shook his head, and turned to the Stranger.
“And… And you’ll only ruin him, right? Nothing else?”
At this, the Stranger grinned, sharkish teeth bared.
“Would you trust me?”
Charlie laughed at this, scratching the back of his head.
“I can’t say that I do.” He stood and began to pace. “The prospect of gettin’ back at that slimy son of a bitch is appealing, for sure, but what you do in my body… I don’t think I can let that happen.”
The Stranger watched him pace for a little while before speaking in the smoothest, silkiest voice they could muster.
“What does it matter what I do, Charlie? You’ll never see the consequences. You’ll never see bloodshed, violence, any of it. All you need to know, in the end, is that you’ll gain. You’ll win. You’ll never hear anything else to the contrary. What’s stopping you?”
Charlie stopped pacing.
“You might kill people. I need to know if–”
“Killing people? When have lives been more important than progress?” The Stranger interrupted, his voice loud, gesturing with some intensity. “Tell me, when have you cared about the minutiae of people’s problems when the bigger picture is just within grasp? Charlie, you died because one man saw that he could succeed if you weren’t in the picture, what’s stopping you from doing the same? What’s stopping anyone?”
Charlie stayed quiet.
“Business blossoms because we don’t think about the details. If we did nothing would grow. If we thought too hard, we’d never change, hell, simply spelling it out for you is giving me goosebumps.”
Charlie stayed quiet. The Stranger put a hand on his shoulder.
“People die, Charlie. You die. They die. It doesn't matter when or how, it’ll happen regardless. What you’re agreeing to won’t affect the world in the grand scheme. I might do some… questionable things, of course, but I won’t be burning cities, I won’t be destroying the universe or something absurd. The people that get in my way will just be grains of sand in an immense desert.” The Stranger let a small silence hang before standing, putting a hand on Charlie’s shoulder, and whispering the final pitch into his ear. “It’s business, my friend. Some people just have to be swept aside to make sure a profit's made. You know that better than anyone. Aren’t you a businessman? Don’t you want your… ‘profit’?
Charlie looked to his side, his face emotionless. He nodded.
“Business is business I suppose.”
“Business is business.”
The Stranger stuck out his hand with a smile.
Charlie took it.
Written by GentlemanWalrus