They say that behind every “miraculous survival”, there is The Bargain.
They say that in that moment, two Entities appear before you. To some, Suits; drab, slimy, leering; gazes like an oil slick you can never quite scrub away. To others, fickle demons, hard to pin down, hard to focus on. Different forms for different cultures, but one Universal Constant: the embodiment of a deal you really shouldn’t take.
The conversation always starts the same way. Wouldn’t it be nice to survive? To walk out of this unscathed, return to your life as if nothing ever happened? Think of all those shattered souls you will leave behind, the anguish, oh, the anguish of those loved ones who will never see you again. Can you live with that pain? Could you possibly do that to them, knowing you could spare them their sorrow?
Because - they continue, insidiously - there is a way, you know. A gift, of sorts, of life, of balance, but don’t worry about that right now. Imagine the looks of relief, of joy, of blissful euphoria. You survived! A miracle! You came back to them, unscathed, to make their lives whole again. What price wouldn’t be worth paying for the happiness of the ones you love?
For there is a price, one that must be paid, unfortunately. It’s the rules you see; there must be balance, otherwise it would be chaos, and we don’t want chaos do we!! Ha ha ha… It’s no big deal, just another life.
Now wait, just think about it for a minute. There are lots of people in the world that don’t deserve a second chance. Horrible, disgusting people, who rip apart the lives of others on a whim. People the world would be better without. Would it be so bad to trade your life for theirs? You know they’d do the same for yours in an instant. They’d be begging for the chance! And you, there’s so much more good you can do. It’s an absolute bargain, one anyone in their right mind would take. To see your loved ones happy again… just sign here…
The thing they don’t tell you, is that the life to be taken isn’t guaranteed to be a despicable person. It’s not even random.
It’s far worse than that.
A few weeks later, my love started coughing. Dizzy spells plagued her, and within days she was in a coma. No one could tell us why or where it had come from, or what could be done to stop it, until one day, outside the hospital, gazing to the sky for answers, I saw them.
They turned away as I ran towards them, but I caught up in time.
“You didn’t tell me!”, I cried. “You didn’t tell me it would be her!”. A bargain’s a bargain, they said. You knew what you were getting into. In truth, maybe I did. Every fibre of instinct had screamed at me to walk away, but my selfish, panicking heart was stronger.
As I collapsed to my knees, I heard them speak again. Of course, they said, if the terms aren’t to your liking, they can be changed…
NO, screamed my Gut. ANYTHING, screamed my Heart.
Later that day, everything stopped as suddenly as it started. My love, my life, revived in front of my eyes. She remembered nothing of the event, or her symptoms. How lucky we were, she said, to both have such a miraculous escape!
Months, a year passed. Blissful times where everything seemed to go right. I forgot all about the Bargain, and relaxed into the utopia that surrounded me. At some point we got word; a distant relative of my love’s, a sudden illness, a sudden death. How terrible, we said. A black spot on our perfect life, but it wasn’t anyone we knew well. Then later, another death, also sudden; a family member she knew better. This time, with the news came details of the symptoms; coughing, dizziness, a coma.
I froze. I remembered. I got up quickly to hide my response, but not quick enough to avoid the quizzical look she gave me.
Over an interval of months my life came crashing down. More deaths, closer and closer. As the scope of my Bargain became clear, it became harder and harder to hide my guilt.
The evening after her parents' funeral.
TELL ME, she screamed through her tears. TELL ME WHAT YOU KNOW.
I locked myself in this room, unable to speak the horror that I have wrought upon our lives. I can hear you battering on the door as I write, demanding the truth.
I’m so sorry, I didn’t know. I didn’t think about what they meant, I didn’t care what the consequences were. I see them everywhere now; watching from the shadows, waiting for their bargain to come home.
A life for a life, they said. I could defer the payment, but there would be interest on their loan.
The only way to stop the interest is to pay the price.