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art by Eleanor Bennett

The Bargain

Henry Szabranski lives in Buckinghamshire, UK, with his wife and two young sons. To see his other stories published by Daily Science Fiction use the search box at DailyScienceFiction.com.

The water's glassy surface reflects the boardwalk and the mist that drifts above it. Pine scent lingers in the chill air. The only sounds are the clomp-clomp-clomp of your feet, the slow rumble of the bicycle's tires across the uneven planks, the tick-tick-tick of the chain winding over the gears. Soon even these come to a halt.
Steps lead down to the water.
You shiver. There is nowhere left to go.
You glance back along the boardwalk towards the shore, past a rusty old signpost that leans precariously over the water, its compass arrows quartering what remains of the world. But the shore is gone, consumed by the fog that has rolled over the hills like a ghostly avalanche. It has pursued you for days, an unshakeable shadow, relentless as your own guilt.
Once there had been colors apart from the drifting grey. Other sounds, other tastes and smells. They are gone, faded memories, and even the shades of grey are leaching away. Soon you fear there will be just one color left. You have no idea if it will be white or black or something else entirely. You grip the bike's handlebars.
How long had you been trying to outrun the mist? Since you had seen another living soul? It seems like forever. Forever since you had started the mad dash for survival, using whatever means you could find, everything dissolving behind you. Machines no longer worked, cars were useless, everyone else had disappeared.
A glint on your hand. You raise it close. Your breath catches in your throat and you feel an ache deep in your chest. A platinum wedding band circles your finger, but you cannot remember the ceremony. You cannot remember the bride.
You cannot even remember the groom.
There is only one memory left from before the mist arrived and it's not of a wedding or of a loving, beautiful wife. It's a memory you desperately wish to erase. Of curled horns, cloven hooves, and piercing yellow eyes. The creature rising out of the flames and smoke at the center of the pentacle.
It had bowed its ragged head and growled its single question.
You did not feel fear, not then. You had laughed. You had been triumphant, reckless, defiant. Years of study and sacrifice had reached their culmination. You wanted all the things. The desire for them burned inside you like a toxic flame: the wife, the cars, the houses; success and adoration, all the prizes that life could offer.
Your answer had been a gleeful shout. "I want everything!"
You did not ask the price.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, May 27th, 2013

Author Comments

This story was inspired by two very specific images: one of a man standing at the end of a mist-shrouded pier with his bicycle, the other featuring a horned and fiery-eyed demon (actually just someone dressed in a costume and mask). "The Bargain" is the result. To see the images yourself, please visit henryszabranski.com.

- Henry Szabranski
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