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(Image created by Anais Aguilera using Firefly.)

It started out like every cheesy horror story you’ve ever heard. A graveyard. At midnight. A deal to sell your soul.

Kyle and Brandon had never gotten along, although they’d both belonged to our general circle of friends. Kyle was mostly attitude. Brandon was mostly brains. Things flared up between them whenever Brandon finally had enough of Kyle’s shit.

I can’t remember why we were in the cemetery that night. Alcohol was involved. The atmosphere had been appropriately creepy, assisted by a cold, blustery October night.

The conversation had turned to souls—like any of us knew what the hell we were talking about. Kyle had gone on about how the whole thing was bullshit. We knew all the riffs. My favorite was the Simpsons episode where Bart sells his soul to Milhouse for five dollars. I mentioned it that night. So maybe I’m partially responsible for what happened.

To cut a long story short, Brandon ended up buying Kyle’s soul. At midnight. In a graveyard. For five bucks.

Talk about stupid.

I didn’t believe in the human soul any more than I believed in the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, but you would never catch me selling mine. Give me a gun, show me it’s empty, and I’m still not going to put the damn thing in my mouth and pull the trigger. What possible upside could there be in doing something so idiotic?

Kyle made a big deal of his five bucks, waving it around like some sort of flag. The rest of us just wanted to get some place warm.

Things changed after that, of course. Otherwise I wouldn’t be telling this story.

Kyle began to lose his attitude. While he’d never been what you would call a genius, his brashness had carried him reasonably far. He lost that. Little by little, he grew quiet, uncertain, even timid.

Brandon’s change was less obvious. He had always been quiet. Now, he became hard. Almost cruel. Especially when it came to Kyle, who turned subservient in return. It was as if they were playing some mutually destructive mind game.

We tried to get them to knock it off, but it was like they couldn’t hear us. Someone finally suggested Brandon sell Kyle’s soul back to him so they could stop the whole ridiculous charade. They didn’t hear that either.

Frankly, it was unhealthy. It certainly wasn’t fun. When the two gradually fell away from the group, the rest of us were glad. I lost touch with them after that. Then, about a year later, we heard Kyle had died.

Some people said it was drugs, others said alcohol. His parents had taken him to a psychiatrist at some point, so there were rumors about mental health issues as well. Not that it should have mattered. Dead was dead. We heard later the cause of his passing was finally ruled death by misadventure.

So, not suicide. I think we were all relieved at that. I know I was. Not that it should have mattered.

We went to the funeral. It was a little awkward, since we hadn’t been around for a while. His parents were grateful to see us, though. In their grief, they seemed to take our presence as some sort of affirmation of their son’s life. We didn’t do anything to disillusion them. Besides, we were genuinely sorry Kyle was gone. Even if he had fallen out of our lives.

Brandon was there, as cold and silent as a tombstone. He barely acknowledged our presence. His attention was all for Kyle’s coffin. When it went into the ground, it was like the period at the end of a sentence. Brandon turned away and never looked back.

That was pretty much that. Time passed. Some of us went to college, some of us got jobs. We drifted away from each other like kids do at that age. Occasionally, we would run into one another and talk about old times. We never mentioned Kyle and Brandon. At least I didn’t.

Then one day I ran into Brandon downtown. He looked the same as he had at the funeral—cold and alone. He saw me at the same time. For a minute, I thought I caught some sort of welcome in his eyes. Then it was gone.

Maybe it was the glimpse of the kid I used to know that made me do what I did. Maybe I was just tired of all the bullshit.

“What the fuck happened to you, man?” I demanded, like it had all happened last week. “Why couldn’t you let it go? So he sold you his soul. It was a joke, for Christ’s sake.”

He looked at me like I was an idiot, not pretending to misunderstand. “You still don’t get it, do you?” he finally said.

“What?” I asked.

“Kyle sold his soul. That’s on him. But I bought it. A human soul. Do you know what that feels like? To feel it crawling around under your skin, like some blind stranger trapped in your house scrabbling to find a way out? To feel it dying in there?”

The incomprehension must have been visible on my face.

It looked like he was going to say something else, but he didn’t. He just turned and walked away. Another period at the end of a sentence.

I watched him go. For a moment, I had seen the old Brandon again and wished I hadn’t.

I had never really thought about it that way before. If souls really did exist, what would it be like to buy one? To possess the soul of someone else? The thing that supposedly made a person everything they were? Everything they could be?

If the look in Brandon’s eyes was anything to go by, I didn’t want to know.

That was the last time I saw Brandon. I heard later he moved away. I had this odd thought that one day, when he died, they would bury him next to Kyle. It seemed only fitting.

Is there such a thing as the soul? I’m not the person to ask. We go through our lives without knowing if there is something ineffable inside of us, something irreplaceable that defines the very essence of who we are. That’s the way most of us want it. Life is hard enough without that kind of burden.

Did Brandon really buy Kyle’s soul that cold October night? Like I said, I’m not the person to ask. I don’t want to know. Some questions only death should answer.

The only thing I’m sure of these days is that I never go into cemeteries anymore.


Edited by a Fallon Clark and Sophie Gorjance.

Dave Henrickson has a background in computers, engineering, and oceanography but always wanted to be a writer. He currently lives in Virginia with his wife Abbie, where he spends his free time writing, reading, and killing monsters. He was this year’s Grand Prize Winner in the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest.