An Acquisition of Words
by Todd Sullivan
Todd Sullivan currently lives in Seoul, South Korea, where he teaches English as a Second Language. He has had more than two dozen short stories, poems, essays, and novelettes published across five countries. He currently has two book series through indie publishers in America. He writes for a web and play series in Taipei. He founded the online magazine, Samjoko, in 2021, and hosts a YouTube Channel that interviews writers across the publishing spectrum: https://www.youtube.com/channe
With the coming of dusk, Sunshine appeared. Dressed in a striped red and yellow suit, his skin the color of shadows invading Taipei, he checked his golden watch. His powers were strong, but Order still bound him, and the contract stated the deadline for collection loomed seven hours from now. Midnight.
Sunshine strode forward to the apartment where the borrower of a ray of light lived.
Taiwanese students from a nearby high school gaped at him as he passed them in twisting alleys wounding through the neighborhood. He nodded a greeting, his wide smile revealing pale white teeth. Of humankind, he loved youth most, their fire for rebellion against the rules of civilization an intoxicating stimulant. During the short moments he risked wandering the world under the cover of darkness, he sought out ways to inspire the young to reckless abandon and havoc. His persuasion of choice: art.
Five years had passed since the borrower had signed his soul away in blood. A great work of literary achievement would have been produced under the promise that Sunshine would take both the original copy and the artist’s life as trophies. This was in exchange for all earthly rewards the borrower would gain through use of a ray of light, Sunshine’s divine inspiration.
He entered Lane 3 and followed the numbers down until he reached a green plaque labeled 58. Looking at the squat mortar building with surprise, he wondered why the borrower still lived in such squalor. Five years was more than enough time to write the novel, acquire an agent, sell the manuscript to one of the top five publishers, and gain the large advance for a work that would be considered brilliant. Transformative. An international success.
What was the point of selling one’s eternal soul for notoriety and financial gain if one were only going to continue living where they started before the execution date? Once the signature block was signed, there was no backing out of the deal.
The stricken appearance of the building made Sunshine wary, but he calmed that temper of his which consumed when he succumbed to the temptation. With a flourish of his wrist, he pressed his forefinger to the tarnished button of 5A.
“Yes?” a distorted voice asked from the intercom.
“Jon A Than!” Sunshine rubbed his hands in glee. “The maturity day is nigh. Let me up, I have come to collect my due!”
A sharp intake of breath told Sunshine that he had not been forgotten. Such reactions from borrowers were common. When the time came to pay the debt in full, second thoughts and hesitations were bound to manifest.
“Was it today? I was so sure it was tomorrow.” Even through the interference, the tremble in the voice could be heard.
Sunshine clapped twice and laughed. “Jon A Than! Do I seem like a man who would mistake such things? Come now, buzz me up! The night grows late, and the time to settle our account has arrived.”
Moments passed in which only static filled the silence. Just when Sunshine thought he would have to bend the laws of physics and risk being detected by an agent of Order, the intercom buzzed and the door unlocked. A warm flush of pleasure flooded him as he swept into the building and climbed the five flights in the dim staircase. Dull walls, flaking paint, and the occasional cockroach buzzing past his ears did not dampen his mood as he came out onto the rooftop to stand before apartment 5A.
Sunshine delivered a sharp rap on the door, and the borrower opened.
“Jon A Than!” Sunshine reached into his pocket and removed the red envelope containing the contract. “May I come in?”
Fatigue lines had aged the borrower’s face, making him look much older than his 29 years. With a resigned sigh, he stepped aside, and Sunshine entered an apartment that looked worse than it had five years prior when he’d visited the struggling writer. A damp chill hung in the air, and a line of ants crawled along a crack stretching up from a corner of the wall to the window.
This, indeed, was unusual.
He turned to the borrower, forcing down a growing sense of unease. Attempting a jaunty tone, he said, “As stated in the contract, your death will appear a suicide. The genius haunted by demons that drove him to madness.” Sunshine laughed. “As for your eternal soul, well, that’s a bridge you will cross soon enough. Now,” and he held out his hand, “the original manuscript, if you will.”
The writer removed the contract from the red envelope and flipped through the pages. “After I signed the contract, I went over this document many times.”
“I did not lie to you,” Sunshine quickly pointed out. “For divine inspiration, your name will live on past your lifetime. Those are the stated conditions.”
“Yes.” He looked at Sunshine, a hint of a smile touching his lips.
The patience Sunshine struggled to maintain eroded further. Pleas on knees to void the contract would rouse no suspicion, but that smug look disturbed him.
“The novel came to me, one line at a time,” the borrower said. “And it was wonderful! Soon I envisioned pages, which morphed into chapters. Characters marched down the halls of my mind. Subplots sprung up like buttresses to support the grand cathedral I was constructing. And then, a resolution that only God, or,” and here he looked pointedly at Sunshine, “the Fallen, could conceive.”
“So where is it?” Sunshine’s mouth salivated, his hands tightly clasped, as he looked about the squalid apartment.
“Here.” The writer touched his temple. “A novel composed as an Epic. All in verse, which I will share with one person at a time, so that they can see the light and remember my name forever more. I am the original draft,” with this, he tore the contract in half, “and my soul, and my life, are mine to keep.”