The Cost of a Billion Dollars

Contributor: Michael Wen

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As soon as Brad added the purple powder to the kylix a filmy white vapor began to ooze out of the top of the shallow bowl. He began the chant, struggling to reproduce the exotic syllables denoted by the ancient script. At the fifth repetition tiny strands of the smoke began to separate, swirl and weave. After the tenth one a pair of bulbous compound eyes could be discerned. He stopped chanting after the twentieth time and prostrated in front of the altar. The smoke formed proboscis began to twitch and a buzzing voice at once inchoate and thunderous streamed into Brad’s ears.

“Again? Have you no better use for precious Black Sea purple Operculum powder than to court repeated rejection?”

“Hear me out, Lord Beelzebub, for I offer not the same exchange as before. I am aware by now that my soul is not worth a hundred million dollars. This time I believe I have an agreement more amenable to you.”

“Then present it.”

Brad got up and picked up an ochre colored scroll. He unrolled it carefully, then grabbed its top roller and held it before the altar, straining to keep the bottom off the floor as the whole thing was nearly five feet long.

“This is a scroll made of the Mithraic Parchment, Lord Beelzebub.

Its charm is strong enough to bind agreements in your world and mine. If your lordship would gaze upon the middle section, the names inscribed there represent the souls of the finest financiers, speculators, power grabbers, and other fortune seeking types of my time. When they pass their souls are bound to those whose signs are displayed at the bottom of the document. “

“How strong are the terms?”

“They are for eternity and unbreakable except ...”

“For the usual caveat?”

“Right. Unfortunately no charm exists that is strong enough to bind a soul should it decide of its own volition to join the flock of the Old Man Upstairs.”

“I fathom. I made out the word “tranch” numerous times in the document. What is its meaning?”

“It means a slice of the whole. This contract entitles all signatories to take full control of a number of the souls on the list for a given time period, the number and duration of which depends on the amount of interest you own. The schedule of which are laid out in the table at the top right section of the document.”

Brad moved half a step forward and lifted to scroll higher to provide a better look.

“Why is your name not among those listed?”

“Because I have come to realize that one can always bargain for more with the promise of high quality goods tomorrow than with the delivery of less worthy ones today.” This time Brad had no difficulty remembering what he was told to say in response to this line of query.

“So you have learned your place. Most gratifying. I find your proposal intriguing. I often do tire of a soul after a decade or two. I will bargain with you for a one tenth share. Name your price.”

“I ask for only the following; fifty names in your own hoard added to the list, in consideration of other signatories, and a favor for me as the middleman. The research at the biotech venture I own has not yielded much fruit. If your lordship can direct our efforts toward more fruitful avenues…”

“I believe the exchange to be fair. The deal is struck.”


After Brad finished bandaging the fresh cut on his arm he carefully rolled the document and walked into the next room. It was a large, cubical chamber dominated by an enormous contraption that terminated in a large flat screen monitor which faced a wall filled with smaller flat screen sets tuned to news channels. Brad flicked a switch on the wall and the cacophony died. He prostrated in front of the reptilian face on the giant monitor.

“Lord Kukulkan.”

The Bose speakers next to the monitor began to hiss. “How goes the deal?”

“Very well. Lord Beelzebub placed fifty of his finest potentials onto the agreement for the terms we’ve discussed.”

“Fifty, about a third of his total. Beelzebub is a bigger fool than I took him for. And how goes your other task?” Lord Kukulkan’s thin tongue began to flick in and out in satisfaction.

“I managed to meet with the directors of all of the organizations on your list and made the donations in person. They promised me that they’re prepared to redouble the white collar prison ministry next year.”

“Most pleasing to hear. Soon enough the others shall see their stocks decimated and I shall repay their gloat thrice fold for the time I lost almost all of my Mayan supplicants.”

“Lord Kukulkan,” Brad began.


“How many more such deals must I make?” He said as he rubbed the fresh bandage gingerly. Lord Beelzebub had demanded two pints of blood as consideration to seal the contract.

“The time you live in is complex, my friend, as myriads of forces tinker with the flow of events. For so colossal an aim as yours to be reached a multitude of critical junctures must be interceded. But despair not. My gaze shall be affixed to all affairs that impact you and my subtle but firm hand shall negotiate outcomes your way until you reach your goal. Tarry not now. I believe Lord Chernobog is most eager to hear our proposal.”

“I shall begin preparations right away.” Brad stowed all objects back to their proper places, turned the volume back up on the television set, and then closed the door to the chamber behind him. As the door snapped shot he paused to wonder how many souls one billion dollars will end up costing.

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Michael Wen writes computer code by day and speculative fiction by night. He lives in Houston, Texas
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