It’s my birthday and I’ll change if I must. That was going through my mind when I woke up. You see the devil IS in the details and like most people I didn’t read the details.
I saw the pain that tormented my parent’s bodies. I went to bed their grief ringing in my brain, for the burden they thought they’d placed on me. The White Plague claimed them in 1654. Slowly and painfully and left me with no more tears. Is it a crime to pray that you never die like that?
I ran into the old man the next day. I was tending my unproductive beet fields, trying to figure out how to pay off my parent’s debt.
“You don’t want to die or become a burden to those you love do you, Blaize?”
“All those I’ve loved are dead. Who are you and as I don’t recognize you, how do you know who I am?” I checked this stranger out. He seemed a normal peddler, a traveling tinker with a pack and walking staff.
“For now, they are but love is something that finds away. My name is Signum Ferre. It’s a pleasure to meet you. A friendly townsman offered it to me when I asked if anyone might need some tinkering done on their farm. By the way, did you know it’s possible to buy life from other people?”
“People don’t know they can do this.” He placed his finger over his lips, “Get them to sign a contract, any type will do, and you gain one year of their life. Oh, no children. They must be at least fifteen.”
“That’s all? They sign and I get a year of life?”
“Yes. What they agree to will reflect the value they place on their life, so a fair exchange, an IOU of sorts. Nothing is ever done under duress. Sign here and you can start whenever you like.”
“This is too much, why would I want to do such? How can a piece of paper, from a tinker, let me do that? Besides, I’ve very little money.”
“I don’t give a tinker’s dam about money, Blaize. After all, money is only a type of trade, coins of silver and gold for something else. Most of the time I’d ask for your soul.” He looked at me for a minute.
“I’m joking,” he interrupted. “You thought I wanted your soul. I don’t. There are times I like watching humans for the entertainment they provide, and this is one of those times. Here, I have a quill and some ink. All you have to do is sign and go on with your life, for as long as it lasts.”
Why should I? I don’t see how that would be entertainment? Why shouldn’t I, nothing but a rundown house and the all too real threat of debtor’s prison.
“The only entertainment I’ll provide is when the constable throws me in jail for failure to pay off my parent’s debt. I need to make these fields productive.”
“The good book says that the Lord works in strange and mysterious ways.”
That was it. I signed and continued working in the field. No pricked fingers or pens made of bone. The next seven years saw bumper crops of beets. Before long I had paid off all my debts and became a wealthy man. I married the most beautiful lady in town, Sara Parker when I was twenty. She had befallen the same fate as I. Her parents died in a fire that burned the house to the ground. The banks were threatening her for the mortgage money. I offered to pay her debt; no strings attached. She was sixteen and offered her hand in marriage. Life was good.
Four years later, my friend Paul, from the neighboring village came to visit. Sara had traveled with our two children, to visit her uncle.
“Blaize, I hate to ask but I met a lady who is willing to marry me. There’s an abandoned farmhouse with about eight acres of land. It needs some work, but I don’t have enough. I’ve heard you been doing very well. Could you lend me what I need?” Paul’s face was turning red and his hands wringing like he was trying to wash off poison ivy.
“Paul, no problem, how much do you need?”
“I’ll need two- hundred and fifty gold florins.” He was speaking so softly; I almost didn’t understand him.
“Paul, no problem and as a wedding present, I’ll add another fifty at no charge. Now, I do want to keep this legal, so the bankers don’t cause too much of a stink. How about, you pay me one part in ten of your produce, and or livestock, for ten years. This can be either coin or product itself.”
“Why that’s a very fair offer, Blaize. I accept.”
“Good. I’ll have the papers drawn up and you can sign them in a week. Sorry that you’ll miss meeting Sara and the kids, but they won’t be back for at least ten days.”
Paul signed the contract and had no idea that he signed away a year of his life. In honesty, I’d almost forgotten about it myself until I read the signed contract. Which was strange, as I never told the barrister to include that clause?
The details of my contract became clear much later. On the morning after my sixty-sixth birthday, May 5, 1705. I had contracted tuberculosis within the last year or so. Sara had gone to the cathedral to pray for my recovery. That morning I woke up feeling better than I had in a long time, years even. My penis was even agreeing as for the first time in recent memory, it became aroused by the passing of the bed sheet over it. I went into the bathroom to wash and shave. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a strange face, yet a familiar one, looking back at me. Then I realized whose face I was looking at.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.” I fell back against the wall. That was Paul’s voice and that was Paul’s face in the mirror.
Sara had gone with me to Paul’s funeral, oh, eight or nine years ago. She had never actually met him but the face in the mirror looked in his mid-twenties. No way would Sara, or the priest that she would run to, believe me. Or then again, they might. The Inquisition had burned two sisters and their brother for being witches and a warlock. I took a suitcase, a large shoulder bag and all but thirty pieces of silver from the house money. I wrote a hasty letter about how much I loved her, the children, and grandchildren. Yet, I couldn’t bear to have her suffer through the pain of watching me die; like we both did with our parents. I said that I loved her and gave her title to all my property and money in the banks and where all my records were kept. I was going off to die alone. I hitched up the wagon and left.
It took many years for me to figure out what was happening. You see I died in bed on May 5th, 1705. That’s when my years ran out. Then I began living on the time I had purchased- their time, in the order I purchased, at their age when purchased.
Since my first change, I began looking for the descendants of the people from who I purchased a year of life. Judas threw thirty pieces of silver away for his betrayal; I wouldn’t throw away their lives. I made sure that the partners I’ve been with were set. When I found them, I saw that my blood money did some good. I paid off all their debts and saw to any medical needs. I’ve been doing a much better job of record-keeping over the past 300 years. Because on every May 5th, I’ll change into another person and have another family to whom I must atone.
Over time I’ve been old, young, male, and female. I’ve been every nationality on the planet; I’ve become addicted to living but not life. I’m always a monster. I see it in my bent and crooked shadow, a perverse reminder of what I am and what I’m not. So, when tomorrow comes, I am curious who I will be for the next year of their lives.
Jeffrey V. Yorio was born in Corning, New York and now braves the winters of the Rochester, NY area. Jeffrey is married with three children and a Pomeranian that was there one night when he got home. He spent a few years teaching History and later earned an MS that helps him with his current managerial job.
Jeff has had several stories published. Unexpected Opportunity (February 2015, Aphelion), Dandelion Dreams (Flash Fiction Press 11-23-2015), Umbrae Calling (Flash Fiction Press1-25-2016) Their Very First Battle (Flash Fiction Press 1-31-2017), poem: To Meet Others (The Question of the Day: The Andre Polk Memorial Anthology, Clayborn Press, 9-2017)
He enjoys reading, science fiction, fantasy, and historical genres. It was his enjoyment of history and the question, how did the myth of vampires originate, that led him to write the book; SUNDOWNERS: Vampires are Only Human. Connect with Jeff on Twitter @Sundownerbook.