Soul for Sale
by Susan Anwin
Heaps of rubble, moldering piles of trash, the constant dripping of
water. Ominous shapes bulging in black garbage bags. The rancid smell
of wet plaster crumbling between his fingers. The man flinched, when he
heard a scraping noise and hoped it was just a rat. He didn’t try to
fight his way to the narrow windows; opalescent as they were with dusty
spider webs, he wouldn’t see much anyways. At the end of the cellar the
door hung awry on its hinges. Beyond it was another cellar just like
this one, except it had a doorway leading somewhere down; he saw the
first few steps of a staircase before it got swallowed by the dark. Not
sure why, he tried to stay as far away from it, making as little noise
as possible, cringing every time something crunched under his shoe as
he stumbled on among piles of trash.
At the other end of the room there was a warped door, the wood
swollen and dark with humidity around the rusty handle. He tried to
open it gently, casting nervous glances at the yawning black opening,
but the door wouldn’t budge. The man brushed flakes of rust off his
hand. He had to risk it; there was no way around it. He had to break
through at one go; he didn’t dare imagine what would happen if the door
stuck and the noise woke up something deep down in the dark.
He backed some steps and rammed into the door with his shoulder.
The crack it made sounded as loud as a gunshot in his ears, but it
stayed closed. He stood still, trying to control his panting. When
something slipped with a wet, plastic sound at the other end of the
room he jumped, barely able to stifle a scream. He rummaged in a
garbage bag with trembling hands, until he found a piece of metal he
could use as a pry bar. He managed to work the metal between the door
and the frame, all the while listening breathlessly for any noise. He
finally worked the door loose – the handle slipped out of his sweaty
grip first, but then he tore up the door and slammed it behind him,
leaning against it for a while, not minding the prick of slivers or the
wetness seeping into the fabric of his shirt.
He barred it as much as he could, then looked around. The vista
outside wasn’t much better. Deserted streets, clogged with heaps of
bricks and broken glass, lined with half collapsed houses as if the
city weathered an airborne attack that he was the last survivor of. He
started to think of himself as such as he wandered the nameless
streets, his footsteps the only sound in his ears. In the distance, he
saw a house with a tree growing out of the top floor through where the
roof used to be, its black branches clawing at the colorless sky.
Last Survivor drifted aimlessly until he came upon a façade – the
only thing that was left of the house, with the lot behind it littered
with rubble and fallen beams, overgrown with gray, brittle-looking
weeds. On one of the crumbling balconies sat an old geezer slumped in a
wheelchair. The survivor couldn’t imagine how he got up there and at
the moment he didn’t care. He wasn’t the last one, after all.
"Hey! Hey mister! Do you know what place is this?"
The old man flashed him a toothy grin, and waved.
The survivor moved on. He didn’t know how long he had been
wandering, as the sky was the same nondescript gray, with no evidence
of sunrise or sunset.
He was walking past a parking building, when he heard a noise, as
if something or someone was moving behind the debris.
He strained his eyes to see anything in the gloom. "Hello?"
Tap-tap-tap, the sound of running feet – a kid, probably.
"Hey! I’m not gonna hurt you!"
He crept deeper into the building, into the darkness, until he saw
light ahead where the ceiling caved in.
There was a group of people scattered among the ruins, watching him
approach, seemingly centered around a middle-aged woman poised on a
concrete slab. He didn’t see the kid.
"Uh, hello? Who are you? What is this place?"
She rose in a swirl of dust motes and walked up to him. She wore
what once might have been a flamboyant violet robe, sewn with sequins
and beads. She had the smell of forgotten attics and old lavender. "You
"Uhh… I guess? Where am I?"
Her coffee colored skin had an ashen pallor in this light. "This is
The survivor thought he misheard her. "What? Where do you all come
from? How long have you been here?"
She broke a bit of plaster off the chunk she was standing next to.
It crumbled to dust between her fingers. "We were always here and
always will be, and so will you. You just don’t remember."
She brushed off her hands. "How you got here. The body thieves."
A handful of white-clad doctors leaning above him. Blinking ceiling
lights, the smell of disinfectant. The hardness of the examination
table under him, the rough, rigid texture of the thin cover sheet on
his skin. Another picture; a dark room, only a table lit with a
briefcase on it; a briefcase he knew was full of money. "Enough to
cover your daughter’s college tuition, Charlie," a voice said, "and
He snapped out of it with a gasp.
A man deeper in the shadows chuckled humorlessly. "A cheap price
for your body, eh?"
"My body? What do they want my body for? What have they done…? I
gotta get back, how do I…?"
"You don’t. You’re just a surplus soul." The lady raised her hand
to dust off his shirt. The survivor didn’t like the familiarity she
treated him with. As if he belonged here. "These people in this
business, if they could make a profit selling our souls as well, they
would. We are all here thanks to them – I guess this is our special
pocket of afterlife."
She led him towards the other people outside the circle of light, her
touch light yet irresistible on his arm.
"We weren’t supposed to die, but it was a risk we had to take – for
whatever reason we needed the money at the time. The people that rented
your body, most probably they trashed it accidentally – neglectful
conduct, which is just as well." She settled on a half-gutted armchair,
her face just a silhouette backlit by the weak light filtering in
through the ceiling.
"The things they do with the bodies, even if you do get back, you’d
spend the rest of your life behind bars for the crimes some rich fucker
committed, or crippled, or worse."
"No… you can’t be saying what I think you are saying. There has to
be a way…"
The survivor backed away. He had to get out of here, away from
these people. The lady followed his stumbling progress with a
He deliberately took the other direction as he got out of the
building, walking briskly down the empty streets, wanting to put as
much distance between himself and the building as possible. He stopped
abruptly when he came upon a façade with an empty lot behind it, with
the old geezer in the wheelchair on the balcony, waving at him,
flashing him a toothy grin.
"How did you get up there?" the man called, not really expecting an
answer. He moved on.
There was a little girl playing in the dirt in front of the parking
building this time. She stood as she saw him coming, disappearing among
the shadows in the blink of an eye.
"You’re asking all the wrong questions, son," the lady sat perched
on the same concrete slab as if she had never moved.
The survivor suddenly got mad. His anger was the only hot thing in
this cooled down world it seemed. "They stole our bodies, heedlessly
squandered our lives. You say they’d gladly sell the leftover souls if
they could – I say let’s give it to them. See what they do with them."
The ghost of a smile played on her lips. "Now we are talking. There
might be a way. When the possession takes place, it is a precarious
moment; the fabric of reality is especially thin. It’s that time souls
can traverse planes of existence."
"How do we know when that happens?"
The ghost widened into a smile. "You’ll know – you’ll feel. You
remember the portal, don’t you?"
He did – the doorway yawning bottomless in the cellar. The stairs
leading down into the darkness that was very much alive, full of things
watching and waiting.
* * *
Yet another Christmas party with her husband’s friends, among them
that little whore he’d been cheating her with since the very beginning
(hell, Martin even danced with her on their wedding day), making Rita’s
"So how do you like the house?" Mike assessed the high ceiling as
Martin cut up the turkey. The servants stood in discreet attention by
the door near the man-sized fireplace. They moved into the old
Victorian mansion recently. It had that goth ambience that was so hip
these days; creaking floorboards, curtains billowing in the drafty
"I love it. So inspiring," Rita enthused. She pretended like she
didn’t see the glances Marcia shot her husband. She wasn’t too subtle
about it either. "Already started a new story."
"How is it going with the publishers?" Marcia tried and failed to
hide the slightest hint of pity in her voice. She was radiant tonight,
with her blonde hair falling on her back. The rippling silvery material
of her gown complemented her eyes.
Rita stifled a sigh. Talking to her husband’s mistress about trying
to make it as a writer. Outstanding. "Same old. You know how it is for
"It’ll happen sooner or later, I’m sure."
"Yeah," Rita pasted on an enthusiastic smile for her sake.
"A way to pass the time. Just kidding." Martin patted her shoulder.
Rita shot him a look, but he just sniffed into his wineglass.
* * *
"It’s all very hush-hush," her friend Helen warned her. "It’s
medically safe, but it’s illegal. No worries though, you can count on
their discretion. You can’t get caught either, since technically you’re
not doing anything wrong."
Rita pulled her thumb on the gilded rim of the eggshell porcelain
teacup. "Where did you hear about it?"
"From a friend of a friend. Doesn’t matter. But Rita," Helen leaned
forward, "how long do you think living off your money will be enough
for him? You think they don’t have plans to be rid of you?
Once he got the legal background all set up, he’ll no longer need you.
Sorry to be so blunt, but I think you need a wake-up call, darling."
"Have you… used this before?"
Helen studied the bottom of her cup. "Of course not."
Rita could picture it very well; giving a week off to the servants,
sneaking out to the tool shed, lifting the axe off the nails, her hands
closing on the smooth, polished wood of the handle. His eyes widening,
as it began to dawn on him; confusion giving place to sheer terror. His
glasses, blood spattered, bent out of shape as they knock on the strip
* * *
She was lying on the examination table, blinded by the overhead
lights, with tubes hanging out of her, connecting her to the body on
the bed next to her. She didn’t look at it; she wanted as little
emotional involvement as possible. It was just a means to an end.
The doctors assured her that nothing could go wrong; Rita didn’t expect
anything to go wrong either. Bad things happened to other people, not
an Astor. She just wanted to be done with this.
She eased into the soft darkness enveloping her. It was just like
what the doctors said it would be; like falling asleep.
When she came to in the darkness was when she realized something
was off. She wasn’t alone. That was when the scream that never ended,
© 2014 Susan Anwin
Bio: Ms. Anwin was born and raised in Budapest, Hungary, went to
ELTE University in Budapest and majored in English. Her flash-fiction
Talk of Armadale Trees was featured in the anthology My Favourite
Place, published by the Scottish Book Trust in 2012. Her short stories
Fog-People, Eddie's Lousy Saturday, You'll Die as Fish, People of the
Green Cloud and Dragonfly-man were published by Aphelion in 2016 and
2017. Ms. Anwin was featured on the cover of Aphelion in March 2017. .
E-mail: Susan Anwin
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