A TEENAGE boy wakes from a deep sleep surrounded by a beautiful vista, a field of blue and red poppies in a sea of green. The sky is exquisite sapphire. An airship in the shape of a pointing hand flies overhead, emblazoned with red block letters that he cannot read.
A road appears to be going in the general direction of where the finger is pointed. Before the boy has a chance to follow the path, the hand swings in his direction. Thunderclouds form and the sky turns black. Now the hand is pointing squarely at the young man. In terror, he runs as fast as he can.
But the airship chases him across endless fields of dead poppies until, exhausted, he crumples into a heap. The last thing he sees is the ship bearing down on him and the words DEVIL SPAWN.
A LOG cabin nestles in a blanket of hard-blowing snow, illuminated by a soft moon. The chimney coughs furballs of pinesmoke. The scene would be idyllic, as that of a Christmas card, were it not for the trio of wolves chewing on a moose carcass just by the treeline.
THE interior of the cabin is fitted in plush Viking style. Rich tapestries, paintings and animal furs deck the walls. A leather wing-backed chair stands by the hearth of a walk-in open log fire. The date on the state-of-the-art TV unit flashes 01:17, 010197.
A MAN in his early thirties emerges from a well-camouflaged elevator to the back of the living area. Wearing a richly embroidered bathrobe, he pours himself a Jack Daniels on the rocks and falls into the leather chair.
Within a few moments, the sound of a helicopter is discernible. It gets louder and louder, until it finally stops. Seconds later, there is a loud knock at the door. MAN picks up a device, puts it to his ear, then points it at the door.
An OLDER MAN enters wearing heavy ski-ing gear. He pulls up his frost-covered goggles and pulls down his ski mask.
OLDER MAN: Happy New Year, sir.
MAN: Happy New Year. What do you want?
OLDER MAN hesitates and casts his eyes around the room.
MAN: We’re in the middle of the Arctic Circle, for chrissakes. What do you think?
OLDER MAN: I have every reason to be paranoid, sir. Right now the company’s leakier than the Titanic. Half our phones are tapped.
MAN: It’s clean. Say what you have to say, then clear off. I’m in no mood for auld lang syne.
OLDER MAN: We have a problem at the lab.
MAN: There’s always a problem at the lab. Tell me something new.
OLDER MAN: But this time Austin’s threatening to go to the press. This could blow up in all our faces. What do you want me to do?
MAN: Just do what you’re paid to do. I don’t care how you do it.
OLDER MAN: But, with respect, sir, the public mood is turning. And the shareholders are getting nervous. They feel you’re taking too many unnecessary risks. You might pull it off once but not twice.
MAN: Don’t be such a wimp. The shareholders have plenty else to worry about if I don’t. I know what I’m doing and what I’m asking of you is perfectly legal. It’ll be my neck on the line, anyway, not yours.
OLDER MAN: You’re out of your depth. You’re not your father.
MAN: No, I’m not. But I will not fail him. And I will exceed him.
MAN does not see OLDER MAN roll his eyes.
MAN: Any news of Hannah’s whereabouts?
OLDER MAN: Your sister?
MAN: Who else?
OLDER MAN: Oh, she’s doing same old same old.
MAN: She’s with the protesters then?
OLDER MAN: Yes, I’m afraid so, sir.
MAN: Yeah, that figures. Just my luck to have a treacherous tree-hugger in the family. You know your life won’t be worth living if you let her out of your sight, don’t you? What about Melanie and the kids?
OLDER MAN: They’re fine. Out of sight. Confused, of course, about what’s going on. Come to think of it, what is going on? If you want me to do my job, you need to tell me everything. I know this is only the tip of the iceberg.
MAN: You really don’t want to know. Just be thankful you have the luxury of deniability.
OLDER MAN: Yeah, you’re right, you’re so so right.
OLDER MAN puts his ski mask and goggles back on and turns towards the door.
MAN: See you when the dust settles then.
OLDER MAN: Yeah, see you. Thanks for the drink an’ all.
MAN: Yeah, whatever.
OLDER MAN opens the door to the sound of the harsh wind. Seconds later the door is shut. MAN is left in silence staring at the ice in the bottom of his whisky glass.
TWO New York paramedics push a trolley along a busy hospital corridor at a brisk pace, accompanied by a junior doctor in surgical greens trying to keep up and carrying a clipboard. The patient lies on his side, attached to an IV drip and numerous electrodes connected to a monitor emitting rapid beeps. The digital clock on the wall reads 06:17 PM, Oct 6, 2015.
OLDER PARAMEDIC: Caucasian male, mid forties. Identity unknown. Suspected drug and alcohol overdose. Respiration forty to fifty, heart rate around one fifty. Pupils dilated. Core body temp thirty nine point six and rising.
DOCTOR: No ID at all?
ROOKIE PARAMEDIC: Nothing. The guy that made the call gave us a name but it turns out to be bogus. Whoever he was, he covered his tracks.
DOCTOR: Any evidence of habitual drug use?
OLDER PARAMEDIC: None that we can see. But then he wasn’t at home. We got the call from the director at the Waldorf Astoria, so maybe an occasional coke user, you never know. Only whatever he took, we don’t know what it is. He paid for his room in cash, so no credit card, nothing.
DOCTOR: So what do we know?
OLDER PARAMEDIC: Half a bottle of whisky and an unidentified drug, no label or bottle. We’ve sent four blister packs with the whisky bottle to the lab for analysis. Caution, product sample, not for use. In case of emergency, please contact Something Laboratories followed by a phone number. The desk are on it now.
DOCTOR: How many then?
ROOKIE PARAMEDIC: Most likely the whole pack. Two thousand milligrams of God only knows what. Ingestion two, maybe three hours ago. It was lucky he was already in the recovery position when we arrived.
OLDER PARAMEDIC: I just hope for his sake this wasn’t a cry for help.
ROOKIE PARAMEDIC: What do you mean?
OLDER PARAMEDIC: He’s too far gone. He won’t make it.
ROOKIE PARAMEDIC: You can’t say that.
OLDER PARAMEDIC: Oh, grow up. I do know it’s too late to pump. Just pray to God that number’s not on answerphone.
Just as the trolley arrives at the surgical room, the beeping on the monitor gives way to a continuous tone. Mad dash. Full CPR.
MAN arrives at the Pearly Gates of Heaven. He is greeted by an impish figure dressed in a
white medical coat and carrying a clipboard.
MAN: Name? Sorry, where am I?
IMP: if you don’t know where you are, then you’re in bigger trouble than I thought. Name.
MAN: Rogan. Josh.
IMP: Ha ha. Very funny. Name.
MAN: My name is Josh Rogan. Now where the hell am I?
IMP: Ooh, close. Come this way, please.
IMP leads MAN away from the Gates and down a flight of stairs.
A door opens. MAN and IMP enter. The room resembles a domed greenhouse, glass and flora everywhere. In the middle of the dome is a massive ornate desk, with a leather top and quill and ink. Behind it is a shiny wing-backed leather chair facing away. The person sitting in it is on the phone.
IMP: Josh Rogan, sir. Or so he says.
The chair swings round and the occupant puts down the phone. An older man with a dark brown freckled complexion and fuzzy silver-grey hair beams a perfect set of pearly white teeth.
CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Grenville. Have some coffee. We might be some time.
JOSH’s eyes widen.
JOSH: You, you look like Morgan Freeman … You are Morgan Freeman. Then that means …
JOSH is white as a sheet.
CHAIRMAN: Yes, that’s right, son, you guessed it. You’d better sit down.
A chair materialises in front of the desk. JOSH sits and makes himself uncomfortable.
CHAIRMAN: Sooo, it’s been a while. Have you anything to say for yourself?
CHAIRMAN: No, you don’t have to be sorry. I’m not here to judge you. I’m here to help you. Understand.
JOSH: Understand what?
CHAIRMAN: What happened. Why.
JOSH: I really don’t follow. You mean what did I do wrong?
CHAIRMAN: No, I never said that. I asked you to tell me what happened. No right. No wrong. I repeat, you are not being judged.
Long silence. CHAIRMAN remains cool. JOSH shifts in his seat.
CHAIRMAN: I’m waiting.
The colour rises in JOSH’s face. A flash of conflicting emotions.
JOSH: No. No, you’re not doing this. This isn’t part of the deal. There’s been some mistake. I should have gone straight to Hell. Why am I even here?
CHAIRMAN: No, that is where you’re wrong, Josh Rogan. This is by far the best part of the deal. Why would you think otherwise?
JOSH: But I am nothing to you. You gave up on me a long time ago. And I gave up on you.
CHAIRMAN: Ah, yes, you did. But which came first? The chicken or the egg?
JOSH: This is ridiculous. Will you please stop talking in riddles. You’re really pissing me off now.
CHAIRMAN pulls out a cigar from a top drawer.
CHAIRMAN: Tsk. Harsh words for someone who’s trying to get his soul back.
CHAIRMAN lights up cigar and puffs a billow of smoke. Josh stands up abruptly and leans over the desk.
JOSH: Don’t you dare play with me. I don’t care who you are. This is some joke, it must be. This isn’t real.
CHAIRMAN: Oh but it is. Why would you think this is a joke?
JOSH throws himself back into the chair in resignation.
He pulls at his face.
JOSH: Because I’m fucked. My soul is gone. Deal done. Finito. Sayonara.
CHAIRMAN: And you know this how, pray tell?
CHAIRMAN leans right back into his wing-backed chair. His casual demeanour exacerbates JOSH’s nerves further.
JOSH: You know full well. Why even ask?
CHAIRMAN: I want to hear you say it.
JOSH: Say what? That I sold my soul?
JOSH spits the words.
JOSH: That I knew from the age of frickin’ fifteen that I was damned for eternity? Is that what you want to hear?
JOSH is standing up now, in a state of agitation, hands clasped on top of his head.
CHAIRMAN: What happened when you were fifteen to make you so certain of this?
JOSH: You know. The dream. The one where you told me that I was the spawn of the Devil.
CHAIRMAN: I told you that?
JOSH: Yes, you did. You disowned me. From that day forward, you obviously wanted nothing more to do with me.
CHAIRMAN: How did that make you feel?
JOSH: Hey, let me finish. At first I was devastated. I felt empty. Like I do now. But then in time realised that I had been set free. And I owed nothing to nobody except myself.
CHAIRMAN: Then what?
JOSH: Well, you know. I sold my soul.
CHAIRMAN: You keep saying this. But did you really? Think back.
JOSH: Well, what else do you call it? I sold my soul when Father got sick and gave me control of the company. Lock, stock and barrel.
CHAIRMAN: Are you sure about that now?
JOSH: Yes, of course I’m sure. How could I forget something like that? The day my life changed for the better. The day I became somebody.
CHAIRMAN: Josh, there’s something I want to show you.
CHAIRMAN gets up.
CHAIRMAN: Follow me.
CHAIRMAN leads JOSH to an elevator. The 6th floor button is lit up.
CHAIRMAN presses 3rd floor button. The lift door opens and they enter.
CHAIRMAN and JOSH exit the elevator into another corridor. Further along the corridor is an ornate oak door. CHAIRMAN opens the door onto a beautiful vista, a field of blue and red poppies in a sea of green. As they move through the door, the panorama opens up. The sky is blue and an advertising balloon in the shape of a hand pointing a finger is flying overhead. It is emblazoned with the words DEVIL’S PAWN SHOP.
JOSH: What the …?
CHAIRMAN: Sshh. Just keep going.
In front of them is a path that appears to be going in the general direction of where the finger is pointed. JOSH and CHAIRMAN follow the path.
JOSH and CHAIRMAN enter what looks like a quaint small town store. The ceilings are high, the walls lined with brass-handled wooden drawers. The man behind the front desk is bent over as if he is looking for something. CHAIRMAN rings the bell, causing the ATTENDANT to jump up. He is wiry in appearance, and wearing a faded pair of denim dungarees, a striped tee-shirt and a baseball cap. He appears to be pregnant. Around his neck is a fine gold chain with an eyeglass
on the end of it. Sitting in the corner disembowelling a tennis ball is a surgically-enhanced chimp wearing a bridal corset.
ATTENDANT: Oh my, you gave me quite a stir. What can I do for you, sir?
ATTENDANT puts his monocle on. His face lights up when he sees CHAIRMAN.
ATTENDANT: Oh, it’s yourself, sir. What a pleasure. It’s been such a while.
CHAIRMAN: Yes, it has. Now, I’d like you to dig something out for me. My friend here would like to see his papers.
JOSH looks confused. As he casts his eyes all over the shop, his brow is furrowed. There is a glimmer of recognition in his face.
JOSH: I’ve been here before.
CHAIRMAN: Aye, that you have.
The ATTENDANT slides a ladder across the back wall, then climbs up until he reaches one of the drawers. He opens it and rifles through the contents. Finally, he pulls out a wallet, descends the ladder and brings the contents to the front desk.
ATTENDANT: There we are, sir, it’s all there. In black and white.
JOSH: What’s he talking about?
CHAIRMAN leafs through a beautifully handwritten document until he finds the page he is looking for. Marking the spot with his finger, he beckons JOSH.
CHAIRMAN: See for yourself.
JOSH grabs the document and starts to read it, flipping back and forth through the pages until he has seen all he needs to see.
CHAIRMAN: That’s the deal. You see, Josh, I have news for you. You cannot sell your soul. It’s a loan. You either repay the debt. Or you don’t. In your case, the term was thirty years.
JOSH: But I’ve always been a bad person. Since the day I was born.
CHAIRMAN: Who told you that?
JOSH: Everyone. My birth parents. The nuns. My kindergarten teacher.
Long silence. Then a jolt.
JOSH: The dream, that was thirty years ago today.
CHAIRMAN: Yes, it was. Time’s up, Josh.
JOSH is calmer now. He is letting the information sink in. He looks like is about to cry.
JOSH: You knew I was dyslexic.
CHAIRMAN: Yes, I did.
CHAIRMAN’s voice is tender. He puts his hand on JOSH’s shoulder.
JOSH: So what did you expect?
CHAIRMAN: Everything. And nothing.
JOSH and CHAIRMAN are back at the CHAIRMAN’s office. Both are enjoying a cigar, only JOSH is smoking like there’s no tomorrow. He is still in shock.
CHAIRMAN: So, Josh, what about the one you had when you were eight? Just before your adoptive father took you out of the children’s home.
JOSH: The one what?
CHAIRMAN: The dream. You know, the one you’ve forgotten. The most important one of all. When you remember it, you will know what your Mission was. And still is.
JOSH: Mission? I have no clue what you’re talking about.
CHAIRMAN: The reason you’re here. The reason you were born.
CHAIRMAN leans forward. His voice drops to a whisper.
CHAIRMAN: The reason I sent you.
JOSH and CHAIRMAN are back at the Pearly Gates.
JOSH: So if this is all part of the plan, why did you allow me to get the wrong end of the stick in the first place?
CHAIRMAN: Because you now have the power to change all of it. To reverse what you started.
JOSH: But I’m broke. I’ll be lucky if I have a roof over my head. I’m finished.
CHAIRMAN: Josh, you are known the world over. You have a voice. Now go. Your mission starts …
CHAIRMAN looks at his watch.
CHAIRMAN: … now.
MAN wakes up. He is in a hospital bed, surrounded by tubes and equipment. A middle-aged woman with a natural golden complexion and braided blue-grey hair sits by his bedside, holding his hand. She calls a nurse.
JOSH is in an office, stretched out on a chaise longue and clutching a cushion to his belly. His coat is draped over the back. Sitting across from him in a leather wing-backed armchair is a balding man wearing thick black spectacles, an open shirt and a pink tank top.
THERAPIST: You’re making good progress, Josh. Sadly for me, you don’t really need my services any more. Maybe we should be thinking of monthly sessions, then once every six months. But before you go, tell me about your dream again. The one you said you had during your coma. I know you told me six months ago, but I’d like to hear you tell it again.
JOSH sits up and starts to put on his coat.
JOSH: Well, as you know, it was quite the most beautiful, the most lucid dream I have ever had. It was like I was really there. I was climbing this mountain, then when I got to the top, I felt such a peace that I have never felt before. I closed my eyes, then when I opened them again, there was all these people everywhere, as far as the eye could see. They just came out of nowhere. They were all unwell or injured in some way. And they just stared at me. And just sat there all around me. And even though I tried, I couldn’t not look at them. And they wouldn’t go until they knew that I knew what I must do.
JOSH is ready to leave. He takes his mobile phone from his coat pocket.
THERAPIST: And what was that?
JOSH: Help them get the future back that I had taken from them.
THERAPIST: What time’s the press conference?
JOSH: Two o’ clock.
THERAPIST: Then be gone. Get the hell out of here.
Copyright (c) M K MacInnes 2016