Pact of Joy

By Sue Simpson

Chain Border

Hannah clawed her way through the thick barrier of dry ice smoke. She could barely make out the misty grey silhouettes of apparitions moving in the gloom. "Come on girl, don't you back out now, you can do it," she said to herself.

She couldn't believe this had been her idea. In the comforting bright light and security of her bedroom it had seemed wildly adventurous, while at the same time offering some safety. Now it seemed ludicrous that she had suggested it.

She had 'known' Nat for some months now, but this was their first meeting. They had become gradually more open and close as little parts of their lives and experience had been revealed one layer at a time, and yet so little was actually disclosed. Was it possible to be so drawn to someone you had never met? Common sense had told her to ground her feelings to reality. This was nothing more than two friends meeting for a drink.

"Blitz" was the new gothic-themed nightclub that had recently opened in town. Hannah had never been, never really wanted to go, but she had wanted to impress Nat. He was always writing to tell her of some wild night or other that he had indulged in, while she spent most evenings sitting at home reading.

This had been her act of defiance against the hermit she had become. Now her defiance was rapidly making its way out the door behind her, leaving a feeling of "Oh my god, what are you doing, meeting a strange man in a strange place where you obviously don't fit in? Crazy!"

She peered through the throat-constricting smoke in search of the bar. He had offered to meet her outside; hell, he had initially offered to pick her up at home. Why had she felt such a need to show him what an independent woman of 2000 she was?

Picking her way through the seething mass of writhing bodies - too much flesh, too little clothing, and all so black - she moved nervously up to the bar. A creature of indeterminate gender dressed in black asked what it could get her. The voice was giving away no clues.

"Oh…er, um…" She was thrown; the bartender had pounced before she had even had a chance to think about what to order.

"The lady would like a glass of dry white wine please."

"Sure thing Nat, ice?"

He had swooped in from nowhere. She had the vision of a raven having flown down from one of the podiums.

"Hannah, we meet at last. It's so good to see you."

This wasn't how it was supposed to be; she felt herself floundering. She had wanted to be composed, confident, come across as someone who wasn't to be messed with. Instead he had launched himself at her when she was unprepared, bailed her out with the colourful bar person and ordered for her without even asking what she would like. All the clever opening gambits to the game of flirtation that she had practised deserted her. She couldn't think of a thing to say. Blushing furiously, she managed a muffled "Hello."

"So, my lady of the night, she of the thousand written words, is a shy one. Well, well." He was poking fun at her. She lowered her head, willing herself to come up with just one suitable retort. Nothing was forthcoming so she muttered a "thank you" as he handed her the drink.

He had told her he wasn't familiar with the place and yet the bartender had known his name. How?

"Shall we find a table?" It wasn't a question, it was a command. He lifted his drink and had already begun to move away. His hand was warm against the small of her back as he guided her over to a secluded table and indicated that she sit in the corner, where they would not be disturbed.

She sat, took a sip of her drink and tried not to let her distaste show on her face like a schoolgirl trying something new and unpleasant. For the first time she risked a proper look at him. He was grinning broadly, his arm spread casually across the back of the bench seat. He appeared relaxed and comfortable, while she felt ridiculous.

For the next half hour he filled the awkward silence with pleasant chat about himself and his upbringing. He asked few questions of her, and she was grateful as it gave her time to compose herself. Although the conversation was mainly geared towards him, she felt that he had been aware of her awkwardness and was allowing her some time to adjust and become more comfortable. He seemed to ooze good manners and courtesy, in a brash sort of way.

He told her that he had been born and raised in Greece, on a little island off the mainland, where the sun had finished what ancestry had begun. He was dark skinned, with brilliant white teeth and moody, almost aggressive eyes. He wore his confidence with the same air as his citric, slightly sickly aftershave and his arrogance fit him as snugly as his tight black jeans. His name was Natas, heir to a string of Greek tavernas sprouting all over the Northwest, but his friends called him Nat.

When the waitresses passed he called them to replenish their glasses. Three more glasses of wine were brought in rapid succession as he talked. They weren't tasting nearly so bad now and a warm tinge was spreading throughout the inside of her chest. She tried to buy the fifth round but Nat wouldn't hear of it. This irritated her but she let it go for now. The night was young and she was beginning to enjoy herself despite the rough start. Maybe she could begin to turn the tables and regain some control of the evening.

"So Hannah, tell me about you. I have completely monopolised the conversation. Your turn."

"Well, there's not much to tell really. I've told you almost everything about me in our emails," she lied, not wanting to discuss her past with this man who had become so close, but now seemed like a stranger.

"Oh come on, there's a lot going on in there that you haven't told me. You have such sad eyes Hannah. Are you happy?"

She smiled again. The turn of events was running away with her; she felt manipulated and drawn. "Of course I'm happy. I have a good job, a nice house, everything I need and some of what I'd like."

He put his forefinger under her chin and drew her face level with his. His eyes not only met hers, but felt as though they penetrated them.

"Oh sure, on the surface you toodle along presenting the world with a semi-convincing façade of contentment, but what about real happiness? What about passion, dreams ambition? What about your soul Hannah, is it filled with joy, or does it fester beneath your breast withering with lack of stimuli, barren of true happiness?"

She reached for her seventh - or was it eighth? - glass of wine and slugged off half the flute in a smooth fluid swallow. It lubricated her dry throat and what had been bitter now seemed mellow and pleasant. He was confusing her, or the wine was confusing her. What was all this talk of true happiness? What was he getting at? She took another drink and tried to focus her reply; probably more chance of that than focusing her gaze.

"I told you, I'm happy. Why do you doubt me? Do you think that because I have no man in my life I must automatically be some frustrated old box of desiccated coconut?" She giggled at her simile and nearly choked on the drink of wine she had just taken. "I'm deliriously happy, blissfully happy. Wonderfully, totally, madly happy." She choked back an alcohol-induced self-pitying sob. "My life's a mess and I'm miserable. There. Happy now? Is that what you wanted to hear?"

"Oh God I'm drunk," she thought. "Please Nat excuse me, I'm sorry, I think I need to just freshen up a bit." He stood to let her pass and pretended not to notice that she staggered against the wall slightly as she passed. She didn't see his satisfied smirk as she walked away from him.

In the ladies' she splashed her face with cold water, looked in the mirror and cursed the cosmetic company who told a pack of lies about their new 'Waterproof Wonder' range of make-up. She looked like Chi-Chi the panda. "With a bit of luck, by the time I sort this lot out he'll have made a quick escape and be gone and then I can go home and forget this awful experience ever happened," she thought.

The door burst open abruptly making Hannah jump. Her eyeliner shot off her lower eye rim and gave her cheek a rather tribal look with the long black line that now adorned it. She wet yet another piece of tissue and dabbed at her cheek as the lady checked all the stalls. She seemed agitated and Hannah watched her through the mirror.

"Excuse me love," the other woman asked, "You haven't seen a short girl with purple hair have you? She's gone missing and I'm worried about her."

Hannah tried her best not to slur her words as she told the woman that her friend hadn't been in for at least the last five minutes. "Hope you find her," she said to the other woman retreating behind. Hannah took a final look in the mirror, stuck her tongue out, and called the bleary eyed reflection gazing back at her a drunken bum. "Oh well can't hide in here all night I suppose."

She felt almost human, and managed a more-or-less perpendicular walk back to the table where Nat was waiting for her with a warm smile on his face.

"Here, drink this, it'll make you feel better."

"What is it?" she asked, eyeing the glass distrustfully.

"Fresh orange juice." He grinned up at her boyishly and she managed a return smile, though she was still irritated that she had allowed herself to get so drunk.

"I can make you eternally happy Hannah," he blurted out suddenly.

"Oh yes, and on what assumption do you base this theory?" Emboldened by the wine she flirted with her eyes. "Not that I'm disagreeing with you of course."

"Because, my dear Hannah, I am Beelzebub, a.k.a the Devil, Lucifer, Satan. I can make your wildest dreams come true in return for nothing more than a little loyalty."

She laughed at his sincere expression. What a strange man he was. Why didn't he just say he fancied her and wanted to be with her? She was happy to play along.

"So my lord and master, eternal happiness eh? And what do you want in return, my soul I suppose? That's the way it works isn't it? You do your genie impression and grant my greatest desire in return for my soul."

"That is exactly right my dear. With a simple handshake, from this moment on you need never feel a single moment of heartache or sadness."

"A handshake, how very formal. Don't I have to sign an aged scroll in my blood or something?"

He laughed and his eyes twinkled. "Silly girl, you've been reading too many horror stories. No, a handshake will do."

Hannah pouted, enjoying the game. "Oh, I'd rather seal our pact with a kiss."

"As you wish, as long as you understand the rules. Eternal happiness and in return I come for you at the end of your days."

He moved nearer and snaked his arm gently round her shoulders, drawing her closer to him. He smiled down into her face as their lips slid closer together. "Do we have a deal?" he whispered seductively.

"Oh yes," she breathed as his mouth closed over hers.

Everything after that sped past in a blur. Nat said she looked tired. Told her they had all of eternity to be together and that she should go home and get some rest. She should have been disappointed that he didn't at least offer to walk her home, but she was too blissfully happy to care. "I've got your number," he said as he left her at the club doorway. Had she been less happy, maybe she'd have noticed that he didn't kiss her goodnight. "Tomorrow is another day," she thought, "we have all eternity to be together."

She didn't hear from Nat again. The emails she sent were returned to her by his service provider, and he never called. She didn't mind though, she just put it down to a pleasant night that wasn't to be repeated.

The first 'occurrence,' as she came to call them, happened just three months later. Her little dog Misty was killed on the road outside her house. Misty's pretty, smoky-grey fur was matted with blood and she whimpered pitifully as Hannah held her in her arms.

Hannah was happy that she died quickly, happy that she didn't linger and was happy that…happy that…well, she was just happy, that's all.

Her mother lost her fight against breast cancer a year later. Hannah was so happy that it was finally over, that her mother wouldn't have to endure any more misery. She smiled as her mother died, she was so happy.

Her life had changed. She was happy, blissfully happy. She felt no pain, no suffering and no sadness. She laughed at sad films and in the face of adversity and at others' misfortune.

She met a man, Greg. He was a good man, a kind man, but the relationship floundered. He said that she had no feelings, no tenderness and no soul. Hannah was happy; he wasn't the one for her, so it was best that they should part.

It was three years after the night at Blitz that Hannah slashed her wrists while standing on the clifftop. She stood watching the waves crashing onto the rocks way below and dragged the steel razor-blade along the length of her carpal arteries many times.

She was so damned happy. So bloody happy. In the old days when she was sad she used to come here and it would lift her spirits, make her feel happier. That was so ironic; all she wanted to feel was some pain, some contrast to this cursed euphoria that blighted her days. She laughed maniacally as the blood spurted from her ravaged wrists. She was so happy.

A figure appeared over the rise. She knew it was Satan; she had been expecting him.

"Hello Natas. You got me good, you bastard." She smiled without any signs of malice. She looked so happy standing there in her blood-soaked clothes. Another job well done.

"Hello Hannah. How have you been my dear?"

"I've been happy thank-you," she said politely. "Very damned happy."

A single tear coursed down her cheek in spite of her happiness, losing itself in the laughter lines at the corner of her mouth.

She giggled softly and wilted into the arms of the dark man who had come to take her.

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