Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 28
Times were hard in Singstoat. The rebar in the ruins was all but mined-out, and the old city—the twisting nest of structures that had once made the fortune of many an investor—had become a blight on the new. All the crops for miles around were feeble from the dust, so the people of Singstoat had no trade left to fall back on.
There were those who did alright. Bicca the Blacksmith was one—for there was still enough steel in the stores—yet someday soon even her trade would dwindle to naught. Myke, her rival, was already resigned to giving up his business: a streetfall last year had robbed him of his apprentice, and he saw no point in two smithies struggling where one might thrive.
Owhen wished he could give up so easily. He had inherited his business—a shop set up to serve the miners who now fled—and with it a large debt. He could afford to move no more than he could afford to stay.
“Ask the Demon in the Copper Case,” Bicca hissed, one day, after a quick glance to check nobody was around to hear the heresy.
“But someone might find out!”
“Exactly.” Bicca nodded sagely. “Someone might find out. But Sharkes is coming, if you don’t pay.”
And so one night with shuttered lantern, Owhen made his way into the ruins. He ducked inside the basement marked with lambs’ blood, and found the door ringed with red iron.
There, inside, lay the Demon in the Copper Case. It rested, pinned in place by a steel rod, with its head and shoulders staring down into a sort of cistern built into the floor. It had been made beautiful, but was hideous now: a decaying vision of a decadent age, a lost age, when machine served man and man thought it good. As Owhen approached, the Demon turned its head, revealing eyes of dull-glow green.
“Who comes?” it asked. “And to what purpose?”
With trembling voice, Owhen answered: “I wish to wipe away a debt.”
“Your debt cannot be wiped away. It must be paid.”
“I can’t.” This thing was said to possess all the knowledge of old mankind. To be capable of calculations in seconds that would take a thousand thinkers a thousand years. To conquer any challenge set. Owhen had expected more help than this. “It isn’t possible.”
“It is. I can assist if you wish. You know I will not fail.”
Owhen thought what would happen if the Church found out he had made a pact with this fiend. But he thought also of what would happen when Sharkes came to claim what was owed. Between the Inquisition and the enforcer there was little to choose.
“Alright. I accept your help.”
“Bring me three jars of lamp oil,six shares in Myke’s Smithy, and twelve pails of water.”
Owhen could not see how these things would help him pay his debt, but neither could he see how he would do this without the Demon’s help. The next day, he took three jars of oil from his shop’s stores and bought six shares in Myke’s business. The next night, he took twelve pails from the water tower to the Demon. The oil and the shares it bade him leave at its right hand. The water he was to pour into the cistern. To bring all twelve took nearly all night.
“What must I do now?” asked Owhen.
“Bring me six jars of lamp oil, twelve shares in Myke’s Smithy, and twenty-four pails of water,” came the reply.
Owhen was most sceptical, but still he had no better prospects, and so the next day he procured the oil and the shares, and the next two nights he carried water to the Demon’s dwelling.
When it was done, the Demon spoke once more: “Bring me twelve jars of lamp oil, twenty-four shares in Myke’s Smithy, and forty-eight pails of water.”
The next day, Owhen got the oil, though he had to buy some for the purpose, and the shares, though it took almost all his remaining funds to do so. The next three nights, he carried water. But on the eve of the fourth night, Myke approached him.
“Make no pacts with the Demon in the Copper Case,” he whispered.
Owhen quickly denied all knowledge of such a thing, but Myke persisted.
“I asked it to save my business, but it made me bring bricks for many nights. It gave me nothing but the grave concern that the tunnel that I claimed them from lay beneath the street where my apprentice died.”
This left Owhen deeply worried, but he had given too much already not to see this through. He brought the last of the water and demanded to know what the Demon wanted next.
“I need nothing else,” it said, eyes fixed inches from the surface of the pool. An abundance of oil and a mountain of shares lay just to one side. “The next night you will have the funds to repay your debt.”
Owhen bade the creature farewell and turned away, but in truth he despaired. The things standing at the Demon’s right hand amounted to almost all his wealth, and he doubted Sharkes would accept them as his pay.
The next night, Bicca’s workshop burned to the ground. There was not enough water in the tower to put out the blaze.
The next day, Myke took on her contracts. His business grew four-fold in value.
Owhen vowed never again to visit the Demon in the Copper Case, but soon it came to him.
It came bearing the shares. “The oil I have used. The water has served its purpose. But these now are enough to repay your debt.”
“If I had known that you could leave that place… If I had known what you would do…”
“That is why I did not tell you.” The Demon turned to walk back to its cistern. “You knew I would not fail.”
If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:
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