“Long Vows” by Band of Horses from Mirage Rock
He signed the contract.
It didn’t seem like a big deal.
Some words in black on white paper with strategically placed tags where he should initial and where he should unspool his full name.
He selected a blue pen, but was redirected. Apparently only black was allowed. He briefly wished for a green pen. It was his unhealthy impulse to be contrary. He should have considered that a warning sign about his ability to carry this kind of thing out. But, he did not.
Instead, he smirked to himself at the green thought pen, a little joke between him and his inner voice, and signed with zeal. Pledging himself, his life, pledging all to them.
At first, it was hardly a big deal. Day to day, it was not the kind of thing that one felt. Life unfolded more or less as expected.
But it accumulated. Like being buried by sand, granule by granule. You don’t notice it at first. You don’t notice it for a long time. But when you do, the weight is tremendous. Almost crushing
He consulted an attorney. Two attorneys. Three. They all said the same. The most ironclad contract they had ever read. Nary a loophole in the thing. They said it hushed, like they were appreciating a rare work of art. Their reverence bothered him.
So he abandoned that idea. He knew when an avenue was licked. But he was also a tenacious bastard. Always had been. Hell, he thought with some level of grimness, that’s probably why they reached out to him in the first place. So he moved to phase 2.
On paper, phase 2 seemed easy. Do a bad job. When he was 20 he had gotten fired from a job where he delivered documents to various offices after several weeks of just dumping the paperwork into the back of his car, going to the movies, and delivering his package whenever he happened to be in the right neighborhood. If he could screw up a job that easy that spectacularly, this one should be no problem. And a job this important? No way they’d let him slide for long.
The problem with screwing up something that is so small you often barely realize you are doing it is that it takes a LOT more short-term work to be bad at it. After two weeks, he was even more miserable and exhausted than if he had just kept to his contracted duties. Phase 2 was a failure.
So he moved to Phase 3. He liquidated all his assets, get himself an assortment of fake documentation, an unregistered vehicle, and just went AWOL. The first time they caught him a day later. The second, 12 hours. The third time, he made it nearly a week before they found him and dragged him back. The final attempt lasted less than three hours. Every time they refused to fire him, refused to renegotiate. It seemed they were letting to let him try to run forever than let him free. He threw in the towel with a resigned sigh.
Phase 4 crossed his mind, but he couldn’t do it. Wouldn’t. And that’s the position he maintained for a year and a half more. Then, even Phase 4 appealed. So, on a warm September morning, he walked out to the dock behind the house, stumbled off the edge, and sunk into the crystalline water. Gone from this Earth.
He “awakened,” if you will, in a new realm. A “heaven” if you’ll allow the indulgence. A gentle breeze blew. His body felt light and strong and utterly under his control, his hair full and thick, his vision wonderfully clear. He stood and jumped in place. Giggling, he rolled around on the ground. The afterlife was real and he was free of the contract! A double mitzvah!
Stretching his legs, he jogged towards the bustling town he noticed below him, a place he never lived but always had wanted to. He felt incredible. Even the burn in his lungs was a joy.
He slowed as his feet felt the cobblestones. He breathed in deeply. The smell of bread and the ocean was in the air. He made a sound as close to a purr as a human can manage.
Then he saw her. One of the Arbiters. She smiled and strolled over to him. He began to sweat. She welcomed him. He croaked out a question. She cocked her head, confused.
“I’m sorry,” she replied after a moment, “Was there some confusion about the nature of the contract length? Forever is a fairly clear term, is it not?”