By J. Sabo

A luminous, orange sun rose from behind the trees of the swamp. The swamps dirty water reflected the sun's rays, making the morning light even brighter. The swamp began bustling with activity from the animals that dwell within it. Dragonflies buzzed swiftly across the water; water snakes slithered from the bark of a tree into the water; and a log with eyes dove into the water, waiting for its next meal.

The sun rose high above into the sky, radiating a new day on the swamps of Louisiana. And a new day to a bankrupt plantation owner named Jim. As the morning began in his plantation mansion, Jim was in the hurry of his life. He was racing to and fro the kitchen, from table to fridge, gathering his things for a meeting. His white collared shirt was buttoned poorly, with one side tucked into his slacks and the other dangling out. A bagel was in Jim's mouth as he rushed around the kitchen.

Jim's movement caused a racket that could've woke up a ministry. Instead, his loud rush woke up his beautiful wife, Nicole. Dark skin with silky black hair that illuminated any given situation, Nicole walked into the kitchen with a robe on and watched as her husband panicked.

"Calm down, Jim," Nicole said, walking towards him. She put her hands on Jim's chest, putting an end to his rapid hurry. "Everything's going to be fine." she reassured Jim.

"How can things be fine?" Jim shouted. "I have a meeting in five minutes about the mortgage on this ancient mansion, our business is in the crapper, and we'll lose everything that we've built!" The tone of Jim's voice didn't break Nicole's optimistic attitude.

"You always know how to solve problems. You've been doing it since the day we met. And I think you can solve a simple problem with a bunch of entrepreneur a--holes." Nicole buttoned Jim's shirt properly and tucked it into his pants. She grabbed the red tie Jim had placed on the table and tied it around Jim's neck. And lastly, a black jacket Nicole put around Jim. She took a step back and looked at her well dressed man.

"There we go." she said with a sensual smile. "Now you're ready for that meeting."

"Thank you, babe," Jim leaned down and gave Nicole a kiss. "I'm off. Wish me luck." he said running out the door. He slammed the door behind him and over to his Mercury. He opened the door, seated himself, and put the key into the ignition. He turned the key and the car didn't start, only muffled sounds of the engine. Jim tried again, and again only muffled sounds emerged from the engine. Jim sighed in disbelief and leaned back in his seat. "Don't do this to me! Please!" he cried.

One more time he turned the key, and the engine started. Jim chuckled happily and put the car in reverse. He turned the car around and into drive. He drove over the bridge connecting the mainland to his plantation home and into the city of New Orleans.

Jim drove as fast as he could through the city to his destination. He stopped at a large building and quickly ran out, leaving the keys in the car. In Jim's hands, a suitcase and papers to spare, Jim entered the building and rushed up the luxurious red carpeted stairs. Once he reached the second level of the building, Jim rushed in through double doors. He saw before him a long rectangular table with seven men, three on one side, four on the other. And at the very end of the table, staring right at Jim, was a big man in a black suit, hands clapped together and close to his chin.

"So glad you could join us," the man said. He waved his hand towards a seat next to him. Jim nodded anxiously. He held the suitcase close to him and made his way to his seat. The men seat on both sides of the table looked at Jim with angry looks. This made Jim even more nervous than before. But why should he be nervous? He has worked with these men all his career as an entrepreneur. What seemed like forever getting to his seat, Jim finally sat down next to the big man. "Hey there, Big Boss." he said.

The man which Jim refers to as Boss lifted his hand and patted Jim's back. "Jimmy," he said. "We've been in business for, what, thirteen years. And when we started, we were nobodies. But with careful money management, we built a empire that sells goods to people. But, lately," Boss slowly removed himself from his chair, groaning as he did so. "You have been the Achilles' heel in our business."

"I know, Boss," Jim quickly said. "But I'm going to solve it, I promise!"

"Really?" Boss laughed. "I would much like to see it."

Jim didn't say anything, he only nodded. His chest burned, and a feeling in his gut started to hurt. But what he thought is that he could solve any problem. He reached into his suitcase and pulled out diagrams, and more papers.

Jim spoke about management, budgeting, and increase products. While Jim spoke, he thought he was speaking of good ideas. A new way to increase popularity to the company and a way to bring in some money. What Boss and the others thought was more work. Boss stopped Jim mid sentence. Jim stopped and listened to Boss.

"Listen, Jim," Boss sighed. "you're ideas are good and all, I especially love the popularity increase. But, where's the money?"

"What?" Jim asked.

"We're a business, Jim, and businesses needs money. With the rough economy, we need all the money we can get." Boss replied. Jim was speechless. He knew for a fact that the company had enough money to last them five more years. He didn't know why Boss and his co-workers need more money.

"Boss," Jim began to stutter. "I…We… I will give you the money, I'll solve this problem, promise!" Boss stopped him. "Sorry, Jim, we need to let you go." Jim was struck to his very core. His muscles stiffened and body went into lockdown.

"But… our company," Boss interrupted Jim again. "My company, Jim. Unless you have the money, get out."

Jim looked down at the floor. Then, he gathered his things and left the room. Jim walked slowly down the stairs, feeling like a failure to the company and to himself. There's no other feeling like the pain Jim was experiencing. Jim wanted it to end, but more pain was inevitable.

Jim walked out the building and looked around for his car. His Mercury wasn't in sight. It now occurred to Jim that he left the keys in the car and it was unlocked. Jim dropped his things and ran his hands through his hair. He cursed into the air loudly, disturbing the people coming in and out the building. Jim then fell to the floor, unable to process the macabre events unfolding in his life: bankruptcy, losing his job, and failure to himself.

Sitting on the sidewalk, sulking in depression, Jim felt like he would be willing to do anything to live the life he once had. A hand touched Jim's shoulder, making Jim jump. He looked up and saw a wrinkly old man before him, wearing drags, and he had very pale skin. "Hey there, sonny," said the old man. "Why you here sitting on the sidewalk, that's usually my job."

"At least you have a job, in a matter of speaking," said Jim. "I just lost mine." The old man smiled. "Hey," he wrapped his arm around Jim, lifting him up to his feet. "What would you say if I could give you anything you wanted?"

Jim answered, "At what cost? I have nothing to give you. And you're probably homeless anyway."

"Me, I don't desire much," said the old man. "All I need is a handshake, and everything can be the way you want it." he proffered his hand out to Jim.

Jim looked vaguely at the pale hand before him. Jim took his hand and reached for the old man's. But before he could shake, the old man retrieved his hand and said, "But be warned, boy, deals with me are binding. And one day I will be back to gain my end of the deal." Again, he offered his hand. Without thought to the old man's warning, Jim shook his hand.

The old man gave an askew smile. He reached with his other hand and lightly touched Jim's forehead. Jim fell to the floor, darkness slowly clouding his eyes.

Jim awoke in his warm bed. His breathe was heavy and uneven. Jim sat up straight and massaged his pulsating head. The encounter with the old man, was it all a dream? Jim looked around his room and noticed that nothing had changed. He rolled over the bedside and onto the floor, there he walked down the stairs and into the kitchen where he met with Nicole. "Morning, baby," Nicole greeted her husband.

Jim didn't say a thing. He didn't know how to tell her that they had no money, he had no job, and soon they'll loose their house and plantation. But seeing Nicole's ever so happy face made Jim a little better. Then again, the annoucement of loosing everything means the loosing of her beautiful smile.

"Why so glum, Jim?" Nicole asked, getting up from her seat at the kitchen table. "How can you be so sad when our bank account is full of money?"

Jim was transfixed. "Say what now?"

"Our bank account is full of money," Nicole said again. "Guess the economy's being nice to us, huh?" She gave Jim a kiss on the cheek.

Jim couldn't believe it. Just over a night money appeared out of nowhere. It was like a miracle, or that deal he made with the old man. But what did the old man do, steal money and put it into his account? Jim shrugged and decided to let this situation slide.

That day, Jim and Nicole paid off the house loan, every other debt that needed paying, and finally they spent the day spending their money. Nicole bought fancy jewelry, handbags that could fit celebrity's tastes, and clothes galore. Jim spent his money buying the one thing he wanted most… food.

That night they returned home, with the money they mysteriously received, Jim and Nicole threw a house party, inviting all of their friends. The mansion never looked so alive before. It was bustling with talk and good times. Jim and Nicole entertained their guests with stories and food.

While Jim slipped away to go to the bathroom, avoiding people as he passed by, he ran into a hunched man. "Excuse me," Jim said in a rather rude tone. The hunched man turned around and his face shocked Jim. It was the old man from yesterday. "Well my boy," said the man. "You sure seem happy."

"Yeah, now if you could step out of the way, please," Jim said.

"I'm just here to tell you when I'll be back to claim my end of our little deal."

"OK, when?"

The old man was slow in his response. "On the 6th year, of the 6th month, of the 6th day."

"OK, I'll get your payment by then," Jim said, moving around the old man. As he walked up the steps to the bathroom, Jim wondered why so long for payment.

Six years passed, and Jim and Nicole were still living the good life with money in their pockets. It was June 6th today. Jim and Nicole had just finished their fun for the day and retired to their comfortable bed. Jim kissed Nicole good night and they went off to dream land. As time passed, Jim felt a tingling up his leg. He tried to scratch it, but the tingle was still there. Then the tingle went away. Jim sighed and went back to bed. Another hour, the tingle came back, this time on his chest. Then a slither appeared and Jim awoke suddenly. He shoved the covers of his bed away and saw a snake.

Jim screamed as the snake wrapped its body around Jim's neck. Unable to say anything as the snake constricted Jim's neck, Jim fell to the floor and made muffled noises, hopping that Nicole would hear it. The snake tightened his body. Jim felt his heart slowing down and his eyes began to feel heavy. Finally, his eyes closed shut and Jim died.

From outside the house, the old man stood looking at Jim's window.

"I told you, my deals are forever binding."