Anais was exhausted. The marathon was finally almost over, just two hundred yards to go. She glanced over her shoulder and smiled. There was a little gang of people jogging along behind her but there was no sign of Howard, this was a good thing. Anais had lost the last marathon to that son of a bitch but this one was hers. She stamped a huge grin on her face and picked up the pace, the end was in sight. And that's when it happened.
"Woohoo! Later baby!" The familiar cry echoed in her ears as Howard shot past her at full speed, he raised his arms as he dashed through the finishing tape. Anais came second again. She clenched her fists and ground her teeth as Howard danced around and waved to the few cameras that were set up at the finish line. Anais took a deep, calming breath and made a very foolish wish.
"I would sell my soul to beat that motherfucker just once." There was a crack of thunder, a flash of lightening and everything went black.
Anais opened her eyes and looked around. She was still at the finish line but it was dark and the whole place was empty except for Howard. Anais groaned and climbed to her feet, she jogged across to him and punched him on the arm.
"Where did everyone go?" she said, trying to keep the rage out of her voice. Howard didn't move, he didn't speak or even react to the punch on his arm.
"He's a douche bag isn't he?" Anais spun on her heel and came face to face with a tall statuesque blonde in a figure hugging red dress.
"I said Howard's a douche bag. He could've let you have that one" said the blonde. Anais found herself nodding, she took a step back and turned away but the blonde reappeared in front of her.
"Who are you?" said Anais. She could feel herself trembling but she wasn't sure why. The blonde smiled and brushed non-existent dust from her dress.
"I'll give you a hint. What was the last thing you remember saying before the lights went out?" Anais frowned and stared at the ground for a moment.
"I said I'd sell my . . . No way" she said. Anais gaped at the blonde as she grinned, showing two rows of very sharp and serrated teeth. Anais wanted to run but her legs wouldn't work, she seemed to be glued to the spot.
"Now, most people offer to sell their soul for something at some point in their lives. I don't take them all up on the offer obviously but some people really mean it. Like you for instance. I'm offering to buy your soul, which means you come to my little estate when you die by the way, so you can beat Howard at your next race. Is it a deal?" said the blonde. Anais was speechless for a moment, she wasn't sure if this chick was really serious but the teeth were a little unsettling. Did she want to go to the blonde's 'little estate' when she died? Still, finally beating Howard at something would be pretty sweet. Anais smiled and held out her hand, smiling a little.
"It's a deal." The blonde grabbed her hand in a vice like grip and yanked her forward to hiss in her ear.
"Done." There was another crack of thunder, a flash of lightening and the world went black again.
When Anais next opened her eyes, she was at home. She swung her legs off the bed and walked downstairs to the kitchen. Anais made a cup of coffee and went out onto the front porch; she sat on the swing seat and stared out at the street. She wasn't sure what had happened and she had no idea how she had got home. A car pulled into her driveway and she groaned under her breath. Howard stepped out and looked up at her, worry clearly written on his face. Anais had never seen anything but smug triumph there before so she made the most of it.
"Hey babe. Where did you go after the race? You just vanished!" Anais took a deep breath and ignored the nickname, she hated it and he knew it which is why he didn't stop.
"I didn't drink enough is all. I felt awful so I just grabbed a lift home and went to bed after drinking like a gallon of water" replied Anais. Howard jogged up the steps to the porch and dropped on the swing, Anais hissed as coffee slopped over the edge of her mug onto her bare legs.
"So, when's your next race?" he said, staring at a jogger as they passed.
"Next Tuesday." The words were out before Anais had realized she'd said them. She didn't know anything about a race on Tuesday but she reached into the pocket of her dressing gown and pulled out a flyer she had never seen before in her life.
"Is that the race?"
"Yeah, it's pretty easy. Just a straight two miles through the park, nothing too hard. They are still taking entrants if you fancy it." Howard read the flyer and broke into a huge grin, he turned to Anais.
"You gonna let me win this one too?" he asked. Anais smiled as sweetly as possible.
Tuesday rolled around and the race started on time, which made a change. As usual, Anais started nice and slow and built up to a faster pace half way through. Howard stayed by her side all the way through the park, she tried not to look at him but couldn't help but wonder if she really was going to win this one.
"I'm gonna kick your arse" he said. Anais rolled her eyes; she waited a full ten seconds before putting on a burst of speed and sprinting towards the finish line. She kept her eyes on the tape and suddenly she was through it and Howard was nowhere in sight. Anais did a little dance and spun around to see where Howard had got to. The smile froze on her face as she noticed the prone figure on the ground a few feet behind the finish line. She yelled his name and dashed across the asphalt towards Howard. Just as Anais reached his side a pedal bike appeared out of nowhere and ran into her. She almost performed a perfect back flip in the air before hitting the concrete with a bone crunching thud.
Anais and Howard died just a few minutes apart. Howard of a heart defect he didn't even know he had and Anais from a broken neck. Anais was not happy when she woke up to find the blonde standing over her, it was almost unbearably hot but if this was Hell then the Bible had it wrong. There were no flames, no rivers of molten lava and no demons with red hot pokers. It was just hot and full of mist, vague shadows wandered in and out of the mist. Anais jumped to her feet and frowned at the blonde.
"What the Hell? I won for the first time ever and I die?" The blonde smiled and flicked her hair over her shoulder.
"I never said when you would die and you never asked so I figured you didn't care. Besides, you won't be lonely. I found a friend for you" she said. The blonde took Anais' hand and led her through the mist to a card table set out in the middle of nowhere.
"You know how to play Poker, right?" she asked. Anais nodded and sighed.
"Yeah, Howard always beat me though."
"Damn right I did, babe!" Anais stared as a familiar figure materialized through the mist; Howard grinned at her and gave them both thumbs up before dropping down into one of the empty chairs. Anais sat down in the other and picked up her cards, they were awful and totally useless. Howard on the other hand, grinned and slapped his thigh.
"Best hand I ever had!" he crowed. Anais felt the tears begin to flow down her cheeks as the blonde bent over and whispered in her ear.
"Welcome to Hell, babe." Anais took a deep breath and prepared herself for a very long eternity.