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"Terms and Conditions" by M. Rose Seaboldt



By lunchtime, Ollie had processed thirteen 1085 forms, seven 91B forms, and opened two new case files. He saved his current work (an 89C form) and made his way to the kitchen. Ollie found an empty table next to Bonnie and Nora. Bonnie’s back was to him, but he caught her voice as he approached.

“I told him not to recommend that one,” Bonnie said. “But he got greedy.”

Nora opened her mouth to respond but hesitated when she saw Ollie. Bonnie turned, fork held midair above a large salad. Ollie nodded in greeting. Bonnie waved her fork, then shifted back to face Nora. Ollie sat and retrieved his sandwich.

“Tuna again?” Nora asked. “Don’t you get sick of it?”

“No, I like tuna.”

“Have you always been picky?”

“I’m not picky. I like food,” Ollie gestured with his sandwich. “Including tuna.”

“Then why do always eat tuna?”

“If I like it and it’s easy, why change it?”

Nora let the question hang in the air. Ollie took another bite of sandwich. Bonnie stabbed at her salad with her fork.

“How the mutts treating you?” Bonnie’s voice was sharp and slicing.

“Don’t call them that.” Ollie’s warning was met with a silent smirk. Ollie sighed. “They’re fine.”

“Fine,” Bonnie repeated. “And you’re ok with ‘fine’?”

“Bonnie, just say whatever it is you want to say.”

“There’s more to life than ‘fine’, Ollie.”

“Not everyone has to be you, Bonnie.” Bonnie pursed her lips.

“Maybe, but at least I know what I want.”

“And you’re saying I don’t?” Ollie dropped his sandwich back in its container. “The loans are reasonable, the pay is good, and there’s rarely a default.”

“Rarely.” Bonnie’s dark eyes hooked into Ollie. He dropped his gaze. Beneath the table, he crossed his right leg behind his left.

“I’ve only had one of my loans default.” Ollie stood, grabbing his lunch. “And not that you care, but the lender was very apologetic about the collection.” Ollie was already walking away, but Bonnie’s voice taunted him from behind.

“I’m sure,” she said.

Ollie would never admit it, he’d never give Bonnie the satisfaction, but the conversation replayed in his mind throughout the rest of the day. When Charles Finch approached his desk the next morning, he was still mentally reciting what he wished he’d said to Bonnie.

“Ollie.” Finch was trying to catch his breath. “I need you to drop what you’re doing.”

“Sir?”

“We’ve got an applicant here for an interview. I need you to take over the account.”

“Our department doesn’t usually conduct interviews for applicants.”

“It’s not a werewolf account son.” Ollie stared at his boss. “Consider this a promotion.”

“A promotion?”

“Look,” Finch leaned over Ollie’s desk and lowered his voice, “Bonnie’s latest account defaulted last night, which now makes you my most senior underwriter.” Ollie shifted in his seat. What he wished he’d said to Bonnie now seemed hollow and childish.

“There’s no one else?” It was all Ollie could think to say.

“I’ll give you triple Bonnie’s salary.” Bonnie would’ve been pissed to know Ollie was taking over her account. But Bonnie wasn’t here, and Ollie pushed away thoughts of where she might be now.

“Ok,” he said. “Get me the paperwork.”

Ollie flipped through the folder as he walked to the conference room. The client was Sam Caulfield, age 35, she/her pronouns, single. She’d requested the loan six months ago and had passed all the previous protocols. Ollie’s eyes shifted from the file to the woman seated in the glass-walled room before him.

Sam wore a slim-fitting white dress, her red hair cascading to her shoulders in soft waves. Her lips were painted red to match her long nails, which had been filed to a point and rested on the table in front of her.

A quiet sniffle pulled Ollie’s attention from Sam. Nora sat a few cubicles away, a tissue held to her nose. She met Ollie’s gaze with red, puffy eyes. Ollie turned before his stomach could knot further.

Sam rose as Ollie entered, extending a pale hand. She was at least six inches taller than him, but she carried her build elegantly. The tips of her nails pressed into Ollie’s skin as they shook hands. Ollie settled into a seat across from her.

“Alright Ms. Caulfield, can you tell me the purpose of the loan?”

“Isn’t that information in my application?”

“Yes, but a loan of this caliber requires a particularly thorough process. This interview is to ensure I feel comfortable recommending your loan to the lender.”

“So you can be sure I won’t default?”

“Yes.”

“And what happens if I default?”

“Are you concerned you might default?” Sam’s face lifted into a grin and a short laugh escaped her crimson lips. Ollie caught his features rising to match Sam’s. He settled them into a cordial smile before they could betray the lightness he felt.

“I applied for the loan as a means of taking over my father’s business.” Ollie flipped through Sam’s file.

“Silver City Hospitality?” he asked.

“Yes, that’s correct. My father gave me a portion of the family business, but he’s set some…”

“Restrictions?”

“You could call them that. Though they feel more like shackles most times.”

“And you’ve tried other avenues?” Ollie asked. Sam’s face tightened.

“Many,” she said. “It feels like we’ve been caught in this struggle for ages.” Ollie looked at the front page of her file. ‘HELLHOUND’ was stamped in bold red letters.

“So how would this loan help you?” When Sam didn’t respond right away, Ollie looked up and met her intense, shimmering gaze. Though his pulse fluttered, he waited for her to respond.

“Would you humor me?” She said.

“I’m sorry?”

“Pick ‘A’ or ‘B’.”

“I’m not sure I understand.” Sam gestured for him to indulge her. He feigned an annoyed sigh. “Fine, ‘B’.”

Sam rose from her seat and leaned across the table. Before Ollie could react, she’d pressed her lips to his. Ollie’s shock melted into her soft heat. As she moved against him, her lips parted, allowing him to taste her more deeply. She raised one hand to rest the tips of her nails against his jaw. Her touch sent a prickling sensation through his body. When she pulled away, Ollie’s breath went with her.

“Now,’ her voice was almost a whisper. “Do you want to know what Option A was?”

“Yes,” Ollie managed, though his voice caught in his throat. Sam plopped back into her seat, somehow managing to make the move look graceful.

“Well, too bad.” Ollie blinked at her. “That’s the type of game my dad plays. He feigns like he’s giving you a choice, but never actually reveals his hand. He controls everything, pulls all the strings, but does it deftly enough that all his little marionettes,” Sam moved her hands across the table to mimic puppetry, “think they’re real boys and girls”.

“So,” Ollie cleared his throat, “what would a hellhound do for you?”

“Straight back to business, I like it.” Sam crossed her arms. “Being the manipulative bastard he is, my dad has gained an almost infinite amount of power. All my previous efforts to dethrone him have failed. But a monstrous undead hound that’ll tear his soul apart and drag him to hell for eternity? I don’t think even he could survive that.”

“I see,” Ollie flipped to another page in the file. “Regarding the repayment terms-”

“I understand the terms.”

“Well, I’m still required to read them to you.” Sam sighed and gestured for Ollie to continue. “Ms. Caulfield, this loan is for the services of one hellhound, which you may dispatch at your disposal. However, as part of the terms of the loan, the hellhound must be provided with at least one human soul. In addition, at the time of your death, your soul is required to spend a minimum of 1,000 years in the services of the lender. The ultimate duration of your repayment period will be up to the discretion of your lender, but shall not exceed 5,000 years. Do you understand these terms?”

“Yes I do.”

“Do you have any questions or reservations about the terms of your loan?”

“No, I like the heat.” Two short knocks sounded on the door. Ollie excused himself and met Finch in the hallway.

“So, how’s it going?” Finch asked. Ollie glanced over Finch’s shoulder. Nora’s desk was empty, but he could see tissues piled in her waste basket.

“I’m going to recommend her for the loan.” Finch searched Ollie’s face.

“You understand what you’re guaranteeing? A pound of flesh might satisfy the wolves, but that won’t be enough for…” Finch gestured vaguely to the ground.

“I know, sir. I understand”

“Alright then,” Finch smoothed his tie, “I’ll get the hound.”

When Ollie reentered the conference room, Sam was standing at the window.

“Ms. Caulfield,” she turned to face him, “we’ve tentatively agreed to recommend your loan to the lender.”

“Wonderful,” Sam clasped her hands together.

“There’s one final step in the approval process. In a moment I’ll escort you to the holding area, where you’ll meet the hellhound whose services you’re borrowing.”

“Oh, I see.”

“We’d like to make absolutely sure you understand the agreement you’re entering.” Sam raised an eyebrow.

“As well as observe my reaction, I presume? Make sure I don’t get cold feet?”

“Something like that, yes.”

“Very well. Lead the way.”

Ollie sensed the office’s stares as they walked through the corridor. Sam was striking, but Ollie wasn’t sure if it was her appearance, or his presence with Bonnie’s client that drew the attention.

“Do me a favor, Ollie.” Sam’s voice cut through the tension. “Pick another one for me. 121 or 122?” Ollie considered for a moment, then replied.

“121.”

“Hmm,” she looked satisfied. “Interesting.”

“Are you going to tell me what I chose?” Sam responded with a crimson smile.

When they reached the holding room, Finch was already there. He stood against the far wall, while a large, four-legged animal sat calmly in the center. The air was hot with the smell of burning flesh and tar. Ollie did his best to appear unfazed. Sam strode into the room, slowly making her way to the hound.

The beast’s head almost reached Sam’s. Its paws were roughly the size of a human skull and what was left of its ears extended above its head in jagged points. The hound’s skin, if you could call it that, roiled and shifted as wet, reddish-black flesh dripped from its bones in chunks. Blood and meat pooled around it. The shedding skin revealed patches of cracked, blackened bones that smoldered like firewood. Each piece of fallen flesh slowly regrew, once again obscuring the creature’s exposed bones. All the while adjacent pieces cycled through various stages of swelling, sagging, and melting.

“Ms. Caulfield, I’m Mr. Finch, I run this branch-” Sam looked at Finch. Ollie couldn’t see her expression, but Finch’s voice died on his lips. Sam turned to the hound and the animal cocked its massive head. Sam extended her hand.

“Ms. Caulfield that’s not-” Ollie watched as the creature regarded Sam. Pinpricks of glowing orange were the only hint of a pupil within its obsidian black eyes. The creature raised its rotten nose to Sam’s hand, then nuzzled its head into her palm.

Sam stroked its head with her fingers, flesh sloughing off beneath her touch. Blood and tissue covered her skin. She used her nails to scratch beneath the beast’s chin. One side of its jowl fell to the floor as she did so, revealing a mess of dark, glass-like teeth. She brought the creature’s muzzle to her mouth and kissed the top of its snout.

“My beautiful monster,” she cooed. “You have been so good.”

“Ms. Caulfield?” Ollie’s voice sounded distant, even to his ears.

“Did you know gentlemen,” Sam’s gaze remained on the creature as she spoke, “that all hellhounds are the same animal?” When neither Ollie nor Finch responded, she whispered to the beast. “Show them my love.”

Sam took a step back and the creature stood, lowering its head and arching its spine. More flesh fell to the floor in wet clumps as a low growling sound bubbled from the hound’s throat. The skin along one side of its body swelled and grew in a pulsating mass. Sharp edges of bone pushed against the fleshy confines of the tumor as it undulated against the existing hound. The skin tore as it stretched, oozing blackish blood to the floor.

The hound remained standing as the mass of flesh grew and formed legs of its own. The shape of a head became visible as it pushed against the inside of the new skin, eventually tearing free and splattering Sam’s white dress with shades of red. She didn’t flinch.

The remaining skin between the two hounds tore in long, ragged strands. Sam leaned down to stroke the neck of the first hound, then the second.

“You see, I’ve been lending you the services of my hound for some time.” Ollie glanced at Finch, who was flattening his large frame as far into the wall as possible. “And while I’ve certainly benefited from our arrangement, I think it’s time you considered new management. I’m sure the other lenders will be most sympathetic to my causes.”

Sam’s fingers twitched and the first hound lunged at Finch. Its jaws closed around his throat and the lower part of his face. Blood poured down the front of Finch’s shirt and there was a garbled noise that might have been a scream. The hound’s jaws closed tighter and the garbling noise was cut off by a wet crunch. The hound tore free of Finch and his body slid to the floor. His lower jaw and most of his neck was gone.

Ollie rushed towards the door but didn’t make it more than a few steps before the second hound knocked him to the ground. The beast bit into Ollie’s right leg and shook its head. Ollie’s pants ripped at the knee and he felt a piece of himself be wrenched away. The hound dropped Ollie’s leg and it landed on the floor with a dull thud.

As Sam retrieved the limb, the torn fabric fell away, revealing the smooth synthetic skin of Ollie’s prosthetic. She crouched in front of him.

“Hmm, a previous default perhaps?” Ollie’s breath came in ragged gasps.

“Just get it over with.” He said. Sam furrowed her brow. The expression didn’t suit her.

“Oh Ollie.” The hounds slinked out the door behind Sam, their enormous paws padding silently on the hallway carpet. “Of the one hundred and twenty-two souls in this building, I think you’re my favorite.” A drenching cold washed through Ollie as the consequences of his previous choice settled in his mind.

“No,” he rasped.

“That’s right. It was your choice, so I won’t collect.” She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “Yet.”

Screams cascaded through the open door as Sam stood and dropped Ollie’s leg. She flattened the skirt of her dress, smearing the drying blood into streaks. The last thing Ollie saw before passing out, was Sam’s long legs striding into the hallway.



M. Rose Seaboldt (she/her) obtained her engineering degrees so she could study structures and fire science. She writes so she can explore characters and the trials they endure. Find her on Twitter @boldtsea.

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