Midnight; canít sleep! A pledge-drive on TV, some disease! After a few beers, Iím feeling generous, so I call in $100. Some woman with a voice like a needle in the butt says thank you; gets my information. I go back to sleep. The black darts ainít hitting me in the chest no more, I done my good deed, I can rest easy now. Mama always said thereís a ledger - one side good, one side bad - and you gotta get this ledger in shape before you die or else 'phffft!' to the Bad Place. I figure I just added one to the good side.
Any ways, two days later I get this letter that says, ďThank you for your recent pledge of $100 to help those who sufferĒ. I stop reading right there and chunk it. See, two days later, the heat is on and the last thing Iím thinking about is helping some disease. They found Ronnie Caldero. And nobody thinks he got to the bottom of the East River by himself.
About this time, Big Louie thinks Iíve been talking to the Feds and has me tailed. Talk or no talk, either way Iím dead Ďcause when Big Louie gets it in his head youíre a rat, youíre a rat. Period! He owes me twenty large on a bet - Giants lost - and I know heíd like to erase that debt. Permanently!
So I talk. Long story short, the Feds make me an offer I canít refuse. They put me in Witness Protection. All I gotta do is play by their rules - donít get in no trouble, donít break no laws - and the deal stands. I get a new face, new name, job - New Age bookstore - you gotta read some of them talk-to-the-dead books, who knew, right? - Iím not even me anymore and you know what? This letter finds me: ďYour $100 pledge is overdueĒ. Who the hell are these people? Not even my own mother knows where I am and these clowns find me?
That night Iím in bed and I hear the kitchen door creak open. I know I locked it so whateverís coming in definitely ainít been invited. I grab my 9mm and creep down the hallway. I got nothing on but a nightshirt from the store that says LOVE. I get to the kitchen and itís Big Louie. I see him before he sees me, and well, letís just say I broke the law and now Iím out of Witness Protection. And outta the country! Iím not sticking around to explain how a headless man wound up in my basement freezer. But guess what I found on Big Louie? A letter from them pledge people! It had my name on it, my picture. Like something out of the Wild West: WANTED.
Now Iím so paranoid I move to Venezuela, acid off my fingerprints; lay low. Picture this: I ainít shaved, I ainít combed or showered and I look worse than a janitorís mop when I hear a knock at the door. On the floorís a letter: ďYour $100 pledge has now been turned over to our Collection Department. We will make you pay.Ē Them words made my scalp tighten.
So as you can probably gather, I ainít laughing these people off no more, they mean business. Ok, fast forward. Maybe I didnít put enough postage on it, whatever - what do I know about Venezuelan stamps? - any way, these pledge people donít get their money and here I am on my way to the electric chair.
So howíd they nail me? Simple! I slip back into the U.S., thereís two men fall dead next to me, I get blamed. Whatíre you gonna do? Police say them bullet holes didnít just appear naturally, like a mole or something, on them menís heads. I take the fall but I know the pledge people did it. They set me up. To make me pay.
You know that disease they were collecting for? Itís called damnation. Only, they pretty it up for their midnight telethons. Show only the face youíre helping, not the murderous thoughts behind the face. They ainít people, Father. You remember them talk-to-the-dead books I mentioned earlier? These pledge people ainít of this earth. No wonder they didn't get my letter; Post Office only delivers so far. They got it rigged soís you make a pledge they know you canít ever pay. Unless you show up in person - by taking a ride in Old Sparky! Allís I can say is, these demons got a great racket going here.
So listen Father, thanks for the last rites and all, but letís face it: my ledger ainít balanced. Nowhere near. I show up at the pearly gates, Iím getting bounced. Would I have put more on the good side if I had more time? Maybe! Like I said, this whole thingís Ďcause I called in to do a good deed. Guess thatís why they act so fast on that pledge drive, donít want to lose my business, risk me chalking up too much on the good side.
Whatís that Father, you got a letter for me? Let me guess. Them jokers, still at it! I been in the ďcollectionĒ business a long time and Iím telling you, these guys are the best I ever seen. You gotta love their technique. This is beautiful! This is the absolute Mona Lisa of hits:
ďYour recent pledge of $100 is now considered paid in full. Please accept our heartfelt thanks for your generosityĒ.
Here come the guards, itís time. So watch for me on TV, Father, sometime round midnight. Iíll be the featured face in the next pledge drive.
Candi Chu is a musician and writer and has been published in Vestal Review,Planet Magazine, Feminista!, Twilight Showcase, AlienQ, genrEzone,Dragonlaugh, and Crimson.