Jeff Mount

The Halfway House

Zach Miller was always for the quick fix. The word 'moderation' was not in his vocabulary, and excess was the norm. Drinking, girls, drugs, fast cars. Nothing was done half-hearted; he pushed the limits in every part of his life.
His friends knew this lifestyle would catch up with him. Nobody could have guessed about what happened to him on his 29th birthday though. Nobody, that is, except for Dave Stanton.
Dave and Zach hung out and partied together frequently. They were pretty good friends, although they were very different. Where Zach was the model of excess, Dave had complete control of himself and never let things get too out of control. He was a zen master compared to Zach but he never made an issue out of Zach's behavior. He quietly accepted him for who he was.
On the night of Zach's 29th birthday, the two of them were driving home from a party (Dave was driving of course, because Zach was way over the legal limit, and a minor to boot) when Zach said, "Man, the booze and the pills just aren't doing the damn trick, I need a new drug!" He slurred heavily as he spoke.
Dave, ever composed (he had a beer and a half at the party), raised an eyebrow and leaned towards Zach, and said, "I heard about a house in north-east that slings some crazy new hallucinogenic mixed with alcohol or something along those lines. Suzy from Beaverton was telling me her brother's friend went there and did some. He said it was like riding a rocket ship and a roller coaster at the same time while floating on a cloud."
"OHHHH DUDE, what are we waiting for, let's do this!" Zach was bouncing on his seat.
"Well, there's apparently a caveat." Dave said casually. "The guy who has the stuff just gives it to you for free, but he claims that his soul is yours once you drink it."
Zach burst out laughing. "What the... and you believe that story? Oh, man, that's hilarious. I didn't think you were so gullible, what a push-over! Let's check it out!"
"No way, not me." Dave said. "I'll drop you off there but I want no part of it."
Zach punched Dave's arm jokingly and laughed heartily. "Drop me off then, ya' pansy!"
"OK, buddy, but don't say I didn't warn you." Dave spoke evenly. He took a u-turn to get back on the freeway and head over to north-east Portland. On the way, he called Suzy's brother to get the directions to the house.
They pulled up to a dingy, two story, yellowing house with a roof that was severely bowed inwards. No lights appeared to be on.
"Doesn't look like anyone is here. You gotta' be kiddin' me!" Zach said angrily.
"The guy who lives here never leaves." Dave said.
"If you say so, but wait for me here."
"Sorry bud, you're on your own. The bus runs right down the next street over though and you can transfer downtown."
"Great, happy birthday to me, huh?" Zach said, half-joking. He wasn't really concerned about his ride home. He was eagerly awaiting the magical potion that supposedly lay inside the house. He slammed the door and started up the crumbling concrete path towards the strange dwelling.
He rung the doorbell. No answer. He turned around. Dave was already gone. He knocked on the door and the door opened slightly. "Hello?" He said. There was no response. "I'm coming in!" He announced, and stepped through the doorway into the dark hallway inside.
It smelled of stale smoke, dirty clothes, and rotten food. Zach had to stop himself from gagging. He tried to breathe through his mouth so he wouldn't have to smell it. "Hello?" He said again as he felt his way down the hallway, reaching for a light switch.
"In here." The man's voice came from up front to the left. Zach saw light under a closed door and moved towards it. He reached out and grabbed the door-knob. There was something sticky on it. Disgusted, he wiped his hand on his jeans and pushed the door open.
The fattest person Zach had ever seen (real life or otherwise) was spread out on a king sized bed. He covered most of the sagging mattress. He was completely filthy. He wore stained sweat pants and a yellow t-shirt that used to be white. The smell was unbearable. Zach threw up on the floor. The man laughed and the whole room felt like it was shaking.
"Let me.. clean that up." Zach said apologetically.
"Naaaa, leave it!" The man said. "I'll let the maid take care of it tomorrow." More laughter. Something was drooling out of the side of his mouth.
"So, I heard you might have something for me?" Zach inquired once he had his bearings.
The man stopped laughing, nodded, reached to the side of his bed and grabbed a bottle that appeared to be made out of intricate stained glass. It was quite large and many colors sparkled all over its surface. It had a huge knob on the top that looked like a diamond. Zach was instantly mesmerized.
This potion, which I like to call 'The Devil's Punch' will make you feel better than you've ever felt in your life, for approximately four hours. You will feel like the world is yours and you will be filled with a euphoria like nothing you've ever experienced."
"Sweet!" Zach said. "I'm ready!"
"There are couple of things you should be aware of before you imbibe. The price of this potion is your soul." He smiled too widely. His teeth were grayish black. "And, once the fluid touches your lips, your life will be exactly half-over."
"Half-over huh? So, I'll die when I'm 58? Eh, that's a few years longer than I thought I'd live anyway, so bring it on!" He was chuckling to himself at this ridiculous notion. He ignored his guttural instincts that told him to run out of there as fast as he could.
A rat scurried across the floor. It made Zach jump a little.
The man reached the bottle out towards Zach. He took it, and turned the knob on the top counter-clockwise to open it. He took a little smell of the fluid inside. It smelled spectacular, like fine cognac but with much more complexity. His mouth started salivating. He took another look at the huge man, grinned at him, put the bottle to his lips, and took a long draw of the fluid.
As good as it smelled, the taste was even better. Incredible flavors he had never experienced danced over his taste buds and down his throat. He was immediately warmed and felt as if he could defy gravity. He yelped with glee.
"This is amazing!" Zach said. He was spinning around in circles with his hands over his head, beaming like a child on Christmas morning.
"Don't forget our deal." The man's voice had become a few octaves lower, and seemed much louder too, but Zach was under some serious influence so he didn't think anything of it. He backed out of the room, ran out of the house, and spent the next four hours roaming the streets in a state of pure bliss.
He woke up the next morning on a bench in a park downtown. Fragments of the night before popped into his head and he started piecing it together. He sat up and rubbed his head. He didn't feel too bad, all things considered. He got up and walked down the street, then took a bus home.
Life got a lot better for Zach over the coming years. He found a girlfriend that cleaned him up and helped him get his life on track. He gave up most of his bad habits. He found a great deal of success in the stock market. He got married and had two lovely children. They owned a very large house in Multnomah Village.
By the time he was in his fifties, Zach was one of the most successful businessmen in the Portland area. He had everything he could want in life. Then, on his 57th birthday, he got a phone call.
"You have exactly one year left." The voice on the other end said.
Throughout the years, Zach had slowly forgotten about the wild night of his 29th birthday. The memory crashed over him like a tidal wave. He had recognized the voice on the other end. Fear coursed through his body like a freight train.
Zach got in his truck and drove to the north-east side of town. He meandered around the neighborhoods until he found it. The dingy yellow house with the caved in roof. Remarkably, it looked the same. He slammed on the brakes at the curb and started running up the path towards the house. He was crying and whimpering.
The door in front of him opened and Dave Stanton walked out. Zach had not seen him in twenty years or so but he recognized him instantly. Zach was shocked.
"Dave?!" Zach stopped in his tracks and looked at his old friend hopefully. "What are you doing here?"
Dave walked up to Zach and put a hand on his shoulder. Zach looked in his eyes and could tell that Dave had drank The Devil's Punch.
"Zach, I'm afraid there is nothing you can do to prevent your fate. You should have waited until you were older. I'll live to the ripe old age of 114 before I have to go to hell."
Dave wandered off down the street and Zach crumpled into the fetal position. He found it hard to breathe.

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