A modern adaptation of the Twilight Zone Classic Escape Clause.
NARRATOR: You are about to enter a world of intrigue, ambition, and insanity. A world in which the laws that govern your day-to-day reality are rendered meaningless, where the edge of the cliff blends imperceptibly with the ground below.
Our story begins with a one Walter Bedeker, aged twenty-five. In a moment, Walter will enter a seemingly innocuous casino and speak to a seemingly innocuous croupier, Mr. C. Unbeknownst to Walter, his fate is about to be altered, permanently, which is to be expected in… the Twilight Zone.
“Rough day?” Mr. C. asked Walter as he approached the roulette table.
“I’ve had better,” Walter replied with a sigh of exhaustion.
“Perfect,” Mr. C. said with a smile. “Would you like to go for the winner’s bonus?”
“Sure,” Walter agreed half-heartedly. He looked around the vast, muted chamber; there were about a dozen croupiers and gamblers scattered throughout. “Seems slow, sort of like-”
“A ghost town?” Mr. C. replied. “Yeah, it usually picks up in a few hours.”
“Mm,” Walter grunted. “So how does the bonus work?”
“Simple enough,” Mr. C. said matter-of-factly. “You guess the color five times in a row. Get them right each time, you get a bonus.”
“How much?” Walter asked, reaching for his wallet.
“Not necessary,” Mr. C. said. “No money in, no money out.”
“Oh,” Walter said, confused. “So it’s not a cash prize…?”
“Nope. Just a bonus,” Mr. C. said.
“Whatever,” Walter said. “Umm, red.” He glanced at the ball as it spun around endlessly, then landed in the red square.
“Next guess?” Mr. C. asked.
“Red again,” Walter said. He guessed correctly again. In fact, he guessed correctly two more times. By the fifth spin, his adrenaline had kicked in. “Black!” he said excitedly.
“Wow – congratulations!” Mr. C. said as it landed on black.
“Pretty good, huh?” Walter said, as if he were somehow in control.
Mr. C. chuckled. “Well, you won fair and square, so now the prize. For the next minute, you will be impervious to pain. Ready?”
“Come on,” Walter groaned. “Seriously??”
“Go!” Mr. C. said, starting his stopwatch. “Try hitting yourself.”
“What, like th-” Walter slapped his face. “Geez, I probably didn’t feel it because of the, you know, it’s like a placebo or something.”
“Do you have a pocket knife?” Mr. C. asked.
“Sure,” Walter said. He pulled it from his pocket and tossed it on the table. Mr. C. grabbed it, popped out the blade, and casually jammed it into Walter’s hand.
“Anything?” Mr. C. asked calmly.
“WHAT THE HELL??” Walter shouted. He looked around the room – a few people glanced at him, but nobody seemed to care. “Also, HOW??”
“And there’s no blood,” Mr. C. said. “See?”
“Whaaaaa…” Walter said, marveling at the blade stuck in his hand which, apparently, wasn’t causing any damage.
“Also, you might wanna pull that out – time’s about up.” Walter yanked it out just as the stopwatch beeped. His hand had a small scar where the blade had been. He gently poked at his finger with the knife, and it bled, as expected.
“How did you.. I mean, what- am I dreaming??” Walter gasped.
“No, too real to be a dream, isn’t it?” Mr. C. said.
“But then, I mean… how, HOW??” Walter exclaimed.
“Magic,” Mr. C. said with a smirk. “Perks of the job I guess.”
“The job? Are you, what, a magician, or doctor, or – shoot, I don’t even know..”
“I have a lot of titles.. deceiver, accuser, morning star, Lucifer… Choose whichever title you want.”
“No…” Walter said. “No, that can’t, that’s not.. wait, but why would you make me feel no pain? I mean, wouldn’t you want the opposite?”
“Well, if you insist,” Mr. C. said casually. Walter’s hand suddenly burst into flame, then froze a second later, then was covered with fire ants, then went back to normal. “I thought that might scare you away though..”
Walter was dumbfounded. “So.. give me a second, sorry.”
“No rush,” Mr. C. said with a smile. He casually rolled the ball and spun the wheel while Walter’s mind fumbled about.
“Wait – so you knew I would win, you planned it right?”
“Smart guy,” Mr. C. said. “I mean, you made the first move technically. But yes, another perk of the job I suppose.”
“No, this still doesn’t – sorry, but why are you here? Not like here, Earth here, but here, at the casino? Wouldn’t you want to be taking over the planet, or, I don’t know-”
“Making deals?” Mr. C. said. “You mean like in the good ol’ days?”
“The good ol’ days?” Walter asked.
“Back when I made deals, bargained for souls, promised immortality, etcetera etcetera ad infinitum. Regrettably, people can’t stomach that level of complexity and intimacy anymore, so I’ve adapted.”
“But this,” Walter said, gesturing to the casino floor. “This seems like a big step down, isn’t it?”
Mr. C. shook his head. “On the contrary, this is right up my alley. You ever seen anybody happy in a casino?”
“All the time…” Walter said, confused.
“Sorry, have you ever seen anybody happy leave a casino?” Mr. C. smiled.
“Yeah… the winners.”
“Right, the ones in the news. Not the thousands who lose. Who leave feeling unlucky, who drop five hundred, a thousand bucks, for no return. I tell you, not much thrills me more than seeing somebody built up, only to see them fall. It’s like my job is to be the guy that knocks down the house of cards. And, I get the added satisfaction of knowing that they just keep coming back, time and again, like they reset and respawn every time they- sorry, I don’t want to keep you.”
“Oh no, no no,” Walter said. “So you don’t make deals ever?”
“Every now and then,” Mr. C. said with all the subversive obliviousness of the token bartender.
“I mean, I’m down to make one,” Walter said. “Why the hell not, right?”
Mr. C. glared at him and shouted: “Don’t talk about my house like that!” There was awkward silence for a moment. “Kidding,” Mr. C. smiled.
Walter sighed with relief. “You’re really enjoying this, aren’t you?”
“You have no idea,” Mr. C. said contentedly. “So… your deal… not that you’ll make a good one…”
“Excuse me?” Walter asked.
“It’s just a fact, there are never good deals with me – I mean, what do you expect, right? The house always wins.” He sighed. “And yet people keep biting… wonder why that is…”
“Because we think we can beat you,” Walter said. “I mean, who wouldn’t want to be able to say, ‘I pulled a fast one on the devil.’”
“And yet, nobody has.”
“Hey, independent events, right?” Walter suddenly had a light bulb go off. “Just like one of these games, you want me to think that my odds are worse because nobody has ever won… but…” he thought out loud, putting it together as he went, “but it doesn’t matter if everyone before me loses the deal – I haven’t lost one yet, so their success doesn’t matter..?”
“But you’re just like them,” Mr. C. countered.
“True, true, but I’m also different, because now I know that you assume the deal will be bad for the human, and, and..” He paused. “Who usually recommends the deals, you or the person?”
“Mutual,” Mr. C. said. “Back and forth.”
“Mmm… Interesting,” Walter said confidently. “As long as you’re involved in the deal, you’ll always rig it to your benefit. But what if I set the terms? Not just my end of the deal, but everything, and your job is to agree to whatever I, you know, whatever I describe.”
“You wouldn’t be the first,” Mr. C. said. “Though you’re certainly more advanced than most,” he added with a grin. He was still casually spinning the ball around the wheel, while Walter paced excitedly.
“Fine by me,” Walter said happily. “Alright… so just to be clear, whatever I arrange for, you have to agree to.”
“Within reason,” Mr. C. said.
“No, not within reason – anything.”
“I know what you mean,” Mr. C. said patronizingly. “I meant, within certain laws of reason that not even I can alter, yes, I agree.”
“We’ll see…” Walter said suspiciously. “So, first part.. it seems like your deals always involve immortality. Which, already, I know is a bad deal. So I don’t want to be immortal… but, I don’t want to die… and you’re good with this, right, with me making the rules?”
“Sure,” Mr. C. said.
“But why?” Walter said. “Aren’t you even a little worried?”
“Nope. House always wins, you guys always forget something.” Mr. C. winked, then rolled the ball at breakneck speed around the wheel.
“Not this time..” Walter said. “So like I was saying, I don’t want to live forever, but I want – I want to die on my own terms. Like, if at any point I just want to end it, you know.. let’s say I’m ninety, and I’ve had a good run, and I think that it’s a ‘good time’, then I call you up and you kill me. But it has to be painless and instantaneous.”
“Okay,” Mr. C. agreed.
“And – and I can’t risk dying before then, so I can’t get sick, nothing happens if I get in a car crash, literally no other way to kill me. I want to be immortal until I’m ready to die.”
“So, selective mortality,” Mr. C. smiled. “Pretty standard so far.”
Walter rolled his eyes. “I’m not done yet, geez. Oh, and I can’t be in a situation where I’m incapacitated, so like, no comas or anything like that. You’re not getting that loophole.”
“Fair enough,” Mr. C. said. “You die when you want, not until then, and you always have the capacity to make that decision.”
“Exactly. Now, I also don’t want you to have any of my soul. So, I don’t want to lose any emotions or empathy, you know, I still want to be able to make love and have a family and not be a heartless machine.”
“Duly noted,” Mr. C. said.
“But, you also don’t get my soul in the afterlife..”
“That’s where the rules of reason apply,” Mr. C. said.
“And there it is,” Walter said, vindicated. “I knew you would say something like that eventually. I knew there was a catch!”
“First, they’re not my rules,” Mr. C. said. “I can’t force you to end up in Heaven if that’s not his will. Second, there is a catch, but I promise this isn’t it.”
“But, you can take somebody’s soul to hell, right?” Walter asked.
“That’s different though,” Mr. C. said. “And even then, I need your permission – I can’t override entry to Heaven, nor would I want to. But..” he added, seeing that Walter was clearly perturbed. “I can guarantee that your final destination won’t be impacted. In other words, you’re not more or less likely to go to Heaven now that you’ve met me. And as much as I’d want otherwise,” he added, “I think that’s where you’ll end up.”
Walter seemed relieved. “Alright. As long as the system still works in my favor-”
“Fairly,” Mr. C. clarified.
“Fairly. As long as it works the same way it’s supposed to, I’m fine.”
“As am I.”
“And… yeah, I think that’s it,” Walter said. “You don’t get my soul, I don’t lose emotions, I’m not stuck with immortality or fear of death… Hate to say it, but I think this deal is rock solid.”
Mr. C. chuckled. “They always do.”
“No, seriously, what am I missing?”
“You’re just overlooking something – but you’ll figure it out eventually.”
“Overlooking what?” Walter said. “This deal is perfect. It’s…” he paced a bit, trying to make sure he had covered all his bases. “Yeah, it’s fine. And nobody besides me is involved, right? Like, this deal isn’t at the expense of anyone else?”
“Correct,” Mr. C. said.
“And my death will be completely of my own choice, and painless, right?”
“And my eternal destiny is out of your hands.”
“I.. yeah, I can’t think of a…” he paused. “Waaaaait a minute. Ooh, yes, you almost had me. You’re too clever for your own good!” he said.
“Oh?” Mr. C. asked.
Walter was on fire now, certain he had figured it all out. “You just want me to think I made a bad deal, but you said it yourself, you’re the deceiver. You’re just trying to mess with me. And you’ll just randomly show up every now and then to make me think I’m about to find ‘the catch’, but there won’t be one, and I’ll stress about it. And you’ll keep appearing and making me doubt myself when I was really right the whole time! Well now that I know your plan, it won’t work!”
Mr. C. smiled. “In that case, I promise to leave you completely alone. Unless of course it’s the moment when you’re asking me to kill you.”
Walter nodded. “Agreed, no way you’re going to psych me out. Nice try though.”
“Hey, I can’t win them all, right?” Mr. C. said. “But that’s the business – most people bring in a steady cash flow, but every now and then I pay out a jackpot. So do we have a deal?”
“We do indeed, best one I’ve ever made,” Walter said. They shook hands, Mr. C. smiled, then rolled the ball one last time. It landed perfectly on the edge between the squares. Walter scoffed. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
“Just remember,” Mr. C. said as Walter stepped outside, “the house always wins.”
Walter whirled around, but Mr. C. was gone. A different croupier was at the table, and the casino was suddenly filled with life. Walter did a double take, looked at the spot on his hand where the knife had been (there were no marks), and then slowly walked back home.
Begin ending narration and accompanying footage.
NARRATOR: For the first six months, Walter felt a vivacity and optimism that had eluded him for years. But as time went out, a thought ate away at him. What if Mr. C. was right, and there really was a catch?
Walter tried to reconnect with Mr. C., to confront him, to demand to know what the loophole was. But Mr. C., true to his word, deliberately eluded Walter. You see, Walter had, in fact, been right – there was no catch. It was a perfect deal. Right up until the point when Mr. C. agreed that he never see Walter again.
That was the one part of the deal Walter didn’t choose, the clause that Mr. C. had snuck in at the last minute. And after fifteen years, the uncertainty drove Walter to insanity. He did see Mr. C. one last time, for an agonizing but liberating second before asking him to take his life. Such an ending may seem cruel, twisted, or simply absurd, but would you expect anything less when you’re in… the Twilight Zone?