Too Much to Lose

By Carl R. Merritt


        Jesse Martin, bank manager, was a man whom everyone thought of as having a lot of money. True, his job paid very well. In fact, so well, most people with his salary would have been able to live a very comfortable life.
        Not so in Jesse's case. Jesse had a problem with food - he couldn't get enough of it. Most of his income either went to buying food, or else to the necessities his obesity demanded.
        For example, his van. It had been specially modified to accommodate his bulk. There was no passenger seat in the front. The driver's seat had been repositioned back from the wheel a full two feet in order for Jesse to get behind the wheel. Heavy duty shocks and springs and a motorized lift for the man to get inside were also a few of the van's accessories.
        Jesse weighed 550 pounds.
        For years Jesse had tried fad diets, crash diets, and on occasion, an exercise program. Once he even went as far as to enroll in a fat reducing program at the local hospital. All this was a waste of time for the fat man. He could no more control his calorie intake than he could control his breathing. With no will power whatsoever, Jesse ate like a pig, and there was nothing on this Earth that was going to change the fact that everything he ate immediately turned to fat. 
        Or so he thought.
        One night, as Jesse sat in the bar and grill a few blocks from his house, shoveling in junk food and washing it down with draft beer, he overheard a conversation between two men sitting a few stools away.
        "And I swear to you, Harry, this guy is capable of giving you anything you want, as long as you're willing to pay his price! Hell, I hear he can even bring back the dead! Why don't you go over to Virginia and see this guy? I'd bet anything that he could get Sally loving you again!"
        "Yeah, right! And I got a full head of hair, too!" the bald man replied. "Al, listen, I don't hold much stock in all that mumbo-jumbo. You say this guy is a ghost? And he helps people? Come off it! You've had too much to drink!"
        "What have you got to lose? You want Sally back, don't you?"
        "The state of Virginia is a seven hour drive from here! I'm not going to waste all that time driving there and back just to find out it's all a big hoax! In fact, I'm wasting too much time here listening to you! I'm going!" With that, Harry got up, reached into his back pocket for his wallet and threw a twenty dollar bill on the bar to settle up his tab. Then, shaking his head in disgust, he stormed out through the front door.
        Jesse, without being obvious about it, watched Al for a few minutes while he thought about what he'd just heard. The guy said "anything you want," Jesse remembered. An idea was taking shape inside Jesse's mind as he got up from his bar stool and waddled over to talk to the man.
        "Excuse me," Jesse said, out of breath already just from walking the seven or eight feet. "I couldn't help but overhear your conversation and I hope you don't mind if I ask you a question, or two. You say this guy is . . . dead!?"
        Al took one look at Jesse's gargantuan bulk and almost laughed. If it weren't for the fact that all this titanic man had to do to kill him was simply sit on him, Al might have done just that. Instead, he simply swallowed hard and answered the big man. "Yeah, guy. There was an article in one of the trash mags about him. His name is Abe something. He's a ghost that lives in a cave. Supposed to be somewhere near Moore's Lake in Virginia."
        "Virginia, huh? Does this "Abe" grant wishes for just anybody, or what? You said something about a price... "
        "Look man, I don't know too much about it, really. I just read about it today in one of those tabloid magazines. There's a carryout right across the street, why don't you go buy yourself one? You can read all about him for yourself."
        Jesse considered that, but quickly discarded the idea. The walk across the street would be too much, he'd be panting before he made it halfway there.  "I'll tell you what, pal. How much is your tab?"
        The bartender heard the question and answered before Al could open his mouth. "It's high, buddy. A little over thirty."
        "Then I'll tell you what," Jesse continued. "Al, I'll pay off your tab if you run over there and pick one up for me."
        Even in his drunken state, it didn't take Al but a moment to make up his mind. If this fat slob was going to pay him thirty dollars to run an errand as simple as that...
        "You got a deal, man. Be right back." 
        The bartender was walking up to Jesse from the other side of the bar. At first, Jesse thought all the barkeep wanted was his money, but when he considered the look of concern on the man's face, he knew different.
        "Buddy, the best thing you can do is pay that guy's tab and forget all about going to Moore's Lake. I hear a lot being a bartender, and I'm gonna give it to you straight. This ghost you're talking about gives new meaning to the term 'bad news.' I read that article also and it doesn't go into all the bad stuff. I doubt the guy who wrote it even had enough balls to talk to Abe in person. He says right in the article that it's all hearsay. But I'm telling you, I knew a guy a long time ago that went to see Abe. I was just a kid at the time, but I remember what the man looked like when he came back. His skin was gone! Like it had been peeled off, or something! No . . . best advice . . . forget all about it. The price is too high."
        Jesse was about to ask the bartender a few questions when Al returned. He came running through the door waving the magazine like a flag. "Got it! You pay off my tab yet?"
        "Doing it now," replied Jesse, giving the bartender a fifty and telling him to keep the change.
        Browsing through the tabloid, it didn't take Jesse long to find the article he wanted. There was a hand drawn picture above the article, an artist's impression of what Abe was supposed to look like. Al was wrong, Jesse knew, looking at the picture. Abe was no ghost, he appeared to be the Grim Reaper! Maybe the bartender is right, Jesse thought, maybe I better forget all about this... 
        "See right there where it says Abe will grant any wish?" Al asked his new friend, pointing at the second paragraph. "All you gotta do is pay his price!"
        Ignoring the drunken fool, Jesse read the entire article on his own. There wasn't anything in it that stated exactly what the price would be for granting these wishes. He was about to dismiss the whole thing when Al asked the question that broke the ice. He seemed to know exactly what Jesse's wish would be.
        "What have you got to lose, pal? How long are you gonna live the way you are without having a heart attack, or a stroke? Ask Abe about the price in advance. If it's too high . . . leave. Simple, right?"
        Yeah. Simple, Jesse thought. Just ask the ghoul the price beforehand... "Yeah, guy. Your point is well taken. All right! I'll do it!"
        "Buddy, if that's all you want, to lose weight, do it some other way! That Abe is nobody to mess with, I'm telling you! Hell, stop eating! Lift weights! There are lots of ways those pounds can come off without making deals with the damned devil!"
        Jesse didn't respond. Couldn't respond. How could he tell the guy that he just had to eat? That food was all he lived for? That just the thought of eating was even better than he remembered sex to be? No, Jesse didn't say a word. He just paid his own bill, ambled over to pick up his coat and hat, and left. He knew what he had to do and there were a lot of preparations he had to make before he could do it.
        The first thing he had to do, of course, was arrange for someone to take his place at the bank while he went on what he considered to be a "Medical Leave."

        Three days later, Jesse was pulling his van into the town of Moore's Lake, Virginia. He didn't know where to start looking for Abe's tomb, didn't even know who to ask. But one thing was certain - he was hungry again. With his stomach growling like a bear, he pulled his van into the first diner he came to and decided Abe's tomb could wait a little longer.
        It took the big man three minutes to extract himself from the van and make his way inside the small diner. By the time he made it inside, Jesse was completely out of breath. Patrons sitting by the windows noticed this, and a few were still chuckling when Jesse entered. One little kid, not more than eight years old, was particularly cruel.
        "Hey, mister! If you weren't so fat, you'd walk a lot better!" the kid said, obviously unaware of how much the comment hurt.
        "Bobby! Come here this instant!" a woman said, her anger showing as she waited for the child to obey. She and some average looking man were sitting at one of the booths by the window. When the child reached them, the woman gave him a whack on the butt and looked up at Jesse, an apologetic look on her face. "We're sorry, sir. He's only seven and don't know what he's saying."
        "Mmmm, maybe," Jesse said, trying to act as though the comment didn't bother him. Pasting a smile on his face, he continued. "But at least he's accurate. I would find it a lot easier to walk if I lost a few pounds."
        The woman said something else, but Jesse didn't hear it. He was too concerned at the moment with just finding an empty table so he could get something to eat.
        Forty-five minutes later, Jesse was just finishing his fourth double cheeseburger and his third soft drink. Normally, only four large sandwiches wouldn't even have come close to satisfying Jesse's appetite. But with the french fries, large salad, bread sticks, onion rings, potato chips and fried mushrooms, he was finally satiated.
        Now that hunger was no longer his main concern, Jesse concentrated once more on his goal, the quest for Abe's tomb. There had to be someone in this town that he could enlist as a guide, he was thinking. A story about their town had been written up in a national tabloid. Regardless of how scandalous the magazine was, people in a small town like this would naturally be impressed and want to talk about Abe and his tomb.
        Jesse called the waitress over again.
        "Ma'am, I was wondering if I could get some information from you? I'm looking for Abe's tomb. Is there someone in town I could hire as a gui... " Before Jesse could finish asking, the woman's face turned ashen and she raced away.
        As startled as he was by this, Jesse was even more surprised by the way the other customers in the diner were reacting to the question. At first, there was only whispering, lots of it. Then, the couple closest to Jesse got up and left, whispering something to another couple as they rushed towards the front door. The horror on their faces was very apparent. Within moments, nearly all the other customers were rushing to get their checks paid so they could leave also. One man, who had a wife and three kids with him, sent his family out to the car so they could take off without waiting around for him to pay the check. The man had to walk home, but that didn't seem to bother him. In fact, he looked relieved to do so, knowing his family was now safe.
        "I don't believe this!" Jesse whispered after the place was empty, himself nearly in shock. 
        "You better believe it." 
        The voice came from behind Jesse. He was amazed that anyone had heard his statement, he had whispered it that softly. Jesse grunted with the effort as he swiveled in his chair to see who had responded to his remark. It was an old man, sitting alone at the next table over and thoroughly enjoying a cup of steaming, black coffee. It had been left by one of the couples rushing out the door.
        The man looked to be in his sixties, though with all the dirt on his face, it was hard for Jesse to be certain. His clothes were ragged, looking like the old man had either retrieved them from a Goodwill store, or else had worn the same clothes for a lifetime, refusing to throw them away. He had a thin beard, gray and very short in length. Looking down at the man's feet, Jesse saw a pair of old style military boots, the kind the U.S. Calvary wore in their raids against the Confederate States - Jesse knew this from watching too many movies. As old and beat up as the boots were, Jesse had to wonder if they were the genuine articles.
        "I'm sorry, mister. Could you repeat that?"
        "No need to repeat myself, junior. Ye heard me well enough the first time."
        Taken aback somewhat by this remark, Jesse had just about decided to let the matter drop when the old man spoke up again. "Ye want to see 'ole Abe, huh? Well now, let me tell ye, that would nae be a smart move. Abe will charge you a price, the same as he charged me a price. And trust me . . . it's nothing you want to pay."
        "What price did he charge you?" inquired Jesse, totally amazed that he had been fortunate enough to run into someone who had actually been to Abe's tomb.
        "What does it look like he charged me?! I used to be rich! Had my own clothes factory with more orders than the workers could produce before I went and saw that no good demon! Hah! I was stupid, that's what I was! I already had everything a man had a right to ask for, and I wanted more! More! That's what cost me everything . . . greed!"
        "You mean as long as the favor you ask is not greed related, everything will be alright?" Jesse asked, a faint glimmer of hope entering his mind.
        "Nope. Don't work that way! Hell, don't know what way it does work! All I know is, if ye enter Abe's tomb, he'll charge ye a price.  And Abe will always collect his price!   I went back after I learned my lesson and chiseled that little saying on the outer wall of the tomb . . . just so no one can say they weren't warned."
        "So. You know where the tomb is located. Feel like earning a few hundred bucks?"
        "Won't do me no good," the old man said, looking over at another empty table to see what the previous patrons had left behind.
        "W-what do you mean?" Jesse asked, not understanding at all why a few hundred dollars meant so little to the man, who, in all likelihood was homeless.
        "Give me a coin," the old man said, holding out a filthy hand. "Come on! Drop any coin ye care to lose into the palm of my hand! Then watch it real careful like. You'll see!"
        Jesse did as he was told and dropped a penny into the old man's outstretched palm. Then, as he glanced up into the old man's eyes, said, "Okay, you've got your wish. Now what?"
        The old man didn't say a word. He simply smiled and looked down at his hand.
        The hand was empty!
        But the old man didn't even so much as flinch, Jesse thought to himself! But he must have! He must have somehow removed the penny without me seeing it! I shouldn't have looked up from the coin! Next time, I won't!
        "I want to see that again!" Jesse said, this time carefully placing a dime in the old man's palm. This time, Jesse stared at the dime as it slowly disappeared from the man's hand. No slight of hand trick either. The coin literately dissolved into nothing within a second!
        "Ye see what I'm talkin' about now? That was my price! I asked for a way to make more money, and got it, but Abe made sure I'd keep none of it! Ever! One month after striking it rich beyond my wildest dreams, all me money just up and disappeared, my business, the stocks, bonds . . . everything."
        "But at least you're still alive," Jesse said in an effort to console the man.
        "Yes, I'm alive. That's the problem. Abe won't let me die! I'm to live like this for eternity!"
        "W-what?"
        "How old do you think I am, boy? Come on! How old?"
        "I'd say between fifty-five and seventy. Not too much older than that, if any older at all."
        "I was born in 1801 . . . March. I fought in the Spanish - American War, and got 'drafted' by the North in the Civil War when I was sixty. By that time I had me own business going. That's also when I messed up - went to Abe's tomb. Didn't want to lose everything I worked so hard to git so I asked him for ways for my factory to make money while I was away... "
        "You all right?" Jesse asked when he saw the old man appear to crumble right before his eyes.
        "Yeah, I try to come here to Moore's Lake once in a while to warn people about Abe, but it's hard. Most people think I'm an old fool. Those that believe . . . they never listen. Those that want to see him can't be convinced otherwise. Same as ye, I'm seein' now. You're gonna go too, regardless what I say."
        "Don't go away. I'll be right back," Jesse said, getting up and going behind the empty diner's counter. He poured another cup of coffee for the old man and grabbed some doughnuts, leaving a twenty by the cash register before waddling back to the table. Jesse's heart went out to the old man now that he knew the story. But the old man was right, Jesse was not going to change his mind at this late stage. He'd thought long and hard about what he was about to do before he ever left home and Jesse knew that if he wanted to live very much longer, Abe was his only choice. For years, Jesse's doctors had told him that his weight was going to kill him eventually, and in the last few years, it was becoming apparent that his death was going to be sooner rather than later. "Here. I bought some more food for you."
        "Thanks, son."
        "Will you take me to Abe's tomb?"
        "Nope. Ain't never going there agin', son. If I live to be a thousand, I'll never go back. Ain't tellin' ye where it is, either. If ye want to go and git yourself killed, I want no part of it!"
        They talked for another fifteen minutes in complete privacy. Word had gotten out. There was another lunatic inside the diner that wanted to visit Abe's tomb. And now, not one of the Moore's Lake residents wanted to be associated with Jesse. For all they knew, just being near the fat man could be dangerous.
        The fat man and the old-timer talked for another fifteen minutes until Jesse was sure he would get no further help. Jesse then went up to the counter again, laid another twenty by the register and came back with more food for the old man. Seeing the look of gratitude on the old man's face, Jesse said his farewells and headed for the door.
        After Jesse left the diner, the food he had left on the table shimmered and slowly disappeared. The old man sadly shook his head and cried.

        For three hours Jesse drove around town, asking from his van's window if anyone would be willing to show him the way to the tomb. He was being ignored by all those he approached. Finally, one young man who worked on cars for a living said he would do it, for five hundred dollars.
        Jesse knew he had little choice other than to agree if he wanted to find Abe's tomb, so he motioned for the man to get inside and direct him where to go. Jesse wanted to hurry, it was starting to get dark outside.
    `    "It's really not too far from here," the man said after he was paid. "Up on your left is an old cemetery. Pull in there."
        "You're kidding! I heard Abe had his tomb in an old cave! If you're just... "
        "Trust me! I know what I'm talking about! I been there! Not inside the cave, of course, but I've seen it! I know where it is."
        Agreeing, Jesse found the cemetery and pulled inside. He was disappointed that there were no roads inside the graveyard. He hoped beyond all reason that the cave was not too far.
        "We have to get out and walk from here," the man said, knowing full well that Jesse would have a difficult time reaching the cave. "If you've got a flashlight, you'd better bring it."
        Jesse came well prepared for the trip and did indeed have a flashlight. He went to the back of the van, threw on an old jacket and hat, put the flashlight in his pocket until it was needed and, after locking the van, motioned for the young man to lead the way.
        Above them, a huge brown bat watched them from the cover of an old tree. Its interest was stirred as it noticed the size of the one man. The master would be pleased...

        "Damn it!" Jesse wheezed. "Slow the hell down! You know damned well I can't keep up with you if you walk that fast!" Jesse was already exhausted and they were only halfway through the graveyard. It was fall and the temperature had to be around fifty degrees, but still Jesse was sweating like a pig and he soon took off his jacket and tossed it over an old gravestone, hoping the occupant didn't mind. "How much further is it anyway?"
        "Not much further," the man replied. "We just get to that hill on the other side of the cemetery and the tomb is just . . . maybe two, or three hundred yards inside the woods. Piece of cake!"
        To you maybe, Jesse thought, unbuttoning his shirt and gasping for air. "Wait a minute!" he called out. "I have to rest for a few seconds!" With that, Jesse plopped his huge frame atop a small above-the-ground crypt to catch his breath. It was about three feet in height and as far as Jesse was concerned, a perfect chair. He sat for almost a full minute, staring at the ground, sucking in air and hoping that the man was telling the truth in that the tomb wasn't too much further. If it was, Jesse knew he may just have that heart attack, or stroke before he reached the cave. 
        "Are there any hills we have to climb?" Jesse asked, not even having the strength to lift his massive head. He had already decided that if there were any hills, he was going to turn back right then and there and find some other way to go to the cave. Maybe an off-road vehicle, he was thinking. In his agony, it took Jesse a few seconds to realize that the man hadn't answered. Finally raising his head and looking around, he saw that the man had skipped out on him.
Jesse was alone.
        "Hey! Get your butt back here!" the big man yelled into the darkness. Jesse listened for a few seconds, thinking he may hear the man as he tromped over the dead leaves, but there was nothing to indicate his guide was anywhere near. The only sounds Jesse heard were the wind as it ran through the graveyard and an occasional owl. "Oh, hell!!" he swore to himself.
        Okay, so now I have a choice. Do I go back to the van and start all over tomorrow morning, or do I believe the man when he said it wasn't too much further and continue?
        Jesse knew if he quit now, he may never have the opportunity to try it again. His health was that bad. He had to call upon his reserves and try to make it on his own. Taking a deep breath, Jesse fought to get to his feet and set out.
        Once alone, Jesse began to understand just how spooky this graveyard actually was. For one thing, it was old! Resting again after another hundred feet, he took the time to read a few of the markers. Time had eroded the lettering on the stones, but Jesse could still make out a few of the dates. Almost all these graves dated back to the 1860s. These people had all died in the Civil War!
        A half hour later, Jesse had made it to the far side of the cemetery and was now at the edge of the woods. He could plainly see the low, sloping hills he had to search, but now he knew there was no choice. He was simply too exhausted to make it all the way back to his van. Quitting now wasn't even an option.

        Jesse was still looking for the cave forty-five minutes later, though he had just now reached the spot he estimated to be two hundred yards from where the woods began. Up until this time, Jesse had not used his flashlight except in exceptionally dark areas. He had wanted to conserve the batteries for use inside the cave. However, with all the trip hazards the woods now seemed to have, he was forced to have it on almost continuously. He just hoped the batteries would last him through the night.
        Shining the powerful beam around the different hillsides, Jesse searched for any sign of a cave. He didn't know if the opening was large or small, or if it was covered with plant growth or not, so he was forced to examine every possibility very carefully. Eventually, the flashlight fell upon a small, dark spot on the side of the third hill he explored. Jesse thought that might just be the cave. But as he waddled nearer, he hoped like hell he was wrong. For it looked to be...
        "Damn!"
        ...too small! Jesse was nearly twice the diameter of the cave's opening!
        The big man sat at the mouth of the cave for nearly an hour, wondering the entire time just what the hell he would do now. There was no way he could make it back to his van without a night's rest. He couldn't stay out there in the woods all night. With his poor health and the damp chill in the air, he'd be dead before morning. Jesse tried yelling into the cave over and over, hoping that if Abe could hear him, he'd be generous enough to lend a hand.
        However, there were no sounds coming from within the cave except some strange, flapping noises. Jesse had no idea what the hell could have made them. And at the moment, he didn't care. He had to think of something!
        Not knowing what else to do, Jesse began the long process of scraping away at the sides of the opening with his bare hands, knowing of course, it would take hours of concentrated effort. At least I can sit down while I'm doing this, he thought.
        In the darkness, not three feet above Jesse's head, hung that same brown bat . . . patiently waiting.

        "There!" Jesse gasped out, as he shoved aside the last of the three large rocks that had prevented him from squeezing through the opening. Totally exhausted from the strenuous work, Jesse studied the hole, now nearly four feet in diameter and judged it to be wide enough. It had to be wide enough, he knew. Any more digging with his already cut and bruised hands and he'd be dying on the spot.
        Putting the flashlight in his pants' pocket, Jesse stuck his head through the opening and began to crawl through. It was a very tight fit, but he thought if he squirmed around enough, he'd be able to make it. Then, disaster struck . . . halfway through the opening, the flashlight in his pants got caught in the rocks! Jesse was pinned, unable to go forward. And with his legs dangling off the ground outside the cave, Jesse was unable to get back out. He was stuck.
        "Help!" he yelled, knowing it would do no good whatsoever. It was then that a few of Jesse's worst nightmares became reality. Something had landed on his legs outside the cave and was nibbling away at his flesh! It felt as though his skin was being ripped away. The pain was unbearable! Squirming like a beached whale, Jesse used his legs to chase the creature away. A bird, he thought. What else could it have been?
        The frightful experience was enough to get Jesse motivated again. Twisting over to one side, he found that if he held in his stomach and pulled at the rocky ground with his hands, the flashlight would miss the rocks and he would be able to slide his bulk through the opening like a nightcrawler. Within a few minutes, Jesse was though the mouth of the cave, but as he tried to get his flashlight working, he discovered it was broken. He'd smashed the lens and bulb as he squirmed through the rocks.
        For the first time in years, total fear enveloped the big man like a blanket.
        Jesse shook his head to clear it and really couldn't understand why he was feeling this way. He had always approached difficult situations with calm logic and firm determination. But there was just something about this cave that had an overriding effect on all that. It was nothing concrete, but the sensation of a presence of evil was overwhelming.
        The fat man decided to fall back on old habits and made a calm, logical assessment of his situation, starting with the absence of a light source in a potentially dangerous cave. Jesse remembered having a flashlight once that had a spare bulb tucked away inside the handle. As he unscrewed the flashlight to check, all he could do was hope. Still near enough to the cave's entrance, there was barely enough light to see that his hopes were in vain. The flashlight contained no spare bulbs.
        Disgusted and slightly angry with himself for not being more fully prepared, Jesse blindly began groping his way down the walls of the cave. That's when his head bumped into what felt like a tree branch. Searching the object with his hands, Jesse's mouth formed a grin. He had found a torch. Moments later, he had also located a butane lighter.
        Jesse lit the torch and after inspecting his surroundings, continued on with a little more confidence. He noticed that the walls of the cave had a thick, black substance oozing down from ceiling to floor. Puddles of the stuff were here and there along his path. Something to be avoided, he knew. No telling what the stuff was.
        A fluttering sound from up ahead stopped Jesse in his tracks. He held the torch higher in an attempt to see into the distance, but saw nothing that would account for the noise. Jesse was about to continue when a large, brown bat swooped down from nowhere and nearly succeeded in knocking the torch from his hands. Taking a swipe at the creature, Jesse tried his best to knock the bat into next week. But it was too late. The bat had already swerved up towards the roof of the cave and was long gone.
        With a sigh, Jesse continued on.
        The torch illuminated bones all over the cave. Some were human, most were not. The animal skeletons he could understand. But why were there also human bones scattered about? Did Abe kill his victims before they even had a chance to leave? Jesse was contemplating this when he heard the fluttering sound again.
        This time the big man knew what to expect and held the flaming torch with both hands, ready to swing.
        Seconds passed with no sign of the bat. But with the torch held at such an angle, all Jesse could see ahead of him were shadows. When Jesse moved the torch out in front he instantly saw the bat, hovering just a few feet in front of him.
        The damned thing was huge! Jesse couldn't believe the size of it. Big, brown wings, at least two feet across, flapped very slowly . . . just fast enough to keep the creature aloft. Then Jesse got the impression that the bat was studying him for some reason . . . which somehow made the thing even creepier.
        The nightmarish creature hung in the air like that for a few more seconds then flew off towards the ceiling. Jesse was glad to see it go and, after wiping the sweat from his forehead, turned to continue...
        ...and instantly froze again. There was a very faint glow coming from further down the tunnel.
        Maybe the tomb, Jesse thought! Running through cobwebs, having spiders land on his face, even tripping over old bones didn't bother Jesse now that his goal was in sight. He plodded through everything, nothing would stop him now.
        Wheezing and out of breath again, Jesse stopped a few yards from the light and just looked in astonishment. The light came from two torches, one on each wall. Who had lit them, Jesse didn't have a clue. And it didn't really matter now. For what they brought into illumination was Abe's tomb!
        The crypt itself was actually the back of the cave, sealed off long ago by a wall of stone and mortar. The door to the tomb was an old gravestone with one word on it, "Abe." To the left of the door were the old man's words he had chiseled in the stone over a hundred years before: All ye who enter beware: a price for those who dare! Sometime since then, someone had painted a pirate's insignia above the warning. Jesse didn't let the message dissuade him. As soon as his breathing was back to normal, he grabbed the door and with every ounce of strength he had left, Jesse pulled it open. 
        Entering, Jesse about tripped over a set of human bones. He idly wondered if they were what was left of Abe, or the remains of someone who had come to have a wish granted.
        "Hey! Anyone here?"
        Immediately, a swirling, cloudy mist appeared. It seemed to glow. Faster and faster it swirled until a man's shape began to take form in the center. No, not a man, Jesse now noticed, but a grotesque specter of death, dressed in an old brown robe that was tattered and torn.
        Jesse knew Abe had come to greet him. Or kill him. Jesse didn't know which, but he reasoned that if he worded his request correctly, concise and to the point, the ghoul may find it difficult to collect a fee.
        Now fully materialized, Abe took one look at the gargantuan man and grinned. He already knew what the man wanted, and already knew what he would get. Not quite the same thing.
        "Speak, mortal! What is your request?" Abe demanded with a voice straight from hell.
        "I take it you're Abe?"
        The ghoul remained silent. He didn't respond to foolish questions.
        "Okay, okay. I want you to make me lose weight. Plain and simple. Nothing else, that's all. Just lose weight, and nothing more. Will you help me?"
        Abe, if he had been alive, would have laughed. This fool human was attempting to make it so he couldn't extract his price . . . as so many others had tried to do and failed. Well, since the human wanted to keep the conversation short, Abe complied.
        "Granted!" Then, without warning, Abe disappeared. 
        Jesse couldn't believe it was that simple. He attempted to call Abe back, to inquire about the price, but the Grim Reaper wouldn't return. After a few minutes, Jesse left Abe's tomb, wondering during the long walk back to his van if he hadn't just made the biggest mistake of his life. Jesse remembered too late to tell Abe that he wanted to stay thin, never to gain the weight back!

        For the next year, Jesse lost weight since he was now able to stay on a diet. As a result, as he got thinner, he found himself enjoying life more and more. Within a week of his trip to Abe's tomb, he had already lost twenty pounds, and even then, found it easier to move around. It wasn't long afterwards he found himself involved with a fine young lady whom he had met at a health spa. 
        As his weight dropped, Jesse saw his entire life changing before his eyes. He never thought possible the total freedom he now had to do the things other men took for granted.
        Eventually, a year after seeing Abe, Jesse was down to 190 pounds, his desired weight. He was now playing sports with a few of his neighbors, going on fishing trips with two of his co- workers from the bank, and anything else he had a mind to do. There were even plans in his future of marrying his new girlfriend, although he hadn't asked her yet.
        One day, Jesse stepped on the scale to make sure none of the weight was coming back. He figured that once Abe had fulfilled his request, the ghoul may just put the pounds right back on, and Jesse was bound and determined not to let that happen. Even if it meant starvation diets and extreme exercise, Jesse would make sure he stayed thin. He was enjoying life too much now to go back being that fat slob who could barely move without becoming exhausted. 
        But when he looked at the scale, Jesse was stunned. 
        He hadn't gained weight as he had expected to, instead, he had lost another ten pounds!
        His mind racing, Jesse thought back to his request . . . to lose weight, nothing else, that's all, he had told Abe. His heart skipped a beat as realization set in. He had told Abe that HE WANTED TO LOSE WEIGHT!!!
        Now Jesse fully understood the price he was to pay. He wasn't going to gain weight as he had suspected. No, he was going to lose it instead . . . probably until he died!
        Immediately, Jesse went to the refrigerator and made himself the most fattening sandwich he could imagine. A double decker - three slices of bread, five slices each of ham and bologna, five slices of cheese and WAY too much mayonnaise. Gulping it down, Jesse tried to think of all the ways he could gain weight, and over the course of the following week, he had tried them all.

        A few months later, Jesse was down to 110 pounds and was at his doctor's office, begging for help.
        "Doc, you've got to think of something! I'm eating like a pig and all I do is lose more weight! Can't you give me something to make me heavier? Retain water? Something?"
        But the doctor was stymied. He'd never heard of such a thing before. The man half suspected Jesse was actually on some type of fad diet he couldn't quit and refused to admit it. He told his patient as much and moments later, Jesse left in a fit of rage.
        It's my fault, Jesse thought as he drove home. I should have been more concise in my request! Damn! 
        Jesse tried eating even more in the next few weeks, but all that accomplished was him losing weight even faster.

        Ultimately, Jesse passed out in his home from what the doctors had assumed was malnutrition. The thin man had been found by his fiancÚ, laying face down on his kitchen floor with scraps of food all about him. The woman had immediately called 911 and within the hour, Jesse was in the hospital being fed intravenously. At 65 pounds, the doctors didn't have much hope for his survival. After extensive testing, it was discovered that all the organs in Jesse's body had suffered greatly from his weight loss. They could no longer perform the functions necessary to keep Jesse alive.
        On occasion, Jesse would wake up in his hospital bed, just to lapse into a coma again moments later. It was during one of these brief periods of awareness that he noticed a visitor.
        The strange being hovered over Jesse's bed and with a look of disgust, simply stated, "The price has been extracted!" The creature from the grave then departed Jesse's life forever.
        A short time later, Jesse died. His last thoughts were of the old man from the diner, He'd been right after all - Abe will always collect his price!


The End


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E-Mail me at: CarlMerritt@compuserve.com