Content warning: This story features death and suicidal ideation.

The Reason

Bree stood on the bridge looking down at the water beneath her. It was as dark as the sky above and roiled with the wind from the bay.

It would be so easy, she thought. She put her foot up on the railing.

"That's dangerous."

The voice from behind made Bree stumble away from the edge. She whirled around.

The woman standing there had long, dark hair and bright eyes that seemed to pierce straight through Bree. "You weren't going to jump, were you?"

Bree flushed bright red. "Who are you? What are you talking about?"

"I can tell. It's one of my many gifts." The woman walked up to the railing and leaned over it. "It's dangerous down there, even for talented swimmers. Are you a talented swimmer, Bree?"

"How do you know my..."

"Another of my gifts." The woman smiled over at her. "My name is Luce. I hate to see a young life like yours go to waste. What if I could help you?"

Bree snorted. "Help me how?"

"You feel hopeless," Luce observed. "Overwhelmed by debt you can never repay to faceless corporations you can never negotiate with. The system has failed you. And so you want out."

A chill ran down Bree's spine. "Who are you?"

"I already told you, my name is Luce. Do you want my help or not?"

Bree let out a sharp breath. "Are you like a demon or something? Is that what this is, a deal with the devil?"

Luce laughed. "You got me! I'll help you pay off your debt, and in return you'll work it off after you die."

"Work it off?" Bree repeated.

"What, you thought I'd take your soul and make you suffer forever? An infinite punishment for a finite reward?"

"That's how it always works in the stories," Bree pointed out.

"That would be so unfair. No, here's how it works." Luce reached into her pocket and pulled out a shiny black credit card. "This card is linked to the Bank of the Damned. You can spend as much as you like on whatever you want, as long as you only use it for purely selfish purposes. For every ten dollars you spend, that's one hour of servitude once you die and cross over."

"Ten dollars an hour?" Bree demanded.

"Hey, the rates get weird when you live forever," Luce defended herself.

"No, I'm not complaining! That's better than minimum wage!"

"So, are you in?"

Bree pondered. If she just used the thing to pay off her loans and bills, that would be two thousand hours of infernal servitude. About five and a half years. It would probably suck, but could it really be worse than working for Amazon?

"Sure. I'm in."

Five minutes and one blood-signed contract later, Bree was on her way home with her infinite-money credit card. She caught the next bus, took a seat, and connected the card to her online accounts. She could take care of the rest in the morning.

She smiled to herself. Maybe, for once, she could get a good night's sleep instead of staying awake all night worrying.

At the next intersection, a red light runner crashed into the side of the bus. Bree died instantly.

Bree had never really considered what the afterlife would look like. Still, she wasn't all that surprised that the entry room to Hell looked like the waiting room of a dimly-lit office. It fit with the stereotypical infernal contract she'd signed.

"Bree Harper?" the receptionist called.

She walked up to the desk. The receptionist looked like a person, but like a representation of a person in too many dimensions. Like how Bree might have appeared to someone from a two-dimensional universe.

"I see here you have a contact," the receptionist said. "I'll send you in to see your consigner."

"I-is that Luce?"

The receptionist paused. "Yes, that's the name she used. Down the hall, third door on your left."

Down the hall, through the third door on Bree's left -- or what passed for her left when the hallway had too many directions to choose from -- was Luce's office. The entity Bree found inside, sitting at a desk typing on something that might have been a laptop computer if it weren't a pitch black sphere floating in midair, was as disconcerting as the receptionist had been, but she recognized the general shape of Luce's body and the color of her hair.

Luce looked over to the door in surprise. "Oh, it's you!" And all at once she shifted her weight, somehow, and the extradimensionality of her body gave way to the three-dimensional woman Bree had met on the bridge.

"Yeah. It's me. What the hell?"

"Yes, that's basically where you--"

"No," Bree interrupted. "I die like ten minutes after you make a contract with me to keep me from killing myself? What kind of ripoff--"

"Please calm down," Luce sighed. She stood from her desk and sauntered over to Bree. "I had no part in your untimely demise. You should actually be thankful for your sudden death. You didn't wind up spending any money from your card, did you?"

"Well, no..."

"So you don't owe us your... labor."

Bree let out a frustrated huff. She couldn't argue with that. Well, she could, but it didn't seem like a good idea.

Luce went back to her laptop, which actually looked like a laptop now. She clicked something with the mouse, then typed in Bree's name. And then she frowned.

"What?" Bree demanded.

"I'm trying to process your transfer upstairs, since you don't owe us any time, and it's saying you spent... three hundred forty undecillion, two hundred eighty-two decillion..."

"Is undecillion a real word?" Bree froze as Luce's words caught up with her. "Wait, what?! I didn't spend anything! I got hit by a bus!"

"I know," Luce snapped. "Let me see... Ah, transaction history... Five seconds before you died, you paid this amount of money to your electric company?"

"I didn't!" Bree shrieked.

Luce turned her laptop so Bree could see. The number was unimaginably huge. Thirty, maybe forty digits long. The transaction was labelled "Refund for overpayment", and the timestamp was five seconds before Bree's death.

"Wait. Wait, wait," Bree said. "Wait, I paid them too much last week because they read my meter wrong. I was on the phone with them for like two hours getting them to admit it! They said they were gonna refund me, why would they charge me so much instead?!"

Luce touched her hand to her earpiece. "Grem, can you come down here real quick? There's a bug in the credit card system."

A creature appeared in the doorway that hurt Bree's eyes to look at. When she winced and looked away, the creature huffed in irritation and reassembled itself into the form of an androgynous, geeky-looking human. "I very much doubt you found a glitch," they said dryly.

"Come see," Luce challenged.

Grem moved over to look at Luce's screen. They were silent for several long seconds, then said, "Oh. You found a glitch."

Luce smirked triumphantly.

"Interesting edge case." Grem looked over at Bree. "You died without spending the money alloted to you. Instead, the only transaction recorded was a refund. You 'spent' negative nine dollars and thirty-eight cents."


"The system isn't programmed to recognize a negative balance," Grem cut in. "It underflowed. Look, your plane has computers, right? You understand the concept of numbers wrapping around when they get too big?"

Bree nodded slowly. "Like when an odometer hits all nines."

"Sure. This is the same, just in reverse."

Bree relaxed. "Okay, I get it. So I'm good to go, right?"

Grem laughed harshly. "What gives you that idea?"

"You just said..."

"I explained how you wound up in this situation. I did not say you're off the hook."

"But that's not fair!" Bree exclaimed.

"The system doesn't have an override." Grem shrugged. "I'll file a bug report. Should get it sorted out in a few hundred years, give or take." They vanished in a sickening multidimensional twist of space.

Bree gave Luce a helpless look.

Luce smiled. "So what'll it be? We have sulfur mines, rack torture, lakes of fire... Or, if you're interested..." Her smile grew wider. "I've been looking for a personal assistant."