He stared up at the clouds, asking a silent request for help. The clouds, however, did not feel like helping a twelve-year-old boy, and did nothing in return, except turn into something resembling a poodle.
Jeremy Adams sighed. A poodle shaped cloud had to be an omen, didn't it? He looked down to the math test he held in his hand, hoping that the big red "F" would somehow, magically, change into a big red "A". A big red "A" he could live with. A big red "F" he could not. Literally. His parents would kill him.
They were both math teachers, his mother at a high school, and his father at an elementary school. Neither of them could explain (or accept) how their son could do so dismally in math, especially since he was getting the best help from them at home.
Jeremy had tried to explain to them that the reason he was so dreadful at math was because he didn't understand it. The numbers and symbols could be fairies leaping around the page for all he knew, and if anything, that explained why the answers he got were never the same ones reached by his parents or his teachers.
He sighed again, and crumpled the paper up, and jammed it into his pocket. He had to bring it back signed the next day, and unless he managed to perfect his mother's handwriting in an evening, he was going to have to show it to them.
He started on the long, long walk home, when he heard a rustling in the leaves behind him. He turned to see who it was, and came face to face with Amelia Jones.
Amelia--or Mel, as she preferred to be called--was one of the brighter kids in Jeremy's school, and also one of the weirder ones. She didn't have a lot of friends, but didn't seem to mind, as long as she was left well enough alone.
"Hi, Jeremy," she said nonchalantly, as if to make it look as though she had not been following him.
"Hi, Mel," he said, watching her. She was avoiding looking at him, for some unexplained reason.
"I hear you're having problems in math," she stated, as if it was common knowledge.
Jeremy shrugged. He pulled out the paper and looked at it. He knew Mel could see the "F", and made no attempt to hide it. "I guess you could say that," he remarked. Mel made a "hmm" noise, and started rocking back and forth on her heels.
"I could help you," she said suddenly.
"You? Why?" asked Jeremy, not realising he was being a bit too blunt.
"I'm really good in math. I could show you," she said in a soft voice.
Jeremy laughed. "You can show me all you want, I still won't understand it."
"I can help you understand it," she said. She still wasn't looking directly at him, and it was making him suspicious.
"What do you get out of it?" he asked, with a chuckle. "My soul?"
It was then that Mel looked at him directly, and Jeremy suddenly realised why some people might be uncomfortable around her. Her gaze was very disconcerting.
"Actually, yes," she replied. "A soul is what I want." She was being very serious.
"Yeah, right. No way," Jeremy said in disbelief. "That's too weird. Even for you." He started back on his way home.
Mel shrugged. "It's your "F". Just so you know, there's a soul-back guarantee."
Jeremy laughed out loud. He looked at Mel, but she wasn't laughing. She looked just as serious as if she was merely asking for the time. Jeremy decided to think it over. His thought pattern went something like this:
On the one hand, I need help for math, on the other hand, maybe I just can't do math. Of course, my parents are going to kill me if I don't shape up, but then, maybe it's hopeless. Of course, Mel could help me--even though she's a girl. Maybe I don't even have a soul, maybe it's just something that they made up. In which case, what could I lose?
"I'll do it." he announced, with a slight shrug. If he didn't really have anything to lose, what was he bothering to debate it for? Mel just smiled.
Mel walked up to the tall office building, holding a brown paper envelope, the kind used for mailing business letters. She pulled on the door, and walked into the lobby.
The ceiling of the lobby was actually the top of the building, for it was hollow in the middle, like a big, glass doughnut. There were a few couches scattered around the edges of the lobby, and a few green plants, but for the most part it was empty space.
Right smack in the middle of the immense room--and it was, which made it look spectacular--sat one small work-station, consisting of a circular desk with a secretary behind it.
"Hey, Mel," the secretary called out. Mel waved the envelope at the secretary and she grinned. "I'll give him a call, so he'll be expecting you," she said. "Good job."
"Thanks," Mel replied. The secretary made good on her promise and lifted the phone. Mel crossed the lobby and reached one of the two elevators. She waited patiently humming to herself, and finally the door opened with a swish and a beep. She got in and pressed the button, closing the doors. Then she went in the opposite direction that people would have predicted, if they knew her mission: she went up.
She stood waiting by the big steel door, until, at last, it opened silently. She walked into the office, and up to the desk. As the occupant of the office was on the phone, she waited in front of the polished marble bureau, and stared at the view from the windows.
After a moment her boss put the phone on the receiver. She handed him the envelope. He took it, and looked carefully at its contents, then he smiled. It was a strange smile, a smile that didn't quite look wrong, it didn't look quite right, either.
"Good job, Mel. Expect a nice commission," he congratulated, in a soft, calm voice, grinning his odd smile.
"Thank you," Mel replied.
15 Years Later
Professor Jeremy Adams turned on the television, sitting down on the couch while he ate his macaroni and cheese. Since he didn't care for that channel very much, he started flipping, when suddenly, something caught his eye. He stopped, and turned up the volume.
"--just been put on the shelves now, and not for much longer, at the rate they've been going! New! Fifteen years in the making! The revolutionary new treatment for the cynical and the faithless! It makes a great gift too: it's something for anyone who's lacking a little something.... SOUL-IN-A-CAN! Made from one hundred percent all-natural ingredients!"
Jeremy stared, incredulous. "Well I'll be damned," he said.