Winston was a rich man and he had used his riches to create a fine collection of oddities: deformed foetuses preserved in jars, two headed lizards, ancient scrolls dug from the desert. He would connect to auctions by Skype and buy the rarest, most beautiful artworks and antiques, then lock them in his basement to be wrapped in black velvet and seen by no one. He had worked his way through brokers, sending them out to find artefacts owned by serial killers and dictators. He collected tumours and torture instruments. He had letters written by dying soldiers to their loved ones, and letters written by child cancer patients begging Father Christmas for one last chance. He told himself that his collection held all that was human, that while other people played with emotions and relationships, he had the actual physical proof of all that humans could be.
Over the years the collection had lost its thrill. When he had first started to make money, it had been fun to see just what he could own, to discover how much money could buy. Yet the answer was always the same: everything. Money could buy whatever he could think of. And if the question was already answered what was the point in asking it?
One Tuesday, Winston was sitting with his new broker, Gerald. Gerald was desperately trying to tempt Winston with a new selection of ephemera, while Winston looked on bored at the catalogues and photographs.
“And this one is actually selling the shrunken heads from an ancient cannibal tribe, the entire collection! And this was tricky one to track down, but a human heart kept alive on life support. Look at the video, it’s still pumping!”
Winston shrugged, he felt as if boredom was engulfing and digesting him, he could barely be bothered to focus. Then Gerald stopped speaking, put down the catalogues and shadows flickered through his eyes. He moved as if his vertebrae were clicking into a line, one by one. All traces of doubt left his face, and he smiled, ever so slightly. Through his haze of ennui, Winston could see the change, his self-effacing employee becoming almost demon-like. He was curious. Then Gerald said,
“There is one procurement I haven’t offered you before, but I think you may be ready.”
Winston leaned forward.
Winston leaned back and sneered,
“They don’t exist, what is this nonsense?”
“Oh they certainly do,” he leaned across the marble table and hissed, “and if you want them, for the right price I can get them for you.”
Winston sneered with slightly less conviction,
“Well, I have the brain of a Dalai Lama and the hands of Mother Teresa, I saw no evidence of a soul.”
“Of course not,” said Gerald, smiling and unblinking. “You’ve never had a soul, how would you recognise it?” Gerald dropped his voice to speak so quietly that Winston had to struggle to hear him, “You may have the junk of humanity, but it’s ultimately meaningless, I can give you its very essence. Just think, you will finally be complete.”