SOULS • by Mark Partin

You may have seen me around. But you wouldn’t recognize me. People often see me. People never recognize me. The few who remember me describe me the same way; an older gentleman with bright blue eyes and snow white hair. Well, that’s how they used to describe me. The newer generations call me an old dude, or gramps, or some other slang that sounds disrespectful, although the exact meaning usually eludes me.

Years ago I wore a smart gray suit with a matching gray felt fedora. I loved that hat. I looked good with it perched on my head. I was handsome, if I do say so myself. I guess that was in the forties, if memory serves me correctly. But, times have changed. Nowadays I sport a pair of faded jeans, a button-up shirt, and a New York Yankees ball cap.

Sometimes they mention that I was somewhere close when a friend or relative died. Not close enough to cause any suspicion that I was involved in any way. Usually not even in the same room. In the next room, perhaps. Or in the hall. Somewhere nearby, though. They sometimes say it was like I was waiting for something. They were right. I was. And that’s what I’m doing now.

There’s a clock ticking away on the wall opposite me. It’s the same white-faced industrial clock that you can see in any hospital. This one is perched above the hydraulically operated doors with ‘Authorized Personnel Only’ stickers plastered across each one. Through the square windows in the doors I can see another set of swinging doors; those don’t have windows. I’m waiting for what is behind those doors.

The clock reads twelve minutes after nine. It doesn’t indicate AM or PM, but I will tell you that it is PM. In exactly two minutes and six seconds, I will cease leaning on the wall and the double doors will swish open. I will walk through them, through the next set of doors, and into the operating room. The doctors and nurses won’t see me when I slip between them and stand next to the table with my small black bag. It looks like the kind of bag that doctors carried when they still made house calls — probably around the time that I sported my gray fedora. They won’t see me reach into their patient and lift out what few can see. I will tuck it safely into my bag, slip quietly through the doors while the beeping and scrambling begins, and disappear into the night.

Some have said a person suddenly gets lighter when they die. They believe that it is due to the soul leaving the body. I have to concur with that presumption. They also estimate the weight of a human soul to be 21 grams. Some feel heavier to me, but perhaps it’s the weight of the burdens they bore that I perceive.

Before you jump to any conclusions, I’ll tell you that I’m not God, and I’m not the Grim Reaper; nor have I ever met either of them. Actually, I can’t even confirm if either exists. I really don’t think about it very much, to tell you the truth. I just go about my business of collecting souls.

Business is probably the wrong word to use. It is the task I was appointed, and it is what I do. That is all that I do. Like the Moon orbiting the Earth. That is what it does. And the same goes for me. I collect souls. I don’t like it. I don’t dislike it. I do it because that’s what I do; like the Moon orbiting the Earth. And, I suppose that I’ll go on collecting souls as long as the Moon goes on orbiting the Earth. Maybe longer.

Where do I take them? Nowhere. Everywhere. They’re all right here in my bag. Every one that I’ve ever collected is here with me. Since the dawn of man, when I was appointed the task, I have faithfully gone about my business of collecting them and keeping them safe. I suspect that someone will ask for them someday. Perhaps it will be the one who appointed me the task. Perhaps it will be some other. And, I suspect that I will be inclined to relinquish them.

I have no specific memory of my existence before my task, but when I have a moment to dwell upon it, I feel a mixture of happiness and remorse. I also feel that it’s an existence that I would like to return to, although there is a certain dread associated with the thought as well. I don’t think about it much, though. I just collect souls and watch over them. Until there are no more souls to collect, I’ll continue my task.

The clock says that it’s time now, so I must go. I won’t say goodbye. Instead, I’ll say that I will see you soon. Very soon.

Mark Partin writes in Kansas.

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Every Day Fiction