Have you ever stolen a soul before? I have. And don’t worry, it’s not as gruesome as you might think.
It all started when he killed me. Murdered me, to be more precise. Somehow, after his blade plunged into my stomach, and I felt warm blood drip down my legs, I remained. Well, not in my body, per se. My soul rose from my corpse and looked down on the situation at hand: the sniveling, horned deity rejoicing in his kill and my beaten, bloodied body taking its final breaths. But there was something else that caught my eye. That disgusting monster was glowing. I could see his soul, dark yellow like the innermost petals of a sunflower, vibrating in the night. And before I even knew what was happening, I opened my mouth and sucked his soul into mine. I absorbed him, and his lifeless husk crumpled to the ground.
Slowly, I stood up and watched as the hole in my stomach stitched itself back together, and the fresh blood dried to a crust. What the hell just happened?
Stepping back from the body before me, I tripped and fell backward into a stop sign. Only, it didn’t hurt. I stared up from the ground at the metal pole that stood between my knees. I should be propped up against it howling in pain, not gazing up at it. But that didn’t happen. It was like I fell through the sign, not onto it. Even more confused than before, I scurried away.
I tried to clear my head and remember what I was even doing here. I was just walking home from work when all of this happened. It was just supposed to be a normal day followed by a normal night of eating dinner in bed. Just an ordinary Tuesday night. I wasn’t supposed to die, steal a soul, and then suddenly be revived…right?
That ferocious thing and I were tucked away in an alley, mostly hidden from pedestrians and the blinding headlights of cars. My thoughts overwhelmed me, all-consuming in their desperate cries for my attention. I pushed them from my mind and took a few deep breaths. I needed to think long and hard about my next steps. First things first, I needed to get home. It wasn’t too far from here, but I couldn’t just leave such a grotesque body behind. And in the middle of the alley, nonetheless. I needed to hide him. Which meant I needed to touch him. I shivered at the thought.
After checking the sidewalk and street, I grabbed his leg to try and pull him behind the big, blue garbage bins. Before I could even pull him an inch, my hand burned as if I had grabbed a blazing-hot frying pan, and I started to scream. I dropped his leg and ran away from him, cradling my arm to my chest. My hand was bright red, skin bubbling up on the sides and puckered on the edges. One large blister filled with puss-like liquid sat on the center of my palm. My fingers were no better either. I stared down in shock. What was on its skin? How did it manage to burn me like that? I tried to open and close my hand but cried out from the pain. Breathe, Tita, breathe, I reminded myself. Think. What next?
Calming down slightly and breathing through the pain, I tried to follow my wild train of thought. Whatever that thing was, it sure as hell wasn’t human. Or like anything I had ever seen before. There was no way I was going to try and touch him again, at least not with my bare skin. As much as I wanted to run home, I knew I had to at least try to hide him. Just one more time.
I tore off a piece of my shirt and stuffed it in my mouth, hoping it would block the sound if I screamed again. Thanking my past self for wearing jeans on this hot day, I pulled down my sleeves till they covered my hands and pushed against its body with my elbows and my knees. Its hulking frame rolled back, slowly but surely. It weighed much more than I did, but I prayed the adrenaline rushing through my veins would aid me in the effort. I pushed harder, my muscles straining with the effort.
At first, my makeshift flame barrier worked, and I couldn’t feel the heat radiating off his body. Soon enough, though, his skin flared white-hot and burned through my clothes. The heat began scorching my flesh, the remaining fabric providing little protection. With one final shove, he was mostly hidden, and I stumbled backward, landing on the ground. I spit out the bloodied cloth and tried not to scream anymore. I looked down at my burnt limbs as my eyes filled with tears. There was no hiding what he had done to me.
My skin was burnt to a crisp, bubbling with puss and other things that belonged in my body, not out of it. I swallowed back vomit and gingerly stood up. Just as I turned to leave, a thought flew across my mind, and I turned back around to face him yet again. Let’s see if you like a taste of your own medicine, I thought to myself. I opened the garbage bin and pulled out piles of trash to throw on top of his body. His scorching skin should heat the bins until they caught on fire, burning him into nothing but a pile of ash and leaving nothing behind. A girl can dream. Throwing on two more bags, I quickly turned and sprinted toward the sidewalk.
Expecting to feel heat licking the backs of my legs, I kept running till I felt safe enough to turn back. I stopped in my tracks. The demon wasn’t ablaze; the garbage bags didn’t catch on fire. I looked down at my hands and legs in shock. How could that thing have burned me, but nothing else? What was wrong with me?
The initial confusion I felt about my revival tripled after my newest revelation. Although the bags didn’t set him aflame, at least they covered his giant body better. Silver lining.
I turned away and started to walk home. But something was different. Yes, the burns hurt as my skin crinkled with every simple movement, but it was more than that. Walking was not the same. Of course, I still put one foot in front of the other and tried to go forwards, but sometimes my foot would disappear through the sidewalk. And, by the time I looked back up, I’d find myself at the corner of a street I passed ten minutes ago. Frustrated, I kept walking forward, focusing on placing my feet down on the concrete and trying to feel the ground beneath me.
The night sky was dark and cloudy without a star in sight. The previously sweat-worthy day had cooled under the darkness and the chilly breeze wafting in from the river. I was shivering, both from the pain of the burns and the chill of the twilight. I needed to get home. And my new abilities weren’t helping.
13th and Central. I kept the signs in my mind, hoping that the thoughts themselves would keep me in place. Keep me tied to this world. I took my next step and landed on grass, not concrete. I opened my eyes to what seemed like a new world, one far away from 13th and Central. The colors were different here, somehow brighter and more vibrant. The sidewalk from before remained, the only thing tethering me to my home. But my surroundings were not of my city. I was in a forest, and the trees shone with an otherworldly light, so much so it hurt my eyes to stare at the leaves. Their trunks were cut deep with wrinkles, so deep in some places that I could see through the lacerations to the other side. Strangest of all were the glowing purple flowers that hung from vines between trees. They seemed to sing to me, crooning along with the gentle hum of the wind. The flowers called to me, and I longed to step forward and listen to their song. But the pain of my wounds brought me back to reality: this was not my city, not America, not Earth. This was somewhere else entirely. And I needed to get home.
Fighting back the panic, I closed my eyes again and focused on 13th and Central. My foot landed hard on the sidewalk, the concrete sending tiny jolts up my leg. I breathed in the smell of sewage, smog, and fast food gratefully. Never before had my city smelled so good.
I looked around and spotted a man across the street from me. He was dressed in all-black with shiny sneakers and a silver chain drooping from his neck. My mind flashed back to the monster that had murdered me, and their faces merged, blurring my connection with reality. Fear crept in, sneaking its way into my mind and body. I stayed in the darkness, avoiding the streetlights, and prayed he wouldn’t notice my burns. What if he found the body? What if they charged me with murder? Am I going to jail? Did I kill him? I didn’t mean to! I swear, I swear, I swear…
His gaze met mine, and I stared at him unable to look away. My mouth hung open as my body started to shake. The man looked me up and down before yelling, “Hey, pretty thing! Yeah, you! You should smile more. It’d look better on that doll mouth of yours.”
I shook my head no, blinking back tears. I couldn’t handle this tonight; too much had already happened. He nodded and bit his lip. He started to cross the street to get closer to me, and I took off running. I groaned with every step, but I couldn’t stop no matter how painful it got. Praying that my feet would behave and stay in this realm, I ground my teeth and kept going. He whistled behind me, but one backward glance showed that he wasn’t running after me. I was momentarily safe. But not safe enough.
Nikes slamming against the pavement, I didn’t slow down until I reached the stone stairs leading to my apartment. I fumbled in my pocket for my keys, hurriedly sorting through them till I found the one. After letting myself in, I slammed the door shut, locked it, slid the bolt in place, and pushed a chair up against the handle. No one was coming in. And, if I could help it, I wasn’t leaving either. My manager only put me in for a couple days this week, and, if I remembered right, I had tomorrow off. Thank goodness.
Just as I was slipping off my shoes, a pair of sharp claws batted at my Achilles’ heel, and I shrieked in pain. Raj, my tabby cat, stared up at me with immense dislike. His back muscles tightened as he stretched his neck up towards me. He was supposed to get dinner an hour ago, and he made his displeasure very clear. Not my fault that someone tried to murder me on the way home.
“It’s okay, Raj,” I said. “I’m here now. And you’ll get the good stuff tonight. So, calm down already.”
Running to the kitchen, I peeled open a can of wet cat food and plopped it into a bowl. The smell, though not pleasant, was familiar and comforting. A sense of normalcy during the craziest night of my life. I smelled myself and inhaled smoke, sweat, and the iron in my blood. It was time to shower. But first, I needed to deal with these wounds.
Raj purred and dug in gratefully, but a sharp look with his yellow eyes told me to never be late again. I reached down to pet him but realized halfway through that his hair would get stuck in my burns. Standing back up, I left him with his bowl and made my way to the bathroom. I stripped, leaving only my bra and underwear on. The mirror showed the true extent of the damage to my skin. Most of the blisters had popped on the run back home, but the bubbled skin and crispy edges remained.
I pulled back my long, fiery hair into a ponytail, brushing the loose strands with the back of my hand. I looked tired. Hollow circles under my eyes, skin pulled tight across my cheekbones, and dirt streaked on my jaw. My broken and burnt skin begged for my attention, for a quick trip to the ER, but I didn’t have the money for that. Besides, I wasn’t leaving my apartment during the night ever again. Actual medical attention would have to wait until later.
Opening the cabinet, I sorted through my toiletries in search of burn cream. I bought it several years ago after my neighbor set a fire in her apartment. She only needed it once, but I’d kept it since. Probably expired now, but better than nothing.
With shaking hands, I cleaned my wounds with warm soap and water before patting them dry. Tears streamed down my face, and I bit down on my cheeks to keep from crying out. I wanted to scream and sob and call 911, but what would I say? Hey, a demon-thing killed me, but then I killed it back by eating its soul. I was stuck here in my shitty studio apartment with expired burn cream and a slightly angry tabby cat. All I could do was pray that the wounds wouldn’t become infected.
Just as I opened the jar of cream, the sound of Raj hissing soared in through the vents. A loud thump followed, and I dropped the jar to rush out of the bathroom, ready to rescue my cat.
Raj was lying on the floor on his back, tummy and paws facing the ceiling. His little mouth hung open, and his tongue fell out of the side, its rough surface white and pink. I gasped at the sight and gasped again when my eyes traveled up.
Standing over Raj were five shining men. They were dressed in clothes I didn’t recognize, exposing bits of their muscular chests and arms in ways that weren’t appropriate in modern society. They looked at me casually, but their strong gazes suggested formality. Their eyes traveled down across my body, and I covered myself with my arms, flinching as my burns grazed my stomach. I swallowed the pain and surveyed the situation again.
“DID YOU KILL MY CAT?!” I yelled, staring at them individually and then as a whole.
“He attacked us first,” the man on the left said, crossing his arms. His regalia was blue and gold, highlighting the tan tones of his skin. “It was self-defense.”
“Your furry guardian is alive,” another man answered, his golden hair long and beautiful. He smiled at me, showing off perfectly white teeth. “I promise.”
“Who the fuck are you guys? And how did you get in here?” I asked, breathing raggedly. I looked around, checking to see if my barricade was still intake. The door was barred shut, the chair still in place. I shook my head, confused and overwhelmed and so, so, so exhausted.
“We are your protectors, Tita.” He stepped forward, decked in purple, black, and gold. He seemed more serious than the others, more stoic in nature. “We’ve been waiting a long time to find you.”
How did he know my name? I looked at them again, taking in their tan bodies and the swords strapped to their hips. And, finally, I looked at my little cat and prayed the golden-haired man was right and he was just unconscious. Closing my eyes, my head hung down low, practically touching my chest. Could this day get any worse?