The Soul Thief by Claire Goodchild
Nobody wants to steal a soul. There’s no thrill doing it. No eager anticipation. Just the heavy weight of the guilt that is yet to come. Nothing would be different this time, Melissa knew that; it had been this way since the first. You’d think being ten souls deep that the anguish would have alleviated a bit, but that’s the thing about killing, it never really gets easier.
“Unless you’re a serial killer,” she whispered to herself.
“Which you are kid. After all, what am I? Ninth? Tenth? That’s more than I took out in Nam!”
Melissa groaned. The current soul in her possession was the most talkative one yet and she couldn’t wait to replace him. Earl had been a soldier in the war for all of three months. When alive, he had liked to relive his glory days over a bit too much single malt. This happened so often, in fact, he ended up pushing away everyone he’d ever known.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” she hissed. The woman sitting at the desk across from her looked up, startled and annoyed.
“Can I help you?”
Melissa waved the woman away with her hand, and pointed to the white device in her ear. She was used to the reaction she got from other people because of these one-sided conversations. Once the woman gave the nod that signalled she understood, Melissa silently thanked God she was born in the era of air-pods, and slipped past the nurses station and into the ER.
The cream coloured hallway seemed to span miles out in front and smelled like chlorine, stale vomit and lime jello. All the hospitals Melissa had stalked contained this lingering odour.
“Eau de fucking death.”
Looking around, it was your typical setup. Doctors walked with purpose, barely noticing the woman who was there to make their job just that much harder. You couldn’t really blame them for letting her slip through the cracks and into a patient’s room. It’s not like a surgeon was going to suddenly stop what he was doing and declare, “You know what? I think there is a woman here who is trolling the ER for a soul to replace the one she gave up to save her younger sister’s life!”
It had sounded just as ridiculous to Melissa the first time she learned it was possible, but she had agreed without a second thought. The decision to have Amy cured of her illness was not up for debate. Internal or otherwise.
Unfortunately, the demon who taught her how to commit this act failed to mention that she would need to continuously replace the new soul in herself every few months. It would eventually expire and she would die. Amy was healthy and alive, but without Melissa around to care for her she would end up in the system.
Melissa thought back to the day everything changed. The hospital room was not unlike the one she peered into now. Two clunky metal beds, with a cascade of wires dancing around the cold frames that disappeared into hostile-looking machines. She could see Amy laying there. Exhausted. Small. Sick.
“I’m sorry Ms. Dorchester, but she doesn’t seem to be responding to the treatment.”
Melissa remembered the look on the doctor’s face, and it sent a chill down her spine. While he did his best to remain composed, his faux demeanour slipped, and she saw what he was hiding: happiness. He was happy Amy was dying. Amy was dying. The reality of his words finally sunk in and Melissa’s knees buckled under the weight of what that meant. She looked up, her eyes pleading with him for more options, but she said nothing.
As if reading her mind he exclaimed, “I’m so glad you asked that Ms. Dorchester, there is actually something you can do. Why don’t we take a walk.”
The rules were as follows: Melissa would give her soul to the demon, he would put someone else’s soul into Melissa, and he would also heal Amy of her cancer. She hadn’t thought to ask what would happen to the soul she gave up, or whose she was getting for that matter. She didn’t even care, she knew her own soul was the only reason he’d heal Amy. She’d worry about the semantics later. She was too desperate for help, and he had counted on that. After the ritual was complete, she didn’t understand why she had retained her own personality, while the soul she was given to fill the void, seemed to be an entire person trapped inside of her. The woman’s thoughts and feelings bumping against her skin, trying to claw their way out.
It actually wasn’t long before she felt that soul begin to fade, actually only a couple of months. Melissa was tired all the time and the communication between her and the old woman, who she called Miss Ellie, had grown laboured and patchy. Like a radio station whose signal skipped and crackled, sometimes one couldn’t hear the full scope of what the other said. She had grown fond of the woman who lived with her. She had been comforting and parental, and more importantly, she had reassured Melissa that she would’ve done the same thing if given the chance.
Desperately, Melissa had gone back to the hospital and tracked down the doctor who started it all. In an empty room he once again delivered his grim news.
“Well Ms. Dorchester, I could have had one soul. Yours. Or I could have you collect me an entire lifetime’s worth. I suppose you couldn’t have known what I am, but going forward, I would refrain from any more deals with demons.” He knelt down to meet her gaze. His dark brown eyes were laughing. “Wouldn’t you have done the same? Now, we need to get a new soul in you. I’ll do this one, but going forward you’re going to be on your own.”
“And how do you know I’ll do it. I could just let myself die.” She was angry but the words barely fell from her mouth.
“And leave little Amy all alone? No, I don’t think you will.”
Melissa could feel her body slowly sink into the lumpy mattress, the reality of the situation digging into her side. He was right.
“Nurse! Would you come here please?”
The young woman quickly walked through the threshold, her dark brown ponytail swung with each movement, a big cheerful smile plastered across her face.
“Of course, doctor! What can I help you with?” She asked as he closed the door behind her. The lock clicked softly, matching the weak heartbeat of the dying woman on the bed.
“This is Ms. Dorchester, you’re going to help her out today.”
“No problem!” A big, warm smile spread across her face, turning to Melissa. “Hey there! My name is Catheri…”
The nurse’s words were cut short by the demons hands gripping on the sides of her head. He came at her from behind so quickly, she didn’t have time to react before he twisted them. Snapping her neck in one swift motion. The shock sent adrenaline surging through Melissa’s muscles and she jolted up.
Nurse Catherine’s body lay on the floor. A crumpled mess of scrubs and shock. Her ponytail was ironically contorted into the shape of a hangman’s noose, draped across her now broken neck.
“Why the fuck did you do that?” Melissa yelled. She could feel the faint tapping of Miss Ellie inside of her. The kind old lady’s disappointment was running through every one of her veins.
“How else are we supposed to get you a soul?” He shrugged and smiled. Clearly getting off on the whole ordeal.
No sooner had he said that when a bright glowing yellow light started to emanate from the body. Faint at first, but becoming brighter as it grew into a solid floating orb. It was about the size of a baseball and shimmered and flickered as it defied gravity above the nurse.
The demon grabbed it with one of the big hands he had used to kill Catherine and Melissa could see the golden light shine through his fingers. She knew what to expect now as he placed the orb against her chest and pushed, just like he had done before. No fancy words. No elaborate magic. A simple ritual, not unlike a serial killer taking a small trophy, like a piece of jewelry or a couple teeth. It was over quickly and didn’t really feel much of anything, aside from Catherine’s initial shock and confusion. She would take a day or two to adjust to her new reality.
The nurse lasted about five months inside of Melissa’s body. Perhaps her young age allowed for more time, which was an understandably bitter experience, and their relationship never grew beyond resentment.
For a while Melissa hung around the hospital hoping to catch a soul of someone who died all on their own. Each time no glowing yellow orb appeared, and she soon realized that the killing was part of the deal. It was during this horrible moment that Melissa vowed to only take the lives of people who were wasting theirs. It was the only way she’d be able to live with herself.
Earl’s gruff voice shocked Melissa out of her daydream.
“Oh yea, it was just so much better to wake up to a pillow smothering my face. You’re a real saint kid. At least when I took a life it was honourable! I was defending my country!”
She could feel the tears welling up in her eyes, but she pushed them down, hoping it would somehow also suppress the old drunk republican living inside of her.
Shaking the thoughts from her head, Melissa continued her death march down the endless hallway, peering into each room, hopeful that she would find the perfect candidate. There was no shortage of people in the hospital that evening. Children clung to stuffed toys for comfort in their beds, adults thumbed through Facebook, undoubtedly sharing political commentary in the comment section of articles they hadn’t yet read.
She heard him before she saw him. He was trying to whisper but his rage was bubbling over and spilling out into the air.
“Listen to me you dumb bitch, it’s your fault I’m even in here. All the stress you cause me. How hard is it to remember to pick up the dry-cleaning before they close at five.” There was a short pause before he continued “Hello? Are you there?”
Whoever was on the other end of the line had rightfully hung up on him. A small act of defiance. Melissa hoped whoever she was, she was smiling to herself knowing he couldn’t get to her because of his current predicament. Melissa assumed he was in because of something heart or blood pressure related, she had seen the connection between anger and cardiac trouble before.
She didn’t really want to have a domestic abuser living inside of her, but she reasoned with herself that alleviating his wife of his verbal attacks would be the right thing to do. Perhaps there was a small part of her that wanted the punishment that she would undoubtedly endure while he was in her possession. Besides, it couldn’t be any worse than Earl who rambled at all hours, often keeping her up for days at a time, only to be quieted when she caved and took sips of his favourite drink.
Melissa ducked into the supply closet that was conveniently located next to the man’s room. She took this as a dark affirmation that she was doing the right thing, and quickly took the scrubs she always carried on her out and put them on. The smooth material was pale blue and complimented her eyes nicely, which helped sell the illusion of her belonging. The top was decorated with little white cats wearing bowties and they seemed to make a mockery of the entire situation. She smoothed out the wrinkles in her grim reapers uniform, and took five deep breaths, a small thing she always did to calm her nerves.
“Hey, kid. Wait a sec. You can’t do this now! What will happen to me?” Earl was rightfully panicked at the thought of Melissa taking a new soul. He would be replaced, and he was not ready for that.
“You know what? I don’t care what happens to you. You’ll go to him I guess, be part of his collection.”
“You are as heartless as the rest of them!”
Melissa could only assume he was talking about former girlfriends or wives of his. They had probably left him because of his near constant drunken state. Earl was quiet now, which left a lingering worry in the base of her throat because it was so unlike him, but she couldn’t let that distract her. She had work to do.
After tucking her bag behind stacks of paper towel that lined the closest shelf, Melissa stepped out from her safe haven and back into the hallway. The lights shocked her eyes, giving everything a green halo until she adjusted to the unnatural fluorescent brightness. Everything would be fine in ten minutes. She would have a new soul, Earl would be gone, the future widow would get an insurance payout, and Melissa could be home in time to relieve Amy’s sitter before a late dinner.
Melissa plastered a big smile on to her face, channeling her inner Catherine, and entered the man’s room, while simultaneously grabbing his chart from the door, before closing it quickly.
“Good evening…Mr…..Wilkes!” She chirped at him, thumbing the pages and startling the now sulking man.
He perked up at the sight of Melissa, his eyes leering like a threat against her body. She forced a smile and continued, “How are we feeling? I see here you had a minor heart attack a few days ago.”
“Better now that you’re here miss…” He said as his eyes lingered no-where near hers.
Melissa repressed a shudder of revulsion.
“I’m just going to do a few checks of these machines and confirm your heart rate to make sure everything is alright. Why don’t you watch some TV?” She grabbed the remote and turned it on, passing it to him with a wink.
Then, like a soldier, Melissa’s killer training took over. She threw on her latex gloves, unplugged the heart rate monitor from the wall, and grabbed a spare pillow from the empty bed next to her. Thankful the man hadn’t noticed the sudden stop of the consistent beeping from the machine, she took five deep breathes, and threw the pillow across the man’s face the moment he leaned back to get comfortable. She squatted slightly behind the bed, planting her feet firmly to the floor. This angle she had learned, would give her full control over the situation.
When his struggling subsided, Melissa waited. These thirty seconds were always the hardest. Waiting for that beautiful shimmering ball of light to appear. A mix of sweat and fear coating her body. Like clockwork, the glowing essence began to rise above Mr. Wilkes limp body, though this time it had a slight mix of orange and red to it.
“Must be all the anger he lived with.” Melissa thought to herself as she grabbed the pulsating soul and placing it inside her chest. “Goodbye Earl.”
A wave of confusion and rage began to swim around her insides, radiating heat to her now chilled bones. She was thankful she would have a day or two to recover before he got his bearings and began berating her with questions.
Carefully Melissa wiped the cord down with hand sanitizer and pushed the metal spokes gently into the wall socket, taking care for it to be slightly out of alignment. This way, when someone discovered the now dead body, it would look like the monitor had been accidentally disconnected from the electricity, unable to signal anyone of the deadly change in heart rate. She placed the soft downy weapon next to his resting face, tucking it slightly under his chin and lay the remote down on the table beside him, taking the time to wipe it off with the sanitizer as well.
With her scene fully staged, Melissa walked towards the door. Pausing briefly to plaster a big smile across her trembling lips, and that was when she heard it.
“Hey kid, where do you think you’re going?”
The voice that had grown so familiar was not coming from inside her, but radiated from the spot where the bed was stationed, on the cream coloured floor. She didn’t need to turn around to know that Earl was laying there.