The Soul of all Things, Part 1

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Folding Chair in the police station had not accepted itself. Hundreds of consciousnesses struggled inside its metal frame. “I am Rock” they clamored over each other. It would take them time to accept that, under no power of their own, they had become one inside a body of steel. A dozen souls in the plastic cushion said “I am Oil,” but I could feel their regrets, memories of green leaves and paleozoic climes long gone. When one has once had the privilege to be alive, it is hard to forget.

Deck had been in the bailiff’s car overnight, and each Card was cold to the touch. I recoiled at a cacophony of pain and confusion. Under the gaze of the inspector’s many employees crowded into the claustrophobic lunch room, I forced myself to project calm. This was not the old Deck owned by his grandfather the bailiff had promised to bring. The inspector looked at me through thin rectangle glasses, his mouth a tight line beneath his black-and-white moustache. He did not have to say anything to remind me that I didn’t have to do this, and I told him with a look that I wanted to do what I said I’d do. He reached for my hand under the table and I pulled it away. The moment I was done, I wanted to get away from this awful building as quickly as possible.

“Is something wrong?” the bailiff smirked. He was a man of average height and above-average girth, with a nose as round as his body and beady, suspicious eyes. He behaved as if he stood above petty pain, but his whole body reeked of suffering and self-reproach. Black Bowler on his head was the angriest hat I had ever met, but I had never dared to come close enough to ask what upset it so. I smiled at the bailiff, and kept eye contact until he knew I knew he had lied. Then I spread Deck out in my hands, showing the faces to him.

“Please select a card, but do not show it to me.”

The bailiff looked disappointed that not only had he failed to prove me a fake, but that I had not made the scene he was hoping I would. His cunning was limited. Even if nothing spoke to me, I would be able to recognize a crisp Deck right from the package from one faded and softened by the years. Nevertheless, he sneered and yanked out the furthest Card from the left.

“Place it on the table.”

The bailiff obeyed, taking special care not to let Card’s face angle anywhere but 180 degrees from my line of sight. I reached out my hand and touched it. Now that I expected the cacophony, I did not recoil. I calmed my mind and reached out to Card. “You are Card.”

“I am Oil,” wailed Card, “I was millions, growing, soaking light and rustling in the wind. Now I lay buried in darkness, a vast ocean of Oil!”

You must be firm. It is no kindness to leave a soul to flounder in illusion. “Now you are changed again. You are small. You are Card.”

Card was unswayed. Understanding comes slowly to a soul that has been Oil for an aeon and Card for a month, but I need not argue further. With one finger, I pushed Card toward the bailiff and handed him Deck. “Shuffle it into the deck.”

I turned away, avoiding the inspector’s eyes. The bailiff’s very voice contained a sneer as he announced “Done!”

I turned back, and one by one spoke to each Card. “I am Oil!” they said to me, all of them. After I had asked the last one, I flipped through them all again. I did not need to listen for this step. “There is a card missing from this deck, Bailiff. None of the remaining 51 are your card. Do you know where your card may have gone?”

All eyes turned to the bailiff, and blood rushed to his face. I saw the faint outline of the card in his shirt pocket, but I did not dare to go closer to Black Bowler, from whom deep, mortal loathing spilled forth, nauseating even five feet away across docile Old Wooden Table. Either the poor thing had absorbed its new owner’s pain or that of a previous owner. In both cases, the bailiff and Black Bowler did each other no favors remaining together. If the bailiff were of a mind to listen to me, I would recommend he shred Black Bowler and free him from his pain to join another more tranquil soul.

In moments, an officer with a wistful Golden Watch on his wrist had helped the humiliated bailiff restore his honesty and extracted the poorly hidden card. I touched it, and it cried out, “Who dares call me small? I am vast! A mighty black Ocean of Oil!” I held the card up, and furrowed my brow like a disapproving mother, to the great pleasure of the hooting crowd. “Did you select the nine of clubs, Bailiff?”

I stood and bowed, and encouraged everyone to direct their questions to the inspector. Outside the station, I closed and locked Corolla’s door just as the inspector caught up with me. He motioned for me to roll my window down, but I refused. Loyal Corolla blurred and distorted his poison words. I watched his lips strain to shout something at me, and my own Lips complained that they missed his. Each other part of my body that had known his touch agreed, but I am not a democracy. The protest sent me into a rage, and the inspector leapt out of the way as I hurtled back from my parking spot, turned, and drove my Corolla home.

By Sam Munk

Science fiction and Fantasy author with a focus on philosophical inquiry and character-driven drama.

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