by Dawn DeBraal
Aleda Paul shuddered when she looked at her iridescent baby. She was born with partial albinism, a rare condition.
“She looks like an angel. She doesn’t look real.”
Angel was the object of mouth dropping strangers due to her unusual appearance. Soon, the day came when Aleda walked Angel to her grandmother’s house, and pushed the little girl toward Grandma Paul.
“You take her. I can’t do this. I’ve met someone who is offering me a life. Ma, I need to go.”
Angel’s grandmother did not say a word. Angel screamed.
“Mama, where are you going? Take me with you. Don’t go!” Angel buried herself into her grandmother’s apron, sobbing.
In the months after Angel’s mother left her at Grandma Paul’s house, Angel learned she was special. She was a vessel made to shelter lost souls in her heart. Angel questioned what a lost soul was.
“People who have died with unfinished business wander the earth until they find a soul keeper. That’s what you are, Angel. A powerful soul keeper, just like me. When the lost souls take up in your body, you need to hold them tight, and carry them with you to the other side when it’s time to leave the world.”
Grandma Paul taught Angel how to live with the many souls who took up in her. Now that she knew what she was, Angel rarely had temper tantrums anymore—the reason she thought her mother had left.
In the summer of 1905, most of the folks in the area knew about sixteen-year-old Angel. They had never seen her. Exposure to people was rare because Angel didn’t like the way they stared.
One day, a neighbor stopped by the farm to purchase some honey and eggs.
“Angel, this is our neighbor, Mr. Cobb,” Grandma told her. “I am going out to get some eggs and honey from the summer kitchen. Please give Mr. Cobb a cool drink of water.”
Angel drew a glass of water from the hand pump, and placed it on the kitchen table, going back to her dishes.
“Well, ain’t you a strange-looking girl!” said Mr. Cobb, looking out the window for her grandmother. Mr. Cobb made a sound to get Angel’s attention. He held out a piece of sugar candy, waving it back and forth.
“Want some of this sugar candy for being a sugar girl?” asked Mr. Cobb. Angel looked at the candy and her mouth watered but something in Mr. Cobb’s voice scared her. One of the souls slipped from the box in her heart, and warned her to be wary. Mr. Cobb was not a nice man.
Angel pretended not to hear Mr. Cobb, and continued to scrub the dishes, ignoring him. She sensed when the filthy man stood up from the kitchen table, moving behind her.
“Come on, girl. Give me some sugar, and I’ll give you some sugar.”
Mr. Cobb grabbed Angel. She struggled to get away from him, not understanding why he would do this to her. The lost soul took over her heart, and the cast iron frying pan she was scrubbing struck Mr. Cobb over the head.
“You are crazy! I’ll have you locked up for this girl, and your grandmother too!”
Cobb held his hand against the bleeding wound, and staggered about the kitchen. The lost soul would not stay contained. The frying pan came down again. Mr. Cobb stopped shouting. Grandma Paul came in from the summer kitchen, and dropped the basket of eggs and the honey jar.
“Angel, stop!” Grandma took the frying pan from Angel’s hands. Mr. Cobb was dead.
“Bury cob!” Grandma Paul mumbled. The doctor tried to calm Grandma Paul, who was leaving this world.
“She must be dreaming about planting crops, she’s delirious,” the doctor told Angel, who tried to calm the lost souls her Grandmother had inside. She whispered to them; this is what they longed for, a glorious day.
When her grandmother left, it was warm and inviting on the other side. Grandma Paul released the souls to their loved ones when she walked through the door. Angel stood on the other side, and watched it happen.
A few days later, Angel woke feeling that someone was in the house. She went out to the kitchen, ready to light a fire in the wood stove. Mr. Cobb stood at the kitchen sink. She let out a small scream.
“What do you want?”
Mr. Cobb turned to her with his misshapen head.
“You are a soul keeper. I need to find a way home.”
Angel shuddered. How could she keep this man in her heart? She was terrified of him. She knew she owed him this much, having killed the man. Keeping his soul was her punishment. Now that her grandmother was gone, Mr. Cobb felt he could take advantage. Angel was a full-grown woman but the little girl inside of her feared this man. Mr. Cobb had a strong soul, as most evil people do.
Angel struggled to keep Mr. Cobb in the box of her heart. The man needed to leave this world when she did. He might not be going to Heaven but that was not for her to decide. She only knew she was the conduit to bring him from this world.
Today was the day that her life was ending. She clung to that knowledge. In the throes of delirium, Mr. Cobb came to her in a tug-of-war for his soul. Angel would not let him go.
“It’s time, Angel,” the voice said softly.
“Grandma Paul?” Angel called out.
“Yes, child. It’s time. Come with me. Take my hand.”
Angel dreamed Grandma Paul was standing there. She took her grandmother’s hand to walk through the door.
Something was wrong. It felt harsh. Angel remembered when she had helped her grandmother, it had been warm and inviting. Mr. Cobb was trying to trick her. Angel dropped the grandma thing’s hand, and hung on a little longer. Mr. Cobb was angry, and beat at the box in her heart.
“You have done well, child. It’s time. Let’s go.”
Angel felt the warmth envelope her, and the bright light surround her. She knew this time, it was real.
As she walked through the door into the light, she opened the box of her heart. The souls within Angel rose up in sparkled points. They whizzed by her in all directions, excited to be greeted by the waiting arms of their loved ones.
Mr. Cobb exited. Such an evil soul, going back toward the world they had left behind, when a swirling black vortex opened near Angel. She felt the void was coming for her because she had killed a man. She deserved this.
Grandma Paul held Angel’s hand tightly. She told Angel not to look, and Angel kept her eyes closed tight, even when she heard Mr. Cobb’s screams. And then, silence.
The souls Angel had carried for years, even Mr. Cobb, were gone. She felt light now that the burden was lifted. Angel looked back at the door, still opened to the farmhouse. There was no longer any reason to go back.
Pulling the door closed, she followed her grandmother to the good place.
Dawn DeBraal lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband Red, a slightly overweight rat terrier, and a cat. She has discovered that her love of telling a good story can be written. She has published over 200 stories in many online magazines and anthologies. She was also Falling Star Magazine’s 2019 Pushcart Nominee.