Charles sat in front of his old TV with his son Harper, watching the evening news. “The latest reported death numbers for today are another 4,304 North Korean soldiers, and 305 U.S. soldiers.” The man rang off the numbers in a monotone voice with an air of sadness and professionalism. “Once again there seems to be no end in sight for this violence, and the President has not released an official statement in fourteen days.”
Charles changed the channel, and a woman dressed in a navy-blue business suit appeared on screen. “Reported explosion today in Dubai, resulting from an underground gas line leak. The city has determined the gas line hadn’t been checked or maintained for several years,” she said.
Charles shook his head, and changed the channel one last time to the local news station. “The boy’s body has been found ten miles north of the river,” The news anchor said. He let out an audible sigh–unknown to the audience whether it was genuine or fake for the camera–and continued. “Police have determined the cause of death was strangulation. So far, no suspects have been identified.”
“Hmm,” Charles said, stroking his chin. “Sounds like there’s going to be a big batch coming in this season. It’s a good thing I’ll have some help this year,” he said, turning towards his son.
Harper groaned. “C’mon dad. I wanted to go to camp this summer!”
Charles let out a sigh. “I know you do son, but you have to understand this is very important work. Whatever the circumstances, we have to do this. Don’t worry,” he said, placing a hand on Harper’s left shoulder. “Once this season is done, I’ll make sure you get plenty of time with your friends. And tonight…” He said, picking up the nearby telephone from the end table next to the wall, “How about pizza?”
Harper’s eyes changed from dread to excitement. “Ok, but you have to get one with pineapple!” He said. “Only pineapple. No ham, it’s nasty.”
Charles rolled his eyes and ordered the delivery.
One month later Charles stepped outside onto his old wooden porch. He could hear the faint buzzing of cicadas in the distance, and the mild heat from the Sun creeping up his face. As he turned to look at his farm, his eyes grew large and wild. “Harper, get down here!” He shouted.
Harper hurried down the stairs and onto the porch. “Woah!” He shouted. “There’s so many!”
Charles and Harper looked at the massive harvest. Dark green stalks were sprouting above the ground, each of them hosting a batch of glowing orbs with different colors. Some shown bright, others were dim. Some were pristine, others clouded and muddied.
“Alright, let’s get to work,” Charles declared.
They opened the large shed nearby to retrieve a dozen carts, each with sturdy wheels and able to hold several hundred pounds. They worked tirelessly each day gently pulling the orbs from their stalks and placing them into the carts–being careful not to damage them.
After two weeks passed, all of the carts were filled with orbs and placed back into the shed. “Good work son,” Charles said.
“I didn’t break a single one!” Harper replied.
Charles beamed. “That’s great. But now, the hard part comes. Get ready to dig in for the next couple of months… There’s a lot of souls to clean.”
The next day, Harper walked down in the morning with a yawn after hearing a large commotion downstairs. “What’s going on?” He asked.
Charles was bending over on the wooden floors of the living room, sweating profusely and standing next to one of the carts he’d pulled in from the shed. “Well, it’s about time you got up! Eat your breakfast and let’s get started.”
Harper groaned again, and reluctantly joined his dad a few minutes later.
“Now,” Charles said, pulling out two crates from the nearby closet. He placed them down in front of the carts. “Clean ones on the right, anything that we can’t clean on the left,” he said, pointing the two crates on the floor. “We’re gonna have to fill all of these from the carts. But first…” He went to the closet and rummaged around for a minute. “Where are they… aha!” He exclaimed.
Charles smiled and pulled out a small box, placing it on the nearby kitchen counter. “Here we go. Now, watch closely.” He pulled out three glowing orbs from the cart and placed them on the counter.
“Look at this one. Looks pretty good, huh?” He said. He placed the orb in Harper’s outstretched hand.
Harper stared. The orb glowed with a bright blue hue. As he rotated it in his palm, he couldn’t see any scratched or clouded surface. “Looks pretty good, dad.” He said. As he held the orb, he felt an overwhelming sensation of happiness come over him, and he smiled.
Charles looked at him. “Feeling pretty good right now, huh?”
“Yeah! What’s going on?” Harper asked.
“This is a clean soul, son. Whoever this belonged to must’ve had a rewarding life. What you’re feeling now is his soul speaking to you, sharing that with you. Quick, put it in the crate to the right of you. Don’t hold it for too long,” Charles said, pointing.
As Harper reached to place the soul into the crate, he paused for a moment. He heard something in his head… a voice. It’s ok, honey… Harper’s eyes began to cloud. He no longer saw the room with his dad and the crates, instead he was looking through the eyes of an old woman in a bed. A twenty-something girl was looking down towards her. The girl’s face was red and tears were streaming down her cheeks. You’re going to be alright, the voice said, and Harper felt the old woman smiling. I’m going somewhere better.
Harper abruptly felt his body shaking, and his dad yelling at him. “Harper! Let go of the orb, now!” He felt his dad pulling the orb from his hand and quickly placing it in the crate. All of a sudden, the voice of the old woman and the vision of the girl staring at him faded, and he came to his senses. The cloud over his eyes was gone, and he was back inside the living room with his dad.
“What… what happened?” Harper asked, and blinked.
“I told you not to hold on for that for too long…” Charles said. He reached inside the box on the kitchen counter and pulled out a cloth rag. “Make sure you hold the souls with these when you’re checking them.” He used the cloth to pick up the next orb, holding it out to Harper. “Here, take this rag now and look at this one,” Charles said, handing Harper another cloth and the orb.”
Harper stared at the new orb in his hand. It let out a faint purple glow. It wasn’t as bright as the previous one. As he rotated the orb, he saw that the center was clouded, and several small scratches were visible.
“This soul is pretty dirty,” Charles said. “The life of this person was obviously far from perfect. They must’ve had a rough go of it, like most of us.
“But don’t worry, we can clean these with some of the tools…” He looked inside the box, and pulled out a bottle filled with a strange glowing fluid and a tube of something. He handed the items to Harper, along with another cloth–much larger than the one in his hand. “Here, pour some of that oil on the orb and rub it in.”
Harper followed his instructions. Within seconds, the cloud was gone, and the purple light shown as bright as the previous orb. “You see? This soul’s owner might’ve had a rough go of it, but we can clean this soul to be used again!” He said, smiling. “Now, if you put a bit of that paste from the tube on the scratches and set it aside, they’ll go away soon. After that, place it in the crate on the right.”
Harper followed his instructions, and stared as the cracks began to fade several minutes later. He grinned and placed it in the crate.
“Alright, last one.” Charles said. His usually upbeat and cheery voice faded into monotone as he continued to talk to Harper. He picked up the last orb on the counter. “I’m going to hand this to you. Make sure you don’t touch this with your hand, use the cloth. Careful, now.” He gently handed the orb to his son. “What do you see?” Charles asked.
Harper held the orb close to his eyes, rotating it slowly. It was yellow, but there was no light coming from it. Large cracks ran all along the surface, and it was chipped in several places. “There’s something in the middle…” He said, putting it even closer to his eyes. In the middle was a small dark hole.
“It’s broken, son.” Charles said. Harper looked at his father and witnessed a tear roll down his cheek. His smile was gone, the only thing Harper could see in Charles now was solemnity. “Unfortunately, there are going to be some souls that we just can’t fix. Here, place it in the other crate.”
Harper reached towards the crate, and the orb slipped out of the cloth. Instinctively, he reached to grab it with his other hand. As the orb made contact with his skin, an immediate wave of sorrow rushed over him. He wasn’t prepared for this extreme emotion, and he began crying loud and hard. “Drop the orb!” Charles shouted.
Harper barely heard him. The only thing he could hear was the screaming of a girl in his head, and the only thing he felt was sadness.
He soon managed to make sense of his father’s screams he dropped the orb inside the crate, still crying from what he’d just felt. “It was so sad, dad… I know, I don’t…” He didn’t know what to say.
Charles rushed to his side and embraced him. “It’s ok, you’re gonna be ok.” A minute later Harper calmed down, and Charles brought him a glass of water. “That’s a broken soul. The owner of it led a very painful life.” He sighed. “Nothing we have could fix this soul; the only thing we can do is throw it out.”
“Throw it out? What do you mean, it won’t be used again for someone else?”
“I’m sorry, Harper. There’s nothing we can do for this one.”
Over the next several weeks, Charles and Harper worked to clean and sort out the souls. There were several times when Charles noticed Harper placing a broken soul inside the crate full of clean ones, trying to hide it from his father. “You have to stop, son.” Charles declared, grabbing the broken souls and putting them into the other crate. “I know it’s hard, it was hard for me too in the beginning. But putting these inside the good crate is only going to hurt the clean ones.”
Harper’s face dropped, but he followed his father’s instructions. Thankfully, there were very few broken souls found, but each one further depressed his heart when he placed it in the crate.
Cleaning all the souls was a tedious process, but after two months all twelve carts had been cleaned and sorted. Out of the entire harvest, only two small crates had been filled with broken souls. Charles placed the last cart back in the shed, closed the door, and walked back inside the house. He wiped the sweat off of his forehead and turned towards Harper, sitting on the couch.
“Well, it’s finally done!” He exclaimed. “That usually takes me almost four months! You were a huge help Harper, thank you,” he said. He picked up the phone to order another pizza. “Pineapple again?” He asked.
Harper said nothing. He just sat on the couch, staring at the floor and holding the cloth he used to clean the souls in his hand, now covered with dirt. A few seconds later, he looked up. “Huh? Oh, sure dad,” he said, and turned back towards the cloth.
The smile on Charles’s face faded. He knew what his son was feeling; he’d felt it himself after his first harvest many years ago. He also knew there was nothing he could say that would bring a smile back to Harper’s face, only time could do that. He ordered the pizza, and after dinner they went to bed.
At two o’clock in the morning, Harper snuck out of bed and walked towards the closet–careful not to wake his father. He opened the door gingerly and peered inside at the two crates of broken souls. He stared at the various cracks, chips and holes inside each one, thinking of how bright these crates would shine if their owners might’ve had a different life, like the clean souls which were in the shed waiting to be reused.
He stepped inside the closet. He noticed to his surprise that the same broken yellow soul he’d accidentally touched two months ago was resting at the top of the crate. Weird, he thought to himself. Could’ve sworn dad put this one at the bottom. Instinctively, he pulled a cloth from his pocket, reached in and pulled out the soul, carrying it upstairs to his room.
He turned on the lamp next to his bed and placed the soul on the side table, peering inside the orb. The incandescent light illuminated the soul, revealing each crack and chip and the dark hole in the center. He couldn’t take his eyes off of it. Something about this soul spoke to him, longing to be known.
He reached towards the orb once again with his bare hand, readying his mind and body for whatever might be behind all of the cracks and holes of this broken soul. It’s just memories and feelings. They can’t hurt me, he told himself. Just stay calm. I can do this. He touched the orb with his outstretched index finger.
At once, that familiar sorrow washed over him. It’s not real, he told himself, bearing the brunt of it. His eyes clouded, and another vision came to him.
This time, he was staring through the eyes of the screaming girl. He felt pain now–physical pain, as he saw the hand of a man slap the girl across the face. “Shut your damn mouth!” The man screamed, yelling obscenities so close to her face that saliva from his mouth pelted her cheeks.
Harper could tell she was no older than twelve or thirteen. The sorrow he felt was gone now, replaced by terror. What ensued after the man’s shouting was a beating of the poor girl. Harper felt every punch and kick from the man as if he were the one being hit. He felt the wind knocked out of him, and the girl’s vision became hazy. “Don’t you ever spill anything in my car again. And if you tell your dad about this, I’ll make sure to finish the job next time,” The man said, and walked away. Harper felt tears sting the girl’s eyes and run down her face.
The vision faded, and Harper’s eyes became clear once again. He could still feel the slap of the man’s rough hand on his face, and the punches and kicks on his torso and legs. The tears of the girl were running down his eyes now, and Harper let them flow. He felt the pain and fear of the girl’s encounter, wishing he could’ve done something–anything–to help her.
The soul remained in his hand. Now the sorrow had left him, and no visions came. He placed it on the bedside table once again, and after an hour of mulling through his thoughts he managed to fall sleep.
He awoke to the sound of his father shouting downstairs. “Harper! I made pancakes whenever you’re up,” Charles said.
Harper rubbed his eyes. He felt tired and a little sick, but gradually rose from his bed and dressed. As he began to open his bedroom door, he turned towards the orb still resting on his bedside table. Once again, he felt a sense of longing from this soul to be held. He reached down and picked it up. No emotions came, and no vision clouded his eyes. But as he stared at the soul, he noticed something new. The dark hole in the middle had disappeared. Surprised, he pocketed the orb and went downstairs, feeling slightly better.
“Morning!” Charles said, placing a plate of hot pancakes and a tall glass of orange juice on the table. The condensation on the glass ran down and greeted the wooden table underneath. “Hungry?”
“Yeah, thanks dad,” Harper said, and managed a smile.
Charles nodded. I hope he’s feeling a little better now, He thought to himself.
As Harper ate, he reached into his pocket and grabbed the soul, hiding it in his palm. As he moved his fingers around the orb, he noticed it felt smoother than it did last night. “Thanks for breakfast dad, I’m going to the lake if that’s alright,” he said.
“Of course!” Charles exclaimed. “You go play wherever you want today. You’ve earned it.”
Harper put on an old pair of sneakers and walked outside, making his way downhill towards the small lake nearby. The buzzing of cicadas grew louder, and the Sun shone brightly, periodically blocked by the white clouds moving across the sky. It was a beautiful day.
He sat under a tree next to the lake and pulled out the orb, then gasped. The cracks and chips in the orb had all but vanished, and the clouded surface had started to clear up. A slight yellow glow filled middle. “You just wanted someone to know, huh?” He said.
In the evening, Harper returned home. His dad was sitting on the couch, reading a book, and when Harper opened the door Charles turned. “Fun day?” He asked, closing the book.
“Dad, I need to show you something,” Harper replied. Charles looked perplexed, and stood up.
“Alright, what is it?” He asked, walking towards him. Harper pulled out the soul and placed it on the counter. It was pristine now. No hint of scratch or mark could be seen, and it glowed bright yellow. Charles frowned. “Did you get this from the shed? You know we can’t keep these Harper; they’re going to be used for new owners again soon.”
“No, dad. I got it from the closet.”
Charles’s mouth opened. “What do you mean… you pulled it from one of the crates in there? The ones with the broken souls?”
“Yeah, I did. It’s the same one I touched on accident last time, and it’s clean now.” Harper replied, smiling.
“What? How?” Charles didn’t know what to say. “I’ve never seen one that bad get cleaned before. What did you do?”
“I touched the soul dad. I watched the whole thing. I felt what she did, what she went through” Harper said. He remembered the pain, and the terror. “It was… really bad.”
“Why? Why did you do that?” Charles replied, exasperated. “I don’t want you to see those things. They’ll hurt you.”
“It did hurt, dad. But after I saw it… that’s when the soul started to heal,” Harper said. “I think that’s it. All the broken ones in those crates, they just want someone to know. To feel what they felt, and see what they saw.”
“…Ok, Harper. Give me the soul, and go to your room,” Charles said with a stern tone.
“I said do it. No questions. I’ll come get you for dinner.”
Harper sighed and walked upstairs, closing his bedroom door. He laid on his bed and stared at the ceiling lost in thought. I wonder what else her life was like, he pondered. Probably terrible. I wish I could know. His eyes were heavy, and he yawned. At least her soul is ok. At least it can be used again… He drifted off.
He woke up several hours later. It was night now, and the moon shone through his bedroom window. He looked at the clock, which read 9:00. Did I sleep through dinner? He thought. Where’s dad?
He quietly opened his bedroom door and looked outside. The lights were off, save for the kitchen light poking its way up the stairs. “Dad?” He called out. There was no response, but he heard some kind of small movement coming from the kitchen.
He made his way downstairs. “Dad, are you ok?” He peered into the kitchen. Charles was sitting at the table, quietly sobbing. His back was to Harper and his head bent down. “Dad, what’s wrong?” He asked, walking towards him. He placed his hand on his father’s shoulder and Charles slowly lifted his head.
Charles rolled the yellow orb from earlier towards Harper. “Here’s that soul you showed me,” Charles said. Then, he rolled another soul next to the yellow one. This one was orange, pristine and glowing brightly.
“What’s that?” Harper asked.
“It’s another soul from the closet. It’s ok now,” Charles replied, managing a smile. “He just wanted someone to feel what he did.”
Charles held the two souls out to Harper. “Here, take these out to the shed with the clean ones. I think we have more work to do.”
Eric Stevens writes short fiction as a hobbyist and recently moved to Colorado Springs. He’s been published twice before in Adelaide Magazine and hopes his stories will spark an emotional response and give the reader a different perspective.