Soul Searching

By Tim Pratt

On weekends I help my old neighbor look

for his soul. He says he used to be a wizard, or a giant

(the story varies from telling to telling), and, as was

the custom for his kind, he put his soul into an egg

(or perhaps a stone) for safe-keeping. He hid the egg

(or stone) inside a duck (or in the belly

of a sheep, or in a tree stump), and so long

as his soul was safe, his body could not be killed

or wounded. "Oh," he says. "I was the greatest

terror of the hills. I ate the hearts of knights,"

or sometimes, "I lived in my high

tower and none dared oppose me, and with the wave

of my hand I could turn stone to mud

and water to boiling blood."

Or sometimes "The earth trembled

with my every step." He says this

almost wistfully.

My neighbor is seventy at least, I think,

or older (unless he is hundreds of years old

as he claims). His skin is covered in dark freckles,

liver spots, and moles, and he says that each

blemish marks a year he's lived beyond

his rightful span. All he wants is to find the egg

(or stone) that houses his soul, so that he

may break the egg (or crush the stone) and die.

I asked him once, while we looked for his soul

in the garbage cans at the park, "How

could you misplace your soul?"

"I hid it so well, I forgot

where it was hidden," he said.

"Seems like a hell of a thing

to forget," I said.

"When you don't have a soul,"

he said,

"It's harder to know which things

are important

to remember."

We go out every weekend. He's old.

I live alone. We are companions

for one another. He tells marvelous

stories. I think he must have once

taught mythology, though he tells

the tales of gods and heroes

as if he saw it all firsthand.

Once he found a robin's egg

on the ground. It must have fallen

from a nest. He held the egg

in trembling hands, cracked it,

and yolk spilled out. No soul.

He shook the egg

off his hands. Bits of shell

fell to the ground. He wiped

his hands on his pants

and went on looking, picking

up rocks, dropping them

in disgust and frustration.

We go out every weekend,

we walk the length of the town

and back, but somehow

the earth never trembles.


Tim Pratt is a poet and fiction writer living in Oakland, California. His first novel, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, will be published by Bantam in 2005. He co-edits a 'zine called Flytrap with his fiancee, Heather Shaw. To contact him, send email to tim@tropismpress.com.