By Tim Pratt
12 July 2004
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
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,"
"It's harder to know which things
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.