A Soul's Tale

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The light breeze that had tickled my face only minutes ago turned into a sharp, gale-force wind as I hurtled towards the ground. When I hit the pavement, I remember looking back up at the tall building that I had called my home, its windows glistening in the summer sunshine. I thought that it was a beautiful monument to my demise.
I want you to know right now that the newspapers lied when they said that my death was suicide. I had never had a suicidal thought in my life. I was drinking my afternoon cup of coffee and enjoying the view of the Hudson River on the rooftop of my apartment building when he came out of nowhere. I had just enough time to turn around and face him when he shoved me ferociously. As I wobbled on the edge of the roof, I looked up at him, expecting to see the face of a monster or a dastardly villain. I saw nothing but his slightly dimpled chin because his face was shadowed under his black Stetson cowboy hat.
“Bye-bye, lil’ missy. See you again soon,” he drawled in a Texan accent, right before I plummeted to my death.

When I died, the city and sky above me blurred until everything was black. Many different religions have made predictions about death. When I was alive, my parents had been devout Catholics. In Sunday school I was taught a person either goes to heaven, a sunny paradise where angels perch on clouds; purgatory, a place of where you repent for your sins before you go to heaven; or hell, a fiery region ruled by the Devil. I saw neither sunny fields nor fire and brimstone, and I felt no burning desire to repent my sins. I was in a place that Sunday school had never mentioned. I drifted gently through the darkness that surrounded me to some invisible destination that lay ahead. Although I could not see it, I felt my old body and delighted in its warmth as my fingers and feet tingled. I was perfectly relaxed until the visions came upon me.
Everyday hundreds of thousands of people die and their souls are recycled to continue the flow of life on our planet. When your soul is in between one life and the next, as I was now, the memories from past lives rush at you and consume your attention until your soul is called into another body. On this journey, you process all of your memories and gain the strength needed for your next life. However, once you are born you retain none of the memories, wisdom or skills that you gained over all of your past lives. We all know that this is true. When a baby is first born, it cannot talk, recite the Gettysburg address, or do Calculus. The soul only gives the baby consciousness and personality. Occasionally the soul finds a way to let a small memory through to the person it is occupying. These rare memories either come in the form of dreams or in strangely lucid moments, called déjà vu by the living.
As all of the information and experiences that I had absorbed over the years rushed at me, as if for the first time, I was able to discern that I was a new soul that had been created in 1351 AD. I was created to take the place of one of the deranged souls who had taken advantage of the chaos that ensued when the Black Death spread throughout Europe. Instead of being sent to hell for eternal punishment, these souls were simply deemed mentally unstable and unfit to provide life to organisms on Earth, and were sent to purgatory. They were told that if they purged themselves of the crimes they had commited, they would be sent to heaven and would become Guardians, who are distinguished and trusted retired souls who watch over Earth and the souls living there. They were never to provide life to any organisms again and therefore had to be replaced by fresh souls.
Since the year 1351, I had provided life to exactly 49 organisms, ranging from octopuses and parrots to catfish and humans. As I searched quickly through each life, remembering all of the little details and the emotions that I had once felt, I began to notice a disturbing pattern. Chills ran down my spine as I realized that every organism I had occupied had a violent death instead of dying naturally from old age. To make matters even more bizarre, my organisms always died on the 25th day of the month of July.
Was it just a coincidence that all of the organisms I had inhabited had been killed on the same date every time, or was someone or something killing me repeatedly for a specific reason? If I had been alive at this moment, I would have had a severe panic attack. I imagined that my breathing would come short and fast as my heart began to beat heavily and I would feel invisible walls closing in around me. In my peaceful state I felt no panic, only a calm determination to solve this problem.
I searched through my newly gained memories until I found what I had been looking for: the day each of my organisms had died.

I was a jackrabbit with tall ears and long back legs. On the 25th of the July, I remember the summer sun rising over the sage scattered mountains, its warm rays hitting the desert floor. By afternoon its heat was unbearable but I did not go in my tunnel like I usually would have. I had this strange feeling that something was coming and I was on edge, my tail twitching with anxiety. The heat that would normally be unbearable was my only comfort as I waited.
He came on horseback an hour before sunset, a rifle hoisted over one burly shoulder and his hat riding low over his face. When I saw him, I knew that I should run, but I didn’t. I had seen men like him before and had watched as they killed helpless desert animals. I watched him as a mouse watches an eagle, my legs glued to the ground, waiting for inevitable death. He spotted me instantly and before I could gain the strength to take one small leap, he had swung his rifle down, aimed and pulled the trigger. The bullet, a torpedo of pain, hit me directly between the eyes and everything disappeared before my body landed on the desert floor.

As this memory faded another grabbed my attention.

My braids tossed in the frigid wind as I walked down the muddy path. This far south of the equator, the month of July was neither sunny nor warm. It had rained last night but Grandmother had promised that the weather would stay calm for my weekly mile-long walk to the general store. I wrapped my arms around my stomach to hold in as much heat as possible, dreaming of the roaring fires and hot tea that would be waiting for me when I returned home.
In the store, the owner passed me a couple of bags full of food in exchange for five silver coins. I thanked him and walked outside once more. I was halfway home when the cowboy stepped out from his hiding place between the trees and clamped his palm over my small mouth, knocking the groceries out of my hands. He looked like my father and brothers, who were all vaqueros, except for his pasty, white skin.
I was only a little girl when he grabbed me and I didn’t even consider resisting his rough hands as he continued to hurt me. He crushed my nose with his elbow, broke my ribs with his knee. Bloody and bruised, I crumpled to the ground. He stood over me, lifted his foot and slit my throat with the silver-spurred heel of his boot. The blood that flowed quickly out of the gash made me feel warm as I slipped away into darkness.

The memories kept coming, one violent ending after another. When I had seen all 49 deaths, I finally began to feel fear.
Who was the man underneath the cowboy hat? Why did he take my life every time instead of letting my organisms die natural deaths? He was like my own personal serial killer and I knew that in my next life, he would kill me again. I needed to stop him, to figure out his motives and have him punished for his crimes before he hurt me again.
There was something so familiar about him. I knew that if I looked beyond his Texan accent and his shadowed face, I would find a rotten and desperate soul.
Then I realized I knew exactly who he was. He was old, many years older than me, and had inhabited hundreds of organisms before he was withdrawn from circulation. During the Black Death, he had been linked to a rash of murders. The news of the time had said that the murders had been caused by gangs of desperate people fighting to survive and obtain necessary supplies, but like all news stories, this one was far from the truth. When people first started dying, doctors blamed the plague on magic and an angry God. When a well-respected man proposed that rats were the problem, he and his family were killed brutally. The family’s assassins were members of a small group who had been using the plague for personal gain. They robbed the sick and dying, killing those who were strong enough to resist, and destroyed immense amounts of property. They became obsessed with their new power and vowed to kill anyone who came up with a cure to stop the plague. My killer cowboy was one of the assassins and when he was caught and hung, he was declared deranged and so was sent to purgatory to cleanse himself of his sins. I had replaced him and, by the looks of things, he badly wanted to reclaim his place in the living world.

For many souls who enter it, purgatory is essentially jail. Our leaders claim that it helps rehabilitate unstable and mentally insane souls until they can once again do helpful work on Earth. However, from the little I have heard about purgatory, it is not a happy place to live. Occasionally, if a soul is positive and cooperative, they are rewarded with one day on Earth. This day is always on the date where the soul’s last organism died. I remembered that the cowboy’s last date of death was in fact July 25th. So he must be pretending to be full of contrition so as to be able to exit purgatory for one day during every one of my lives. The logistics of how he escaped made sense, but I still had no idea what his agenda was. Why did he always need to kill me?

When I was first created, I lived under the watchful eyes of a Guardian in Heaven, who nurtured me and taught me about my mission on planet Earth. There are many rules that one has to follow in order to stay in circulation, and I studied them all. I learned that I was one of the billions of souls who were created and given a blessed destiny to bring life and hope to the organisms on Earth. As I looked back on the lessons I had learned so many years ago, one particular rule caught my attention:
It is every soul’s job to make sure that their organism lives as many years as possible. Each soul will be given 50 chances to provide life and protect an organism until that organism dies of old age. If a soul is unable to follow this requirement, they will be taken out of circulation until they learn how to properly do their job. Their position will be taken by a more experienced soul.
There it was, his motivation for coming into every one of my lives and murdering me before my organisms died of old age. He had already killed me 49 times and I was sure that he was planning to kill me one more time. He wanted to kick me out of circulation and be my replacement, and so far, his plan was working perfectly. The one mistake he had made was taking the same form every time he killed me. If he hadn’t, I would never have figured out what he was doing. In his demented mind, he must have felt a deep attachment for the carefree cowboy lifestyle. If only I could stop him in my next life!

Suddenly the blackness I had been drifting through all this time turned into blinding white light. I still could not see, but I felt cool, leathery hands lifting me. I knew from past experience that these hands would place me in my new organism.
“Stop,” I shouted but the hands continued to carry me forward, tightening their grasp.

“Please, you must listen to me,” I pleaded frantically. “There is a soul who is going to kill me if you put me in another organism. Help me! Don’t let him get away with this again.”

There was no response but I knew that they were listening.

“If you must put me in an organism, at least let me keep my memories, so I can remember and stop him.”

As the weathered hands began to place me in my new organism, I heard a soft sigh of reluctant consent. Then I fell asleep.


When I awoke, I did not feel perplexed or newly alive like I normally would have, because my memory had not been wiped clean. I remembered with perfect clarity what I needed to do and why I needed to stop the cowboy. Only after I finished perfecting my plan did I realize where and what I was.
The sun caressed my tiny green stem as my roots sucked up moisture and nutrients from the earth below me. I felt myself growing.

Great, I thought, I’m a tree. A helpless tree that can neither run nor hide. I have all of my old memories but I can do absolutely nothing with them except wait to be killed. Someone in charge has a very sick sense of humor.

I was frustrated and angry, and as I waited for the cowboy to come and kill me mercilessly, I gradually turned into a magnificent willow tree. If I had been oblivious to my future, I might have enjoyed my life. The wind rustled through my leaves, and the sun warmed my boughs. Little children played at the base of my trunk, but though I continuously tried to speak to them, they never heard me.
In all of my other lives I had focused on living. I, of course, had always known that I would eventually die but I had never spent time thinking about dying. Now, for years, I waited for death to come and take me. I imagined what it would feel like and how the cowboy planned to kill me. Would it hurt? I was terrified of what would happen after he killed me and I was taken out of circulation. What would they do with me?

He came to put me out of my misery on a balmy summer night. The street I lived on was pitch black but I could still see him walking jauntily along the sidewalk, a can of gasoline swinging in his hand. When he reached me, he began to pour the slippery liquid over my trunk and branches. I tried to scream, hoping to wake up the family who lived close to me, but no sound came out. At that moment I wondered why I had never fought back or called for help when he had come for me. Why I had I let him kill me every time? The cowboy was whistling a random tune as he poured and, for the first time, I saw his face. His skin was yellowed and stretched tightly across his cheekbones, showing his true age. His eyes were inky black wells that reflected his psychopathic tendencies perfectly. He smiled as he struck the first match, the red flame flashing on his glimmering white teeth. With a hoot of laughter, he threw the match onto one of my boughs, instantly catching it on fire. The flames spread rapidly, searing my bark and frying my long leaves. The pain was unbearable. When the fire reached a large pool of sap in my trunk, I exploded with an earsplitting BOOM, my body flying everywhere. The people on my street must have awakened and doused the fire, but I’m not certain. I vanished from the scene after I exploded, the colors of the fire imprinted in my mind.


As the colors faded, I began to look around me. When I was a tree I never would have imagined myself ending up in a place like this. I sat, in human form, in the middle of what seemed to be a cathedral, for there were stained glass windows, magnificent arches, and a sense of holiness and magnificence. I had just begun to panic when the heavy double doors in front of me opened, white light pouring into the room. The first man who entered looked stern and quickly gestured for me to stay put as I began to rise from my chair. Behind him came three men who were dragging the cowboy. Gasoline was still splattered on his clothes and his hat was singed from my explosion. When he saw me, the cowboy stood up straight, his eyes wild.

“This, all of this, is her fault. She is the stupid b**** who replaced me,” he shouted bitterly, pointing at me.


“There is no need to shout, sir,” the stern looking man said. “Everyone in this room knows the truth of the matter and knows the consequences that must be faced.” He articulated each word as if he were talking to a child and kept his attention solely focused on the cowboy. “As you can see, this is the place where souls’ futures get decided. I personally examine every past action, every word you have said or thought and then decide where you should be.”

I held my breath but said nothing, afraid of what might happen if he began to speak to me. I had done nothing wrong except let the cowboy kill me, over and over again. I began to realize I had been too traumatized by his past crimes against me to resist him.

“Sir, you committed many crimes while you were on Earth, but none of them can compare at all to what you did to this poor soul, “ he said, gesturing in my direction. “Now your plan has failed and you will be punished properly for your crimes.”

“I didn’t do s*** to her. It was her fault that she died every time. She never fought me, not once,” the cowboy drawled, as if he had been reading my thoughts.

“Ah, so you admit to killing her. Well, this makes everything much simpler. It seems that purgatory did you no good. We will have to place you somewhere else.”

“Earth?! Can you put me back in circulation? I would behave, I promise.”

The man smiled maliciously. “Oh, my dear sir, you are never going to get a chance to even catch a glimpse of Earth in the place where Iwe will send you. I hope you like warm climates because the leader of your new home is very fond of fire… and torture.”

“No, please no. I will do anything, just don’t send me there,” the cowboy groaned as the three men dragged him across the room and through a different door that emitted a very sulfurous aroma.

The man’s glare melted into a pleasant smile as he turned and looked at me. “That felt great. I have wanted to put him away for a very long time. Now, how shall we deal with you?”

“Please don’t send me to hell.” I stammered. Although I felt satisfied by the cowboy’s punishment, I was scared on the power that this man held. “Could I be put back in circulation?”

“I’m sorry, but your position was automatically filled when you died for the fiftieth time. If it is any consolation, you would really like the soul who replaced you.”

I could only nod slowly as I tried to hold back my tears.

“But it just so happens that I have a perfect position for you. How would you like to be a Guardian? If you took the job you could still see Earth, even watch over the souls who are currently living on it. What do you think?”

I considered the offer and then asked the man, “I’d love to be a Guardian of the souls living on Earth, but am I qualified for the job? I couldn’t even defend myself against one crazy soul after 50 tries, so how will I be able to protect other souls?”

“You are underestimating the power that the cowboy had over you. Now that he is gone, you will soon discover that you possess a great deal of strength. I have faith that you will be an excellent Guardian, but the decision is up to you. You can go to purgatory and wait for a soul to be taken out of circulation and fill their post. The choice is yours.”

I had thought that I would badly want to be given a second chance on Earth but then I realized that that career held no significance for me anymore. I needed a change in scenery and I needed to grow up. I got up off my seat and walked to his side. We didn’t say anything but my choice was clear. I noticed that he no longer scared me as we walked through the doors and were engulfed in soft, blinding light.





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