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Land of the Living
Report: Incident code #11716.
Time of incident: 3AM, Earth Standard Time. Location of incident: Bridge of Souls. Officer on duty: Contract Soul #2376 – that’d be me, sir.
It was reported this afternoon that there had been an issue with one of the souls. The soul in question had recently crossed the Styx and appeared to retain memories of life. It was calling out the name of a relative and attempted to stir up the other souls, but was promptly overcome by guards. The soul was then tranquilized and imprisoned until its memories faded.
However, at approximately 22:00PM, Earth Standard Time, the alarms signaled a prison break. The previously incapacitated soul broke free from incarceration and was attempting to escape via the Bridge of Souls.
I feel it necessary to report, sir, that while this may seem to be an average soul escape, there were…further complications. The soul was not alone. It was being assisted…by a human.
No, I do not mean a formerly human soul. There was an actual human being, a young female. Somehow, she passed from the world of the living into the Underworld, world of the dead.
Well, it’s not as though it’s unprecedented, my lord. Granted, the precedent occurred several centuries ago, but it is not impossible.
Continuing with the report: I was the ranking officer on duty at the time and intercepted the human. She was young, no older than sixteen; she spoke English, most likely an American; dark hair, dark eyes, distinct Armenian features, around five foot seven, and of muscular stature.
A curious detail is that she was wearing some kind of ludicrous device upon her head. It resembled a sort of tin bowl with aluminum antennae. I suspected that she was under the impression it was keeping her safe in the Underworld, but at first glance I could tell it was a fake.
Regardless, she had the escaped soul with her. It was very weak from its time in imprisonment and was being supported with one arm over the girl’s shoulder.
It seems unfortunate that souls still maintain their human appearance. It’s really not helping anyone do their jobs.
She had only reached part way over the Bridge when I located her. She did not look afraid. Strangely enough, she appeared to be expecting me.
I stood before them with a cold expression and stated the official warning. “Escaped soul number T9564, you are in direct violation of code 11716. Stand down or you will be incarcerated in purgatory.” I then turned to the human girl and said, “While there is no official warning for the intervention of a human attempting to liberate a soul, I must inform you that a continuation of further actions will result in dire consequences. Release the soul.”
She merely shifted the form of the soul over her shoulders to a more comfortable position and gave me a glare full of determination and spirit. “Only when we’re both free in the world of the living.”
Had I not known her exploits were in foolish vain I would have been impressed by her gumption.
“You are playing with forces beyond your control,” I told her.
“Save me the lecture,” she said. “I know it by heart. The dead stay dead, the living can’t get in the way. Well, I think that’s a load of crap!”
I spoke over her. “If you persist I shall be forced to take action.”
“Please,” she scoffed. “What are you, the dead people police? There’s only one of you, where’s your back up?”
“For this sort of pathetic infraction?” I said in a cool voice. “Reinforcements will not be necessary.” Admittedly it was not my place to respond in such a manner, but I did have to buy time.
The human became riled by my words and shouted, “I am not pathetic! What’s wrong with a sister wanting to save her little brother!”
It was helpful to ascertain the relationship, but this was not abnormal. It’s usually a family member or a lover who pulls the ridiculous stunt. All in the sake of familial ties and the desire to not be alone. I believe that loneliness is the most potent motivator.
At this point I noticed she was slowly creeping further down the Bridge under the pretense of yelling extremities that I did not pay much heed to. She was planning her escape.
Even through her protests I could tell she seemed too well informed for a mere human. Her knowledge of the Bridge, her use of terms such as “land of the living,” and her mere appearance in the Underworld to begin with. It was here that my suspicions began.
I needed to keep her talking. “That’s enough. What exactly is it that you desire?”
She became more encouraged than ever. “I want to make a deal. Whatever it takes for both my brother and me to return to the land of the living, I’ll do it. Please. We’re both girls, aren’t we? Can’t you understand my feelings?”
I am ashamed to admit this. Her comment threw me off guard. I had forgotten I am female. Or, I had been. I know that notions such as gender are obsolete in death, but there was something about this girl and her brother that was in danger of awakening me. Our conversation would endanger me if I allowed her to continue talking.
I decided to switch to diversionary tactics. Bargaining seemed to be the most effective. I raised one pale hand to cease her ranting. “You do not want the lecture, as you said, but I believe it is necessary. If, after I’ve explained myself, you have not given up on your determination then perhaps there is a deal we can make.” Her face lit up, making the dark shadowy bags under her eyes brighten and warm color returned to her face. “Given the correct circumstances, of course. Does this sound agreeable?”
“Yes, yes, absolutely,” she agreed quickly. Her brother’s soul continued to stare blankly at the ground.
“Very well,” I said. “Pay close attention to my words for they are the truth, not a bluff, not an excuse.
“Allowing a soul to escape back to Earth is an extremely dangerous phenomenon. When a person dies they lose attachment to their physical form. They become loose, drifting particles in the air until they are guided to the Underworld where they take on semi-solid form. The reason you are able to touch her brother’s soul is because the powers of the Underworld allow it. It doesn’t allow it pass through walls or other solid substances that could aid in escape and makes it easier for contracted souls to regulate their movements.”
“What are contracted souls?” she asked. Curiosity had taken hold and diverted her from thoughts of escape.
“Contracted souls are souls that are given administrative positions, such as myself,” I explained. “We are under contract with the lord of the Underworld to do him services in a variety of positions in order to maintain order and keep souls from crossing over to the physical world.
“In any case, here is my main point. There are usually two situations an escaped soul will find itself in once it has returned to the land of the living. It cannot exist without a physical body and so it will most likely return to its previous body. However, in most cases, the body is already resting beneath the ground. The soul will find itself buried alive and thus experience death again, slowly, painfully.” The girl swallowed at this terrifying idea and tightened her grip on her brother’s soul. She appeared to be stooped more than before. It was becoming more difficult to hold up her brother’s soul. “This is where the Victorian concept of attaching a bell to the coffin came into being. It was for the buried person to ring and signal anyone in the surrounding area to communicate they had been buried alive. Thankfully this has fallen out of tradition.
“The other situation is that the soul merely wishes to travel around and look over their loved ones. Souls do not experience emotion; the idea of restless spirits seeking vengeance on the villain who killed them is folly. But there remains a strong attachment to their loved ones that they cannot understand. This is a less troublesome situation and makes it easier to capture them, but if they are not captured soon they will want to inhabit a human to meet their loved ones in physical form and that becomes problematic. A corpse cannot be reanimated. The soul will feel alive and well, but it is still restricted by the body’s limitations. Thus, they will seek out a living human. I cannot describe the irreparable damage a human possessed by a dead soul will experience. They can never again be fully functional.”
I looked down on this girl, this pitiful human. “The odds are that your brother’s soul will inhabit the closest one he can find: yours.”
The girl gave me a look filled with a fiery determination that could have melted the ice in my touch. “I’ll take those odds.”
It seemed that no matter what I said she would not understand. She was not willing to listen. Her brother’s emotions consisted only of sentimental affection. He would not recognize her, he couldn’t sympathize with her feelings, and he was not capable of preventing himself from possessing her. He had simply crossed over.
But it did not matter. Her time was up. “I commend you for your valor and strength of heart,” I said with utmost honesty. “If only that were enough.”
In a matter of seconds were surrounded by a black whirlwind. The misty cloaks of the grim reapers encircled the bridge, emitting a dark smoke from where legs should have extended from the hems. The thick stench of death permeated the air and made the girl double over as all the strength left her body.
When she looked up she was being flanked on either side by a reaper. Her brother’s soul had been brought to my side. His see-through head lolled to one side and his eyes were still empty and unseeing.
“No!” the girl cried out. “Give him back!” She looked up to find the reapers holding her and gasped. “What the hell are these people!”
Her confusion was understandable. These reapers bore the appearance of humans. They had pale, expressionless faces, their eyes hard and cold as marble. Slashes of black paint marked their cheeks according to rank.
“These are the grim reapers,” I explained in an empty voice. “They are a kind of contracted souls. It is their job to feel nothing. They are the ones who must rip souls from their bodies and so they must withstand the crying and pleading. They will not release you unless ordered otherwise.”
I walked up to the girl and snatched the strange hat device from her head. She gasped and cringed as though waiting for death to take her then and there.
“Before they escort you back to the land of the living,” I held up the device. “You will tell me what this…this piece of rubbish is and who gave it to you.”
The girl seemed to realize nothing had happened without the hat and so she replied, “A man. He – he said it would protect us in the Underworld.”
“Us?” I demanded. “Who else is involved?”
“I don’t know,” she said in a hard voice. “He probably has other clients, but I’m the first to try. It cost so much…almost all of my family’s life savings.”
“I see,” I handed the fake device to a reaper and said, “Take this to the lord.”
Tears had begun to slide down the girl’s cheeks. “I’ve told you everything I know. Please…please give him back.”
“It is not within my power to do so.” I turned to the reapers and spoke in a low voice out of the girl’s earshot. “Return the soul to incarceration and schedule him a trial. As for the girl…she cannot return home. Erase her memories and place her somewhere on Earth that is distant, but populated. Somewhere she will easily be found. There’s someone on Earth who knows how to enter the Underworld, we cannot..."
Something had snapped in the girl. Suddenly her fire had returned and she yelled, “It’s not fair. People shouldn’t die before it’s their time! Not until they’ve lived a long happy life. And you…you should be making damn sure of that! My brother…he was so young. He had his entire life ahead of him and now it’s gone, all thanks to one stupid driver with a cell phone! It’s not fair! You have no right to take him from me!”
I touched her tear-stained cheek. Her skin was warm, trembling with life. She flinched at the coolness of my touch. “Life is rarely fair. Why should death be any different? The living and the dead can never be together. This is not just a law; this is nature.”
I nodded to the reapers and they began to drift upwards into the air. Before they left something possessed me to look at the human girl and say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” It felt so ironic I had to stop myself from laughing.
That is the end of my report. My orders were carried out successfully and the issue has been smoothed over.
However, this does not change the fact that we have a new threat on our hands, my lord. Someone is helping these interlopers to make a profit so we can be sure this incident will happen again. My lord…it could be one of our own.
Also, just one more thing. Should this happen again, I must request that I am to be removed from my position.
It shames me to say, but I had felt some ring of discord within me at the idea of separating these two. For a fleeting instant I wished them happiness: to live together and be a family once more. But I know better. The dead are where they ought to be, as are the living. To mix the two would only cause suffering and despair for both parties, for that is the nature of humans. They can’t truly rejoice in something they cannot understand. The dead must remain.