What happens when a person who steals souls is caught by the ultimate soul catcher?
Eric turned the glass cube over in his thin liver spotted hands. When the wind stopped blowing through the cracks in his rotting one-room shack, he heard the wails ever so quietly whisper from the cube’s center. A smile crept across his lips and he hugged the cube tightly against his chest. How many friends did he have? Fifteen? Twenty? He had already lost count. But it didn't matter; they were with him now and he wouldn't have to dine alone.
Eric pulled the cube from his chest and gazed lovingly through its translucence. He stepped to the table and gently placed the cube next to his can of Vienna sausages. As he pulled out his chair to sit, the wind groaned through the wall behind him. He felt its chill race along his arms and neck.
The walls of the tiny shack rattled as though the big bad wolf was trying to blow it into splinters. The lone candle on the table flickered violently but managed to keep its flame. Then the wind ceased and calm fell over the shack.
Eric slipped into his chair and pulled the top from the can of sausages. The silent wails sounded from the cube and the anxiety brought on by the wind melted away. Above, he heard drops of rain fall as pebbles upon his tin roof, thudding one at a time but quickly growing into a meteor shower that drowned out his friends’ wails.
He sighed. One more dinner alone. One more added to the tens of thousands he had already eaten alone. He reached for his second sausage when the door to his shack burst open and a gale rushed in, extinguishing the candle and throwing the room into complete darkness. A river of water flowed in with a gale, drenching Eric's tattered clothing.
"No!" Eric's hand swiftly moved across the tabletop, knocking his dinner to the floor. The lump in his throat melted when he felt his beloved cube. The door slammed shut, barricading the wind and rain outside. From the blanket of blackness, Eric heard a soft, deep voice call its greeting. "Hello?"
He cocked his ear in the direction of the voice, straining for any familiarity. His mind pulled up memory after memory of his friends, but none sounded like this voice; at least he didn't think so. He squeezed the cube in his hand the way Scrooge would have clenched his gold coin.
"Sir, I'm sorry to barge in- the wind and the rain- I just wanted someplace dry."
Eric didn't answer. Instead, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a lighter. As he did, his teeth clenched in anger over this man's intrusion. Rain or no rain, this was his home and he would not share it with a stranger. Eric stretched out his hand and flicked the lighter.
The tiny light illuminated the whole shack. Shadows danced on the walls in concert with the flame’s flickers. A man, no more than thirty years old, stood in front of the door, drenched and with one hand folded over the other.
"Sir, if you would be kind enough to give me shelter, I promise to leave when the storm lets up."
Eric held the flame steady, drinking in the man's humble, pleading aura. The bitterness of anger eased from him. He squeezed the cube with his left hand again. It might be nice to have another friend, he thought to himself.
Eric released the flame and the shack grew dark again. The pounding rain and howling wind were the only sounds in the room. He paused for a moment, half expecting the stranger to fling the door open and run. Some did, but not this stranger. Eric ran his fingertips across the tabletop until he found the iron candlestick. His right hand reached up the length of the candlestick for its top. When he found it, he flicked the lighter and touched its flame to the wick.
Light bathed the room. The stranger gratefully looked into Eric’s eyes. "Thank you, sir."
Eric nodded once and gestured to a chair at the table. "Have a seat." His voice was gruff; it always surprised him when he heard it. It had been months since he had last used it.
The stranger nodded and sat in the chair. "Thank you."
Eric slipped into his seat and watched the stranger lean down to retrieve the can of Vienna sausages. Though two were gone, the rest were still glued together with a mucous broth. The stranger smiled and set the can on the table.
Eric placed the cube his lap and brought both hands to the tabletop. "What in Satan's name are you doing here?"
"I'm lost. I entered the mountains this morning for a hike and then the clouds rolled in. Like a fool, I kept going."
Eric cocked his head and looked at the stranger as he considered his words. “Hiking, huh?” He looked at the stranger’s feet. “Loafers aren’t exactly great for hiking. Neither are khakis.” The stranger shifted in his chair, trying to avoid Eric’s piercing glare. “If we’re going to be friends, you shouldn’t lie to me.”
The stranger opened his mouth as though he was about to defend his words, but sealed his lips and nodded. “Forgive me. Of course I didn’t go out for a hike.”
Eric waited for the stranger to continue, but the man remained quiet. Each ticking second of silence stoked the flames of his anger until it burst from him. “I asked you a question! What are you doing in my house?”
The stranger tensed and words began falling from his mouth in an honest flow. “I’m looking for my friends. They disappeared in this area a couple of months ago, and the police have long given up on them. I was on my way to work this morning, and an uncontrollable urge led me to the mountains.”
The stranger’s words trailed off and he cast his eyes away from Eric. He seemed embarrassed, yet hungry for a sympathetic ear. Eric could give him that. It would be his first compassionate act as he befriended this stranger. “So, who were these friends?”
The man slowly lifted his gaze. The rain had let up and Eric had to place a hand over the cube to muffle the sounds emanating from it.
“Four college seniors on a road trip before graduation. Their vehicle was found not far from here, untouched, no valuables taken. The people just seemed to disappear from the face of the earth.”
“Disappear?” Eric studied the man for a moment. “You look too old to be a college friend. How did you know them?”
“I was a classmate. Started college a little late.” The stranger bowed his head into his hands and sighed. “I didn’t go with them. They begged me too, but I stayed behind to cram for my finals. If I had only gone-“
“Then you’d disappear too. Sounds like you made the right choice.”
“That’s what everyone says, but no one knows what I’ve been going through since they have been gone.”
“And you think finding their corpses out here will set you free? I say you’re better off going back home and getting on with your life. Count your blessings that you’re still alive.”
The stranger sighed again as if he were already defeated. Eric guessed he had fought this battle of logic many times and was too weary to fight it again. Instead of answering, the stranger looked at the ceiling. “Sounds like the rain has let up. Thank you for your hospitality, but maybe I’d better be heading back home.” The stranger rose from his seat and extended his hand to Eric. “Thank you.”
Eric slowly reached for the man’s hand and shook it. When his hand clasped into the stranger’s, Eric felt a sharp tingle invade his body, almost as if a low voltage current passed through his body. Eric pulled his hand away and glared at the man. “What in Satan’s name was that? Who are you?”
The stranger’s timidity vanished. “That’s the second time you’ve invoked Satan’s name in my presence. I’d be careful about using his name in such a frivolous manner.” The stranger stepped around the table and looked into Eric’s lap.
Eric followed the man’s gaze to the cube. He felt his heart race and he quickly covered the cube with both hands. “Well, you best be getting along. The rain has broken.”
The stranger reached out his hand to the cube. “May I?”
Eric slid his chair from the table and twisted his body away to conceal the cube. “No! I don’t want you in my house anymore. Leave now!”
The stranger lifted both hands in a defensive posture. Okay, okay’ I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything. I’m going.” He backed up to the door without taking his eyes from Eric.
Eric watched the man open the door, protecting his cube like a mother hen. As the stranger slipped outside, Eric’s craving for companionship overwhelmed him. Without thinking, he called to the stranger. “Stop.”
The stranger paused at the door for a few seconds before reentering the shack. “Yes?”
“Please, sit down. I don’t often see many people.” Eric pulled out a chair and waited for the stranger to sit. “So, what’s your name?”
“Like the angel.”
Gabe’s jaw clenched for a moment, and then eased. Through a friendly smile, he said, “Trust me, I’m hardly and angel.”
Eric sat in the seat across the table from him. Thunder rolled in the distance as the storm passed on. “Your friends; I think I may have seen them. A nice group of kids.”
Eric studied Gabe’s expression. He expected him to come to full attention, almost begging for details. Instead, the man narrowed his eyes, regarded Eric suspiciously, and spoke in a calm voice. “You did? Tell me about it.”
Eric set the cube on the tabletop and placed both hands around it, creating a barrier that would allow him to snatch it away should the need arise. “Yeah, they came through. I actually met them. Friendly lot.”
“I suppose you don’t know what happened to them.”
Eric peered into Gabe’s eyes. Each sat in his chair as if they were chiseled in stone. Eric then dropped his gaze to the cube. He answered without looking at Gabe. “I know where you may be able to find them.” He waited for Gabe to react. An outburst or a threatening tone would make this easy for him.
But Gabe remained silent.
When Eric looked up, he found Gabe staring at him; not in fear or confusion, but with a simple smile on his face. “I figured you would.” Gabe looked at the cube. “Tell me about that.”
Gabe’s response bemused Eric. The stranger’s interest in the cube caused Eric’s heart to speed. He closed his hands around the cube and watched the stranger. Gabe leaned back in his chair, leisurely awaiting Eric’s reply. Okay, Eric thought to himself, I’ll make him my friend.
“Would you like to see it?” Eric forced his protective hands away from the cube and laid it bare for Gabe to take. The younger man leaned over the table and pulled the cube to him. As he inspected it from every angle, Eric said, “Hold it to your ear and listen.”
Gabe lifted the cube to his ear. Eric watched for an expression, but Gabe remained stoic. Even from across the table, Eric heard the faint wails so he knew that Gabe must have heard them too. The stranger set the cube on the table in front of him and stared at Eric. “My friends?”
Eric nodded. “And more. They’ve been wonderful company. I credit them with keeping me sane.”
Gabe slowly nodded. “I see. Mind telling me how you got them in there?”
“Actually, I plan on showing you. Not hard, really. It’s just something you have to really want.”
“How many cubes like this do you have?”
“Just one. I suspect it’s the only one I’ll ever need.”
“How many souls are in there?”
Eric looked at the ceiling, trying to conjure up the memory of each person he had imprisoned in the cube. “I don’t know; maybe twenty. I’ve lost count after all these years. Not many people pass this deep into the mountains.”
“Can you release them?”
The stranger’s questions portrayed a man devoid of fear. Eric began to fume over Gabe’s fixation with the cube. His agitation grew into panic, however, when he saw the cube so close to Gabe. He leaned across the table and reached for it. “Give me that!”
Gabe slid the cube from Eric’s reach and smiled sheepishly. “You’ve been a very naughty man, haven’t you; catching souls and bottling them up like insects in a collection.”
“Who are you?” The tremor in Eric’s voice betrayed his apprehension.
“I told, you, I’m Gabe-“
“Doesn’t matter. You’ll soon have an eternity to commune with me.” Eric slid out of his chair and stepped to Gabe. He snatched the cube and thrust it onto Gabe’s chest. “Stay with me, I beseech thee! Enter the home I have prepared for thee!”
Eric waited for Gabe’s lifeless body to fall, but the stranger merely leaned back in his chair and looked up at him. As dread possessed Eric, Gabe smiled and slowly began to clap his hands together. “Very good, old man, very good. How on earth did you learn to do that? You really must tell me.”
Eric’s wild eyes traveled over Gabe and he thrust the cube back onto the stranger’s chest. “Stay with me, I beseech thee! Enter the home I have prepared for thee!” Eric’s tone was now pleading rather than authoritative. Gabe spread his arms apart affording Eric every advantage to do his evil deed. When it became apparent that Eric could not catch Gabe’s soul, he walked around the table and dropped into his seat. Guttural words rasped from his throat. “Leave me.”
Gabe nodded and eased from the table. “I’m about to leave, but not until I finish what I came to do.”
“To bring into balance what you have put amiss.”
Eric slid his chair away from Gabe as the stranger approached. “What do you mean?”
“Eric, you’ve been whittling on my end of the stick. I am the one and only Soul Catcher. Have been since the world began. There are rules which must be obeyed when a soul is caught and imprisoned for eternity.” As he approached Eric, Gabe’s youthful appearance faded, replaced by a face that turned as rough as aged leather. His teeth fell one by one to the floor as sharp fangs grew and pushed them out. By the time he had backed Eric against the wall, his metamorphosis was complete. Sticky ooze clung to his razor teeth and a narrow red tongue flicked around his decaying mouth. The stench from his breath caused Eric to retch.
Gabe had grown two feet in his transformation and now towered over Eric’s frail, trembling body. He reached out an arm full of open sores and gently took the cube between two of his razor sharp claws. The demon’s presence was more than Eric could bear. His horror caused him silently to pray for a quick, painless death.
Gabe’s voice rumbled from his mouth as he held the cube to Eric’s face. “These souls should not be here. This is a punishment reserved for a select few. Once imprisoned, no power can ever free them. None!”
Gabe’s hot breath blanketed Eric. The old man cried out, pleading, “I didn’t know… I just wanted-“
Gabe’s command stifled Eric’s words. He watched as the demon slowly lifted the cube to his chest. He tried to say “no,” but words failed him. Instead, Eric violently shook his head, silently begging for death rather than imprisonment for an eternity.
When the glass cube touched his chest, the demon spoke his incantation. “Stay with me, I beseech thee! Enter the home I have prepared for thee!”
Eric tried to run, but his body fell to the floor. A powerful suction pulled at his essence and he felt himself travel into the cube.
A powerful force began pulling him in every direction. Although he had no physical body, he felt like he was about to be ripped in two. The pain lingered but his essence remained intact. Then a stabbing pain joined the rending. Every part of his essence felt as though someone was plunging a knife repeatedly into him. Eric forced himself to the cube’s border, but a bolt of energy repelled him. He looked through the cube and saw the demon’s glowing yellow eye looking back at him.
It can’t be like this; not for an eternity.
He endured the pain and watched as Gabe left the shack with the cube in his hand. It didn’t take long for Eric to realize where he was going. The full moon had broken through the clouds, lighting the area like a giant spotlight. Just as he thought, Eric watched Gabe slip into a small, hidden cave mouth. Now, the demon’s glowing yellow eyes provided the only illumination.
Gabe stopped at an opening in the cave’s floor. Without pomp or ceremony, he dropped the cube into the hole. It bounced against the wall and tumbled thirty feet to a stop between two of the decaying corpses that Eric had dropped into the hole. Slowly, the yellow light receded and blackness surrounded him. The torturous pain grew more intense, joined by vehement heat, hotter than any hell he could image.
He wailed in pain. Nothing he could do lessened his suffering. When he thought it couldn’t get worse, the most intense pain of all came. Twenty wails joined in with his as each soul he had captured surrounded his essence. Somehow, they were able to transfer their pain to him. Twenty times the torment ravaged his essence. Around him, twenty souls watched in darkness, free from all pain except hatred and despair.
Twenty souls who had caught his soul and trapped him
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