My father thought I was possessed. Would have beaten it out of me if it wasn’t for my mothers intervention. Instead, he beat her. Through me out on the street to die in the gutter. “If you love death so much, go and greet him!” was the last words I heard him say to me as tears stun my eyes and bruises decorated my knees. I stumbled, walked, fell, and got up again. Wandering the streets of a city I thought I knew.
Tried to leave the old city, but could not. Only the wealthy, the lucky or the skilled left ‘here’. Here is where I would have to stay, for some time at least. Perhaps Death would come for me, perhaps he likes having me around. A mouth to his bottomless pit? I wonder.
I still feel them. See them. Sometimes hear them. As a creature dies I see their soul… their spirit… rising up from its corpse and moving, hovering like a leaf caught in the wind before its gaze is distracted and it sees me. I try scream but this happens so fast, as if time about me stands still. The spirit rushes towards me and through me or perhaps into me. I do not know, I turn about and I do not see it, but a feeling so incredible washes over me. My knees grow weak and I almost fall. Sometimes I do. Yet, the sight is horrific. The spirits are ravenous fiendish things, half a silvery gold, and the other a dreadful shadowy black – like soot or coal dust thrown into the air.
It all started some time ago. I was about eight when I saw my grandfathers soul. Screamed when he ‘rushed’ towards me. My mother said I had fainted from the shock of seeing death the first time. I think, at that age, that everyone saw what I did. It was years later I learned this was not true. And that fainting or giggling at the sight of death was not normal. I was not normal.
There were others after that. I saw a young child, a friend of my brothers, run over by a wagon. Killed instantly. His spirit was more gold than black. And the black was more grey, like a storm cloud overhead, waiting in warning of something bad. I wondered sometimes, what would my spirit look like? Would I be golden yellow, silvery white, black… or red? I saw red once. It was the strangest thing. The feeling I got was much stronger too. She was a prostitute. Most in our neighbourhood knew of her. Most men loved her, most women hated her. We, my mother and I, were returning from the market when we heard a scream and this man came running out of an alley. There she was. Layla. Dying. My mother, even though she disliked her, tried to save the young woman’s life. But I whispered, it’s too late mamma… as I saw her glowing, fiery red soul leave the body. It was strangely beautiful and terrifyingly horrible at the same time. I let out a gasp as it looked at my mother then back me, and smiled as it launched itself. I felt it hit me, hard enough to knock me to the ground and throw me into an euphoric fit. My mother had to hold me tight till I stopped shaking.
By then a crowd had grown. The city guards, close to the market who had heard the commotion, came to investigate. Whispers flew through the crowd rapidly. No one ‘recalled’ seeing the man. The murderer. But with no knife as ‘evidence’ my mother and I were released to go home. I still remember her. Still remember that.
People continued to talk. For days, weeks. Friends would not come over. Parents would shy away. I heard my mother and father arguing… fighting over it. This was the first time I really felt alone – the words ‘devil child’ struck me hard. He may as well have punched me in the gut. I was only nine. I didn’t know anything save for what my mother taught me – sewing, cooking, how to tell good food from bad, how to know when a shop keeper was cheating you etc. She taught me nothing truly practical like how to survive on the streets. I knew then that was where I was headed. What could I do about it? Try ignore the sight? Try avoid death. It was hard. Just a momentarily glimpse is all it took, if someone was dying I knew of it. I was drawn to them. Drawn to death like a moth to a flame. And once hooked, I could not break away till it was over. No matter how hard I tried. Even though, for others it might be mere moments, for me, it could feel like hours some times… depending how long it took them to die. Depending how long it took the soul to free itself. Free itself. Perhaps this is how I should look at it? But why me? Why do they come for me? Where are they now? Do they ‘live’ inside me?
What is life? If this body is just a cage a prison for something bigger… something sinister even? Then what are we? Are we the prisons for guilty souls. Is this the damnation priest speak of? What of priests? What happens if they die? I wonder… hmm… that would be good to see. No. No I can’t. I will not kill… I will not.
I was tempted once. My father. Lying there on a bench. Asleep. I wondered what it would be like just to quietly cut his throat with a knife. Wondered so much that I was standing over him, watching him. My hand inching forward towards the knife on his belt. And then I stopped, my stomach lurched, and I vomited. All over him. He awoke in a screaming confused rage and I ran as the piss spilled from my loins and flooded the floor. I was outside in the garden, shaking, trembling with fear. I had wetted myself and threw up my meagre breakfast. My whole body was on verge of shutting down, of going to sleep. But I fought it off. Stayed awake even as my father was bellowing. My mother was screaming. My younger brother was crying. The neighbours were gawking over the fence, looking at what was going on. Screams were nothing new to them, but this was far far worse.
Things calmed down again to a mild simmer. Still threatening to boil over. My father looked at me as if I was nothing, dirt, less than dirt. My mother looked at me with pity… and perhaps a hint of fear. My little brother was too young to notice anything, but I wondered if he had it, if he had this curse?
I was ten now. Not yet old enough to marry, and yet too old to be called a child. A young woman my mother says. A young woman must always look her best. I had found a temporary solution to my problem. Spend as much time as possible at home. No death here. Easy. Avoid it and I won’t see it. They won’t see me. But still, even though I avoided it as much I could, there were times when my mother asked me to do things. Fetch this from the butcher. Fetch that from the market. Soon, almost every day, I was running errands. And run I did. The quicker I got what was needed, the quicker I could get home.
One fateful day it changed. Everything changed. I was hurrying home and turned down the ‘short cut’ I always take. Fifty yards of alley way, formed by the backs of many houses. I had taken not two steps into the alleyway when a backdoor to a house or shop opened, and a man stumbled out gurgling, a dagger still thrust in his chest. I gasped, already I could see his soul clawing to get out.
The dust filled beams of light that managed to penetrate the canopy of the rooves and wash lines hit the ground like spears shot from the heavens. The man, aging, blood dripping from his mouth and more from his chest looked at me wide eyed. He had more wounds, but the last was the worst. He staggered towards me, trying to mouth the words help as his attacker appeared behind him, quite shocked to see me staring. All the while I could not escape it. The sight of this black creature clawing itself out of the shell as he fell at my feet.
His attacker all but ignored me and bent down to ensure he was dead. I already knew he was, his soul screeched loud enough that I almost heard it. The black, hate filled beast, sped towards me like a lightning bolt. Even so it seemed to take forever for it to cross the five feet to get to me, and it struck hard. I dropped the basket and the bread on the dirty floor. The eggs cracked, their yolk spilling into the mud as I cried out, shaking and trembling. The sight horrific… the feeling, pleasurable. Almost too much that I giggled.
The attacker looked up at me and stood up, the dripping dagger in his hand, his eyes growing wider as if caught by fear. I started at him as his body peeled away, and his own soul was wrenched out by force. His body collapsed to the ground and I consumed his soul as well. The shock of two souls at once. Two life forces striking and filling me. The feelings were too much. The euphoria overwhelmed me and I collapsed in a trembling, shaking heap. My mother was not there to save me this time.
I awoke. Jerked awake suddenly. I was still in the alley. I could still smell the blood. The euphoric feeling was still there, a bit dimmer, softer, but there. I pulled myself up looking at the dead bodies. The one, an obvious hole in his chest. The other. Nothing. Bleeding nose, blood stained mouth, blood around the ears. No physical wounds. I puzzled over it, and then, hearing foot steps drawing closer from within the building, I ran. I ran fast. Unfortunately I left the basket, the bread and the broken eggs.
As I ran the euphoria was replaced with pain, sorrow, tears, fright, panic. I almost fell into the house, tears streaming down my face I cried in my mother’s arms. My father, did not wait for me to calm down, grabbing me by the arm, he pulled me away from her, dragging her to the small room my brother and I shared. There, he asked me once what had happened. I stammered out the words. And then, he whipped me. Once he was done, he dragged me to the door and through me out.
“If you love death so much, go and greet him!”
The door slammed. I was sitting on the ground crying. People, neighbours, once friends walked passed me. Even crossing the road to avoid me. “Even her own family don’t want her”… “What’s the matter with her” I screamed out loud and ran. Just ran until I could not run anymore. I found myself in a small clearing. A park of sorts. There I stopped, leaning against a tree I gathered my breath and my thoughts. I was alone now.