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Some people use the term "nonsense" but I prefer to use the phrase "uncommonly sensed" because it's more reflective of creative types.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Collector - A Short Story

The Collector

by Amy Neftzger

     I collect souls. I don’t do it because I’m evil. I do it for investment purposes, because souls are the only things that never cease to exist. Currency may be devalued, material goods will decay, and all biological life forms will die. But souls ... souls are forever, and forever is a very valuable length of time for a thing to last.
     I should clarify that I don’t simply collect any soul. I have good reasons for choosing the ones that I do. I collect some because they’re beautiful and I like pretty things. On the other hand, I also collect some of the ugly ones because I find their hideous twists and turns fascinating. I could stare at them for hours wondering how they got into their current forms.
     Of course, some pieces in my collection are in better shape than others, but each one is a little different. I see something valuable and unique in every one I’ve acquired. For example, I’m fond of pure souls because of the light they give off in the dark. I like to keep these in those old blue mason jars (with a lid, of course) and line the hallways of my house with them. It gives the place an elegant feel and makes it easier to find the bathroom at night. Other souls amuse me with their wit or serve as part of a sound barrier between myself and the neighbor’s. The barrier is something that I designed myself. I created it using a custom-built aquarium the size of the eastern wall in terms of height and width. It’s about 6 inches in depth and filled with very dense souls. If the souls are dense and you have enough of them, six inches is all you need to keep out the noise of other people’s lives.
     As I said, all my souls are special to me because each one is unique. However, I had never before seen one quite like the soul of the artist. When I first spotted it, I knew this soul was different in a way that I couldn’t quite put my finger upon. It was extremely beautiful, but it also appeared a bit more delicate and fragile than most I’d seen before. There was also an elegant complexity about the soul that fascinated me. I knew I wouldn’t understand the thing right away, but I also knew I had to have it, so I immediately set forth an effort to own it.
     Mind you, not all souls can be captured in the same manner. I like this about them. It’s always a challenge to figure out how to collect one because nobody simply gives up a soul without a struggle. It’s as if people instinctively know how valuable a soul is, and yet some will part with it for the right opportunity or for their perfect object of adoration. So I took some time to study the artist and figure out how to separate the artist from his soul, but I eventually did it. I usually do. In fact, it was easier than I thought it would be, but I credited the smoothness of the transaction to my own skill as a collector. Forgive me if I won’t give away any trade secrets, but collecting souls is a huge responsibility, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to simply hand over information on how to acquire them.
     Nevertheless, I managed to obtain the artist’s soul after some planning, and once I had it, I needed to find the right place to keep it. It was a bit more of a challenge in this case, and finding the right location for safekeeping was important in protecting my investment. I could see that this soul would not be useful as a nightlight. It wasn’t a utilitarian soul. So, as much as I tried, I couldn’t find a practical use for it. It also wasn’t suitable for eating, which I have done with some of the fattier and tender ones. I don’t eat them often because they are, as I have repeatedly said, an investment. But I’ll occasionally ingest one as a special treat.
     After observing the artist’s soul carefully for several days, I decided that it was meant to be an object of adoration, much like the artist’s work. So I placed the soul inside an ornamental glass container on my mantle and made sure it was in a prominent place of view. It looked nice there and went well with the decor. At this point, I thought the issue was settled and proceeded to go about expanding my collection. I was even considering gathering a few more artists’ souls when this one began to make a little noise.
     I might also mention here that once a soul has been separated from the original owner, it usually becomes docile and doesn’t give me much trouble. There’s something about getting disowned that breaks the spirit and makes souls more cooperative. But not the artist. This soul was very different.
     “I have not eaten in several days,” the soul said quietly. I ignored it at first because none of my other souls required eating. However, the more I ignored the soul the louder it became. Soon the cries of hunger were loud enough to be heard on the street, so I had to act.
     “What would you like?” I inquired, since I had no idea what a soul without a physical body would eat.
     “Information,” he replied.
     I gave it a newspaper, propping the printed material up against the back of the chimney so that the soul could see the print clearly, and the soul cooed while it read. But soon that wasn’t good enough. So I began purchasing books, taking the soul on trips to the library, and then I finally bought an eReader to instantly download books and magazines. Each of these solutions worked for a period of time, but the soul was always asking for more.
     It didn’t just want information. This was only the beginning. Artistic souls have huge appetites and they ingest everything within reach. They are especially hungry for meaning and beauty. I had no idea how to supply meaning, so I set about the task of providing the soul with exquisite things.
     “The color of the drapes is wrong,” the soul said, and I installed new drapes.
     “The print on that fabric is painful. It hurts me. The shapes lack harmony,” the soul said. I had the sofa upholstered in new fabric that the artist’s soul had selected and approved. Then I reupholstered the chair and ottoman and every other fabric-covered piece of furniture in the room, as well as all the pillows and cushions.
     “The furniture is placed so that the converging lines intersect in a way that makes me sick to my stomach,” the artist’s soul complained. I spent hours moving furniture, removing pieces that were deemed unacceptable, buying new pieces, and adding decorative elements. This went on for weeks until the artist’s soul was satisfied. Then, just when I thought I could rest, it spoke again.
     “I need a bath,” it whispered.
At this request, I created a water globe in which to keep the soul, but I decided to stay one step ahead. I added sparkling particles to the water so that whenever the water stirred it also shimmered with light. It was like a snow globe, but instead of snow there were sparkles. I thought this might provide stimulation for the artist’s soul. It did. But it didn’t last. Only a day later the soul was whispering the request again.
     “I need a bath,” the soul whispered.
     “You’re swimming in water,” I replied flatly. This is when I learned that artistic souls like to bathe in emotion. I began inviting young lovers I knew over for afternoon coffee. Then I would leave the room for brief periods on the pretense of getting snacks or other things for my guests. This allowed the artist’s soul to bask in the tender moments that took place between the lovers during these times. Soon this was not enough, either.
     “I need more,” the artist’s soul whimpered from inside its sparkling water cage on top of my mantle. So I took it to the movies. We saw love stories as well as horror and action films. The artist enjoyed bathing in all types of emotions. Each new experience fulfilled a need. But it never lasted.
Needless to say, with all the renovations, the artist’s soul had been draining my finances. Taking it to the movies and on various outings had put me in a bad position with my employer, and I lost my job. At this point, I had lost my savings as well as my income and was wondering if this investment was worth keeping.  All the while the artist’s soul continued to make demands upon me.
     “I need color ... I need drama ... I need sun ... I need rain ... I need life ... ,” the soul cried out daily. Hourly. This didn’t just take up my time and money. Those things I had already given and would have continued to give. These additional demands took more from me than I gave, and I felt life draining out of me. Soon, I lost interest in the other souls I owned. I failed to see their beauty because the artist’s soul was consuming me. The moment I could no longer feed it, the artist’s soul had begun feeding upon me. It was keeping me awake at night, and I was miserable all the time. After only a few months of owning the soul, I decided to find the artist and give the soul back.
     I spent a long time searching for the artist. I went to all the places that local artists frequent, but the artist wasn’t in any of them. No one I talked with had seen this artist since the day he had relinquished his soul to me. The search was agonizing and frustrating, and I became more miserable with each week I spent looking for him.
     During the time I spent searching I was exhausted. I was on my feet all day looking for the artist, desperately running from one location to another. At night the cries from the artist’s soul kept me awake. I’ve never known misery like this at any other time in my life. I even thought about taking my own life. I was desperate.
     In the end, I never did find the artist again. I didn’t know it at the time, but I later learned that the reason I couldn't find him was because he had left and gone into some mundane business in another city. Something to do with finance or accounting. He was doing quite well and had earned far more money than he would have ever had as an artist. He was happy, I suppose.
     At this point you may be wondering how I finally solved my problem. I was at my wit’s end, and so I resorted to what I knew best: I sold my own soul to another collector. In fact, I sold my entire collection and now have enough money to live out the rest of my life. I’ll worry about what happens afterward when the time comes. I can’t worry about those things right now. For the moment I have peace, and the price was worth it.
     To be honest, I thought I would miss having a soul more, but once my own soul was gone I stopped hearing the never ending cries from the artist’s soul. I also couldn’t see beauty or feel things anymore, but that was the cost I gladly paid. Life became much easier. Of course, my desire to collect souls was gone and I no longer appreciated art, but I also no longer experienced pain.
     It was when I noticed this lack of pain that I finally understood why the artist had willingly given up his soul. It wasn’t my cunning that had allowed me to acquire it, as I had thought. The artist had handed it to me. He was willing to walk away from his life’s work because he wasn’t strong enough, but neither was I. After all, an artist’s soul is very demanding, and you don’t know how exhausting a soul can be until you have a sensitive one of your own.

© 2013 Amy Neftzger. You may link to this page to share this story but please do not copy the text anywhere else without my permission. Thank you.

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