September 23, 2020
Welcome to the 4th, and final, part of “The Island of Slippery Souls.” If you’re just joining the story, no worries!
King Clench stood at a castle balcony and surveyed his realm. His kingly soul was stuck in his kingly body, just as the souls of the children and the grown-ups were stuck tight in the soul storage tank in Tower Number 3.
The streets below him were quite orderly. The gentlemen greeted the ladies, the ladies tended the children, and the children walked quietly and politely behind their parents. Carriages proceeded quietly down the street, and any time a horse pooped, an attendant rushed to scoop it into a bin. Parks were quiet. Hymns in the cathedral were subdued. Ships floated neatly at the wharf.
The Old People’s Home on the edge of town was safely locked up—from the outside. The king patted the key in his pocket and smiled.
Tonight his work would be complete. Tomorrow would mark the start of the kingdom of predictability.
The king felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Ah, my Queen,” he beamed. “Do you like our kingdom now?”
“It changed,” she said in a spiritless voice. “It’s so very predictable, now. Not like before.” He looked into her empty eyes, her beautiful empty eyes.
“Yes,” he said, looking back over the town. “Change IS good. When it brings sameness.”
“Is it done?” asked the queen.
The king didn’t answer. Something caught his eye. A lone figure marching down the center of Castle Road, not walking on the right side of the street. Not walking in a straight line. And certainly not going quietly.
No, not quietly at all.
Clara Lightbody dashed from one side of the street to the other. Stomping and shouting and making all manner of noises to rouse her fellow citizens.
She chittered like a dolphin. She screamed like a seagull. She bellowed like a bull.
The people ignored her.
She shouted a sea shanty, just like Captain Barnacle Bennick. She sang it LOUD, with a pirate’s spirit.
Come with me people, ye mighty and low.
Come down from your rooftops, climb out of your holes.
Come as you are, you fast and you slow.
Come with me now to reclaim your souls!
She scampered about. She tugged the sleeves of passersby. The men, the women, the children. The high and the low. But they had no souls to give them direction. They simply scoffed, slid by, and walked on.
It was the third day. The sun was dropping.
Clara stopped in the middle of the street. She threw up her hands and cursed. “Ack! Where are the other old ones, like me?”
She felt a terrible angry strength surge through her, body and soul. Her body fed off all the bad feelings it felt, and her strong soul thrilled with power.
Clara Lightbody stood tall and screamed at the king on his balcony.
“I’m coming for you, King!” She ran toward the castle gates.
The king turned to his queen. “You asked me if it was done.”
“It will be soon.”
Clara rounded a corner and saw the open castle portcullis ahead of her. She ran faster than she had in years, thanking the strength of her soul.
The gatekeeper saw her coming. “Lower the gate! Now!” he shouted.
The portcullis creaked downward.
The king’s soldiers poured out of the guardhouse in front of the castle wall and jogged toward Clara. Their lines were very orderly.
The shadows grew longer.
Clara raced at the soldiers.
The soldiers raced at Clara.
Closer, closer . . . CRASH!
They collided before the gate. The soldiers never had a chance. They flew into the air like bowling pins, landing scattered on the street.
“Sorry!” she called, sprinting ahead. The gate was almost down.
“Oh no,” Clara lunged, and just managed to get her fingers underneath the portcullis.
Her biceps flexed. Her legs strained. Her eyes bulged to bursting. Clara fought gravity mightily and inch by inch began to lift the gate.
The gate rose slowly.
To her ankles.
Behind her, the scattered guards moaned and gathered themselves.
To her knees.
In front of her, castle guards poured shouting into the courtyard.
To her waist.
It would have to do. The soldiers were charging again from behind.
Clara dropped and rolled under the gate, into the castle courtyard. The gate slammed shut behind her, just as the soldiers reached it.
Clara faced the inside guards. They arranged themselves in a semicircle around her, spears lowered.
“Halt this nonsense!” called a voice. King Clench. He stood on the top step of the castle doorway. “I see you’ve come for me indeed.”
“King!” said Clara. “I demand you free the souls! Please . . .”
The shadow of evening crept up the stairs and to his feet.
“My dear woman, the changes I have brought are to make our island better, more orderly. For it is by order that we prosper.”
The shadow rose toward his face.
“It’s not right.”
The king raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“You’ve stolen the joy,” said Clara.
“Order is joy,” said the king. “Order is the best thing.”
“But it’s so . . . empty,” murmured Clara. Then she fell.
Clara drifted in a misty dreamscape. Somewhere, deep inside herself, she remembered a conversation with Ellie.
“Can you ever hold on to a soul?”
“Oh I suppose, perhaps, if you squinched yourself up real good.”
The king clapped twice. “Carry the body to the throne room,” he commanded.
Clara’s body did not move as it was lifted and carried into the castle, along the great hallway, up the broad stone stairs, and past the vacant faces of the gathered nobility.
Clara’s body did not move as the soldiers set her down in the middle of the throne room.
Clara’s body did not move as the king began to speak.
“It is a blessed day for the Island! We’ve cleaned out the souls and created order!”
The room resounded with hollow hurrahs and hip-hip-hoorays.
Then Clara’s body did move.
She dashed across the stone floor, bounded up the steps to the throne, and wrapped the king in a massive bear hug. She squeezed him hard—so hard he farted. Screams and wails rebounded around the room.
The castle guards raced toward their king.
“Halt!” shouted Clara.
The guards halted.
“I’ll squeeze the life right out of him!”
There was silence, then into the silence came an unexpected sound.
The king was laughing.
“What are you laughing about?” she asked.
“I sense in you a kindred body,” said the king.
“I’m nothing like you,” hissed Clara.
“You held your soul, did you not?”
“Yes, to stop you.”
“Because you knew you could not get what you want by letting go.”
“But—” Clara began.
“You became just like me. You kept your soul because you know life requires mastery, control, dominion—and order!”
“No, I’m not like you,” Clara stammered. But she felt confused, and in her confusion, the king broke free from her.
Clara was soon back in the clutches of the castle guards.
“Take her to Tower Number 3,” the king commanded.
The guards carried her up the narrow spiral stairs and through the brute iron door. They wrestled her into the terrible chair. The king himself pulled the metal cap of the soul machine down onto her head.
The last thing Clara saw was the tank labeled SOUL STORAGE. Then her world went dark.
The king lifted Clara’s eyelids with his thumbs. “You’ll wake soon enough,” he said. “And when you do, you’ll understand dominion. The dominion that I now have over you and the fish and the birds and the beasts—over every living thing.”
The king unbuckled her from the chair and bid the guards take her away.
They carried Clara’s body from the highest part of the castle to the lowest, down below the pantries and larders and the rum cellars and upper dungeons to the lower dungeon.
And so it was that Clara Lightbody’s journey brought her to a muddy, lonely dungeon cell at the bottom of the castle on the Island of Not-So-Slippery Souls.
Three days passed in the lonely dungeon cell before Clara groaned awake.
“Where am I?” she asked the walls. “I do not know this place. It is so messy. I must clean it.”
Clara got to her feet, but quickly slid to the floor. She called out. “Hello?”
Clara felt immensely sad, but she wasn’t sure why. “Maybe I deserve to be here.” She folded her hands on her lap and tried to imagine what had brought her here.
She felt a tickle on the back of her right hand and twitched.
“This is all right and orderly. It must be so. So why am I so sad? What’s wrong with me? I should feel happy.”
She felt the tickle again on her right hand. Clara looked upward and said to nobody, “What should I do?”
The tickle again. “What is this?” she asked. She held her wrist up to her face. Something was perched there waggling its stubby little antenna. An insect. A beetle.
A dung beetle.
A phrase floated into her brain, a thin wisp of flesh memory.
Remember the beetle.
“Where does that come from?” she asked the air.
“Who is Ellie?”
“What else did Ellie say?”
I think the animals have souls, too. You just have to let them in.
Those words were like a key unlocking the universe to Clara. Suddenly, she remembered everything. Who she was. What was happening. How she’d gotten here.
Clara held open her vest pocket and set the beetle in. She patted the floor and felt around for a poo pellet, and she dropped it in her pocket.
And then Clara Lightbody lay back upon the foul earth at the bottom of the kingdom and relaxed her body, and she said to the beetle, “Please come in.”
The feeling began like flock of butterflies in her belly and ended with a twitching tapping in her toes. Soon, she welcomed in a new soul.
Of a shepherd dog.
She sat up, astonished. “A dog? . . . Of course, why would the body of a beetle have the soul of a beetle?”
At that moment, the dung beetle said hello to the soul of a cockatoo, a clever bird that is very good at picking locks.
The beetle crawled out of Clara’s pocket, across the floor, and up the bars of the cell door. He went to work.
A short time later, Clara was racing to the top of Tower Number 3. Around and up she sped until finally, she came to the great iron door.
She smacked right into King Clench.
The guards soon had her strapped into the soul sucker once again.
King Clench shook with rage. “I don’t know how you did it, but you aren’t going to create disorder ever again. After we extract your soul, we’re putting you in the bottomest of the secret lower dungeons. No body—or soul—gets out.”
The dung beetle crawled out of Clara’s pocket, down her sleeve, and into the keyhole of the soul storage tank.
The king didn’t see the beetle.
The mighty don’t notice the small.
King Clench directed the captain of the guard to flip the switch of the soul machine. Clara closed her eyes. The machine whirred. When it hummed to a stop, Clara blinked. The king leaned in. His nose touched hers.
Clara took a deep breath. Held it a moment. And roared.
She roared so loud it blew the king’s wig off. “I have the soul of a lion!” she cried.
“Again!” the king cried. He flipped the switch himself. Leaned in
Clara blinked her eyes open.
She hissed. “I am a snake!”
“Madness!” yelled the king. “Again! Again! Again!”
“A hyena! A cougar! A wolf!”
A laugh! A scream! A howl!
“Again!” the king shouted, his voice going hoarse.
It didn’t matter. Clara was open now, open to all the souls of the world.
All this time, the beetle patiently worked the tumblers of the heavy lock to the storage tank.
Click click click went the tumblers of the lock. Click.
Just one more to go.
Clara was an unstoppable power.
“No!” cried the king.
Click went the final tumbler.
Creak. The door opened and out rushed all the souls of the island.
The king fainted. The guard on duty rushed over—to Clara. He was smiling as he let her go.
The squirming fidgets started first with Clara Lightbody, but soon spread to the four guests seated around her farmhouse table that Sunday afternoon on the Island of Slippery Souls.
Clara opened her eyes and waited for the others.
“Well,” she said, “tell me, tell me.”
“A seagull!” sang Ellie.
“A bull,” said Ramon.
“A dolphin,” smiled Letitia.
“And what about you, Captain Bennick?” asked Ellie.
Call me Barnacle.” The captain bit hard on the stem of his pipe. “Dung beetle. Gonna take some getting used to.”
The others laughed.
The captain winked at Ellie. “He’s just come from the king.”
“And you, Grandma Clara?” asked Ellie.
“Why, I think I have the soul of a tree. Yes, a big shady oak, like the kind that’s good for summer picnics.”
Clara leaned back in her chair, beaming.
“What?” grinned Ellie.
“Plants, too,” said Clara. “It seems the world is full of more souls than we imagined.”
She raised her glass of lemonade.
And somewhere out in the sapphire sea, a dolphin with the soul of a hero was swimming, swimming toward a land seen only in the dreams of the people she’d dreamed of, a very strange land where the bodies had never learned to let go of their souls.
Perhaps they could change.
The dolphin chewed her rutabaga and swam on.
The end. Thanks for reading.
© 2021 320 Sycamore Studios