SOUL SEARCHING

CHAPTER ONE

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep*. And to summarize, He created light, sky, land, sea, vegetation, day, night and then creatures, respectively.

And after that it was on to people. He set up a factory in which to make their souls ready to be slotted into their skin, flesh, and other gooey bits which were being produced on earth. To this day a sign still hangs over the main doorway: 'God & Son. Est. since before the beginning of time'.

The heavenly soul factory was churning them out to satisfy the earth's insatiable demands. "If the Boss hadn't told'em to go forth and multiply," complained one of the workers, "we could have had a coffee break by now." He raised his eyes to wherever it was those in heaven raised their eyes and carried on, grudgingly.

"Oooh, get ole sour-grapes over there," cooed a member of the labelling department peeling off a label and sticking it to a soul, "Grumpy as ever. Should have pensioned him off eras ago, really they should."

The label read, 'Soul no.: 19,789B/1103L/YO65-34. Intended for body type: Human (not interchangeable). Best before: One billion heartbeats.' Then it was tagged 'Celestial Standards Approved, "A" Grade. Made in Heaven.' A quick visual inspection followed and then the addition of an 'expiry date' ended the whole procedure.

This was the place where it all started. Everybody who was anybody, and even those who weren't, once began their time here.

Outside the factory there were one or two unnoticed smiles on the next cloud but one further along, a constant line of souls just floating, and that was about it. Except for the occasional stork and plenty of mist. That said, lately there had been a few satellites glinting in the distance too, but they were largely unobserved for some reason. The heavenly workers wouldn't have been all that excited by the satellites anyway, or any of mankind's inventions for that matter.

Mankind was always impressing itself though. Boats were easy; bobbing up and down on the water was of no problem at all. The wheel took a little longer, and flight a lot longer.

But as if to labour a point mankind tried to do it all higher and faster. The speed of sound had already been conquered and mankind thought itself masterful. They thought the same though when they managed to travel at the speed of smell all those years ago. Well, when the wind was in the right direction. And the speed of light was next on their agenda.

The heavenly workers didn't bat an eyelid. They were more than capable of exceeding those speeds without the aid of machinery. Not that you'd notice as they begrudgingly went about their business.

Sidney was a stork. A bad tempered and tired stork from an eternity of flying backwards and forwards between heaven and earth delivering babies. The latest infant was a particularly heavy one and Sidney's mood could not have been worse.

The 'UEP' (Universe Expansion Programme) was a superfluous project to Sidney and caused unnecessary galactic diversions which were just a little more than he could cope with. He mumbled as he flew between the spherical giants and through the unfathomably vast expanses in which they hung. From afar these great swirling orbs merely resembled glistening globules. But closer up none were insignificant, none were unremarkable, even against their backdrop of mind-boggling nothingness.

Zaxer 8, to give you an example, was remarkable because it had twenty-three moons, twenty-two of which were larger than itself. Zaxer 8 had precious little daylight. But a modicum was better than nothing.

Klayon Minus was a disk-shaped planet, a flat world whose residents believed it to be a spheroid. Many a calamity was bestowed upon its adventurers as one by one they fell off the edge of their world.

Having zoomed across the reaches of forever Sidney finally descended towards a gyroscopic ball of rock known simply as Earth, a twirling globe that existed inside a bubble of air.

"Maybe you should make it a goal to lose a bit of weight . . ." Sidney muttered to the soul he was carrying as he crashed through the Kármán line and thundered through the hole in the ozone layer, which, contrary to popular opinion, was deliberately left open for this very purpose. ". . . Of course it's not you who has to worry, is it? Oh no! It's muggins here who has to carry you . . ." He became so engrossed in bickering with a no-year old that he hadn't noticed the soul gradually slipping from his beak.

Secretly the whole journey from heaven to earth gave Sidney the screaming abdabs. It was always unworldly and timeless. But metaphysics aside, if you could measure 'timelessness,' it would have taken about three quarters of an hour.

The night sky glistened with a crescent moon and twinkling stars which provided an adequate distraction for the stork dodging jet planes and then swooping down over the maternity unit of Mangrove Hospital.

"Sugar!" Sidney yelled as he helplessly watched his latest soul falling straight from his beak and into the wrong red, screaming baby's body. He wasn't used to being startled, having seen it all before. Or so he thought.

He wasted no time in heading back from whence he came, still complaining, "I don't know why I bother, I really don't. They'll be an awful lot of paperwork to do for this one . . ."

And there was.

Meanwhile back on fluffy Cloud Seven the conveyer belt from the factory had just placed Soul 19,789B/1103L/YO65-34 at the end of the 'Souls to be Departed' line. Catering for the latest baby boom, they were coming out fast and furious. And none more furious than the very next soul out of the factory's archaic exiting system. Soul 19,790B/1103L/YO65-35 stumbled straight into Soul …34 making them both topple over, and causing a chip on Soul …35's shoulder that would last for a very long time to come.

"What the heck do you think you're doing?!" Soul …35 demanded.

"What the heck do I think I'm doing?" Soul …34 got back up, shook itself down, and continued with a degree of timidity, "It was you who went into me!"

"Oh, so it's my fault you're standing there, is it?" Soul …35 tutted.

"Look, this is where I was placed . . ."

"And you always do everything that's expected of you, do you?"

"So far, yes, but I haven't existed for very long. Things could change!"

Not the most auspicious start to a relationship that would almost certainly last as long as they shuffled towards the loading bay. Yet despite their differences they were strangely drawn to one another. They argued about what earth may be like, what the less industrial areas of heaven might be like, and what their favourite colours, songs, foods and books might be. Of course it was a little early to know, but it did pass the time which was good because there seemed to be an awful lot of it.

They took no notice of any of the other souls in the queue and disagreed endlessly about everything and nothing.

". . . still, lovely cloud," said Soul …34 amiably, vainly attempting to stave off yet another quarrel.

"What's so lovely about it?" Soul …35 replied tartly, adamant to keep their conversation solidly fixed on a collision course.

"Well . . . err . . . it's got a silver lining."

"Every silver lining has a cloud though!"

"That's one way of looking at it, I suppose . . ."

Sidney's voice echoed from an unseen tannoy, "Soul 19,789B/1103L/YO65-34, please proceed to Loading Bay Twelve."

Soul …34 was oblivious to everything apart from the latest argument into which it had been drawn.

"Oh, shut up."

"No! You shut up."

Sidney glared. "Oh come on," he snapped, "I've had a hard day!"

"Seriously, shut up!"

"Or wha . . ?"

"I don't . . ." said Soul …35, over-emphasizing the letter 'T', and sounding out every syllable staccato style, ". . . think-I'm-get-ting-through-to-you. Don't-say-an-oth-er-word . . . "

The tone of Soul …35's voice suddenly changed as it said something that Soul …34 couldn't quite make out amid all the kerfuffle. It was one of those evocative remarks that lingers in the air with a question mark hanging over it and it begs to be chased. But whatever it was, it was left there procrastinating, teasing and tempting like an irresistibly taboo sin.

Soul …34 couldn't chase it though, or even manage a simple, "Pardon," before Sidney finally lost his temper. "It's you!" shouted the old bird, "Look! I can see your number from here! NOW COME ON!"

Being so abruptly interrupted at this early stage could cause serious and long term repercussions, but that really wasn't Sidney's problem. He'd leave that one for the angels or whoever dealt with such matters. He glowered savagely, lunged forward in the most undignified manner and grabbed hold of Soul …34. He paused for effect making a point of ignoring take-off clearance from the Divine Air Traffic Control and shot earthward still spitting feathers, "Why on earth do people want babies?"

Sidney swept the unwilling soul away, straining through the sky's expanse. But the interrupted conversation caused such a profundity of feeling and haunt both souls, resonating deeply within them until such time that they would meet again and maybe finish off what they were saying.









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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.



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