Conception

He handed the jar to me, a small glass container with a fluttery light inside it, some kind of hybrid between electricity, butterflies, and lightning bugs. The glass lid clattered a little as there was nothing sealing it to the jar itself.

For all of its importance Jayman pressed it into my hands without much care, not waiting to see if I had a firm grip on the thing before he headed back off toward his cubicle. I almost dropped it, and that would have been a disaster.

I ran to the elevators, cupping the jar against my chest, weaving around the large copier machine and two chairs set up in a makeshift reception area even though I didn’t know why we needed photocopies or reception.

I pressed the down button. Down, down, come on. From the bottom of the shaft I heard the motor fire up and the gears begin working. Any second now.

This was my third job and I really needed a triumph before the powers in charge decided I wasn’t worth keeping around anymore. I wasn’t any good at consoling the dead, who apparently needed a great deal of it—one ghost even wailed that I’d made everything worse, and he’d rather be in solitude for eternity than spend another session with me. But he either didn’t know or had forgotten that around here, anything that sounds like a wish gets granted. It’s a good thing I only worked for the Counseling Service for three days. Sorry, Hiram Beecher.

After that I was on the Prevention Patrol, trying to lower people’s mortality so that there were fewer instances of Dying Before One’s Time. This involved everything from the mundane—unplugging hair dryers before the accident-prone got into their bathtubs—to calculated orchestration. I broke the mechanism at a railroad crossing so that cars couldn’t pass because I’d heard there was about to be a multi-car accident involving a cargo train. Instead everyone took the same detour over a rickety bridge and it collapsed. Jayman was not pleased. Tamilla said he’d started smoking again.

I’d been moved to the Sorting Service this morning. And I had my first soul in a jar.

“Okay, Charlie, this is simple,” Jayman had said, smoothing the black hair on his head, “Just take the jar to the 70th floor, room 720.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it. Well, and once you’re in the room, open the lid.”

“I don’t have to . . . do anything?”

He gave me a stern look. “It knows what to do.” He’d told me that souls came programmed to auto run. They could fill an empty container all on their own.

The elevator had been sitting on 52 for close to a minute. Down button.

I couldn’t wait anymore, so I started running down the stairs from floor 317.

Tamilla had explained Sorting to me at orientation, taking me into her cubicle to watch her work.

The soul that had sat across from us looked vaguely human, sure, but asked to describe its features was challenging. This was just a vessel for the soul to fill so it could communicate with us. Even ghosts had vessels.

Tamilla didn’t look at it much, saying she got too distracted trying to figure out where its nose should be, so I watched her work instead of the soul.

“So where are you interested in going,” she asked. Her fingers were poised over her keyboard, ready to strike.

“Well, I like the ocean. Can I be a whale?”

Apparently, requests to become large animals had been on the rise for a while, but we couldn’t grant those.

“Ocean, okay,” said Tamilla, typing, “Whale, no. What do you think you want to explore this time?”

“I think I’d like to get into music,” the soul said.

A few more keys and Tamilla announced that they were done. “Please head back to the changing room,” she told the soul, pointing. It nodded vaguely and wandered away.

“Where’s it going,” I asked. I looked over her shoulder at her monitor but it had gone blank already.

“Nagoya, Japan,” she said.

“Just from music and ocean? That seems kind of stereotypical, doesn’t it?”

“I don’t make the decisions, the system does,” she said. “Now go get the soul from Jayman.”

*  *  *

Somewhere around floor 212 I couldn’t feel my legs anymore. There was some kind of significance to that number but I couldn’t quite recall what it was. I pounded down more stairs, the jar lid rattling and shaking, but I swear the container was clutched quite firmly in the nook of my arm.

On floor 190, the stairwell door was open. Jayman stood in the opening.

“Charlie! What the fuck are you doing running down the stairs?” His shirt had sweat stains around the collar and under his arms, and he yanked me off of the landing. “Give me that!”

I handed him the soul jar. He yelled at me to follow him.

An elevator was waiting for us, and it quickly took us to 72. The doors opened. He inspected the jar, handing it back to me.

“Down the hall, make a right and the room is on your left. 720. Just go in there and open the fucking lid, kid.”

As soon as the last inch of me was off the elevator the doors slammed shut. This was a much quieter floor than up on 317. And it looked more like a hospital than an old office building.

I turned right, looked left. 720, 720, where was . . . ah, there.

I walked in and blushed that I’d strutted straight into some woman’s birthing room, little rabbits and other furry animals on the walls. The midwife was coaxing her, but I didn’t understand Japanese so it didn’t make sense to me. It didn’t matter.

I lifted the lid victoriously, and the creature continued to flutter inside. Come out, little thing, I thought to it. After all of this it was stuck inside like peanut butter?

I turned the jar over and shook out the soul, which crashed to the floor ungracefully. It sputtered, then dimmed, and then dissolved into the linoleum. Oh no. Oh no oh no. This was very bad. This new life had no chance if it didn’t have a soul.

Not knowing what else to do, I leapt into the baby as soon as it came out of its mother.

Hopefully Jayman had planned this all along.

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6 Comments on “Conception”

  1. September 12, 2010 at 9:33 am #

    I like how things kept getting more complicated for the protagonist. I hope her quick thinking works out.

    • evmaroon
      September 12, 2010 at 6:21 pm #

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! It’s a story I may continue at some point.

  2. September 13, 2010 at 3:54 am #

    What a great story. I love the complications that arose throught the story, and the ending was excellent.

    • evmaroon
      September 13, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

      Thanks, Laurita—I’m glad you liked the story…it was a lot of fun to write.

  3. September 13, 2010 at 7:48 am #

    Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, things just don’t work out the way you want them to. Or maybe they do?

    I’m hoping the soul in the jar isn’t just lost… and I hope Charlie has more luck in Japan! Nice story.

    • evmaroon
      September 13, 2010 at 4:11 pm #

      Often, no matter how hard I try, things are a little beyond me. Ha. Thanks for your comment; I’m glad you enjoyed the story!

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