Story Excerpt Sunday: From The Soul Thief by Leah Cutter

The Soul ThiefThe Soul Thief

The Chronicles of Franklin: Book Two

by Leah Cutter

Franklin sat outside in his backyard, watching the knee-high cornstalks grow. A ghost sat beside him, on the other white-metal garden chair. Franklin didn’t know the ghost’s name—he’d never pushed one toward Franklin. The ghost’s intent had been difficult to read as well.

But the ghost had joined Franklin every morning for the last week, the pair of them sitting on either side of the white metal garden table, listening to the morning birds and the quiet hum of the interstate as the dew evaporated and the day began. The Kentucky blue-grass Franklin grew back there was still so new, the spring color so bright, it was likely to hurt your eyes.

The ghost was a white man. He wore what he’d been buried in, like all ghosts—a light blue suit with a dark blue tie and a white shirt, probably his Sunday best.

A black man, like Franklin, probably would have worn something a little more somber. Plus, Franklin had always planned on being buried in a hat. It would just be more formal if he was wearing a hat. He’d bought a black Stetson for the occasion, though he’d never told no one about it, not even Mama, either when she’d been alive or when she’d come back to haunt Franklin as a ghost.

Not that Franklin planned on dying anytime soon. He was still a young man, not yet even thirty. He still had a lot of living to do yet.

But this ghost, this white man…Franklin had the impression that he hadn’t lived a lot while he’d been, well, with the living. Even if there was a Heaven beyond where they was sitting, Franklin guessed the ghost was afraid to take those final steps.

Franklin always reckoned that dying was hard on a body, not just ’cause they were passing out of this earth. Ghosts couldn’t make any noise, not generally, and they was rarely strong enough to lift even a single piece of paper.

So every morning, Franklin tried to encourage his guest. He didn’t want the ghost not to feel welcome. Mama had taught him better than that. However, the ghost needed to move on. It was part of the natural course of things.

“Now, I know it might be scary,” Franklin told the ghost as he sipped his sweet tea. He’d added a sprig of mint to it that morning, so it tasted cool and fresh. “But it’s still the next step. The right thing to do.”

Franklin always tried to do the right thing and to do his duty. Mama had insisted that meant helping the dead pass on, out of this life and into the next. Franklin weren’t perfect. No man was. Still, he tried.

The ghost just shook his head, looking down at his hands, tightly clenched.

Normally, when a ghost had trouble passing from this world to the next, it was because they still had some deed left undone. Like the older woman Franklin had helped the week before last. She’d been a black woman, ponderous and ample-bosomed, wearing the brightest red dress that Franklin had ever seen on a ghost. She couldn’t leave, not until she’d seen her boy one last time.

Though she’d been as big as Mama, she’d ridden as daintily as a little girl between the handlebars of Franklin’s bike as he drove her into Katherinesville, then beyond, to the graveyard. Then he’d waited with her until her son had arrived.

“Now, I know new things can be frightening,” Franklin consoled the ghost sitting beside him in his backyard. “Hll, I remember the first time I really kissed a girl. Felt like my heart was about to pound outa my chest.” He paused, relishing the memory of his first kisses with Julie, how shy he’d been, how wonderful it had all turned out. “I figure this is that same level of scared for you. But you gonna have to try.”

The man nodded.

Franklin knew the ghost needed something. He just weren’t sure what.

“I believe you didn’t try a lot of new things when you was living,” Franklin said delicately.

The ghost’s head dropped down, his hands clenched even tighter. If he weren’t already so pale, Franklin would bet they turned even whiter.

“But this here’s a new new thing. Something that you’re only going to get to try once. Not just have to try. But get to try. Most folks just go along into Heaven, lifted up and not making a choice or a decision about it all. You, on the other hand, get to walk there all on your lonesome.”

The man went from staring at his hands to looking pensively out at Franklin’s field.

Was there a gate to Heaven there, among the rows of corn? Franklin had always found it a calming place, with just blue sky above him and the smell of rich dirt and growing things surrounding him.

“You should try it,” Franklin urged.

The man glanced back at Franklin, then finally, decisively, stood up. He nodded once at Franklin, giving his thanks, then strode off purposefully into the cornfield. He faded as he walked, as if stepping into a mist Franklin couldn’t see.

Franklin took a deep breath, feeling the satisfaction of a job well done. That ghost had finally moved on.

Maybe he wasn’t going to Heaven. Maybe there was another, in-between place, that he’d visit first. Franklin didn’t rightly know.

However, he never felt fear from any ghost about passing on, so he always figured it were Heaven or some equivalent. That he weren’t encouraging folk to pass into Hell. He hoped so.

***********

Leah Cutter writes page-turning fiction in exotic locations, such as a magical New Orleans, the ancient Orient, Hungary, the Oregon coast, rural Kentucky, Seattle, Minneapolis, and many others.

She writes literary, fantasy, mystery, science fiction, and horror fiction. Her short fiction has been published in magazines like Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Talebones, anthologies like Fiction River, and on the web. Her long fiction has been published both by New York publishers as well as small presses.

 

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