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There was Before and then there was Now. Do not grieve the loss of Before. It was a wicked time when people turned away from the Light, and for their sins they were punished. Rejoice in the Light and Rejoice in the Now for it is your salvation.—A History of the Territory of Malm, Authorized Version
It was a memory that would haunt him forever. When he was a younger man, Bishop would sit near the fountain and stare into its crystal-clear waters trying to discover its secrets. The fountain was an elaborate three-tiered masterpiece designed from plans found in a book that had survived from Before. It loomed over its small circular courtyard. From the top, water sprouted out of a small tube and then cascaded down the tiers to join the water that rested in the shallow pool at the base of the massive sculpture.
It was the ripples that fascinated him; the way they would crest and move from side to side. When souls were present in the fountain, it looked like they danced and frolicked just under the surface. Bishop couldn't actually see them, no matter how hard he tried. The souls remained invisible to him. The Residents of Malm believed it was a magical thing given to them by the Creator. Bishop wasn't so sure.
That night was the eve of a Soul Distribution Day, and so the fountain was inhabited by several souls who had been Called from wherever they were kept when they weren't in the fountain. Bishop had sneaked out to the fountain to watch the souls at play. After watching for what seemed liked several hours, Bishop had been gripped by an irrational desire to jump into the fountain to play with them.
If he joined them, he wouldn't have to be alone any longer. It was like they knew that he felt like an outsider; not being able to recall his parents or childhood. The only thing he knew was the garden. They told him that the only thing he had to do was crawl into the shimmering water and float with them and he would never be alone again. He could hear them whispering to him. They wanted to play. They wanted to share their secrets with him. They wanted him to be one of them.
His foot had just brushed the surface of the water when Bishop heard yelling behind him. Suddenly, two acolytes were at his side, dragging him back from the fountain's edge.
Years later, Bishop could recall the sinking feeling of despair as he fell backwards, as if in slow motion. The three of them landed in a heap several feet away from the fountain's base. His voice, howling in frustration and rage, penetrated his ears. He struggled against the acolytes; he wanted to be with the souls in fountain. He wanted to play. He wanted to be free.
And that's when he saw it.
The water surged up from the surface of the pool and formed a vaguely human shape. Bishop stopped struggling and watched with his mouth agape as the figure grew even taller. Then it stretched towards them. One of the acolytes screamed and untangled himself from Bishop. He was on his feet in seconds. The figure loomed above them and the standing acolyte turned and ran. With fountain's spell all but gone, Bishop was paralyzed. He shrunk back as a thin tendril broke off from the main body and stretched out to hover inches away from his face.
It wasn't playfulness Bishop heard from the voices hiding in the water then. The voices were angry. They wanted something, something that Bishop had been on the cusp of giving them; something that was being taken away.
The acolyte next to him whispered words fervently and swiped a symbol in the air. Just when Bishop thought the tendril was going to wrap itself around him and pull him back in, it slapped at the acolyte and then flipped high in the air. Then the whole figure slipped back into the fountain and water sloshed over the fountain's edge as it disappeared back into the water's depths.
Bishop still felt a seething energy wafting from the water. Whatever spell the acolyte cast had saved them. He slowly got to his feet and looked at the man who rose with him.
The acolyte was barely more than a boy, but his sandy brown hair and intense green eyes were familiar. Then Bishop realized that it was Samuel, a perimeter boy who was being groomed within the Office of Souls to take on the role of Lead Acolyte to the Head Master. That also meant there was no shoving under the rug what had just happened. He was in trouble.
The Head Master's punishment had been a week confined to his room. Bishop had been grateful that the punishment hadn't been losing his own soul. But on his pillow the morning after the incident, he found an ominous message waiting for him. You are to tend to the garden, Bishop. The Office of Souls tends to the fountain. Keep your distance.
And so Bishop did, for many years. But he never forgot that menacing, hungry tendril of water that had hovered right in front of his face. He still sometimes woke up in the middle of the night drenched in a cold sweat after dreaming about it. He ignored the voices that sometimes scampered on the edge of his consciousness as he pruned the shrubs that bordered the fountain's courtyard. He tried to forget.
Then came Soul Implantation Day 3675, the day that all hell broke loose.
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About the Author
Cege Smith is a Minnesota based writer who is addicted to lattes and B-rated horror films. She had been crafting spooky stories since she was twelve years old. She lives with her husband, two adorable stepsons, and Juliet, her mini long-hair dachshund, in the suburbs of Minneapolis.