Soul Exchange

By Laura Haynes

Action & adventure, Crime & mystery, Fantasy, General fiction


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5 mins


Beth regretted volunteering for this unpleasant task. There had been an argument at the funeral, no-one was willing to do it and the assembled were all trying to convince each other to. She recalled a grumpy looking old man with disarmingly grey eyes mumbling – that this would not be the last time she would volunteer for something unpleasant. She had grinned at him in agreement and he had looked disconcerted - as if she shouldn’t have heard his mutterings.
Aunt Florence’s house was amazing to visit but was not really one you wanted to catalogue ready for clearing out. Aunt Flo was mildly eccentric and the building had taken on her personality, sometimes it seemed even the dust had a life of its own.
She had owned the house most of her life although she probably only spent a small amount of time actually living there. It was a quiet spot on a windswept peninsula - a place for contemplation and escape. The house was just as Beth remembered it. Rose bushes twined around each other giving the exterior a burst of colour. Ivy of the most aggressive kind had claimed one side of the building and sprays of lavender loitered nonchalantly around the borders. Beth loved this house it was beautiful, but not in a cultivated or forced way. The plants had been left to figure it out for their selves, and nature had done a fine piece of landscaping.
Aunt Florence had been a private person so all that Beth really knew of her was that she was a great traveller often getting involved in mad expeditions to remote areas. Where there was bound to be a creature whose bite could kill; if you were lucky this came in the form of one rare insect but if you were unlucky it was an entire tribe. She was an entrancing person, a natural story teller. She had the most fantastic tales to tell. Beth recalled visits when she was a child, listening to her stories until she fell asleep enveloped in the smell of incense and the cigars Aunt Flo chain smoked.
Beth hadn’t quite believed it when she had learnt that this seemingly immortal woman had died, and also guilt ridden. She had been too wrapped up in her own life for so long that she had not visited for many years. Beth looked at a picture of her aunt with a group of men, on a hunting expedition and said, ‘I wanted to be you, but I would never have the courage to do what you did…the world is lesser without you’ she fought back the sizzle in her nose that meant tears, and went to grab some boxes from the car.
She walked back into the house, passed a series of sculptures and artefacts that littered the interior and plonked down on the sofa in the way she always did. This was no 'buy now pay forever' tat this seating was beautifully crafted from the finest walnut and had soft velvet upholstery. She pushed her face into its cushions and sucked in the trace of cigars and jasmine. Her eyes gazed around from their horizontal perspective, and they came to rest halfway up the stunning marble fireplace.
There seemed to be a cream triangle just visible inside the chimney where the mantle gave way to blackness. Reaching in, her hand touched embossed paper; it was a fat, large envelope. She pulled and as the paper came free a large amount of soot released and flooded the room.
The air became suffocating and Beth coughed violently. The house moaned - her instincts surged telling her that she did not have much time. She remembered the trap door in the floor and kicked the rug aside pulling hard on the iron ring. Just as it groaned open a burst of fire sprung forth from the kitchen. Beth dropped onto the rickety stairs below and charged down them, wincing at the further explosions overhead. She focussed on finding the hatch which led outside, and spotted daylight creeping through a crack.
As Beth forced herself up through the rotten wood and started to run, another blast threw her to the ground. When she came too, coughing lavender she saw the remains. It looked like something from a war report, burning ferociously, a lifetime eaten up. She stood there for a good twenty minutes staring at the disintegrating remains, fascinated.
When she did speak it was a lame attempt at humour, to quell an underlying sense of terror; ‘At least I don’t have to clear it out now…’
She sighed at herself and her mind turned to the envelope that she was grasping tightly to her chest. The paper seemed to be parchment. It was blank of any handwriting but it did have what looked like three circles overlapping one another, like a vertical trio of embossed Olympic rings. She turned it over and came across a seal - that too had the same design impressed into the wax. It felt like there were objects inside.
Most of her wanted to open it, but there was a part of her that didn’t; the part the rest of her hated as it is often the bearer of constant negativity. The reason most of her hated this voice is because she had listened to it too much and it had made her life bland.
She opened it. The contents were bizarre. There were three silver discs on a chain and some pages of manuscript, written in a kind of pictorial language. Lastly there was a letter, which was the strangest of all, as it was for her.
Beth’s heart skipped a beat and a rush of adrenaline came over her, there was something for her in this envelope? She turned the letter over to open it and her aunt’s handwriting warned: Do not open until you are safely away from the cottage, LEAVE NOW.
She heard the roar of a motorbike, she ran to her car and wheel spun it away.
When she had recovered some sense of reality, and stopped driving like she was competing in the world rally championships, she wondered where the hell safely away from the cottage was? I know, somewhere quiet and discrete where there was no way a person could approach without notice. Remembering a secluded windswept beach where she had adventured as a child.
It was bitterly cold but it made her feel closer to reality. The spray from the sea flung over the rocks sprinkling her face, whilst the wind whipped her hair. Beth, seated on her old thinking rock, inspected the contents of the strange package. Opening the letter with suspicion and curiosity, finding her aunts flowing script…
‘My dearest child,
As you are reading this then you are as intuitive as I hoped and you will have escaped my booby trap, it was necessary.
I am sorry I am no longer here to guide you or that I was never able to show you the wonders you now have a chance to see, if you accept the challenge that life is now offering, that is. Obviously you have a choice dearest Beth, it’s a dangerous path ahead so you are free to forget it all and go back to your old life – but what I offer you is an opportunity to explore your latent talents. (Don’t laugh you do have them I promise).
Firstly I am your mother and not your Aunt. Those who have been your foster parents for all these years did a great job of looking after you and loving you, but most importantly they gave you security. Something I could never give you. This does not mean that I ever stopped feeling the pain of giving you up.
You see if certain factions realised who you were you would never have been safe, so I kept you hidden and unfortunately trapped in suburbia. I know it bored you and I could see in your eyes how uninspired you were. I just hope the tedium hasn’t broken your spirit.
Anyway I am not one for long prose so I will cut to the chase. As I am no longer here you are offered a chance to continue my work. It is not for the fainthearted and I cannot tell you more in this note lest it fall into the wrong hands…but if you desire adventure as much as I think you do - you will rise to this challenge. I will tell you this, get that parchment translated. God speed my child - I am afraid you will need it, do not doubt that there are many dangers.
Adventure is not without its hazards, keep the disks safe and always trust your gut.
You’re ever loving mother’
‘Bloody hell - how, what?’ She stood by the sea her brain desperate to grasp these truths - life had just got really god damn exciting. Then a wave of agony gripped her, she had lost a mother and any opportunity to know her as one. Panic struck - what was she supposed to do? She was the product of suburbia. Perhaps she should start with the parchment as her mother had advised?
‘Bugger this’ she muttered at the wind, but was she really considering going back to boredom when she had the offer of real adventure in her hands?
She wasn’t sure if it was this thought that made her run back to her car or the faint sound of a motorcycle engine in the distance. Whatever it was she headed south, back home to London, reassuring herself that the decision did not need to be made for at least another 3 hours. Her head still buzzed with the choice she had, safe tedium or dangerous adventure - was there really any competition?
During one of the finest performances of ‘everybody’s talking at me’ that had ever been heard in the cabin of a car, Beth noticed a sleek black motorbike sitting 4 cars back. Its rider all in leather looking every bit the evil henchman gently pulled out to overtake. He stared in as he overtook her as if trying to catch her eye. She pulled her gaze away and fixed on the road ahead desperate not to look.
Was this paranoia or was it the same bike that had been in the background since she left her Aunts. The bike sped off into the distance. She shook her head and eased the accelerator forward, ‘this is all caused by the events of a most unusual day, allied to an over active imagination’, she thought - trying to reassure herself, it didn’t work.
She was finally at home and felt relief when she pulled up outside the familiar Victorian terrace she shared with friends. That relief was short-lived though as she noticed a black motorbike pulling into a side street, they certainly are popular she thought, knowing inside that the coincidence argument was getting harder to believe.
After fighting with the lock and packing a small bag of essentials she left through the back yard. Taking back alleys and jumping on a tube as if on automatic pilot - yet she was more alert and aware than she had ever felt in her life. She knew exactly where to go, somewhere safe, with someone she trusted.



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