Title: The Light of the Soul
Summary: Can the souls of the dead heal those of the living?
Distribution: OK to forward to the Spooky's, ATXC newsgroup, Xemplary and Gossamer. Please ask permission before archiving anywhere else, please. If you already have one of my stories, permission is granted, but still let me know you are grabbing this one too.
Disclaimer: If you feel the need to sue, my wind-up Corvette and plastic Gumby are all yours--they're all I have.
Enveloping, all-consuming warmth spread from her hands upwards through her body. It was an odd sensation, as though she were being immersed slowly in a steaming bath, even though she could still feel the bed beneath her. She felt it flow across her chest, wrapping itself around her heart before traveling down her legs. As the heat reached her lower body, she finally opened her eyes to glance down at her feet... except they weren't there anymore.
Nor was the rest of her body.
She jerked fully awake, reaching underneath herself to push into a sitting position. Even though she could feel the weight of her body as she pushed against the sheets, even as she felt the air whisper across her face as she rose, she could see nothing of her body. She threw the light cover away and leapt from the bed. Trembling, she lifted her hands to her face. At least, she thought she did--she could feel her fingers covering her face, but she could still see the door across from her. Ohhhh, wake up, wake up, wake up...
"You are awake."
She whirled to look behind her, but saw no one. Turning again, she slowly retreated towards the wall, stopping only when she had pressed her back flat against it. She glanced from side to side, but the room was darkened, the objects within it covered with a blanket of soft indistinction.
"Don't be afraid."
Her eyes flew to the left. This time, the voice had been accompanied by the slightest glint of luminous movement.
"Wh- who... are you?" she asked, her voice quivering. Another glint to her right, another over by the shelves. Soon, the room was awash with shimmering flashes, as if a crystal had been hung under full sun.
"We're your friends," the voice said, directly in front of her. A shape began to form, appearing from the center outwards as light shown from within it. She felt her fear begin to recede as the image grew more defined.
A few moments later, a young girl stood before her, dressed in a flower-patterned dress, bright ribbons in her hair. The young girl smiled at her, lifting a hand as though calling for an audience to rise.
Within seconds, the room was filled with shining children. Some were dressed as if for school, some for play, and many as though they had just woken from their night's sleep. As each appeared, a bit more of her apprehension slipped away until she was left with only curiosity.
"Why are you here?" she whispered. They began to draw closer, each reaching a hand towards her as they approached. Glancing down, she gasped as she saw her body becoming visible again with each touch.
But she was not the same--her skin no longer bore the scars from years past, her body no longer wasted from a lifetime of fear. She was now bathed in the same white glow, a soft translucence softening her body. The young girl reached a hand to her face, smiling as she spoke.
"We're here to set you free, Samantha."
Quickly, the children taught her to control her new form, to mask the energy's light when moving among the living. Thought, energy and matter are all interchangeable, they told her--believe you cannot be seen and you will not be seen.
They smiled and laughed, patting her arms and legs in congratulations as her form faded to invisibility. They told her she would later learn how to remain visible only to them, as they each did, but it would take more time than they had. The children led her from the room, their voices as veiled as their bodies-- believe you cannot be heard and you will not be heard. The night staff passed by them, oblivious to the children's presence.
Soon, they were outside, running across the huge parking lot to the grass on the other side. Samantha laughed as she ran, the clear, light tone surprising her--when was the last time I laughed like this, she thought as they all tumbled to the soft ground to rest. Probably not since that day when I was playing outside and tricked F-...
She felt the thought disappear before it even had a chance to come to life. They would often come to her like this, these half- formed images from a life before the one she remembered all too clearly. Before the tests, before the pain... before. No matter how hard she had tried to catch the fleeting impressions as they appeared, they had always escaped her grasping hands, taking with them whatever happiness had once been hers.
Only the stars had remained. At night, after she had been returned home, she would sneak out to the backyard and stare at the sky for long hours. Sometimes, the stars' light had been too bright for her harshly-tested eyes, but she had refused to stop looking--they won't take this from me too, she had thought as tears had streamed down her face.
The stars had helped her stay alive, helped her believe there were still places worth dreaming about, places she might someday get to see. She remembered thinking that one day, she might even visit the stars themselves.
"But you can," a young boy's voice said.
Samantha turned to look towards the voice, seeing a boy of about ten sitting beside her. "How can you hear what I'm thinking?" she asked, curious without being angry.
"You'll learn it as time passes, just like everything else," the boy replied. "Just like you can hide your body, you can hide your thoughts. The energy inside you just needs to be controlled."
She glanced up at the velvety night sky, the bright light of the moon shining as though from the sun itself. "You said... you said I could visit the stars," she whispered. "How is that possible? It can't be possible."
"Come on, I'll show you," the boy said eagerly. He jumped to his feet, grinning broadly as he turned to the rest of the children. "Samantha wants to see the stars, everyone--who wants to come along..."
Within seconds, Samantha found herself surrounded by every child present, each jumping and shouting joyously. The boy reached to take her hand, helping her to stand. The young girl with the ribbons came over and stood by her other side.
"Are you ready?" the girl asked, raising her voice to be heard over the others.
"What's going to happen, what is it like?" Samantha asked, nervous and excited at the same time. She gasped as the children around her began to transform--each became a sparkling pinpoint of light, almost like a jewel, before streaking into the starry sky.
"What's it like to be free?" the girl responded, taking Samantha's hand in her own. Samantha watched, awed, as her body began to collapse inwards on itself, a white light flowing from both the girl's and the boy's form into her own.
"It's like this..."
In the merest blink of an eye, the ground beneath her disappeared as if it had never been. The hospital parking lot was replaced by the expanse of the universe, the Earth itself a quickly receding globe in the star-lit darkness. Samantha wanted to grip her friends' hands tighter, but she found neither her hands nor her friends were still there. Unlike in the hospital, when she could still feel the weight of her body, the touch of her own fingers, she now felt absolutely nothing.
"Samantha! Over here!" a voice called out. She recognized it as the young boy's voice.
Without knowing quite how she did it, Samantha looked behind her to the right--she didn't really have a head to turn, yet she was now facing another direction. But instead of her new friend, she saw only a huge panther, larger than the Earth itself, its black fur gleaming in the starlight.
"Catch me if you can!" the panther yelled, turning and loping away towards the moon.
"How?!" she called after him. She tried to run, but quickly remembered she had no form--she was without legs to propel her towards him.
"Just think it!" another voice yelled. Samantha turned to see a dragon soaring alongside her, blowing a river of fire from its nostrils. The dragon then giggled, banking and disappearing behind the sun. Samantha laughed too, and not just at the absurdity of a giggling dragon.
Just think it, she repeated to herself. Just think it, just think it... how do I catch a panther? She looked around for the boy, finding him as he circled the moon. He laughed as he saw her, throwing his weight onto his back paws to stop himself. Turning, he raced straight towards her, flicking his tail at her as he passed.
"Tag! You're it!" he called, veering to head into the deep blackness behind her.
Before she knew it, she was already halfway to him. The sensation was unlike anything she'd ever felt before--a complete weightlessness combined with dizzying speed. As she rose and swerved after the fleeing panther, she heard the cheers of all the children around her.
Samantha caught up to him just as he was about to duck behind Jupiter. With a final burst of speed, she tackled the panther before he could make the turn. They were both laughing now, their momentum carrying them halfway to the next planet in a tangle of paws and feathers.
As the boy pushed back from her, darting away to tag someone new, Samantha righted herself and headed straight for Saturn. At high speed, she dove in close, knowing the rings would serve as a reflective surface. Shocked at what she saw as she swept past, she circled back and flew over the rings again. This time, a smile crept across her face... as a magnificent eagle smiled right back at her.
She was truly free.
Time passed almost imperceptibly for the children. The entire universe was their playground--sometimes, they would play among the stars for what seemed like only a few hours, returning home to find months had passed.
Samantha came to understand their true nature as time slipped by. It was her soul, the essence of her true self that had been rescued during the night so long ago. About to meet the cruelest of fates, she had been saved by others like her, swept away to await the day they would each be born anew.
And as the years went by, many of them were indeed born again, always gladly giving up a life among the stars for the chance to live again. Even as she rejoiced for her friends, Samantha was always a bit saddened as well--she knew only too clearly there would always be another suffering child's soul waiting to replace those who left.
One day, she found herself walking through a valley meadow with Joshua, the boy who had become the panther that first day. Each time they returned from the stars, the children chose a new place to stay--in this location, the distant peaks of the Rockies were visible beyond the treetops.
"Why am I still here, Joshua?" she asked suddenly. "So many of the others have long since left, but never me. Or you either, for that matter."
"I'm not sure," he replied. "I think it might be a combination of things. The worse we suffered during our lives before, the longer we stay here to heal--a soul still hurting would do more harm than good when reborn. But I also think it has to do with those we left behind."
"What do you mean?" Samantha asked.
"As long as someone out there still thinks us to be alive, perhaps we can't be born again," Joshua said. He stopped as they reached the edge of a small stream, sitting down on a rock ledge jutting out from the shore. "I go home at times, you know, to my real home, and check on my mom. She still prays each night for me to be returned to her... she still puts my stocking up at Christmas, the one with my name stitched across the top. 'Just in case,' she whispers."
Samantha laid her hand over Joshua's as his voice caught. They sat together for a while in silence, watching the water tumble over the rocks, churning the sand as it flowed.
"What about you, Samantha?" Joshua asked after several minutes. "Who still waits for you?"
"I don't... I don't even know if anyone does," she whispered.
"But, you're still here," Joshua asks, confused. "Twenty years is long enough for any soul to heal here. Someone must still be out there, searching for you. What about your family?"
"I don't remember my life before... before the last place I lived," she said, hearing Joshua's sharp intake of breath as she spoke. Joshua knew how she'd lived the last years of her life, but she'd never told him why she never spoke of anything prior to those times.
"Sometimes, I think I remember certain things. An image will come to me, as crystal clear as a photograph," Samantha said, closing her eyes. "I'll see in my mind a place I've never been or a person I've never met. Voices too, sometimes.
"Like just the other day. Remember when we were playing in that waterfall, riding it down all the way to the bottom? On the last time, as I fell over the edge, I had one of those visions. It was of me as a younger girl, standing on a tree branch over a stream.
"There was... there was a boy there as well, a boy just older than you, already waiting in the water. He was yelling for me, waving for me to jump down with him. I think I was scared to jump, and he was trying to encourage me.
"When he smiled up at me from the water, I could feel myself thinking it would all be OK. That I should trust him, that he would never let anything happen to me."
"Did you jump?" Joshua asked.
"I didn't find out," Samantha said quietly. She opened her eyes, glancing at Joshua with a small, sad smile. "The image blanked out before it went any further."
"Who do you think he was?" Joshua wondered.
Samantha concentrated on the image of the boy in the water, the same boy she had seen countless other times in fleeting half- memories. Always the same smile, always the same dark eyes, always the same laugh as he called out her name...
And suddenly she knew.
"He was my brother... I had a brother," she whispered.
"I think he's still searching for you, Samantha. I think you're meant to stay here until he finds you," Joshua said after a few moments. As she turned to look at him, he laid his other hand over hers...
"And I think he'll be here soon."
The children rescued another soul late the following month, a young boy who would have died a long, slow death at the hands of his estranged mother. From the moment they took him, Tyler never spoke--he often laughed, and generally seemed happy, but he simply did not speak.
Yet he became attached to Samantha almost immediately. He was never far from her, no matter what she was doing. She, in turn, seemed to take great strides to ensure Tyler's safety, making sure he always knew where they were going next and was never left behind. They seemed drawn to each other, though neither knew why.
The first time Tyler joined them among the stars, Samantha was the one who taught him how to transform. He was obviously quite frightened, indicating he wanted her to transform at the same time. She waved the other children off, telling them Tyler needed a bit of room to make his first try.
"Just think of an animal you've always liked. Something whose name you like, or one you like reading about, or drawing," she told him, holding his hands in hers. "I'll do the same, and then we'll go join the others."
Samantha usually enjoyed becoming winged creatures, relishing the true feeling of flying it brought her. But she didn't think Tyler would enjoy opening his eyes to see a huge eagle staring down at him, so she decided to transform into something else.
"Ready, Tyler?" she asked gently. He looked up at her, his large brown eyes showing his nervousness even as he resolutely nodded his head. She smiled at him, surprised to see most of his fear fade away as she did.
"Now, close your eyes... concentrate really, really hard. Can you see the animal in your head? Squeeze my hands if you can," she said. A few seconds later, Tyler's tiny hands gripped hers just a little bit tighter. She closed her own eyes to transform herself, using an animal that seemed to appear frequently in her dreams.
"OK, then. Take a deep breath and look at me," she whispered. She opened her eyes slowly... and then widened them in disbelief.
They had both chosen to transform into a fox.
Just a few weeks later, another soul joined their number. Neither Samantha nor Joshua could remember a time when two children had been rescued in such rapid succession. They each wondered what it could mean.
The new child was a very young girl, younger than the rest of them by at least a year. With her impish grin and soft eyes, Amber Lynn immediately became the little sister of everyone, a status she enjoyed to no end--she'd had no siblings in her former life.
The night Amber Lynn joined them, Samantha quickly realized the girl missed her favorite teddy bear. The children usually discouraged anyone from collecting earthly items, whether things from their past or items they came across--any items not currently with a child when saved were not protected from the effects of time's passage.
But when Samantha checked with Joshua about retrieving the bear, she found him as immediately charmed as everyone else by Amber Lynn--Samantha had barely finished the request before he was sending her on her way. It had only been a few hours since Amber Lynn had joined them, so the both felt confident the bear could be retrieved without incident.
Arriving at the girl's home, Samantha took extra care to ensure she was completely masked from view--there were officers positioned inside each of the main doors and Amber Lynn's parents were seated on the small couch. She didn't think it would be wise to add to an already tense situation with an unexplainable sighting.
At least, not yet.
She knew Amber Lynn would make an appearance to her parents soon, to try and assist in the capture of the man who would have killed her. The children very rarely tampered with the flow of the living world after they left it, but exceptions were made for horrific circumstances like this--true evil was not allowed to continue.
Glancing to make sure no one was in sight, Samantha crept into Amber Lynn's bedroom. As was always the case, she felt a shudder of sadness pass through her. The room still felt like a little child would come running in at any moment--scribbled drawings hung from construction paper ribbons and dolls with long hair waited to be arranged for the day's play.
And there, nearly hidden by the bulk of other stuffed animals piled near the bed, was the bear. She carefully worked it free, making sure the missing animal would not leave a noticeable change. Tucking the bear beneath her arm, she went to the door, but was brought up short by the sound of voices. Several people were talking back and forth--questions were being asked and answered, but Samantha could not discern the actual conversation. Something about one of the voices seemed familiar--she listened carefully, but was unable to place it.
Rather than risk an accidental sighting, she decided to pass directly through the bedroom wall to escape the house. She normally avoided passing through solid matter, finding the odd sensation it created rather unpleasant. But she did not want to try for the open front door now, not with the new arrival and heightened activity.
But as she stepped through the wall into the morning's bright light, she couldn't shake the feeling she had known that voice...
Five nights later, Samantha received the first real scare she'd ever felt since joining the children over twenty years ago--Tyler went missing for several hours during the night. He had never left the group before, not even for a few minutes. So when she found he had vanished, she was consumed with worry even as she knew he could not be harmed or injured.
When Tyler finally returned to them late in the night, Samantha was the first to rush over to him. She wasn't the last, though. Every child was loved and protected by all the children in the group--they had all had been concerned about him and were glad to see him safe once again.
After a while, everyone settled down and, having assured themselves Tyler was OK, returned to their own activities. Tyler, though, tugged at Samantha's hand, leading her away from the others until they stood at the edge of the clearing.
Curious, Samantha looked down at him, seeing the brightness of the moon mirrored in Tyler's eyes as he looked up at her. And then it happened--the voice was small, the words themselves nearly lost upon the night air, but it was unmistakable.
"A fox is coming..."
Tyler had finally spoken.
But Samantha quickly realized Tyler was not destined to become a fountain of speech--his words were not followed by others, nor was the original sentence explained in more detail. As Tyler went to join the others, she was left with the feeling an important message had just been delivered...
But without the primer needed to understand it.
Samantha remained apart from the other children the next day, even going so far as to decline a game among the stars. She could not clear her mind of her young friend's words. A fox is coming... what did it mean? What fox, where, and... why?
Joshua found her late in the evening, joining her as she sat along the shore of a pond. Not even a pond, really, he realized as he sat beside her. It was simply a place in the river where the land's configuration had led to the forming of a small pool of water. The pool was not still, though--rocks just below the surface served to disrupt the water's smooth flow, creating a thousand rippling waves each instant. The setting sun reflected off the water, the surrounding landscape bathed in deep oranges, reds, and yellows.
"Are you okay, Samantha?" he asked after a moment. She had glanced at him as he had sat down, but she hadn't said anything.
"Tyler spoke to me yesterday, Joshua," she replied.
"He *what*?! Wh-... what did he say?" Joshua asked, his eyebrows climbing under his bangs with shock. Samantha had not mentioned Tyler's words to anyone yet.
"He told me a fox is coming," she said, skipping a stone out across the water.
"A fox? What does that mean?" Joshua said, drawing his eyebrows back down to furrow them in concentration.
"That's just it, Joshua--I don't *know* what it means. I think I'm supposed to know, but I don't," she said, frustrated. "There are little snippets of things that keep surfacing in my head. Remember that first day Tyler transformed with me? We both became foxes. That can't just be a coincidence. I've been sitting here all day, wondering how it connects, but I just can't figure it out...
"I just don't know."
Joshua could hear the defeat in Samantha's voice, but knew there was nothing he could do for her. None of it held any meaning for him, no obvious secret Samantha was overlooking. He could do nothing more than slip an arm around her shoulders in quiet comfort.
They sat in silence for a long time. The sun set beneath the horizon, the light of day seeping away as the mantle of darkness grew closer. The stars began to flicker into existence, one by one, in the cloudless sky above them.
A twig snapped somewhere behind them suddenly, startling them both. Twisting her body to look back, Samantha was surprised to see Tyler making his way down the slope towards them. He walked over to her, stopping only when he had reached them. He glanced between them a few times, finally settling his gaze on Samantha.
"What is it, Tyler?" she prodded after a few moments. The boy did nothing for a while, simply continuing to watch her. Finally, though, he reached his hand out to her, grazing the tips of his fingers across her forehead.
At Tyler's touch, Samantha felt a surge of energy flow through her--she could almost hear a crackle of electricity as she felt her mind slow. Her outdoor surroundings faded away, replaced by what appeared to be a parlor room, or perhaps a den, filled with chairs and couches and children's games. She had seen this room many times before in the fleeting images from her past...
But this time, the image was different. She wasn't seeing a younger version herself in the room, as though from outside the image--she was somehow inside the vision itself. She moved to sit at a small table in the center of the room. Looking down, she saw a puzzle spread out on the table, a section in the middle still missing. But as she looked around the room, Samantha realized there were no more pieces.
Suddenly, the same boy she had seen so many times before entered the room. He's my brother, she thought--my brother is right here in this room with me. As he saw her, his face broke into a wide grin. She, too, couldn't help smiling as the boy walked towards her. He stopped at the other side of the table, looking down at the puzzle.
Samantha realized the boy held something in his hands. With a wink, he reached down and snapped the last puzzle piece into place. She tore her gaze away from him to look down at the finished image before her. A fox looked out at her from the table's surface... a fox with the same eyes as the boy.
And she knew.
The memories came flooding into her head, each crashing against the others in a dizzying attempt to be remembered first. Voices singing old Christmas songs... An old tire swing hanging from a huge crimson maple... A woman handing her a warm, buttered slice of bread... The sweet smell of lilacs as she laughed in the summer sun with her brother.
Samantha snapped her eyes open, at the same time banging straight into Joshua in her frantic attempt to sit up. Tyler was nowhere to be seen.
"Samantha! Samantha! Are you all right?!" Joshua was asking, slipping his hands beneath her shoulders to assist her.
"I'm OK, Joshua, I'm fine," she murmured, gratefully accepting his help as she struggled to stand. But she could feel herself growing stronger by the second and soon waved his hands away. At his curious, though no longer frightened, look, Samantha smiled as she reached out to hold her friend's hand.
"I know what it means now, Joshua," she said in a voice clear and strong. "I know what it means."
She pulled him into a brief embrace and then, without waiting another second, turned and began running up the hill. She drew to a halt when she reached the top of the hill, glancing around the clearing, searching. The other children were playing, their fully- visible state casting an almost daytime brightness onto the surrounding trees. Samantha continued to search, watching closely for any sign of the person she knew was coming. She watched... and waited...
And finally, she saw them.
Tyler came up the slope on the far side, his small hand gently wrapped inside a much larger one. The man brushed the last of the branches out of his way and emerged into the clearing, glancing around as he slowly moved across the grass. Samantha saw Amber Lynn go up to him, smiling as he came near her. It was almost as if she knew him, Samantha thought, almost as if...
Almost as if they were connected somehow. Samantha began to smile as she realized how close she had come to meeting her brother just a few days ago. She watched as he smiled down at Amber Lynn, obviously as taken with her as all the children were. And as she saw that smile, the same smile she'd seen a thousand times before in her mind, she felt her heart leap firmly into her throat.
My brother has found me.
She was halfway to him before she even realized she'd started running. She watched as he finally caught sight of her, his face melting from disbelief to wonder in a single second.
Before he'd even finished saying her name, she was with him. She wrapped her arms around him, pressing her face against his chest as she hugged him closer than she could ever remember holding anyone. She smiled as she listened to his heartbeat--her brother was really here.
Samantha quickly realized he was standing as if frozen, though, his arms hanging at his sides. Perhaps he doesn't believe, she thought as she pulled back from him. Perhaps he doesn't believe this light he sees is really me.
She smiled as she slowly reached for his face, holding it gently between her hands. She opened her thoughts just for him, letting his mind hear the voice he had missed for so long.
I love you, brother.
Closing her eyes, Samantha wrapped her arms around him again, thinking the same thought over and over. She smiled as she felt his arms finally tighten around her, his gentle hands stroking her hair as he pressed a soft kiss to her head. She opened her eyes to see the others gathering together, laughing and cheering as they formed a shining circle of souls.
And for a long moment, the light of her brother's soul shone just as brightly.
- * -30- - * * END - * * -30- - *