The smell of fresh cut wood is strong in the newly built cottage. I inhale the scent and walk to the sink to fill the vase I brought for the roses. Sunlight floods the cottage through the large floor to ceiling front windows. There is a perfect view of the lake from where I lean on the kitchen counter. It never ceases to amaze me what humans can do. A thousand years ago the forest here was so thick that it was impossible to walk through unless you knew where the deer paths were. The lake was larger, and where this cabin now stands used to be where the shoreline lapped at the pebbles, where I first saw her.
I untie the leather cord from around my neck and lay it on the black granite countertop next to the red roses. The crystal on the end of the cord shines brilliantly in the light, but it has always shone with its own internal brilliance. There are times when it appears to be blue or red, but when I look directly at the iridescent stone the color is replaced by the perfect crystalline translucence. I itch to break it open, but it is too early. I can’t see her until it is dark anyway. Souls have a distinctive luster; in the daylight a spirit would appear to be nothing more than a sweet smelling mist.
Instead I walk the short distance to the lake. There is a slight breeze carrying the smell of damp earth laden with life. I feel a swell of pride. There are times when I have a deep satisfaction with my job.
The waters are cool and still. The reflection of the forest appears like a mirror image on the surface. Closer to the edge I see into the clear waters. Silver minnows dart back and forth over the mottled pebbles. I continue around the narrow shoreline, making no noise wherever I step. Small ripples disturbed the peace, sending the fish into deeper territory. An old buck is drinking not more than fifteen feet ahead of me. Half of his body stands in the reeds. I watch him and think deeply about my role in the universe.
Maybe I should leave this creature alone? This is my “day off” as humans call it. Although that term had only been in use for a very small fraction of my existence.
But the autumnal equinox is less than a month away, and I have too much work to do. I place my hand on the old buck and bless him in my way.
I look up at the watercolor sky and though it cannot be seen yet, I know where the first star of the evening will appear. It’s where my closest brother rests among the others.
The sun sinks below the trees, and the pine shadows stretch across the lake like the teeth of a fearsome beast.
I make it back to the cottage and build a fire. She’s always cold when she comes back. When the logs are fully engulfed in flames, and the sun is gone from the horizon I sit down at the kitchen counter to pick up the crystal.
I take the ends between both of my thumbs and forefingers and snap the precious stone in half. I can smell hundreds of summers in the room, and a warm breeze from all directions swishes my hair all around.
The crystal crumbles into a fine, shimmery dust on the countertop. The breeze blows it away, and suddenly all is still. The many scents of fully bloomed flowers, deep green leaves, fires built for fun and not warmth, beach waves on a sunlight shore, and so many more are replaced by one. A fragrance that can best be described as laughter on a warm night floats around me. I inhale deeply and close my eyes. This is my favorite part.
I open my eyes, and there she is. Her hair flows down the length of her back and ends in waves the color of coal. Her piercing blue eyes lock with mine, and she smiles. I pulled her close to me and kiss her. I feel her cool skin shudder under my touch; it’s soft and smooth like living marble.
Placing a robe over her bare shoulders, I lead her out into the night. She trails footprints the color of moonlight that evaporate into the night air, and I leave nothing.
The human soul is eternal and at the same time it is not. When one life ends the spirit. the essence, travels a long way into the heavens where my ancestors have kept an everlasting forge burning hotter than anything in the universe.
On the journey the soul collects the tears cried for them, catches the echoes of laughter they caused since birth, and accumulates the smallest bit of stardust on their journey through the cold abyss.
They are drawn to the forge as the only source of heat around for trillions of miles. Some souls are newer when they arrive. Their path was direct. Some souls arrive older, almost as old as the start of mankind. They took a path through the heavens not seen by most, and they are mostly stardust when they find their way to the heat. But no matter how long the journey, all souls find the forge.
They are caressed and loved to produce their greatest light before being placed into the heat. There the soul endures a fever so intense that it bursts. The sound of a soul burst is a most beautiful thing, and it is different for each one, releasing the experiences of the soul back into the universe. The forge mixes and churns the fragments with the molten souls of millions of others. The finished product is a unique combination. A new soul, clean from the fires, and yet retaining millions of years of experiences.
Her hand slides into mine as we walk along the shore. She knows about the forge. She has told me she can feel the heat calling to her, but for the last thousand years she has felt my calling stronger. How long can a soul last in a single lifetime? It is forbidden to experiment with souls. None of my ancestors have ever dared to know. I look up to the stars; I find my brother.
She leans into me and the world is quiet. Her combination is so special, and I know the odds of a soul like hers are unfathomable. But how many more years can I alone forge her from the same atoms? She appears more delicate, like the crook of metal that has been bent too many times right before it breaks.