The Aberration #4
The Soul Reader
Souls are sacred to the human experience. We talk about saving our soul, selling our soul, or how one is soulless. The biological microchip holding the essence of who we are, and if seen, can expose truths a person may not even want to know.
For Claire Lawrence, the soul is a blueprint. Colors glowing inside and through the body culminating at the center explaining the structure of owner. Over the years, she’d learned the base color is a better guide than the shade. Her blessing as a soul reader has her commonly tasked to looking and weighing the good from the evil. Her purpose is to protect those of Satori from one’s whose soul has been corrupted.
Holding out for a rescue, Claire is forced to find her own way in a world turned upside down, in a time before women had rights. Her soul, torn from her body and transported back decades before she was born. Lost and stumbling, in a world both familiar and backwards, until she recognizes a few a familiar elders caught in their own nightmares.
Can the elders help get her home? Will they even want to help ,or are they as lost as she is? The truth is in front of her, if only she can let go of what she knows and open her eyes to see it. With muddled messages and no clear path, can Claire find a way to cross the bridge of time to make her way home again? Or will both her body and soul expire before they can be reunited?
BUY THE BOOK
“Jesus, Claire,” my mother exclaimed when she came in to wake me up for online school.
“You worship crystals, not zombies,” I groan in response, unsure why my normally chill laissez-faire parenting style mother had been strained lately. “What now?”
Most of my life I spent barefooted, wandering in the neighborhood and tending the wildflowers, most called weeds, that we grow. Being raised by my best friend meant we’d never really had issues. That was until lately, teenage angst rearing its ugly head, only I wasn’t angsty. Floating through life, seeing the beauty in everything, even the oil slick on someone’s driveway that caught wonky rainbows in the sunlight. Negativity wasn’t me. I had to remind myself that everything in the world was off balance and no amount of chakra balancing was going to change the fact a shift changed the normally harmonized life I lead.
I’d had another night of pain, and the fact I hadn’t woken on my own should have been a sign to my mom that I wasn’t in the mood. Hormones were the first to be blamed, and as much as I didn’t want to admit it, they were part of the problem. She even had to move me to online school when I ended up missing so much because I was always sick, the mother opposed to all screens now had a daughter chained to one for hours on end every day.
There are times I wonder what is worse? The pain from unknown illness or the tests to try to determine what is wrong with me since her natural medicines no longer worked. At first, my mother coddled me, putting warm water bottles on my belly and telling me all about the joys of being a woman. Three to seven days of excruciating pain, all of which I was bleeding in a way most would consider profusely, all so one day I might have a kid, that’s not happiness. But it wasn’t as if my breasts were bursting from my chest, though there were days I could feel the pressure building behind the barely there mounds. My hips were still in line with my torso, so for me the joys of womanhood were off in the future and only a sign I could survive a minor stab wound.
“Why would you do that to your hair?” she exclaimed, and I finally opened my eyes.
I hadn’t done anything to my hair, instead I took the mix of herbal and over-the-counter pain meds and crashed before I even finished my paper. Pushing up from the bed, a darkness caught my eye. Actually, it caught in my eye, and I had to brush it away. Only it was morning. My room was east facing, and my hair was platinum blonde, practically silver, but as I held up a clump of hair, it was jet black. Staring across the room, a stranger was in the mirror. With dark eyes instead of light. My skin had a putrid, mottled complexation as if I’d been one of my mother’s clay sculptures.
“I didn’t do this,” I whispered because the words couldn’t push their way past my throat.
“Hair may darken over time naturally, Claire, but not go from white to black overnight.” She sat on the edge of the bed next to me and brushed back a clump of locks. “Let me guess, you didn’t like my date last night and so you decided to go all Emo instead of talking to me about it.”
While my mom’s taste in men was eclectic, there were few men, my father included, that didn’t leave a sour aftertaste in my mouth. I was her meter before I even knew the scale. She spoke to me about being an indigo child. Special ones placed on the Earth infused with extra abilities to sense others, like an empath on crack. For me seeing an aura around a person was as natural as eye color and what they were wearing. Only lately, I was seeing more than layers of hazy rainbows around them and the superpower of trying to root out crappy men had taken on a new level.
“Did he even come to the door?” I questioned, because I was lost in a paper last night and hadn’t so much as said hi to the guy. “I heard you leave mom, never even met him.”
“You didn’t?” she questioned. “Then why did you do this? Do you not understand the chemicals it will take to strip your hair back down? Where’s the box, maybe I can fix this.”
“I didn’t dye my hair,” I insisted, the pain in my belly ramping up and I scrambled from the room.
The shared bathroom welcomed me with fifties style tile and the lingering smell of eucalyptus hanging in the air from my mother’s morning shower. A swath of leaves wrapped around the shower head triggered by the hot water helped ease pain in muscles, even now the natural anti-inflammatory that absorbed a bit into me seemed to help a bit. Sadly, they weren’t helpful as the soup from the night before filled the toilet bowl as I clung to it. The soothing feel of my mother gathering my hair to hold it back as she rubbed circles between my shoulder blades warmed me even as my body was locked into a battle of good and evil.
Toxins I hadn’t even ingested poured out of my belly in hard, back breaking hurls. Acid burned along my throat as I wondered if this was the joy of womanhood? If so I’d like to check the return policy on all things uterus and fallopian related.
“You haven’t been—” my mother began. “Claire, please tell me you haven’t let any boy touch you. I’m far from being a prude, and you and I both know I have no issue with your sexual journey.”
“Mom, I’m not pregnant.” The words echoed around the bowl.
“Well, I saw that one young man, and he’s a man, not a boy, coming around the shop a little more than a man like that should. And men that look at girls like you—”
At the base of my neck, my mom’s hand was shifting back and forth with my hair tugging at the roots since it was still fisted in her hand. While it allowed coolness on my neck, it was the inspection going on that made me fear lice had invaded my scalp. My mother seemed to have reverted to monkey stage and was on the hunt for a good meal, her long nails scratching my head while she shifted my hair around.
“Claire,” she said, her voice unsure and possibly scared. “Um, are you okay?”
Turning my head slightly until I could make out my mother in my peripheral vision, the normally golden light around my mother had dimmed. Moving to the sink, I stood and rinsed my mouth out, snagging my toothbrush, I tried to clear the gunk from my mouth and establish what was going on in my disjointed day. The first was to actually open my eyes enough to see myself in the mirror.
My mother was hovering around me like an insect, trying to find the best place to land. Lifting my lifeless hair, the bright white was returning, if the heavy gray was any indication. The toilet coated with the nonexistent dye. Glancing to my right, I could see streaks of black, gray and dark blue mixed with chunks of carrot right before my mother flushed, as if clearing away the evidence of drugs.
“Claire?” she questioned again, my hair shifting in colors as her unease seeped into my joints and I was grateful for the mint in my toothpaste helping settle the rumbling in my belly. “I’m not sure outside of style wise how changing hair color is a superpower, but do you think there’s a chance you caught that thing going around?”
Moving my toothbrush around in my mouth, I used the time to take in what she was saying. Side chats with a few of the kids in my online school had spoken of it, even before I left real school, I’d heard kids joke about the changes happening. They were calling the kids affected aberrations. The infection was spreading and while they were narrowing it down, I was in that demographic. My age was right from the few cases I’d seen.
“It could be why you’ve been so sick, your powers coming in.” My mother’s blue eyes became brighter. Was it hope? Excitement? The promise of money?
Rinsing the toothpaste from my mouth I stared at myself in the mirror. My skin was returning to my normal color, or lack thereof unless I spent time outdoors. I didn’t freckle, I burned and learned early on my mother really should move us from the land of perpetual sunlight that was New Mexico. Sadly, that didn’t happen since the one thing my father could do was keep us trapped in the state as long as he paid his child support on time. Why, I’ll never understand, since he rarely showed up to see me. Rarely, but not never, he’d been over yesterday to see me. The dark cloud he brought with him made the crystals in my mother’s shop vibrate, though I’ve been told I was the only one who actually heard them.
He was the reason my hair was nearly white and my eyes the light gray. My alabaster skin was yet to be genetically traced since he usually sported a tan. The arguments for my need of fresh air and sunlight lost each time he brought them up with my mom mostly because I was a child of the Earth. Playing in the dirt, living with my toes curling in the little patch of grass in the backyard we over watered to keep alive. Climbing the rocky terrain when my mother closed the shop and splashing in pools of waterfalls. Outdoors was not the answer to pale, ghost like skin.
Reaching for a brush, I ran it over the tangled mess of gray hair. A rich, steel gray that was lightening with each stroke. Could I be one of the aberrations? What did that even mean? Glancing behind me, even in the mirror, I could see the golden glow around my mother returning. Like stardust had been sprinkled over her whole body and when I turned to hold her hand, she faded away. Not her essence, but her physical form. She became an X-ray, minus the bones. Like an outline with a bright glowing orb in the center nestled in her heart. Colors flowed through her veins and cracks were evident in the heart, its shape correct and not cartoon. At first, I wondered if it was vessels or arteries, but those were other places. What mesmerized me was the gold sealing the heart back together. Like those Japanese bowls, not tossed away, but melded with liquid gold, creating a more meaningful piece, one that had been destroyed once only to be put back together and made stronger.
“What are you doing?” my mother asked, yanking her hand from mine. “You were doing something to me weren’t you?”
“I was just looking,” I stated, unable to take a step back since I was already flush to our pedestal sink.
“Looking at what, Claire?”
“Your heart,” I said, unsure of what else it could be even though part of me began to wonder.
“My heart? My whole body numbed out like I just smoked Uncle Jerry’s weed.” Her brow knitted together and the gold around her flickered like a light about to burn out. “You’re one of them, aren’t you?”
“How would I know?” I questioned. “It’s not like we get a super-secret decoder ring the in mail.”
“You can’t tell anyone,” she said, the palm of her hand smoothing over my hair only to have her pull it back with harsh hiss.
When I turned to see myself, an imprint of her hand streaking down my hair was evident in a bright red streak.
* * *
5 Years later
Of all the bright lights I’d ever seen in my life, the one bursting from Lexus was the first to not only blind me but pull me in as electricity shot from her body like a star. While I knew she had the ability to harness electricity, even she couldn’t handle the latest weapon created by those hunting us, could she? We’d recently got closer and while I wouldn’t say she was a friend, those of us with powers had become a collective or team in a way. Having to fight for each other we tended to mob up. Like a family or team. You can hate your sister, but you’ll be damned if you let anyone else call her a name. It was us against the world, literally, and I was in the fight with only the ability to see souls as my power. That and my birthdate meant I was a viable target for those who want to either use us as weapons or kill us. There was no in between and right now, I didn’t know if Lexus was alive or dead, but others were.
Our so-called safe space on an island the middle of a giant lake in Canada had somehow been breached. Our shield of protection not enough to withstand the FT4Ks created by HUMCo, the company tasked with taming and tamping us down. Was this the moment by boyfriend Peyton Lark had envisioned. His ability to see the future a mix of blessing and torture. If so, this is where I die. He’d been trying to save me from this very incident. Training and foreseeing as best he could, but he couldn’t fight fate it seemed.
The blast knocked me off balance and I fell into another person, an elder, but one I hadn’t seen before. Only she shifted in a way, opening a slice in reality and I tumbled with her and Bernard. Putting my arms out, I braced myself to crash into the ground below me, only to feel as if I was falling like Alice to Wonderland. A hole with no end as the world in front of me flickered.
The battle raged on the field in front of me as I caught sight of Peyton, on the ground, struggling to pull himself toward me. Blood trickling from his ear, the light bit of black hair growing back in on his normally bald head. The deep umber of his skin glowing from the bright stardust aura he sported from his honest, loving soul. Dark pools, warm, not threatening, stared at me, willing me to move forward, but around my waist it was as if a rope had been wrapped and was pulling me backward. Back into the bottomless hole, things moving as if someone had slowed down the world to a snail’s pace.
Seasons passed before my eyes. The battle, more importantly, Peyton fading away as if time were passing backwards. Leaves reverting to buds, covered with snow, then dead leaves lifting from the grass to reattach to the tree and shift from rust to green, only to repeat over and over. Animals milling around on the ground, then disappearing, people moving like stop motion pictures falling from a file going back decades. Outfits coming from the past as skirts lengthened on the women passing around me, starched and hard, to long and flowing. Turning toward the building that I’d almost escaped into I saw Bernard, his eyes wild before he too vanished and my hands were curling into the cool grass beneath them as my everlasting fall finally landed.
The sounds of battle had been replaced with birds chirping and the splash of something in the lake nearby. My eyes darted around as I sat up and took in the building I’d been living in for half a year. Only it wasn’t old and crumbling. A fresh coat of white paint covered the brick. No chunks of concrete were in need of repair on the steps and what had been a shadow by the door of a plaque housed an etched metal plaque.
Morningside Sanitarium and Asylum for the Naturally Infirmed est. 1912.
Naturally infirmed? By the dock, the sound of a boat landing and people tying up the lines could be heard in the distance. Scrambling, I made my way inside. Seeing nurses in starch white dresses at the end of the hall, the sound of metal keys hitting against each other echoed down the hallway with each step they took. Cutting to the stairwell, I made my way to the third floor. My room, the one I shared with Peyton, the door wide open as I rushed in to see paint easels set up in a semi-circle with stools behind them. Gone was our bed, the couch, the oversized recliner and my hanging nest. No longer did the wall have screens hanging, and the countertop wasn’t cluttered with his keyboards and gaming controllers.
Everything had been stripped. Placing my hand over my heart, I struggled to find the air needed to breathe. I knew where I was. Of that, there was no doubt. The island, the building, the place I called home. Satori, only Satori didn’t exist because where I was wasn’t the issue. When I was, had me flashing back to Bernard, the traveler, the elder that could move between all time. Forward, backward, the whole thing making him an ADHD nightmare of confusion. Only Peyton said when he was with Bernard, he was incorporeal and when I placed my hand on the counter, I could feel every inch under my palm.
“Are you the new art teacher?” a slightly garbled voice made me turn on my heel. “I like your dress.”
A woman, probably in her early thirties with Downs Syndrome, stood before me. In a green sack dress with tiny blue flowers in a straight-line pattern, with her brown hair pulled back from her eyes by a barrette. Glancing down at my own outfit, I saw the protective suit Peyton had designed for all of us was gone and I was in the long sundress I’d been wearing. A timeless piece, outside of my bare feet, covered enough to not have this woman questioning me, standing in front of her.
“Thank you,” I said, swallowing back my fear at being discovered.
“They said the new art teacher just graduated,” she said. “I like art.”
“Me too,” I said, finding truth in this strange place. “Any chance they told you what year I graduated?”
The woman’s face contorted a bit in confusion at the question before settling in on a fact she knew. “I was born in eighteen ninety-seven.”
Well, that gave me some sort of landing point.
“I’m older than you,” the woman continued. “But I’m not in charge. Dr. Morningside is in charge. I’m Penny, who are you?”
“I’m Claire,” I said to the woman as movement caught in the mirror of the open bathroom of the room.
“Misses Claire?” the woman questioned as I moved toward the bathroom.
“Yeah, Claire Lawrence,” I clarified, the reflection in the mirror not matching the world behind me.
“Miss. Lawrence, not married, no married teachers here.”
“I’m not married,” I confirmed, though honestly, I wasn’t paying attention to the woman anymore as I saw Peyton in the reflection.
Strain and stress evident on his face as he stayed locked in looking directly at me. Only I wasn’t in the mirror. He was staring straight into his own face. Pressing my hand to the cold glass of the mirror, I began banging on the surface.
“Peyton,” I cried out. “Peyton.”
His face didn’t shift even as the mirror bounced a bit from my hand pounding against it.
“Oh, you’re from the other side,” Penny said, her face pained and hands fisting before she stormed from the room.
The other side? The other side of this mirror. The one where I could see the edges of my yellow nest hanging on its hook, the one where Peyton was in pain and I couldn’t soothe him. My life was on the other side of this wall.
“Art class?” the sound of a rough Scottish man’s voice made me turn to see Bernard, his wooly sweater and crazy hair on full madness as I ran to embrace him. Whole, real, able to bring me back to Peyton.
“Bernard, bring me back,” I said as I held him by the upper arms, only to have his eyes widen.
“I’m here to paint. What I see, what I don’t, the last teacher only let me paint what I see, but I like painting what I don’t,” he explained. “Will you let me paint what I don’t? Did she tell you about me? My name, you know my name?”
“We met, remember, Peyton is my boyfriend.”
“Boyfriend? I have friends that are boys. Boys, girls, a few that are dogs, but they don’t live long, not at all, not compared to me,” he said and I knew he was lost in his own mind.
“You brought me here, Bernard.”
“I did?” he questioned. “How could I bring you here? I was here, but I didn’t leave.”
“Bernard, I need you to remember the battle,” I said, the strain of plugging the holes of a Swiss cheese mind back together.
“Which battle? I’ve been to many, seen many, new ones, old ones,” he rambled. “Some on a field—there are men here that battled. I see it on their faces, the battles still raging even in the sunshine.”
Frustration made me turn back in hopes of seeing Peyton only it was Bernard, in a green sweater, not blue, rambling in the mirror. Bernard was speaking to Peyton, in the room, his hands flying like they did when he was trying to find his place, struggling to relay a very important thing. Something he was told that he needed to share.
“Bernard, what’s my name?” I ask as I whirled around to face him.
“You’re the art teacher,” he said. “New one, not old, I’m trying to say I want to paint more than what is in front of me. I need to paint the other things. The world is not limited to four walls.”
“No, it’s not, I’m Claire, Claire Lawrence,” I said extending my hand to shake his.
“I’m Bernard, Bernard Oxley.” His eyes settled a bit, the manic state gone for a fraction of a second as he stared at my hand. “It wasn’t always Oxley you know. We haven’t always needed surnames, they came with land. Claiming it, saying it’s yours.”
“You don’t want to shake my hand, Bernard?” I asked, hoping to see something, find something in his soul to guide me and allow me to help him find his place.
His eyes softened, glancing at my outstretched hand as his head slowly shook. A sheepish turn of his head downward, “A man should never take the hand of a lady. They don’t like it here, touching is bad. I’ve been here, I’m waiting. I’m supposed to wait for them to come. Are you one of them?”
“I am,” I said, dropping my hand to my side. “But I don’t come for a long time, and I shouldn’t be here now.”
“When is it?” I asked, praying he, of all people, could understand.
Bernard’s hand fished around in the pocket of his corduroy pants before he glanced over his shoulder to check the door to the room. Satisfied, he pulled a closed fist from the pocket and slowly uncurled his fingers to show the golden filigree ball containing a watch. I’d seen it with Peyton once and he explained it held the real time. The true time Bernard explained as he flipped the cage over the watch face. Second, minute and hour hands, I understood, but there was a small rotating dial I was confused by.
“The calendar is ours,” he explained. “Mine, the one most of the world agrees is right because we said it was, year and year and year. Hundreds, thousands of years we said this is the one. Not the others, others weren’t created by us. This one was and we control it. No, it controls us.”
“And it says?” I question.
His shoulders straightened and the normally fidgety elder firmly said the words that rocked me to a new reality.