← Back

Soul Searching

“Hello there, may I borrow your soul?”

The stranger looked at me expectantly. I swallowed. A dense morning fog blanketed the forest floor. I clutched at the wicker basket hanging from my right arm.

“I’m afraid it’s not for rent,” I replied nervously.

“I did not inquire of a rental, that wouldn’t do. I have but a few copper coins to my name and I have great need of them to feed myself tonight”.

He paused, plunging a feathered hand into his cloak and pulling out a scuffed pocket watch. He gave it a hasty glance, and thrust it back into his pocket.

“I need to borrow your soul, but only for a few minutes. I give my word that I’ll return it in perfect condition.”

“And how do I know you’ll return it? What stops you from running off into the woods after you’ve taken it? I’m not certain that you look like a man I can trust,” I ventured.

“What’s in the basket?” The stranger asked. He shifted all three of his twitchy eyes down to ponder the wicker in my hand.

“Nothing of your concern, but if you must know…apples.”

“Apples, delightful. May I have one? I haven’t eaten in days.” His stomach growled audibly, as if he had command of it.

I narrowed my eyes. “First you ask for my soul, and now you require my apples? I’m not feeling so charitable today. Please allow my passage, and find some other sap to pester.” I took a few steps forwards, planning to side step him. The stranger matched my movement and blocked my path.

“I am in dire need of a soul, and I’m not sure that I’ll chance upon another man of your quality. If I fail to acquire a soul before sundown, I’m as good as dead. Help a brother out, I’ll repay you kindly.” His voice cracked, and he seemed on the verge of tears.

My mother warned me never to do business with a Leyeth. Born into poverty in the darkest and most unloved corner of the great forest, they often grew to favor thievery as their primary occupation. Despite their reputation, I felt sympathy for them. Ugly creatures, with feathered arms and three squirmy eyes. Many of them attempted to remove their feathers by plucking them out one by one, but they always grew back. They were not welcomed into any upstanding section of the forest, and there was little they could do to mask their own unsightliness.

After a few moments of deliberation, I reached into my wicker basket and unearthed a small round green apple. I extended it to the Leyeth.

“If you must,” I said.

The Leyeth extended a feathery arm, and accepted my gift with a grotesque but genuine smile.

“Thank you kindly sir, I will relish every bite of this treasure. It’s so beautiful, is it magic?” he asked.

“It is not magic, just a regular sour apple I’m afraid. First of the harvest.”

The stranger sunk his canines into the crisp fruit. Tart liquid dribbled down his chin, which he lapped up with an abnormally lengthy tongue.

“Now, may I be on my way? I must deliver the rest of these apples before sundown.” I stated.

The Leyeth paused his chewing and rested his triad of eyes on mine. They unnerved me, and I felt a bead of cold sweat squeeze out of my temple and trickle down the side of my face. I inhaled deeply and put forth my best efforts to maintain a semblance of confidence and composure.

“So you will not allow me the use of your soul? As I said before, it would be apart from you only a moment. I will take good care of it, you have my word.” The Leyeth folded over to present me with a courtly bow.

“As much as I would like to help you, I cannot part with my soul. It is my very essence. Without it I would likely perish. A soul is too great a gift to ask for, I am sorry. You have your apple, please allow me to pass so that I might complete my delivery. I wish you the best of luck in your soul search.”

The stranger released a dispirited sigh and stepped aside to allow my passing. I bathed in my relief. Treading the soil path carefully, I plodded past the stranger and journeyed deeper into the woods. I did not look backward at the Leyeth, despite being awash with the intuition that I should.

A handful of minutes passed. A dark premonition wormed through my mind, and I shivered in the mist. I stopped, gripping my basket of apples, and slowly turned around.

There was not a creature in sight save for a small blue bird pecking at the soft earth. I held my breath, listening for the sound of movement but heard only the low croak of toads singing praises to the woods from their muddy pockets.

I relaxed my tensing muscles and started slowly down the path again. I reached into my basket and retrieved a small brass flask. Perching it on my lip, I tilted the flask and took a long, slow drink.

Moments later I viewed the forest through three eyes instead of two.