The Soul Collector

The soft rain had stopped some time after midnight leaving only a sporadic errant drip from the swaying leaves overhead the shifting patterns of their shadows chasing each other through the shallow puddles partially illuminated by the gentle hiss of the magnesium street lights parading down 5th avenue giant sentinels blind to the shadow silently passing beneath them. He came this way often passing unnoticed by the brick alleys of the older apartment buildings fortunate enough to have survived the onslaught of the glass and steel of the high rise condos surrounding them on all sides, his purposeful stride belied by the vacuum of silence emanating from within the folds of his cloak. Three blocks down the gentle flicker and then darkness as the street light gives out altogether bringing him back to the moment and he whispers, “I’m here Jason.”

The bottle had slipped from the arthritic clasp of Jason Whitlock’s bony hands and its poison syrup mixed with the still wet residue of the early shower winds its way down the sidewalk to the anxiously waiting gutter. A gentle breeze picks up the brown paper bag releasing it from its most recent vocation; cast to the sky it twirls and dips before settling behind the stairs to watch the next scene in this macabre play. The darkness deepens and as he gathers the living spark that had once inhabited the rapidly cooling husk of Jason Whitlock he murmurs to himself, “long is the day, hard is the struggle…”  He had no recollection of where he had picked up the phrase, but it seemed to fit his purposes he muses already moving past the corner and crossing the avenue the street light sputters and hisses back to life behind him. How many more to gather on tonight’s journey he wonders pointlessly for he already knows the tally it having been calculated long ago and wasn’t he just the courier after all?

Picking up his pace he whistles some Duke, briefly amusing himself with an interlude between “Sentimental Mood” and his personal favorite “Jeep’s Blues,” as the street lights sputter out and hiss back to life the steel spires the only mark of his passage. The sirens wail fades into the night muted by the fog rolling in off the sound the red light’s prismatic flashing in the watery air bounces off the dark brick creating a kaleidoscope of shadows heightening his invisibility. For a moment he wonders why one so young and seemingly full of life but it passes quickly there has never been an answer for this particular question. “Be not afraid Marcus I am here for long is the day and hard is the struggle…” that refrain again why couldn’t he remember where he had picked it up. In the ambulance Jack Roberts continues compressions knowing he has lost the young man but unwilling to concede the moment. Marcus Jefferson’s fate had been sealed the moment the knife had passed between his ribs creating a three centimeter tear in the lining of his heart. It had rapidly grown to a point beyond repair and doomed him long before he had heard the approaching sirens lying there on the front lawn smelling the loamy dirt below him, the sweet fragrant firs swaying above him mixed with night jasmine a small smile playing across his lips Marcus can feel himself falling away. Picking his satchel up the collector whistles, the soft refrain intermingling with the wails of young Marcus’ grandmother and the receding siren, turning he heads up the hill two more stops tonight as the slightest line of turquoise forecasts the coming dawn beyond the Eastern hills.

He stands silently in the shadows of the parked cars the street lights having sputtered out as he had approached from further down the sharply inclined street never quite regaining their intensity as he maintains his vigil. He had found himself here every night over the past three weeks he could still sense the residual echoes of young Marcus’ soul where the young mans life force had bled into the spongy earth of the old row house’s front lawn. More curious than concerned he had been pondering why now, why this soul, why, why, why… As was usual there were no answers, it wasn’t his purview to understand or even question, but he couldn’t seem to let this one go. He had traveled these avenues and back streets for years without count, collecting the young, old, healthy, diseased, happy and despairing it had made no difference when the time came he was there to usher them through. He had heard their prayers, lamentations, curses, and pleadings all to no avail the inevitability of life’s transition spared none.

Slowly he walks down the hill toward the center of town a few more to collect this evening as he whistles softly in the falling rain. He passes within a few feet of Terry’s listless body, the young heroin addict was in his usual spot tucked under the 3rd Street overpass, tonight the Collector hesitates how is it this soul abuses itself every day yet lives on while young Marcus has already become a fading memory? These are dangerous thoughts, questions from the unquestioning, judgments from one who isn’t here to judge. A full stop now and unbidden comes his mantra “long is the day, hard is the struggle…” and with those simple words he collects the soul of Terry Parsons once of Davidson Oklahoma a small town on the banks of the Red River. Startled Terry feels his last breath escape him as he watches his crumpled body lying in the soft rain to be discovered by he knows not who but realizing in quiet desperation that most unexpectedly his time has come. The Collector turns picking up his pace he has a schedule to keep yet and he has not absorbed the full impact of what has just occurred.

The night hurries before the breaking dawn only minutes away as he makes his way uphill finding his path leading once again to the site of young Marcus’ early demise. Looking up he is surprised to find a collection of individuals arrayed across his path. Not concerned he continues on knowing that the mortals of this earth may sense him, but he exists in a different plane then their awareness can penetrate. Slowing he turns to gaze upon that verdant grass listening carefully for a whisper of the young man’s final vestiges of life. The hand on his shoulder is firm but somehow he is not concerned no it is almost with a long breath of relief that he hears the words, “long is the day, hard is the struggle…” and with a wan smile the Collector is collected.

About the Author

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Born in Manhattan in 1965 Joseph Castagno is the son of a second generation Italian American father. His mother’s family were mixed heritage people: Indigenous Haudenosaunee, French, some of the earliest Dutch settlers of the Hudson Valley. Growing up with such a multicultural heritage provided him with a view of both the immigrant experience, a perspective on the founding principles and ideals of the United States as well as the original teachings and ways of Northeastern Indigenous people. Having lived all over the United States Joseph has a broad perspective on US society and the variety of social values and customs that make up this great country. He currently resides in Florida with his wife Tammy, having raised four children they are now enjoying their grandchildren. Joseph has always had a passion for reading and writing and has published a number of articles in local papers and magazines. After a long career in healthcare he published his first novel “Jake” in 2016 drawing on his experiences and observations living in the Southeast and Florida. His current novel “Traffic” has just been published and he is currently working on his next novel and spoiling his granddaughters!

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Short Stories

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