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Soul Searching

My soul lies scattered around me in a trillion, tiny, unrepairable pieces. It glitters like the stardust it once was. Hands that feel as if they once were mine, hover over the shattered remains of me. I would cry if I could. An unhelpful thought. The only thing that keeps panic at bay is the fact that you need a soul to feel and mine is lying on the ground. Hollow. Phantom hands ghost over the shards as my dull mind tries to figure out how to fix this mess.

Candles burn, wicks crackling, flames flickering. Night stretches ever onward, yet time stands utterly still. Did I really think I could reach out and touch magic without being broken? Like Icarus I flew too close to the sun, wanting more than I should have. Wanting ruined us all in the end. It’s the taking that gets us by.

Why are souls so fragile?

He must have known that this would happen.

Memories well up and I let them overtake me. I was at a party. It was raining because it was spring and that was what always happened in spring. Wasn’t it? My dress was the color of rose-gold, it even sparkled…was it St. Patrick’s Day? I don’t remember.

The sun had given up on the day hours before. Streetlamps cast hazy shadows in the mist, and I was alone. I do remember that the dress was short and sleeveless, a stupid choice for a cold, rainy day in March. But that is all nonsense, no one needs to know anything about the dress except that it was supposed to make me feel beautiful, which it did until I ran into him around a dark corner on my way to the bus stop.

Vulnerable is a thing I only feel when he’s around.You see he and I are old acquaintances. He shows up from time to time to taunt and tease me. He can’t or won’t do more than that, but his dark humor and slipshod grins are enough to make any mortal girl uneasy, this one included. I once ran from an immortal thing, an action. you’d do well to avoid. It attracts their attention. Now I am always running from one.

That night in my rain-soaked dress I stared at my old friend. He had the charisma of a rock-star, the heart of a knave, and the face of an angel. All I had were goosebumps and a slight stagger—hardly a fair fight.

“Well met, Everly.” He drawled, all lazy-eyed and lazy-voiced. “A nice surprise running into you here.” His too green eyes filled with contempt as he took in the trash filled storm drain and flickering streetlamp. He belonged to seaside cliffs and foggy moors, not urban side streets.

“The surprise is all mine, my lord,” I managed to reply after a moment. The god had a name, several in fact, but it’s best not to use them. There is power in a name. He has enough.

He never has enough.

Eyeing him warily, I had tried not to think about my churning stomach and aching head. Leaning against a brick wall that smelled a tiny bit like summer, eyes closed, I silently willed him away.

This prayer didn’t reach him.

“You’ve donned too many sequins to be so civil.” With my eyes closed, I managed to hear the sneer he was surely wearing. The hypocrite. He likes shiny things you see. Maybe the sneer was aimed at my perceived civility rather than my outfit. Who knew. I pried open my eyes to look at my watch. I’d missed the bus.

“Maybe if you gave some advance warning of your impending presence…” I’d let the sentence drift off. I was tired and had certainly had too much to drink, and was now stranded, which wasn’t like me. I needed a clear head. Cognizance was required with him. His words formed puzzles, his sentences snares. He spoke in riddles that could twine their way around your life and choke it out of you. One could never be too careful when in the presence of his silver tongue.

“Ungrateful child,” he chided, mist glistening in his dark hair. “You never call me; do you know how many people whisper my name in the dark and never see my face?”

“Lucky me,” I replied, pushing away from the wall, and starting off in the direction of my loft, without another word to him. It was risky to push his buttons, but being one of his favorite playthings had its perks. As I turned a corner, I found myself standing on the balcony of the loft. The rails were slippery with rain that glistened in the light of the streetlamps. I didn’t bother to thank him.

“I realize that you believe your appearance to be an unaccountable honor which you reserve for a select few, namely myself, but—for a god—you sorely lack a basic understanding of certain courtesies. Such as advance warnings…issued invitations…” I pulled open the sliding glass door and stepped inside.

“I’ll bear that in mind,” his voice was close to my ear. The weight of his eyes traveled across the side of my face. “Everly?” His cold hand pushed my heavy hair aside. He wasn’t supposed to do that, I didn’t allow it. His touch was something I couldn’t bear. It felt too much like a wish, a dream, a rope from which to hang oneself.

“Yes?” My gaze had coasted over the dark interior of my own apartment, avoiding his. Black speckles shadowed the expanse of floor near the rain-spotted glass doors where the hazy light of the city poured into the room.

I hated it when he entered my apartment. It wasn’t big enough. The sight of him in the rough, industrial loft gave the impression of a poorly confined jungle cat. His eyes, when I finally had the courage to look into them, reflected the small traces of light, deepening the resemblance.

“Please, leave,” I had muttered, not wanting to sound too childish and failing.

“But I’ve only just arrived. You used to adore my company. Don’t you remember? You would tell me your stories, show me your treasures?”

True. When I was young and fearless.

I wobbled to a chair and dropped into it. Leaning down to remove my heels, my dark hair cascaded around my head forming an impenetrable curtain between his eyes and mine as I worked. It took longer than it should have.

“I cannot speak to you like this,” he complained.

“Then don’t, be gone. I didn’t want you here in the first place,” I’d answered.

The god preferred a sharp-witted, razor-tongued companion, though he’d hardly admit to it. His irritation was a tangible thing, sizzling in the air between us. Another reason to dislike his person in my apartment. His moods bounced off the brick, steel, and glass like ping-pong balls—well aimed ping-pong balls considering they always managed to hit me.

“I’ve come to warn you.” His cold voice slithered across the room, past the curtain of my hair, and into my ears. It is the type of voice that rarely concedes to resistance of any kind.

“Are you threatening me?” I’d straightened my back just enough to part my hair so that I could stare at him.

“Why would I do that?”

And, he was gone, the fickle creature.

That was nearly seven months before my soul-crisis. I am sure that he knew back then that I was in trouble. Perhaps, I should’ve been more cordial. Maybe then he would have supplied a warning I could’ve heeded. Arrogance and ignorance often play alongside each other in my case.

Part of my dull mind anticipates his arrival even now. Surely, he will appear to smirk at my predicament. The separation of my soul from my body and its subsequent dismemberment is a perfect opportunity to gloat.

I almost want him here. Maybe he can fix this mess. But I can’t call him. It’s one thing for him to come to me. He does so on a whim, and he loses nothing in doing so—but I can’t do as he does. I can’t call him; it will cost me everything. He will see to that. He has waited too long to catch me in his web.

Even though I name him friend, he has no interest in friendship, a lie he will not own, a truth I won’t accept. Now weak and broken, I wait. Reason is all I have, as the soul glitters on the floor around me. I need to fear him, to remember that he isn’t entirely what he seems. He is not to be trusted. Reason tells me there’s no other way, my heart, my soul, they would find another. But it’s hard to reach the heart without the soul. Besides, for a long time now the beat of my heart has been no friend.

Gods are predictable.

“What have you done?” He tsks from across the room.

“I can’t fix it,” my numb voice mutters.

“Truly, I’m impressed. What were you doing that caused such colorful chaos?”

“Listening,” I whisper.

“Reckless creature. There are things you shouldn’t hear.”

“I know, the darkness got a hold of me.” If I could speak as myself, I would argue. Who is he to call me reckless?

I am hollow. But so is he. Ancient and empty like a long-forgotten bell that aches to be rung.

Circling the scene, he says appraisingly, “And to what were you attempting to listen?”

My fingers gently caress a simmering bit of soul, a jolt travels up my arm. For a moment I feel something. “Everything. The voice of the wind, the silence in the storm, secrets wrapped in starlight.” A silly spell gone so very wrong.

His green eyes dance—gods like to speak of nothing better than starlight. “I’m sure.”

He moves closer, examining the fragments of me. I would feel embarrassed if I could. “I could have given you all of those things.”

“The cost would’ve been the same,” I reply.

“It’s beautiful, you know?” He extends one of his graceful hands, long fingers straying toward the loose mosaic. He stops short of touching it…me…and cants his head.

My drained eyes can only watch in muted fascination as that perfect hand floats above my poor imperfect soul. Its colors shift beneath him, I almost hear it singing, begging to be remade. Ringing, ringing, ringing. Two old bells he and I.

His pupils dilate like a cat’s do in play. Death waits in those eyes, or at the very least danger. Even as a shell of a person I understand, and nearly fear the look on his face.

“Are you able to fix it?”

“You know that already. What you mean is will I fix it without you asking me.”

“I can’t ask you for anything.” Reason relents a moment, maybe my heart is still fighting.

“You won’t ask me. There is a difference, child.” He withdraws his hand and moves away.

“What would I not give if only you’d ask. Even as a youngling I couldn’t lure you into whispering your wishes in my ear. I knew they’d taste of moondust and the dark places between the stars, yet you’ve denied me all this time.”

Wishes are treacherous things. They make us weak, but not this god who feeds on our hopes and dreams. How many people like me have starved trying to live on a wish?

He’s not going to relent.

In a moment his glittering eyes will be just a memory, his sharp tongue a relic. There’s no way I’ll get out of this alone. Either way I lose. And some small reckless part of me would rather belong to him than be alone.

“Alder?” Reason is done waiting for me, it silences my heart completely. Or is it my heart talking after all?


The word is nearly a hiss. His name works strange wonders. Alder King. Elf-king. Erlking. Sometimes Woden. Sometimes the devil. But Alder is the name he prefers. The first time we met, I was nothing but a child and he let me catch him in the woods by my grandparents farm with a plate of cookies and a chipped cup of tea. It’s still a wonder he didn’t lure me to my death that day.

Gods are not always predictable.

“Will you help me?” I ask the question. It rings like a hollow bell throughout the apartment.

“Of course. You had but to ask.” He removes both gloves, tossing them carelessly upon my bed. His agile movements are reflected in the mirror leaning against the wall in front of me. It should have been hung weeks ago. Candle flames flicker in his wake.

My own empty eyes stare back at me from beyond the glass. I haven’t changed position since it happened, since my soul shattered. It fell from me like crystal armor, and I haven’t shifted an inch. Somehow, I know that once those precious parts of me are brought back together and reunited with my body, they won’t be the same as they were before.

Silently, he kneels beside me, the faint smell of archaic magic drifting through the air. Alder gently, painstakingly, coaxes and teases the glistening shards together. It may take hours or days as his fingers, his magic, piece me back together again.

It hurts, being woven back together.

Every newly reunited bit is painful. By the time he is finished, I am stretched out across the cold wooden floor, panting in agony. My sweat drenched clothes cling to my skin. Alder stands silently to the side and every emotion that I associate with him rushes over me all at once. Fear. Distrust. Fascination. Desire. They all meld together, and I know he can read them on my face as clearly as he can read the lies of constellations and the secrets of trees.

Those eyes, the hungry ones, glare down at me. Normally, I would attempt to deflect that look, but he knows me from the inside out now. I can feel him yet, shifting through the pieces of me, discovering all of my secrets, dreams, and everything else a girl prefers to keep to herself.

Gods can be demanding, but so can wild young women.

“Tell me what you want,” he says, voice cold and eager. He already knows, he’s seen every substitute I’ve ever chased, every forgery I’ve sought, including the spell that nearly robbed me of everything. I had lied before when he asked what I’d done, I’d tried to tune out the call of the wind, the storm, the stars. I’d wanted to be a woman happy to put on a gold dress and drink within the warm bars with their buzzing lights and aimless chatter.

But there is nothing wrong with giving in, with taking what you want. There’s nothing wrong with letting go.

I pick myself off the floor, reach up and curl my fingers into his wavy brown hair, a thing I never let myself do, although I ached to. For so long, I’d run from myself, from this wild beating in my chest that sought dancing shadows and hidden places that existed just beyond the light. He was a slice of darkness, a hungry wind, a song sung by stars, and I wanted all of it, all of him. My own face stared back at me from the depths of his wild eyes. It was time to stop running from myself.

“I want it all,” I whisper in the space between us. “I want you.” The world so often tells people to take what they are given. To be happy in mundane and un-miraculous ways. Stay safe and tame. My soul reflects too much of his to accept that.

His smile is sharp and hungry when it comes.

Gods can be so smug.

C.D. Hunt spends her days doing market research while dreaming of starlit hollers and becoming a hedge witch. She identifies as Appalachian and spends most of her free time talking to dogs.

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