Ellen's Soul Quest

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: The Imaginarium

A scene from my WIP "Threeville." The protagonist Daryl, who is new to town, is in a pub with three Native Americans teens, trying to learn about life in Threeville. The topic moves on to their
soul quests, and Ellen agrees to share her tale.

Submitted: September 09, 2018

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Submitted: September 09, 2018



"I remember sitting there in front of the fire with my eyes closed, feeling kind of stupid. I was trying to control my breathing, in through the nose, out through the mouth... because they told me I was to "prepare my mind, body, and spirit." But, really, how can I "prepare my mind, body, and spirit" when I had never taken from the pipe before and I had no idea what to expect? So, mostly I remember feeling self-conscious. Like I was trying to watch myself have the experience and try to keep myself from doing something stupid."

"That's not exactly opening yourself up to the experience, like you're supposed to," Josh chided.

"I know!" she snapped. "But I couldn't help it. It didn't matter, anyway. When my spirit guide showed up, I must have been totally wasted, because I accepted it, completely." She took another sip of her beer.

"Spirit guide?" Daryl prompted.

"Yeah," she said. "It came out of the woods across from me, and stood there, looking at me for a minute."

"What did it look like?" he asked.

"Well it had a kind of ghostly glow, and it looked like..." Her brow furrowed as she searched for words. "You know those little drawings you used to do on the corner of your notebooks, and when you flipped through the pages of the notebook really fast, they look like they are in motion, like a crappy little cartoon?"

She looked around to make sure everyone nodded. "It looked kinda like that, except each image was a different animal. Bear, deer, hawk, wolf, cougar, mouse, owl -- all of them. All standing in the same spot at once, flickering. Looking at me. And when it walked forward to stand directly across from me, they all moved as one."

She took another sip of her beer as they all processed this.

"We stared at each other a moment," she continued. "Or maybe it was hours, I don't know, it was hard to tell. But I remember looking at my guide and thinking, "So now what?" But then I realized it was thinking the same thing. Evidently I was supposed to make the first move. So I stood, and said, `Let's go for a run.' And I took off down the Oakroot path as fast as I could."

"Oakroot?" Lily exclaimed. "At night? You could have broken your leg! Why that way?"

"I know that path," Ellen insisted. "I've run it in the dark. I know where all the roots twist and the holes hide. And I know that just past the worst of them, there's a good long smooth straightaway taking you to the top of the hill. It's a great place for a run." She glared a Lily as if to emphasize her point.

Josh smirked. "Sure, a great place for a run. Other than snapping feet off at the ankles and breaking legs in half, it's a great jogging path." He rolled his eyes as he lifted his drink to his lips.

Ellen turned her glare at him, but his expression remained mocking. "Okay," she relented. "Normally I take a flashlight and move very carefully past the oak trees before actually starting the run up the hill. It might be possible that the pipe clouded my judgement a little."

Josh put his drink back down to reveal the grin he had been hiding, and everyone had a short laugh that broke the tension.

"So, yeah," she said, "there I was, running down Oakroot as fast as I could go. And the spirit guide was running right next to me. Still glowing and flickering. It was distracting. A rabbit at full speed,  a horse bounding along, an eagle swooping, a snake slithering, all at once, keeping pace. But, not all of them were there. I don't think bear was there anymore, or mouse, a few others.

"But I didn't have time to study it, because then I got to the oak trees, and," she faltered. "I have no idea how I made it through. I remember leaping from root to root, as if that was a safe path. But," she looked at Josh, "you know that path. You know that wouldn't work, because the higher roots are thin or weak or twisted or just plain too far apart."

Josh nodded.

"But I made it through," she said. "With the guide bounding along right next to me. And then we ran together to to top of the hill. I ran as fast and as hard as I could, because for some reason I wanted to win. How silly is that? But we got up there at the same time of course."

"Not silly at all, I think," Lily said.

Ellen looked at her sharply, then nodded and lifted her beer to her. Lily tapped it with hers and they both drank.

"So there we are at the top of this hill with this magnificent view. And I looked around at the world and the moon and the sky. I don't even think I was winded, now that I think of it. So I'm looking around and waiting until finally I turn and face the guide again. It's still just standing there, doing its glowy flickery thing, looking at me. I was about to ask what to do now, when my stomach growled, so instead, I said, `Let's hunt.' And I looked around again, looking for prey, when I spotted a magnificent buck in a clearing past the hill.

"So I took off down the hill. Not as fast this time, because I wanted to be stealthy. The guide was still right next to me, although it didn't flicker as much. I didn't see squirrel or rabbit or deer that I remember. I guess I should have been annoyed at having a glowing thing next to me when I was trying to be stealthy in the dark, but that didn't even occur to me. Before I knew it, I was at the edge of the little clearing where the buck was. It was magnificent, at least a 24-point stag. It was angled away from me, from us, and didn't seem to have a clue we were there.

"I was crouched behind a bush, and I looked at my guide crouched behind another bush nearby. Somehow I just knew that it had the same plan I did: that when I leapt for the buck, it would strike from the other side."

Daryl raised a tentative hand. "Uhh, how were you planning on taking down this buck with your bare hands?" he asked.

Ellen waved the question away. "The same way I did everything else that night, I guess. Magically." Taking another sip, she continued. "So I crept forward, as close as I dared. When the moon came out from behind a cloud and made me and the deer and the whole clearing glow, I knew the time had come, so I leapt toward the stag."

All three of them were staring at her, hanging on her every word.

"And suddenly the stag whirled around to face me, and I realized that it was my spirit guide. I glanced around to make sure. You know, to see if it was coming out the other side of the clearing like it was supposed to be. But no. It wasn't the moon that was glowing, it was the stag. Facing me from a foot away as I stood there, half-crouched, ready to pounce. I was still hungry, but now I felt... thwarted. It made me angry. So I said, `Let's fight.'"

Josh choked. "You decided to fight your spirit guide?" he asked, incredulously.

Ellen blushed. "Yeah."

"Um." Josh seemed to be looking for a diplomatic way to phrase his thoughts. "I'm not sure that's how a soul quest is supposed to go."

She snorted. "No kidding."

Daryl noticed how she had become uncomfortable and embarrassed by Josh's line of thought, so he said, "Well, what happened?"

"Yeah," Lily interjected eagerly. "Did you fight it? Did you win?"

Ellen blushed even darker, and Daryl knew he had failed in easing her discomfort. "I sprang at it," she said in a small voice. "It lowered its head, and suddenly I'm flying into 24 points worth of antlers... or so I thought. I closed my eyes reflexively just as I hit... and gods did it hurt. All over. I was poked and jabbed and pricked all over, and a lot of them really stung. But there was nothing in my arms, nothing to grab.

"So I hesitantly opened my eyes, and," she took a deep breath, as one who knows her words are about to condemn her. "And discovered I had jumped headlong into a bramble bush. Branches and thorns stabbed me everywhere."

Josh whooped. "And that's why you don't pick fights with your spirit guide!" He chortled and tried to take another sip of his drink, but realized he couldn't while shaking with laughter, and put his drink back down.

Lilly's lips had quirked into a smile at first, but Josh's mockery irked her. She tried to meet Ellen's lowered eyes, and said as compassionately as she could, "And then?"

Ellen's gaze flicked up to meet Lily's sincere expression, then over at Daryl. The fact that he was still watching her closely and ignoring Josh seemed to steel her to finish her story.

"Well," she said, scooting her chair away from Josh to face them more squarely, "after I extracted myself, I was in quite a bit of pain. I limped out of the clearing to go over and hide behind a big pine tree. I sat carefully with my back against it, trying not to make a sound. It was hard. Everything hurt and I wanted to cry. And when I was finally seated and looked down at my stomach and arms and legs," she held out her arms and looked at them as if she could remember each mark, "with all the punctures in them, with the thorns broken off in me, dripping blood, so all of my skin looked slick and black in the dark...  I did cry."

Even Josh's expression became bleak. Ellen blinked away the memory and lowered her arms.

"I remember weakly reaching and trying to pull out a couple of the bigger thorns. Gods it hurt. But then there was that glow again, and I looked and there was a large cat facing me." Ellen's voice became stronger and took on a new note, one of wonder. "It was beautiful. It was everything beautiful in cats, all in one. It came to me, so carefully but so directly, as only cats can, and it licked each of my wounds. With each lick, the pain went away. And soon, instead of feeling wracked with pain, I felt a rush of relief. And freedom. And the cat curled in my lap and we fell asleep together. And I woke up the next morning in front of the campfire, as if I had never moved."

She finished her beer with a final swig.

"That is so amazing," Daryl breathed in awe.

"That is so beautiful," Lily said at almost the same time.

"That is so not what my soul quest was like," Josh stated.

Lily gave Josh a disapproving look as she asked Ellen, "So your spirit animal is a cat?"

In response, Ellen moved her empty bottle to the side. She stood, scooting her chair back with a loud noise that made everyone in the bar look in their direction. She leaned forward to place her hands on the table and did a little hop. She blurred.

Suddenly she was gone and a long, sleek cat was striding forward on the table. Its short fur was chocolate brown, and its eyes were yellow with gold flecks. It sat in the middle of the table, wrapped its tail around itself, and regally met Daryl's stunned expression.

"That is so amazing," he repeated stupidly.

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