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Andy Tu
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feedmemysoul.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2016

Feed Me My Soul

Andy Tu

 

Daniel was walking home when he noticed the shop on the corner of the street, the front door cracked open and a glow of blue light trying to escape from inside. He’d never noticed it before, even though it sat there between the ice cream parlor and bookstore, which he passed every day to and from work.

A curiosity drew him near that windowless place, the only sign of a merchant inside being the words etched into the wood above the frame: For Purchase, or Trade.

He glanced around at the people enduring the winter fog, scarves wrapping their necks and arms around themselves. Yet a line stretched outside of the ice cream parlor; a mother and daughter left with cones in hand, licking the chocolate swirls as if it were a warm afternoon. There was something queer about it all, and it seemed like he was the only one who could see the shop on the corner, as those who passed behind him did not even glance over.

He went inside. The blue glow persisted, reminding him of one of those brothels on the other side of town that informed you of its seediness by covering everything in a shade of color. It looked more like a garage sale than a shop: items were spread across long, wooden tables that had been set up in the middle and along the sides with no regard for convenience of browsing. A woman with pitch-black hair sat on a stool in the far corner, her body angled at the door and a smile on her lips, as if she’d been waiting for someone to come in. Daniel expected her to say something—welcome, maybe—but she just sat there.

“Hi,” he offered, but she did not respond. Strange place, he thought. You could always tell what kind of items a store sold by the characteristics of its owner, just as you could tell the temperament of a dog by its master. He was about to turn right back around to leave when among the jumble of picture frames, jewelry boxes, lamps, and figurines, something caught his eye—a radio.

It had no numbers on it, just a single dial that glinted in the blue light. Two antennas perked up its sides like bunny ears. Strange, but unique.

“This radio here,” he said to the woman. “Why’s it have no frequency measurements?”

Still she did not respond.

“Excuse me!” he said, wondering if she were pretending not to hear as some sort of joke (even though her eyes seemed to be on him). “How much for this radio?” He picked it up.

“Ten dollars.” The voice came from where the woman sat. But her lips did not appear to move and it sounded like that of a much younger woman’s, high and mouse-like. Daniel took a step around the table when the voice said, “Please, sir, you may take it and leave the money on the table. I’m sorry but I have a fear of proximity. You see I was mugged and thus I’m prone not to trust anyone, especially as the lad had asked for the time and all seemed well until he kicked my shins and stole off with my watch!”

Daniel could swear her lips still hadn’t moved. But it was somewhat dark, and he didn’t feel the need to press further, so he turned around and placed ten dollars on the table before leaving with the radio in hand.

“Thank you, sir!” said the voice as the door closed behind him.

In his apartment, he plugged it in and began turning the dial. All was static for a while, until he heard a voice softly singing.

Embers to ashes…

The voice was familiar, but he couldn’t figure out who it was.

This home that burns into hell…

“Breaking news! Fire has broken out in City Square! The roofs are ablaze as store owners rush out with merchandise and families head for Lilac Park. The city is warning everyone to stay away, and to not approach even if you have family and friends there, as this will only congest the roads and make evacuation impossible. The fire is being put out, so please do not panic.”

City Square! What were the chances? Where the shop was! If he’d lingered around longer, perhaps he’d be surrounded by flames! His heart began pounding as he went to the other side of his room and peered out his window. But he saw no smoke, no glow of fire, no one in the streets. The station host had said to not panic, but he fully expected people to be fleeing their homes anyway. A chill wandered in through the window as if to confirm the idleness outside. The radio had gone silent.

It was that woman! Or whoever was in that shop, hiding somewhere! A prank! He put it together then: whoever they were, they had rigged this radio to pick up a signal only they controlled. And he was the fool listening.

He’d worked himself into a sweat, and so unplugged the radio and went into the bathroom to wash off his face before crawling into bed, hearing the faded voice of that song in his head—embers to ashes… Still, he’d go to the shop tomorrow, stomp toward the lady, and weasel out the hidden rascal behind the tables and inform them of the seriousness of their hoax.

Throughout the night, he kept waking up, disturbed by a sound that seemed to disappear the moment he listened for it. Eventually he became annoyed enough to get up and examine the radio once more.

There was no slot for batteries, and the surface was completely smooth without a single nail. Nor was the case two halves glued together, but a single piece. How the hell did they make this? He began turning the knob.

Help… me…

He froze and brought the radio to his ear. No other sounds came. Another gimmick of the radio? He wouldn’t be fooled again. He took the radio to the kitchen and set it in the cupboards above the sink, returned to bed, and finally fell asleep.

 

Daniel left for work fifteen minutes early so that he could give the pranksters a little lecture. But the door to the shop was closed. And the words that had been etched above in the sign—For Purchase, or Trade—had disappeared. He knocked. And waited. Knocked again. Waited. Until he remembered that mousy voice that had caused such commotion within him about the fire that he reached for the knob and turned it on the chance that it was unlocked, which it was.

“Forget manners,” he mumbled, going in.

“Hello?” he said. It was dark, without that blue light from yesterday. Dust sifted into his nostrils and throat. He coughed.

“I just want to talk about an item I purchased.”

His eyes adjusted to the outlines of the room, seeing only as far as the dawn light entered from behind. The tables lay before him, still placed inconveniently for anyone to pass to the back of the room.

“Hello?!” he yelled, demanding a response.

He saw a flashlight on the table, picked it up and turned it on; pointed it around the items on the table, then to the corner where the woman sat yesterday, and there she was! Her legs crossed, hands folded on her lap. That fixed smile! Daniel jumped back and felt pins pricking the insides of his skin.

“You there! I know about the radio, what it really is,” he said, making his way through the maze-like spaces. “It’s not funny, you know. Someone could have a serious fright hearing things like that.”

Still no response.

“Woman! Do you hear me?”

The door slammed shut behind him.

“Holy Hell, this is not funny!” His legs began trembling, as did his hand, which shook along with the flashlight and the spot of light on the woman’s frozen face.

“Oh but it is!” said that voice.

“Where are you?”

He saw a glow of orange on the walls in front of him and felt a heat rise from behind. He turned around and saw flames spreading, swirling and engulfing the tables.

Daniel pushed away the tables between him and the woman and ran to her face, throwing his hands wildly in front of her. But like a damned gargoyle, she did not move.

“No way out now,” said the voice.

He saw an opening in the wall behind the woman, a passage barely lit by the encroaching flames. He rushed inside and found himself descending stairs, the growing heat pushing him down as the light faded.

“Whatever this is, whoever you are. You must know, the police will come!”

He continued his descent as the darkness became darker and the air chilled on his face like cold rain. All was silent except for his footsteps, until he heard something and saw a light below.

Embers to ashes…this home that burns into Hell…

The light below did not grow as he took his steps. His legs did not tire, either. And those lyrics kept singing, looping over and over as time seemed to slow and fade toward eternity.

Feed me… feed me my soul…

He tried to yell; but only a whisper escaped, barely emerging through the chords of his throat.

Help… me…”


Andy Tu is currently living in Colombia to redefine his writing and himself. His past publications are in Apocrypha and Abstractions, Heater, The Literary Commune, and a bunch of others!

In Association with Fossil Publications