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Soul Power: (A Short Story)
We enter the story at the point of the year 1956, mid-Summer sometime, in Cleveland, Ohio. Even so, the man had turned HIS thermostat all the way up, put on the fireplace, shut the windows and door to this room, and arranged lighted candles around the room. HE had eaten a dozen red jalapeno peppers to warm up HIS insides. Comfortable, feeling at home just then, HE stripped and sat on the rug in the middle of the floor.
HE is seated in the classic yoga lotus position. HE is cross-legged, doing it the hard way, with HIS right ankle on HIS left thigh, and HIS left ankle on HIS right thigh. HIS back, neck, and head are all in perfect vertical alignment. Nice and easy HE has brought HIS breathing to a rhythm and depth that is the bare minimum for survival. HE has cleared HIS mind of all thoughts save one; and for all HE'S worth HE focuses on HIS navel.
HE is trying this because someone told HIM that yoga would bring HIM inner peace.
Although HE doesn't have to, HE has taken to eating and sleeping at regular intervals, going through the motions of mortality, in the hope that one day they won't be mere motions. "How many... How many souls... How many souls until I am forgiven?" HE thought.
HIS name is Tarrance Braeden. At least that had been the alias of the man whose soul HE swallowed. HE'S been doing this a long time. When HE swallows a soul, HE becomes a doppelganger of that person. In this way, HE'S been both boys and girls, men and women, all people who had forfeited their souls by committing wicked acts of horrific, gratuitous violence. If they weren't going to use their own souls to better themselves, HE damn sure was.
HE'S been a bad, bad yoga-boy. HE seems to have lost track of HIS navel. However, a thought -- a minor revelation really -- has just occurred to HIM: Angels are not good; they're just scared. Because they are immortal, they are afraid, afraid to sin, afraid that as immortal beings their sin will stick to them for all eternity. They're afraid that they will never be able to get away from it. They are afraid, therefore, to truly live.
For this reason they do not live, but merely serve. HE had once been a member of their order. But like the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow from The Wizard of OZ, HE had wanted something different, something better; HE wanted to be something different and something better.
When HE visited the Earth, HE tended to find employment with organized crime. HE liked the Mob. HE understood them. HE and the Mafia shared many of the same long-term goals. They both traverse a sticky path on the way to redemptive transformation.
At any rate, Tarrance Braeden has earned a starting spot, so to speak, as a member of the notorious Moe Dalitz-run Mayfield Road Gang. HE is a "made" man in the Mob, having explained that he had Anglicized his name from the original Tarrantino Braettonini, so that HE could be accepted as a full-blooded Italian.
Braeden had "made his bones," as it were, in impressive fashion, and He had continue to pile up those bones with a ruthlessness and efficiency that had inspired the admiration of the Cosa Nostra's most hardened killers.
HE made a fine living, never wanting for money. Through loan sharking, HE had captured ownership or controlling interest in dozens of lucrative businesses. In this way HE could, and did, appease the Internal Revenue Service by giving HIS occupation as "entrepreneur," or "business owner."
Other than the killing, HE kept HIS nose clean. HE wanted no part or profit from the major vice crimes like narcotics or prostitution, because HE could think of no way to disguise them. HE also backed away from the loan sharking, which was HIS custom once HE'D established a solid, passive income.
Extortion was okay, provided the target was a big enough a**hole, and it was feasible to disguise the money HE would collect as "business consulting fees." He stayed away from kidnapping. Why bring down the wrath of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose director was doing them all the favor of denying the existence of the Mob?
Yes, life--or, at least, this rich simulacrum--is good.
HE opened HIS eyes. Time to make the donuts (actually, a bakery was one of the businesses he owned). HE had work to do. Donuts have a hole in their middle. When HE tells HIS crew that it's "time to make the donuts," HE means that its time to put a hole... or ten, in a guy. In other words, its time to do a killing.
HE stood up, put on a robe, and returned the house to normal. He took a shower and changed into a gray pinstriped suit that a banker would wear. HE was rolling a long cigar between his thumb and forefinger as HE was leaving the house. HE ran the length of it beneath HIS nose. A Cuban. They really were the best.
HE carried matches for the sake of appearances, but, of course, HE didn't need them. HE put the cigar in his mouth, and with barely a mental flicker, the end erupted into a precisely controlled spontaneous combustion.
HE was puffing like a chimney by the time HE got outside and into HIS cherry-red, big-finned, boat load of a convertible.
HE carried car keys as well, also for show. HE merely placed HIS hands on the steering wheel, "And away we go!" HE willed the radio to come on, and, "I got soul," HE declared along with James Brown, face contorted, "and I'm Superbad."
There was a small matter HE was obliged to take care of. HE is on HIS way to a woodlands cabin, which HE and HIS crew used as a kind of safe house. They called it "The donut shop," where the bloody donuts were made.
HE arrived screeching, "I may not do the dance, yeah, as well as you. But you can bet your bottom dollar, you'll never hear me holler. I'll do the best that I can do," once again agreeing with the Godfather of Soul, who had taken up another exposition.
HE approached HIS men whistling the tune, "He's a jolly good fellow." HE dismissed the men guarding both the outside and inside of the house. They could leave the prisoner inside to HIM. HE didn't want anyone else around. HE could take things from there.
HE went into the back room of the cabin, where the prisoner was being held. HE whistled the "which nobody can deny," part of the song, entering the room, screwing the silencer onto his gun. HE was a cheery gangster.
The prisoner has his hands bound behind his back. A tennis ball is stuffed into his mouth, secured there with duck tape. His ankles are bound together, and the entire package is suspended from the ceiling, around the ankles, with a chain, his head floating about six feet above the floor.
"Hi, Joey. How's it hangin'?" HE asked.
HE put the gun back into his shoulder holster, and removed a small, sickle-shaped knife from his pant pocket. HE cradled Joey's head lovingly with one hand, while waving the knife before the prisoner's eyes.
"Now Joey, I need some information from you; and if you make me mess up my new suit, I'm gonna get sore."
Joey turned out to be a lot tougher than he seemed.
He held out.
Our Mr. Tarrance Braeden got successively meaner and dirtier.
Joey made HIM work for it.
HE messed up HIS brand new suit;
and HE got sore just like HE had promised.
The procedure took a long time because
HE had deliberately limited HIMSELF to mortal means of interrogation.
HE clasped Joey by the head and
sucked the soul out of his body.
The transfer looked like a blue vapor.
HE fell to HIS knees in the familiar convulsions of transformation. As usual, too, the torment of recall invaded HIS brain, forcing forth images of the red, horn-headed, tail-whipping, winged beast, standing over a cauldron of fire.
"No," HE said, "no I won't go back. I won't... I won't...
Once HE had concluded HIS changes and self-pitying wailing, and most of HIS usual angst that accompanied these transformations subsided, HE went upstairs, showered, and changed HIS clothes.
HE grabbed some kerosene and poured it all over the inside of the house, taking care to saturate the dead, hanging body. HE lit a match and put the place to blazes.
HE is driving away, now, whistling Dixie.