THE PROOF IS IN THE DETAILS
The two continued walking away from the arch and found themselves lost in a place of the Middle they had never encountered before, probably for good reason, too. It appeared to be a swamp-like area with pockets of tar everywhere.
“Watch your step,” Aiden grabbed Lydia’s arm just before her foot drudged into one of the black holes.
“Thanks,” she said back, slightly smiling but in her mind focused on what their next step should be. She spent the entire walk trying to come up with a plan but so far had nothing of note.
“I can’t seem to figure it out, Aiden. Where did Quincy go? We really need his help right now.”
“I know,” he whispered quietly, almost to himself.
“We have to turn around. This place isn’t going to spout any answers at us and we’re getting further away from that arch. I’m feeling weak too, Aiden. I’m not sure how long I have.”
Aiden just looked down. “Aiden?”
“Yeah, I know. You’re right. Let’s turn back.” The two turned around and as they did they noticed something in the distance. It was a man, a young man. A handsome looking man, but lifeless and cold.
“Caleb!” Lydia shouted and ran towards him without a second thought.
“Lydia, wait!” Aiden ran after her.
She couldn’t believe it. The weakness she felt left her and she was running faster than she ever had and as she got closer to him the alarm bells went off in her head as she realized. It was Caleb alright, but he wasn’t the same. She stopped in her tracks.
“Lydia, what is it, what’s,” Aiden stopped when he noticed. Caleb was a lost soul. Slowly drudging toward them with nothing in his eyes. Pale skin, old ratty clothes, and no recognition at all.
“I knew it,” she whispered. “I knew it!”
They started backing up. “You knew what?” They backed up faster now.
“Oh Caleb, I’m so sorry.” A sadness crept over her face as she realized she wanted to be wrong.
“They took him and turned him into this. Don’t you get it? He and that girl tried to make a break for the arch and now look at him! He’s a lost soul now! I can’t believe it. I was right. They aren’t getting lost, they’re getting taken. Aiden, we have to do something.”
“Lydia, what can we even do? It’s too late. There’s nothing we can do for him now.”
She didn’t want to believe Aiden was right but knew it deep down in herself that he was. What could they possibly do? They didn’t know who are what the higher power even was, how
they managed to strip the souls of their essence or even where to find them. The only thing they could focus on was getting to that arch because if they could do that, if they could become immortal, they’d have a real shot at finding out who’s running the show and how to fight back.
“We have to get to that arch and we have to do it now.”
They didn’t even know which way to go from there, but they sped past Caleb as if he was some sort of compass and hoped the direction in which he came was the right way to go. A surge more powerful than ever went through Lydia and she flew through the air and landed on her back 10 feet ahead of Aiden. He rushed towards her.
“Lydia! Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. No time, help me up, hurry!”
They got up and kept running. They ran through brush and forest and trees. And then through a field of high grass and immense fog. When the fog began to clear, they could start to see the faintest edge of the mountain. They made it back.
“There!” Aiden shouted, pointing in the direction towards the edge.
“I see it! Keep running!” They were stopped in their tracks.
“I see you have figured out the truth of the lost souls.”
He spoke in such a calm tone that it made her
shiver. How could he not be afraid that they would make it? Did he know something they didn’t?
“I’m not sure how you made it away from them all, but now they’re scattered across the Middle and we have you to thank for that. And no one is guarding the arch. No one except me that is.”
“And me.” A voice came out from behind a giant boulder.
Lydia’s eyes widened and Aiden’s brow furrowed.
“You traitor!” She tried to lunge at Quincy but Aiden grabbed her and held her back.
“Traitor? No. I’ve been on the same side the entire time. Care to divulge Dex?”
“My pleasure, Q.”
The two smiled at each other, fondly.
“You see, Q and I have been in the Middle for a long time now. We were like you once, newbies, so to speak. We arrived together after being murdered ages ago. We were exactly like you, actually. Soulmates who had found each other on earth. However, we lived in a different time you see. Our love was one that wasn’t widely accepted when we were living, and so our lives were taken from us after we failed to keep it under wraps. And that is how we ended up here, together. We didn’t have the same courtesy as Q and I granted you, being found and brought back to the castle, so it did take us much longer to discover each other here in
the Middle, and to discover that we could stay here forever, together if we chose to. No, we did that all on our own. Through searching and secrets, the same type of lives we had to lead on earth. When we did finally come to information, we knew that we had no other choice but to follow through. There was just one thing about that, the higher power tried to stop us too. And they failed. As you can see.”
Q walked over and entwined his hand into Dexter’s.
“When we made it through the Arch, we were met with a member of the higher power that was furious, to say the least.” He smiled. “And they gave us an ultimatum. Either we help them contain,”—Lydia glanced at Aiden in an I-told-you-so manner when he said contain— “the souls or they would banish us.”
“Banish you, banish you to where?”
“Now, dear, it’s rude to interrupt.” Quincy said amicably.
“We would have been banished outside of the Middle and left to roam the physical universe, searching for a new place to settle for all of eternity. And we decided together that the Middle had become our only home. With each other. The only place we wanted to be for all time, as long as we could be in this place together. And so, we agreed. If we could exist here in the love that we had for each other, we would help them keep control of the soulmates that wanted to become immortal. The job itself became rather hard to do, just the two of us,
so we had to implement some assistance, and that’s when the lost souls came into place. We didn’t feel entirely great about taking generally good souls and destroying them for our own need but what had to be done had to be done to keep the Middle what it is. We are in a state of preservation. The Middle is not designed to be a last stop you see. It is a stopover. And souls like you two are threatening that. I take on the role of ushering you in and Quincy here, my dear Q, takes on the role of the trusted confidant if you will. He keeps you on a short leash so that we can make sure the two of you are nowhere near that arch before at least one of you gets reincarnated. After that, it’s another lifetime of searching for the both of you. It would have worked too if he hadn’t led you down to the arch, but his quick control of the lost souls made it quite easy to chase you away.”
“So, you did that? You made them come up after us?”
Lydia couldn’t believe all she was hearing. She knew Dexter wasn’t who he said he was but Quincy, too? She couldn’t remember a time when being right made her feel so awful.
“I did what I had to do, dear.”
Aiden and Lydia just stood there taking it all in, holding on to each other. They weren’t letting go, not that easy.
“The fact that Caleb followed you all the way to the tar pits, well that, that must be a glitch in our lost soul system.”
Valentine laughed as if he had made some sort of joke.
“They are supposed to be unable to recognize or feel anything or anyone but he was the only one that continued out there, so we’ll have to look into that. You see, if every pair of soulmates came through here and discovered they didn’t really have to get reincarnated back into another life form, the Middle here would be quite crowded. And then where would all the souls who truly needed it go? That is why we need you gone.”
He said need you gone in a stern and vindictive tone as if any speck of friendship went out the window as soon as the words left his lips—if there was any there to begin with.
“As you know Lydia, I’m sure you can feel it, you will be reincarnated soon. And Aiden, soon thereafter. I’m surprised the surges haven’t hit you yet to be quite honest. You were the better of the two souls, but I digress. All there is left to do now is wait.”
Lydia tried not to take the jab personally as she scanned her memories for things that could have made her soul worse than Aiden’s. They were soulmates after all, so they had to be on the same page when it came to good and evil. She didn’t want to imagine not being with him, in fact she couldn’t even picture it. Not now, not ever. She wasn’t going to dwell on Valentine’s comments and she wasn’t giving up.
“If you think we’re giving up you are out of
your mind crazy,” Aiden scoffed at them. “We have fought long and hard to be standing here in front of you two, so hard in fact that we wouldn’t even be having this conversation if it wasn’t for how threatened you were by us! We are just as good as you two are and if you think you can make it to the arch and we can’t, well then, you are just wrong.”
He looked Quincy directly in the eye.
“And you, betrayer. You don’t deserve to be immortal. Neither of you do.”
He squeezed Lydia’s hand. She squeezed back and looked up at him with defeatist eyes.
“It’s not over yet,” he whispered, and motioned his eyes towards a clearing behind Dexter and Quincy.
Lydia just kept looking up at him, and as he tried not to be too obvious, she looked away and that’s when she noticed him. Caleb, slowly trotting in the distance. Could it be that he was coming to help them or was he still on the side of which he was brainwashed to be? She looked away quickly just in case.
“You know what I don’t understand Valentine.” Lydia said trying to keep him busy.
“What’s that Ms. Ashes?”
“Why is it that you think you and Quincy have the right to live out eternity with your soulmates, at the mercy of the higher power that is,” she looked up and raised her voice a little when she said that last part, “but Aiden and I don’t? What is it that you have against us?”
“Oh, Ms. Ashes. It’s nothing of the sort. We have nothing against you at all. We quite like you both. It’s that it is our duty to keep you at bay, just like I had said. We don’t always like the job we have to do but it was a sacrifice we were willing to make to be able to be together and keep each other safe forever.”
“So how many soul mates have you stopped than, 2, 8, 20, 100? How many souls have you destroyed in the process? The lost souls I mean, how many of them did it take to keep all those soulmates out at the mercy of the higher power?” She yelled mercy of the higher power again, as if she was trying to get their attention. “How many will it take before it destroys you?”
Valentine just stood there, silenced. He let out a sigh. “Well I guess Ms. Ashes, as many as it takes. Like I said, it’s our job to...”
She cut him off. “Just stop it. You two are evil. Bad souls.” She was pointing her finger and waving it around as one would do to a dog that kept chewing on the owner’s new designer shoes. “Bad, bad souls. And to think, the higher power trusted you to be their strong men, to keep things under control. That’s laughable.” She began to laugh, and laugh. “Do you hear that higher power? I’m laughing at you!” She laughed some more.
“Lydia, dear, I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Quincy said in warful tone.
“Well, the thing is Quincy, if that is your real name, I have just found out some very
interesting things about this here Middle, and I find them all quite funny. And you know what happens when something is funny? Laughter!” She laughs again.
Valentine and Quincy, with both worrisome and confusion on their faces, couldn’t possibly imagine what she was doing and why she wasn’t more afraid of her fate. And just as they turned to look at each other they saw two boney hands reach out and grab their shoulders.
“Oh hey, Caleb, thanks for showing up. And by the way, that was the joke. Tootles!”
She grabbed Aiden’s arm and they made a break for the mountainside.