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Soul Weaver

K.G. Jewell lives and writes in Austin, Texas. His work was once footnoted to a sentence cited by the Notorious RBG. His website, which is rarely updated, is lit.kgjewell.com.

I first picked up soul weaving at summer camp, when I was 13. At most camps, kids made friendship bracelets and lanyards. At Camp Anima, we made sprites, small ephemeral creatures that flitted overhead for a few minutes before sparkling away into the nether. My last year at camp, I won an award for the longest-lasting sprite of the week, a purple dragonfly that followed me to lunch. It lasted ten minutes, almost a camp record.
I remember that I asked Ms. Linda, the soul-weaving counselor, where they got the souls piled in the baskets on her craft cabin's shelves. She smiled, twinkled her eyes, and said they were collected from the rosebushes in headmistress' garden. They gathered around the blooming flowers, and the headmistress vacuumed them up for camp projects. I think I giggled.
It wasn't until years later, when I ran into a fellow camper at a market, that I learned the headmistress's garden abutted the state cemetery for the criminally insane. That put a new light on what we called the "screamers," sprites that shrieked and howled before exploding in a fiery ball. It was hard to make a screamer, but if you twisted two dark souls together just right, you could usually get one. Screamers didn't last long, but were popular around the Fourth of July.
My kids weren't interested in Camp Anima or soul weaving. They went to computer camp and science camp and space camp and never contemplated the fabric of moral existence as a non-metaphorical feature of life. I tried to teach them once, but they were so wrapped up in modernity they couldn't see the souls to weave, even when I placed them in their hands.
As my life progressed, soul weaving drifted away from my life, but when I moved into Lady Diamond's Retirement Acres (affectionately called Lady D's by its residents) it again became a daily activity. In fact, Lady D's had a competitive circuit, of sorts: a series of soul weaving exhibitions that cumulated in a special segment of the annual talent show. The winner won a decal of a golden sprite for their door and bragging rights for the year.
My first year at Lady D's, I was a little rusty, but I eked out a win by catching a fresh soul. A gentleman on the first floor passed away as I happened to be sitting outside his room. I caught most of his soul on a knitting needle and saved it for the pageant. Fresh souls last longer, a fact I'd heard rumored over the Anima campfire but never seen in practice.
I made the mistake of mentioning my trick to my roommate, and by my second year, word had gotten around. Now when a room was on deathwatch, a row of soul weavers sat outside the room, jockeying for position. In the qualifying exhibitions that year, a few sprites lasted almost half an hour, dancing and putting on shows. By the time the pageant rolled around, I knew I had to up my game.
At my age, your soul starts to fray a little around the edges. After a lot of trying, focusing, and meditating, I was able to work loose a thread of my own moral fabric. This grey thread wove right into the others I'd collected to make a sprite that sang, laughed, and most importantly, lasted almost three-quarters of an hour. And this time, I was telling no one my secret.
That won me the pageant the second, third, and fourth years. Life was good.
Last year, a new resident moved into Lady D's. A young whippersnapper, barely seventy, this resident had been soul-weaving for years. They swept the pageant, blowing me out of the water with a fifty-minute sprite. I was no competition, as my soul's threads grew more brittle each year and my sprites now shattered into stardust at the forty-minute mark. With my practiced eye, I could see the frayed edges of the newcomer's soul--they were using their own threads, younger and fresher than my own.
So I've spent the last year smiling at them, admiring their sprites in the exhibitions, and walking under the gold decal on their door on my way to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But this year, I'm going to win. I've got a new trick up my sleeve, or actually, hidden in a shoebox under my bed.
My eldest son brought my new granddaughter to visit last week. Cute little thing, crying and carrying-on in baby like ways.
My son never got into soul weaving--he is so wrapped up in modernity he can't appreciate the fabric of moral existence as a non-metaphorical feature of life. So he doesn't see the small imperfection in my granddaughter's soul, a slight tear that wasn't there last month.
But I can see and appreciate the glistening white thread now wound around a spool in the shoebox under my bed. It is beautiful. It's going to give me a record hour-long sprite.
And that is worth at least a year of bragging.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, December 5th, 2016

Author Comments

Summer camp culture is a special beast, with competitions and traditions that loom ever so important at the time, but soften and drift out of focus in later life. I like to hope I'll find a renaissance of camp songs and art projects in retirement--and late-night spooky tales, of course.

- K.G. Jewell
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