Halloween 2019: Souler

Sunset painted the sky in pink and gold. The air was crisp and clear. Stars would shine tonight. It was All Hallows Eve and the villagers were preparing. As the sun settled below the horizon and dusk gathered, so did the people. From each house they came to the village green. Among the members of each household, one wore black from head to toe, save for a white silk sash pinned from left shoulder to right hip. Each carried a small woven basket draped in black cloth. The people walked from their homes to Main Street, where those clad in black stopped while the rest of the villagers continued to the green and lined the cobbled path that bisected the green expanse. They waited in silence.

As the dark grew deeper, the wooden doors of the single church at the end of Main Street opened, spilling yellow lamplight onto the steps. The minister walked out of the church, followed by the choir. All wore black robes and carried lanterns with lit beeswax candles inside. The choir was singing a quiet lamentation. As they passed, those waiting along the street fell into procession behind the choir. When they reached the green, the choir stood off to one side, still singing their quiet dirges. The minister stood at the entrance to the green and the basket carriers lined the path across it.

They waited. The only sounds were the soft harmonies of the choir and a gentle breeze whispering through the autumn-tinged trees. The choir finished their song and were silent. There was a movement just outside the path where the preacher stood, a shimmer in the shadows gathered in the night’s darkness. A figure emerged, hooded and cloaked in white save for the black sash crossing from right shoulder to left hip. There was no clue who or what was under the hooded robe. It carried an iron-bound box. It stopped in front of the minister, who bowed in greeting and made a blessing over the box. The figure nodded its head once and moved around the preacher to the first of the villagers holding a basket.

The black cloth was pulled back, revealing a round, flat cake studded with raisins lying in the basket. The hooded figure opened the wooden box and the cake was lifted out of the basket. The villager carrying the basket held the cake over the open box.

“Dormit in pace, Margaret Sweeney,” he said. The cake glowed from within as it was laid gently in the wooden box. The hooded figure bowed its head and moved to the next basket. The ritual was repeated for each cake. It was lifted from the basket, a departed loved one was named, and the soul cake, glowing softly, was laid into the chest. Some of the cakes had so many raisins, it seemed more fruit than cake. Others held fewer.

“Dormit in pace, Roger McNamara.”

“Dormit in pace, Henry Lancaster.”

“Dormit in pace, Sara Dennon.”

The figure reached the last basket in line. After the last soul cake was laid in the box, it started to close the lid, and stopped. It turned back to the people gathered along the path. No eyes or other features could be seen under the hood, but everyone felt the intensity of its stare. No one moved until a soft voice from among the villagers spoke.

“I can’t.”

The hooded figure moved back along the line. It stopped and held up the open box. The minister, who had moved from his place at the beginning of the line, reached out a hand.

“Anna, it’s time.” A small woman stepped out of the crowd. She was wearing black but had no white sash. One hand was clasped to her heart. There were tears in her eyes as she looked up at the minister.

“I can’t,” she whispered again. “John last year, and Emily now. I can’t bear to part with the only thing I have left of her. I can’t.”

The minister set a gentle hand on her shoulder.

“Anna, you must. You are her Souler. It is the only way for Emily to have peace. You know that. Her soul cake must go with the others. This is the only night it can be done.”

Anna shook her head. “How? How can I do this? How did you let Linda go so easily?”

The minister looked down at her, compassion written in his gaze. “It’s never easy, Anna. But I could do it because I knew she was going Home. She would have peace and live in light and love. If you keep Emily here, she will never know that Love. Let her go, Anna. Let her Live.”

He reached out and drew her hand away from her chest and gently unfolded her fingers. The soul cake inside was small and studded with only three raisins. The minister lifted it gently.

“Dormit in pace, Emily Norton.” The soul cake lit with a golden glow as he lowered it into the box with the others. The hooded figure closed the box and turned away. It strode down the path across the green. As it receded in the distance, the air shimmered around it and it was gone. The choir began the lamentation again as the villagers processed out of the green and back to their homes. Only Anna was left, gazing down the path where the hooded figure disappeared.

“Sleep in peace, my angels.” She looked up. Two stars appeared, side by side in the night sky.

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