Literature 5-12-2008

miniStories: “Souls ’08” by Elizabeth Noll

Read "Souls '08" by Elizabeth Noll, a miniStories winner selected by novelist David Oppegaard.


Souls ’08

She swung back into the cab of the semi, shouldering the souls over to make room. She shifted into gear and maneuvered onto the frontage road, leaving behind the white lights of the diner.
     Once they were on the freeway she relaxed a little bit and cruised the radio channels, finally settling on classical to take her through the wide blackness of the Kansas night. Should’ve bought a slice of the cherry, she thought.
     She used to carry kisses, but they made her lonely and jealous and the energy level was frenetic. With souls it was comfortable; even mellow.
     The road was absolutely straight. Some drivers cursed Kansas, hated it, refused to take the Dodge City run. Claimed it was worse than Nebraska. Like Bill. His eyes narrowed and his voice got louder, and words tumbled out one over the other. If he got really excited he’d slam the table for effect, sloshing the coffee if they were in one of those tiny old cafes with uneven floors. It made her laugh: Bill with his elegant, slender hands and the genteel curve to his back, acting like a roughneck.
     With a soft shuffle the souls rearranged themselves. The cab felt bigger. She looked around but could see only a few far-off lights that could have been anything. They were always stressing how the souls didn’t necessarily leave anyone or arrive from anyone in the immediate vicinity. But she thought that might be just so much management bullshit, to make sure the drivers didn’t start thinking they knew what was going on. It might get dangerous. What if you were driving through a town where you knew some folks and there was a big blow-in? You might get worried, drive in and check things out, which was forbidden. Not that you could do anything anyway, which some drivers never did seem to get. Too late, once they’re in. Not like you could take them back to the right bodies. She smiled grimly at the thought.
     Once she took on a hitchhiker just to see the reaction, even though it was against the rules. Man was she shocked when the boy threw his bag in and sat right down as if nothing was there. She had to work at not staring at him, her astonishment was so keen. He had no idea there were hundreds of souls inches from his face and hands, scurrying to get out of the way when he got dramatic. Watch the road, she had to tell herself. You’ll make him nervous if you stare.
     After she let him off, it occurred to her that he might have been a test. Maybe they were trying to figure out if she could handle the rigors of the road. “I can!” she’d yelled at the windshield and the sky beyond—on that day a stunning blue with faint white streaks you could barely call clouds. Somewhere in California. Golden rolling hills, just like in the song.

About the author: Elizabeth Noll lives in Minneapolis with her husband, son and two cats.