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The International Writers Magazine - Our 21st Year: Decisions

Turn Right at Souldrop
Gareth Draper

Jeremy slammed on his brakes as he approached the disused petrol station that stood by the side of the road on the left, narrowly avoiding the crawling car in front. The seemingly eternal road works, on the right side of the road opposite the petrol station, had backed up the morning traffic as usual, with a filter lane through which cars shuttled back and forth at the swivel of a stop-go sign operated by a slightly bored looking fluorescent-jacket clad road worker.

The narrow miss put a shiver down Jeremy’s spine. He must have lost his concentration for a moment. He smoothed down his tie as he crept along to the bored road worker, who swivelled the sign from a green ‘go’ to a ‘red’ stop. Jeremy looked at the man with ‘why me’ exasperation, even as he tried to twist his jaw in an unnatural way. There was a strange muted quality to the world, much like he had water in his ears. When the sensation wouldn’t disappear, he probed the depths of an ear with his little finger. He froze in his efforts when he noted an odd glint to the road worker’s eyes. At just the same moment, the man flipped the sign and directed Jeremy quite emphatically down a right turn he’d never paid much attention to before. Confused, he looked at the man one more time, saw his nod of ascension then turned the car right.

He sped up along the road, the car jolting when it found the occasional pothole and kicking up a good amount of dust. Either side of the road stretched out in sandy flats as far as Jeremy could see and he had travelled for about half a mile before he thought the man had directed him wrongly. There was no other traffic on the road either in front of behind and Jeremy didn’t have a clue where the road led.

Just as he had decided to turn around however, he spotted a small gleam of sunlight hitting metal. He squinted to make sure it was real, then turned onto a dirt side road, heading for the light. He pulled up in a rough car park outside an even rougher, dilapidated looking building. The windows were boarded up, the doors chained and what looked like a sign, faded now beyond recognition, sat sadly above what Jeremy guessed to be the main entrance of an old club or bingo hall.

Jeremy got out of his car and stepped slowly towards the building. The almost forgotten panic once more settled in his stomach, coupled with an anxious curiosity that bred indecision. Before he could investigate however, one of the main doors of the building screeched open to reveal a white clad gentleman. The chain that had been thread through the handles slid clinking to the ground, where the man picked them up and shook them gently. They had not been padlocked.
‘Mr Jeremy Batteson?’ he asked, turning his attention to Jeremy.
‘Yes?’ Jeremy replied, confused.
‘Would you follow me, please?’
‘Why?’ Jeremy called from his position by the car.
‘If you would just follow me Mr. Batteson, you’ll find out everything inside.’
‘Umm ... okay, I guess.’ After a moment, Jeremy left the safe vicinity of his car and followed the white dressed man inside. Over the threshold, he gaped in surprise. The condemned look on the outside gave way to white corridors as crisp as the man’s uniform with other people similarly dressed leading men and women that looked as bewildered as Jeremy himself felt.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said to his guide after taking a left onto a corridor that looked exactly the same as the previous one. ‘But where are we going?’
‘To see Dr. Sanders,’ his guide replied.
‘Who’s Dr. Sanders?’ They stopped outside one of the doors that lined the corridor at even intervals.
‘He’s the one who will help you.’

Before Jeremy could ask, the man pushed open a door and gestured Jeremy inside. Feeling more than a little unsure, Jeremy stepped in and took a seat. The room was as white as the corridors but with a warmer glow of yellow lamp light. Soft jazz was playing over hidden speakers and the chair Jeremy sat in sank comfortably. None of it quite got rid of the nervous feeling in his stomach but the edge had fallen away to leave room for more familiar feelings of inevitability.
Others were sitting in the waiting room with Jeremy all, sunk into their own chairs a little further than the chairs themselves might have permitted.

The jazz music filtered in, lulling Jeremy into a half doze, much like he often found himself in at work, so that he couldn’t have said how long he had been waiting before his name was called. The announcement made him jump and he smoothed the ruffles out of his brown suit jacket as he stood.

The lady that had called his name smiled and directed him from behind a white counter exactly like a pharmacist’s, through a side door. She had a youthful face, her black skin smooth and peaceful, but there was something about the careful way she walked and her slight heaviness that told Jeremy she was probably older than she looked.
‘Where are we going?’ he asked her as they walked down yet another corridor.
‘To see Dr. Sanders, dear,’ the woman called over her shoulder. ‘He’s right down the corridor.’

True to her word, a door appeared at the end of the corridor with "Dr. Sanders" in black letters on the frosted glass pane. Beneath the name read "Souldrop Senior Consultant". Jeremy had no idea what that meant.
His new guide knocked twice and opened the door. ‘Jeremy Batteson for you, Dr. Sanders.’
‘Of course, Lily, send him in.’
‘The doctor will see you now, Mr Batteson,’ Lily smiled up at him. She took his hand and gave it a slight squeeze. She had sadness in her dark eyes and pity on her face. Jeremy recognised that all too easily.
‘Umm ... thanks.’ Jeremy watched Lily walk away before going through the door. Dr. Sanders was a grey haired man, with stylish glasses and a white lab coat. He wore a light blue shirt with a lemon tie, much like Jeremy’s own. His lined face looked very much like someone’s favourite great uncle, patient and firm.
‘Hello, Mr. Batteson. Please ... take a seat.’ He gestured with an open palm to a chair positioned in front of the heavy desk behind which he was sitting. Jeremy sunk himself into a chair just as comfortable but firmer than the waiting room chair. ‘So,’ Dr. Sanders said. ‘How can I help you?’
Jeremy sat silent for a stunned moment.
‘Umm, well, maybe you could tell me why I’m here,’ Jeremy said. Dr. Sander’s strong features showed a brief moment of surprise before mimicking the pity on Lily’s.
‘Ah, I’m sorry sir, usually the orderly would take that responsibility. He must have been in a bit of a hurry to get you here.’

Jeremy hadn’t been called ‘sir’ in a long time. The doctor took his glasses off and cleaned them on a handkerchief. He slipped them back on and sighed a little, a small movement of his wide shoulders.
‘Well,’ he began, and then stopped again. ‘You know, I’ve explained this place so many times and it never gets easier.’ He leaned forwards, resting his forearms on his substantial desk and lacing his fingers together.
‘The name of this place is Souldrop,’ he started again. ‘We are ... a business I suppose. A ... messenger perhaps. You see Jeremy, can I call you Jeremy?’
‘You see Jeremy, we are a collection service, you could say. Collection and redistribution.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Jeremy said. ‘But I don’t understand.’

Dr. Sanders stood up and walked around behind Jeremy’s chair in his office space. Jeremy turned to watch him. ‘Please, allow me to try and different explanation. You see, Jeremy,’ he said again. ‘We know quite a lot about you here. We know where you live, where you work, indeed, what you had for dinner last night.’ Dr. Sanders indicated a small file on his desk.
Jeremy frowned a bit. ‘Have you been spying on me?’
‘We spy on everybody, Jeremy.’
Jeremy’s eyebrows shot up.
‘That road man, out there opposite the petrol station, works for us. He was told to look out for you this morning.’ Dr. Sanders turned to face Jeremy. ‘Would I be right in saying that you found it hard concentrating this morning? And that it felt like your ears needed popping?’
‘Well, the reason for that is ... is because you are in fact still at home.’
‘What? I don’t understand.’
‘You are still at home Jeremy. You never left for work this morning. You are still sitting at your small kitchen table with your head in your hands.’

A brief memory of a very despairing feeling fluttered in Jeremy’s stomach and a flash of his old 1970’s style kitchen before his eyes.
‘May I ask,’ Dr. Sanders continued, ‘how would you describe your life, Jeremy?’

Jeremy looked at Dr. Sanders with confused anger. He opened his mouth to tell the older man that his life was none of his business, but the words died on his lips. The last fifteen years came to mind and Jeremy was slightly ashamed at the fact that those fifteen years could be seen so quickly.
‘I ... I don’t know,’ Jeremy said.
‘I didn’t mean to embarrass you,’ Dr. Sanders said, embarrassed himself. ‘But there is reason I ask. You see, these are desperate times, Jeremy. Resources are running out and our job, which as always been important, has become vitally so. Allow me to explain. Every human is born with a level of potential. Some Jeremy, spend all the time living up to theirs. Most of us don’t use all of it, the busy nature of life always giving us some reason or other to put off learning another language or taking that art course.
‘What we do here, Jeremy, is deal with those who still have a lot of potential left.’
‘And that’s me?’ Jeremy asked slowly.
‘Yes Jeremy. Today that’s you.’
‘What does that mean?’ Jeremy asked.
Dr. Sanders sat back down and looked through his glasses with such deep sorrow.
‘It means, Jeremy, that you have a choice.’
The doctor took a deep breath. ‘We would offer you the chance to go back and fulfil that potential. It comes at a price, I’m afraid. Using so much potential after having it long dormant is much like a fast burning candle. Your life perhaps wouldn’t last beyond a few more years.’
‘What’s the other choice?’ Jeremy asked after a few moments of absorbing silence.
‘We ... take your potential and offer it to another.’ Dr. Sanders pulled a second file from his desk drawer. ‘We try to find those who perhaps didn’t get a lot to begin with and give it to them, someone who with it, may be able to help. The next world leader, a budding scientist who needs just a little push. The potential is what makes up the soul, Jeremy, the soul is what fills the body. It’s why those who haven’t perhaps used so much feel a bit empty, a bit lonely. We get very few people who choose to gift someone else with their potential. We always try to – unofficially of course – persuade people to go out and enjoy a few good years themselves. But it’s always the ... sadder parts of life that get noticed. And it is unfortunately the smallest part of our business here that has given us our name. ‘

‘So, you’re saying that I now have to make this choice?’ Jeremy questioned. His irritation had quietened and the resignation was settling in again like a blanket on his shoulders. ‘I’m sorry Dr. Sanders but this is a lot to understand.’
‘We know Jeremy. It’s so very hard to tell you all you need to know. We try to offer you as much time as we can but you have to understand also Jeremy that your body, back at home as it is, can’t survive very long on its own. I wish there was a way to give you more time and more of an explanation, but as it always is Jeremy, the things we need the most are the things we sadly lack. However, you do have a small amount of time and I urge you to take it all.’

Jeremy sat without a clue of what to say. He felt his mouth working with no sound and his mind just as blank. ‘Could,’ he managed after a few minutes. ‘Could I perhaps have a little alone time, Dr. Sanders?’
‘Of course, of course. Please make yourself comfortable here. I can go and do my rounds. I’ll be back later on.’

Jeremy watched Dr. Sanders head out the door of his own office, leaving Jeremy alone there. The information Dr. Sanders had given him was very troubling and hard to digest. But instead of focusing on the decision at hand, Jeremy found himself thinking about his life. He tried to think of the good times he had had, the laughing ones that made the harder ones tolerable. But Jeremy couldn’t find any. Try as he might, he couldn’t locate the last time he had smiled, or the last time he had gone for a drink after work with a close friend. There was only one real memory for Jeremy, one that played out every night with him arriving home from work to an empty house and spending an indefinable time from waking to sleeping before heading to bed early so that he could make it through work the next day.

Another slip of time had gone past him when Dr. Sanders returned to the office. Jeremy had been staring at the second folder he had put on his desk before he’d left, not looking inside but trying to guess at who might be in there.
‘Jeremy?’ Dr. Sanders said gently.
Jeremy looked up at the doctor who had managed in a smooth and unnoticed way to slide his way back behind his desk. Jeremy looked back down at the folders, the second one in particular.
‘Do you think … Dr. Sanders … that there is something more?’ The doctor looked at Jeremy with those sad, kind, uncle eyes.
‘I’m sorry Jeremy, but I can’t answer that. We are an earth-based agency. Many people have faith. Faith comes from not knowing something but believing it anyway. There are of course so many but they do all have that in common.’
‘Do you have faith, Doctor?’ Jeremy asked. Dr. Sanders smiled at him, but said nothing more. Jeremy returned to the folders.
‘I think maybe, I have made my decision,’ Jeremy said. Dr. Sanders sat down in his chair and laced his hands on top of the two folders. He looked at Jeremy and nodded twice.

© Gareth Draper 2009

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