None of them are easy. Scooping up a soul just as it leaves the body is never a task I relish; it’s just the task I was assigned. Some are reluctant but accepting; some kick and scream as I cut the strings; some relish the deep sleep of Death as they throw themselves willingly into my arms. Watching the looks of horror, or quiet acceptance, or sometimes even grim happiness, that follow as I carry the dearly departed to the next world are never a comfort to me. None of them are easy.
But there was one that shook me.
She started out just like all the rest. I heard the call and swept to her side, ready to slice through the bonds between soul and body, ready to escort her unborn spirit to the dim, faded fields of eternity. She didn’t fight me. No, if anything, she cozied up in my arms as she felt blindly beneath my cowl, trading the warmth of the womb for the warmth of Death. If they die early enough, there’s not even a soul to take. Just the mother’s tears or her thin, set mouth of an unhappy decision. Most of the unborn are calm. They don’t know what’s happening; they can’t speak or cry out against me, and even if they could, why would they? They just know there’s the same comfort in my arms as there was in utero.
But this little girl, this unborn, nearly faceless child, with lips just beginning to form, she turned to me and opened her eyes, blank little eyes without pupils or an iris, without color yet in them. They saw nothing, but they saw me. If I had a heart, it would have skipped a beat. If I had breath, I would have held it as I waited for her tiny judgment. As I pulled her brand-new, just-formed soul from her mother’s sick, sleeping body, she turned to me and spoke in the way only an infant can speak.
They do talk, sometimes, in their wordless way, not the way the older ones do or the way the adults do. They don’t try to reason with you–they can’t. They don’t have reason, yet. They don’t bargain or plead or argue or even say Thank you or Where is Mommy? I’m afraid. They just speak with their tiny little souls, still practicing, still learning how to feel, their emotions now useless in the empty expanse that is Death.
I forgive you, she said, as I cut the last bind and her little soul fell into my arms.
In all my millennia of work, no one has ever said that to me before.