“The Soul Box” – A Short Story

This isn’t the kind of post I usually make on my blog, but I thought it best to promote my new project as much as possible – I wrote a short story!

It’s a story about grief and loss, with a few sci-fi elements thrown in to keep things fresh. You can buy it on Amazon here.

If you’re still not sold, I’ll even give you a taste of the first few pages for free. Enjoy!

(As a quick disclaimer, I’ve tried my best to format the book in the WordPress engine but there’s only so much I can do. If you don’t like this humungous wall of text, the kindle version might suit you better.)

1. Home

My Dad died last week. It was a quick affair. We were told he didn’t feel any pain. Frank Sewell was hit by a truck in the late hours of Wednesday evening, exactly a week ago today. His life left this world at precisely 10:27 p.m., and the soul left his body.
At least, that’s what I’d like to think.
The rest of my family cried at the funeral. Especially Mum. I’ll admit that I was close to shedding a tear or two when Uncle Jack told a moving story during the ceremony, but mine were the only dry eyes in the room. Except the priest, of course. After so many funerals, I wonder if he even has the capability to cry at all.
When we got home from the service, I immediately set to work. Most girls my age would be holding tea parties for their dolls in their free time, or catching up with their Maths homework. That was what a normal ten-year-old girl would do, I think. I’ve always been different. I excel at Maths and the Sciences, like my Dad before me, and always finish my homework within minutes. And tea parties aren’t my style. I’m far more interested in the fascinating world of invention.
You see, I have a theory. When a person dies, they haven’t truly gone. People always ponder the philosophies of life, and what it truly means to live. Their answer is always the same. I don’t care for that part – my theory is more focussed on the aftermath of death. The fallout. When the body perishes, the soul lives on. At least, I really hope that’s true.
But where does a soul go? Would it wander aimlessly through the clouds and stars, a wisp of a whispered memory in an ever expanding universe? Or would it do the boring thing and go home? My guess is the latter, but I won’t be able to say for sure until this contraption works.
For the past week I’ve dropped all of my ideas and inventions, shoved all of my blueprints and homework into my desk to make way for my magnum opus. I’ve exclusively toiled on my new theory – a lost soul is a tangible thing, something that can be interacted with.
And if I can interact with it, that means I can capture it. That means I can talk to it. That means I can give it another chance of life.
I call this invention of mine the Soul Box, my most complex design to date. It’s a large metal contraption, something akin to those gaming consoles from the 90’s, with its very own voice interface. There’s a plethora of dials and wires on its surface. Some deal with the technological side of things, whilst others deal with the more ethereal concepts. I’ve programmed a stress meter for the front screen – a simple traffic light system – capable of monitoring the irritation of the soul I’ve trapped. The last thing I’d want is for the soul to be uncomfortable.
My Dad, Frank Sewell, is probably floating around my head as I make the final touches. You’ll be home soon, Dad. We can finally say our goodbyes.
I install the final feature – the kill switch. Once we’ve said our farewells, or if my Dad’s soul is in agony whilst trapped in the Soul Box, all I need to do is flick the switch and the contraption will terminate. With nowhere else to go, the soul will simply return to whatever aimless journey it was previously undertaking. In theory. Oh god, what if it gets trapped in an endless prison? No, my design is perfect. It’s only the theory itself that hangs in the balance.
This is it. The finished Soul Box lies in front of me, my perfect invention. There’s nothing else I need to do. I’m desperate to find another addition, anything to postpone the activation, but I draw a blank. I suppose it would just be best to get this over with.
Dad, if you’re still out there, I need you now. I need you to come back to me. I need us to say our goodbyes.
I turn the Soul Box on. It’s powered by renewable energy, so it will never die. Unless I terminate it manually. It shudders into life, sending tremors through my desk and into my floor before it stabilises. Hopefully that didn’t wake Mum up.
Nothing happens at first. The stress meter on screen remains colourless, and white noise blares from the voice interface. Is my box faulty? Is my theory flawed? Why am I even doing this in the first place? It goes against every law known to man to trap a soul in a pathetic little toy box …
A voice groans. I stumble back from my desk in surprise. It’s a faint and mechanical noise, nothing like what Frank Sewell used to sound like. I can adjust the volume and tone of voice later. Dad? Is that really you?
“… Dad?” I ask. “Are you there? Can you hear me?”
“Urgh …” The voice continues to groan, like a ghost from a horror movie with a piercing headache. It’s a garbled sound that blends with the white noise. The stress meter on the monitor flashes yellow – not bad, but he’s not living in comfort either.
“Are you okay? Do you want me to –” I freeze, a lump blocking my throat. I’ve rehearsed this meeting in my head a thousand times. This is the part of the experiment where I’ll ask Dad if he’s okay, or if he wants me to … pull the plug. Now that the Soul Box is in front of me, now that my Dad is in front of me, back from the dead, I just can’t bring myself to say it.
If I flick the kill switch, I’d be killing Frank Sewell for a second time.
He’s not screaming in agony, so he’s probably fine. I imagine it’s not the first time I’ll be telling myself that today.
“Are you there, Frank Sewell?” I ask again. “Dad? It’s me, Abby Sewell. Your daughter. Say something!”
“Ab … Abby …” the voice gargles. I adjust the volume and tone, and the white noise all but disappears. “Abby … Are you Abby?”
“Yes! Yes I am!” For the first time since my Dad’s death, I wipe fresh tears from my wet eyes. “I thought I’d lost you!”
“Abby …” The voice is crystal clear now, but it doesn’t sound like Dad. It’s a generic, vanilla male voice that every adult on the planet seems to have. That’s the best I can do with this voice interface, unfortunately.
“I just wanted to say goodbye,” I bawl, forcing the words out. “We miss you very much! It all happened so suddenly. I only wish we’d had the chance to say a proper goodbye while you were still –”
“Where am I?” Dad interrupts. The stress meter slowly morphs from yellow to red. He’s panicking. If I let him panic, he’ll ask to be terminated. I can’t let that happen.
“You’re in my bedroom,” I reply, trying to sound as calm as possible despite my racing heart and buzzing headache. “You’re in the Sewell household, on Grove Lane. You’re home.”
“Home …” This seems to calm him down. The stress meter reverts to yellow. I exhale in relief.
“Yes, home. I managed to invent a machine that could bring you back – you always said Science Camp would come in handy one day!”
A pause. I lean forwards in anticipation.
“Who am I?” he whimpers.
I didn’t think a single question had the power to crush my soul. I sink back in my chair. My shoulders sag, deflated. I want to cry, but I’m all out of tears. I’ve trapped a poor soul, my own Dad, in a metal box, and he doesn’t even know who he is. He’s home, but he’s never felt so far away. What have I done?
“W-What do you mean?” I ask, biting my lip.
“I-I’m sorry, Abby, but I don’t know who I am. I don’t know who you are.”
At least he’s being honest, I suppose.
“Your name is Frank Sewell. My Dad.”
I stroke the Soul Box, reminiscing about all the times Dad used to joke with me. He’d always pull my leg, pretending not to know the basic science behind my latest contraption. I knew he was lying, of course, since he was the smartest man I knew. It didn’t seem like a joke this time.
“I … I see,” Dad replies. Hardly convincing.
That’s when it hits me – I’ve seen documentaries of amnesiacs on TV, their memories wiped by horrendous head injuries. Mum says I’m too young for those types of shows, but I have to grow up at some point, don’t I? Their families would spoon-feed them all the wonderful stories of their lives, take them to all the places they used to visit, and on miraculous occasions the amnesiac would start to remember again. It was most likely all a load of rubbish, a simple ploy from TV networks to rake in viewers, but I was romanced by the idea.
I’ll take Dad to all his favourite places, remind him of all the wonderful things he accomplished in his life. I’ll teach him how to be Frank Sewell again.
Our farewells can wait.
“Why don’t I help you?” I propose. “Let me take you to all the places you loved in your life, and maybe that’ll jog your memory. I’ll answer all of the questions you may have. How does that sound?”
The flashing green light from the stress meter already tells me his answer.
“Yes … That sounds nice. I would like that, Abby.”

Copyright Matthew Edwards, 2023

And there you have it – the first chapter of my short story! I promise you, it only gets crazier (and sadder) from here. Once again, you can buy the book on Amazon using this link.

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