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Seeds of the Soul Flowers

M.K. Hutchins often draws on her background in archaeology when writing fiction. She's the author of the YA fantasy novel Drift, and her short fiction has appeared in Podcastle, IGMS, Fireside, and elsewhere. This is her eighth story to appear in Daily Science Fiction. A longtime Idahoan, she now lives in Utah with her husband and four children. Find her at mkhutchins.com.

Babies born without souls didn't live long. Amma's great-grandson, with only half a soul, didn't look like he'd do much better.
"Is there nothing you can do, Amma-mer?" Vette asked, cradling the child against her chest.
Amma couldn't answer that, yet. "Let me hold him."
Vette placed the listless boy into Amma's arms. The child felt light as cottonwood fluff. He cracked his eyes open--the window to the soul. His were clear orbs, showing red and blue veins tracing back into red cords of muscles.
But he had eyes. The start of a soul.
"He won't eat, Amma-mer." Vette's voice was as soft as a shadow. "Even if we spoon milk into his mouth, he thrusts out his tongue and it dribbles down his chin."
Amma bent her head down to his, breathing in the scent of his soft skin, and feeling the tenuous hold his half-formed soul had on this new, perfect body.
It felt very much like the shaky way her aging, crumbling body clung to her robust soul.
"Is it my fault?" Vette asked.
"Oh, Vette. Of course not. It was the fire, eating up all the soul flowers."
Vette wasn't soothed by that at all. "Maybe if I had rested more. If I'd sung to him more -- if I'd eaten more bone broth...."
Amma handed the young woman back her babe. "Hold him and love him, and save such unfounded thoughts of grief for another day, when time is not so precious."
Amma headed toward the door.
"Where are you going?"
"To see what I can do."
Mothers did the hardest work, bearing children, nursing them, hauling firewood, cooking, and scrubbing out the hearth. Grandmothers kept a watchful eye over the little ones and spun and stitched. Great-grandmothers, those who remained, tended the soul flowers.
Younger women rarely asked about the flowers. It wasn't the sort of thing they needed to know, yet. Just like a small child doesn't ask about how to help a babe through teething. Or a newly married woman doesn't ask how to bury her husband, if he should die first.
The village was content to let the women who lived to such an old age wander the woods and rest beneath the trees, as they pleased.
And that's why no one had been as horrified by the wildfire as Amma and the three other great-grandmothers of the town.
Ash eddied around Amma's feet as she walked into the skeletal remains of the wood. Her bones felt as brittle as the burnt-out sticks littering the ground.
The village men had dug a ditch line and saved the village. If they'd made it a dozen feet further out, they'd still have a few flowers. But no one remembered old wives' tales in times of crisis.
Amma pulled out a pocketful of seeds. She'd spent the last five years of her life, ever since little Davi was born, walking the forest and finding just the right spot to plant more flowers. Flowers with pale leaves and purple velvet petals.
They should have grown some in pots. Marini-mer had started that, now. But her new flowers had barely sprouted, and Vette's babe wouldn't last more than a few days if he couldn't eat.
Amma knelt in the ashy dirt. Finish making his soul, she begged the seeds.
When she held them in the sunlight, she could almost feel their thoughts.
Before they could help her, they'd have to take the light of the Sun--the radiance of the greatest Soul alive--to make their flowers and leaves. Only then could they spin sunlight into new soul-wisps for the unborn.
"My soul is strong and vast," Amma whispered. "Instead of waiting until you can weave sunlight, take a part of my soul and give it to him."
The seeds refused. Such a vigorous soul would overwhelm the child.
She stared at the light shining across her hand. Sunlight became leaves. Flowers became souls. Light and physical substance were the same. Souls and bodies were the same.
"Take my worn-out body, then, and fashion him a soul out of it. Surely the wisps created from something as weathered as my bones would be softer than flannel, and fit right into the babe's half-formed soul."
The seeds burst to life in her palm, their tiny roots digging down into her skin.
The villagers never did find Amma, but the other old women knew what had happened. They saw the story in the unscathed meadow of soul flowers in the ashen forest, and in the baby's deep brown eyes.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 30th, 2018

Author Comments

I was lucky enough to know all four of my great-grandmothers. The last of these amazing women died the day after my first child was born. Sadly, they never got to meet. But I like to think that there's still a connection between them--between that tiny, new baby, and that woman with her lifetime of wisdom. My children only know my great-grandmothers through stories and photos, but I hope they never forget the remarkable people who came before them.

- M.K. Hutchins
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