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Tag, You're It

Melissa Mead lives in Upstate NY with her husband and 2 cats. She is a member of the Carpe Libris writers group: carpelibris.wordpress.com

The old devil slouched against a grayish pile of unshaped matter on the storage platform. He suspected his masters down in the Pit and the governors of the paradise beyond the skylight overhead would be equally enraged to find him in this neutral space, but the thought of their wrath failed to spark much excitement in him. Lately, even witnessing the most exquisite torments of the Inferno only roused a vague restlessness.
Apparently he wasn’t the only one feeling out of place. Something else rose out of the mist below the skylight. A lost soul, indistinct, almost translucent. The soul turned and smiled at the old devil.
“Let’s play Hide-and-Tag,” it said. It pointed over the edge of the storage platform at the blue-green dot of the Earth below. “You go down there and hide, and I’ll find you.”
It stood there beaming at the old devil until he shrugged and stepped off the platform.
The old devil took the form of the dictator of a small kingdom in the middle of a barren wasteland and amused himself by brutalizing his hapless subjects. This occupied him for several years. He’d almost forgotten about the lost soul when his enforcers dragged in a new victim--a ragged women, bruised and bleeding. She studied the old devil through a cloud of tangled hair and smiled.
“Are you out of your mind, woman? Why are you smiling?”
She reached out and touched his booted foot. “Tag,” she said. “You’re It.”
The old devil blinked. They stood on the blank storage platform, and the lost soul, looking more opaque than before, was shaking a finger at him.
“That was too easy. You left a trail of bloody footprints. Now you find me!” It turned and dived off the edge.
Certain that the soul would never hide in any of a demon’s usual unsavory haunts, the old devil became a woman known for her healing skills.. After all, he could mend bones as well as break them, and cure plagues as easily as he could unleash them. He learned gentleness and patience, the better to mislead his quarry. The healer’s work took her around that blue-green globe. She touched many souls, but the one she sought eluded her.
“This hasn’t been so bad, though,” she said to the purring gray cat on her lap as she snatched a few moments of rest on the steps of a dusty clinic. “There are worse ways to spend Eternity. I know. I invented some of them myself.”
The cat blinked sleepy green eyes at her. Sleepy, but with a hint of mischief. The old devil laughed and grabbed it by the scruff.
“Tag. You’re it.”
The former cat, now clearly female, and taller, was still laughing when they materialized on the platform.
“A cat?” the old devil thundered.
“You never said we had to be human! All right; now you hide.”
He stayed human, but as ordinary as a human could be. He even started at birth, so as not to draw attention. The challenges of childhood and adolescence distracted him from the larger game. He worked, met and married a young woman, raised a family, and almost forgot about the young soul. Still, when he lay on his deathbed, he found himself sorry that he’d never heard that bright laughter in this life.
“I guess I win,” he murmured.
“What’s that, dear?” His wife bent over him, her lined face concerned.
He smiled at her. “It’s been good.”
“Yes it has.” She smiled back and touched his cheek. “Tag. You’re it.”
This time, when they returned to the storage platform, the soul looked fully grown and confident. The light shone around her, not through her.
“Thank you,” she said. She kissed his cheek and rose through the skylight.
“Wait! It’s your turn to hide,” he called after her, but she was gone.
“Who are you talking to?” said a gruff voice.
He turned. An old, battered devil was studying him without a trace of recognition. He looked down at himself and saw the shimmery indefinite form of a lost soul.
He smiled. “Let’s play Hide-and-Tag,” he said.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Author Comments

“Tag, You’re It” was a “gift” story that popped into my mind almost complete after a long dry spell. I’m not certain what first brought it to life, but I quickly grew fond of the young soul and the crusty old devil.

- Melissa Mead
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