The Five Dollar Soul

Terri had never really felt alone in her head, but it was not till she got her first eBay account that everything became clear.

It began innocently. She stuck to the few weird and rare items she could safely swear could only be found at an internet auction, or at least not in her suburban town. A Hello Kitty vibrator. A hundred-year-old purse made from an entire muskrat. A library of Welsh rap albums. But restricting herself to the unfindable and the outright bizarre became increasingly unhelpful as she spent more time sucking up eBay sales, and the day she dove into the Bizarre category, the last bit of her old life disappeared.

That was the day she found the five-dollar soul.

The seller claimed it was all a joke, claimed they needed some cash for college, offered a framed certificate of authenticity and a ninety-day guarantee.

She could barely imagine what the guarantee might cover. Wear and tear? Failed bargaining with the devil? One get-out-of-hell-free card? A few snappy clicks and keystrokes, and she was on her way to finding out. Bid: $6.00. Maximum bid: $100.00.

She really wanted that certificate. It would be the ultimate conversation piece.

"What's this? I didn't know you had -- a SOUL?"

"Oh, that old thing! Yeah, I picked it up back when I was a missionary in Borneo. They let you keep one of the souls you save. It's a great deal - I can't tell you how handy it is to have a spare soul around the house."

When it arrived, Terri ripped the heavy cardboard envelope open, shearing packing tape and layers of labels off in her intensity. It was a fine, clean, neatly printed certificate, but she was oddly disappointed. Somehow she had expected to feel... different about it. She hung the "proof of soul" across from the front door, hoping its attention-grabbing position would rekindle her excitement, and went to bed.

"So I'll get right on Alice and see about those forms." She tuned in slowly to what Jeff was saying as he gave her a thumbs-up and took off down the hallway.

"Wait a minute... what forms? What were were just talking about?" Terri frowned. "Where am I going and what am I doing in this handbasket?" She stopped suddenly, realizing that she was half a building away from her desk and had no memory of why. Her watch told her that it was slightly after noon, but remained resolutely mute on all other subjects. Had she just sleepwalked through the morning? Her job was ordinarily pretty monotonous, but this was a new height for her.

She turned and quickly went to her desk, checking her outfit on the way. Everything seemed to be office-appropriate, although she was sure she had meant to wear something more casual today than nylons and heels. Her desk looked pretty standard too, despite the fact that she had no memory of the morning's tasks, the stack of xeroxes and phone messages says that work had clearly been done somehow.

An instant message was flashing on her computer screen, but she accidentally clicked to close it. "Damn!" she snapped, totally flustered. "Okay. Calm down. What was I on my way to do? Get lunch, probably. I'm starving. Okay. Everything's normal. Nothing to see here."

"Talking to yourself?" one of the sales guys - Ray? Jay? - joked as he strode by. She scowled at his back and headed downstairs to drown her confusion in double mocha lattes.

The guy who usually worked the counter was cute, in a struggling-artist-with-a-goatee kind of way, and she usually coupled her caffeine fix with a little heady flirtation. She glanced at her reflection on the way in and whisked an imaginary stray hair out of her eyes. "One latte, please - hot," she said lightly, but he didn't even greet her, just nodded curtly and passed the order to someone else on his way into the back of the cafe.

She retreated to her desk and sipped her latte, mulling over this unexpected downturn.

The fluorescent sticky notes framing her computer rang like alarms in her peripheral vision. Terri set the coffee down and peeled one off. It was scrawled across in her boss' handwriting, reminding her to be ready to explain her projects to me rest of the department in their quarterly meeting.

The next note, however, was in an unfamiliar hand and said "The address sheets are done + in bottom left drawer." She pulled the drawer open, jerking it roughly out as if she might surprise something lurking inside. A stack of printouts gleamed whitely up at her.

Terri fingered them uneasily, paging through a few. Had someone else done her work as a favor? But here were more notes in the same style - "CompCenter called, want to see numbers." "Celia stopped by, wants to do coffee later." "Ten new clients this week, check extranet for details."

A shadow loomed suddenly over the pile of notes. Terri looked up to see her boss Brian tugging on his cuffs in the nervous way he had, as if he were never quite sure of his employees' sincerity. "Hey, Terri, how's the preparation for that meeting coming?" he asked, pitching his tone to sound joking.

She stared at him. "The quarterly meeting? The meeting that's two weeks away?"

"That's the one," he said almost brightly, his forehead creasing.

"Uh, it's going great, Brian."

"Good, good." He thumped the back of her chair encouragingly.

The air of mystery weighing everything down all day finally made her snap. "Why do you ask?"

She almost wished she hadn't asked: all traces of humor ran from Brian's face and he looked as if he might cry or run from her. "No reason, I just - I just thought it was funny that you had me write it down for you, like you'd forget or miss it or something."

"Oh, yeah, that! That is funny, Brian, I'm sorry - see, I totally even forgot I did that!" She laughed hard, to reassure him it really was more wacky office humor from his crazy team. He seemed glad to accept that, even slapping her on the back before leaping back into the sanctuary of his office.

Terri started peeling sticky notes off and checking out what they said. "I must be going crazy," she muttered.

"Hey, this place'll do that to the best of us." It was Jay again - or Ray - whatever his name was. He hopped up to sit on the edge of her desk. "So what's my favorite little project manager so worked up about?"

Terri prepared to grit her teeth and swallow his line of patronizing talk with a career-smoothing smile, but - "Why don't you stuff your sexist bullshit?" It popped out before she even realized her mouth was moving. She slapped a hand over it in horror. His face changed unpleasantly.

"Ohhh, the bitch comes out, huh? Look, I don't know who pissed in your cornflakes but don't take it out on me, okay?"

"You pissed in my cornflakes, buddy, you and your 'little lady' crap - goddamnit!"

She looked around wildly for water to pour on her burning bridges, but it was too late. The sales guy snarled, "Don't pull that Ms. Magazine shit on me - I have seniority here," and stalked off.

Terri waited until he was out of sight and banged her head on the desktop. She couldn't help feeling a twisted sort of triumph, but any sweetness was drained from it by what he might to in retribution, and the even more worrying way in which her life seemed to be spinning out of control.

She pressed her palms deeply against the cold pressboard surface of her desk, grounding her awareness in the solid smoothness next to her skin. Taking several deep breaths to stay in the here and now, she slowly sat up.

Hello, she thought.

Except she didn't think - why would she have thought "hello?"

You didn't think it, I did.

Crap. She really was going insane.

But even as Terri thought this, she became aware of some difference in the flavor of these thoughts - a sense that they were not, after all, her own. She sensed a lively good humor surrounding them, and a certain wryness.

She decided to go for it. After all, at least a plea of insanity might be useful if Ray decided to put together some kind of case against her. Who are you? she demanded.

I'm Daphne. Pleased to meet you.

A sense of warmth spread through her, then died away. What the hell kind of introduction was that? Who the fuck was "Daphne?" A thousand sci-fi movie clips flickered through her mind - aliens? telepaths? zombies? mad scientists with weird mind-controlling radiophonic devices?

The images faded away as she ran out of options, replaced by another: the familiar white glow of eBay. That image sharpened as Terri thought of the soul she'd bought - or was it Daphne's thought?

I'm not following you, she thought defensively, half-truthfully and half in outright refusal to accept the strange new idea tickling the edges of her brain.

Let me put it this way. I was bored. That woman, you don't understand, it was like - every yearning I had, every message and inspiration that came straight from her soul for god's sake, every one of them she ignored. She cut herself off from me so damn hard that we just drifted apart, you know, two totally different people.

It's like, some people have this inner voice that's like an instinct for them about what to do and some people are so in tune with that and so true to themselves that they live and move as one. And my Daphne, she just did the exact opposite of that and ran away from herself at every opportunity. Till it became clear that she was someone else, running away from me.

She just wasn't the woman I thought we were.

Woo. Okay. Terri took a long gulp of her (cold) coffee and thought this over.

So she saw an easy way to make a buck and sold her soul?

Well, kind of. I mean that's a good metaphor for it and it's sort of what I let her think, but I set it up myself when she wasn't looking.

Weird.

This was all just weird. Weird and... unacceptably weird. She must be crazy. Maybe the arid soulless corporate environment had forced her mind to create entertainment for itself. Except - if she accepted that, she had to accept that minds and souls and people could be separate within one body, and then she was right back where Daphne was anyway. Maybe that surly cafe guy had slipped something weird into her coffee and she was hallucinating - hey wait -

Did you do something weird to the coffee guy?!

No! i just got some coffee like any regular person! I'm not trying to sabotage your life, I swear!

But Terri was already leaping ahead of her: Are you sure you didn't just slip and bite his head off like you did to Jay?

No! I mean, he flirted with me, but I didn't do anything, I just ignored him!

Terri groaned.

What? What did I do?

I've only been flirting with that guy for three months! He just started responding to me and now you go and cut him off!

Sorry.

Perhaps this guy was the least of Terri's problems. After all -

Stop doing that!

Doing what? Daphne dripped innocence.

Doing voiceovers in my head so I won't notice how fucked-up you are! This is my head! It doesn't become any less my head just because you engineer some weird violatory psycho-theological trick and land here with me!

Hey. Calm down. I didn't mean for this to happen, you know. It was kind of a joke.

A joke?

I didn't think it would work.

A joke?

Uh....

I'm not your pawn! You can't just use people as your landing strips while you fly around trying to find a good roommate or something! But I guess you wouldn't know anything about actual people, cause you're just a soul!

Terri was interrupted by a sharp tapping noice calling her attention back to her body. She looked up to see Celia knocking on the edge of her monitor. "There you are! you must have been a thousand miles away!" Celia smiled. "Look, can we do coffee tomorrow instead? I just remembered this meeting I have at four and I have a million things to do before then."

"Sure, that sounds good to me. It's not like either of us is going anywhere, knock on wood," Terri said, rapping the underside of the desk briskly.

"Yeah, really," Celia answered, touching wood herself. "See you tomorrow then!"

Terri watched her depart, enjoying the few minutes of normalcy. She took a deep breath.

That wasn't very nice.

Terri felt a surge of annoyance at Daphne's return.

And neither was that. I can feel your emotions, you know. It's like I'm standing next to a hot stove in here.

I can't help my emotions.

Maybe, but you could help making mean sarcastic comments to me.

What did I say?

That crack about how I'm not a real person was really messed up. I'm as much a person as you are. You can see that. I mean, I have feelings and opinions and I do stuff and I have hopes and dreams just like anyone else.

You can spare me the Shakespearean crap. If I prick you, you do not bleed.

Neither do you. But if I prick your body....

Well, you don't have one of those.

So it's all about possessions now, huh? That's an awfully materialistic view of reality, hon.

Oh, for god's - It's the only thing that connects you to the real outside world! That's a little more important than a suitcase or a pair of shoes.

What's so great about the outside world anyway? I mean, if someone's really immersed in a good story, or a movie, or they're asleep, they're not messing around with the outside world, right? How much time should they have to spend doing that stuff before you decide they're not real people? Daphne paused. Besides, she continued maniacally, if I'm not a real person, you're just making me up, right? Which would you rather believe?

Terri gripped the edge of her desk, squeezing her palms against the sharp wooden edge. "Just leave me alone so I can do some work," she hissed under her breath. Mercifully, Daphne seemed to dissolve at that, and Terri plunged gratefully into the next round of projects, putting all of this out of her mind for a few hours.

Seven spread sheets, two phone calls, and a weekly meeting later, she left work.

Seven spreadsheets that could have turned up mysteriously completed behind her back...

two phone calls that could have blown up in her face when Daphne took offense at some off-the-cuff slight...

one meeting that she could have missed completely, jeopardizing her job and the respect of her coworkers....

"That does it!" she yelled, slamming the car door and shoving the keys roughly into the ignition. "You just can't be in here anymore!"

There was no answer.

"Hello? Get out here!" Nothing.

"Daphne!"

She noticed that she was drumming her fingertips on the steering wheel, and forced them to be still. Then she eyed them suspiciously: had she really been moving them, or was it her unwelcome headmate? Terri gritted her teeth and directed a blast of annoyed come-hither fire inwards.

No words, but a definite feeling that maybe Daphne didn't appreciate being yelled at after giving her her space all afternoon. Terri thought loudly about how it was her space to begin with, and got the distinct sense that if she felt that way about it maybe they should just talk when she'd calm down.

There is no calming down! There is just the weirdest situation anywhere and.. and I can't believe I paid actual money for this!

Daphne was not the most sensitive soul, but she could feel the pain and confusion coming off of Terri in a way that would be impossible to her if she were outside. I didn't mean to displace you, she said quietly. I barely knew what was going on myself. I don't know... it was sort of like waking up after being anesthetized for some big operation, you know? And then suddenly I was in this strange place and people kept pressuring me to do officey stuff like I was someone else, someone they knew... and that's when I started to get it, cause that's what it was always like with the other Daphne, like I was supposed to know these people who were her friends but they meant nothing to me... So I just did the best I could until whatever was happening changed and brought you back.

Terri stared at the steering wheel for a long minute, silent inside and out.

"I'm going to need some time to think about this," she said finally, turning the car on dismissively and adjusting the radio until it was loud enough to drown out all thought.

At home, she stuck some ravioli in the microwave and set to cleaning up her living room, dusting and organizing her collectibles, concentrating fiercely on the stories behind each one. The red glittery heels that supposedly had been used on a set of the Wizard of Oz.. the Welsh rap cd that it had taken her a year to find... the rippling multicolored rings made out of dichroic glass, the kind that they use to make spaceships.... Underneath, however, she couldn't shake the worry that Daphne was somehow listening in on everything. Terri finally banged a blue flowered porcelain cat down and thought, What do you want?

There was no answer.

I said, what do you want? she repeated irritably, and waited.

"Hello?"

Still nothing.

Terri finally dug a notebook and ballpoint out of her desk and scrawled, "Dear Daphne: What do you want out of this anyway? Sincerely, Terri." She taped the note to the bathroom mirror and went to bed. The next morning, she went in to brush her teeth and realized as she fried an egg that she had done that backwards - brushing before eating - and that she had a vague memory of writing more on the note. Terri rushed back to the bathroom and found this appended: "Dear Terri. I do not know. If you want me to leave I will leave. Somehow. Yours, Daphne."

Terri bent her head and sighed deeply, then dashed back to turn the stove off under her slightly toasted egg.

"What am I going to do," she asked the kitchen at large, "sell you on eBay?"

Maybe. It might work again, I don't see why it wouldn't.

"Seems like what you need is a personal ad. Disembodied woman seeks soulmate, enjoys long walks on the beach, that kind of thing."

There's no need to be sarcastic.

"I'm perfectly serious. This luck-of-the-draw thing is just getting you in the same situation over and over, seems to me. I mean, ideally you'd literally have a soulmate, right, someone you could sort of meld with like you're supposed to have?"

I don't know. I think I may have gone too far for that, somehow.

"What do you mean?"

I mean, like, I'm my own person now. Maybe I always was and it's just that before I was my own person with someone who was the same person, or something - I don't think philosophy has advanced far enough yet to explain this for me.

"I suppose necromancy is out of the question... no, I know. Well." Terri fiddled with the ceramic cat. "What do you see happening if you stay here?"

She felt a matte blankness from the area of her mind that heard Daphne, and examined it with faint interest. She was starting to get the impression that there might be a lot of new ideas to explore in all this, a silver lining she had determinedly overlooked.

The matte blank spot seemed to open towards her then, and Terri got a series of impressions... Daphne behind her, joking about outrageous coworkers but keeping her hands out of it; the warmth of having someone else to share ideas and experiences with; closer than a date or a friend could; a vague bright impression of garden and colorful birds; a more organized mind to pick up after her if she forgot an appointment or just couldn't deal with a project right then. "That's a little idealized, isn't it?" she said wryly. "What do you get out of this? Sounds like you're just gearing up to be my personal assistant. Don't you want a piece of this life out here?"

You picked up on that awfully fast. I don't know. What is there for me out there? all I've ever known has been stuff in here. Inside, I mean, not here.

"What do you mean? Like that garden?"

You saw that?

"I saw something, I don't know what. Tell me about the garden."

Daphne hesitated. It's part of where I used to live. We had an amazing inner landscape going on. I spent years developing and cultivating it. It was like... a cross between metaphor and something out of a science-fiction book. I mean, to some point we could change stuff but as much of it was just sort of there, like I lived on some whole other world secretly and just got all of the outside Daphne stuff layered on top.

"Wow." Terri quietly made the cat dance across the desk. "Wow," she repeated under her breath. "I mean, wow. Do I have anything like that in there?"

Kinda. I haven't looked that much.

"You're lying."

And you're too close to me. All right....

Terri got quick flashes of a cream and brown forest, a tall wooden building, a small circle of mushrooms.... "Holy shit," she said, "I had no idea. If I knew that was there I wouldn't spend so much time in that damn office and the damn computer. I don't think I've even had a daydream in years, except for a few homicidal fantasies during long meetings. "

See? I could cover for you!

"Whoa, I didn't mean to the point of leaving anything out here. I don't even know how this would work. Aren't there creepy adult education classes on exploring your inner landscape and stuff?"

I don't think they're really creepy, but I get what you mean. I don't know, I mean, I'm just thinking....

"Well, did you and Daphne-Daphne ever switch off like that?"

No. Not really. It was more of a constant blur. Like sunlight through stained glass. It changes color and the glass gets lit up, but they only seem different when they're viewed together like that.

"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine," Terri sang a trifle sarcastically.

Except you already had a soul.

Well, that made one more thing for her to think about.

Yeah. This is way more like... here's a window and here is another window. Like, maybe the different colors of glass overlap, but it's not the same thing. It's really multiple, you know?

"Really what?"

Multiple. Like I'm your alternate personality or something. We should, like, join a support group.

"Oh. Yeah. Really. 'Hi, I'm multiple because of years of fucked-up abuse.' 'Really? I went to eBay.'"

Hey, they weren't all abused.

"Clearly. Look at us."

So what now?

"Why don't you go get some gardening done, and we'll see how it goes."