Quince sold lives. He had done it forever, and his clients never said no.
"What is it for you today, sir?"
"A Life, please," breathed the Soul.
"Isn't that grand?" Quince would say. "I have just the thing!"
Quince would hold up the glimmering Life.
Poor Soul and Life would fuse in a hallucinatory maelstrom of colour, vanishing into the world beyond...
One day - or rather, one instant; here, there was not really such a thing as time - god came to tell him there would be some changes.
"Cutbacks, Quince," said god, looking contrite. "We're all feeling the pinch."
"But I'm already swamped!" complained Quince. "How am I meant to manage the elephants, too?"
"Out of my hands, I'm afraid."
"But you're God!" complained Quince.
"Not God," corrected god. "Just god. Everything's run by Committee nowadays. None of us are more equal, and so on. Wish I could help you, Quince, but things are tough all over."
With that, god vanished in a slightly wheezy puff of nothing.
* * *
At first, things weren't so bad. Quince had a system: the normal Lives went under one side of his desk, the pachyderm Lives went under the other. This was important, as both sets of ephemeral, trans-dimensional objects appeared virtually identical. But Quince was gradually worn down by the extra work, and eventually he got muddled.
"One Life, please," said the Poor Soul.
"Yes, yes," said Quince, irritated.
He snatched a Life at random and shoved it at his client.
Then he realised what he had done.
"No, wait, that one's not for you..."
But Quince was too late. He had given an elephant Life to a regular Poor Soul.
He thought about filing a report, but this would generate so much paperwork that he decided to bury the incident instead. Initially, he thought he'd got away with it, but then...
"One Life, please," said the Poor Soul.
"Here you go," said Quince, handing out a regular Life.
"Oh, not one of those," clarified the Soul. "One of the special ones, please,"
Quince glared at the Soul.
"What do you mean?" he said carefully.
"Oh, you know. The other type. One of the good ones!"
Quince looked the Poor Soul up and down.
"What 'good ones'?" Quince demanded.
The Soul looked frustrated.
"It's all anyone's talking about!" said the Soul. "I wouldn't be surprised if it's all anyone wants from now on. The big, grey Lives! Everyone knows they're much better!"
Quince looked at the Poor Soul suspiciously.
"Do you even know what 'grey' is?" he asked.
"Not as such, no," admitted the Soul.
"I see," said Quince. "And who put you up to this?"
"It was Bessie. He told us all about it. Sounds great!"
Quince had heard enough. He was just about to slap the Soul with a regular Life, and dismiss the problem in a puff of incandescent luminescence, when a thought occurred.
"Why not?" said Quince.
He gave the Soul what it wanted. From then on, he gave them all what they wanted; and what they wanted was to be elephants.
* * *
god came to visit again, as Quince knew he would.
"Whatever are you doing?" god demanded. "It's a disaster! The whole system's getting backed up!"
"I'm so sorry," lied Quince. "Out of my hands, I'm afraid."
"Just stop giving the elephant Lives to the regular Poor Souls!" said god.
"Wish it was that simple," said Quince apologetically. "Problem is, now that you've given me the elephants too, I have to think about consumer rights, don't I?"
"It's the law," said Quince. "You know, Justice. Key ethical principle, that. Things are tough all over," he added, spitefully.
god fumed. Then he vanished.
Quince had hardly served another Poor Soul when god came back. This time he was carrying an official looking bit of paper. He appeared rather dishevelled.
"Here you go then, Quince!" scowled god. "Now give me the bloody elephant Lives back and start doing your job again!"
Quince examined the paper. It was a seal of notice, market with the signatures of nearly everyone on the Committee.
"So from now on I only have permission to hand out the normal Lives?" Quince clarified.
"Looks that way," said god, tightly. "You didn't leave us with much of a choice."
"And you're not just going to take away the elephants and give me hedgehogs or something?" pressed Quince.
"Of course not!" snapped god. "We're not bloody stupid! If we did that I'm sure it wouldn't be long before we'd find loads of people wandering about inside hedgehogs. That would be a thorny problem! No, we've learnt our lessons with the elephants. From now on, you're only allowed to do humans. Is that clear?"
Quince smiled thinly.
"Clear as crystal," said Quince.
"I better go then," said god gloomily. "Now I've got to find some other bugger to do the elephants!"
With that, god vanished, taking with him the pile of elephant Lives.
Quince grinned to himself as the normal Lives rearranged themselves under his desk.
He was glad that god knew so little about what Life was actually like. If the Committee had known, of course, they would have understood why Bessie had remembered enough about Life to get the other Poor Souls so fired up.
After all, whoever heard of a hedgehog having a memory so good that it survived reincarnation?
"Next, please!" said Quince.
The queue shuffled forwards, and Life went on.
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This story can also be found in the collection A Clean Death. Let me know if you think there should be a print version of this.
...what should I write next?
My writing time is severely constrained right now, but I'm thinking of trying to pen a short story or flash fiction soon, if I can manage it.
What should I write?
Choose a magazine from this search website and let me know where I should aim my sights - I'll try and write something to submit to them; then, when they inevitably reject it, I'll post it here on my website, especially for you...