“Now you know what I do,” Shirley smiled at Jeff with a slight blush. She didn’t expect to explain her side hustle on the first date, but Jeff had been so easy to talk to. “What do you do, Mr. Soul Collector,” she giggled. Jeff signaled the waiter for the check and returned Shirley’s smile.
“Just that. It’s not a glamorous job, but Sharp Development is the best company I’ve worked for.” Shirley tilted her head. Jeff was a funny guy; he kept her laughing throughout most of the date, but he always made it obvious when he was kidding about something. For the first time that night, Shirley couldn’t tell if he was serious or not. The waiter delivered the check, he signed it while Shirley puzzled over his comment.
“Are you serious? You think you’re the grim reaper?” Shirley asked him once the waiter left. Jeff chuckled.
“Of course not, when did I say that?” he asked.
“You said you collect souls.”
“I do,” Jeff nodded. “But I’m not Death,” he said. He stood suddenly from the table and offered her a hand. “Come on, I’ll show you.”
“You’re going to show me how you collect souls?” Shirley asked. He hesitated to take his hand. Jeff shook his head.
“You’re over-thinking it. C’mon. I want to show you where I work. It’s beautiful there, you’ll fit right in.” Shirley took his hand and stood up. Jeff led her out of the restaurant and around it to the back. He stopped in front of the rear wall of the restaurant. It was tall and wide with no windows.
“Perfect,” he said. “The company I work for has super-advanced technology,” Jeff explained as he dug into his pocket. He pulled out a pitch-black business card. He threw the card at the wall and it expanded into a black portal. “Let’s go,” he took her hand and squeezed gently instead of pulling; he didn’t want to scare her off by grabbing and yanking her. He waited a moment, then she squeezed his hand in return. He walked forward into the portal and led her through.
Shirley was amazed when she emerged on the other side. The sun had already set, but now it looked like the sun was high in the sky again. She stood in the middle of a beautiful forest with towering red pine trees. Each trunk was at least as twice as wide as Shirley. The sunlight filtered through the red pine needles and gave the forest a warm red glow.
“You work here..?” Shirley asked Jeff. He nodded. She had dozens of questions about where they were and how they got there, but she trusted Jeff enough to put those off until later. She had a brief moment of fear as he led her to the back of the restaurant, but he continued to be a perfect date. Shirley doubted he had it in him to even hurt a fly. She would let Jeff show her whatever he wanted, then she’d ask for the specifics late.r
“This is my next site, but they’re all pretty much like this.”
“What do you do, exactly?” she asked.
“I’ll show you,” Jeff reached into his back pocket and pulled out another card. This one was a transparent glass pane about the size and thickness of a playing card. He walked to the closest tree trunk and pushed the card into it. The car sunk in with seemingly no effort on Jeff’s part, then it began to glow red. After a few minutes, the red glow died down and Jeff pulled the card out. He held it up to the light to give Shirley a better look, but it still looked like the same glass card to her.
“One soul collected. I just have to do the rest of the forest,” he chuckled. “See, there’s nothing sinister or evil about being a,” he added air quotes for emphasis. ” ‘soul collector’ ,” he said. “It’s a menial labor job like any other.” Relief flooded Shirley. He wasn’t crazy enough to think he was Death; he was funny, charming, and was definitely full of mysteries. A normal guy, doing a normal job. He was picking fruit as far as Shirley was concerned.
“Wow,. I didn’t even know trees had souls,” she said. She began to wonder what they were used for, but she caught a confused look from him before she asked.
“Huh?” he paused for a moment, then put the glass card away again. “Oh, that’s right. You don’t know about Sharp Development.” He pulled out another black card and tossed it on the ground this time, and stepped closer to it. “Trees don’t have souls,” he grinned and jumped into the hole. “C’mon!” his voice came from the hole. Shirley jumped in too, she landed in his arms behind the restaurant they ate in. “The trees are the only way we can extract human souls without killing them.”