Ross Fulton’s Shattered Soul
by Leighton Connor
part 1 of 2
“A part of my soul is missing,” Ross Fulton said, standing on his apartment balcony, his hands deep in his bathrobe pockets. In the parking lot below a group of drunken teenagers argued about their plans for the evening.
I thought I understood his pain. I said, “You mean Sandra?”
“Who?” Ross said.
“Sandra? The girl you were seeing?”
“I see a lot of girls, Ted,” Ross said. This was true in a strictly literal sense — every day he saw dozens of girls on the internet alone — but not in the way he meant. Sandra was the only girl he had gone out with since I met him. Having lived with Ross Fulton for two and a half months, though, I knew better than to correct any of his factual errors.
“Dark hair, pierced nose, tank top?” I continued. “You met her online? She called herself Raven something.”
“Ravensbonnet,” he said. “Yeah, I remember her. Nice girl. I wonder what happened to her?”
“You went out a few times. Last Wednesday she told you she didn’t want to see you anymore. You kept calling her until she had her number changed.”
“Listen carefully,” Ross said, unfazed. “The human soul consists of seven levels. The deepest level, the primordial uni-soul, connects all living things. It grounds you in reality without your even being aware of it. Consciousness is located in the fourth level. The seventh level is the part of you that others perceive.”
“What’s that from?” I asked. “Hinduism?”
“It’s not a religion. It’s just the facts. I know these things, Ted. I’m an occult detective.”
Ross Fulton had, in fact, spent years investigating the paranormal, unraveling mysteries involving everything from randy poltergeists to spontaneous macrodimensional intrusions. He had acquired a reputation as a man possessed of forbidden knowledge, a man who got things done, a man to fear. All of that, unfortunately, was before I met him. The Ross Fulton I knew and lived with, the Ross Fulton whose trash I took out and whose dishes I cleaned, devoted much more time to reruns of American Idol than to the mysteries of the occult.
“So what you’re saying,” I said, “Is that you lost a literal piece of your soul?”
“I didn’t ‘lose’ anything. A piece of my soul was stolen. Probably the sixth level, though possibly also part of the fifth.”
“How can you even tell?”
“A detective notices things. These last few days I’ve felt... listless. Incomplete. There’s definitely something missing.”
“Yes,” I said. “Sandra.”
He shook his head. “Focus, Ted, I need you in the game. We’ve got to find that missing piece.”
Around that time the group of teenagers down in the parking lot finally noticed us and started pointing and laughing. One of them called out, “Cut your hair, hippie!”
Ross stared down at them without saying anything. He turned away, slid open the glass door, and walked back into the apartment. I followed him in. The kids were still looking at us through the glass, so I pulled the blinds shut.
Even in total darkness Ross could breeze through his apartment. It was like he was guided by sonar. He knew which piles of junk needed to be stepped over, because of sharp or breakable objects, and which piles could safely be stepped on. I had not mastered this skill. It took me several minutes to find a path from the balcony, through his bedroom, into the hallway.
When I rejoined Ross he was sitting at the kitchen table eating a bowl of Lucky Charms and looking at himself in a handheld mirror.
“You shouldn’t take it personally,” I said. “Your hair’s long, sure, but it doesn’t look that bad.”
“Look,” he said, pointing at the mirror.
I looked. The reflection of Ross’ face was distorted, hazy. I took the mirror from him and wiped it off. My reflection looked normal. I held it up to Ross and, again, his image was out of focus.
“You know why vampires don’t have reflections, right?” he said. “It’s because they don’t have souls.”
“Unbelievable,” I said, looking from him to his mirror image. “You were right. So what happens...”
“My soul is currently in the process of collapsing in on itself. No way of knowing how long it’s been going on, but I’ve probably only got a few days left to live.” He picked up his spoon and fished around in the remains of his Lucky Charms.
Watching him reminded me of the day, just a few weeks earlier, he had given me a lecture about milk. “We let language shape our lives,” he had said. “We’re afraid of old milk because we say it’s ‘gone bad’. Milk is devoid of moral context, Ted. Without the freedom to make choices, it can be neither truly good nor truly bad. No, milk doesn’t go bad. It simply ages and gains texture.”
Being entirely too trusting I had taken him at his word and attempted to drink a glass of lumpy, rotten milk. When I’d spit it out, Ross had burst out laughing, his big booming laugh, and kept laughing even as I’d run to the bathroom to vomit.
The Ross sitting across from me now didn’t have the same vitality as the Ross who had tricked me. This new Ross didn’t look capable of laughter. I wasn’t sure I understood this soul business, but clearly something was wrong. And like it or not, I owed Ross Fulton.
“So what’s our first move?” I asked.
“Simple,” he said. “What’s the first rule of detective work?”
“‘Once you eliminate the impossible’ —”
“No, no. ‘Dames are trouble’. This Sandra character you keep talking about sounds suspicious.”
“Oh good lord,” I said. “If you want to talk to her, you don’t have to make up excuses.”
Ross didn’t know where Sandra lived but he had connections at Pizza Inn, an establishment that maintained the best name and address database in town. Fifteen minutes later he had an address.
I tried to convince Ross to wait until morning, but he insisted I drive him to Sandra’s apartment right away. It was after midnight when we got there. Ross pounded on the door as I tried to blend in with the bushes. I hoped she wouldn’t be home.
A voice from inside said, “Hold on, hold on.” The door swung open. Sandra looked cheerful, like she was expecting someone else. She saw Ross and her good cheer dissipated. “Oh,” she said. “You.”
“Hello,” Ross said. “I’m Ross Fulton.”
“I know who you are. How’d you find me?”
“I have my ways,” he said. He smiled, and I could tell he was trying to act confident and mysterious, but something was wrong. His smile wavered. His eyes glazed over and he opened and closed his mouth a few times. He said, “I...” then fell forward.
He landed on his hands and knees, mostly inside the apartment. Sandra stepped back, looking alarmed.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
Ross shook his head. He made a low burbling sound, then his whole body spasmed and a jet of blue liquid shot out of his mouth.
“Judas priest, not on the rug!” Sandra said, but before she had even finished saying it Ross had crawled onto her rug. His body shook again, with an almost audible rumbling, then heaved wave after wave of sparkling blue ooze onto Sandra’s floor. The fluid gushed and ran over the rug, the hardwood floor, and speckled the bottoms of walls. It was smooth, like melted plastic, not at all textured like vomit.
After Ross had thrown up what seemed like several aquariums worth of fluid he collapsed face first into a shimmering blue puddle. He opened his mouth again and coughed up a stream of bubbles, all different sizes, which floated into the air. One of them made it out to where I was standing, still on the front porch, and popped against my forehead.
“My god,” Sandra said. She had turned pale, her resentment replaced by fear. She looked at me. “Help me move him.”
We each grabbed an arm, lifted Ross up, and dragged him into Sandra’s living room. It was clean, colorful, well-decorated. Everything Ross Fulton’s apartment wasn’t. “Nice place,” I said.
I laid Ross on her couch. His eyes were closed and his breathing was irregular. I checked his pulse. “Sorry about the rug,” I said.
I didn’t know what to say next. I’d only met Sandra once before and we’d only exchanged a few words. Now here we were, standing in her living room. Though Ross and Sandra had only gone out a few times, those dates had really made an impression on them both. I remembered Ross’ big smile when he told me, “This one’s special, Ted. Not like the others. I think she might be my soulmate.” And I remembered the final text message Sandra had sent Ross, a week before: “stop calling, leave me alone, you freak.”
Sandra continued to stare at Ross, looking worried. Finally she said, “What’s wrong with him?”
“Ross is missing a layer of his soul. Possibly two. Do you know anything about souls?” She looked at me as though I might be insane. “It’s magic. You know. Didn’t Ross meet you in some kind of occultist chat room?”
“Not really,” she said. “More of a New Age chat room. I’ve got some scented candles, and I practice meditation, and a friend of mine is supposed to teach me to see auras, but that’s about it. You’re saying magic is real? I mean, not just auras, but soul-stealing? And shiny blue vomit?”
“Magic is seldom pretty,” I said.
“Ross would talk about occult stuff sometimes but I never took him seriously. I mean, he was so full of crap about everything else.” She glanced over at Ross. “I guess I shouldn’t talk bad about him, with him dying right there.”
“It’s okay,” I said. After a week of hearing Sandra described as “that bitch” it was refreshing to hear the other side. I wondered if she had any embarrassing stories about Ross, and if it would be inappropriate for me to ask. Then I noticed how upset she looked. Probably the shock of all this, of us showing up unannounced and the vomit and the occult. I should have explained things better, should have eased into the soul business. I tried to think of something calming to say.
Before I could, Sandra took a deep breath and said, “I think this is my fault.”
“Are you serious? You did this to him?” I stepped between her and Ross.
“No, not exactly. There was a man... I didn’t know he was going to hurt Ross.”
I glared at her. “What did you do?”
“Ross and I went out a few times, you know, and at first it was okay, but I realized that it wasn’t working out. Actually, it was awful. I hated the sight of him. So I decided not to go out with him again.”
“This would have been last Wednesday?”
“No, before that. Two weeks ago I got an e-mail from some guy, said he was an old friend of Ross’. Asked me to help him play a practical joke. I said I didn’t want to see Ross again, so he offered to pay me.” I tried to keep my gaze neutral but failed.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she said. “I’m not a whore. I told this guy I wasn’t going to do anything more than have dinner. And, you know, the other thing.”
“What other thing?”
“While Ross was in the bathroom I slipped a powder into his Mountain Dew. A few minutes after that, he started getting groggy. I led him out back, into an alley. That’s where his friend was waiting. I turned Ross over, he paid me, and I came home. That was last Wednesday.”
I remembered Wednesday night, when Ross had come home from his last date with Sandra; he had been surly and uncommunicative and gone straight to bed. He’d stayed in bed all of Thursday. At the time, I hadn’t thought anything of it.
“You drugged a man and left him in an alley with a stranger? I don’t care how obnoxious Ross is, that’s low.”
“But I thought it was just a joke! Like, the other guy was going to take embarrassing pictures of him or something. And now...” She looked miserable. “I didn’t want Ross to die.”
What now? I needed to think like a detective, get the facts. I said, “The man in the alley. What did he look like?”
“White. Thin. He wore a jacket, a tie, a hat, I couldn’t really see his face. I don’t know, it was dark.”
“T... Ted?” Ross moaned. I turned. Ross was sitting up, rubbing his head.
“How are you feeling?” I asked.
“What’s... what’s going on?” He looked around at the unfamiliar living room. “Have I been drinking?”
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
With a weak voice he answered, “I had just killed the leader of the rival gang and taken control of cocaine distribution throughout the city.”
“Oh my god,” Sandra said, taking a step back.
“Don’t worry, it’s just a video game,” I said. “Crime Town VII. He used to play it all the time but he hasn’t touched it in the last month. He’s lost more of his memory. Ross, is memory tied up with the soul somehow?”
“Yes, mostly the fifth level. Why?”
“You’re losing your memory because your soul is falling apart.” He didn’t look surprised — in fact, he didn’t have any expression at all — so I explained to him about our conversation on the balcony, and Sandra, and the stranger in the alley, and the blue liquid he had vomited up.
“The blue liquid,” Ross said, “Is it still there?”
“I suppose so. We didn’t really —”
“I need it,” he said. “Now.”
Sandra and I looked at each other.
“Without it I’ll die,” he said. “Hurry.”
Sandra got a set of plastic cups and a couple of spoons out of the kitchen and we went back to the front hall, where the blue goo was still puddled on the floor. I crouched down and began spooning it into a cup. After watching for a minute, Sandra joined me. It was disgusting, scooping up Ross’ blue vomit, but we worked diligently until we’d gotten it all.
We brought six full cups back to Ross. He picked up a cup and, without a word, began chugging.
“Now I’m going to throw up,” Sandra said.
“You’ll have to scoop it up yourself,” I said.
Fifteen minutes later the cups were empty and Ross seemed healthier.
“What was that stuff?” I asked.
“Fenn Fluid. Sort of a lubricant for the soul, keeps the seven parts working in harmony. Still mysterious. Only got isolated and named a few years back. By Dr. Fenn, of course.” He got up off the couch and turned to Sandra. “You’re Sandra?”
“You and I were dating?”
“Unfortunately,” Sandra said.
“Let’s think this through,” Ross said, pacing. “This man in the alley obviously performed a magic ritual, a complicated one. Soul stealing is hard work. It takes time, skill, and plenty of props. The alley, where was it?”
“Behind Vincenzo’s,” Sandra said.
“I took you to Vincenzo’s?” Ross said, surprised. “I must have liked you.”
“You didn’t show it,” Sandra said. “Besides, I asked you to take me there. The mystery man suggested it.”
“Good to know,” Ross said, “Vincenzo’s is right off Euclid. Even at night, there would be plenty of people walking by. If he set up all the candles and pig’s blood and ceremonial daggers and whatnot, and performed the whole ritual there in the alley, somebody would have noticed. Ted, you say I came home that night?”
“Around midnight,” I said.
“When did you lead me into the alley, Sandra?”
“So,” Ross said, “This stranger took me someplace, performed an extremely complicated ritual, and sent me home, all in the space of two and a half hours. His lair can’t be too far from Vincenzo’s.”
“Should we go to the scene of the crime?” I asked.
“Drive me,” Ross said.
After she helped me load Ross into the back, Sandra got into the passenger seat. I wasn’t sure I should let her come along. On the one hand, she had delivered Ross into the hands of his enemies; on the other hand, she seemed sorry. Ross didn’t say anything so I let her come with us. No one spoke on the way there.
The street was empty when we pulled up in front of Vincenzo’s. Ross staggered out the door. “The assailant was thin,” he said. “He couldn’t have carried me very far. Either he had a car waiting, or...” He looked up and down the street until his eyes stopped on a storefront labeled “Ice Cream Parlor.”
He walked up to the window and peered inside. Other than a table and a counter, the room was empty. A single sheet of paper taped to the inside of the window said, “Coming Soon.”
“This used to be Frohman’s Drug Store, but they closed ages ago,” Ross said. “How long has this alleged ice cream parlor been ‘coming soon’?”
Since I became Ross Fulton’s assistant I had been honing my powers of observation. I thought back. “Six weeks, at least.”
“They don’t look any closer to being open, do they?”
“No,” I said.
“Break the door down.”
“Are you serious?” I said. “That’s breaking and entering, and we don’t even know-”
“Ted,” Ross said. “Break the door down.”
Sandra looked at Ross, then looked at me. “What, you’re his hired muscle?”
Copyright © 2006 by Leighton Connor