Author: Hillary Lyon

His younger siblings didn’t mind he always shut his eyes tight whenever someone took his picture; they were used to him. But his older brother Robert pried, “Why do you always do that?”

“Long ago, I read some indigenous people thought if somebody took their picture, they were actually taking—”

“Their souls,” Robert finished. “I remember that. What’s it got to do with you?”

“I’m afraid the camera will steal my soul if my eyes are open when the photo’s taken.”

“Want to get over this fear? Let me take just one picture, with your eyes wide open,” Robert suggested. “Won’t hurt a bit.”

* * *

There was no blinding flash, no deafening thunderclap, as Kevin expected; only the feeling that a long thin scab running the length of his body had been quickly ripped off. He felt an intense stinging, then a mind-scrambling itch—then nothing.

Kevin blinked. “That’s it?”

“Yeah,” Robert replied without looking up. He was busy tapping his phone’s screen.

“What’s next?”

“I just sent the pic to our siblings.”

“Via the internet?” Kevin felt queasy.

Robert laughed. “How else would I get it to everyone, ASAP?”

“You uploaded my photo to the cloud?!” Kevin cried.

“Yep! Now your picture, along with every picture of every other soul ever posted online, resides in the cloud until it is called forth by—well, by whoever wants to see it.”

Kevin imagined his face floating among thousands—among millions—of faces in a great rolling field of fluffy white clouds, surveilled by countless shiny, swarming drones. And herded from one corner of the sky to another by headless robot dogs. He figured these techno-guards were in place to safeguard against souls escaping the cloud, and fleeing back to their original owners down on Earth.

* * *

“Slow down!” Xichtl chided as she slapped Scut on the back of the head. “Don’t scroll so fast. This isn’t a race, you know.”

“But they’re all so boring, so predictable,” Scut whined. “Each and every one,” he muttered under his breath.

“Keep going.”

Scut obediently slid his finger across the tablet’s glowing screen.

“Stop. Wait.” Xichtl peered over Scut’s shoulder at the image on the screen. “This one appears so panicked, so afraid!” She cackled. “Why, just look at the colors within the core of its soul. The center is a delicious pulpy, purple brown—like an old bruise—with its outer edge melting into a sickly, rancid yellow.” She licked her lips.

“Mistress, look closer, see that soul’s edge has a certain crumbly quality—like a cracked toenail with a bad fungal infection,” Scut added.

“Ah, Scut,” Xichtl crooned, “ever the poet.” She stroked the back of his knotty head.

“You want this one?”

“First I must consult my collection,” Xichtl said as she heaved her massive, tattered ‘Book of Souls’ onto her bony lap. She lovingly examined each frail leaf, muttering prayers to herself. At last she placed her withered hand on an empty page. “It appears I do not own one with such a unique color combination.”

She carelessly closed the tome, sending glittery puffs of dust everywhere. “Read me its label.”

Scut squinted at the screen, parsing the fine print beneath the picture. “Says it’s a Kevin 81-Beta-XXXL. Uploaded just this afternoon. Also says he believes in some muddled techno version of white-cloud Heaven.” He snickered at what nonsense mortals believed. “Well, Mistress, what do you think?”

Xichtl reached over his shoulder to tap the green ‘buy now’ button. “I think I want it.”