Aphelion Issue 241, Volume 23
July 2019
 
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Father Friday Cemetery

by McCamy Taylor


At half past seven, Father Friday Cemetery was bathed in blue twilight and shadow.

The final funeral procession of the day followed the well worn brick path through the crowded tombs to the Durose family mausoleum. The iron gates were ajar. Maple leaves littered the stone path which lead to the tomb. A weeping marble angel sculpted by Michel Latour kept watch from the roof.

M. Gaston Durose and his two small children were dressed in black silk mourning. The youngest, a girl of five, carried purple lilies. Her older brother, a tall seven year old, was the key bearer. The High Prelate himself was officiating.

The coffin bearers carried the remains of Mme. Adelphe Durose into the tomb. The High Prelate intoned the funeral rites. At the appropriate time, the boy, Jean-Claude, inserted the ceremonial amethyst encrusted silver key into the groove in his mother's casket. M. Durose guided his daughter, Amelie, as she laid the lilies beside her mother's remains. The girl's red ringlets seemed unusually bright against her black mourning. The father laid one hand on his daughter's head and stifled a sob.

Several tombs away, an older girl with hair the same shade of red hid in the shadows. Unlike the mourners, her eyes were dry. Her sunburned face was smudged with soot. Last night, she had slept next to an open fire in the field which the city set aside for beggars and vagrants. Her shirt, once white, was now a dingy grey. Her pants were frayed around the cuffs. Her bare feet were caked with mud.

Her wide, hazel eyes took in the embroidered slippers which the Durose daughter wore and the golden rings on the girl's earlobes and the onyx mourning brooch pinned to her silk dress. A series of emotions -- jealously, disdain, regret --played across her face.

The choir finished the funeral hymn, and the mourners prepared to leave. As the procession passed the ragged girl's hiding place, her stomach growled. She had not eaten in two days. She covered her belly with her hands, trying to smother the sound.

One of the coffin bearers, a young man with exceptionally sharp hearing, dragged her from her hiding place. "A thief!" he exclaimed.

"Hold him fast!"

Dressed in pants, with her hair cut short, Agatha was easily mistaken for a boy. She had managed to make the journey from Prince's Port to King's Town unmolested by hiding her gender.

She tried to bite the hand that was clamped to her shoulder.

"Oh no, you don't!" The young man's fingers encircled her throat. He lifted her from the ground by her neck. A roaring filled her ears and her vision went dark --

As if from far away, she heard someone say "What sort of trouble has my apprentice gotten into now?"

Her bare feet touched earth again. The pressure around her neck eased. Her hearing returned to normal, and the shadows cleared.

"Your apprentice?" echoed M. Durose. Despite the dwindling light, the ragged "boy's" hair gleamed like burnished copper. It was not a common color in King's Town. He had been on the verge of asking if the child was a relative of his wife. "We found him hiding behind a tomb."

"Probably napping. He's a lazy little bugger." The speaker was an old man with snow white hair and wire rimmed spectacles. He wore plain dun colored clothes and a king's ransom in jewelry -- two loops in his right earlobe, three on his left, silver bracelets on his wrists and ankle, eight rings, each set with a different stone, on his fingers, and, around his neck on a heavy silver chain, the ceremonial key to the cemetery, sterling silver embedded with a rainbow of jewels, each color symbolizing one of the religions of the island kingdom, Boymere. Tattoos covered almost every bit of exposed skin, except for his face. Flowering vines encircled his wrists. Serpents coiled around his ankles. Wisdom runes were inscribed in metallic ink on the backs of his hands and feet.

"Pitre," said the High Prelate. He made the sign of blessing.

The cemetery's guardian bowed his white head. "Father," he murmured.

Agatha was good at making herself invisible. It was a gift which had spared her many blows from Matron's stick. Shoulders hunched forward, head bowed and gaze averted, she crept closer to the cemetery guardian, finally positioning herself in his shadow. The funeral procession passed by leaving Agatha and the pitre alone --

No, not alone. There was one more mourner. A red haired woman dressed in black. Her face seemed familiar. Agatha's heart began to pound. Her lips formed the consonant M for mama, but before she could utter a sound, her throat constricted.

The woman was not dressed in black. She was naked, and her flesh was covered with ash, all except her face which was ghostly pale. Her eyes were empty sockets. Though the night was clear, wisps of fog encircled her ankles, like chains. She held out her arms in the direction of the vanished mourners. When she spoke, Agatha felt rather than heard the word she uttered.

Gaston.

The wind rose. The trees overhead shivered. Somewhere, far away, a child began to cry.

Agatha finally found her voice. "Mama!" she called.

Abruptly, the wind died. Leaves stopped skittering across the brick pavement. The cemetery seemed to be holding its breath.

The ghost turned its head. With its black eye sockets fixed upon Agatha, it replied I do not know you.

Blinking away tears, the girl exclaimed "Liar! I'm your child, the one you abandoned."

The specter shivered and darted away. My daughter is named Amelie. My son is Jean-Claude. I have no other children... Its voice faded. With a slight shake of its head, the ghost turned and vanished into the Durose family tomb.

"Don't you run from me! I came -- "

The guardian clapped his hand on Agatha's shoulder. He was stronger than he looked. His clothes smelled of the different herbs and powders which he used to prepare the dead for burial, frankincense and cedar, attar of roses and lavender, scents to keep away the odor of rot and soothe departing spirits.

"It isn't nice to torment the dead," he murmured in her ear. "Put yourself in her place. How would you like to be called a liar, when you don't even know for certain who you are much less what the truth is?"

Agatha blinked up at the guardian. He was not as old as she had first imagined. His hair must have gone prematurely white. "You saw her?"

His eyebrows rose above the wire rims of his glasses. "That should be my line. I'm the pitre. Looking after the dead is my job. How long have you been able to see ghosts, child?"

Agatha shrugged a bony shoulder. She had learned not to talk about her visions. People either called her a liar or crazy or a witch.

She was spared from making a reply by her stomach, which growled loudly.

"Hungry? Come with me." He turned and started up the hill.

Now was her chance to run, but weak as she was from hunger, she would not get far. And she had never met anyone who could see spirits. Curiosity overcame caution. She followed the pitre to an unusually large mausoleum, which was perched on the highest hill in the center of the graveyard. Like everything else in Father Friday Cemetery, the building was constructed of marble. Stone cherubs flanked the door. Their inlaid onyx eyes seemed to follow Agatha as she stepped across the threshold.

"My home," the guardian announced.

Home? Agatha peered around doubtfully. The foyer looked like a tomb, long and dark, except for a few widely spaced gaslights which gave off a sickly yellow glow. The floor was marble, cool and smooth against her bare feet. The pitre's feet were bare, too. He moved as silently as a ghost down the hall. She tried not to think about what lay behind the closed doors they passed and what kind of food a man who lived in a place like this might eat.

To her surprise and relief, the door at the end of the hall opened onto a kitchen, a warm, cheerful room with a tile floor and a wide fireplace. Pots and pans hung from the rafters, along with strings of garlic and bunches of herbs. A cauldron of soup was bubbling on the stove. Agatha's mouth began to water.

"Wash your hands."

There was running water and real soap. She scrubbed until her skin was pink, but the dirt under her nails was too deeply ingrained to come off in a single washing.

"Never mind," the guardian said. "You can take a bath after supper. Hurry, or your soup will get cold."

They sat together at a scarred oak table. Agatha concentrated on her food. For almost two weeks, she had lived off garbage and the occasional handout. Though the stew was made without meat and the bread was served without butter, she could not remember food ever tasting so good.

The pitre studied the girl as she ate. "What's your name?" he asked, when she finally pushed her plate aside.

"A -- " She almost said "Agatha" but remembering her disguise she changed it to "Adam. What's yours?"

"Dominy." He peered at her over the top of his glasses. "Adam's a funny name for a girl."

She flushed. "What makes you think -- ?"

"It doesn't matter to me whether you're a boy or a girl. You can see spirits."

"You said I could have a bath." She did not really want a bath. In fact, she hated bathing. Once a month, Matron would make the children strip off their clothes and plunge into a freezing tub of water, one after the other, so that the last child in wound up in a mud bath. But bathing was better than talking about ghosts.

From the kitchen, they went back to the foyer. Three doors down on the right, there was a whole room set aside for bathing. The toilet had a flush tank, something Agatha had only seen once before, in the courthouse in Prince's Port. The walls and floors were covered with pale blue glass tiles the color of the glaciers that drifted down from the northern seas in winter.

"It's warm," she exclaimed as she stepped on the tiles. She had expected them to be as cold as glaciers, too.

"Hot water runs under the floor." Dominy turned on the tap and began to fill the tub, which was three or four times larger than the tin basin Matron used. "There's soap in the dish and clean towels by the door. Leave your dirty clothes in the hamper."

"What am I supposed to wear?"

"I'll leave something for you outside the door."

Once she was sure that she was alone, Agatha shed her clothes and climbed into the tub, where she scrubbed herself from head to toe with soap that smelled like jasmine. The towels were huge, easily as large as blankets. Clean and dry, she eased open the door. A neatly folded linen shirt lay on the marble floor. After glancing both ways to make sure that no one was watching, she grabbed the shirt and darted back into the bathroom. It was a man's nightshirt, too long in the sleeve, but those could be rolled up. The hem did not quite reach the floor, and if she buttoned it all the way, it did not fall off her skinny shoulders.

She would have liked to have had a pair of pants, too. However, Dominy was much taller than she was. Any pants that fit him would be too large for a short, underfed girl like Agatha.

She wondered why he had brought her into his home. Was it pity? Or was it because she could see ghosts? He did not seem like the lecherous kind. Men who told her how pretty she was and how nice her hair looked -- those were the ones to be careful of. If they started talking about what a good girl she was, it was time to run.

"Mr. Dominy, sir?" She peered up and down the hall. The door to the right of the kitchen was ajar. She tiptoed across the foyer and caught a whiff of incense and iron. The cemetery guardian was leaning over a metal table. Agatha assumed that he was mixing herbs, but when she got closer she noticed a pair of dusky blue feet. On the floor, a bucket collected the blood which was slowly draining from the corpse.

Without glancing up from his work, the pitre said "Bring me the jar labeled lavender."

Agatha selected a jar at random.

"Not that one. Can't you read, girl?"

She flushed and hung her head.

"Never mind. You seem like a bright girl. I'm sure you can learn." The guardian selected one of the glass jars and returned to work.

Agatha had seen death too often to fear a corpse. The dead man on the table was elderly. He had probably lived a long, happy life. Not like the babies at Matron's. She watched as Dominay inserted cotton plugs soaked in lavender in the body's ears, nose and mouth.

"Is that why the babies' ghosts can't rest?" she asked. "Because Matron didn't fix them up right before she buried them?"

Dominy pulled the sheet over the dead man's face. His lips were pinched together. Agatha wondered what she had done wrong, but the hand he laid on her shoulder was gentle. "Tell me more about this 'Matron'," he said softly.

Agatha's earliest memories were of the Temple of Our Lady in Prince's Port, a red brick ziggurat located in the brothel district. Agatha was a Blessed Child, conceived during her mother's womanhood rites. That made her mother, Adelphe an honorary Temple Priestess, entitled to free room and board for the rest of her life -- as long as she did not marry. Agatha grew up surrounded by women and children. Men were not allowed in the Temple residential area. Being a Blessed Child, she was not expected to work, and so she passed her days playing games with the other children. Each night, she slept beside her mother, a pale, red haired young woman who always smelled of hyacinths.

Agatha was happy, but her mother was not. She wanted a husband and a household of her own. And not just any husband. She dreamed of a gentleman who would buy her a mansion and fill it with servants.

When Agatha was six, her mother met M. Gaston Durose at a concert on the water. Three months later, they were married, over the objections of his family who were followers of the Three. In order to win the Prelate's approval for the match, Adelphe had to convert. She renounced her privileges as a Temple Priestess. And because a "lady" could not have a daughter in a place like the Temple, she took Agatha from the only home that she had never known.

When Adelphe left Agatha at Matron's house, she swore that they would be separated only a few months. "Give me a little time. When Gaston is ready, I'll tell him that I have a daughter. Then, you can come live with us in King's Town, in a house even bigger than the Temple. And remember. You worship the Three now, not the Lady." Before she left, she gave her daughter a delicate gold ring set with an amethyst, the sacred stone of the Three. Mere minutes after Adelphe's departure, Matron confiscated the ring, claiming that it was too valuable to be left with a child. Agatha never saw it again.

The months stretched to years. Adelphe sent money to Matron for her daughter's room and board, but she did not visit. Once a year, on Agatha's birthday, she sent a letter. However, the girl could not read, since a tutor would have cost money, and Matron horded the gold she received for looking after "inconvenient" children.

Adelphe was ten before she realized that some of the parents did not pay to have their unwanted children looked after. Some of them sent their boys and girls to Matron in order to make them disappear.

"Matron had a bottle," the girl confided to Dominy in a tiny voice. Though Matron was far away, in Prince's Port, she still feared her. "She called it 'medicine.' She kept it on the highest shelf in the kitchen. If any of us so much as touched it, we would get a whipping. Sometimes, when a new child arrived, Matron would declare that he had worms, and she would get the bottle. Every child that got a dose of 'medicine' died. And Matron would shake her head and say 'The worms were too strong.' For the longest time, I was scared to death of worms and even snakes. And then I realized, it wasn't worms that killed those children. It was Matron's 'medicine.'" It was a warm night, but Agatha shivered. When Dominy put his arm around her shoulders, she did not shrug it off.

They were sitting side by side on a bench in a courtyard, where moonflowers grew on a trellis over a fountain. The breeze stirred glass chimes. Six small ghosts formed a semicircle around the girl and the guardian. Agatha knew them well. They were children who had tasted Matron's medicine. The bigger ones listened attentively as she spoke.

"She buried them in the cellar. If they came with expensive clothes or jewelry, she stripped them first and threw them into the ground naked. Sometimes, she did not bury them deep enough, and then we would smell their corpses rotting for months. Later, she dug a lime pit. That took care of the smell."

The ghost children listened gravely.

"I started seeing spirits when I was twelve, just after my first -- " Agatha remembered that she was talking to a man, and she blushed. "They used to come to me every night and ask me when their parents were going to come back for them --" She choked.

One of the spirits, a boy with a long thin face and straight black hair, laid his hand on her knee, as if to comfort her. A chill passed through her body. She leaned closer to Dominy. He brushed the hair from her forehead. His hands smelled of lavender.

"Is that why you left Matron's?" he asked. "Because of the ghosts?"

Agatha was conscious of the spirits gazing up at her, waiting for her answer. She was glad that she could say honestly "No, I didn't mind the ghosts. They don't hurt anyone. Not like Matron." She bit her lower lip to stop it from trembling.

"Then why?"

The wind died and the chimes went silent.

"The money stopped coming. Matron sent letters but Mama didn't reply. So, one day Matron made me put on a dress, a cheap velvet one with almost nothing on top. She painted my face with powder and rouge, and then she took me to meet a man. He didn't like the color of my hair, but Matron said hair could be dyed. Then, he said he had to check me to see if -- see if -- " Her face went hot at the memory. "I bit him. Then I kicked him in the balls and ran away.

"I didn't have anywhere to go except Matron's. Late that night, I crept in through the back door. Matron was asleep in a chair. On the table beside her was the medicine bottle. The ghost children were gathered around her. They often followed her at night, trying to get her attention, though she couldn't see or hear them. I don't think they were trying to hurt or scare her. They just wanted someone to take care of them, and she was the only grown up around."

At this, several of the spirits nodded their heads.

"One of the ghosts looked at me. He held a finger in front of his lips, warning me to be quiet. He pointed at the bottle and then at me. And I knew that the medicine was for me. If Matron woke up and found me there, she would poison me the way that she had killed all the others. And so I ran."

"All the way to King's Town?" Dominy asked, his eyes wide behind his wire rimmed glasses. "On foot?"

She nodded. "It wasn't hard to find Mama. All I had to do was ask about a woman --a great lady who lived in a palace -- with hair like mine named Adelphe. I found out that she had been sick for a long time, and that she had just died. That must be why she stopped sending the money -- " Her voice broke.

The ghost children crowded around her. Tiny, cool hands touched her arms, legs, face. You can live with us they seemed to say.

For a long time, the pitre was silent. Agatha wondered if he believed her about the ghosts. Maybe he thought that she was lying. Or crazy. Gathering up her courage, she begged "Please don't send me back to Matron."

"Oh no," he said. "There's no question of that. I'm just trying to decide..."

"Decide?"

"I need a new assistant, one who isn't afraid of ghosts. You need a home. Let's try it out for a few months. If you aren't suited for guardian work, I'll send you to school, where you can learn a trade." He offered his hand. "Is it a deal?"

Agatha stared down out his outstretched hand. The diamond on his third finger was larger than any she had ever seen. If life in the cemetery turned out to be unbearable, she could always steal that gem and sell it.

"Do we have a deal?" he asked again.

She hesitated. "First, tell me why you need a new assistant. What happened to the last one?"

From the way his jaw clenched, she knew that she had touched on a sore subject. "Patrick was too sentimental. He fell in love with a ghost and decided to...join her."

"Join her?"

"He killed himself."

"Oh."

"But you seem like a sensible girl. I can't imagine you doing something so foolish."

After all she had endured in order to survive, Agatha had no intention of taking her own life. As bad as things were for her now, being a ghost -- silent, invisible, alone, a child forever and ever -- would only be worse. "It's a deal." She shook his hand solemnly.

It had been a long, hard day for Agatha. Though she struggled to keep her eyes open, soon, the scent of lavender and the gentle music of the glass chimes lulled her to sleep. She slumped against the pitre, who, despite his otherworldly appearance, was reassuringly warm and solid.

Dominy reached into his pocket and pulled out an ivory pipe and a small leather pouch. He put a small ball of pungent resin in the bowl and lit it. The smoke made his senses more acute. He studied the spirits which surrounded the sleeping girl, noting their ages, which ranged from less than a year to ten or so. Two of them were boys, four were girls. Several were naked.

"What are we going to do with you?" he queried aloud.

The children gazed up at him without the least bit of surprise or fear. All along they had known that he could see them.

Dominy carried the sleeping girl back into the house. His bare feet whispered against the cool marble floor. The spirit children trooped behind him like a flock of ducklings. Each of his jewels served a purpose. Some of them attracted the dead. Others soothed them. To ghosts, he was like a candle flame before a moth. His tattoos protected him from spiritual violence -- not that the children meant him any harm. They were too young to feel anger.

"Sorry," he told them as he reached for the knob of a door covered with Wisdom runes. "No ghosts allowed in the bedroom. You'll have to wait out here. I won't be long."

The bedroom walls were decorated with passages from the holy texts of the Wisdom, one of the many official religions of Boymere and the one most concerned with death and the afterlife. The spells were designed to ward away spirits, and they were written in a mixture of blood, rust and black graveyard dirt, which increased their power. This room was the one place in Father Friday Cemetery which ghosts never visited.

Dominy had made up the trundle bed while Agatha was in the tub. He laid her down and covered her with a cotton quilt. On his way out of the room, he picked up a cloak covered in crow's feathers.

The ghost children were waiting for him. The pitre fastened the feather cloak and pulled up the hood. The garment covered him completely. "Let's go home."

Most spirits were tethered to their body's resting place. If they traveled halfway around the world to follow some particularly beloved -- or despised -- person, they still retained their connection to the site where they were buried. Or, in the event of a violent death, the place where they were murdered. Some religions practiced cremation, in order to free the spirit after death. However, past and future were much the same to the dead, and they could easily return to a moment -- and place -- where they still had a corporeal form.

When Dominy said Let's go home, the six ghosts knew exactly what he meant. They began to glow more brightly. The air around them shimmered, and the marble floor began to waiver and finally disappeared altogether, so that the pitre, in his black feather cloak was falling -- though the sensation in his gut was more like rising -- through the earth. It was a dangerous journey, one that had claimed the lives of many shamans. Without friendly and cooperative spirit guides, it was impossible.

Dominy had hardly left his home in King's Town when he found himself standing on solid ground again, this time in the cellar of a house on the outskirts of Prince's Port. The air was humid and warm. Quicklime could not quite mask the stench of decaying flesh. Almost at once, a dozen other spirits clustered around the guardian, clamoring for his attention.

"Where's Matron?" He had to repeat the question several times, before one of the older ghosts indicated a short flight of stairs leading to a door.

It was night in Prince's Port. The kitchen smelled of boiled cabbage. On a plush chair near the stove sat a large, black haired woman, asleep with her head lolling on her chest. On the table to her left sat an open bottle. The pitre lifted it and smelled cheap wine.

He searched the shelves over the sink until he found a green glass bottle labeled Tincture of Hemlock. It was about the same size and shape as the wine bottle, and the poison, being infused in wine, had a similar odor. He switched the two containers, then he pulled up a wooden stool. Throwing back his bird feather cloak, he sat down and leaned forward until his face was just inches from Matron's.

"Wake up."

The big woman muttered something in her sleep then went back to snoring.

The pitre nudged her. "Wake up! It's story time."

Black eyes flew open. "What -- ?" The feather cloak blended seamlessly with the shadows, so that she seemed to be staring at a disembodied head. "Who -- ?"

"The children need you."

Matron gazed around the darkened room. "Need me? Why? They're asleep."

"Not those children. These children." Dominy touched the tip of one finger to her brow and muttered a prayer to Papa Lazarus, the Keeper of the Crossroads. "Do you see them now? The ghosts of the children you murdered? They want you to talk to them. They want you to tell them a story. About why they had to die. Surely you're not so callous than you can't remember why you put them to death."

One by one, the spirits appeared, like stars in the night sky. First, the boy whose stepmother had just given birth to a new heir. Then, the baby with the cleft lip. And the mulatto child. Their small, pale faces turned towards her. A dozen pairs of hollow, dark eyes were fixed upon her --

Matron's face went pale beneath her rouge. She tried to make a sign against evil, but the guardian caught her wrists, pinning her arms to her sides.

"They looked to you for comfort, when their parents sent them away. They took the 'medicine' you offered, thinking that it would ease their pain. Their last few hours on earth were agony. And now, lost between worlds, they need someone to guide and protect them. A mother. And how do you answer them? You drink yourself silly, so that you won't remember their faces and their screams. Look at them. See them. This is your chance to atone."

The tiny spirits crowded around her. Their insubstantial hands gasped at her hem, her sleeve, her hair, her lips, her ears. Their touch chilled her. Through rattling teeth, she muttered "Not my fault."

"If not yours, then whose? Theirs? Be the mother to them in death that you weren't in life, and maybe your soul won't have to walk the earth in chains." Dominy rose. The last thing he saw before he pulled up the hood of his black feather cloak was Matron's hand, blindly groping for the bottle on the table beside her.

"Your choice," he whispered. And then, he vanished.

At Matron's, the children slept three to four to a bed. Waking up alone, with dry sheets (the little ones often wet the bed) was a luxury. Agatha pulled the cotton quilt up under her chin and gazed at the rune covered ceiling. Though she could not read, she recognized the ancient writing of the Wisdom. The runes were said to possess magic powers. She wondered if Dominy could decipher the ancient script. He seemed very wise. And gentle, even though he was a man.

Eventually, the urge to pee forced her out of bed. She found the bathroom. Then, she went to the kitchen.

Dominy was standing beside the stove, shirtless. His back was covered with tattoos. In the dim morning light, she made out a tiger and a dragon and a bird with brilliantly colored plumage.

"Did that hurt?" she asked.

"Did what hurt?"

"Getting all those tattoos."

He turned off the stove and poured rice porridge into bowls. "A bit. I didn't get them all at once." He set the food on the table. The flowering vines covered his arms all the way to his shoulders. His chest was bare of tattoos except for a single, elaborately drawn Wisdom Circle.

Agatha pulled up a chair. The porridge was too hot to eat. She blew on it. "Will I have to get tattoos?"

Dominy poured mint tea for both of them. "Don't worry. All you really need is the runes on your hands and feet, and those I can paint with henna. Oh, that reminds me." He fished around inside his pants pocket. "This is for you." He handed her a small, cloth sack.

Inside, Agatha found a silver key set with a single piece of rose quartz carved in the shape of a heart, the symbol of Our Lady.

"Here, let me help you." The guardian fastened the silver chain around her neck.

Agatha had not worn jewelry since the day she went to live with Matron. She gazed down at the filigree silver key with wonder and delight.

"Your porridge is getting cold," Dominy reminded her.

She picked up her spoon. As she ate, she kept glancing around the room, wondering where the ghost children had gone. Most of them had stayed behind at Matron's when she ran away, but six of them had followed her all the way to King's Town.

It was not hard for the cemetery guardian to guess what she was thinking. "The children won't be following you anymore. Not those particular children, anyway."

"Why not? What did you do to them?" She glared at him.

He smoothed the furrows on her brow with the tip of his finger. For just a moment, the light steaming through the window grew dim, and she could see bits and pieces of ghosts -- here, a man's leg, there a woman's long hair. When he took his hand away, the visions disappeared.

"I told them the story they were waiting to hear," the guardian said. "The one about the wicked witch who dies in her own cauldron. Now, they can rest."

"A story, huh? I never thought of trying that."

THE END


© 2010 McCamy Taylor

Bio: McCamy Taylor is, of course, Aphelion's reigning Serials / Novellas (fiction longer than 7,500 words) Editor. She is also the author of many stories and articles that have appeared in Aphelion and various other publications too numerous to list here. Her most recent fiction contributions to Aphelion were the stories Darkhall and Reichenbach Falls, both of which appeared in the September / October 2010 Double Issue.

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