–The girl who stole the ghost–
A wall of water rose up from the trench as I stared in awe. The instant it reached my height, it folded on itself along its whole circumference, engulfing me within the dome it formed. An otherworldly serene sense that accompanies being in water enkindled my senses; the dancing ripples of the moving water cast eerie shadows on me.
As I admired those shadows on my bare feet, a series of images started playing on the screen of water all around.
A little red haired girl jumping rope; her face contorted in pain after she fell off a tree; her eyes scrunched tight in concentration as she captured the first light of the morning sun between her fingers and later proudly presented the resulting white filigree shaped tattoo on her forearm to her friends; the fear of a secret sealed within her heart as she stood on a sand dune of the desert infringing her home, ready to leave it forever; the uncertainty of what to do next as she sat among strangers around a campfire; the same woman looking hungrily at the pomegranates on a shop counter and the humiliation of being beaten in the middle of the market on stealing the fruit; her jaw set with a resolution as she stood in tattered clothes on the coastline while the sun dipped beyond the horizon and like smoke rising from an extinguished candle she vanished with those fleeing sunrays; finally glowing and smiling wearing the same tattered clothes she slept in the middle of the ocean.
I completed a turn and the images changed.
Her attempt to sell the colorful shards of her captured light, artistically twisted to form pretty jewelry; a soft smile of hope as a man bought those jewelry pieces and the shock on his face when she told him how she made them; the skip of freedom in the steps she took back home that day; her panic as a hand closed around her mouth and knocked her out; the disoriented wandering of her eyes as she woke up in a cave with a man’s shadow watching over her; her attempt to vanish into her sunlight followed by a surprised cry that the shadow blocked her escape; the shadow and its proprietor, the man who had bought her jewelry, dragging her all the way towards the red soil in protesting rain; them, pushing her in a cistern of the graveyard, her struggles to swim, but being pulled down to the bottom instead. With her last breath, a golden figure transpired, filling the cavern with the aged rays of the sun. While her lifeless body moved down a white foaming river which the cistern flowed into.
She tried to follow but the river vanished as she approached it. The only way out for her it seemed were the light filled tunnels laced across the roof. She followed them then and emerged out through the brightest one, forming a hemisphere as the air of the tunnels lifted up water. In the middle of the hemisphere I saw myself.
Panicked, I turned around and found her golden form looking at me with confused eyes. The water suddenly transformed into a million droplets, dispersing the colors of the rainbow all around. Those droplets pushed her an inch toward me. I took a step back. Like a gust of wind she passed right through me, lighting me on fire even though I was drenched through and through.
She stood behind me, where she had emerged, with eyes full of regret, looking like the cold blue water that had surrounded us a minute earlier. An eye blink later she was gone and behind her with an expressionless face stood Ruux.
He stormed over as if he was going to slap me but he just took a hold of my hand and began to haul me away from the trench. And suddenly with a surprised yelp he pulled back his hand.
“You burned me!” he accused.
“No I didn’t.”
He was looking at my hands and I turned my eyes towards them too. They were glowing like embers. I pressed them against my thighs and steam rose from the skirt.
“Let’s talk.” He fumed, sitting down cross legged on the ground a few feet away from the water.
I followed and sat down too as my hands slowly lost their incandescent heat.
When I should have asked ‘what just happened?’ my dysfunctional brain put forth a highly idiotic point.
“I need new clothes. These stink.”
“Did you find out who she was?” he stayed right on point.
“Did she tell you anything?”
“You just burnt me.”
“No.” I said while grinning for no apparent reason.
“She had power. She was mine.”
“Hm. Now you have lost me.”
“All the dead are mine. We have a contract. I keep the living away from their land and the dead give me their memories.”
“You have a contract with the dead?” I asked stupefied.
“Yes. I just told you. When I was young I used to steal the souls like all others. But a man who had just died asked me to guard the land from the thieves in exchange for all the memories. He too had power.”
“So you have all the memories of the dead who are brought here? How many years has it been? Doesn’t all that information ever jumble up?”
“Everyone who dies is brought here. This is the only place and everyone is mine; has been for thousands of years. I forfeited my right to die when we made the contract. And you stole what is mine.” He said with vehemence as he lunged towards me.
His hands throttled me as anger flared in his eyes. No magical burning talent saved me this time.
“Do you know what you did? You broke my contract; now the dead will demand justice. I lost the memories and I lost the power she had. Do you know how rare that is? I have had only two souls with such abilities in my entire life. You took it. You took it all.”
I would have said something highly clever to reason with him but I could not draw a breath to say it and I could not think of what to say.
“She did not know what she was doing. Leave her.” ordered Tu- the vulture as she landed next to us.
“Yes, she did. Everyone knows the rules. She competed with me”
“No, she didn’t. She is not from here. She did not know the rules.”
His choke loosened a bit and I drew in a deep breath. He looked at Tu for a long minute then postponed his attempt to kill me, I think. I remained where I was.
“I don’t yet know what happened. I was sitting where you guys had ditched me when you left for your secret mission. All of a sudden, water appeared all around me and images formed, then she passed right through me and I felt like I was burning. I don’t feel anything now.” I explained looking alternately at both of them and then back at the trench.
“It was no secret, Erisha. We told you before going; there were intruders on the land and someone was pushed into the cisterns alive. She must be the soul you took. This used to happen in the early days when there was no guard; not now. It was wrong. Only the dead must enter the water.” Tu said.
The mind reading speaking vulture had found out my name when I had refused to tell them the previous day. My mother had always warned me against strangers. The vulture had referred to me by my name since then, while Ruux preferred ‘she’ or ‘that girl’.
“Whatever.” I said while getting up. It was then that I noticed a similar white filigree on my left forearm. I quickly covered it with my sleeve, not sure if I trusted these people.
Tu seemed honest. She always gave reasonable answers, in response to which I could rarely formulate a reply.
But Ruux from the very first encounter had seemed creepy, cunning and a little eccentric. I was not sure of him. And now that he had attempted to murder me, I don’t think I would come anywhere near him.
The mind reading vulture smiled and said, “Everything is not as it seems, not always.”
“O.k. So tell me what just happened?” I asked.
“The living cannot enter the water of the cisterns, only the dead can. If they do they die. When a dead is brought by the people, he is given to the water. That is the custom. So the souls don’t plague the living. The body moves along the flow and enters the white river where all the cisterns drains underground. No one has ever seen the river. But Ruux has seen the memories of the river like you and I have died, so all of us know about it. All the soul stealers who remember it died a long time back, leaving behind legends for the future.” She looked at me to check if I was following her story.
Not that complex sweetheart.
“The body goes along the river to the land of the dead and the soul can not follow. It follows the light of the person it feels the most affinity to, but that person must be standing near the water to be a competitor for the soul. The chosen gets all the memories and the soul passes through him to move on to its next path.” She continued.
“Like Tu chose to kidnap the nearest vulture so that she could find the one she loves, again. Like the one you stole went away never to come back. Some choose to wander these lands but they are of no use. While some feel the responsibility for others even after death and help guard these lands from the intruders who seek treasures left behind or in hopes to gain power like the ones last night.” Ruux informed as he took over. Not that I trusted anything he said.
“Did you find who it was last night?”
“No.” they replied in unison way too fast.
But I did know and I was not going to tell them. The vulture then looked at me.
“Sometimes the soul sticks to that person like a parasite. I have collected a few of them.” said Ruux, not looking like this bothered him at all.
“And very rarely like with you, a soul has power which it leaves behind for the person to fulfill what was disrupted.” said Tu, suggestively looking at me.
But I just recited the names of all the constellations I knew, which I ran out of in two minutes.
Have you read the prologue? It is the first part of this series of short stories. To see how a short lazy girl who keeps forgetting what she was thinking about a minute ago, stumbles upon this weird world, read prologue. It is in the categories option at the bottom of the page.
If you like this story feel free to praise me. The comment bar would ask for your e-mail I.D. Don’t worry it was born this way.
I won’t spam your mail and I promise I won’t sell it to the crooked man with an eye patch, a talking parrot and a wooden leg.