Akio walked this path to the river every morning. He hadn’t seen a day where the sun had beaten him to rise, at least from what he remembered. The sky was seeing its hazy reds and overreaching yellows as the sun was about to come up.Today was unusual, as he walked behind a young girl in her teens pacing ten or so steps ahead of him. Her clothes were unkempt, used, wrinkly, yet black hair went untainted by any other color and was treasured as if it was the only thing of worth.
“Hello,” Akio struck a conversation.
This had caught the poor girl off-guard as she nearly tripped on nothing but the shock of his voice. Her voice said otherwise, it kept an air of embarrassment away when she returned a calm “hi.”
“I’ve never seen you before,” she said. The town was small, enough so that people’s faces were easy to remember, that meant a great deal in the marketplace where the same old yeller wanted his voice heard of the fresh fish he had caught, or the favorite customer that made near daily trips. Those faces made the top of the list in the girl’s mind, and everyone else’s were remembered through sheer effort.
“Are you heading to the house ahead?” Said Akio. The girl froze long enough for the young man to pace in front.
“Are you the owner?”
“I don’t know who owns the place,” Akio pulled a fishing string from his pocket and held it up. “I’m going fishing.”
Red flags sprung in the girl’s head. Akio had nothing but the clothes on his body. Who goes fishing without a rod?
“I don’t suppose you sell your catch?”
“No,” his answer gave the girl a slight relief. The problem remained that she couldn’t put a name on his face. Regardless, the two had reached the house and parted ways where Akio had pressed past the house. The girl bowed with an amount of respect that betrayed her appearances.
With Akio gone, she waited and waited before forcing the door open. It screeched at the hinges, and it accompanied a smell of rust and rotted wood from a negligent homeowner. One that the girl knew wouldn’t return when she learned of the house in the first place. The person who lived here was dead.
One step in and the floor creaked in pain. The place was rather small with a anarrow hallway leading to an easy view of the kitchen at the other end. Two rooms were set aside to the east and west of the house and the entrance made for wide view of the living room. The place was covered in dust with the top layers being displaced with each movement the girl made inside. It was empty. Each room had nothing but the shadows of decades old living where beds and tables used to be.
The girl moved to the kitchen. Plates, pans, wooden cups, even a spoon and fork waited for a never returning owner. There was also a closet standing tall next to the sink that, upon her inspection, gave her a rush of relief. There were small things, fishing bait of different shapes and colors, a pair of fishing poles laid side by side. She put a mental price tag on everything.
These were the eyes of a thief. Each item was appraised by their weight and worth and the fishing lures were the default for a town with a large river nearby. She continued on.
There were two places left to search and the cabinet over the sink was one of them. She climbed on the sink and opened the cabinet with its contents glowing gold from an unintentional light that crept its way through a whole on the roof and on a jar of honey.
She shivered, almost about to cry at how much the honey could put an ease to her life. But the shivering came along with bouts of cold air. The girl went weak in her legs and was brought back down to the kitchen floor and bathed herself in the unsettled dust she created.
Her body was frozen still.
It’s him! It’s HIM.
Aiko’s eyes were staring at the shelf, where the honey sat in its glass container. She had a good look at him from the ground up. The foot-prints in the whole house belonged to her and she confirmed it when his were completely gone. His body appeared solid from his knees. He didn’t breathe or move.
The girl took deep breaths. He isn’t real. Eyes closed. It didn’t convince her when an overwhelming sense of fear took her body. She couldn’t force her lungs to breath when she opened her eyes to see a black figure behind Akio about to plunge something on his back.
The girl covered mouth and yelled but the two paid no interest to her. Akio was stabbed multiple times until he fell to the floor. Her senses came back and her legs told her to run as fast as she could.
* * *
“Rein,” said the old, “You are stupid. You know that?”
Rein furrowed her brows and let her back slide on the house as she sat. “You don’t know what it likes,” she said. “You can’t see spirits.”
In truth, Rein wanted to tell the old man to ‘fuck off.’ But he had donated a few coins in his past that doing might take away future meals she could get with his generosity.
Ghosts didn’t frighten her, she was used to them. The one she saw a while ago was unnaturally strong, enough to trick her into believing him to be real. Rein traced the events and looked over her mistakes. She should have kept her ears open. One pair of footsteps on the path should have warned her that she was, by physical means, alone. The mistake came in the fact that she was too focused in trying to put a name on his face.
I got careless.
Rein put her knees to her chest and held a near empty cup to anyone passing by. The cup had a pebble that she rattled to get people’s attention. She wasn’t pretty enough to get them with looks alone, not with her clothes turned a few hues in brown when they were originally white. If she were too pretty then the dark side of town would have caught her by now. No one cared for a homeless girl. A boy could at least be put to labor and housewives didn’t need a young face like hers to take their husband’s attention after long hours of work.
“They can’t hurt you,” said the old man. Rein’s face contorted from two of her faces fighting each other. She wanted to glare at the old man but the money he made as a shopkeeper told to her smile. It was no different than hearing that “one should brush after every meal.” The repetition of those simple words hammered at her head and tempted her into responding “I know.”
Rein sighed and glanced over at the items the old man was selling. He had a talent for painting and a grandson that followed in his steps. One piece in particular had long caught her eyes. It was a painting of a ship heading towards the light in the eye of the storm where the seas were calm.
She had picked a spot next to his stall because she understood human’s nature to move to the visually pleasing. It meant more faces made her way when people’s faces stopped letting their eyes rest over the art. The rattling she made with her cup was the final trap.
The coins came in, but it was never enough. Rein would have to return to Akio if she wanted to secure food and proper clothing for the upcoming winter. It wasn’t the warning of people that lived here that turned her to stealing. It was weeks ago when she arrived in this town when she saw a spirit that shivered in a back alley, barely any clothes and frozen in place.
She understood the spirits replayed their last moments every single day. If she didn’t hurry, what she saw was a threat to become of her.
“So that was Akio,” she said. “How did he die?”
“Hear he went missing,” said the old man. He had completed a transaction and was counting up his coins. What he said hadn’t gone over her head. Daiko was stabbed but Rein saw no need to tell him that. “It was a few decades ago.”
* * *
At the end, Rein had made enough coin to feed herself for a few days with the bare minimum. The streets were brightened half by lanterns and half by a sleeping sun. The only people around were those running to the fish stalls to get a discount on day old fish.
Rein stood up and stretched her body. The old man pushed a coin her way and bid her a safe trip home. Along the way, she got to see a disturbed crowd pushing on each other and forcing their coin on the fish seller, claiming they were first. In it Rein saw someone’s spirit trampled and gathered that the fish stall must have been there for a long time.
They’re frightening when they are desperate.
She went on her way home and in one of the alleyways. There, she stumbled on her home with a face on disgust. Assholes, she put it nicely. Her home was a shed independent from the wooden structures around. What she saw was broken planks of wood on top of hay that she had used for a bed. It was in ruins and night was creeping in by the minute. Rebuilding would take time and no one could do it in pitch black.
To her, this was a warning. It could have been done by the residents nearby, telling her to move. It could have been out of jealousy from a fellow homeless looking to take the spot. And at worse, it could be from someone wanting her to make her life miserable enough to seduce her with the prospects of prostitution. Making enemies was stupid, she thought.
Rein dug around the broken shed and took out the sheets she used on her bed. It was the only thing remaining and she cursed under her breath. She was on her knees and closed her eyes in trying to keep her composure from letting the incident get to her.
* * *
Rein’s coin purse went empty. She had purchased an oil lantern with enough fuel to last through the night. As well as lock and key. In front of her was Akio’s house. It was far from town and virtually hidden from the overgrowing forest around it. The house might be haunted, and the old man’s words banged on her head.
They can’t hurt you.
The old man’s words echoed. Rein went with determination backing her heels in and was quick to put a lock on the door. The door itself was rusted at the hinges and she was confident it would break with a enough pressure. She felt, however, that some resistance could keep unwelcome guests away. They would make a lot of noise to wake her up from sleep and give her time to run if they felt greedy. The doorway out the kitchen had its own lock and the house didn’t have windows. By all means….
It is safe.
With the lantern to light up the house, she made her way to the kitchen where she rested her lantern in position. She spent an hour to cleaning up a corner of the kitchen, as well as testing the backdoor’s durability.
Rein folded her sheet once and placed it on herself. One fold was enough to cover her body down to her toes though it wasn’t much to protect against the cold her back was feeling against the surface.
Come morning Rein headed down the path and back to the village where she waited for Akio’s spirit to appear. And so she was successful when she saw him looking at the horizon, just as the sun was about to come up. He was smiling, a young man barely broken into his twenties and had an air of confidence about him.
“You’re a spirit,” said Rein. Akio spotted her and frowned.
“Probably,” he said. “Didn’t think you’d come back. Aren’t you afraid? I might put a curse on you, you know?”
“You wouldn’t do that,” Rein followed after Akio as he started heading up the path.
“Do you know me?”
“No, but I heard you’ve been missing for a long time,” said Rein. The old man said decades, but he wasn’t exact on the details.
Akio didn’t react. He had his expectations and had long accepted his situation.
“Do you know what’s tying you to this land?” asked Rein.
“Not that I can think of,” he said. “I don’t feel hungry, or tired. I never get bored. It does get lonely, though.”
“Have you spoken to anyone else?”
“Hmm,” Akio scratched his head. “There was a priest that came to visit a few years ago. He had a hard time speaking to me.”
“How so?” she barraged Akio with questions. Nevertheless, Akio had a smile on his face.
“It was like talking to an old person,” he said. “I had to yell at him to get my words across, and he couldn’t see me even when I stood in front of him.”
They reached Akio’s house. The young man continued to the side of the house where overgrown bushes had made their home. Akio breezed through it while Rein felt the pointy ends and thorns scratch her clothing.
“It was nice talking to you,” said Akio.
“Akio?” Rein called for the young man. Akio continued down the lake he had first told her about. But to her it was a dry river bed, cracked and begging for water. The river had long been diverted elsewhere for farming.
His eyes were empty and it explained his brief goodbye. He was like a puppet going through the motions, life-like but not entirely there.
Rein waited on him. Akio was replacing the line on his fishing rod with a new one and then whispered to himself, “I forgot the lure.”
Rein waved a hand in front of Akio’s eyes. She had been completely ignored when he walked through her and back to the house. The girl met a dead end when the two reached the backdoor of the house. Akio slipped through as Rein rushed back to the entrance and to the kitchen. Akio was in the midst of cleaning his fishing lures while the dark spirit had appeared before him, ready to strike.
Like before, Rein could feel the fear overtaking her. The level of hatred the dark spirit unleashed made it hard to breath.
Akio fell with a sudden strike that couldn’t have been any more lethal. The Akio’s body was dragged through the backdoor. It continued on for an hour. The dark spirit dug a hole to bury the body, there was no respect for the dead. Akio was stuffed in a hole under his house. The dark spirit vanished and Rein hurried back inside the house only to come out short with spoons and forks. It wasn’t a few inches deep when Rein scratched Akio’s skull as it was discovered. One by one she dug out Akio’s bone and set them where they neatly together before wrapping them up with her sheets and placing them inside Akio’s closet.
Now all I need is information.
Rein planned her day back in the town.
* * *
“You ought to make sure,” Rein overheard a priest talking. She was sat against the wall of a church overhearing what was expected to be a private conversation between a priest and a captain of the guards.
To Rein it was a free lesson every time she listened in to the priest’s conversations. A common practice amongst the street-rats was to make use of their ears, one needed only to listen. Most information was free, but good information was hard to come by.
“I don’t have the man power to burn every corpse,” said the captain. “And just to be exact, you want nothing but ashes left?” The captain snorted. “You must be joking.”
“You don’t have to,” said the priest. Rein heard the captain’s heavy boots moving with the priest in tow, “you just need to give them a proper burial. The church can handle the rest. Give it some consideration.”
Rein followed their voices out and saw the captain first-hand as he was waited on by a group of soldiers. Each one well fitted for war, leather armor, spears. These were the captain’s personal guards. Captain Stosonoff, by the looks of it. Rein had seen him multiple times parading through the streets each time his group came back from a skirmish.
When the captain left, the priest stood alone and opened it an opportunity for Rein to step in. “Excuse me,” she greeted the man. The priest eyed her appearances, but his god always preached love for all.
“Come in, come in,” he welcomed the girl with open arms. This counted the first time Rein entered the church despite her reluctance.
Inside were rows of chairs all facing small shrines of animals. Rein recalled that each animal represented a guardian spirit. The walls were painted with figures of servants. Their faces awfully detailed that she hadn’t dared meet their eyes. Before she could speak with the priest, something thing caught her attention. Spirits of fish swam above on the ceiling. They were colorful, pleasing to look at before the real surprise kicked in. A giant snaked slithered around the fish and resembled on of the guardian spirits.
“Can you see them?” The priest pointed at the ceiling.
“See what?” said Rein, but the Priest saw through her lie. She was too mesmerized by what she saw that it showed in her face.
“You’re blessed,” he said. “The previous head would tell me stories of master Nelaseth.” He looked up, his eyes looked at the ceiling but not at particularly anything. His eyes weren’t following the fish around. He saw absolutely nothing.
“You’re a priest,” said Rein, “but you can’t see them?”
“No, unfortunately,” his voice was sapped of happiness.
Then what good are you? Rein wanted to say. This priest, however, was the same one she always overheard speaking of spirits, how to handle them and how to expose the ones with ill intentions.
“But you know things.”
“Then,” he said, “how may I assist you?”
Rein explained her situation. Everything about Akio, how he had died, about his bones being discovered.
“Do you pray?” asked the priest, he believed it his turn to prod her for information. It took Rein a moment to understand his intentions.
“I don’t pray,” she answered. The priest sighed as if he had lost something but was uplift at the thought he could ask again, once he showed her the appeal of the church.
There was no appeal, Rein believed. Being part of the church was tempting because it would provide her with a place to sleep and free meals. Membership, however, was forever. If she died, the church had a way of chaining her spirit to the earth. She was also completely aware that the faces on the walls were of living spirits with their bodies hidden in the walls.
“I know of Akio,” he said. “If you found his body I may be of help.” The priest added that they would meet tomorrow at the footpath leading to Akio’s house.
“Then,” Rein was one step out the door, not soon enough, “we’ll meet tomorrow.”
– I – Next Chapter >>
This is a new rework of the story. If you’ve read the past iteration, I’m sorry that they will no longer be available. The major change went from first person past, to the now third person limited.
Any comments about the story would be very appreciative.
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