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November 28, 2022

The Aser Stories 76: A Bone to Pick

By Sand Pilarski


"I'm off for another adventure," I told the ghost of Garfer Miller. "There'll be no one to pour whiskey over your bones while I'm gone. Are you ready to move on to the next world and let me bury your bones somewhere other than in front of my door?"

"Oooooohh, sure," he said. "And the minute I step over into the next world, there will my wife be, ready with some demon in her pay to kick my ghostly ass for losing the mill and all our property. No, thanks, Shaman. She'd want my old ass kicked for all eternity. I'm better off waiting here, thirsty and dry, than having her hang a sign around my neck that says, 'Here's the Fool Miller who got drunk and lost his house and business right from under his wife's feet.' And she would, too." His shade flickered around the oregano and sage I had planted, barely moving the herbs, but making the air smell like something should be cooking.

"Maybe you're wrong, Garf. You died thinking she would never forgive you. What if she did, and was just waiting to meet you again and welcome you?"

The ghost waved his spectral arms so furiously that they dissipated into ectoplasmic clouds. "That would be the first time since I married the harridan that she was glad to see me! 'William, have ye been so lazy that you've not brought any bacon home with ye? William, yer back a day early, does that mean ye've caught enough fish to salt for the winter? William, at this hour of the day? Don't ye think ye should be puttin' in a full day of work to keep food on the table?'" he grated in imitation of his late wife.

Garf was prone to exaggerations and obscenities, so I went to the graveyard to visit the place where he'd been interred for a while, until his grandsons dug him up. His wife's grave was untroubled, and so I thrust my staff into the ground to see if Mrs. Miller was still hanging around.

The ghost shot up out of the ground like fireworks. "Have ye seen that worthless, drunken, lazy, gambling, rotten, ill-dressed, foul-tongued Will Miller?" she wailed, banshee-like.

"Yes, I have. Do you miss him?" I asked without hope.

"You show me where he is, and give me a basket of rotten potatoes, and I promise ye, I'll not miss him oncet!"

"Calm down, Mistress Miller. Didn't you share this cemetery with the old Garfer for many years?"

"Aye, Shaman, I did. We lay here in quiet, and him in the most peaceful, silent sleep that he couldn't even hear me when I spoke to him." The revenant leaned closer to me. "BUT HE WAS PLAYIN' POSSUM SO HE DIDN'T HAVE TO EXPLAIN WHAT HE DID BEFORE HE DIED, NOW WASN'T HE??" She screeched. "That dirty card-playin,' ne'er-do-well was hiding how he lost our sons' inheritance!"

"But that's something you never knew in life, and you were content to be buried next to him when your time came, right?"

"Eeeeeee," said Garf's wife, "but I wouldn't have had I known, of that ye can be sure."

"So who told you?" I asked. "Garfer Miller kept his secret until your grandsons dug him up."

"Well, me sweet grandsons did, bringing me posies and lookin' for their Garfer's bones to piss upon. They sat right here and told me all about the mill and the lands going to Nick the Shoemaker instead of them, on account of a lousy hand of cards." The ghost drew thinly up to the tops of the trees, looked around, and then shrunk back down to a squat shape with a kitchen apron on her. "I can't see the bugger."

"So he was a bad gambler. You're both dead, why are you so angry about something you never knew -- something that never affected you?"

"Well, it affects me now, doesn't it, Shaman? Now I have to look upon the grandchildren in their misery and loss for all time!" The specter wrapped ghostly hands in her hair.

"Nonsense. They're not miserable, they married into other prospects that keep them alive just fine. The mill might have been a promise of extra wealth, but it was nothing either of them needed to stay alive."

"All loss is misery, all loss is misery, aaaaAAAAAAaaaahhhh," the ghost wailed.

No, it isn't. A loss you never knew you had may still be a loss, in the grand scheme of things, but it's not a misery. And if you find out after the fact that you sustained the loss, the only misery that accompanies it is what you drum up for yourself. What's done is done, the past is past, and water that flows away down the river with your hat floating upon it will never change its mind and come back to say, "Here, did you lose this?" So there's no point in wasting time lamenting over things you weren't meant to have in the first place.

Still, people do get mired in regrets and mischances. Miss Smallie Longfield went off to the city of Shaddir to pursue a dancing career. Her parents were saddened that she wanted to live so far away, but off she went, certain of her goal. A dance troupe agreed to watch her audition, but right in the beginning of her spins and leaps, a wasp flew swoopingly up her skirts and stung her repeatedly, so that she felt compelled to bound from the stage and race to the public fountain to drown the pain of the stings. By the time she had returned to the stage, the dance troupe had moved on. When she overheard a local story-teller relating the unfortunate event to the laughter of the marketplace, she wrapped her scarf around her face and returned home, not even having bothered to pick up her luggage at the inn. To this day, she curses that one insect, blaming it for having ruined her dreams and prospects and having condemned her to a life of boredom and despair. Thirty years of hatred and rancor towards a purposeless bug.

Gong McElever stares at the great stone house of Alain Duff, and grinds his teeth because Duff won the huge jousting pool a decade ago, daring to put a gold coin on three squares (bumping off the mere slivers of silver) and winning the trifecta that Gong would have won if his silver hadn't been bumped. Now Gong wouldn't have won as big a treasure with his little silver pieces, but he doesn't remember that. In his mind, he would have had the big stone house and the pasture full of cattle had Duff not won his extraordinary bet. Gong's little homestead is weedy and his goats scrawny, for Gong spends far too much of his time drinking hooch from the Fart Sisters' still and lamenting the luck of his neighbor. Yet although all Gong really lost was three pieces of silver, the cost of an all-you-can-eat buffet at the inn, you'd never convince him of that.

Garfer Miller's wife was apparently in the same rut, but I hoped she could leave the habit behind her. "Look over there," I said to her, "beyond that last hill. The next world lies there, can you see it?"

She looked, and nodded her ethereal chin. "Is William there?"

"No, not yet."

"Then I'll wait here until the lousy wastrel slacker shows up by his headstone, and then I'll let him know how much of a loser he was for a thousand years, or a thousand times a thousand!" she said, like the sound of gravel skidding across tin.

"What if Garfer Miller tells you that he's sorry?" I asked with little hope.

"Sorry! Sayin' 'sorry' don't mend no shoes, Shaman! There's nothing he can do that will make up for his stupid, wasteful, inconsiderate, drunken, wicked, ill-planned, stupid --- "

"You mentioned 'stupid' already," I interjected.

"Oh, well then, heartless, evil, malicious ... "

I pulled my staff from the ground and left the shade ranting to herself, convincing herself ever more deeply that she was justified in her anger, resentment, and continued offense.

"Hey, Garf," I called when I got back to my house. "You're right, burying you in the cemetery is not a good idea."

"Told ya."

"But you yourself could go on to the next world. Look there, past that stand of trees ..."

"Nay, she'll come chasin' me there."

"She won't even know you're there."

"Bullshit. The old bitch has lied in wait for me every day since she quickened with our first son. She'll be there, all right, just watching for me to make one move, right or wrong."

Sometimes people just can't give up their anger, distrust, or disappointment. The world would be happier if they could. "Okay, Garf. I'll leave some coin with Thiefheart so that she brings some liquor around for you while I'm gone. Mind your manners with those who can hear you, and I'll try to find a place for your bones that neither your missus nor your grandsons can find."

"Don't let the door hit you on the ass when you leave, Shaman."

"That's it, forget the liquor. I'll have someone bring you half a beer each fortnight. You can spend your eternity griping about that."

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2009-05-04
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