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November 28, 2022

The Forgotten Boy 2

By Sand Pilarski

"Pssssstt!" said a voice near my head. "Time for you to get awake and say my name!"

It was a good thing I'd met the ghost the evening before, else I'd have slept until the sun was well up and have lost the best part of the morning for walking. I stood, let my staff lean on my shoulder and raised my arms to the sky, shouting, "Targold! Targold! TARRR-GOLD!" much as the ghost himself had done when I went to sleep.

The boy skipped and hopped on his spectral legs, spun about, and hugged himself. When he was done cavorting, I said, "Now, Targold, I must journey on. You have your new name, and it is time for you to journey on, as well. There is a land, a world beyond this one, that will be better for you. Just look over there, a little past this hill, and you'll be able to see it ... and then you can go there."

"Where are you going?" asked the ghost.

"Away south, and then west. When I come back this way again, I'll stop and say hello to you if you're still here, but I think you should go, too."

The boy's face took on a troubled mask. "That next world ... will they know my name is now Targold?"

I was a bit taken aback, because I didn't know if, in the next world, the spirits still bear the names they were given and were known by in life, or if they all called themselves as they chose. We shamans of Ur see the unseen, but only if they are tied to this world. Once they move on, we see the unseen no more. So to speak. "I don't know," I said honestly. "Maybe you could introduce yourself?"

"Aser, take me with you to see the rest of the world!" the ghost said, trying to pull at my sleeve. "I never saw nothing but our farm and this ridge, please!"

"I can't do that," I told him, "I'm not going to the rest of the world. Be at peace here until you're ready to move to the next world."

"But I'm all alone!" the ghost wailed. "There's no one else here! I hate being alone! It will be like that in that next world, too, and I don't want to go!"

"No, it won't be, and that's the best reason for you to look for it and go there," I started to tell him.

He interrupted me before I could continue with more reasons for him to move on. "How do you know? Have you been there to see?"

"No," I said, "but I've been taught that it is the place of All Joy ... "

"Well, I was taught that if I was a good boy and didn't pull my sister's hair, I'd grow up strong and have a happy life. Being taught something doesn't make it true."

I wasn't about to take the time to teach a revenant the difference between admonitions and faith -- I couldn't afford to lose another day. In his childish mindset, he had a point. And in his childish mindset, he had a problem. He was all alone out here, his spirit tied to this world, set off in a place that no one cared about or even knew to visit. He'd lived an isolated existence of poverty and ignorance, unknown to the rest of the world, and even in death, he was cast off.

"How big was the jar your dust was put in?" I asked him.

"It was Grandmamma's cookie jar," he said. "It always looked big to me."

Great, I thought. Aloud I said, "If it is too big, I won't be able to carry it. I'll come back with a horse and cart if I have to, but I'll make sure that you get to somewhere with a nice cemetery so you can make some friends."

"It's not so big you need a cart," the boy laughed.

"Where is it, then, I need to get moving here," I told him, seeing the eastern horizon glowing like a forge.

Ignatz Clovis the new Targold pointed to the ground under a rock the size of a wedding bread. "Oh, so you did have a grave marker after all," I said, pulling a few clumps of spring grass from around the rock. "How deep is the jar?"

"It's right there, that's why they put that rock over it, so possums wouldn't be able to dig it up," said the ghost, pattering his hands over the stone.

I rolled the stone over, and began digging in the earth with my fingers. Only about two inches below the surface, I felt the slickness of glass or baked pottery. I dug like a badger, and unearthed the top of the vessel. It was only a handspan across, and I dug faster and harder to find the sides.

With dirt packing my fingernails to the point of pain, I pulled out my dagger and used it to free the jar from the soil. "When were you planted here?" I asked, puffing with the effort of digging.

"I don't know, Aser, nobody ever told me when I was. Maybe they didn't know."

"I think I can take you with me, but I don't want anyone hunting me down for being a grave robber, Targold, my boy." In spite of the cool morning air, sweat was starting to drip off my nose, which is a really disgusting feeling.

"Take me with you? Really, you will? I can see the world!" The boy-ghost began to caper about, sometimes stepping on me and giving me icy stabs in my arms.

"Knock it off," I told him, shaking myself. "Do not tread on the shaman!"

"Oops, sorry," he said. "I just can't wait to go!"

I had enough dirt scraped away from the jar to work my fingers underneath it. I pushed up the sleeves of my robe and picked at the soil until I could get a grip, and then heaved on it, and the second heft made the thing move. With the third, the jar came loose and I was able to lift it from the ground.

"Whee!" shouted the ghost.

I sat back on the grassy verge and panted, my arms tingling with the effort. The jar revealed was rather small for a container of human remains, but I didn't comment on it to the boy. Whatever his family had put in the jar obviously contained his essence. Some cookie jar, I thought. Grandmamma was pretty stingy with the baking.

Touching the lid, I found the jar sealed, probably with wax. That was a good thing, as I didn't want to be losing bits of the boy as I traveled. I took off my robe and laid it on the ground. I put the jar on it, then tied the tail of the cloak to the top, and again tied the front edges of it to each other. I tested it, found it travel worthy, then tied the sleeves together and slung it over one shoulder. It wasn't too heavy; I could get by with it, though it would slow me down a little and make me ache by the end of the day's walk. I told myself all I needed to do was reach some cemetery and have the jar re-buried. Targold would have company, a little diversion, and eventually he'd look where I'd told him to look and move on to the next world.

My people believe that there are some specific ways to take care of the remains of the dead. The people of the Ur-Gifts, be they seers or shamans (or empaths or telekinetics or fire-starters or mind-readers or anti-magicals) have their ashes strewn on the Mountain of Remembrance. There a number of spirits (but not all) reside, to give counsel to the living, to tell the oldest stories, and mostly, to gossip and party without care. The ungifted members of the clans are interred in burial grounds near the wells of each of the seven clans, to give back to the soil and the water the essence of their earthly natures, and to watch over the safety of the wells. Mountain or burial grounds, the ghosts of the land of Ur are not isolated or without company.

Some knowledge was passed down through the ages of the world, to all peoples, to set aside a place to put the remains of the deceased, a place warded by magical spells or incantations, to leave the dead at rest and peace, unpestered by necromancers or demons. And to give them a neighborhood of their own, a little land occupied by others with the same situation, some of whom have the same complaints about no longer being living, all of them having to share the same condition of being dead. It's a good thing for them.

"Are you ready to head out?" I asked Targold in his makeshift RV.

"Woo hooo!" he shouted, swirling around my head like a miniature tornado. "Let's go to Dallas!"

"We're going up and over your ridge," I said. "Dallas is going to have to wait a long time before you ever get there."

"Why, don't you ever go there?" Targold said in a worried tone.

"Hell, no. And if I sent you there by magic, you'd end up on Antiques Roadshow as a door stopper. Forget it."

"Then where are we headed?"

"Gershom Caravan Trail. Before sundown. Now shut up and let me walk, unless you can tell me something informative about this ridge."

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2014-07-14
Image(s) are public domain.
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