November 19, 2018


The Aser Stories 54: Letting Go


Planners, loggers, coopers, and whores -- this isn't your usual cast for "Singin' in the Rain."

It was a dark and stormy night. The thunderstorms had passed, leaving only rain to pour down in torrents. We had no tent, and the rain pounded our heads and dripped from our noses and chins. We were camped in a graveyard, and the rain bothered the ghosts not at all.

"Can't you simply shut up and let us pretend to sleep in silence?" demanded the wizard Cloudraft the Great, who was able to see and hear the unseen world just as Danner and I could. Unlike us shamans, however, he didn't view the gift as an opportunity to serve; he was bored silly by ghosts, and camping out in cemeteries was wearing on what he thought had to be the very last of his patience.

Niles Cooper, deceased, replied, "I've been dead more than one hundred sixty years, Master Cloudraft, and have been the head ghost of this cemetery for all of that time. I keep the inhabitants of this graveyard from wandering about and frightening people. I call wayward spirits to task and enjoin them from returning to the village to infest houses and places in which they died. I believe that I have earned a bit more respect than being told to shut up, especially right in the middle of the story of how I founded this village and named it Sweetwater because of the lack of sulfur or mud in the springs and wells that grace this fair location."

I was sick of hearing his story, too, because one of the drawbacks to talking to ghosts is that they are generally stuck in the past, with some issue of their life still interfering with their progress from death into the next world. Niles had founded this village, and was still so worried about its success that he couldn't let go of his job as headman and travel on to the Realm of Life, mistakenly under the impression that the village and the cemetery couldn't do without him.

"So why didn't ye keep me son from stacking logs in the back yard of the inn, I asks ye? If ye'd had a word with him back when he needed it, he wouldn't be over there now tryin' to pick up that tarty haunt what died in the fire that burnt down the cathouse!"

"And did your son ever consult with a medium or a seer to listen to what I could advise him?" asked Niles sarcastically. "Nooooo," he told the ghost of the inn-keeper, "he thought the living could do it all on their own, and never mind about the wisdom of elders or the education by the elders' experiences."

"Me son was still walkin' the livin' earth and so was ye when he piled the lumber logs in the yard while I was out of town buyin' dried beans, and half the men of the village helpin.' Did ye speak to them? Did ye even wonder what they was doin,' ye bein' caught up in yer important thoughts up in the grand study of yer big house on the hill?"

"Cartography and city planning are subjects that immerse the mind, my dear fellow. I could not be expected to baby-sit every dull fellow who cannot even observe that a pile of logs with no stabilizing agent at its base may roll and tumble and cause physical injury," Niles replied. "I had important things to do and I did not know that your son was so stupid."

"'Twas ye that told for the logs to be cut for the next lot of rooms for the inn!" howled the ghost of the innkeeper. "Ye lackwit all-boss!"

The constant and repetitive bickering of the innkeeper and the headman were wearing on us, along with the rain.

"Innkeeper Darcy, why didn't you instruct your son in how to stack logs?" asked my friend and relative, Dan Ur-Jennan.

"He was supposed to be larnin' the inn trade," said the corpulent and unshaven spirit, whose ethereal appearance mirrored his usual state when alive. "Not loggin.'"

"Then why is his death the fault of the Headman Niles Cooper?" Danner asked.

"'Twas that busybody know-all tells-everyone-what-to-do what conscripted all the able-bodied to cut and stack timber for dryin,'" said the ghost bitterly. "Him and his cursed urban growth plan."

We'd heard this argument a dozen times already. There was no resolution to it; the innkeeper blamed the headman Niles Cooper for his son's death, and refused to be consoled for his son's death, and Niles still maintained after all these years that deaths that occurred because of his orders were none of his concern, and so was not in the least repentant.

That's one of the reasons there ought to be a shaman of some sort or another (although my clan maintains that there are no better shamans than the Ur-Jennans) in attendance all human settlements -- to help the shades of the dead to come to terms with their condition and help them get on to the next world.

There was this ghost in a townhouse in Crosspasses that used to wander about the kitchen and parlor at night, rearranging dishes in the cupboards and strewing the contents of the sewing basket of the lady of the house all over the parlor rug. The maid was blamed for moving the dishes, and the lady was rapidly losing the respect of the staff, which did not enjoy being called liars especially when they figured the lady was moving her own dishes in her sleep.

The cat was blamed for the sewing basket, and after a few knitting needles were found in the couch cushions and a newly-embroidered pillowcase was found in the ashes of the fireplace, the cat was made into a pair of mittens.

Finally the master and lady of the house, at their wits end, suggested that the staff be locked in their rooms at night, an action that the staff heartily agreed to. While the maids and the butler slept the sleep of the smugly relieved, and the cat's hide graced the winter wardrobe, the sewing basket was emptied into the coal bucket and the stemware was moved from the cupboard above the wine rack to the dry sink on the other side of the dining room, and a soup pot was taken from its hanger above the stove and set on the table with three potatoes placed in it.

Once the household realized that a ghost was in residence, a shaman was asked to negotiate with the spirit. The ghost was the shade of the wife of the previous owner of the building, and she was under the angry impression that the current woman of the house was the new wife of her own husband, and did not like the way the lady ordered her kitchen, nor did she admire the woman's skill at needlework.

The ghost was even more furious when the shaman told her that her husband had died and traveled on to the next world without bothering to say so much as "Hello, I'm dead, too" to her, and after breaking a vase and making the family dog piddle on the floor, took off for the next world herself to hunt him down and give him a piece of her mind.

The shaman was my uncle, by the way, that's how I know this story.

However, the ghost of Niles Cooper and the ghost of the embittered innkeeper weren't listening to any reason. I got up from my sodden seat beside Danner and went to speak to the ghost of the son of Darcy the Innkeeper. "Pardon me," I said to him, interrupting his attempts to impress the ghost of Julie the Harlot, "why are you still here and not moved on to the next world?"

"What next world?" said the ghost.

"The one with all the good stuff in it," I told him. "The next world with all the sunshine and food and wine and travel. The one that makes this world look like chicken feed."

"How would I get there?" the innkeeper's son asked. "I never heard of it."

"Just look past this one," I told him, and his ghostly face turned from me and Julie the Harlot to look at something distant.

"Well, now, who'd have thought that ... "said the ghost, and disappeared from my sight.

Julie the Harlot curled her spectral lip. "Don't even start with me, shaman. I'm going nowhere."

"Only because you're afraid of where you'll go," I responded, and sloshed back to Danner and the ghosts of Darcy and Niles.

"Hey, Darcy," said Danner as I rejoined them, "your son just went on to the next world. Why don't you follow him?"

As Darcy paused for a minute, looking past us at something in the distance, Niles said, "Yes, Innkeeper, why don't you move on to Stupid Land with your son?"

Darcy startled out of his gaze and turned on Niles. "I'm stayin' right here until I see yer snotty soul rot in Hell's springtime!" He grimaced, hands in fists.

"That's it, I've had enough," said Cloudraft, wiping streams of water from his eyebrows and cheeks. "This is ridiculous. I don't like these ghosts and I definitely don't like this weather -- I just got over a cold and have no desire to get another. I'm leaving. Now."

"Cloudy, where are you going to go at night in a rainstorm? You know you have no sense of direction," Danner said to him.

"I'm going to Los Angeles," he sputtered through the rain pouring through his silver moustache. "Give me my damn hat."

I'd been holding his hat to keep his magic under wraps as we hid in graveyards and enchanted places, but I handed it to him as he asked. I didn't want to be turned into a squirrel by an irritated wizard. Besides, he slowed our travel time by twice as many hours, and if he was safe in another dimension, Danner and I could move far more quickly towards the lands of Kaladang the Axe. "Have a nice trip," I said. "Don't forget to send us a postcard."

He ignored me and turned to Danner. "Are you coming with me or staying in the rain?" he demanded.

"The rain doesn't ask me to choose between duty and comfort," Danner said, not looking at him, "so I think I'll stick with the rain. See ya around the campus."

Cloudraft straightened his hat on his head and switched his magic wand about, whispering some incantation. He disappeared from our sight.

"Sissy," said Darcy the Innkeeper's Ghost.

"Quite the quitter," agreed Niles Cooper.

"Why don't you guys go on to the next world and have a nice beer over this agreement?" I suggested.

"Because he's an insultin' bastard," said Darcy.

"And he's an idiot," said Niles.

Some people will just never let go.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-06-16

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In the same series:

The Accursed
The Aser Stories: Sidelong
The Aser Stories 80: Cabin Fever
The Aser Stories 79: Just Don't Say It Before Spring
The Aser Stories 78: Judgment Call
The Aser Stories 77: "Are We There Yet?"
The Aser Stories 76: A Bone to Pick
The Aser Stories 75: Coalition Forces
The Aser Stories 74: Flying Monkeys
The Aser Stories 73: Elspeth, Ad Nauseam
The Aser Stories 072: Starve a Cold
The Aser Stories 071: House Call
The Aser Stories 70: Dinner Dates
The Aser Stories 69: Fire in the Hole
The Aser Stories 68: The Silk Fable
The Aser Stories 67: The Simple Life
The Aser Stories 66: For What You're Worth
The Aser Stories 65: Taking a Shot
The Aser Stories 64: Second Chances
The Aser Stories 63: The Second Step
The Aser Stories 63: Second Thoughts
The Aser Stories 60: Fish Story
The Aser Stories 59: Ace in the Hole
The Aser Stories 58: Knowledge is Power
The Aser Stories 57: Animal Tracks
The Aser Stories 56: Oz Can Keep Them All
The Aser Stories 55: Small Comfort
The Aser Stories 54: Letting Go
The Aser Stories 53: In a Spirit of Healing
The Aser Stories 52: Stinkin' Kids
The Aser Stories 51: No Words For It
The Aser Stories 50: The Friend in Need
The Aser Stories 49: Run for Cover
The Aser Stories 48: On the Fly
The Aser Stories 47: Just Thievery
The Aser Stories 46: Take My Shaman ... Please
The Aser Stories 45: Hot Stuff
The Aser Stories 44: Courtesy Call
The Aser Stories 43: Adding Insult to Injury
The Aser Stories 42: Natural Selection
The Aser Stories 41: Funny Business
The Aser Stories 40: Happy Endings
The Aser Stories 39: Working Dogs
The Aser Stories 38: Taking Sides
The Aser Stories 37: Dumb Animals
The Aser Stories 36: Harsh Words
The Aser Stories 35: Endangered Species
The Aser Stories 34: Common Language
The Aser Stories 33: Legal Torture
The Aser Stories 32: Whose Fault Is It?
The Aser Stories 31: Money Talks
The Aser Stories 30: The Perils of Sympathy
The Aser Stories 29: Raccoons
The Aser Stories 28: The Ghost of Garfer Miller
The Aser Stories 27: Dynamite
The Aser Stories 26: Junk Mail
The Aser Stories 25: Rose-Covered Cottages
The Aser Stories 24: Crime and Punishment
The Aser Stories 23: Image Is Everything
The Aser Stories 22: Is As Does
The Aser Stories 21: Gourmet Dining
The Aser Stories 20: Families and How They Are
The Aser Stories 19: The Difference Between Men and Women
The Aser Stories 18: On a Silver Platter
The Aser Stories 17: Point of View
The Aser Stories 16: Easy Street
The Aser Stories 15: Moguls
The Aser Stories 14: A Mile Toward Change
The Aser Stories 13: The Price of Freedom
The Aser Stories 12: A Question of Nudity
The Aser Stories 11: Rabbit From a Hat
The Aser Stories 10: Awards
The Aser Stories 09: On A Roll
The Aser Stories 08: Raising Children
The Aser Stories 07: Crosspasses Market
The Aser Stories 06: Judge, Jury, Shaman
The Aser Stories 05:Habit and Stubbornness
The Aser Stories 04: The Wrong Question
The Aser Stories 03: The Labor of Love
The Aser Stories 02: Soup du Jour
The Aser Stories 01: Popping the Big Question
The Aser Stories 40a: Customary Behavior
The Aser Stories 36a: Madly In Love
The Aser Stories 03a: Descent to the Underworld

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