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