Ghost Keeper

Idea: I wanted a school kid story. > Rina and Robin are recruited for a school of Talents — people who can Move ghosts on to the afterlife. Problem is, neither kid actually has the Talent. > Told in storyteller fashion.

Process: Camp NaNoWriMo 2012, I made 25k words. Sept&Oct I wrote 50,000 more and finished Nov. 1st.

Edited: No.

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On the Traveler’s Road between Ipshok and Dunhok, two small out-of-the-way towns nobody really care about, there stretches a single line of wooden fencing marking the territory of a single farm. If you were walking to Ipshok, from Dunhok, meaning Westward, you would first find the fence to be well-mended, sturdy, and enforced with a shiny tar to keep moose-hogs from straying. (Moose-hogs prefer dark and shady spots and will not face the sun, or any shiny reflective surface that may shine light in their sensitive eyes. If a moose-hog is missing from the passel, he is probably stuck at a trough or other source of water, having sniffed it out, had a drink, then found himself unable to lift his head for fear of reflective light.) Walking farther along the fence, you would suddenly come upon a place where the new wood is not yet tied, and all the wood after is rotted and splintering. It would look to you as if a sudden disaster had called the workman away from his repairs, and he has yet to return. You would walk and walk over the miles of falling fence and wonder, perhaps, who would abandon such large swathes of land? The answer, if you cared to look for it, dwelt in a small house a mile from the Traveler’s Road, and went by the name of Mission.

Rina Mission was the youngest of the 9 girls; the least pretty, least tall, least brainy, least motivated, and most aware of all these things. She was content to live life day by day, rising with the sun, eating good food, bickering with her older siblings, getting chores done as fast as she could, and running around with her little brother. When Robin was born, Rina didn’t have much interest. She thought — and isn’t it sad — that he would probably die like her other little brother. He was such a tiny thing, it was like a little lamb you knew was never going to grow up to join the flock. But because she was so tiny and really no good at anything else, Rina was assigned to watch Robin all the time, and ever since he could walk he had stuck to her side like a burr to a wool underbelly. At the time of this story — well, you don’t even know what this story is yet, do you? I’ll tell you one thing, it’s about Robin to a small degree, and about Rina a great deal more. Rina was 13 years old, just celebrated during a mild winter storm, she had received a new pair of mittens she then wore everywhere, and some ribbons for her hair. Her mother liked to braid her thin, long brown hair with the ribbons, which Rina let her do, as if not she wouldn’t bother to brush her hair at all and then her sisters would chase after her with a brush (which Rina did on purpose some mornings and not on purpose most others). Imagine a little brown starling darting in and out of the bush, landing for a little while, moving her head back and forth looking for danger, and this is much like Rina Mission. A bit like you, she didn’t like to sit still for very long, could not attend to her lessons, and was able to cause general mischief simply by doing something that ‘seemed a good idea at the time’. Although Rina supposedly looked after Robin, it might seem to an observer that it was really Robin keeping Rina out of trouble. Robin was smaller than Rina, but only because he was 4 years younger, and when they stood together Rina could easily lean forward and kiss the top of his head, which she liked to do. His hair was soft and light as goose-down, fair to the point of turning green when they swam in the river. Rina liked to run around and explore the land, and Robin liked to sit down and watch things move. He could crouch in the field for hours watching a spider move, or follow sunshine through the orchards, or talk to himself, or throw rocks in the river and watch how they splashed or bounced off each other. (Rina liked throwing rocks, it was one activity that kept her in one place.) While Robin watched bugs she would try to catch them, while he looked at sunshine she gathered apples to tease the moose-hogs with. They were always together, and always out of the house, unintentionally hidden so none of the others could find them to help with anything. Because she was small, Rina was the best at gathering fruit and nuts from the orchards, but it seemed she has moss in her ears because she never heard her sisters calling her. They would call and call, only to give up and go gather themselves, inventing ridiculous chores Rina would have to do once they found her.

“Yeah all right, I get it that you’re important,” Rina grumbled, interrupting the scout. “But you’re saying Robin and me’ve gotta go to this Fortunity thing? Now?” The scout — she still didn’t know his name and at this point didn’t figure it was worth knowing — looked to her parents, smiled at them, then looked back, and smiled at her. His smile was irritating her. “Yes, Rina. You and your brother will live in the capital, at the training facility. You will be schooled not only in your use of Talent, but normal subjects as well, to help you in your vocation.” “Vacation?” “Job,” Robert clarified. “Oh. So I have to study?” Rosella smiled at this, and Rina felt she’d been betrayed. “But I don’t want to. I like it here.” “You will like it in Nalkoh,” said the scout, so sure of himself. “No I won’t,” she said instantly. The scout leaned forward, lessening the distance between himself and her though she sat back in her chair. They were in front of the hearth, after dinner, after he’d explained all about the Talent to her, or as much as she cared to know because if they had just said ‘you vanquish ghosts’ that would’ve answered all her questions. “Rina, your Talent is desperately needed. We don’t have enough people with your ability to get rid of ghosts fast enough. I told you father, just a few weeks ago, one of our armies was haunted by hundreds and hundreds of ghosts, and it was so bad they had to flee the enemy before even fighting. Your Talent is important to Okholm, to your people, to your family, and to the ghosts.” “Do the ghosts want to haunt people?” “No, of course not. They’re curious, and bored. Some of them, like Titum, have been here for hundreds of years.” “But if you know him, why is Titum still here? What is his wish?” The scout leaned back with a sigh. “I can’t tell you that right now. Some ghosts are very private as to what their wish is, sometimes because it is very dangerous, or very embarrassing. You will understand more once you’ve met a few more ghosts.” “But I’m not going to because I’m not going,” she insisted. His icky smile turned into an icky frown. “You are, Rina. Your Talent is too important to waste. You both can not only see ghosts at this stage, but talk to them as well. That makes you even more important. Okholm needs you.” “I don’t care.” “You will come.” “No I won’t.” “Whether you like it or not.” “This isn’t fun anymore.” “Rina,” said Rikki desperately, before the scout could continue getting meaner, “guess what? When I marry, I’ll be living in the Capital too. I’ll be so happy if you were there too!” Rina looked aghast at her sister. She had forgotten Rikki was going away. She loved Rikki. “But Rikki, why can’t you stay here too?” “Because I’m aiming for a better life, for myself, for all of you, and for my children.” It was weird hearing Rikki talk about kids, when really she wasn’t that old, and Rina wasn’t either. Rina stared at her shoes. “What about you, Robin?” the scout asked, turning to an easier victim. “I want to help the ghosts,” he said immediately. “I think — I think I’ve met a lot of ghosts. They’re nice.” The scout nodded. “Yes, of course they are, they just need help.” Rina couldn’t understand how someone who was dead could possibly be nice. Wouldn’t they be ticked off, that they were dead? Really? That’s what I’d do, Rina thought, if I were a ghost. I’d want to haunt and curse people all day long because it’s no fair they are alive and I’m not. I’d play around for a long time, I wouldn’t want to pass on ever. And I’d scare the stupid old horse that bites me, because she wouldn’t be able to bite me anymore. “Rina?” Her mother placed a hand on her shoulder. “I have to go?” Rina asked, craning her head up. Her mother nodded. Rina lowered her head and swallowed, then looked at the scout. “Well. All right then. Can I take my things?” He nodded. “Your father will accompany us as far as Dunhok, where I’ll buy you your own horse. Take only as much as you can carry, and the horse will be able to manage it.” “When will I come back?” He didn’t answer, and Rina glanced to her father. He looked so tired now, but when he caught her looking his way he smiled broadly. “We’ll come to visit you,” he said, “and when you’ve completed your training, you’ll be able to visit us.” “How long does that take?” Rina asked the scout. “It depends on the student,” he answered, which wasn’t helpful, because was it more like a couple of weeks if you were good and a couple of months if you weren’t? Or was it as short as days? (Probably not.) Or did he — could he really — mean years? Rina wanted to back out of it again, but she scrunched up her lips stubbornly and nodded. “I’ll go get ready.” She slipped off the chair and darted through the line of family to the stairs, taking them two at a time.

“Yikes!” What was that? Rina almost jumped off the horse to escape the strange girl touching her leg. Where did she come from? “I’m a ghost,” said the girl, so matter-of-fact Rina was not sure how to respond. “Leave them alone for now, Collee,” Jeisson said, “they just got here.” “D’ya know all the ghosts?” Rina asked her scout. “The ones who have been around for a long time,” he said, smiling weakly. Rina looked back down at ‘Collee’. Her hair was wild and tangled, even more so than Rina’s, her eyes were dark and tired, and she wore a red pendant on a collar around her neck. She looked, thought Rina, haunted. “How long’ve you been dead?” Rina asked the ghost. Collee pushed off Rina’s leg and stumbled backward, then righted herself, looking confused. “Um. What? Oh, that. I should wear a sign around my neck saying ‘I’ve been dead for 100 years’ then maybe people will stop asking.” “You’ve been dead a hundred years?” “I’ve no idea. The experts estimate 120.” “How’d you die?” “I don’t remember.” “What’s your wish?” “I don’t remember that either.” Rina drew a big breath and let it out through her teeth. “That blows!” Collee puffed out her cheeks. “You’re tellin’ me!” “Collee, go bug someone else,” said Gahm, aiming at kick at her. Collee stuck out her tongue, even as the kick passed right in front of her face, then spun and ran off. “Why would you kick her?” Rina asked, frowning. It seemed an awful mean thing to do, kicking a child. Gahm turned around in the saddle to look at her, which Rina learnt meant he couldn’t believe what she was saying. “She’s a ghost, Rina. She has no substantial form. I can’t kick her.” Rina thought of how cold the girl’s fingers had been on her leg, and remained silent, frowning, until they reached the large glass doors across from the fountain. Here, at last, they dismounted, and tied their horses up at the posts. The five of them stood in front of the thick, frost-streaked walls, and looked through the double-paned glass. “Are you ready?” asked Gahm, looking down at the Mission children. Rina grabbed Robin’s hand tightly in her own and nodded. They stepped forward.


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