Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: Ghosts and Badgers
In my opinion, a man’s willingness to spend hours standing in a graveyard awaiting a phenomenon impossible to witness is directly proportional to the depth of his feelings for the necromancer who requests he do so. Case and point: I loved Savannah – she was my mate, my wife, my light, my inseparable companion going on two centuries now – ergo I have been stand in this dark, damp graveyard going on three hours now whilst she alternates between pacing back and forth and ducking behind the grave markers, all the while arguing with a spectre only she can see. At present, my darling love is shaking her head and muttering in German as she kneels beside one of the older stones, running one hand along the worn letters carved there.
Suddenly, she pushes to her feet and marches to me, her star speckled, ebony eyes practically glowing with irritation. “I’ve had it,” she declares, switching from the ghost’s German to my own Romanian, “I’ve had enough of that…that…that…badger!”
I blink, confused. I reach for her – I am always reaching for her – and tuck a loose strand of her hair behind her ear, my fingers grazing along her cheek as I do so. “Badger?”
She sighs and leans forward, pressing her forehead against my chest. “Have you ever met a badger? They are horrible, grouchy, disagreeable, and ill tempered creatures that would drive even a saint to run screaming in the opposite direction. That is what I am dealing with right now – a badger.”
“So we are here because of a badger’s ghost?”
Savannah pulls back enough to glare at me. “No, he’s a human’s ghost; he just behaves like a badger. An annoying, aggravating, pain in the butt badger who I would very much like to kill if he weren’t already dead.”
This was nothing new. Over the centuries, more than one ghost had turned up with a request, some final act or another that would finally see them laid to rest once and for all. Savannah is a necromancer, the very last of her kind and very powerful, so powerful, in fact, that ghosts are drawn to her, like metal to magnets, moths to flame. There are times, however, when the ghosts are too persistent, their clamouring too intense and, with Savannah’s concentration already a myriad of cracks, she is not always able to cope.
Our current predicament is proactive; it is an attempt to keep Savannah from breaking. At least this time. Her badger came to her a month ago, alternating between demanding she help him and haranguing her for not helping him, for failing him. Ghosts do not need to sleep, do not need to rest. They can do whatever they wish indefinitely, on and on, relentlessly, mercilessly. And the badger is not the first to have adopted such tactics. Savannah said it was time to teach them a lesson.
“Lumina mea, are you certain of this?” I ask her quietly. “This is…this is not something that can be undone should there be regret later.”
Savannah steps away from me and uses one hand to flick her scarlet curls over one shoulder. “This isn’t something I want to do, Tru. I know better than anyone what this means…what this will cost. Do you have a better idea?”
Savannah sighs. “Then, yes, I’m certain. Will you still help me?”
I snort and roll my eyes. “Please, lumina mea, after all this time need you still ask such things? What do you need me to do?”
She looks down at the nearest grave and shudders. “I will never understand the obsession mortals have with their dead. All of these monuments and shrines they erect in veneration, in memoriam – it’s just plain creepy.”
“They are mortal, love. They know their time in this world is limited and do not have the benefit of our long memories. These graveyards – they are a reminder of what awaits them and a representation of their hope not to be forgotten no matter what ravages time might incite.”
“That was rather poetic of you.”
It is my turn to shrug. “When the mood strikes, as they say.”
Smiling now, she moves away, though no further than the next row of markers. “I need you to be my anchor, Tru. My kitties will come, of course, but they may not be in time. I need you to ensure I don’t slip away before they get here.”
I know all this, but she reminds me anyway. Slowly, she begins to move, pacing along the graves. A low, keening note slips from her lips, filling the night air like the echoes of a bell’s toll. Her power flows out with it, mingling with the mist that tangles and shifts about the graves. She is summoning the soldiers whose skeletons lay in the coffins beneath her feet, summoning them because her badger ghost is their commanding office.
They arrive slowly. They begin as distorted shadows, blurring and unformed, and gradually gain substance and clarity. The soldiers stand before their graves dressed in mud splattered rain gear, their rifles clutched in one hand. They watch Savannah as she moves amongst them, a bright splash of colour in the midst of all their colourless forms. She comes to rest where she began, just in front me with her back pressed against my chest. She runs her hand along my forearm, grounding herself in the feel of me, and clutches my hand in hers when she comes to it.
“Are you certain?” I murmur again, wanting to give her another chance to change her mind.
She sighs. “Do you have a better idea?” she asks me again.
I do not. I love my mate, know she loves me, know that if I ask, she will not go through with this. I know also that if we do nothing, Savannah will break. Her hold on what sanity remains to her is tenuous at best and the ghosts are like rats constantly gnawing away at her until she finally snaps. She grows more powerful with each passing day, her attraction strengthening right along with the rest of her abilities. I know what she is, I know what I am, and I know what sort of world it is we live in. What everything comes down to is a single choice: what I can live with and what I cannot live without.
I can live with the knowledge of what my mate is capable of.
Savannah is the woman I love. She reminds me each and every day to enjoy life, to have fun, to be the best I can be, regardless of what form that best might take. She sees me for what I am, the light and the dark, the good and the bad, the demon and the man, and would not change a thing. She makes me chocolate chip cookies whenever it rains because she knows that rain makes me sad and cookies makes me happy. She wears my shirts when we are at home because I once commented how much I love to see her in them. She does and says a hundred other little things each and every day just to make me happy, just because she loves me and because of her, for the first time in forever, I feel…whole.
I cannot live without my mate.
“Is he watching?” I ask.
She nods. “He’s smiling. He thinks I’m doing what he wants.”
“Go ahead, lumina mea,” I murmur, pressing a kiss to her hair.
Immortal or mortal, young or old, we all hold life – our own if no one else’s – as being sacred. We live as if there are no tomorrows, greedily taking in one experience after another and ruthlessly protecting that which we believe to be ours. Savannah is a necromancer; better than anyone she understands death, understands the beginnings hidden in its ending. She knows what she is about to do and understands its consequences, its costs. This is one of those merciless acts of cruelty and viciousness perpetrated against the innocent as a lesson for the guilty. It is one of those cold, heartless atrocities the history books abhor but that history repeats again and again. It is ruthless and unfair and harsh, but it is necessary. The ghosts need to know there are consequences to harassing my mate, just as moths must learn the danger of the flame or perish.
We have a choice, I know this, but the alternative is unacceptable.
Savannah acts, unleashing her power against the innocent soldiers, obliterating their essence, robbing them of their afterlife and ending their cycles of reincarnation. In a single blinding moment they are ended and gone forever.
“I can hear them scream,” she whispers and I notice the tears rolling down her cheeks. “It hurts them, you know, like…like burning them alive until not even ash remains.”
“Is your badger here?” I ask quietly. I wrap my arms loosely around her waist and pull her closer to me, comforting her as best I can despite my body’s lack of heat.
She stares across the graveyard at something I cannot see and nods. “He is. He…he can’t believe what I’ve done, doesn’t believe I’ve actually done it.”
“Have the others come?”
“Yes. Yes, they came. I…I’ll finish this now and…and then…”
“And then we will go home,” I assure her.
“Home,” she says the word like a promise, like a vow, clinging to it like a shred of hope in a sea of misery. I understand.
She unleashes her power once more, though not as much now, only enough to do away with her badger and leave her lesson carved in the trunk of a massive oak at the graveyard’s centre.
Savannah is turned around and hugging me, her face buried in my chest, her arms holding me tight as though she fears I will disappear if she does not keep hold of me. I squeeze her back in reassurance, gently stroking one hand up and down along her spine. Her ghosts always make her doubt reality, doubt my presence and so I strive to ground her in my touch, to show her as best I can that I am real, that what she feels is real.
“I love you, Tru,” she tells me.
I love her too and tell her so. And then I take her home, neither of us bothering to glance back. There is no point for me; I cannot see the ghosts, cannot know what it is they are doing. All I would see is the lesson carved into the tree and there is no need for me to see it; I know already what it says. A word, a single word, and that is all: Learn.
They will not, but the lesson stands. Class dismissed.
You can read my blog - Calliope's Domain - over at calliopedomain.blogspot.ca