The answers had to be there, netted in words or in the spaces between them. This was the Book, and she was its Keeper. Her inheritance was etched in brick and mortar. What could be simpler? She didn’t know.
She didn’t know anything, and the seekers grew impatient, riled by her indecision.You’d think, she imagined, that ghosts would be accustomed to the intransigence of waiting.
Instead, they glared at her from beneath spider-casted eyebrows, smelling of mercury and dust spiked with tinges of magnolia. Their voices were a clap of thunder wrapped in cotton, a diffusion of catastrophe.
Their questions were a clamor. They wanted the meaning of justice, of existence, an exactitude of right and wrong. She offered what she could, scrambling for a purchase on the wall’s ambiguous remainders. She tossed them “Val, Mel” and “End” and “TVG”. She interrogated numbers and the symbols wrought between them. Perhaps she needed algebra or calculus, along with etymology, linguistics. She found “2002” and “905” and “10”, but were they years or costs or distances? A circumference or an angle? She really couldn’t tell.
The ghosts began to mock her. They threw gauzy strands of bitterness, lumps of restless fury. They made her smell of brine and fish, a sunken, ancient clipper floundered in a storm. When they left one night in a blazing rush, a huddled heap of rage, she wondered if they had abandoned hope of her — or if they were gathering their brimstone pitchforks, spiked to drive her out.
But when the boy arrived, the child, he was alone, and he hadn’t any weapon. She was scrying by then, digging at the wall with limber eyes, hoping for a miracle. The boy was dressed in faded corduroys, an orange T-shirt rumpled and untucked, the logo indecipherable. One shoe was missing. The other had no laces. His fingers were dirty, caked with mud as if he had clawed his way from death. He was looking at the window, at the nearly solid glare of light.
She followed his gaze, wondering if she should measure the spectrum, the angles of diffusion. Was there a message in the gouges of the frame? Her father had left her only one injunction, “Stay.”
But the boy was looking at the light, and suddenly the Keeper gasped. It couldn’t be that simple. Her fingers brushed the corroded metal frame, the icy panes of glass. There wasn’t any latch. When she pushed the window open, the boy slipped past her, laughing, thunder turned to rainfall as the tip of his single canvas sneaker vanished into elsewhere, through the margins of the Book.
All the dead passed through that room, eventually. They left their questions at her feet. Every evening, she swept up the detritus of lingering uncertainties and burned them in a small bright fire. Eyes closed, she felt the pull of light, its tender provocations, and understood her father’s meaning. She was the Keeper and it was very simple. She stayed.
Learn more about Wing-Feather Fables here.