Speaker For the Dead

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Village farmer Margaret survived a fire that nearly took her life, only to gain the ability to hear the voices of the dead. The village healer Christopher can help, except he was recently burned as a witch. Now Margaret is forced to risk her life in order to master her new gift.

Submitted: May 04, 2019

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Submitted: May 04, 2019

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Moths threw themselves at the glowing lantern dangling from Margaret's grip. Fireflies glowed about her, lighting her path to the cemetery for even the moon didn't dare show her face that night. She walked barefoot, patchwork skirts brushing past the rampant weeds, and prayed that her toes only found grass. The soil beneath was still warm from the heat of the day.

Whispers echoed around her and grew louder with every step, but she ignored the sounds much like one would ignore a bothersome child. The sounds had begun after the fire that nearly took her life but she had yet to make sense of them. Christopher had barely helped her understand them until his incident, but she was not done with him.

Distantly she heard what sounded like the scornful words of a villager, muddled by the ghostly murmurs. But as she whipped around, heart pounding, saw that it was only the lone dead tree dragging its branches across a headstone. The abrupt flight of what she swore was a raven past her head nearly scared her enough to go home, but she needed to speak with him. Only he knew how to fluently commune with the dead, and she prayed that she knew enough to summon him.

A small wooden fence enclosed the cemetery, all but lost among the weeds. It was not a frequented place.

Tentatively she picked her way through the graves, slapping at her freckled skin when she felt insects bite at her. She almost appreciated it, a distraction from the raucous calling and her building nerves, until she couldn't take it any longer.

"Quiet!" she shouted at the top of her lungs, and silence fell upon the cemetery before she could hear the chirp of crickets and the occasional owl hoot. Fireflies continued to tumble through the air ahead of her as she made her way through the headstones until she found the one she sought. The stone marker was plain, not even a name to mar it. Such a heathen didn't deserve one, but the villagers feared the wrath of God if they put a child of His in an unmarked grave.

The soil before it was fluffed and fresh. She was at the right place.

With heart pounding, she set the lantern down and raised her other fist. She opened it as barley seeds fell from her hand to dot the soil, each one a plea that she would be heard. As tears began to gather in her eyes - this would be the first time she saw him since his demise - she drew a shaky breath and pleaded: "I need to speak with you!"

For several minutes nothing happened, the crickets mocking her out of sight. She could hear even more moths thud against her lantern that sat solemnly at her feet. Did she do something wrong with the seeds? That instruction was so vague she must have botched it. Full of doubt, she turned on a heel and prepared to leave in shame when a voice echoed behind her, "Wake me and then leave? How rude."

The tears that welled in her eyes could not be contained any longer. They fell down her cheeks at the sound of his voice, the barely concealed laughter that made her consider falling in love with him in the days before his death. Slowly, as if tearing up roots that had tethered her in place, she turned to face the smiling figure of Christopher.

Though he now looked at her with a face of ash and smoke, she could still imagine the glint to the young man's hazel eyes. The pyre that he had burned on left his clothes smoldering, and Margaret could swear that she smelled their smoke. But it was that damn smile, the one puckered with dimples, the one that said everything was okay, that even though his life was forfeit he would stay here with her. For her.

"Do I look that bad?" he said with a nervous laugh. She sunk to the ground, biting on her fist as she tried to silence her sobs. He crouched down in front of her, trying to place comforting hands on her arms that only passed through her and chilled her skin.

"Here I am talking to you, the man I almost kissed, and you're dead," she said through tears. "You didn't prepare me for this."

"Only because I didn't intend to die," he said with a weak laugh, and she could practically hear the apologetic twist to his mouth. "Lesson number I don't even know anymore, spirits with unfinished business are a hell of a lot easier to bring back and really easy if they want to come back."

"Is it worth it if your summoner can't even look at you?" she muttered glumly with a hearty sniff.

Still busy with soaking her skirts with tears, she could not object as he slipped a finger under her chin. He could not lift it but his intent was so strong that she felt her head lift, to look into his smiling pale eyes.

"I didn't expect my homecoming to be so wet," he smiled. Before she could break into tears again, he asked, "What have I missed?"

Buying his distraction, she dragged her wet nose along her sleeve. "Mrs. Winslow delivered, had twins. Mr. Stein's horse Daffodil went lame."

"Give her an apple for me. And what did Mrs. Winslow name the twins?"

"Emily and Ethan."

He shut his eyes, willing himself not to cry. "I'm sorry I missed those things." Clearing his throat, he quickly changed the subject. "You wanted to speak with me?"

With a shuddering breath she asked, "How am I supposed to do this? The only person who can teach me how to speak with spirits is you, and I risk my life coming to speak with you. I can't claim that you bewitched me anymore."

"Was that the claim?"

She nodded and he laughed. "If my home wasn't burned, then by my bed are journals filled with notes--"

"Only the town healer is allowed in, and I'm speaking to him."

"Then guess who needs to be the next healer?"

"I don't think a farmer's daughter is good healer material," she scoffed.

"Of course you are! You help your livestock when they're sick, right?"

"Yes, but--"

"You'll just have patients that can tell you what's wrong. The only other option is stealing them, but I believe that theft is far beneath you."

"But..." Margaret dropped her head again. "If I become the new healer then everyone will forget that's what you did," she whispered, tears welling in her eyes again.

"No one is going to forget the town witch any time soon," he chuckled, but his laughter could not stave off her misery as tears fell down her cheeks again.

"I am sorry for leaving you with this," he said quietly as she wrapped her arms even tighter around herself. He feebly reached out to her but his fingers only passed through her arm. Margaret appreciated the gesture but longed for contact from someone who understood. "But I know you can persevere. Learn from my mistakes, don't dance with the devil in the pale moonlight," he said wryly, and she let out a breath of a laugh. "Yes, you will become paranoid for the rest of your life. Yes, you will alienate yourself. But the dead will have someone to speak for them. You will have questions, of that I am sure, but you will always know where to find me. I'm terribly sorry, my dear, but I feel myself getting called back. Stay strong," and with his final effort he kissed her on the forehead, chilling her very soul before he dispersed.

Margaret sat huddled in silence for what seemed like hours, head bowed as her tears churned in the hallowed soil. Some time later her lantern went out, leaving her alone in the darkness.


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