(2 of 3. Originally posted on October 21, 2022 for the prompt “Ghost Town.”)
SPOILERS FOR PART 1. IF YOU HAVE NOT YET READ STARFLOWER, READ IT FIRST, HERE
A foggy haze filled the air, giving everything an ethereal feel. Roland tucked the thick wool blanket, knit by his wife during pregnancy, around four-year-old Aribeth.
“Tell me a story, daddy.”
“Okay,” Roland pursed his lips and pretended to consider it. “How about…The Rabbit Who Ate The Moon?”
“No!” Aribeth’s face scrunched with the intensity of a child who knows her mind. Her thick black curls framed a ghostly-pale face and strong, dark shining eyes. “Tell me about the Bad Men, and how you saved us.”
Roland changed his involuntary sob into a cough. His voice only trembled a little when he replied. “Of course, Love. As you wish.”
Aribeth grinned and snuggled in to the pile of blankets that formed her bed, insulating her from the cold stone floor of the hut.
“A long, long time ago…” Roland spoke in his dramatic storyteller voice. “When you were but a wee girl, only just turned four…”
Aribeth’s delighted giggle soothed Roland’s wounded heart like fine oil.
“I spent a whole night out in the wilds, collecting Starflowers to use in the Festival the next day. But as I returned, I heard the sounds of fighting in the village. A whole army of Bad Men had come, men who hated us…”
“Why did they hate us, daddy?” Aribeth interrupted with the same question she asked every time.
Roland gave her the same answer he always gave, the only answer he had, even though she would never understand. Truth be told, he didn’t understand it himself. “Because, a long time ago, longer than we can even remember, our family and their family disagreed. They got very angry, and hurt each other. But we were all too proud to say we were sorry.”
“Okay.” Aribeth’s “thinking line” appeared between her eyebrows as she processed that information. Her black hair turned gray in the thickening mist. “What did you do?”
“I used the Starflowers,” Roland turned his head to hide the tears forming in his eyes. “I put them in the soldiers’ water, so they couldn’t fight anymore. So they couldn’t keep on hurting people. I made them go away.”
“And you saved us all!” Aribeth’s eyes lit up.
“Yes, baby.” Roland gave up and let the tears roll down his cheeks. “I saved us all. Even though we couldn’t live here anymore, everyone comes back for the Festival each year. Just for the day, we can all be together again.”
“And we all lived happily ever after.” Aribeth’s hair shone soft white. The edges of her blankets unraveled into mist. “Again! Tell it to me again!”
“I’m sorry, baby.” Roland held a hand near her cheek, not quite touching her transparent skin. “The sun is coming up, and you have to sleep now.”
The first ray of sunlight touched the hut, dissolving it. A moment later, everything evaporated, leaving Roland crouched alone on a bare smoke-stained stone foundation where the hut used to be.
“I’ll see you next year, sweet girl.”