D: Sorry, ma’am, authorized personnel only.
A: Authorized—D, let me in!
D: Please ma’am, I have to ask you to step away.
A: Step away? What is this? D, it’s me.
D: Who is this ‘me’ you speak of?
A: . . .
D: Tapping your foot at me – no matter how menacingly – is not going to get you anywhere. . . A.
A: Ha! I knew it. What is going on here, Druid? What’s with all the ‘ma’am’ and the bloody –
D: Ma’am, if you could just move your feet—
A: Don’t push it, D.
D: (Sigh) there’s been a robbery, or haven’t you heard?
A: A robbery?
D: A series of them. It’s right there in the last, you know, substantial post on this blog.
A: Oh boy, here we go.
D: Of course, if you had spent any amount of time here on the blog . . .
A: Marie was right, you are such a girl.
D: (Spluttering, speechless)
A: I thought that might shut him up. And I suppose the Druid is right. There has been a burglary – at least, there has been a burglary in the tiny village of Protection. Protection is perhaps the only free village the bleak future The Heresy of Before has to offer. Treading on those freedoms is not something taken lightly.
D: So without further ado (a girl, indeed), here is Part 2 of the Spirit Keeper.
A: Thank you all so much for reading!
. . . .My name is Ellie, and I am what amounts to the law in our village. . . Outside Big City, we were free to remember Before, but not many did. These precious keepsakes, passed down from one generation to the next, are all that we have left. . . . For all our supposed godlessness, our Elders do sometimes speak of the spirit of all, which lingers in each heart. These keepsakes are reminders – repositories even – for the sacred memory of the spirit of all, and someone has been stealing them.
There was the photograph of wildflowers, scratched and battered, that had belonged to the herb-woman, Ruth. Rumor was her great-grandmother had taken it just weeks before man had blackened the sky. Then there was the box of gears and glass. Mathias, son of a sky-watcher, said it was a sextant, a curious-looking thing to help sailors find their way using the sky. It had gathered dust since his father had passed, but it was still precious.
These were just the ones that people were willing to talk about. Nearly twenty people had raised their hands or nodded in commiseration at the last Debate – a silent acknowledgement that their tokens of the old world too were missing.
Trading that silence for words was a delicate dance, and for the first time, I wished I had one of Papa Henry’s maps, defunct though they were. It was a blasphemy of sorts, to ask people about their possessions. Privacy – especially for those born in Big City – was a hard-won and cherished thing.
We work with each other, and strive so that the community may survive, but we are still human, still fiercely independent and deeply private. Peering into the crevices, even to find the missing pieces of our souls, was not something to which I was accustomed. Keeping the peace during Debate and the days the followed, should the day-long nattering prove fruitless, was relatively simple compared to peeling back the layers of prickly freemen.
“Ellie.” Papa Henry’s voice reminded me of the giant rocks on the ridge that guards our village, ancient but powerful. They are all grown over with lichen, but they perch there at the edge of the ridge, to remind us that though they may not have moved since the Greys descended from the sky, they could. They could still destroy our fragile world without a moment’s thought, or notice.
He was standing in the open doorway to my cottage, his long white beard waving in the breeze. He is a bear of a man, and the leather smock he wore only made him seem larger, more imposing, yet his pale green eyes, deep with secrets, were kind.
Papa Henry hefted the spyglass I kept on the windowsill – a ‘shingle’ of my trade, as Samuel would say – as he waited for me to acknowledge him and welcome him into my home.
What if those hands – those hands that were almost never empty – had slipped bits and bobs into his pocket, maybe without even realizing it?
Even before I realized it, I was shaking my head at the quiet, insidious ponderings of my mind. That was impossible. Papa Henry was our most venerable elder.
But what if he was getting old – too old to know what he was doing? That wicked voice in my head – the one responsible for keeping an eye on likely troublemakers, and ornery sods from Big City – had a point. What if he was—?
I shut down the voice with a smile at Papa Henry. Even if he was getting on in years, he would not keep the items he’d pilfered. He would find a way to get them back to their owners, either by owning up to it, or by smuggling the items back before they were ever missed.
“Trying to work your head around the thefts, I see.”
I grinned. He was old, but Papa Henry was as sharp as ever. If our elder was responsible for the thefts, the issue would never have made it as far as Debate. It doesn’t happen often – only once since I came of age – but the tricky machinations of men bent on getting their own way does happen. I did not think this was one of those times.
My smile turned rueful as I looked at the old man. “I’ve never had to do anything like this before. I don’t even know how to ask people.”
“Has anyone been ‘round to tell you about the missing things?”
“A few – but not nearly all. People keep looking at me like they want to say something, but then they just shuffle off, like they’re embarrassed.”
“Then help them not be embarrassed. Let Jan know that you want to talk to people, that you’ll be in your office here for an afternoon if anyone wants to stop by. Bake some cookies.” He laughed as I rolled my eyes. “No wonder you ain’t married, Ellie – making faces at the mere mention of cookies. Didn’t your mam teach you sense?”
I tried to smile but I think it came out more like a grimace. My mam had taught me more than just sense, but I knew what Papa Henry meant. Marriage offered more than just a partner in all things, it was also a means of protection. We were a small village, and not completely unknown. My stubbornness and insistence I could take care of myself had earned me more than Papa Henry’s gentle scolding.
There was more to it, of course. There was the expectation tied to the taking of a mate, an expectation of life growing, and I had watched Samuel and his wife Caroline suffer when their babe was lost to the technocrats. I did not know if I could bring myself to see my soul lost in the eyes of another.
“It’s not the cookies themselves, Papa, it’s the heat,” I added. “Baking cookies in heat of the summer is a fool’s errand at best, but I’ll see what I can do.”
Maybe I could get Jan to bake the cookies. Hers was a small craft shop, open only after the sun had made mid-day and closing as dusk swallowed the light. If ever anyone wanted information, all they had to do was trade Jan some handiwork or a bit of jewelry for her sheep’s wool and cheese, and they’d have all the information they wanted.
Whether or not it was good information never seemed to matter. The woman had a way about her, a shine to her smile that nearly matched the shine in her golden hair.
And it brought me to wondering: What if she was the thief? What if the ear bobs hadn’t been as plentiful? What if her river of information had dried, and with it, her customers? Was that why I had seen her skulking about the well, blushing scarlet the moment I called her name?
There was only one way to find out. Papa Henry was already on his way out the door. I waved goodbye with one hand and dug in my desk with the other. There had to be something in there worth trading to Jan – for the cookies, and for a bit of information.
… To be continued.