The Ghosts of War
“...And this concludes our tour. Are there any more questions?”
Most of the tour group shook their heads. A few of the teenagers avoided eye contact to avoid having to speak up. A few of the children were eagerly tugging on their mothers and looking shiny-eyed at the gift shop. Temre waited another beat.
“Oo-kay! Well, please enjoy the rest of your stay in Meridell. There’s going to be a spooky hayride tonight; pamphlets are outside of the gift shop if you are interested.” The group immediately dispersed. The children fled with glee towards the gift shop, a few neopoints clutched in their tiny paws. A few adults curiously picked up a pamphlet or two. Temre sighed and walked sluggishly into the lobby of the visitor’s center. The fake smile she used during tours slowly melted off of her face. Autumn in Meridell was a popular season for tourism; everyone liked to see the leaves change or to visit an authentic farm. She hopped behind the welcome desk and plopped down in a spare rolling chair beside a plump skunk Ixi.
The Ixi hardly looked up from filing her hooves. “Hello to you too, Temre.”
The Aisha, head heavily placed on the desk, gave a muffled reply.
The Ixi rolled her eyes. “Was that your last tour of the day?”
Temre reluctantly sat upright and nodded. “Thank Fyora. I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired.” She rubbed the back of her neck. “The groups get duller every day, Amy. One woman had the gall to ask me who Meridell was fighting in the war! I mean, really, even my baby sister knows that!”
Amy laughed and shook her head. “The world is full of morons, sweetheart.” She checked her watch stood up, grabbing her bejeweled bag. “I’m off for the evening. Are you coming to Kelp with us tonight?”
“Nah,” Temre said, also standing up, “I think I’m just going to head home and have nice cup of tea.”
Amy shrugged. “Suit yourself. I’ll have an extra cocktail for you,” she joked with a wink before waving goodbye and flitting out the door. Temre smiled after her. Amy was her best friend, but her expendable energy was sometimes draining.
Temre clocked out and grabbed her thin cardigan from the coat room. Being custard colored, she often enjoyed the chilly October weather and really only wore her sweater at the persistence of her owner. Before leaving the building she swiped a few Mixed Flowers from the vase beside the door. She squinted into the sunlight. The vivid setting sun illuminated thousands of shiny grave markers carefully plotted across the hilly landscape. Giving tours in a gloomy soldier’s graveyard had stopped affecting her long ago and she found the sight to be oddly beautiful. The fact that even enemies were united in death was always a surreal idea that she found fascinating. She decided to walk the scenic graveyard path instead of her normal route home.
She passed slowly by her favorite markers, people she had never personally known but who were just as real to her as her family. From her job experience, she knew their lives by heart. Temre found Private Larson Leakey’s marker and carefully laid a purple flower beside his stone. According to the story, he had been a promising young Meridellian soldier who had fallen in love with a beautiful Darigan girl. He would trade extra food for things like hair ribbons and send them to her along with his love letters. Like most love stories, of course, it ended in tragedy: He was killed in a surprise attack while on his way to propose to her. When she got word of it only weeks later, they say, she took ill and eventually died of a broken heart. Temre gave the old stone a loving pat before moving on.
She continued down the cobbled path. The sun was far behind the hills now. She stopped at Old Madam Mamie’s grave next. Old Madam Mamie was an eccentric old JubJub who was a neutral force in the conflict. She would take any soldier into her home and feed them, as well as provide medical attention and shelter. Her only rule was that enemies be comrades under her roof. It was said that many lifelong friendships, despite the war-drawn boundaries, were formed because of her. When she passed towards the end of the conflict, she was given a soldier's burial because, as one anonymous source famously quoted, “she was a soldier of love.” Temre laid a flower down and kept walking.
This went on for some time. It was Temre’s little tradition to help her unwind and in some ways to say thank you. It was the only way she knew how.
She eventually reached the end of the graveyard and waited patiently by the Eyrie stop. It was very dark now, and the sky was clear and starry. Kreludor was full, casting an eerie glow over the sprawling farmland. One of the most common questions she was asked during tours was whether or not she had ever seen any sort of supernatural activity in the graveyard. Although she would have liked to say yes, she had never seen anything of the sort, at least not the kind of ghosts they were referring to. No, the ghosts she knew were merely memories or stories, kept alive only by an Aisha who had desperately needed work. In the distance she could hear the distinct hoot of a Weewoo out on its nighttime hunt. Her stomach rumbled obnoxiously.
“Someone’s a bit hungry.” Temre jumped and looked around. “Down here.” She looked down.
A small, sweet looking JubJub stood by her feet. She was withered and a bit frazzled, yet seemed incredibly spry. Her smile was warm and inviting. “Oh, hello, ma’am,” Temre said.
“Now just hold on a second, dear, I think...” The old woman began digging through a rather large, dusty carpet bag, much larger than herself, that Temre hadn’t noticed before. With a triumphant “Ah-HA!” she suddenly produced an Orange Sweetie. “Have this. It isn’t much, but it should stave off your grumbling tummy until you get home.” Temre smiled and accepted the treat. The woman reminded her so much of her own grandmother.
“Thank you so much. I haven’t had one of these since I was little.” She popped the fragrant candy into her mouth. The old woman winked.
The large Eyrie cab came to a halt, startling Temre. She boarded and sat down, leaving enough room in her seat for the ancient JubJub to sit next to her. To her utter horror, however, the Eyrie secured the doors and prepared to take flight.
“Wait!” she cried, attracting the attention and aggravation of the other passengers. The Eyrie, formidable and strong, glared at her. “You’re leaving that little old woman!”
“Take yer seat, missy,” he growled in his thick Meridellian accent. “There’s nothin’ out there besides the Werelupes.”
She stood up and peeked over the side of the cart to look around. Sure enough, the old lady and her huge carpet bag were nowhere to be found. Puzzled but still embarrassed, Temre felt her cheeks flare up as she sunk slowly into her seat. She felt something give way beneath her as she sat down. Annoyed, she rose up slightly and removed the offending item. What she found made her swallow her Orange Sweetie whole.
A beautiful bouquet of purple and pink flowers, tied with an old silk hair ribbon, was clutched in her paw. Her mouth went dry and she shakily read the note attached:
“Thank you for keeping us alive.”