open his way in front of the spirits.

“Are you waiting for me to die?”

The little old lady’s voice rasped so softly that it might have been mistaken for a creaking door hinge. Anapa considered lying, briefly.

“Yes,” he admitted.

The lady, whose name was Sara, wheezed in mirth. “I knew it.” Her voice cracked with humour. “You vulture.”

A very small, thin smile altered Anapa’s face, giving it a little more life.

He had been sat at Sara’s bedside in the hospital wing for two days straight now, ignoring the dirty looks he had been incurring from the nurses. Three evenings previous he had sensed her upcoming death, envisioning the person, place and method, but not the time. Usually he couldn’t sense death several days in advance, but he supposed Sara was hanging on as a final prank. She had a lot of spunk for such an elderly lady. Anapa had listened to the nurses relay twice-daily updates about her kidneys, heart, lungs, blood pressure – all of which seemed to be failing. The doctors had given a list of explanations which really weren’t necessary. Sara was just old. Her time had come.

She knew it, too. “Not long now,” she sighed, her voice barely a whisper.

“Would you like me to fetch someone?” Anapa asked politely. Sara managed a chuckle.

“If they wanted to come, they would have by now.” Anapa had learned over the last two days that Sara had a son and a daughter, the latter of which had children of her own, but none of them had come to see her in the last two days. Her husband had already passed on several weeks before. She was looking forward to seeing him again, she’d told Anapa. “Nobody cares about the old, Annie. Quite right too.”

Anapa, who had given up frowning over her choice of nickname for him, simply shrugged. At Sara’s feeble request, he turned his head sideways to see the view from the window and began to describe it to her. From this window he could only see the stables, parts of the garden and the forest beyond, but he made up a description of the sparkling lake. Sara had told him yesterday that Lake Lilith was her favourite place in Shaman; the place she’d met her husband. It was ten minutes or so before he paused, noticing the shadow by the door flicker out of the corner of his eye. He turned back to regard the blue-robed woman who stepped out of the shadows, her sharp blue eyes settling on him. She raised a white-grey eyebrow perceptibly.

“Waiting for me?”

“Vulture.” Sara wheezed good-naturedly, her lips curling into a very small smile.

Anapa stood up while Aura moved around to sit on the side of Sara’s bed, stretching her fingers out to lightly touch the old lady’s chest.

“I am working, Anapa,” the Guide of the Dead pointed out.

“I can wait.”

Aura shrugged. She closed her fingers around Sara’s brittle hand and squeezed gently. As the old lady exhaled for the final time, her soul left with the Guide of the Dead. Anapa waited patiently with the new corpse for another twenty minutes until Aura reappeared in the shadows.

“She’s with her husband again.” She gave a little smile. “What’s up, Anapa?”

“When you came through before, you said you’d been to my world.” He hesitated, his eyes flicking to the scythe in her hand. Aura glanced at it and seemed to understand his unasked question immediately.

“I don’t know,” she said uneasily. “The staff’s for transporting between Life and Death, not within Life. I couldn’t guarantee that I could get you home without accidentally killing you.”

Anapa nodded, feeling the knot he had been carrying around for weeks – since he’d first had the idea - in his stomach loosen. “I thought so, but it was worth a try. Er – your, er – friend, said that there was a statue of me?”

“Mmm. In the mortuary. The, um – dog-worker that we ran into said the king had erected it after you disappeared.”

Anapa nodded again. “Then they believe I am dead.”

“You did step through a death portal.” Aura said sympathetically. “I don’t have the power to pinpoint where your world is either, and if none of the original fairies know, then… I’m out of ideas. I’m sorry.”

“Thank you for trying.” He reached back to the chair, picked up his outer robe and pulled it back on. “I believe what I need now is acceptance, not hope.”

Aura’s eyebrow lifted a little higher. “Aren’t you the heir to the throne? Won’t they miss you?”

Anapa straightened his robe and smiled grimly.

“Prince Kosari is the heir to the throne,” he informed her as he stepped past her towards the door. “I just work in the mortuary. Nobody misses an undertaker.”


That evening, with the help of the chamber maid who dusted his quarters, Anapa wrote a letter to King Arthur requesting permission to stay in the castle indefinitely and undertake work in the mortuary.

At least among the other morticians, Anapa could feel more at home than he had ever done on Shaman. He was drafted in as an apprentice by an elderly undertaker who agreed to walk him through the funerary practices of this world. They were less complex than on Canidia, but far more numerous. He was showing Anapa around the crematorium when one of the other morticians wheeled a body in.

“State funeral for this one,” the guy announced. “Nobody’s claimed her.”

Anapa’s new teacher peeled back the white linen to reveal Sara’s resting face. Even in death, she still had her lively smile.

“What do you think, Anapa?” His teacher asked. “Cremation or burial?”

Anapa studied Sara’s old, weathered features. He could imagine her spirit chuckling at him on the Other Side. You owe me one, Annie.

“If you show me how to cremate,” he glanced over his shoulder out of the window, glimpsing the edge of Lake Lilith, “then I know where to scatter her.”


image by tinanwang at flickr.com

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