Story: Ghost River Red
Author: Aidan Doyle
Published: July 2012
SOURCE: Lightspeed Magazine
Akamiko arrived three days before the anniversary of the Lady of All Colors’ death. The village held a small market filled with stalls selling fish and vegetables, and a bathhouse stood by the river. It was hard to imagine the Lady of All Colors growing up here.
It was still too early to perform the ceremony, but Akamiko wanted to make sure she could find the grave. She started along the path leading to the village’s hilltop cemetery. She had only taken a few steps when a chill wrapped itself around her. The sun was strong in the sky, but the air grew cold enough that she could see her breath. She drew her red sword, but the chill did not dissipate. Specks of ice appeared at the tip of her blade and she backed away in surprise. The cold air did not relinquish its grasp until she left the path.
She had to learn what was wrong with the cemetery.
The younger villagers would still be at work in the fields. The bathhouse would give Akamiko a chance to talk to some of the village’s seniors. Secrets were harder to hide when you were naked.
Some villages had mixed bathing, but she was pleased this one had separate baths. She unstrapped the wooden frame she carried on her back. It held her seven swords and the urn with the Lady of All Colors’ ashes. She missed her full palette, but swordwriters were permitted to travel with at most seven swords. Red, green, blue, yellow, purple, orange, and white. Even swordwriters needed special permission to travel with a black blade.
A young attendant helped her store the swords and frame. She gave the girl double the fee. “Take good care of my swords,” she instructed.
The girl hesitated and then asked, “Are you a swordwriter?”
“Are you here to kill the ghost?”
She hadn’t even had to get naked to discover what was wrong. “It is in the cemetery?”
The girl nodded.
Akamiko was duty bound to scatter the ashes at the lady’s ancestral grave. Death was a more attractive option than failing to honor the memory of her teacher. She had to remove the ghost.
She took off her robes and hung them on a peg next to four kimonos. Red was her strong color, but her robes looked pale and insignificant compared to the other kimonos. The richness of the golds, crimsons, and purples put the dyes of the capital to shame. “Who dyes the clothes?” she asked.
“The ghost hunter’s son.”
The village was lucky enough to have a ghost hunter. Yet they still had a ghost.