A/N: Written for the WCC, January 2014, for the quote: "The living tell the dying not to leave, and the dying do not listen. The dying tell us not to be sad for them, and we do not listen. The dialogue between the living and the dead is full of misunderstanding and silence." - from Welcome to Night Vale, Ep. 37: "The Auction"
On the Windowpanes
There was an old legend that told of the ghosts of their dead: of how they left a chill in the air when they passed, of how their rage could turn even nature's will to fear. But they were coming out of an age where the people blindly believed, and the ghosts were abandoned as the living pressed on.
The tears and pleas of their deathbed companion were the last thing they heard, and remembered. The warmth of their hand, trying to pull them back to life, was forgotten as the chill of death set in, and their hands remained cold forever since. Their lips as well, repeating the tears and pleas they recalled without peace, because there was no tender smile to send them off, no relief to settle their no longer beating hearts.
So they became wild with madness in the end, and the living started and fled the haunt. And the ghosts remained there, until a brethren came to them with presents to warm their faces and hands, till they could finally remember the sweet things they'd left behind, and their souls could settle into the earth with a final thanks.
The windowpanes always became pale with frost in the midnight hour, whether it was the gales of winter or the warm pants of summer that blew. Few remained awake to see it, and fewer still noted it. The seamstress in her modest wood home was one who did, for her kerosene lamp burned into the fake dawn to light her working table.
Her customers were many but poor, the remains of a once prosperous city now struggling through time. But the seamstress charged what they could all afford: morsels of food and other essentials that they could spare, and combined they managed to support her as well. It was a hard life though, one that often found her customers begging a few days respite – for she could hardly let their babes freeze in the midwinter's cold because their parents had no morsel of food at that moment to share – and she herself weaving and sowing in the darkness so that the others were, at the very least, guarded against the nature.
Canvas for the windows and roofs when the winds grew wild. Cloaks to guard against the stinging debris when they were forced to travel far from the village for food and other raw materials. Warm clothes and blankets for the summer; softly woven things when the sun burned down. And, her secret little job, mittens and scarves for customers who paid with silence and peace.
Stories often came to their humble village, of other villages in similar outwardly ruin but less at peace. Because they managed: she made clothes, the builders built, the teachers taught, the cooks cooked and everyone else foraged for supplies and everyone came away with an equal share of everything and content for it. But the other villages were different: there were screams and broken things and soil that refused to give them fruit – as if the place is cursed, they cried, cursed with ghosts.
Many laughed. Some were frightened, but they simply gave their thanks to the Lord that had spared them and went on with their lives. For none of them saw the frost on the windowpanes in the midnight hour, and none saw the seamstress carefully lay out her mittens and scarves beneath it, and find them gone when she awoke several hours aver the true dawn.
. 0 .
Her eyes began to burn in the kerosene light. She was no longer as young as she used to be, but the frost on the windowpanes had not ceased over the years, and she knew the ghosts were still cold. So she continued to work, for there was a plenitude of the plant that made her wool, and a plenitude of time between work she did for other villagers. And they were coming out of the dust-storm season, where the rain battered against her newly woven canvases and slid off into the trenches surrounding their homes. Soon the winter's chill would arrive, and she would be busy again in making warm garments for the living.
Often she wondered why she still clung to the old stories. From her younger years she'd felt sympathy to the ghosts that wandered, with their cold hands bereft of the warmth of life, and their colder still faces. It was what had driven her to learn the craft in the first place, and it was what had spurned her through the long hours of needle pricks and frustrated tears before proficiency came. But even the harsh reality of the adult world had not convinced her to lay the old story aside, had not pulled her away from the burning light as she worked till the fake dawn to make mittens and scarves for the dead.
Perhaps it was their absence when she awoke that solidified her heart – though there was no shortage of bandits passing through and taking all of value to sell for coin as they left. Luck was with their village at least; beauty was a thing long gone from their blood, and the daughters safe.
But the seamstress preferred to believe, because that gave her a heart beyond what their cycle of life could grant. It gave her a hope for something more, a happiness that could not come from mere contentment. A vision – even as the kerosene slowly ate away at her sight – and a reason to cry when she awoke one monsoon day with mere shadows greeting her instead of colour and light.
That was the last time she saw the frost on her windows; when she tried by touch, they felt no flake of cold coming off.
. 0 .
She grew frail quickly; a new seamstress took over the craft, and her grandchildren came to care for her. It was barely the new dry summer before the heat of her body had almost abandoned her, and the new seamstress came with heavy garments to cover her up.
She croaked at the young woman to leave them under the windowsill. The woman refused and dressed her, but came another day with another pair for the ghosts. They stayed there for more than a week, her grandchildren telling her when she asked, but one day they did vanish into the dust storms.
When the children came to tell their grandmother, they found her last frail bits of life too had gone.
. 0 .
She found herself lost, and floating, surrounded by cold and hearing echoes of tears and sorrow. But she also heard something else: whispers of thanks, and they drew her to a wooden home, to a windowsill.
The tears were closer and she wanted to flee, leave them behind, but the gratitude was stronger still and so she came, touching the window gently so that she may see what dragged her so. There were children there, children crying over something cold. Those tears hurt; they stung, but there was something else there too that promised to soothe it all.
She found it, under the windowsill: a pair of mittens and a scarf, and she put them on. Quickly, the tears became soft and tender instead of harsh, and a little later she felt the memories of warmth stealing back into her. And she smiled; she kissed the windowsill one last time, in thanks, and then began to settle into the earth.