The Story So Far: Ghost-seeing teenager Van Sullivan returns to South Haven, his childhood town, after ten years of being away. After a rocky reunion with his old best friend Rose and a bus accident, he finds himself in another world with Rose's boyfriend Theo. The two of them fall into an old, abandoned set of ruins and discover Temp, a strange, mannequin-like figure. After leaving the ruins with Temp in tow, the two encounter a woman named Liv. Liv informs the two of them that Temp is a vessel created by this world's god—and that Van is the world's new chosen one.
In a graveyard, a girl meets a strange boy who can also see ghosts.
word count: 2,226
The conversation came to an abrupt conclusion after the revelation that I was this world's next chosen one. Needing a break from Theo, Liv and everything else about this whole chosen one thing, I marched out through the front door. I tried to leave Temp inside by giving it a very stern look, but the vessel refused to stay put. It followed me—with its honey in one hand—out into the rest of the yard. I wasn’t sure how much of the sight Temp registered when it joined me at the yard's edge.
I sat down on the stone wall and stared out into the dark woods beyond.
With some difficulty, Temp sat down next to me.
It stared up at the stars with glowing, blank blue eyes. Somewhere within Temp’s eyes, I thought I saw a glimpse of humanity—or of godhood. I couldn't quite describe it at the time. We just watched as the twilight hues of the sky above become an inky black sea. At some point, Temp offered me its honey jar. I didn't pick it up, but the exchange made me nostalgic for nights spent laying with Rose on our backs in the graveyard.
When Temp and I finally returned (both of Temp's hands now coated in honey, and mine now holding the honey jar) the kitchen lights were off. Liv was tending to the counter in the shop part of the house; Theo was nowhere to be found. She took a look at the two of us and gestured towards the kitchen. The honey jar was placed back on the table, and Temp's hands were washed with my help.
We left the kitchen and rejoined Liv.
During the time we had been outside, Theo had apparently gone to bed. Liv directed me to an unused bedroom. She apologized for the state of it, but I could see the dust rag sitting on its desk when we entered. It was clear that she had done a little bit of cleaning while Temp and I were stargazing. As Temp and I sat down on the edge of the bed and watched Liv close the door, I just knew the room had belonged to that wife she kept mentioning. The wife might have been long gone, but the room felt alive. It was as if she had just gone out for the day and hadn't come home yet.
As I fell asleep with Temp watching over me, I wondered if it was possible for people to die in this strange, unfamiliar world.
And I wondered why Liv would be so willing to let a stranger and his odd, dirty vessel into her dead wife's room.
When I woke the next morning, I knew exactly what I had to do. I was going to tell Liv I couldn't be the chosen one. There would have been some bigger sign than the god's old, abandoned creation taking a liking to me. Why would that god ever pick me to do whatever a chosen hero was supposed to do? I certainly didn't want the responsibility.
Temp and I left the room. I changed into some clean clothes that Liv had left folded up in front of my door. It felt good to get into something clean and fresh, but I wasn't willing to entirely sacrifice my sense of style. A snug, maroon t-shirt and faded, slightly too large light blue jeans were okay at best. I found comfort in my stained and slightly ripped leather jacket. It probably didn't look good with the rest of my outfit, but I needed something to be familiar—other than my shoes, at least.
I found Liv lurking in the kitchen. Past her and through the window, I could make out Theo walking through the yard. His pacing was aimless; I couldn't guess where he was trying to go.
I looked away from the window and turned back to Liv.
She was in the middle of flipping pancakes. There was a stack of at least ten of them on a plate next to her stove. They smelled absolutely delicious, but I wasn't going to let her bribery sway me.
I faltered when she flipped the newest one onto a new plate. My resolve was sound; I wasn't going to give into temptation and forget about what I had to say.
But, on the other hand, there wasn't anything wrong with taking her up on her offer. When she slid the plate across the table and gestured at the butter and syrup, I got to work on breakfast. I was a quick eater. I always had been. I could still fondly remember a time that Rosie had gotten mad at me for eating an entire quart of ice cream in a single sitting. She had been worried sick about me getting a stomach ache afterwards.
She had been right, of course. I had never felt so sick.
...The thought of Rose made me pause.
Liv, sensing the opportunity, sat down across from me.
“I don't know a lot about what it's like to be a chosen one,” she said, “but I know you have to have some kind of question about the whole thing.”
I opened my mouth.
Liv looked down at a white tablecloth that hadn't been there the night before. Something about the glimpse of sadness in her eyes made me shut up and wait for her to continue her speech. It felt wrong interrupting her.
“...I know that I keep overwhelming you with information,” she quietly admitted. Her tone made me feel weirdly guilty. “I just want to make sure you're prepared. The last chosen one wasn't.”
I found my voice again. “There were others?”
“There's been more chosen ones than anyone could ever count,” she said. She glanced up at me. Dark brown eyes looked into hazel ones as our eyes briefly met. I was starting to realize just how out-of-place I was on this world—and how badly I needed guidance from someone like her. My stomach twisted and churned at the thought of having to rely on a stranger, but...
Temp reached for the honey jar beside me.
...Liv's little house and shop felt like a long lost home. I could see why Theo was so comfortable with sleeping here last night, and why he could feel safe enough to wander through its yard alone.
“It was my wife,” she said.
I looked away from the window and raised an eyebrow. “She was what?”
“The last chosen one,” Liv said.
My mind flickered back to the bedroom.
The dust rag on the desk. The room feeling alive, even when it was clear it hadn't had an occupant in years. Liv offering it up to me, despite me being a stranger and the room having belonged to her dead wife. It all made sense with the context of her wife being the last chosen one. I could even understand why Liv was so willing to let the three of us into her house the night before. She had to know things about this world's god that most people wouldn't ever know.
“I'm sorry,” I said.
I knew those words wouldn't mean much. They always came out as hollow to the living and the dead. What could two words ever do to convey the sorrow one person felt for another after they had a major loss?
I straightened in my seat.
“What happened to her?” I asked, hesitant. Beside me, Temp paused as it grabbed onto the honey jar that had apparently been left out during the night. I wanted to lay this conversation to rest, but I needed to know. Whether I liked it or not, it seemed like people were going to think I was the next chosen one. I had to be prepared to beat whatever fate had gotten my supposed predecessor.
Liv shook her head.
“I don't know,” she said. “She just...left one day. Our god had been missing for almost a decade at the time. She claimed that she was the reason he had gone away in the first place. She had been sure it was the right thing to do. I told her I'd watch over the shop, but we both thought it would be for a year at most.”
A pit formed in my gut.
“It's been almost a decade,” Liv finished.
I wished I could have said I was surprised by the answer. But I was good at gauging grief; I knew how to guess how long it had been since someone died. I couldn't put an exact year or date to it. What I could do, though, was tell if the grief was old or new. This grief was still as heavy as grief always was, but its edges were softer.
“You wanted to warn me,” I guessed.
She nodded. “I don't want whatever happened to her to happen to you.”
I pushed my plate away.
“And you want me to find out what happened to her,” I added.
She took a deep breath and let it back out as a sigh. She looked even older than she actually was in that moment. I wondered how she had ever survived the solitude of running this little forgotten shop in the middle of a seemingly endless stretch of dark woods.
“I know Romi,” she said. “She would have come back if she could. I...I would like the closure, but I just want to make sure she was able to move on. This world isn't supposed to have ghosts—our god has made sure of that. But if he's disappeared for the first time in the entire history of Arium, then I think anything can be possible.”
I knew what I had to do.
I pushed my chair back and got to my feet.
“I'll do it,” I decided. Folding my arms, I promised, “I'll find your wife.”
She shook her head. “You need to find Rew.”
She gave a tiny little laugh. “That wasn't a sneeze. Rew is the name of our god. I miss Romi every single day, but this world misses Rew even more. And that's what Romi would have wanted you to do—if she had any regret, it was causing him to disappear.”
He left you, I wanted to say. You relied on him for everything and he vanished. How could he ever be more important than someone who never wanted to leave your side?
But I didn't say anything. I knew I couldn't. I bit my tongue, told myself that I could find out what happened to Romi and Rew, and then get this whole chosen one thing sorted out. If I found this god, he could prove that I wasn't the chosen one. I'd be free to do whatever people did when they got a second chance.
“Then I'll find him,” I said. “Where do I start?”
Liv thought for a moment.
She got to her feet and started to head into the shop room. Temp and I followed after her. In the back of my mind, I realized I could learn more about Temp when I found this Rew god—he'd be able to explain why he left a vessel kicking around in a set of ruins and suddenly decided to fill it up with his magic.
Liv grabbed a rolled up piece of paper from behind the counter.
“This is an enchanted map,” she said. “It'll show you the way to the capital. I can't promise that they'll have any more answers there, but they might be able to give you a better idea of what Rew was up to before he vanished. According to Romi, he loved visiting that city. You're sure to find someone who knows what he did last there.”
“Magical map and wild goose chase in the capital,” I said. “Got it.”
That wouldn't be that hard.
“You should go tell Theo,” she suggested.
I frowned. “Why would I want to tell Theo?”
She stared at me.
“...You're friends, aren't you?” she asked.
I folded my arms. Though I couldn't see it, Temp mirrored my gesture behind me. I would have been proud of the vessel if I had actually been aware of it at the time. “We barely know each other. He just happened to be dating my ex-childhood best friend. The only thing we have in common is her and ending up here together after we died.”
She gave me a long, hard look.
Then she shook her head again.
“You should still go tell him,” she suggested. “I think he'd want to go with you.”
I raised my eyebrow. “What makes you so sure?”
A knowing smile flickered across her face. “I wanted to follow you outside last night to make sure you were alright. He insisted that I stay inside so you could have time to process everything on your own. And while I didn't want to burden either one of you while you were here, Theo helped me prepare Romi's old room so you'd have somewhere comfortable to go to after you were done stargazing.”
My gaze traveled down towards the hallway.
Liv left the space behind the counter—leaving me in silent contemplation of whatever that all meant for the rocky relationship Theo and I already had.