The Ghost who lost his Face
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The rains came down into the valley every year during monsoon, a downpour that smothered countless homes of animals, humans, and monsters alike. No one went out during the rains. It wasn't due to their danger, not really. The rains are not truly dangerous on their own - they are always light, though the wind might be strong, and the air warm and suffocating. No, it is not the rain that is dangerous during monsoon.

It is the ghosts.

For each year in the valley of tears, ghosts come out of their holes to dance in the deluge. Large ghosts, small ghosts, ghosts with eyes in every orifice, ghosts with hands instead of heads, ghosts with mouths instead of eyes. Ghosts come up out of the wet clay to dance the days away, and every year in monsoon, the air is filled with their papery laughter. They are the watchers of the past, the keepers of regrets. And no one likes to face those, so no one goes out in the rain. Except one, that is.

Her name was Kali, and she had no mother or father or regrets to speak of, for she had lived in squalor all her life, in a decaying tower with a weatherworn stair at the eaves of her village. There was an anti-hill not far from her home, and she wished to save the ants. Never mind that ants are near impervious to water, she had her boats and her vessels at the ready, to take them to dry shelter. The grey skies with all their dancing ghosts and swirling rains and howling winds were frightening after all, and if she was frightened - the ants were so small, they would be even moreso.

The rain-curtain had lessened as the day grew brighter. She found her way to the ant-hill, which lay under an uprooted pine-stump, high above the village and the tangled floodplain below, now drenched in mist. The hill was buckling, for a ghost was jumping up and down upon it.

'Away with you!' shouted Kali, and she lifted her oil-lamp high, a richly carved thing embalmed in a special skin to protect it from the rain. It was the most precious thing that she owned, and she kept its secret fiercely, only unveiling it when she knew she was alone to enjoy its light, or needed protection from the ghastlier things of the world. Her mother had told her once that it revealed hidden truths. The ghost screamed, and left in a blubber. But it was too late - the hill had been pushed over. So it was that she took to her rescue, salvaging what little ants she could from their now-eviscerated home.

Kali despaired, for she did not like such wanton struggle. She hated ghosts, more than anything else. This was what she had decided upon in that fateful moment.

She took the ants back with her, and set them in her ant-home under the old rock-shelter above the abandoned stepwell near her own home, and went to bed.

The next few days were similar. Each day she would sojourn out, a savior of bullied ants and other such small beasts of the earth and sand, and rescue them from various monsoonal maladies.

At last came the time that the Great Ghoul of Gahai was about, wild as the clouds he hunted. The many-faced one roamed the skies with a terrible pride, and an even more terrible apatite, and that day was the day of holies, the one day each millennium that the wrathyrns issued from their muddy honeycomb tombs to stalk embodied among the realms of men. And the Great Ghoul and his host so desired these strange beasts, for to ride them was the greatest honor, and the closest a ghost could come to feeling alive again. He descended upon the village, and all the folk who lived there cried out as they heard his horns, trembling in fear.

All, once again, except for Kali. Kali simply curled up in a ball on the raised entrance to her home, looking out over its ladder-lip to the river, where a wrathyrn was bathing. For hours she sat there, weathering the words of the storm - but her could not bring herself to leave her perch. There a wild loveliness in the mounting scenes before her, one that stirred a hidden place in her heart that had been dead for years. So, Kali remained, watching, waiting, even as the trees were torn up from the earth, and the rivers engorged themselves upon the wider lands, and her tower swayed thither and that as ghosts swirled in the air.

The host of the Great Ghoul passed, a tremendous raucous fanfare that kicked up water and steam on every street, on every corner, windy fists battering and howling at every door, until at last even they had faded away into a twilight storm. Kali was alone again. The air was so silent she could only hear the sound of her breath, the faint drizzle on the heights of the wider vale.

It was then that she noticed a hazy shape in the mist, and she lifted up her lamp, hand to her brow. For it was a lone ghost, wandering the wet meadows - the one ghost who seemed not to laugh or fright. This was the Efreet by the valley, and it was he who her eyes found, a pole in his claws as he poked and prodded at the wet mud, searching, muttering, whispering. A thousand faces adorned his body, hanging from his arms, his neck, his belly, all of them full of dark whispers. Now and again an insect would be found, and one of the Efreet's hands would find and gift the morsel to a lucky head or two, and their whispering would silence. Then it would resume, and he would continue his prodding, wandering across the floodlands.

'You look lost, ghost,' Kali whispered. She called out louder. 'You do know that you will not find a mount here, don't you? All the beasts have gone way with the hunt.'

The ghost stopped, dangling faces all turning to her. He hobbled over, peering up at her. For a moment they simply stared. The more Kali looked at him, the more she realized that she could not hate him.

She pitied him.

'Tis not a mount I search for, but my lost face.' The many dead eyes on his dark faces had a look of strange, forlorn satisfaction. His hands pulled up more worms, his mouths sucking on them slowly as he spoke, his voices a hive of ancient tongues, none of them truly his own.

'From where I am, it seems you have thousands.'

He chuckled, pulling up more worms.

'Nay, I have lost my face. The Great Ghoul took it from me, and hid it in this village. A petty ghost he is. So here I search.'

'I hate ghosts,' said Kali, drawing her knees up to her chest. 'You are never content to leave things be.'

'I hate humans,' said the ghost. 'You are never content to leave things be. This valley died for it.'

Kali said nothing. The green of the valley in twilight seemed fairly alive to her, but who was she to know things? She was but a girl, after all - as all the elders said. A wild girl, unclaimed and unshepherded. Cursed. Not to be trusted. A liar. Windy words all of them, that meant little at the end of the day.

Now it was the Efreet's turn to be curious.

'What does a girl do, so near to the passage of the great host of Gahai?'

'I was watching the sky-horses. Before the Great Ghoul drove them away. They are gone now.' Kali swallowed.

'They will be back on the monsoon. The dance of ghosts and wrathyrns is a ritual one. It is the monsoon's secret song, its last love.'

'Last?' In the distance, ghost-laughter cackled. 'You do not laugh like the other ghosts.'

'There is little to celebrate, when one loses their face.' Away in the distance they both stared. Ghosts were frolicking higher now in the rains, dancing and laughing and screeching. They were calling the storm. The rains had come back, but they were nowhere near as severe as earlier.

'Isn't there?'

'Faces are history. One cannot have mirth or fright if they are faceless. For I am the faceful one, just as my brother is that who is handful, and my sister the kneeful. I know faces best of all my bretheren.'

'Does the Great Ghoul not have many faces?'

'Ah yes, but he is the Taker of faces. I am the giver, the finder. We were brothers too once, before we left the gates of the sky together, and our paths diverged. But every monsoon he takes something of mine. Another piece of me, of my domains.'

'He wants you to fade.'

'To fade away into the grass, to become little more than a memory. You did not know of me, yet you knew of him. That is how his cunning works. And that is why I search.'

Horns boomed in the distance.

'Is that him?' Kali asked. 'Is he coming back?'

'Nay, little one. He is gone, and will come back neither soon nor late. Next monsoon will be the next he leaves his follow halls.'

The ghost shambled over, sitting beside her. For a while, they just simply watched the rain-soaked world in companionable silence.

'Have you ever found a face that he took?' Kali asked. The words had been an accident.


'Yet still you go out. Still you search.'

'Search I do. But you are not a stranger to that feeling, are you, little one?'

Kali's heart got stuck in her throat. 'What do you mean?' she whispered, but she knew in her heart what the ghost would say next.

'I've watched you, going out into the valley every monsoon. You're like me. You say you're there to save ants, or centipedes, or other little beasts that I take as morsels. But that's a lie, is it not? You want something else, too, just as I want my faces back. Your heart hunts for it, just as my brother's does, and mine own. You lost something. You think the valley can give it back.'

'It won't,' Kali replied, because it was true. Up in the hills, in the mid-monsoon. Her father had cut wood for their village. Her mother had been a herbalist. They were people, good, normal people, but people all the same. They were gone. They were never coming back. But the rains helped her feel close to them again. There are eyes and dreams in the puddles, after all - regrets washed clean in rivulets. And every time they lessened, and the mists rose up from the hollows of the world, if she squinted just enough, she could almost see them. She could almost hear their voice among the ghosts, the countless ghosts, that swam up the gullies and danced on the peaks and flew among the clouds. She could almost touch them. 'But I might try.'

'Even if you came out every monsoon for a thousand-thousand years, you would not be able to find them among the spirits here. We were entombed in this valley, in a great deluge long ago. The river broke its banks, and flooded everything - from the lowest bog to the tallest peak, animals, trees, humans drowned. All drowned. All became Wet Things.'

'Who released the flood?'

'Something had broken the Great Dam, whose waters upriver extended to make an endless sea filled with stars. The waters swallowed us whole, and we were so mixed up we could not leave this land. We were chained to it, forced to put our bodies back together again, bodies lost to eternity. New ghosts leave this land. But we cannot. We are Wet Things. Endless searching, endless finding, endless taking. We are creatures bound by ritual. So it is that the old rites endure, even as our souls shrivel up and thin year by endless year.'

Kali stared into nothing, lost in her thoughts. All she could remember of her parents were their voices, their forms having long-since turned incorporeal shadows on a wall suspended in nothing, and for a long time, she had hated herself for it. For forgetting.

'Do you… ' she paused, finding the words. Her hands peeled the skin of her fingernails in nervousness. 'Do you remember yours?'

'My body?'

'Your face. You lost your face, didn't you? That's why you collect.'

The ghost's heads all whispered, papery voices lost in the wind of the storm around them. Lighting cracked on a distant hill, and thunder came, not soon after. 'Yes. That is why I collect.'


The ghost paused again, a deep-seated grief engraving itself in his features.


'That's why you have so many. You know you won't find the original. So you collect new ones, you build new forms. You create, to fill that hole in your body that life took from you.'

And then Kali laughed, for the first time since her parents, since anything, she truly let herself go and laughed. For she was same. She did not create, no, but she offered shelter when she could, to creatures she knew that she could help, in ways that she could never have helped the ones closest to her in life. But was it enough? Could it ever truly be enough to fill that hole in her life?

'The people of her village certainly had no answers to that lofty question beyond running away from her. The ghosts of the wider vale only cared for their games. And no matter how many ants she saved, just as many died in the water. She doubted the ghost before her at that moment had any true answer either. He too was a beast bound by his nature, however similar or different to her. But that mattered little. She drew in a breath, exhaling long and hard as the mists turned to night, marveling at the strange new lightness in her chest.

They did not speak much after that, only sat is silence, but that was fine. For this was the first day in her short, fleeting life since her parents had gone away, that Kali did not feel quite so alone.

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