NEW Story: The Fountain
Vekllei is a land of spirits. All things have some life to them, but spirits are something special. Up in Tiyousn, seispri (lit. spirits) wander freely, attracted by sulphur and silica waste pools discharged by the Magma-Electric Flash Plant nearby. Rich with minerals and warm to the touch, these milky ponds are gathering places for creatures of the spirit world.
Vekllei people do not understand spirits; they will never understand spirits. The word itself is nearly meaningless, applied broadly to any creature crossing over from unseen spatial cages. The only thing that characterises a spirit is its human intelligence and, by association, their complicated personalities. Most appreciate gestures, even misplaced ones, so it never hurts to leave offerings and announce your intentions in Vekllei’s autonomous Crown Lands.
Tzipora was outside of Equetti, in Tiyousn, looking for mineral pools that were the right temperature to bathe in. Finding a favourite mineral pool was a right of passage in Vekllei, and locations to good ones were often secrets given only to close friends and family.
She was about two kilometres south of the Flash Plant when she saw it and screamed.
Spirits always provoke raw terror the first time. They are not of nature; they are like humans. Their intelligence distinguishes them from the physicality of their surrounds and complicates their behaviour with cultural constructions. It is not like seeing an animal. It is like seeing beyond the horizon of death and the things that live beyond it.
Tzipora was now looking at herself, dressed in some approximation of the things she wore. She thought it was here to kill her. Shaking, and stupidly, she spoke to it like a reflection in a mirror: “You scared me.”
At first she thought it might be a demon — a creature that hurt people. But it — Tzipora did not know what else to call it — sat facing herself, staring unblinkingly. Demons didn’t sit; they beat you to death.
Tzipora had been doing a lot of reading about spirits, but had no real reference for this apparition. It would be a terrible thing to run away — she’d probably offend the spirit, and it was bad manners anyway. She did not know what to do, so Tzipora said hello and introduced herself, and then said something nice about the weather. She spoke slowly, carefully. The spirit sat there, looking at her.
Tzipora asked about the mineral ponds, and if there were good springs to bathe in, but the spirit said nothing. It looked as real as herself — the lichen on the rock was disturbed beneath the spirit’s skirt. Her skirt, actually — was the spirit pulling its outfit from Tzipora’s mind? Could it sense thoughts? She kept talking politely, about how nice the walk out here was. She paused for a moment and worked up the courage for a compliment, then told the spirit she liked its clothes. She was worried it might provoke a response, but the spirit stayed still.
Her heart was pounding, but Tzipora could suppress fear. She opened her pack and pulled out her lunch, spreading it out next to the mineral pool before them. She had a bar of Gosmo milk chocolate. She asked if the spirit would like some. She unwrapped the foil, looking at it, and broke off a row of squares. She put two squares in her own mouth, and took the other two squares and held it out. The spirit didn’t move. Moving slowly, Tzipora reached over gently and placed the chocolate on its arm. As she did so, her fingertip brushed its arm — her own arm — and she was filled with unease. It was as real as she was; its arm was warm to the touch.
Tzipora had stopped chewing her chocolate. It melted on her tongue. In the back of her mind she thought about getting a cavity. A moment later, the spirit and the chocolate disappeared. It just stopped being there. Tzipora looked around, afraid it might be sneaking up on her, but it was gone.
She broke off two more squares, packed her sandwich back into her pack and walked briskly back to Equetti. As she passed by the ponds, her fear eased — there was some abstract sense, perhaps, that she had been invited here. Maybe spirits liked chocolate.