Dima fumed. Other villagers prepared pendants and banners for the Ancestor Veneration march. No way she’d do that. Bad enough she despised all memory of her late grandmother. Worse, the embroidered silk banner gave her a rash.
Instead she found a small pole, attached the dreaded banner and summoned her friends the cockroaches. So many turned up they easily raised the banner and took her place in the march. Dima stayed in and waited.
Before long Lord Vuth himself banged on her front door. “Renegade! Ancestor despiser! You send cockroaches to honor your ancestor? Shame! I’m arresting you on charges of…”
Dima opened the door. Flanked by two massive guards, the tall, rake-thin Vuth glared at her. She nodded at the guards and folded her arms. “Lord Vuth, I sent a substitute. Everyone knows my feelings about grandmother. You yourself called her a witch, and you made it clear you want all traces of so-called otherworldly gifts removed from our village. Yet you’re the one who insists on this stupid ceremony. It wasn’t an insult to summon the roaches, my grandmother liked them. Now let me be.”
Vuth gestured and the guards seized Dima. “Sorry, girl. Orders,” they muttered. “Things will improve.”
They marched her to the local well and lowered her down on a rope, which they then retrieved. The well encircled a natural spring which bubbled away inches from her feet. Dima leaned against the flagstones and looked up.
“It’s Lord Vuth to you.”
Dima sighed. The belligerent head man excelled at his job, but in the process managed to antagonize everyone. “So… what, you’re leaving me to reflect on my crime?”
“I’m cleansing this village of impurity. The well’s a good place to start.”
“The spring will bubble up. Do you want me to drown?”
Vuth laughed. “I doubt if your kind can.”
“My kind? Are you accusing me of witchcraft?”
“You’re the one who summons cockroaches. Come!”
Vuth and his guards left. Dima looked around. The flagstones were too smooth to climb up. She would need help to escape. Perhaps she could summon the roaches again. Then again…
A chuckle made her jump. Dima shivered and looked round. She knew that laugh. Surely not.
What was her grandmother doing down here? She checked. No bones. Which must mean she’d taken another form. The flagstones?
“Grandmother? You’re here? But you’re dead, buried years ago.”
“Hard to keep a good woman down.” Another chuckle. “Relax, granddaughter, I’ll get you out. I’m on your side.”
“No, you’re not! All I wanted was to be normal. I am normal! But the things you did, and how you did it: I wanted to shrivel up, hide.”
Grandmother’s voice was soothing. “You hated my powers, I know. Tough. I’m not finished yet.”
“How? You’re dead!”
“A technicality. Now, get that miserable Vuth back here. No, wait, I’ll do it for you. Block your ears, my dear.”
A loud wail surrounded her. Dima clutched her ears. The wail got louder and louder. In minutes Vuth peered over the edge.
“Vuth, stop this nonsense.” Grandmother used her iciest, most regal tone. “If it’s ceremonies you want, I’ll give you one. Your late wife… you held no funeral, correct?”
A pause. “Don’t mention my wife.”
“Listen. I have information. Thugs from the next village found her in the garden late one night. She mocked them, so they killed her and disposed of the body. I know where it lies. I’ll give you the exact location. In return you’ll release my granddaughter and, might I suggest, call off all future Veneration marches. I know what you think of me, and yet you force my granddaughter to parade in my honor. Shame on you! Now, do you want that location or not?”
Vuth cleared his throat. “How would you know where she lies?”
A chuckle. “News travels fast, underground. Roots remember. Soil’s a great conductor.”
“Go check. Dig up her bones, then hold a proper funeral. I bet that’s what this is all about, isn’t it? No respect, no veneration. You want ceremony. Well, I’m handing you a funeral. Take it or leave it.”
Vuth looked agonized. Then, “Fine, I’ll take it!”
Within an hour, Vuth and his guards had located and dug up the body of his wife. At the well, he ordered a rope ladder lowered. Dima climbed up and gave the guards a hug. “No hard feelings,” they muttered.
Dima smiled. “No. What’s happened to Lord Vuth?”
“He’s preparing the funeral as we speak. He’s in seventh heaven. Just about polishing the flowers.”
All because of her grandmother. Dima wished, now, that she’d tried to get to know her instead of hiding.
The funeral exceeded all expectations. A somber Vuth headed the procession, dressed in a flamboyant, ink-black shroud topped by a fantastic black feathered hat. The entire village followed, including Dima and the cockroaches. Afterwards everyone filed past the widower and paid their respects.
When it came her turn, Dima inclined her head. “Sorry for your loss,” she said, and meant it.
Vuth grimaced. “Listen. You consulted with the dead…”
“Grandmother? Last I saw, she’s well and truly alive.” Dima looked him in the eye. “Though she looks different these days. And she’s protecting the only spring that gives us good, clean water, which in my opinion is a virtue.”
Lord Vuth looked away. “Her, ah, skills did enable me to honor and bury my wife.”
“So, now you’ll stop hating her?”
Vuth studied her. “Only if you do the same thing.”
Dima blinked. She’d spent her entire life trying not to be like her grandmother, only to find that consorting with cockroaches and flouting authority came as easily as breathing.
— Brenda Anderson