As crooked and creepy as the tall man is, he had the best lanterns to ward away the spirits. I could see all the neighbour’s lanterns in the darkness. These lanterns gave off an odd light that almost seemed to make the nights darker, keeping only natural light around it. Yet, nobody bought these lanterns for light.
I could only hope that such a lantern would help us.
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I crossed the street in the light of the setting sun, minding the horse carriages which were moving haphazardly on their ways home. I could not blame them. Time was always an issue ever since people stopped working late hours. Since the lanterns didn’t provide any real light, one would have to work in the darkness, which has many problems when you are mining or sewing. So, they simply gave it up altogether.
That being said, I didn’t want to work in the darkness. I just wanted to keep the spirits away from my house so I could sleep.
I entered the lantern shop which was unlike any other. The building was at a slant, leaning on nothing, yet not falling. On the wall closest to the ground were stairs leading up towards the ceiling. On the wall opposite, which was practically the ceiling, hung lanterns, a mass of lanterns. There wasn’t any variety, only the same iron-cast lantern with smoky grey glass and a darker grey candle perched within.
With my head practically among the lanterns that hung low, I had to walk with a stoop to avoid bumping my head into them. There were an odd few lanterns that were already bumping ominously.
“Hello?” I asked.
On cue, the tall man descended from the mass of lanterns. His hands touched the staircase first, then his feet with their formal shoes. I now understood why so many found his attire so off-putting. It had the same dark formality of a funeral director from the city.
He crawled in a circle until his drooping eyes focused on me. He wasn’t too old, although his skin was a little grey and among his warm hair a few tufts of grey and white were beginning to sprout. If anything, I would say he was in his late forties, perhaps early fifties at the most.
“Lantern?” he elongated the word with a deep voice which shook me to the core.
“Yes, please,” I told him, showing the silver in my hands.
The lantern seller’s eyes didn’t even glance at the money, far too concerned with climbing amongst the lanterns. The lanterns clinked and clunked, bobbed and swayed, as the man moved amongst them. It took only a moment before I heard a satisfied grunt.
He returned to view, with a lantern that appeared no different from all the others. I was told not to question, not to question why the seller selected the lantern and not the buyer. Yet, my fear was so little in comparison to my curiosity that I asked despite the warnings.
“What makes that lantern different?”
The tall man didn’t give me a bad look. I don’t think his expression changed much at all. Perhaps his eyebrows raised a fraction above where they were, but I could have simply grown a fraction shorter in his gaze.
“Do you want a different one?” he asked, once more his deep voice bouncing around inside of me, jostling my bones.
“No, that one’s fine,” I replied.
He crawled down the stairs towards me, which was carefully done with one hand holding the chosen lantern. He placed it on a step when he felt he moved close enough. For a brief moment, I thought he was going to hit me for my foolish question, but he simply held out an empty hand. I gave him the silver and his arm withdrew to count it. Once more, he let out a satisfied grunt and his long, skinny arm holding the lantern stretched towards me.
Despite his meek-looking arms, he was able to hold the heavy iron lantern out without even the slightest shake. I didn’t ask another question, although five more popped into my head at that moment. I took the lantern in both hands and left under the watchful gaze of the lantern seller. As I stepped out of the ever-falling shop I heard the lanterns clink and clunk as he climbed back amongst them.
I examined the lantern as I walked home, happy to have one of my own. I was glad that I didn’t have to buy bags of corpse ashes to burn instead. Yet, I still had that disturbed, cold feeling. As if using the lantern was just as wrong, just as sinister. Yet, I needed to only look at the sun dipping fast below the horizon to conclude that it was a better alternative to the howling of the spirits.
My home was different from the others. Many had stone foundations, some even half-stone walls as well. Yet mine was a log house, the logs moulded together by age. It had a foul smell on one corner, I don’t know why, but the strange gunk growing there led me to believe that something died there.
It was fortunate the roof didn’t have leaks, but if it did, that didn’t matter. Incessant dripping was better than the whistling, singing and screaming and howling of the dead.
I hung the lantern in the centre of the room just as the sun dipped below the horizon. It would be a while until the spirits came, but until then, I could see the effect of the lantern at work in my own home. I lit its candle and stepped back as if something terrible would happen. Yet, the candle simply flicked as any other would.
To test it further, I took an average candle and lit it. The flame danced merrily on the tip of the wick, although shakily since I held it. Yet, there was no glow. I could hold the handle close to my palm, feel its warmth, yet there was no light. The lantern's magic was working, although I had no reason to doubt it.
As night settled in, I waited and listened. I could hear nothing in my grey light and it made me happy, even if I felt so cold. No longer would I hear the strange warnings in their strange language.
I was free of the dead, so at last, I could sleep.