Lisa Fargazer left the urchin’s hideout above the theater, automatically looking around to be sure no one was in close sight. Tepic Harlequin had brought her the word from Miss Hermit agreeing to meet with them the next day, along with a dish of cooked pigeon, which he’d shared with her. It had certainly made a welcome change from the bread and thin soups she usually had.
Lisa slipped into the graveyard, lured by the sound of a flute. She found Tepic close to the eastern end of the graveyard, and also found that another boy had been drawn in by his playing. The boy, Orpheus, was full of questions, and told them that he’d been sent by his mother far away from his home to New Babbage to escape a war. He and Tepic were still talking when Lisa saw a pale woman enter the graveyard, whom Tepic greeted as Miss Hermit.
Lisa shifted her feet nervously, wondering how to get Orpheus away from the graveyard. It was one thing to do… whatever it was they would do with Tepic around–Tepic already knew about her. But she didn’t want this stranger there. Tepic must have sensed her unease, though, as he soon asked Orpheus, “Anyone shown yer the places urchins hang out?” At Orpheus’s negative reply, Tepic offered to take him around. As the two boys walked by, Tepic winked at Lisa, and she shot him a grateful look.
Miss Hermit, standing calmly by, waited until the two were out of earshot. “Tepic says you wish a favor of me?” she asked.
Lisa nodded, and took a breath, as if fortifying herself for what was to come. “I am… not exactly what you see,” she said. “I used to be a cat. But a man took my brain from my cat body, and placed it inside this human body, after removing the human girl’s brain from it.”
“How cruel!” Miss Hermit exclaimed.
“He can’t do such things any longer, thankfully,” Lisa said with a slight smile.
“I see,” Miss Hermit replied, looking at her keenly. “He has been ‘removed’ also?”
Lisa nodded. “But while I was living with him–while he was studying me–I… I learned things faster than I think I should have. It was like there was something in the back of my head helping me to learn things, like how to move in this body.
“A helper, you think?”
Lisa nodded again. “I wonder if the spirit of the human girl is still here, somehow. Tepic said you might be able to help me find out.”
“If it is her, has she been harmful at all?”
“Oh, no, not at all!” Lisa replied hastily. “The things I learned needed to be learned.”
“It is said that the soul of a person does not lie within the brain,” Miss Hermit said. “Some think it lies within the heart. Is this where the feelings come from?”
Lisa shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know.”
“Then you wish to see if I can contact her.” At her nod, Miss Hermit continued, “If I can, what do you want me to do with the female spirit?”
She thought a moment. “If it is the human Lisa… I’d want to know what she wants to do.”
Miss Hermit looked at her soberly. “She may wish to move on, dear. Are you ready to lose your helper?”
Lisa bit her lip, but then said, “Yes, I think so.”
With a nod, Miss Hermit moved aside to a small, grassy space and unrolled a couple of mats on the ground. She knelt down on one, gesturing to the other. “Have a seat, Lisa.” Lisa sank down onto the mat, facing Miss Hermit, unconsciously imitating her pose. “This is better than sitting on the wet ground, isn’t it?” Miss Hermit asked, and Lisa nodded her agreement.
“Where I live, Lisa, I am known as a Temple miko. My gift is that I am able to speak to the dead. I will pull the spirit out and make her visible, so we may found out her intent.”
Lisa inhaled a little sharply, but said, “All right.”
Miss Hermit smiled reassuringly. “You may trust me when I say it will not hurt but you will feel empty inside as she leaves you. That is only normal as your spirit and hers are inside the same body.” She looked keenly at Lisa. “Ready?”
Lisa watched as Miss Hermit closed her eyes, lowered her head, and slowed her breathing. She began to match her breathing to Miss Hermit’s, trying to relax.
“The miko of the Temple calls to one who is here but not alive,” Miss Hermit intoned. “One who shares with another. The living would wish to ask the dead their direction. The miko calls…will she answer?”
Lisa could feel a stretching sensation of herself, somewhat akin to what she felt when she went to the Dreamfields. To one side of the mats on which they knelt, she saw the air thicken and begin to glow slightly. As she watched, the form took on definition, becoming the shape of a girl. Lisa Fargazer could see that its face was the same as the one she now had, though it was dressed in better clothing than she now wore, and was holding a strange object in its hand.
“I am Lisa–the human Lisa. I wish to talk to she that lives with me and let her know my intentions.” The voice was thin, reedy, but definitely audible. Fargazer hissed in her breath and looked at the pale form, her eyes wide.
“Greetings, girl,” Miss Hermit said. She gestured toward Fargazer. “You know who this is?”
The figure nodded. “Hello, Gazer–you don’t mind if I call you Gazer, do you?”
Fargazer shook her head. “I… I am sorry for what happened to you. To us. It wasn’t my choice.”
“Why were you with Ambrose?” Fargazer gave in to the usual curiosity of a cat. “Did he capture you, as he did me?”
“Not quite.” Lisa shook her head. “I was sent here to New Babbage after my parents died, to live with a great aunt. But when I got here, I found that Auntie had died, too.” She paused, and sighed, looking at the ghostly object in her hand. “I never did get to play my violin for her.
“Anyway, I tried to find a job here, but I started feeling ill, and no one would hire me. I went to Dr. Martel, hoping he’d be able to cure me. He said he couldn’t, and asked me to let him use my body for his studies once I died. I agreed–what else could I do?” A flicker of emotion, a combination of sorrow and hatred, crossed her face. “I didn’t expect to die so soon–he did that himself. The rest you know.”
Fargazer nodded, her own hatred of Ambrose Martel spiking quickly, before being subsumed by her satisfaction at his death by her hands.
“Gazer, there is something you should know.”
“Yes?” Lisa asked, a little apprehensively.
“Dr. Martel was going to kill you that day; kill you, and study what had happened to your–our–brain. I couldn’t let that happen, so I influenced you to kill him. It was me, really.”
Fargazer saw the ghost’s eyes stray toward Miss Hermit, and wondered if Lisa had said that to try to protect her. She shook her head. “No. It was both of us. I wanted him dead, too, for what he was doing to my Folk.” Indeed, as she thought back to that day, she realized that the two of them had achieved a melding of mind and purpose that had propelled her through killing, cover-up, and escape, a melding they’d not had before or since.
The ghost smiled a little and nodded once, acknowledging Fargazer’s acceptance of responsibility, then turned toward Miss Hermit. “Miss, if I leave Gazer, can I see my parents again, and meet my aunt? I could play for them!”
“You can, dear. I can help you move on to play for your parents if that is your wish.”
“Gazer, could you live in my body without me? I really would like to be with my family once again.”
She nodded. “I think it is truly time for me to make my own way in this world.”
“Tepic will always help you, I’m sure.”
“Yes, he’s been a good friend,” Fargazer replied.
“By the way,” and the ghostly Lisa leaned in a little toward her, “I think pigeon tastes much better than vole.” A thin thread of a giggle reached her ears, and Fargazer made a small sound, as if trying to imitate it. She had finally learned what laughter meant, but it still was not something that came naturally to her.
The ghost turned her attention back to Miss Hermit. “Miss, I am ready to go stay with my family again. When can that happen?”
“Any time you are ready, Lisa.”
She grinned broadly. “Yay! I can’t wait to see them and play.”
Miss Hermit traced a sign in the air. “Spirits of the world, guide this child back to her family. This is her desire and fondest wish.”
The ghostly form began to fade away, and Fargazer quickly said, “Goodbye, Lisa–and thank you for your help.”
“Goodbye to you both.” The parting words were barely audible above the sighing breeze. One last wavering of the air where the ghost had been, and then she was gone. Truly gone, Fargazer realized. The sensation she’d called her “back-of-the-head instinct” was conspicuous in its absence.
“So it ends,” Miss Hermit said. Lisa sighed a little, and Miss Hermit added, “She is going to be happy with them, I think.”
Lisa nodded. “Thank you, Miss Hermit. I’m glad she got her wish.”
“I hope you get yours also.”
“We shall see,” she replied. She glanced to the other side and saw Tepic leaning against the fence, watching them quietly. She smiled, stood up, and waved him over. He trotted inside to join them as Miss Hermit gathered up the mats.
“‘Ello, Miss,” he said to Miss Hermit, then turned to Lisa. “Yer all sorted, Lisa?”
“Yes, I am. Both of us are.”
“Things worked out well, Tepic,” Miss Hermit added. “Just watch Lisa for a day or two. She is going to feel a bit lonely I would guess.”
Lisa put her head to one side, assessing how she felt now. “You may be right, Miss Hermit. It’s certainly… different without her.”
“It will be. You are your own person now.”
“Yes.” Lisa sighed a little bit. “Time for me to learn what that is.”
“I dunno,” mused the irrepressible Tepic. “Too many people trying to find out who they are. They don’t spend enough time just bein’ themselves!”
Miss Hermit smiled. “Very true, kitsune.”
After a little more talk, Miss Hermit left them to go and feed her pigeons. Tepic still had questions for Lisa, though. “So were the ghost the girl? An’ it’s all sorted out?”
Lisa nodded. “Yes, it was her. She has moved on, as she wished.”
“That’s good, then.” Tepic smiled. “You goin’ to stay at the urchin hideout?”
“For now.” Lisa was beginning to realize just how much moving on she needed to do. She couldn’t stay in the hideout forever. A faint, rueful smile crossed her face. “So. How would I go about learning to read and write?”
Tepic didn’t look too surprised at her question. “Was talkin’ to Orpheus ’bout that. The Church of the Builder is the only place as does teachin’… but, I’m not sure yer want ter let ’em know ’bout yer circumstances. They is a bit… antsy ’bout foxes. Not sure how they would see yer situation.”
“I understand.” Lisa mused a moment. “I’ll just tell them I haven’t had the chance to learn yet.”
“They is a bit good at seein’ stuff,” Tepic warned. “So be careful!”
She nodded. “Hopefully, it won’t take me very long to learn.”
“It ain’t difficult,” Tepic affirmed, “not like Miss Hermit’s writing. But it is a knack–“
“I have a good memory,” Lisa broke in. “Watch.” She picked up a stick, squatted down, and wrote her name in a bare patch of earth. “I remember what you showed me from your letter to Miss Hermit.”
“Say, that’s great!” Tepic exclaimed. “Reckon you will pick it up right quick.”
Lisa rose up. “Well, I shall try the Church. If I think it might be too dangerous, I can always stop going.”
“Yep. An’ they may be able ter find you a place to work, too!”
“That would be good.”
Tepic made his farewells then, heading off to check his vole traps. Lisa walked slowly toward the urchin’s hideout in the fallen evening’s gloom, still thinking intently. She’d made her choice at Christmastime to stay in this body. It really was time for her to learn to fully be a human, to stop hiding from the society of the people around her.
‘One step at a time, though,’ she thought. ‘First, learn the basic skills I need. Then I’ll see where that takes me.’