"The Maker Song is a very old Fate story," Dad said, sitting at the kitchen table under the little wall lamp and peering into the book. "There are recorded versions of it as far back as 3,000 B.C."
"What's it about?" Amy had joined us at the table and was sitting next to Dad and trying to see the pages.
"Well, Fates, like all intelligent lives, have myths about origin and creation. It's only natural, after all, to wonder where we come from."
"Where do we come from?" Amy asked.
"See?" said Dad.
I laughed. Amy looked over at me with a curious look. "We don't know that, Amy." I said. "No one does."
"And neither do the Fates, though it's not in their nature to admit it," Dad continued. "The Maker Song is probably their most popular creation myth, but not all of them adhere to it. They're like us in that sense." Dad flipped the page to a section written in several different languages and scripts. The last bit was in English, a translation of the others, it seemed. He read it aloud. "First there was the Making Song, calling everything into order. The Maker went away. The Maker Song is woven into what was made. Learn the song and, when first things are done, sing the song to call the Maker."
"It's a little different," I said, trying to memorize the lines. "But it's too close for coincidence, I think. What do you think, Dad?"
"Well, let's see," he said, sitting back in his chair. "So, what we're postulating, then, is that someone took the girl's mother. That someone took her, if I understand your Whim, because, if we're right about this, they thought she knew this Maker Song. It follows, however, that some time yesterday they changed their mind and decided that Amy here is in fact the one who knows the song. They would have come back looking for her last evening, right?"
"Well, yes. I guess so." I hadn't really lined these things out in my mind yet. "It's probably morning by now back home."
"Right," Dad said. "Well, it's a hell of a story, I think. But then, Whims don't just show up every day. Something big must be up."
"I wonder," I thought aloud, "if someone did come back to the house to find Amy."
"I don't understand the dead man, though," Dad puzzled. "How's a dead man supposed to bring a living girl somewhere."
"He'd have to have help. Living help," I replied. "Is anyone out of town?"
"Not that I've heard," said Dad. "Well, except..." But he stopped short.
"What? Ah, hell. I shouldn't have said anything. I'm sorry, Simon, but I'm sworn to secrecy on something, and it's serious enough that I just can't share it, even with you. Nevertheless, it's no one that would be messed up in all this."
Strange. As far as I knew, Dad had never kept a secret from me. "Are you sure, Dad?"
"Completely. Let's not talk about this anymore. We've got our own troubles, and there's no one out of town that I know of who could be involved in our little affair here."
"What do you mean, out of town?" Amy asked.
"Oh, well," I sighed, not really wanting to explain it right now. "Once in a while, someone from Aphter chooses to go back for some reason. He has to have permission, though, because there's only one door that the dead can use to get to the living world from Aphter, and it's guarded by the Council. Only the Sheriff has the key."
"There are dead people on Earth?" She seemed surprised. "Can we see them?"
"No, we can't. When a dead man or woman visits the living world, they call that ghosting. They can't stay long, though, because there's no rest for them there. They get pretty miserable after just a few days, kind of like us here, though we feel it more quickly than they do."
"What happens if they don't come back? They can't die, right? I mean, they're already dead."
"That's right, they can't die. They just get more and more tired, more and more miserable. It's like torture for them. It's like hell."
"Sounds awful," she yawned.
"It's the worst thing we know of," said Dad, "and it's what keeps things in order around here. Any serious crimes in Aphter carry the penalty of 100 years in exile."
"100 years?" Amy shook her head.
"That's right," he replied. "It takes a long time to recover from that, let me tell you. I've seen some of the returners. Awful. Just awful. Not something I'd hope to see again."
"Well," I said, clapping my hands together loudly to focus my thoughts, "what's the next step?"
"I think," Dad said, rubbing his chin, "you should go see the Sister."
The mention of the Sister brought a sick feeling to my stomach, as usual. "Why in the world should I go see her?"
"Well, she can watch for us," said Dad.
"I don't understand. Watch for what?"
"Oh, didn't you know? She's working with the Greeters now. She joined right up with the Sisters in Waiting as soon as she arrived. Predictable, I guess." I felt like someone had punched me in the gut, but Dad didn't notice. He grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the bedroom. "You know," he whispered so Amy wouldn't hear, "we've got to consider the fact that the mother could be arriving here any minute, if she hasn't already." Then he saw the look of dismay on my face. "What's wrong, Simon?"
"She's here? The Sister is here?"
"You didn't know?" Dad closed his eyes and shook his head. "Damn that woman, Simon. Damn that woman for the way she treats you."
"No, Dad. Don't." I was trying to process what I'd just heard. "She's already here. She died."
"I can't believe she didn't at least leave your name with her superiors as a next of kin or something," Dad said. "It never occurred to me you didn't know, Simon. Yes, she's here. She was transporting some supplies to one of her orphan homes and ran into some unexploded ordnance. She's been here for a few months, I'd say."
"I can't believe I didn't know," I said. But how would I have known? She never contacted me, and didn't like for me to come see her. "Well, you know, to her I'm the biggest mistake she ever made. Why would she have me notified?"
"No, Simon," said Dad, clapping his hand on my shoulder, "I was the mistake she made, son. You were just the consequence."