Carmen stared down at the faintly glowing body in disbelief, her ragged breath the only thing preventing her from appearing as a statue, completely still. 

“Ta da!” The Mystic beside her brandished a shaky, liverspotted hand at the young girl on the floor. “One lover, locked and loaded!”

“Are… are you…”

“Always this amazing? Yes, yes, I–”

“Freaking kidding me?” Carmen finally snapped, turning to stare at the Mystic with bulging brown eyes. “This is not in any way what I asked for– what I paid for!”

“Oh, no, no, no,” the Mystic chided, turning her brandishing hand into a waggling finger. “You don’t give me that one, Miss Missy. I told you from the minute you hired me that the spell responds to your words alone.”

“Okay, and yet that’s some… child on the ground instead of Ansel.” 

“I told you that you had to be specific when conjuring a past lover– often even the most specific of descriptors could lead to you realizing you had a type you’d never known.” The Mystic patted Carmen on the back roughly. “Sorry, girlie. You’ll have another chance in around three hundred years– so I’ll see you then?”

“Humans can’t live that long,” Carmen sank to her knees. “You must know that, you sick, son-of-a–”

“Ope, that’s my cue then.” The Mystic rolled her eyes before snapping her fingers once and disappearing into thin air, leaving Carmen stammering, looking helplessly at her hands and at her own completely empty coin purse, which the Mystic had, very helpfully, left behind. 

“No,” she muttered, “no, no. This can’t be, this can’t be right–”

Her next words hitched in her throat as the glowing body began to groan, and Carmen scrambled to her feet and took several steps back. 

The body finally turned itself over, and Carmen’s fears were confirmed. 

“My head… it doesn’t…” 

The girl on the ground sat up, holding her skull. 

“It doesn’t hurt? What’s going on?”

It was then she finally looked up at Carmen. “Carmen? Carmen Orzabal?”

“Amanda,” Carmen said disdainfully. 

Amanda stood up and took a hesitant step towards Carmen, who took a purposeful step back, wrapping her arms around her torso. “What’s going on? I was… I was in bed, and Mom… Where are we? Why am I naked?”

Begrudgingly, Carmen took off her cloak and threw it at Amanda. 

“Thank you.” Amanda wrapped herself in it and looked up at Carmen, who couldn’t help but notice that the faint glow still emanated through the cloak’s thick wool. “Why are you so tall?”

Carmen rubbed her forehead. Always full of questions, that one was. “I’m older than when we last met.” 

“What happened to me?” Amanda looked down at her hands. 

“You died, I guess.” 

“I died?”

“That’s what I said, yeah.” Carmen pressed her back to the cave wall and slid down, crumpling into a defeated heap. 

“Oh.” Amanda took that better than Carmen would have. “And when you die… you go to a cave with your estranged childhood best friend, but she’s an adult. Huh. I wouldn’t have guessed that one.”

“No, I mean– well, maybe, I don’t know. But for now, no. I summoned you here, I guess.”

“You guess?” Amanda looked a little put out. “You mean you didn’t do it on purpose?”

“No.” Carmen tucked her knees to her chest. “No, I certainly did not.”

“Oh.” Tentatively, Amanda crept closer to Carmen, sitting down a foot to her right. “Well then… why did you?”

“Shut up.”


The air was achingly silent for a moment, before Carmen sighed. “That was harsh. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“It’s okay,” Amanda said, curling the cloak further around her spindly limbs. “We’ve both said things we didn’t mean.”

Carmen looked at her old friend out of the corner of her eye. “When did you die?”

“Just a minute ago, I guess, but I thought I was just falling asleep.”

“No, I meant– how old are you?”

Amanda pursed her lips. “Fourteen, I think. What about you?”

“Twenty four.”

Amanda’s eyes widened. “Oh. So from your perspective… I’ve been dead for nine years.”

“I guess so. The math checks out.” Carmen played with the button on her boots. 

“And you didn’t know?”


“Oh.” Amanda’s voice became muffled, and when Carmen turned back to look at her, she found that Amanda had buried her face in her knees. 

“What’s the matter?”

“I don’t know,” she said, looking back up. Her steely blue eyes unsettled Carmen when offset by her unearthly glow. “I just… I guess when I got sick, when the physicians told me how low a chance I had… I guess I kind of thought that maybe you’d hear and you’d remember me. But I guess not. I guess that’s good though, right? So you couldn’t be sad about it.”

Carmen didn’t have a ready response for that. “Whatever,” she said coldly, and immediately regretted it. Instead of apologizing, she stared pointedly at the wall of the cave in front of her. 

She assumed that such a barbed response would quiet the shivering apparition. Instead, Amanda held out her hand, marveling at the light that webbed her fingers. “Well… if you weren’t trying to summon me, what were you trying to do?”

Carmen debated not telling her, but it wasn’t as if the silent treatment could really hurt a dead girl in the long run. “Ansel.”


“My…” Carmen racked her mind for just the right words. ‘Everything’ wasn’t quite right, and ‘lover’ made their relationship a trifle. How does one describe the being that completes their soul, who makes their heart beat more steady just by living under the same moon? “My boyfriend. He died, two winters ago, in the Battle of Kenmun Beach.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Amanda. 

“This was my last chance to see him again,” Carmen whispered. 

“Sorry, what?”

“This was my last chance to see him again!” she shouted, her voice catching on her last word. Carmen swallowed, hard. She would not cry. 

“Oh. Is he… is he who you were trying to summon instead of me?”

Carmen nodded. “I waited until the lunar eclipse. I spent my last dime getting her, paying the Mystic. And it got screwed up.”

Amanda scooched closer to Carmen, stretching her neck out towards Carmen’s face. “How?”

“The words, I guess.” Carmen stretched her legs back out and sighed. “You have to be highly specific when calling a dead spirit back to the land of the living. You can’t use names– not specific enough, too much risk. You shouldn’t use physical descriptors for the same reason. Ideally, you pick something that can only apply to one person. I thought I did.”

“What did you say?” 

Carmen stared straight ahead long enough that Amanda started to get restless. 

“I mean, if you’re alright telling me. You don’t have to, if you don’t want to.”

“I had the Mystic call back the person who loved me most amongst the dead.”

A pregnant pause hung in the air for a second.

Amanda shrunk back. “Oh. And you got… me.”

“Yep,” Carmen said hopelessly. “I got… you. Not Ansel.”

“Oh.” Amanda fidgeted with her hands. “Well, if it’s any consolation–”

“It won’t be.”

“--I didn’t do it on purpose.”

“I know.” Carmen sighed. “I don’t… I don’t blame you. Not really. I’m just disappointed.”

“You sound like my mom. Not mad, just disappointed.”

Carmen smiled humorlessly.

“Sorry, dumb joke.”

“At least you’re trying. I don’t know what… I don’t know what to do now.”

Amanda crossed her legs. “Well, what were you going to do if it was Ansel? Unless it’s something adult,” she added quickly. 

Carmen shook her head. “No, nothing like that. I just wanted to spend just a little more time with him, talking. Just like old times.”

“Oh. Well, that’s not very exciting.”

“Love isn’t always exciting.”

“Well, it should be,” Amanda declared. 

“Getting love advice from a dead twelve year old. Super.”

“I’m fourteen,” Amanda countered. “And dead.”

“What do you know about love anyway?”

“Apparently enough to be the person who loved you the most. Betcha didn’t think of that.”

Carmen snorted. “Good one. Very clever.”

“Shut up.”

Carmen laughed, an actual laugh this time, albeit quite short, and the sound echoed around the walls of the cage. Both went silent to hear it. 

“So, out of curiosity,” Carmen said, breaking the silence, “did you have a crush on me when we were little? Is that why you’re here?”

Amanda wrinkled her nose. “What? Ew, no.”

“It’s just a question.”

“We had our fight when I was what, twelve? I wasn’t even thinking about stuff like that yet. I mean, maybe I would’ve? If we had stayed in touch more and I would have, you know, not died two years later, but at least when we were friends, no.”

“So the spirits take platonic love into account as well,” Carmen mused. 

“You say ‘platonic love’ like it’s a bad thing. Obviously it was stronger than all your other so-called friends.” Amanda crossed her arms. 

“Most of my friends aren’t dead.”


“I guess it makes sense. You weren’t alive long enough to have more people you loved more. You never had a partner or anything. You had a crush on Joseph McCreel, but I guess that wasn’t love.”

“Not really,” Amanda confirmed. 

“But you loved me.”

“Of course I loved you.” Amanda rolled her eyes. “You were my best friend for three years! I thought you were the coolest, funniest, prettiest person in the whole world, and that you chose to hang out with me anyway. Do you remember those skits we used to put on in the afternoon in my uncle’s tavern before the soldiers came back?”

Carmen smiled. “I remember. I remember we’d raid your mother’s old chest for costumes and you always wanted to do an accent.”

“Yeah! And you always wanted to be the missing princess, even when the story didn’t have one!”

“I could do the best voice for her!”

“You never tried any other voices.”

“Did too. I was also the cat.”

Amanda’s grin widened even further. “So you do remember me!”

“Of course I remember you. We hung out every single day. I drew that picture of you and Joseph McCreel getting married in the back of the hymnal and then the Cleric yelled at you for tearing out the pages. How could I forget you?” Carmen’s smile faltered. She had, though, hadn’t she? When she’d been thinking over her life, and the person who had loved her the most, she hadn’t thought about Amanda at all. 

“Good,” Amanda said. “Good. I was worried you didn’t remember me at all.”

“I remember you,” Carmen said, a little quieter. 

“Do you think our names are still carved into that one brick in the well?”

“Probably. It’s kind of hard to uncarve names, isn’t it?”

“Can we check?” Amanda started up, before catching herself. “Wait, how does this work? Am I just alive now?”

“No, the spell only lasts for about twenty minutes.”

Amanda’s jaw dropped. “Are you kidding me? Only twenty minutes?”

“And that’s with the best Mystic in the land. Most can only conjure up a mostly transparent spirit, or vague whispers. That’s why she cost the big bucks.”

“How much?”

“You don’t want to know. More than your house cost, back before it was falling down.”

“Oh.” Amanda sat back against the cave wall. “Well, I guess, can you check then?”

Carmen’s gaze fell to the side. “I can’t.”

“What do you mean?”

“I spent all my money getting the mystic and coming here. I don’t have the money to travel all the way from the Ijo mountains back to our village.”

“Well then, where were you planning to go?”

“I wasn’t.” Carmen sighed, and stood up, helping Amanda to her feet as well. Despite the slowly waning glow, her hand felt human, albeit a bit clammy, to the touch. Carmen trudged across the cave floor and grabbed her coin purse. She unlatched a small pocket within the front and pulled out a small vial. 

“What is that?” Amanda asked before Carmen could tell her. 

“It’s muscarine, extremely concentrated. Drinking it can cause blurred vision, convulsions, and even heart attacks.” Carmen twisted the vial within her hands before putting it back in her coin purse. That mixture had cost her a pretty penny as well. 

It took Amanda a second longer than Carmen was expecting to understand. “You were going to– you were going to die.”

“Yep.” Carmen shrugged. “That was the plan, anyway.”

“But– why?”

Carmen sighed, for the umpteenth time in the last fifteen minutes. “I just… I don’t have anything going for me anymore. When Ansel died, I thought that I might as well have died too. My heart was just… it was just empty. My parents are traitors, I have no other family, all I had was Ansel, and then he disappeared from me. The whole world went grey.”

“So you thought you’d meet him here and then die to see him again? Why go to all the trouble of bringing him back then?” Amanda crossed her arms. 

“Ansel died in battle,” Carmen said, putting the vial back in the coin purse and the coin purse back around her shoulders. “Unless I died in battle too– unlikely, because the war ended– we wouldn’t end up in the same afterlife.”

“And you thought he’d just be cool with this?”

“Well, I wasn’t going to tell him,” Corinna said, and for a second when she looked at Amanda, she was twelve again and Amanda was eleven, and they were arguing about whether or not either of them should go tell the traveling bard he was cute. 

Amanda’s glow flickered. “Well, I don’t think you should do it.”



“That’s not a good reason.”

“Because, just now, when you were talking about your heart, you talked about it being empty in the past, that you ‘thought’ you might as well have died, not that you ‘think’.” 

“Don’t split hairs.”

“I think you have more people to love in your life,” Amanda blurted out. “I don’t think that just because someone that you love is gone that means that you have to be too.”

“What do you know?”

“I know that when I lost you I wanted the dirt to swallow me whole.” Amanda took a step towards Carmen. “And I never wanted to talk to anyone else again. I wanted to throw myself into the ocean and drift away like… like a dead fish.”

“And then you died. You had that pain and you died.”

“Okay, yeah, technically, then I died, but first I did a lot of other stuff. My brother got married and we all danced under the falling leaves, and I ate this really good apple, and my mom held my hand when I couldn’t get out of bed anymore.”

Carmen put her hands on her hips. “I don’t see how any of this really has anything to do with my predicament now.”

“I think that…” Amanda narrowed her gaze, thinking over her words, and Carmen watched as her eyes momentarily became clouded with the grey from the back cave wall. “I think that the pain you’re feeling is real and true, but that you shouldn’t give up on all the other love that you could have because of it. And I know, I’m probably only here because I died before I could, you know, actually experience life, and maybe I’m only the one who loved you the most because I was young enough I had less stuff to think about, so more of my brain was just love for you. But I still think you’ve got more love in you.”

Carmen bit her lip. “I don’t know how I feel, taking advice from you. You once told me I could totally jump out of that tree and I couldn’t fit my shoe around that ankle for two weeks.”

“Okay, but I also told you to apologize to the baker for knocking over that tray and then he thought you were such a polite young lady he gave us free rolls from the reject batch whenever we came by.”


Carmen watched Amanda’s hand blink in and out of existence and felt something in her chest twang at her, urging her to act. “For what it’s worth,” she offered, “I am glad I got to see you again. Even if I didn’t summon you exactly on purpose.”

“I’m glad too.” Amanda’s voice sounded farther away now. 

“And for the record,” Carmen said, swallowing hard as she found she couldn’t find Amanda’s face unless she focused on her eyes, “I do love you. And I remember you.”

Amanda gave her a lopsided grin. “And do you forgive me? For our fight?”

“Honestly, I forgot what it was about a long time ago.”

“Oh, good. I always hated when you were mad at me.” Amanda looked down at herself. “I’d ask if I could give you one last hug, but I don’t really want to flash you.”

“I’ll hug you this time, then.” Her eyes closed, Carmen reached out, her arms enveloping Amanda’s entire form and hugging her tighter and tighter until finally Carmen could tell she was just hugging her own woolen cloak. 

“You should check the well carving.”

Carmen opened her eyes. “I will,” she said to nobody, before walking towards the mouth of the cave and looking out at the blue sky. She stared at the wool cloak in her hands and swung it around her shoulders shortly after taking off her coin purse and laying it on the ground. It was empty anyway– she wouldn’t need it on the hike back down. 

August 29, 2022 06:30

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Brian Bywater
05:52 Sep 08, 2022

It was rewarding to read a story with a positive note. I do find so many submitted stories are laced with the negatives of life. I don't do fantasy very well, in fact not at all to be truthful so an in depth judgement would not be apt. Perhaps it is an age thing, lived through happier times than the world of today.


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Graham Kinross
03:54 Sep 05, 2022

I love how upbeat this is. It’s nice to finish a story happier and more optimistic than you started.


Tori Routsong
20:25 Sep 05, 2022

Thank you!


Graham Kinross
21:03 Sep 05, 2022

You’re welcome.


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Betty Gilgoff
16:31 Sep 04, 2022

Actually quite a comforting story. I think you do a great job of setting the scene and making the appearance of Amanda very real. The conversation flows nicely to move Carmen to a place where it is is believable that she feels comforted and ready to accept the loss of her lover. Nicely done. I enjoyed reading it.


Tori Routsong
01:53 Sep 05, 2022

Thank you!


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