Pauline was having trouble sleeping. It was still dark outside, but she was wide awake. She slid into the garden, letting out a huge sigh as she sat down on the bench.
She had until sunrise. Until then, she wouldn’t have to put a brave face on for anyone. She wouldn’t have to do anything. Just be alone.
Or so she thought.
“The sunrise on this planet is quite spectacular, isn’t it? I’d almost forgotten.”
Pauline looked toward the direction the voice was coming from and froze. It was her mother, in ghost form.
“If only I could paint it,” Astrid went on, as if this was a normal occurrence. She sat down beside her daughter.
“Mom?” Pauline observed the ghost incredulously.
“You seem surprised. Do you really think I would have moved on before seeing you first?”
“I… I don’t know. It’s not like I’ve had a lesson on how afterlife works,” Pauline let out a nervous chuckle.
“I guess we’ll all find out someday, won’t we?” Astrid said solemnly.
“Right… so, err… what is it like, on the other side?”
“What makes you think I know?” Astrid replied, almost angrily. “I’m not on the other side yet, am I? I’m sitting here, talking to you!”
“Sorry,” Pauline muttered. If there was anything more awkward than talking to her mother, it was talking to the ghost of her mother. But at least she did have a chance to talk to her…
“I really am sorry, mom,” she continued. “I should have talked to you more. After you came to my wedding to make amends.”
“I didn’t exactly live around the corner,” Astrid shrugged. “There’s a reason I moved to another planet, you know. I wanted to be alone.”
“Were you… alone?”
Neither of them spoke for a moment.
“Well, I guess I should go.” Astrid said eventually.
“Shall I, uh, walk you out?” Pauline cursed herself. What was the last thing she should say to her? “Why are you here, mom?”
Astrid looked up. “You tell me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I haven’t moved on yet, because you haven’t.”
“I don’t want to move on,” Pauline pouted. For a moment, she felt like a child. “We never made up.”
“Aren’t we making up now?” Astrid asked.
Finally, for the first time since all the bad news had snowballed on her, Pauline let herself cry.
“I’m sorry things turned out this way, mom,” she sobbed.
“Me too… but it isn’t your fault, sweetie,” Astrid tried to comfort her. “Does this mean that you forgive me?”
The ghost suddenly turned a vibrant turquoise colour.
“You’ve forgiven me!” Astrid smiled brightly. “And now you have to let me go!”
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Speak to your aunt; she’ll know what to do. Goodbye, my sweetheart. We’ll see each other again one day!”
And with one last wave, the ghost evaporated.
The two women arrived at the cemetery.
“So… you’ve done this before?” Pauline hesitated.
“Only once,” Yenn glanced toward Ethan’s grave. “Most spirits don’t need to be released, they move on on their own. Only a few linger.”
“Do you know why they’d want to stay behind?”
“I don’t think they want to.”
“I don’t get it.”
“They don’t stay behind for their sake. They do it for us,” Yenn said wistfully.
They looked at Astrid’s grave for a while.
“Do you think she’ll like it here?” Pauline asked. “I mean… she wasn’t exactly fond of Newcrest.”
“She did care about the legacy,” Yenn replied. “But it doesn’t matter. Her soul won’t stay here anyway.”
And with a deep breath, Yenn released the spirit.
The spirit rose up into the sky. Perhaps she flew all the way back to Sixam. Pauline and Yenn would never know.
“Thanks for being there for me, aunt Yenn,” Pauline hugged her aunt tightly.
It didn’t feel quite right for them to leave right away, so they sat down at the cemetery.
“You’ve been quite a rock for the legacy yourself,” Yenn told Pauline. “Your ancestors surrounding you would have been proud.”
“I’ve tried my best. But it’s almost time for me to pass it on,” Pauline smiled with relief.
“How have the ones before me chosen the next heir?” she asked Yenn.
“I’m not sure if they did,” Yenn shrugged. “Monty made Astrid the heir because he was afraid he’d loose her forever if he didn’t try to tie her to this place somehow.” She shook her head.
“My brother, Booker, became the heir because he had a clear idea of how we wanted to contribute, whereas my sister Chell and I just wanted to explore ways in which we could grow without being limited.”
“Do you think being an heir is limiting?”
“It doesn’t have to be. But I didn’t know that back then. I just thought of the burden.”
“You don’t look burden-free to me.”
“At the end of the day, we never escape our responsibilities, do we?” Yenn drew inward for a moment. “Anyway… My father, Peter, said his father chose the heir based on how he and his siblings wanted to contribute to the town.”
“I like that idea.”
“Yes,” Yenn nodded. “Although, my father was the only one who actually expressed an interest in becoming the heir, so that made it all easier. And it was the same for us, Chell and I never wanted the heirloom.”
“Hm… I don’t think that’s the case this time around, is it?” Pauline asked. “They all want it, don’t they?”
“Yes. But I know you’ll make the right choice. Just go with your gut.”
“Even if my gut is telling me something my ancestors may not have done?”
“Especially then. We’re meant to move the legacy forward, after all.”
“Ok,” Pauline gave a firm nod.
“Does this mean you have decided who the next heir will be already?” Yenn was surprised.
“Yes. Yes I have.”