The Adventures of Sinbad
The day was overcast and the sky had a strange greenish-yellow haze to it. No breeze stirred the air, which seemed to cling heavily to one's hair and clothing, and smelled faintly of sulfur.
The bazaar was doing a quick and near frantic trade with many merchants and customers shortening their banter, keeping one eye to the sky. Several shops, especially those dealing with expensive cloths or herbs had already packed up for the day; the merchants taking their goods with them when they left the marketplace. Others were rolling up the tent-like walls of their booths; lashing the poles together and placing them underneath large stones while wrapping up business with one last customer before leaving the marketplace as well.
Within two hours the marketplace was empty, without even a bird's cry to prove the town wasn't deserted. The sky had darkened; clouds now loomed ominously over the town. A wind had picked up, but brought no relief from the humidity. All it did was stir up heated air and blow dust and debris about.
From the second floor of the The Rose's Flame Inn, you could see most of the town, as well as a set of mountains off in the distance and the small harbor along the outskirts. The inn's inhabitants were treated to a rare feast in the Innkeeper's own rooms. "Looks like we'll be having a Ghost Wind for sure, tonight."
Several of the patrons looked up, made curious by the statement. "What is a 'ghost wind'? Some kind of storm?"
The Innkeeper, Rose, shook her head as she passed around a bottle of mead. "Not exactly. They occur very infrequently. In fact, I've only lived through three of them in my lifetime. They can last from a few hours to several days and are deadly if you're caught in one."
"You mean, they spring up so suddenly, that you can die if you're not prepared?"
Rose shook her head once more. "I've never heard of anyone surviving a Ghost Wind before." Seeing the confused looks, she tried to explain. "The Ghost Wind is not really a storm. At least, not one sent by Mother Nature. This town is on a cross roads. We have the mountains in the east, the ocean in the west, natural hot springs in the north and we're backed on the south by a drop-off for a cliff. The four elements. This town was also built on top of a large burial ground – despite the warnings of several holy men. So, every now and then, there's a Ghost Wind, when those who came before return. Anyone caught in a Ghost Wind gets taken by it."
"Superstitious nonsense," a man scoffed, his large black beard bobbing as he laughed derisively. "A story to keep visitors from leaving before spending their hard-earned money just one more night."
Another man, gold-bronze hair shimmering in the firelight, frowned thoughtfully. "I don't think that's the case. I mean, if it were just a story to fool people into staying longer, why close the shops? The marketplace is deserted. I even saw the blacksmith and stables send their people home and close up. Why would they do that? You can't make money that way."
The other paused in his drinking, unease glinting in his dark eyes, but he said nothing.
"Do you know when the Ghost Wind will be over?"
Rose stared into sea-blue eyes. "No one can predict a Ghost Wind, dearie. They vary." She busied herself by slicing more bread for her guests. "Though, I swear they last longer and longer each time they occur. Old man Jacamo claims that the Ghost Wind won't dissipate until it has taken someone, and what with the town doing so well at warning folks, it takes longer for it to go away."
The man with the beard snorted, the noise echoing oddly coming from his mug. "I still think it's just a story. Ghost Wind. Bah!"
The younger man ignored him, focusing on the Innkeeper. "What else do you know of them?"
She shot him an odd look. "Why do you want to know?"
He shrugged, a dimple appearing as he smiled up at her. "Since we're obviously not going anywhere until it's over, I'd like to know more about it. Plus, I must admit, I'm curious to know if there are any other stories."
"Hummn, well, let me think." She finished with the bread and finally sat herself in a chair. "When I was a child of seven, I experienced my first Ghost Wind. I'd heard stories about how anyone who remained outdoors during one was never seen from again. And I thought that was all they were, stories. I remember that my kitten had run off and I'd gone after it. My mother thought I was in my room, and so didn't know about my absence until after the Ghost Wind had begun. Miss Jessica, the tailor at the time, saw me pass her doorway and she called me in. Got me indoors just in time, too. The first indication of a Ghost Wind is the weather. It gets real humid and muggy. No air stirring at all. The sky turns funny colors, too. Lets you know you've got a few hours before it starts up. Then a fog springs up, out of nowhere. Very dense. Can hardly see a foot in front of your face."
"You mean, like that?" The young man pointed out the window. Some patrons rushed to the window to see for themselves, others half-rising from their seats to get a look. Encircling the town was a thick white mist. It seemed to ooze between the buildings as it advanced down the streets toward the middle of town.
There was something faintly sinister about the mist. It curled around each doorway, pressing against windows, as if looking for a way indoors. It left no nook or cranny unexplored as it advanced steadily.
"Yes," Rose murmured. "Exactly like that."
"Then what happened?"
By this time, everyone else was mesmerizing themselves on the sight outside the window and Rose turned to face her one listener fully. "Miss Jessica and I sat at her dinner table, quiet as mice. She said that she could hear the sound of whispering on the breeze, but I couldn't. She told me that it was because I had not lost anyone. I didn't understand at the time, though I do now. The Ghost Wind calls to the living, using the voices of loved ones gone."
"Can they be ignored?"
"If you wish." Rose glanced at the others, wondering if they had heard the man's whispered "And if you don't?" "When the Ghost Wind was over, Widow Harris was gone. Miss Jessica figured that Widow Harris missed her husband so much, that when she heard his voice in the Wind, that she went to him."
"What do you think happens to those who are taken by the Ghost Wind?" sea-blue eyes locked onto her light brown ones, startling her with their intensity.
"Truly?" At his nod, she continued. "I believe that are reunited with those they have lost."
"If that's true, then why haven't more people been taken by the Wind?"
She took a slice of bread, unconsciously tearing it into small pieces and rolling them between thumb and forefinger. "After two other Ghost Winds, I've learned a couple of things. One, they whisper the loudest to those who are more apt to listen and respond. And two, those who hear always find a way." Rose stared into the young man's handsome face, just now noticing the fine lines of despair around his eyes and the corners of his mouth. This was someone who was still grieving and looking for answers. She sighed, one hand coming up instinctively to caress his face in matronly concern. "Pray on it, lad. If Allah wills it, then it will be so."
The following morning dawned bright and clear. The Ghost Wind had gone and the town could go about it's business once more. Many people were curious as to who had followed the Wind, but others decided it was not their concern.
Rose was tidying up the rooms, when she entered the one used by the young man. She was not surprised to see his rucksack and bedroll stacked neatly at the end of the bed. But she was surprised to find a note addressed to her folded neatly upon the center of the bed.
I thank you for your council. I have prayed upon it, and Allah has granted that I be reunited with my beloved crew, gone three years this very day.
May Allah smile upon you all your days.