One Last Question


One Last Question


When her father died, Evangeline was given a choice by the village witch. Busy attending to the needs of the farm’s recalcitrant goats, she’d been unable to witness the wasting disease scooping the last bit of life out of him. To ensure that her father’s soul stayed in his body in case he passed while she was out, Evangeline asked her aunt, Clementine, to apply rosemary oil to her hut’s threshold daily.

“Don’t worry,” Clementine said. “The old brezelour won’t escape on my watch.”

Evangeline returned home one evening to find Clementine rubbing the windowsills with a fragrant rag. She sighed. Such precautions meant only one thing.


Clementine turned. “Just after noontime. Fought it to the very end, selfish that he is.”

Evangeline entered the hut. The smoky peat fire’s grim light danced across her father’s corpse. Throughout his illness he’d demanded to be covered in every blanket Evangeline owned, that she not leave a crumb behind when she fed him, that the fire stay roaring. Now he lay before her on the dirt floor in only his shirt and breeches. Maybe it was a trick of the flame, but she swore she could see movement under her father’s parchment-like skin.

Returning outside, she found Clementine gazing across the northern meadow. A figure was flying toward them with unnatural speed. It was the witch, coming to attend to her duty of ushering souls from cradle to the grave.

The witch flew around the hut, inspecting the seals on the house. The middle-aged woman was smiling when she landed.

“Sisters, you have done well. The soul is still in the body.”

Clementine smirked.

“Which of you will take responsibility for the soul?”

Evangeline did not hesitate. “I will, sorser.”

“Very well. Do you wish to put him to rest now or do you have a question for the soul?”

Evangeline paused. Bringing a hand to her mouth, she removed it quickly as it smelled of goat dung.

“Yes, sorser, I do have a question.”

“Very well, sister. Hitch a cart and bring three things the soul treasures. I will accompany you to the crematorium.”

While the witch brushed her father’s body with a bundle of herbs, muttering binding spells in an ancient tongue, Evangeline gathered the necessary items from her father’s meager possessions. 

On the way into the village, her father’s ancient warhorse, perhaps sensing he was transporting his master one last time and not a load of goat cheese, picked up his feet as if on parade. Twenty years earlier her father had returned to the village on that same horse, a triumphant warrior with a cart full of gold. The horse had been the one thing her father had refused to part with after years of squandering that gold on ephemeral pleasures caught up with him. He’d sworn to haunt Evangeline if she kept using it as a draft animal. Evangeline did what she must to survive, regardless of the threat. 

The crematorium was a clay dome near the banks of the creek. The women laid the corpse inside and the witch retrieved an unlit torch from a sconce beside the oven’s entrance. She whispered a few words and green flame curled to life.

The witch held out her hand.

“Evangeline Bugul, do you have a question for your father’s soul before it joins its ancestors?”

Evangeline straightened her back. “Yes, sorser.”

“What have you brought as proof you understand your father’s soul?”

From a bag slung over her shoulder, Evangeline produced a spoon, an empty money purse, and ox horn. 

The witch pointed into the oven. “Explain, so your father’s soul knows you understand it.”

Evangeline placed the horn on her father’s chest, “The horn represents his courage in battle, blaring so others may know a warrior is coming.” 

The spoon was placed over her father’s mouth, “The spoon represents his love of life, like the meals he lavished on his brethren.” 

She placed the empty purse over her father’s groin, “And the purse represents the consequences that love of life left his daughter.” 

The witch lit the pyre, green flames engulfed the corpse. The witch chanted in her mysterious language. The heat from the oven seared Evangeline's eyes but she did not turn away. Her father’s body moved as the fire consumed it. The witch stamped her foot three times and called out in a voice as sharp as lightning.

“Soul, your daughter has a question before you depart. You cannot leave until you answer truthfully.”

Evangeline had a hard time recognizing the soul that rose from the fire. It was youthful, like a boy, and its eyes shimmered with greed.

“Where is your daughter?” the witch said.

The soul pointed at Evangeline.

“Pose your question, sister,” the witch commanded.

Evangeline brought her hand to her mouth. Catching the smell of goat dung again, her eyes narrowed.

“Father, you devoured everything in life.” Tears welled in defiance of the oven’s flames. “Why did you leave me nothing?”

The soul laughed; its voice grated like tumbling boulders.

“Because men only leave things for their sons,” it said.

It laughed again, each burst a blow against Evangeline’s chest. She threw her hands over her ears, sinking to the ground. The witch’s foot stamped three times again and the world went silent. Evangeline felt a strong hand on her arm helping her up. The witch’s kind green eyes searched for any sign of harm. Finding none, she embraced Evangeline and let her sob as long as she needed.

After the fire was finished, the witch swept the ashes into a box. Together, she and Evangeline walked through the cold night air to the babbling creek. The witch handed her her father’s ashes.

“He’s gone, sister. You are free to live your life as you wish.”

Evangeline inhaled deeply and nodded. She stepped into the water and flipped the box over, smacking it several times to make sure that there was none of her father left.


Ian R. Villmore


Ian is a teacher living in southern Maine. He is a graduate from both Lesley University andEmerson College. His work has previously appeared at 101 Words and MSU Roadrunner Review


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