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Yun stood next to the river, her lantern in her hands. Her cousin Min stood next to her. “Yun, you do yourself more harm than good in this,” Min said.
“You are wrong, Min,” Yun said. “The lanterns carry messages to the dead. He will hear me and come.”
Min shook her head. She didn’t know if the lantern festival came from Old Earth or not, but her cousin clung to the hope that her deceased husband would return to speak to her. He’d died without telling her where their son was and Yun was desperate to find him.
There was a deep tone. Yun knelt beside the detha nadi and set the rose tinted lantern on the surface of the water. It was a moonless night and the many lanterns floating along were the brightest lights against the black. Min stood with her cousin until the last of the shimmering silk and paper creations drifted past.
“It is time to return to the house, Yun,” Min said, putting her hand on Yun’s shoulder.
“Yes, that is where Heng will come,” Yun said, rising to her feet. “We must hurry. He can only remain in the world of the living until dawn.”
The two women hurried along the glowing path back to Yun’s silver and turquoise home. As they walked in, they were greeted by the smell of rotting flesh. Min gagged but Yun clasped her hands in front of her chest.
“By the gods, what is that stench?” Min asked, covering her nose and mouth with her sleeve.
“It is Heng,” Yun said, pointing to her husband’s favorite chair.
Min looked and nearly fainted. There, sitting in his usual spot, was Yun’s dead husband. He looked exactly as he had in life, though he glowed a sickly green and you could see the pattern of the fabric on the chair through his body.
“You called me, Yun. What do you want?” Heng asked, his voice hollow and irritated.
“Heng, where is our son? Where is Jingyi?” Yun asked.
“You called me here for that? Jingyi is dead, foolish woman,” Heng said. “I drowned him in the river. Why else do you think I was executed? Someone saw me do it. Were you absent at my trial?”
Yun wailed and ran from the room. Min faced the man. “Why did you do it?” she asked.
“I was tired of having to support a useless mouth,” Heng said. “Jingyi would never be a productive member of society. He was unable to work in the fields, his hands were too weak to use tools, and his inability to speak made him worthless as an Elder. So I ended his life.”
Min nodded. “A pity the Elders and Yun see it as murder. I see it differently.”
Heng looked surprised. “You agree with what I did?”
Min glanced around, making sure Yun was well out of hearing range and that no one was listening outside the doors and windows. “I do. Yun refused to listen when I told her that the gods cursed Jingyi. He was helpless, with no capability to care for himself or others. There was no need for her to drain herself to the point of death caring for both you and him. There was a reason I stopped coming over for several months, Heng. She forbade me from visiting until I took back what I said. I refused.”
Heng nodded. “It is good to know that there is one person in this world who understands what I did.” He glanced outside. “I am grateful the ceremony took place so late tonight. The sun is rising and I am free to go.”
“Farewell, Heng,” Min said. “May the gods not prolong your punishment.”
“Thank you, Min. Care for Yun, and may she forgive me one day,” Heng said. He faded away as the first light of dawn entered the room. With his disappearance the smell vanished. Min sighed and went in search of her cousin.