An anonymous tale dedicated to the children of Maj’Dul
Long ago, the dead came to homes of the people of Ro, seeking that which they could not find in life. The legacy of their search still live on.
“Hurry, Barak, they will come soon!” Anisa jumped excitedly, the pomegranates in her basket in danger of flying out at any moment. “I want to see them first this time! Hurry!” Maj’Dul’s shops were closed and the streets nearly empty. When the sun set within the hour, the dead would arrive.
Barak secured the last urn to the tent pole and nodded to his sister. “All right, Anisa, we can go. Do not lose the fruit or we will have nothing to offer the dead.”
“I am always careful,” said Anisa with a scornful toss of her head. Still, she quickly counted the pomegranates. They were all there: one each as an offering from their mother, father, Barak, and herself.
“Let’s take the shortcut,” Anisa said, running down the cobblestone streets leading toward their home. She pushed the handle of the basket as far up her arm as it would go and started to climb one of the lattices that led to the rooftops. Barak grabbed her by the waist and pulled her back down. “No, silly, we must enter the house by the front door tonight; even you know that.”
The dead had been coming every night at the same time for the past several days. At first, the residents were terrified and barricaded themselves indoors, but the dead pounded on the doors until they broke. After the first two nights, it was just simpler to leave what doors were left open so that the dead could enter unimpeded.
No one knew why they came or when they might cease to return, but this was the seventh night and from the excited cries of the children in the highest tiers of the city, it was clear that the dead were already approaching. All the families in the neighborhood had talked of what the dead might want; tonight, they were all putting out candies and fruits for them. Barak took Anisa’s hand and ran so that they could be inside their home with their offering.
“Come inside, quickly,” their father said when he saw the pair running down the narrow street. As usual, the adults were in a panic over the visits of the dead. Several guards and some residents had tried to prevent the dead from entering the city, but they were quickly overcome. To most of the children, however, this was a special occasion. Amongst them, an almost party-like level of excitement reigned.
“We bought the last of the pomegranates!” Anisa shouted, dropping the basket on the carved table, then throwing her arms around her father’s waist. “Papa, they’ll like these. They’re red like blood!”
“Hush, Anisa,” her father said nervously, pulling her further into their darkened home. “You should not say such things. The dead must not be encouraged!”
“If I were dead, wouldn’t you want to see me again, Papa?” the little girl asked plaintively, then she gave an excited yelp for the first of the dead had arrived at their door. Barak sat on the floor beside their mother, who had covered her face with her head scarf, rocking back and forth and praying that the dead would not harm them. “Sit down, Anisa,” he said, “Don’t get Mama and Papa upset.”
Anisa sat, but not still. She fidgeted and squirmed, trying to see where the dead were going. They walked unseeing past the basket of fruit on the table and continued into the bedrooms. Anisa pouted. She wanted to get a knife and slice open one of the reddish fruits; perhaps if the dead saw the insides of it, they would remember the delicious taste of pomegranates.
Her father had a firm grip on her upper arm, however, and though he was not quite in the same state of terror as her mother, it was clear that he would not let her leave his sight. The dead ambled through the house, idly opening chests and urns. They up-ended a cask that contained ground barley to the floor to peer into it. The dead then left pale, floury footsteps in their wake which made Anisa giggle.
Finally, the dead wandered back out, apparently not having found what they wanted. The air in the house seemed stale once the last of the dead had left. The adults would still not move. Anisa wriggled free of her father’s grasp and ran to the door to see which way the dead had gone. She could hear the weeping of other men and women down the street and frowned. The dead did no harm; why was everyone so scared?
“But they didn’t want the pomegranates, either,” she mused. The dead were much like adults, she decided: impossible to please. Anisa watched the last of the dead disappear at the end of their street before shutting the door. Oh, well, the dead would return the next night, and perhaps by then she would have another idea of what they might like.
The next night, however, the dead did not return. This time, Barak and Anisa had climbed onto their roof at sunset to watch for them, they did not come. Speaking with their friends the following day, they learned that the dead had not been seen wandering outside the city’s gates either. Perhaps they had found what they were seeking after all?
“I know a new game we can play,” Anisa told the neighborhood children. “Let’s dress up like the dead and go from house to house tonight! Everyone will let us in and try to give us something good, like pistachios or dates or candy!” Remembering how the barley flour had turned the dead’s footsteps while, she added, “Let’s all put flour on our hands and faces to be pale, like the dead!”
Barak laughed at the sight of his little sister covered with flour. He helped her use charcoal to put dark circles beneath her eyes. “Now it’s my turn!” he said and Anisa eagerly applied the flour and charcoal to his face. Just before sunset, a handful of adventurous children from their streets started playing the game. They took turns pounding on their families’ doors and demanding entrance.
Some of the adults found the children’s new game in poor taste. Many of them were simply relieved that night when the poundings on their door turned out to be a group of children clamoring for a treat. “At least the dead did not frighten them,” these parents said to one another. Over time, the ritual spread from their neighborhood throughout the city, where the Nights of the Dead are now a popular annual holiday.