The death of someone far away is celebrated. The body becomes dressed as a nine-foot bird with dark-earth plumage. Carried down the streets like many funerals before. But in this town, the bird-body is set adrift in the ocean. Actually walked into the waves by the pallbearers. The Watchmaster stops them with a whistle. He is seated on a rock’s edge. He judges their angle with the setting sun. At different seasons, sometimes the moon is visible too, so that enters the calculations. No matter the temperature of the water (which none are allowed to swim in) the pallbearers must stop and wait. The whistle cries halt. Holding an arcane and mysterious device up to his eye, the Watchmaster calculates. This device fits in a single hand and makes ticking and whirring noises and the Watchmaster looks though it, seeing what no one other than his next apprentice will ever see.
Sometimes they are close enough to the sun, sometimes, the sun is close enough to them. That is all the Watchmaster will explain about his process. Using a reflective system of lenses, also within the device, he will signal the pallbearers any number of ways: forward, backward, left, right, or still. He may signal wait for further instructions. If he signals ‘still’ the pallbearers are allowed to enter a meditative state to ward off the cold of the water, or whatever creature may be feeding on them, attracted by the decay they pull in tow.
The signal that the degrees are harmonious, a single blast on the whistle, like the screech of an eagle, is what the pallbearers and the crowd waits for. They drop the bird-body and head to shore. Running. What happens next could easily, and has, taken them down in the past. Following the cessation of the screech, the bird-body flaps a wing. Each wing on this body is the length of a grown man, and the current it creates by a sudden flailing is enough to sink one. But then the rest of it starts flailing. Covering their ears, the pallbearers must run to shore before the bird’s currents sink them. The screeching of the newly awoken bird-body is barely audible from the shore, but upon the sea, an amplification takes place which has been known to cause nosebleeds, deafness and hemorrhages. Once the feet of the pallbearers leave the reach of the waves, the sound is diminished to that of a common gull, as if one had stepped into a room and closed the door.
The bird-body shakes the ocean off of it, righting itself and falling like a newborn chick, eventually achieving uprightness, and then breaking the pull of the ocean and flying into (in this case) the evening sunset, water dripping off its wings and feet like slivers in the sky, bleeding and healing in less than a minute.
Many on the beach stay to watch even after the bird has vanished. Sometimes the bird returns, flying in the patterns of birds, riding currents unseen by humans. Maybe it is playing, maybe there is purpose. Only the Watchmaster knows for sure, as he holds vigil on his rock for the next several days, no longer than eight. Sometimes he sings for hours at a time. Sometimes he stares at the dirt, intently. It is no accident that the rock he chooses maintains moisture so as to be a healthy place for the congregation of worms.
Such are the funeral rights in certain small towns like these. Ceremonies of this minutiae could never become part of modern-city life, although many from these towns visit the city or otherwise do business there.
But what of the exceptions? In most cases the deceased is an elder due to natural causes. But what of illness, accident or malice? What of children? Of these customs we may speak later. For already much has been said about events which have continued unabated for thousands of years, without the knowledge of outsiders.
Consider that many in these towns were once like you. A doer of business with ambitions and dreams which amounted to a collection of heavy objects. You never have so much that you can’t lose it. Maybe on a windy day, or turning down an unfamiliar road. You meant to make your way back home, but a little whisper tells you that it’s just up ahead.
You’ve heard this whisper before, but not like this. The whisper you know and love is the one that keeps you late at work telling you that this is the paycheck that’s going to pay off. The whisper that tells you to start the fight you’ve been dreaming of so you’ll really have an excuse to mess things up. That says every single person is united with every single thing in this universe to prevent you from getting what you deserve.
It’s this whisper that speaks to you, only you’ve been hearing it wrong the whole time. It’s as if you were listening through a door to a muffled film on the television and guessing at any number of genres and titles. Now the voice is clear and it brings such a rush of deja-vu that the world goes dim-white and you stop whatever it is you were doing and your heart feels as if it’s beating out the very front of your face.
Someone may stop you, shake you out of it. If you are alone (as you often are) what was unintelligible and strange will re-materialize into the known and you may feel more or less like yourself again, but you know there is only one way to go from here. And thus you end up on a beach, carrying a bird-body, or witnessing upon the sands, or being vigilant upon a rock, having forgotten your entire life previous.
Thus are we all called.