On the first day of Windy Season, Mina woke at dawn. The house was already filled with life. Her mother boiled water in the kitchen, the hiss of steam matching the clattering of the wind against her window pane. Her brothers whispered in the room beside hers, the walls thin as the skin over their bones.
"When the North Wind wakes, He carries a large sword," Vincent said, reciting the chant her family had spoken for years. "He cuts down the trees so the seeds will spread and circle the globe, making new life and forms."
"Then the West Wind carries a large spoon to stir the waves," Samuel added, his voice reedy like the wind through the chimney. "He scoops up the pearls, the fish, the whales, and sweeps what we need onto the shore, to eat and rejoice."
"Then the South Wind swallows the land whole. He kicks up dust and makes a fuss so we can see our better selves."
"While the East Wind listens close for the ghosts of last year's sadness, and He gives them back to the land. So it can start again."
"So it can start again," Vincent echoed.
Mina repeated the final line for herself, "So it can start again."
Then she let out a long breath, like she knew each of her brothers was doing, pretending to be the wind.
Mina listened as her brothers scrambled into the kitchen, greeted their mother, and began breakfast. Though Windy Season would last another three months, allowing the dirt, crops, and landscape to change all around them, the first day was special. And while Mina had longed for this moment, she was also afraid.
After breakfast and a reading from their grimoire, the family would gather the ashes of the dead. Last year, it was their dog, Sanders. The year before that, there had been no dead, only dried flower petals used as a substitute in order to say Thank You to the spirits for keeping them hale and fit. A different year, there was another dog, Mackenzie. Before that, a stray cat, a calf, and a fox that her father had accidentally killed. Then Mina's memory became fuzzy, like sand grains or snow squalls against a window.
This year it was her father in the clay vessel on their mantelpiece. It was he, Jordan Sullivan, who would be released into the wind the first day of Windy Season, so he could begin his long travel to the land of the dead with the help of the four cardinal directions.
Like all the deceased in their village, man or animal alike, Jordan had been cremated shortly after death. That had been six months ago, when a flu gripped his chest and not let go. The death midwife, a woman named Bea, delivered the ashes to them and stayed for a celebratory dinner, where they spoke about Jordan Sullivan's life. Though long ago now, Mina was still sure she could smell the venison, cooked potatoes and other root vegetables, and the flowery scent of the death midwife in the air. Mina had been silent during that dinner, only speaking a handful of words about her father--good man, I loved him--and her mother had been saddened.
"You are the oldest," she chastised once the death midwife was gone and the ashes of her father remained on the mantelpiece, waiting for Windy Season. "You need to set an example."
Mina had taken her lashings and apologized. But she'd also remained quiet, aloof, in the background, a shadow for the following six months.
No more. Now that Windy Season had truly begun, she believed she could sing her father into absolution, leading him to his first stop on the journey of the dead.
"Well," her mother said, once Mina had joined them at the table. "Look who finally showed up."
Mina ate in silence. Her brothers sang their song, and though it moved their mother to tears, she didn't ask them to stop. Once the dishes were cleaned, they gathered their Windy Season gear: goggles, bandanas, and long clothing though the heat of the day would grow. The wind whipped against the house, clattering the windows, and making the chimney scream out.
Mina grabbed her father's ashes. When her mother challenged her, she simply said, "Please."
"If you're sure, then." Her mother held the door open, her knuckles white against the fierce winds. "Hurry. We do not have much time."
The four of them assembled on their front lawn. Trees bent in all directions; all grasses were flattened; and beyond their hands, nothing was visible. Mina licked a finger to check directions, but it was soon caked with dust. Her bandana stood up straight, as if attacked from all sides. She didn't know what direction her father was to begin.
"Hurry!" her mother cried. "He cannot wait another year."
Mina surveyed the vast horizon. There was no sense of direction, no opening her father could ride to his final resting place. Nothing to see or hold onto.
Vincent began to sing. Samuel followed. Their voices warbled, but not with sadness. Their words were plucked by the wind, steering the directions according to the song. When her mother joined in, the directions grew stronger. Mina sang too, the wind following all their voices in tune.
At the final verse, Mina opened her father's ashes. They exploded like sparks on a lit fuse, like fireworks from another time period, distant and foreign. The wind took the ashes and held a body in place. A man, a shadow. Perfect.
Then he was gone.
Her family cried, tears mixing with dirt and making mud on their cheeks. They sobbed for their lost father, their husband, a man named Jordan Sullivan, who was now part of the earth, ready to fly towards his rightful place in the land of the dead.
"So it can start again," Mina said.
"So it can start again," the wind echoed back.
Eve Morton is a writer living in Ontario, Canada. She teaches university and college classes on media studies, academic writing, and genre literature, among other topics. Her poetry book, Karma Machine, was released in late 2020. Find more info on authormorton.wordpress.com.
Cover: Amanda Bergloff