Beyond the old mountain and longest river,
across the black divide and endless marsh,
And through the winding labyrinth of Demon’s Cave…there is a city.

I was 12.

My grandfather beckoned that I go.
His hard eyes beating down what I remembered.
All the talk of peace and kindness could not still my soul then.
Nor does it now.

The sins of a thousand un-killable soldiers, however long a dozen years may be, is hard to forgive.

This was their city: Aai o Paia, The City of Ghosts.

It belonged to the living who had learned how to keep one foot in this life,
while placing the other in the next.
Their choice to remain in this condition gave them a ghoulish transparency.
I supposed it a consequence of their inability to remain fully in either place.
They both existed and not, and kept their secrets.

Face to face, I always wondered what else they saw.
What I was missing.

My grandfather dealt with them ever in suspicion.
What could possibly be worth sacrificing the normalcy of opacity?

I wondered.

The legend held that every inhabitant was given a key to the afterlife upon admission.
When a key was duplicated, the new copy took the edges of its owner, binding to them forever.
As long as the owner remained within the walls of the Aai o Paia, transparency, or Manino, was possible.

What puzzled him, was why some of the Paia stayed within the city, and others left.

Did the afterlife look different to different people?
Why did some of the Paia appear more transparent?
Why did some seem less?

What was I missing?
And if given the choice,
would I be willing?
And if I was willing,

How much opacity would I surrender?