The next night, Zook and Shamil made their way out to the road. Twilight
was just fading when they arrived at their destination. Zook took
a post, high in a blue spruce, about 100 yards down and across from Shamil,
who was hiding under some brush between two large boulders.
They sat and watched the road until they spotted a likely target: a solitary human traveler, riding a tall, ornately outfitted horse, wearing the robes of a rich man. Zook quickly produced a vaguely humanoid shape that shimmered with a ghostly light. When the man neared it, Zook sent a ghostly whisper to the target’s ears, “Give me a coin, and you shall pass unharmed.”
The man’s horse shied at the unnatural light and noise, nearly unseating his rider. The man steadied his steed and nervously looked around as he spurred the horse into a fast trot. As he neared Shamil’s hiding place, she made the same dancing light appear, while Zook dispelled his. Her “ghostly whisper,” however, said, “I told you a coin! Now you shall pay!” With a simple bit of prestidigitation, she made the man’s too-full moneybag slip from his belt. The man hardly noticed the loss of his pouch as he urged his horse to a gallop.
Shamil bolted out of the bush and picked up the pouch as Zook shinnied down from his perch. “What’d we get?” He asked excitedly.
“His entire pouch! I think we scared him big time.”
“Seebo was right. Those humans are too stupid for their own good. Let’s get off this path and see how much we got!”
They walked to the same rocky patch where their discussion of the night before took place. They emptied the pouch of its contents. The treasure that sparkled before them was more than they could believe at first. They overcame their disbelief in short order and quickly set to counting the booty. The pouch held many coins of copper, platinum, silver, and gold, as well as several small gems.
The last item almost went unnoticed. It had wedged itself in a shadowy crevasse between two small boulders. Shamil noticed the moonlight glinting off its surface and picked it up.
“What’s that?” Zook asked when he noticed what Shamil held.
“Haven’t a clue.”
Shamil examined it from almost every possible angle before handing it over to Zook. It was about five inches long, cylindrical, about an inch thick. It appeared to be made of either silver or platinum. Its most unique feature was that it had a blue diamond embedded in one end and a black pearl in the other.
“Maybe a wand?” Zook was intrigued.
“Seems too short.”
“What else could it be?”
“Dunno, but let’s not mention it to Seebo. He’d probably just find a way to snitch it.”
“Speaking of our dear brother, what should we give him?”
“How about the odd silver piece?”
“Yeah, I see no need to give him any more than that. More for us.”
“Who’d have though this would be so easy! I’m definitely doing this again tomorrow.”
Zook threw back his head and laughed.
“What’s so funny?” Shamil loved jokes, you know.
“I’ve decided to call you Ghost Picker from now on.”
“Because you used a ghost to pick that guy’s pocket instead of your hands!”
Shamil shook her head and giggled as they gathered up their newfound treasure and headed home.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
That summer, Shamil discovered the joys of relieving the lesser of their
money. Had she been born in another time, another place, she would
have been claiming to follow the ideals of P. T. Barnum—there’s a sucker
born every minute. She and Zook went to the road and did the “ghost
picker” routine nearly every night, sometimes getting a gold, other times
getting only a copper. Though the prank kept them in coin, they never
did have the luck of that first night again.
Shamil might have continued her prank indefinitely, if word hadn’t gotten out that her favored stretch of road was haunted, and people began avoiding it. She still went out occasionally until midwinter; Zook stopped going with her after Boddyknock relented and allowed his eldest son to train as a fighter.
One night, not long after her birthday, Shamil went out to the road, hoping that someone would chance by. She was just about to return home when somebody did. She hurriedly readied the ghostly apparition, but to her surprise, the man didn’t appear to have stopped in fear. In fact, she could hear a low chuckle of amusement floating to her. The man turned and stared directly at the place Shamil was hiding. “Sorry to disappoint you, little one. Illusions don’t frighten me. I suggest you find more worthwhile work to do.” A strange ethereal light shot from his hands and blasted away part of the brush near Shamil. “Be gone with you now, or I’ll aim at you.”
That was the last ghost picking Shamil ever did, even though to her brother Zook, and a few select others, she will always be Shamil Turen, sometimes known as Vinestitcher, infamous as Ghost Picker.
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