A Ghost Story
Thomas David Andrews
By early evening, the wind had finally settled as I crossed the Kansas River, heading south on a farm road which meandered solemnly through a stretch of hills before meeting Interstate 70. The angry gusts which harried the October afternoon seemed to have chased the blue from the sky, and now defeated, the sun began to sink, scattering its last desperate daggers of amber brightness to sting my right eye. Red imprints streaked like hot fingers across the inside of my squinting eyelid. However, her face would rise from the scarlet darkness, so I would open that eye once more to stare double-barreled, but half-blind down the undulating wave of bleached pavement. —
But, she didn’t go away. Deep in my head I could still see her lips move and hear her words despite the din of the other tables. Her earnest expression, full of pity, became too unbearable, so submitting to weakness, I glanced out the window of the café and felt a kindred sympathy for the brittle leaves. With no say in their own affairs, the wind scuttled and spun the thinly veined relics over the sidewalks of Wamego. My fleeting glance lengthened into a dry stare only to become entangled in the faint echo of her ghostly face upon the glass. —
Miles away from that reflection, I pressed onward with a heavy foot. My truck’s engine grumbled like a worn horse whipped near death, but Denver and the new husk of a life I had begun was eight hours away, so I meant to chase the sun like a dying animal. Already, it lay bleeding to death on the western horizon. But still, I was nearer to her than anything else in the world and again I saw inwardly that I remained with her like a pebble drowned by the lulling song of the stream that covered and smoothed its bland form.
The farmland sank and rose with each bend like a ribbon in a young schoolgirl’s hair. Ebbing before a hedgerow, pale grain carpeted a field as dark heads of sorghum crested upon the opposite side. With regular glances ahead, my sight would return to my left to see fields flying past, punctuated by lines of trees and scattered fence posts. Blinking, I shrugged away the sun as it dipped lower in the west, but its red doppelgänger danced between each fluttering contraction, spurring my tethered thoughts to stage again and again the sordid drama. —
She stopped mid-sentence after I rose from my seat. Without a word on my part, I placed a wrinkled cap on my head, pulling the bill heavily over my brow which weighed heavier over my fugitive eyes. I had come to hear what I heard once, not repeated a dozen different ways. As the jingling bell sparkled overhead, she called my name, which I thought perfect for our ending. —
On the road, a haze now had begun to gather amongst the bases of the trees in each succeeding hedgerow. It was less than a fog really, like breath floating from the mouth of a child on a frosty fall morning. Brushing my knuckles against the side window, I felt a stark coolness. So far, the month had been unseasonably warm, but tonight would be chilly. —
Yet, never once, amongst all those words, did she mention why it ended between us. Even to the last, she wouldn’t speak of it, as though not mentioning a fact would deprive it of its existence. Somehow, she could only acknowledge our first two years, bright and blissful and our final year, dark and hellish. As for me, I was lost in that six year gap in her memory. I was a man in-between. For so long, even on this final afternoon, we were never in the same moment, but lived as two people constantly in search of one another in a pair of unlocked rooms. —
Each dip of the road brought me closer to the Interstate and each field ended in a smoke wrapped line of trees. Above a large oak, I noticed the piercing of a star through the light blue fabric, like a needle worked through a canvas. Rows of sorghum swept by my window, becoming darker with the loss of light. Another line of trees flashed in my peripheral vision as I climbed a hill. Braking, I declined upon the other side.
A dry field, already harvested, opened to my left. Only prickly, broken stalks remained. Here, the growing fog collected more densely among the uneven depressions of the scarred earth. Above the densest patch, a brighter white speck, jostling unnaturally like paper caught up in a whirlwind, arrested my full attention.
It was a small child, a young girl running towards the line of trees which blocked the view of the next field. Closing my eyes, I shook my head, contending with disbelief as the red circle danced fitfully within my lids. Opening my eyes, I turned my head over my left shoulder. The misplaced figure disappeared beyond the trees as I passed beyond the hedgerow. In a moment, I braked and smelling tortured rubber, I threw my truck into reverse.
For half a minute or so, the truck sat idling as I squinted through the window. Skipping along the hedgerow, the young thing bounced merrily towards the fence and the road. Dressed in a white gown, the tiny figure seemed without care. Her golden curls danced with each light step and her white skin nearly glowed. I sat confused, for there hadn’t been a farmhouse for four or five miles, yet, the child was there, a white relic dancing though the cottony gauze.
Turning off the ignition, I opened the door and walked across the blacktop. The sky had deepened into a fringed blue which would soon surrender to black. Checking both directions for unlikely traffic, the stale air felt cool against my feverish face. As I reached the far edge of the road, I began to call, but a hard knot in my throat blocked my voice.
There, in the swirling fog, the child’s face became perfectly clear, though everything else faded into a hazy aura. My right hand clamped over my gawking mouth as the other knocked away my cap to run frantic fingers through my hair. Wetness, icy and bitter, appeared at the corners of my eyes as the girl smiled in recognition.
With a trembling high-pitched squeal, I called to the waving child.
Suddenly, her features melted as my heated voice reached her. A furious wind howled from behind me, rushing onward, prompting the fog to rise and consume her. The entire bank rose, lifting and stretching her white body as a beam of light thrown through a prism. The topmost branches shook violently as she passed through them. As a blown candle, the dying daylight vanished in that mad instant and darkness fell over me.
Through the blackened garment, a million silvery mouths laughed in a silent chorus. As I sunk to my knees, heaven and earth seemed to chant a single word. And, that word was a name.
Eloise, A Ghost Story: copyright 2020 by Darkly Bright Press and Design, L.L.C.
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