Sunday, July 14, 2013

Everlasting by Laura Stout

A wandering spirit makes contact with an adventurous little boy in Laura Stout's suspenseful ghost story.

It watched the children with envy; an unsettled envy, directed at their gaiety and freedom. Unseen, it drifted among the feathery branches of willows at the forest edge. Their games of chase conjured familiar pale scenes that roamed the spirit's consciousness. Once it had carried the comfortable heft of flesh and bone; walked with carefree strides across the landscape. But now it was summoned by the shrill and high-pitched laughter of the young and watched, hoping for another chance.

The heat of the day drove itself down upon the children and they escaped to the creek, their bodies splashing among the dead leaves and branches. The water was murky and cool, shaded by monstrous oaks towering along its banks. The spirit hung within the branches of the oaks, wove itself among the leaves and watched. One child in particular caught its attention. The child's name was David. The spirit had heard the other children calling to him as well as chastising him for unwelcome pranks. David was smaller than the others, but more lively. He was the child who jumped from the highest rock and stayed under water the longest, scaring the others with his near drowning. Red hair sprang from his head, and his blue eyes shone with glee.

After a time, David tired and dragged himself from the water. His mom said he was like a firecracker, popping with energy, then lights out, as if someone had hit the off switch. She said he'd be the death of her. David certainly hoped not. If he were home she would make him take a nap and he loathed naps; thought they stole the fun right out from under his day. He paused by the water's edge, then turned towards the woods. The trees looked dark and cool, enticing him with promises of adventure. He decided he'd stay close enough to hear his friends' laughter. That way he wouldn't get lost. He trotted up a dirt path into the gathering of trees, heavy with summer green leaves.

The spirit followed David. It shivered with a profound weakness as it brushed over the forest floor in David's path. Time had stretched too long since the spirit's last chance. Though it was still invisible to humans, the sight of David had given the spirit a bit of substance. It looked down and saw its limbs were now like frayed rope, their outlines vague and wispy; its torso churned like smoke. A mere ghostly visitant, it had little knowledge of the passage of days and weeks, just a yearning for things it no longer could distinguish and name. The spirit chafed at its inability to remember. The yearning grew which propelled the spirit to find its chance, to know things it used to know.

It had to get closer to the child, but not too close, not yet. The spirit clung to the boy's wake as he tripped over gnarled roots that sprung from the dirt or stopped to poke at an ant hill causing its occupants to flee by the hundreds. The spirit watched it all with a growing sense of déjà vu. The proximity to David tugged at the spirit's memories and they began to solidify. Air on skin, feet on grass, toes sunk into muddy depths of streams.

David found a spot he liked. It was a clearing with plenty of shade and spider webs that stretched between the surrounding branches. He picked up a stick and pierced the webs, pretending it was a sword and he the mighty knight slaying the dragon. His attention switched gears and he dropped the stick and sat cross-legged on a mossy flat rock, examining a line of ants as they crawled around his skinny, damp legs. He'd soon tire of them as well, his mind unable to focus too long on any one thing. But for now, the ants were fun to watch.

A sudden wall of cold air pushed up against where he sat. He shivered and the hard rock beneath him felt icy, the air damp. David looked up, thinking unexpected rain was on its way. But above the tree tops sunshine still splattered about the branches and the sky was still a crisp blue.

He returned his attention to the ants and held a finger against the line, trying to change their path, but they climbed his finger and he laughed and shook them off.

The laugh fell into the spirit and more memories came - a tickle against its throat.

The spirit knew it must make the boy curious, believe it was something more than an unexplained shudder of cold air. It would be difficult, weak as the spirit had become. But it was essential for the spirit to continue, to remember what it had been. Pieces of the past kept breaking the surface and retreating before they had meaning, leaving a teasing essence. The apparition became angry, swirling and kicking up the dust at David's feet.

David peered into the space before him. Dust and leaves were dancing off the ground in front of him, making tunnels of debris rise up. Something very interesting was going on, but he wasn't sure what. He leaned forward to get a better look and felt his heart beat wildly, like the heart of that tiny bird he captured after it fell out of a tree. The air above the swirling dust shimmered. It made him think of the black holes he learned about in school. Only this hole was not black, was not exactly a hole either. It was simply nothing but the nothing was moving. As he stared, the air became misty, not invisible like it should be. Colors were unwinding like a fishing line, like the one he cast out over the lake when fishing with his dad, pinching up the gooey worm from the tackle box and stabbing it onto the hook. But this line was way cooler. This was certainly becoming an adventure.

David was not a fearful child. On a bet, he'd once entered a tumbledown house rumored to be haunted, taking only a flashlight and his superman cape into the dark, cobwebbed rooms. He remembered being curious about the house and that's how he felt now. Curious. He lifted a hand and tried to touch the wavy air.

As the child's hand entered the margins of the spirit's being, it sighed. It remembered the heft of a leather ball as it slammed into a hand, it's hand, the sweat inside a bulky leather glove on another hand, it's other hand. It wanted more.

The memories breathed strength into the spirit. The wispy limbs gained definition, the smoky head and torso attained clarity. The pale, stringy colors began to coalesce into strands of silver that wreathed together further forming its body. More memories came, tactile memories yes, but also, sounds. A voice calling to him across a meadow, the words becoming familiar, their meaning finally stringing together.

David stared. Bright silver ropes were growing out of the fishing line. It was pretty amazing. Not only that, but a form was taking shape all around his hand. His hand felt soft and cool, like it was stuck in a bowl of whipped cream. He liked the way it felt so he stood up and pushed his arm into the shape. He giggled and thought the shape was starting to look like the body of a small child, like him, only there was no face or hair or anything. Just shadows with sharp edges. He felt a pull from the shadow, like something wanted to tell him a secret, but he had to get real close to hear it. So he stepped inside the shape.

Memories slammed the spirit all at once, so many it couldn't process them all. Sounds and visions sprang up from the earth on which it stood, from the surrounding pines and beyond the green forest walls, from the meadows, and from the sky. They poured into the spirit like drops of rain from all the places the spirit had roamed as a mortal. Once all the nuances and fragile emotions had been gathered into the spirit, David fell away, landing softly on the forest floor. Where David had stood was a child, a very small boy. He looked down at David and smiled.



The sun was just beginning to set into the tops of the trees when David awoke. He remembered something about a cool sensation on his arm and the shape of a child, but it was fuzzy like most of his dreams were when he woke in the mornings. He frowned when he realized a nap had snuck up on him after all and wondered what he had missed down by the creek. When he stood he saw a small boy sitting on the rock with the ants and this startled him. The boy was a bit younger than he was, skinny too. He had thick blonde hair and brown eyes that smiled along with the rest of his face. The boy got up off the rock and took David's hand. He was pulling David down the path, back to the creek, and David let him.

"Hello," David said to the boy. "What's your name?" But the boy was silent.

Back at the creek the children were leaving the water and gathering their things. The sun no longer shone hot and bright, clouds were gathering along with shadows that crossed over the creek. When the children saw David and the boy, they ran over and circled them, asking questions. "Who is he, where did he come from?" But the boy was silent and David didn't know. The boy had just appeared out of nowhere. David watched the boy as they were peppered with questions. There was something about him; David felt like he knew him from somewhere.



The boy delighted in his familiar human form, pushed his limits in everything he did. He tumbled carelessly through jungle gyms, careened wildly on skateboards. A family took him in, no questions asked, as one always did. They whispered over his head like he wasn't there, said he'd been abandoned. But oh how special he was, they said. Irresistible, like the washed clean air after rain on a spring day.

He never tired of the ordinary. He'd hold a butterfly on the tip of his finger and study the symmetrical etchings, the patterns like stained glass windows, the coppery browns and lemon yellows, his awe unbounded. He cherished the affection of others, a mother's hand brushing his cheek, an older sister taking his hand in hers; things that would make it terribly difficult to let go. For he knew all too well his time would play out for a season or two and then his body would begin to dissolve. He would return again and again in repetitive cycles of existence, over which he had no control.

One cool spring day, when the breezes from the canyon blew up and swirled the petals from budding flowers, his time came. He woke that morning as the sun breached the horizon at the edge of town and felt the sharpness of his bones had softened. He drew an arm up before his eyes and gazed at the filmy texture of his skin. When he rose from the bed and walked across the room his feet could not easily stick to the ground. Anger and disappointment consumed him and he left the house before the others woke. He left it all behind once more, all that had become familiar and lovely. He escaped to the forest and sat cross legged under the canopy of the trees, arms crossed, chin stuck out, pouting, thinking how unfair it all was. The sadness felt like hot coals. The inevitability of his death and rebirth was like peering into and out of a fog. Eventually he accepted it, knew by afternoon his body would evaporate like a puddle on a hot afternoon. As the sun sunk into the tree tops he watched it all unravel, skin, bones, muscle, into a single thread that ebbed away till all that was left was his spirit, the lonely revenant that remained. For a time.

3 comments:

  1. descriptive and atmospheric, sad but with hope.

    very, very good

    Michael mccarthy

    ReplyDelete
  2. Your words paint such a good picture that one can feel as if they've stepped into the story.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Christine WergelesJuly 15, 2013 at 3:06 AM

    Incredibly detailed descriptions. The author immediately pulled me in and didn't let go until the unexpected ending. Not what I thought it would be. Amazing short story!

    ReplyDelete