A Ghost Story – Part 3

As I crossed the barrier of light and shadow into the woods, the heat from the sun left me and I was enveloped in a chill. I slowly made my way toward the bag in mild disbelief. It definitely was my bag, and not a duplicate. I could make out the sewn patch on the side, from my trip to Provence a few years ago. I kept walking, and each step released the damp, moldy smell of decomposing leaves. I reached the bag and stood looking down at it. I couldn’t believe it. My mind was trying to process how this bag, one of my favorites and one that I had quite sorely missed when I realized it was gone, had been left here, in this wood. For a few moments I had forgotten all about the figure that had seemed to be pursuing me, or the way the dog had reacted to me. But as I pieced together the linking steps between the bag, how I missed it, and what I used it for, the memory of how I came to be stood there returned. I whirled around, looking behind me and back toward the river. Sure enough, there he was. The tall, bald headed figure. He was stood on the edge of the wood, as immobile as one of the trees that surrounded us.
“Is this it? Is this what you wanted me to see?” I called. Although why this stranger, who I had never met, would want me to find a bag I had lost days ago, I had no idea. The man continued his silence.
As I turned back toward my bag, in preparation for picking it up, my eye was caught by something else. This was even more surprising, and caused me to catch my breath in my chest. Another twenty or so yards away, in another ray of sunshine, was a small lamp. My mind couldn’t quite grasp this. My bag, found here in the woods alongside the river I had often walked along, could maybe be explained. But this small lamp of the sort that you’d find on a bedside table – that was just weird. And the stranger part of it was, it was my lamp, from a house I used to own many years ago. How did I know that this lamp was uniquely mine? Simple. I had designed the lamp shade that was on it. It was my own handiwork, and I’d recognize it anywhere. I was now well and truly amazed.
My bag forgotten, I slowly walked deeper into the wood and toward my lamp. It sat there, on the leafy ground, incongruous as a… well, as a lamp in a forest. Glancing over my shoulder, I could see my constant companion had also moved deeper into the trees and was now stood by my bag. I didn’t bother to try and raise a response from him – what was the point? He hadn’t replied thus far and I doubt he would now.
I reached the lamp. Suddenly, a flood of memories hit me, of how I had worked late into the night to finish the design on the shade. How I had chosen just the right spot in my old bedroom to be able to see it as I closed my eyes to sleep. How the bulb had once gone late one night as I was reading, and for a split second I felt as though I had been struck blind.
I looked up, deeper into the wood, reliving these memories in my mind, and there, another short distance away, was my final shock. My last surprise on this strange and unexpected walk. With this last revelation the crashing realization of everything, everything fell in on me.
Ahead, in one more shaft of sun, was the remains of a large tree. It had no top, no glorious green head of leaves. It looked dead, as though struck by lightening some years ago. From the trunk of this old tree thrust out a single, thick branch.
And hanging from the branch, in a noose of dark rope, was a body. The way it hung there made it look almost stretched. The head was down, chin on chest, and the rope that attached it to the branch seemed to grow from the back of the body’s neck. I slowly, very slowly, approached the tree. This was it. This was what the tall figure had wanted me to see. This was why he had followed me down the river and into this dark forest. This was why the dog had reacted to violently toward me. I knew now that I would never leave the woods I was now stood in. This was the frightening, shocking realization that had hit me. I turned one final time to look at the tall, silent figure behind me. He had come closer than he ever had on this entire journey, and what I saw in his eyes was a deep, awful sorrow. I looked back at the dead tree, and dead body.

My body. Hanging from the tree. Mine.

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