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.

A Ghost Story – Part 2

The landscape of the river changed one more time before I would reach my turnaround point. On my side of the river the path became wider and went along side a dense wood. Although not large in acreage it was quite full with old trees who’s bark was dappled with moss, and who’s branches joined up above to form a canopy which sunlight could barely penetrate.
I was approaching these woods now, and coming toward me along the path in the opposite direction was a lady walking her dog. The dog was off it’s lead and trotted a good twenty yards ahead of it’s owner with calm obedience. As it drew nearer to me, it’s bouncy gait started to waiver and it came more or less to a halt. I kept going, approaching it with a confident air (this, I have learned, is the best way to approach a strange dog. Show no fear.) As I came ever closer to the animal, I could see it had begun to shake slightly, and it lowered itself into a predatory crouch. I could also hear a slow rumbling sound coming from its throat and I realized it was growling. I started to get a little unnerved as it was staring right at me and I couldn’t fathom what I might have done to offend it so.
I stopped, to wait for the owner of the animal to come calm it down, and as she approached the dog began alternately looking at me, and back behind me, along the river path. I couldn’t take my eyes off this angry creature and eventually the owner caught up with it.
“Come on Max, what’s wrong with you?” she said. She grasped the dog by it’s collar and attached it’s lead. I could barely speak, as she forcibly dragged her dog past me along the path. It shied away from me, but indicated with the raised pitch of it’s growling that the fight part of its fight-or-flight instinct was still an option. I turned on the spot, careful not to move too quickly for fear of triggering a stronger reaction than just vocal, and as I looked back along the river path to follow the dogs progress, I saw the man again.
He was stood on my side of the river now, about thirty yards back from me. He was stood, staring, still as ever before. The dog and it’s owner approached this figure and as they closed in on it, the dog began to bark, furiously, at him. The tall man didn’t flinch, simply stood and regarded me with dark solemn eyes. The owner of the dog kept pulling it along, admonishing it in increasingly angry tones. Then, as soon as they had passed by the tall imposing figure a rather curious change came over the dog. It was as if a switch had been thrown – the dog instantly became docile and calm again, as it was before it came upon me.
My attention now though was on the man behind me. I realized that his eyes were dark and solemn and it was possible to see them for the first time as the sunlight was no longer behind him. I stood frozen to the spot, not sure what to do or say. I gathered my will and called “What do you want? Are you following me?”
Again, I received no response except the unwavering stare. Continuing to face him, I took a backward step, then another, preparing myself to turn and carry on walking. In all honesty, I had lost the appetite for my walk now, what with this unnerving figure and the surprising reaction of the dog. But there was something stopping me from wanting to just walk back past the figure and return home.
As I took my third stuttering step backwards, the figure before me moved. I couldn’t see his feet beneath the length of the coat or cloak he was wearing, and he seemed to glide across the ground. He stopped, abruptly, keeping the distance between us the same as it was when I first noticed him behind me. I took two more steps, and he repeated his movement.
“What do you want?!” I called, louder now, a little more afraid. And once again, there was no reply.
As I started to turn away from him, to walk forwards (and, I admit, with rather more speed than I had been walking before) I caught a glimpse of something in the wood. About twenty yards in, caught in a spear of sunlight that had managed to find its way through the thick canopy above, was a bag. But not just any bag. It was my bag. The bag I used to use when I went out walking, to carry a drink or my small camera, or some tissues. I hadn’t seen it for about two weeks. I remember, one day, I had gone to find it in preparation for a walk and it wasn’t in it’s usual place. I couldn’t for the life of me work out where it had gone, as I was the only person who would have had it, but it had just…vanished. And now, here it was, sat on the floor of the wood, in it’s own pool of sunshine.
I slowly walked forward, stepping over the edge of the path and into the wood itself, toward my bag.

A Ghost Story – Part 1

I had got into the habit of taking an early morning walk each day. I had let my body become like an old garden fence – neglected, worn, and slowly rotting. I needed to do something, anything, to remind my physical self that I used to be able to run, jump, move with the freedom of youth.
I was lucky enough to live near a river, so rather than have to take my walk along traffic filled roads, I could enjoy the peace and quiet of flowing water. I think if I could choose to live anywhere, it would be on a river. To wake each day to the sound of the water moving along would, to me, be the perfect alarm call. But I digress. This isn’t a story of peace and tranquillity. No.
On the morning this took place, I had risen early. I am not a late sleeper at the best of times, but for some reason I was up and dressed as the sun was beginning to crest the horizon. I decided to leave for my walk and try and get to the river bank while the sun was still orange and low in the sky. I put on my jacket and walking boots and set off.
The start of my river walk begins at a bridge over the river. You descend by the side of the bridge onto the dirt path that I would imagine horses used to use to drag the old coal barges along the waterway.
As usual, I was listening to nothing more than the sound of the water and the light wind through the reeds along the bank. I was feeling quite calm and content. There is only one bank along which you can walk – the other is overgrown with small trees, rocks, and the usual detritus produced by this modern world. But as it was early in the morning, I had the path to myself and was just enjoying the walk. As I rounded a bend in the river, I began to turn east and the sun shone more into my face through the trees on the opposite bank. As I squinted to cut down the glare I looked across the river and thought I saw a figure. I couldn’t be sure – the sun was quite strong even as low as it was, and with the confusion of tree branches adding to the unclear picture nothing was certain. But as I looked harder I made out a tall figure stood between two trees. He was tall, with a completely bald head. He wore a long dark coat of some kind although from where I stood it could also have been a cloak.
The pace of my steps slowed as I drew level with him across the river. The man was standing completely still and although I could make out his general shape I couldn’t see his face because of the sunlight and shadow. I was sure, however, that he was staring right at me. Normally, if I had passed such a figure on my side of the river, I would have paid no mind – maybe shared a “hello” as we passed. But the fact that he was stood on the other side of the river, where no one normally trod, made me curious. I stopped. I called across the river to him, “Hello? Are you OK?”
The man didn’t reply, just remained motionless, and with a small shrug of my shoulders I decided that he must have a reason for being there and it was none of my business. I turned away from him and carried on walking.
The river turned again a little further along, and the landscape changed slightly. On my side of the river the dirt path became more gravelly, and on the opposite side the trees fell away and it became more barren, with larger rocks scattered along the bank. As I was thinking about the strange figure I had seen, I looked up and across the river again. And there he was. I stopped in my tracks. How on earth had he got there so quickly? He was stood as he was before, like a statue, but whereas before he was stood between two trees, this time he was stood between two large rocks. I didn’t know what to say to him, but before I could utter a word, he moved. His left arm slowly came up and pointed away, along the river and in the direction I was walking. Like the scarecrow in the Wizard Of Oz, he stood still with just a pointing arm.
What was this? Why was he pointing the way I was going? I called across to him again.
“What? What’s wrong?”
Again, there was no response. I tried a couple of other questions but still received no reply and the figure didn’t move. It was as though he was frozen there, cast in stone and immovable.
I still had a ways to go before completing my walk, so rather than waste further time in futile attempts at communication, I turned away from this strange man once more, and continued my walk.