Trying to uncover a mystery, the narrator goes on a journey through a paranormal world.
I spotted her in the distance among Gamestine ruins. She was playing on the corroded swing set, idly swaying back and forth and staring at the rust colored silt. A few remaining birds flew through the still atmosphere, their wings crippled and mutated from nuclear contamination. An almost unheard lullaby escaped her mouth as she sat on the swing. It was a bittersweet lullaby that to others sounded enchantingly melodic, and yet to myself and her, it sounded like the sound of screeching souls that curls in her throat like a dirge. Not another sound was heard in the abandoned playground, and echo the lullaby did.
Upon the rhythmic cue of dying birds, the swing stopped and she looked at me, unnaturally glowing green eyes piercing right through my being. The loneliness in her expression was almost too much to take in.
“You called for me?” I asked.
She smiled lightly. “It gets lonely out here.”
A few minutes go by, and the atmosphere was heavy with stilled silence. I looked at her as she traced her index finger along the copper brown, rusted chains. I could tell she preferred the silence, however. After years of being alone in this godforsaken place, she probably never wanted to hear the noise of a bustling city again. It would bring back too many painful memories.
Sighing slightly, I took a seat on a swing next to her. “Look, we’ve been through this before. You should just move on, you know that? No point in moping around in this sad place.” I rummaged through my back pocket to take out a box of matches and flicked one against the coarse striking surface. The orange flame ignited, dancing in the slight winter breeze.
She glanced at me. “Who says I’m moping? I like this place; your views on certain things change over a period of time if you are exposed to something that’s worth changing you. Besides, I’ve told you” -she put more emphasis on ‘you‘ and pointed her finger at me- “that I can’t just simply leave. There’s something I gotta do.”
“Well, just do it already!” I said, swinging both my hands outward. The flame went out and I made haste to light another. “I don’t understand why you keep sitting here, in this same spot every day, and now you tell me that you have something to do? Why didn’t you do it five years ago? Ten years ago? I don’t even think that you know how many years passed since the nuclear disaster.”
“And I don’t understand why you play with matches…I am aware of the date, yes.” She jumped off the swing in an energetic leap, but didn’t land very far. “And I couldn’t do whatever needs to be done because I don’t know where the thing is. So I’m basically stuck here, and that’s alright with me, because what seems to others as ruins among a blanket of snow is a beautiful land lost in time for me. Unless…you want to help me look for the thing.”
She smiled and looked at me with a hidden, hopeful look in her eyes. Her small body rocked back and forth, and I thought she was serious this time. However, I didn’t know what to tell her. “…You’re still so short…” I said to her.
“Obviously; I am a ghost, after all. We don’t age; you’re a little late with that realization.”
I rolled my eyes. “Big words for an eight year old ghost.”
“I’m older than you by five years.”
“Whatever.” I eyed her curiously. What must it have felt like to die at such a young age? I often wondered how she died to begin with. She never told me when I asked; she almost never revealed anything about herself. “I’ll help you, but only if you tell me your name.”
Her eyebrows rose. “I never told you? It’s Maria. Now that we know each other better, you have to help me.”
“And what am I supposed to be looking for, exactly?” I asked. Leave it up to her to keep me guessing.
She was quiet for a moment, turning her back to me and looked at the forest of dead trees in front of her. “My body.”
“…” Casting my eyes downward, I got up from the swing, too, and stand behind her. “It’s been so long, Maria…You’ll be nothing but bones--”
She turned quickly to face me, her eyes glowing a toxic green. “Bones will be fine!” she shouted. “Anything! Anything that can at least prove that I am real, that I was real at some point in life. I don’t even know if I am just a figment of your imagination, or if I was never human to begin with and that I am just a wandering being or something.”
An uncomfortable silence settled in. I stared at the dancing flame, noticing the way the colors dominate one another. Fire was always a wonderful thing to me. Hot, beautiful, and yet deadly, it is a force to be reckoned with. It was odd; whenever I felt uncomfortable or upset, I always found comfort in the way rapacious flames fight for life, growing bigger and larger and consume anything in its path. In moments fire can destroy life, but it makes way for a new one to begin. When an environment is inflicted with never-ending combustion, everything falls apart and dies. But even still, fire paves way for new opportunities; this is how the never-ending cycle of construction and deconstruction works, and the fact that I had a small piece of the opposing force in my hand and could control it was exhilarating, to say the least.
She spoke again. “You know, I’m not allowed to tell you things about myself or the afterlife. It’s one of the rules we must all obey, or else. I can tell you, however, that I don’t remember anything, no matter how hard I try. That is why sometimes I feel that I was never real. But there is one memory that I do remember, and I think that it’s God’s way of giving us a head start on the search, because I don’t remember where or how I died, either.”
Fantastic, I think to myself. “And will this memory help?”
“You ask too many questions, you know that? I wouldn’t have mentioned the memory in the first place if it’s irrelevant to my situation.”
I stared at the far distance through the trees, and I could see a faint view of the nuclear reactor that blew up. “Alright. “ I sat down on the swings again. “What’s the memory about?”
“Well,” she started, “It happened at the abandoned school. I…I was playing with my best friend in the classroom…” She paused, and I can tell that she was trying to remember. After a moment’s thought, her head rose slightly. “Oh, right; I remember. I was playing with him in the classroom, and we had wanted to go somewhere together.”
She stoped and looked at me. “…And?” I asked.
“How is that helpful at all?” The fire burned out on the match stick as I threw it at her.
She stuck her tongue out at me. “The date, I remember, happened to be three days before the nuclear accident. The place we wanted to go to was scheduled to open the day the nuclear reactor blew up, and after that, I don’t remember anything else.”
A small sigh escaped my lips. My arms were placed loosely on my knees. “An abandoned school. There’s a lot of them here, you know.”
She smiled. “Yeah, well, time to go searching. Good luck, comrade,” she saluted me and stepped back. I lit yet another match stick, staring at the heat source as it ignited.
Standing up, I sighed again and stretched. Just as I was about to inhale deeply, the small flame exploded on me, heating my face and burning the tips of my hair. The fumes suddenly make my head spin. As I glanced at her, she gave me a reassuring smile (for what I don’t know) and waved as I fell into the heap of snow and blanked out.
Rain was falling silently, nourishing plant-life within the cemetery. A foggy mist rolled through and hid the tombstones. The moon shone through tiny patches in the clouds, casting rays on several statues.
The small cemetery was located in the gardens of a church, right in the center. The church was old and decrepit, breaking down from years gone by without maintenance. Radiation seeped through every crack and crevice and mutated life in its path. Hidden gargoyles peered out from their posts, protecting the forgotten building. The inside looked no better; dust covered the statues and gathered in corners. Spiders formed cobwebs on the tall ceiling, weaving the delicate strands into tapestries throughout the hallways.
While the church looked abandoned, it was, in fact, full of life; depending on the meaning. Small ghostly forms skittered thorough the rooms, disappearing and reappearing at random moments. These harmless apparitions made home of the old church.
As they floated through the wide corridors and rooms, a certain ghost broke its daily pattern and appeared before the church’s keeper.
It delivered a message to the creature and disappeared. The creature nodded slowly before blending in with the shadows.
It was cold. Something wet and freezing…blanketed over me. I heard slight breathing very close to me.
My eyes fluttered open, and I realized that snow had covered my whole body. For a few moments I was rendered motionless, simply laying on the ground. A strong stench filled my olfactory senses. It was probably from the radiation-filled moss.
I slowly lifted myself, shaking my head free from the snow. My eyes scanned the surrounding forest, and automatically I noticed something to be wrong.
“This…am I still in the right place?” I asked, except there was nobody there to hear me. The playground was still there, the dead forest, everything, and yet there was something amiss. A fog settled in, accompanied by that unwavering odor, and most important of all, the surroundings seemed as decrepit and broken as ever.
“Maria, are you here?” I called out. No answer.
Sitting in an upright position, I wiped the rest of the snow off of me. I felt breathing against me again, and as I turned around, something appeared directly in front of my face. Something that wasn’t quite human.
A few things happened at once. I let out a bellowing scream, got on my feet and stumbled backwards, whereas the creature remained in place, still staring ahead as though I were still there.
The figure was startlingly white and translucent, with an abnormally thin body and long, spindly limbs. Perhaps the most frightening feature was the lack of a face; no nose, two indentations where eyes should be, and a lopsided line for a mouth, stretching from side to side.
Without a moment’s thought, I sprinted into the forest, making my way through rows of dead trees. I glanced quickly to make sure the creature didn’t following me, and I suddenly slammed into something in front of me. Falling back slightly, I saw nothing that I could have ran into. However, blank space withered away, the shadows gathered into a mass before me, and the creature once again came into view.
“Get away from me!” I shouted, kicking my legs at it. “No!”
It leaned down to face me without so much as bending the knees and let out a long hiss, contorting it’s mouth into a gaping chasm.
I was sure that I stopped breathing for a moment before my hands moved on their own accord and lit a match, throwing the small flame onto the creature. It tumbled backwards with a pained howl, scratching at the burn mark.
“Stay away,” I waved the matchbook at it, “because I have more where that came from!”
The creature threw it’s upper body forward, hissed, and disappeared.
I stood up slowly, waving the match slightly to make sure it wouldn’t come back. With a final inspection of the surroundings, I began my journey through the rows of trees, searching for a way back home.