Friday, October 14, 2011

Beautiful Ghost

They said you could see her after midnight—if you really wanted to find her, that is.

No one remembered her real name; it became lost over time. But everyone in town knew the story. She was sixteen years old during the Civil War, and she helped care for the wounded—on both the Union and Confederacy sides. Her mercy did not discriminate, and she was loved by all. A beautiful girl, with fire-red hair and light freckles dotting her cheeks, and eyes that resembled two deep, blue pools.

But those were bloody times, and sorrow found her. She had the misfortune of falling in love with a Confederate soldier, and he with her. Their love was forbidden by her father, but she disobeyed him, and it cost her dearly. She was falsely accused of being a spy and giving secrets to the Confederates. And the girl who showed everyone mercy was granted no mercy of her own. She was found guilty, and hanged until dead.

And she did not rest easily. 

Ever since then, rumors have persisted that if you wandered over to the field where the ancient oak tree from which she was hung still stood, you might see her ghost. And if you did, it was a bad omen. Someone close to you would die, because her unjust execution had robbed her spirit of any of the tender mercy she possessed in life.

Or so they said. 

I'd never put much stock in these stories. That summer, I was seventeen years old, and was so hung up with finishing school and my almost crushing love for a girl named Alice who was in one of my classes, that ghosts and old legends were the furthest thing from my mind. But Alice rejected me—she was in love with someone else.

Feeling heartbroken and down on my luck, I took a late night walk to clear my thoughts. I spent almost the whole walk looking down at my shoes, unaware of where I was going and not really caring.

Before I knew it, it was well after midnight, and I was in that legendary field, right beneath that infamous tree. It had been a warm summer night, but the air was suddenly chilly. I shivered, and felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. 

And then I saw her. 

She came out of a beam of moonlight, her dress swaying in a breeze that was not there, her hair bright red like fire, and floating about her head as if she were submerged in water. And I could see the rope marks burned into her throat. She was beautiful, the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I was enthralled with her, and at the same moment I was terrified. She whispered something to me, but I could not hear what it was. She smiled with sweet lips, and then she was gone. 

My whole body shook, and I felt suddenly exhausted, as if I had been sprinting for miles. My mind struggled to convince me that what I had seen had not been real—could not be real. But I knew I had seen it. And I knew that meant someone close to me would die. I was terrified—who would it be? One of my friends? My parents? I spent the next few weeks in terror, waiting to receive a phone call telling me that someone I held dear had met with a tragic end. But it never came. Weeks turned into months, and months turned into years, and the memory of that beautiful ghost faded away.

Returning home from college one Christmas, I happened to run into Alice—my high school crush. We began dating, and after graduating college we married. Occasionally I would have haunting dreams where the beautiful ghost would come to me, whispering her secret that I couldn't hear. But the dreams would fade. And time would march on. And I would forget.

Alice became pregnant, and we were both thrilled. She was as eager to be a mother as I was to be a father. The doctor told us he could inform us of the baby’s gender, but we wanted to wait—to keep it a surprise.

The pregnancy was going smoothly, and we were prepared for our lives to change for the better.

And then yesterday, I received a phone call at my office. It was from a state trooper. Alice had been in a terrible car accident after a tractor-trailer had derailed on the highway. She had been killed instantly.

I wept madly for my wife and unborn child. And last night, I went to bed, my heart aching, my body weary. And I dreamed I was 17 again, back in that field by the tree on that moonlit night. And the beautiful ghost came to me, whispering her secret.

Only this time I heard what she said:


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