Short Story: Ghost Road (Sara Hinton)

I’m not strong enough to fight the creeping vines, or fix the slumping roof, or the rotting floor boards, or cracked walls. Father will have to fix those when he comes home. I wonder when he’ll be back to repair the house, so I can finally get some sleep. My hands are pale, and my frame is weak and skinny. I wonder, should get I something to eat. No, Father will be home soon, and I want to wave to him from the window like I always do.

The floor boards are creaking behind me, something thunked against the wall. I cannot see what it is. I have to watch for Father. I cannot fight the animals; I am too weak. And I cannot drive bandits away; Father took the only gun. Besides, I need to watch for Father. He will fix the house, drive off the bandits, and kill the animals for our dinner.

“Hello.”

A young voice is behind me. A young boy. I cannot look at him fully; I need to watch for Father.

“You’re pretty.”

He is so innocent.

I will not respond because I know that the Boy lies. I am too sickly to be pretty. I must wait for Father to come out of the woods, so I can wave and shout to him. The Boy is talking about his mother, his sister, and his imaginary world. I will listen to be polite, but I cannot really hear him. I’m too focused on the dirt road twisting through the woods. Someone is calling for the Boy. I think he just said good bye. He is gone. Finally.

How much time has passed since the Boy came here? Maybe an hour or so. But I will wait for Father. He will be back any minute now. After all, he told me he would be back soon. No longer than three days. Has it been three days yet? No, the sun set after the boy came. It has only been one day.

The floorboards are creaking again. Maybe it is the Boy. No, this is a Young Man. I think he is my age. I can see him out of the corner of my eye. Maybe if I should look at him. No! I have to watch the road! I need to wait for Father!

“You know.”

Is he talking to me?

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a girl like you before.”

Of course you have not. No girl is as sickly as I am. Father, come home soon and case this young man way.

“Why won’t you look at me?”

Because I have to wait for Father, but I will not tell him that. Maybe if I do not speak to him he will go way. Why is he not leaving? Does he not know that I have to wait for Father? Finally, he is gone. Now I can watch for Father in peace. I think the Young Man is in the yard. He should leave before Father comes home.

I wonder what time it is? Father should be home soon. Any minute now, he will walk down that road, and I will run to him. Is the Young Man still in the yard? No, it is a Man now. He looks like he could be Father’s age. I wonder where the Young Man went? Why does the Man keep leaving then coming back? What is he doing next to my boulders! My boulders! I cannot wait to play on them with Father again. However, I cannot ask the Man what he is doing. I need to wait by the window. I hope he does not destroy the boulders. I hope Father will come and chase him away soon. Then I will run to Father like I always do. Has it been three days yet? No look the sun is setting. Father will come home tomorrow.

Is the Man coming up to the house? I hope he does not do anything to me before Father comes home. Why is yelling at me? What did I do to hurt him? I cannot run. I must wait here for Father. Otherwise, he will not know where I am. I will watch for Father and not speak to the Man. Maybe then he will go away, like the Boy and the Young Man.

Father, please come home soon. This man is scaring me.

He is gone. I wonder what made him so angry. It wasn’t me. I have only been sitting here, waiting for Father. I should get some sleep, but I cannot. Father might come home early, so I have to wait for him. I have to watch for him.

When did the sun rise? It does not matter. I have to watch for Father. He will be home any minute now! The floor boards are creaking again. Who is it this time? It is an Old Man. I cannot look at him properly. I have to watch for Father. He will be home soon. He brought a chair to sit in. Is he going to wait with me? Very well, Old Man, we will wait for Father together.

“Fifty years.”

What did he say?

“Fifty years ago today, I walked in here chasing my ball. I was only nine then, but you my window girl haven’t aged a day. Now doesn’t that just tickle your feathers.”

“Then forty three years ago, I decided you were the most beautiful creature I have ever seen! Oh, I so young and foolish. But I was determined to get you to talk to me.”

He is now saying he is the Young man! Impossible! I have only been here three days, not fifty years! Father hurry home! Please, the people are scaring me! I must be calm. He will go away, just like the others did. So I will not speak to him until he leaves or Father comes home. Father! Where are you?

“When I found out your story…I didn’t know what to think!”

Be quiet, Old Man! Father will be here soon then you will have to leave!

“It was just so sad, and I was determined to make you see the truth. I was so determined I took to yelling at you! But you just won’t tear your eyes away from the window! Even though it killed you.”

What are you talking about, Old Man? Why are you lying to me? Father will be home soon and then you will be sorry that you have scared me like this.

The old man looks surprised.

I can see the old man’s face. I have looked away from the window. I am not watching for Father! He is probably walking up the road as we speak. The road is empty. He has not come.

“So you can talk!”

Is the Old Man laughing?

“Fifty years you never said a word fifty years! HA! I finely got you to talk!”

I cannot help it. I need to speak with this man. I will watch the road, but I will listen to his words.

“What are you talking about, Old Man?”

“Well it was around the time of the Civil War.”

“Civil War? I remember Father saying something about a war when we lived in Nashville.”

“Yes, sweetheart, that was over a century ago.”

A century! I need to look at this man. He seems to be serious. I can see no deceit in his eyes. I will watch him to make sure he does not lie.

“When the Civil War got started, there was a man with a very sick daughter.”

Was that me? Am I the daughter? I am sickly. I am weak. And this Old Man, he is not lying.

“He did not want to leave her for the war, so they hid in the mountains.”

“Yes! Father did bring us here. He said he did not want to kill anyone, and I said that I did not want him to kill anyone either!”

“Yes, sometimes he would have to go into town for supplies, and you would wait here by the window until he came home.”

“Yes. Oh, Father. I have to watch for him.”

The road is still empty, but Father will be home any minute and put an end to this Old Man’s lies. But, I do not think he is lying. No, he must be lying.

“Sweetheart, the last time he left you was in the dead of winter. There was a blizzard, and you died sitting next to the window.”

“You lie!”

My legs feel weak. I have to lean against the window. It will support me while I stand. But I will not leave the window. This Old Man cannot make me leave. Not one of his lies will reach my ears. Father will be home soon. Father will tell me the truth. Father will save me from this old man’s lies. But his face. It looks sad.

“I’m afraid I’m not, sweetheart. Look out the window.”

No, I will not look out the window. Not if this man wants me to. I will not see his lies. But his eyes. They look so sincere, so sad.

The road is empty. Father is not there. Where is the road? There are trees everywhere. They are in the garden, in the road, but there is no road or garden. There is only grass and trees. And where is the glass? The glass was in the window when the Old Man came in.

“Look sweetheart, at the boulders.”

The boulders. They  are covered in vines and leaves. I think a tree is growing on the largest one. That was not there when the Old Man came in. The Old Man. He is pointing at something. Is that a grave stone in front of the boulder?

“That is my grave.”

“Your father came back, sweetheart. Just like he always did. After he buried you, he left. With no more reason to stay away from the war and nothing else to live for, he ran toward it. I don’t know what happened after that. Some say he died fighting for the South, some say the North. Some say he found a new wife and settled down again. But all the stories agree on one thing. That you’re still here waiting for him.”

Father came back for me. He came back. Father came back. But I did not run to him. I did not run to him!

“I did not run.”

“You can run now.”

The Old Man, he sounds hopeful. But why does he look so sad. And what does he mean I can run now that Father is gone. Oh, I can go where Father is. But the road is gone.

“Go on, sweetheart, run to your father.”

“But the road is gone. Old Man, why are you so sad?”

“Don’t worry about the road. I’m sure you’ll find it when you’re ready.”

“Old Man, why are you sad?”

“Let’s just say I’ve been waiting for this day for too long, sweetheart.”

He is crying. Why is he crying? Is it because I will go to be with Father soon? I could introduce him to Father. Father would like this Old Man. After all, he showed me the truth, even though it was outside my own window.

“Would you like to run with me?”

“Two old ghosts moving on together? Well, why not?”

The Old Man’s hand is strong. Why would he call himself a ghost? He is very much alive. I suppose I do not really care. The road is back, and I think I see Father coming this way.

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