Tell A Tale in 500 Words

Ghosts in the Forest By Kandace Walker

Ghosts in the forest. Their skin is chalky and blue. They run naked through the trees, their bodies brushing against the leaves with a sound like a whisper. What power lets the ghosts run like that? Never leaving tracks, not so much as a dry leaf, crushed underfoot. Where are the ghosts running? …What are they running from? No. I must remember: the blue ghosts are natives of my imagination, nowhere else. I am alone.

I am a hunter-gatherer. I don’t forage berries, hunt wild boar. No, I track down others like me, the ones in disrepair, fatal system error. As I kneel down to rip the circuitboards from this man’s chest, I see his eyes still blinking, blue light sparking behind those synthetic irises. I am not sure who of us is the lucky one. I walk home with the scavenged parts for my self-repairs, thinking, am I not a cannibal? Wait! …in the trees. I stop. No, it wasn’t a blue ghost… I am imagining… am I not? I don’t know what I am, but I am the last. I walk past the faded sign.

Welcome to May, West Virginia.

There, see — the docks, the waterfront where I said goodbye to the boy I loved; the boy I was born to care for. Apologies, not born. Built. I was built for that sick boy — built to nurse him when he cried; to instruct him in world geography and the Romantic languages; to gently travel his body from bed to wheelchair ’til he was old enough to move on his own. Built to love him, as he was destined to love me. This is where we parted, we said last goodbyes. Dawn when the ship sailed away, and Otis Redding was our aubade: sitting on the dock of the bay…

I was lightning after the ship, the other people falling behind as I went on, keeping my boy in view ’til the mammoth engines came to life and let the ship outstrip me. Then I watched from the dock and I waved, like I had seen sad people do in movies. Waved and waved as my boy became a small black dot in the sky, invisible even to these eyes. I waved ’til nightfall.

Now, I charge in the sun at an old gas station. I sit on the roof to get the last of the sunlight. 43, 791 days have passed. The boy will be dead, even if he survived. Even if he lived. The old woman I gave up my seat for will be dead, too. The people who built me are dead. I have “outlived” them all. The moon rises — what’s left of her anyway. I rest against the inky blue night, awake and dreaming about my boy. Down the highway, at my feet, the town lays dark and still.

I am alone.

And wait… no… I’m imagining… down there, in the town… I draw closer… do you see it?

A light?

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