Ghosts

When I see the brook trout flying, I think I’m dreaming, but I follow it because dreaming or not—who wouldn’t?  

I’m not surprised when it flies into the woods.  

It’s really more of a forest, with all these miles of pines, but I always call it the woods because that’s what Jake called it. He was good with words—said the right words could change the world.

A ‘forest’ sounds dark and unknown, like the setting of every wolfish fairy tale, but a ‘wood’ is just a scumble of trees—much kinder by definition—that’s how Jake explained it. 

I rush outside when I see the fish, thinking I’m in an epic lucid dream. A lucid dream is when you know you’re dreaming, so you can do anything you want. Jake taught me that. 

I smile, take off at a sprint, and kick off the ground, waving my arms and legs—expecting to take off in flight, rise high into the sky, and meet up with Jake above the clouds, because that’s what I do when I know I’m dreaming.

Instead, I belly flop onto the asphalt, knocking the wind from my chest.

When I can breathe again, I roll onto my back and assess the damage: a few bruises, some dirt and blood. I’ll have a soul-patch scab on my chin for weeks, but that’s what you get when you full-out Superman into the street.

So, I’m awake?

I spot the brook trout swimming through the branches of a poplar tree, shooting rainbows off its back, and I gasp when it flips around and rockets past my face. 

I stagger to my feet, and it lets me inspect it. When I extend my finger to touch it, it shoots down the street so fast my vision blurs. I race after it, watching its sleek body lash away as the afternoon sun shines through its delicate, pink fins. 

It leads me through bushes and brambles, and—I have to admit—when it flies down to the river and slips into the water, that part surprises me. Why would a fish that can swim through air want to go underwater?

I search for it in the river muck, but it’s gone.

But this bend of the river? I know it well. Too well. 

I haven’t been here for a while. 

Jake fell in here, past that clump of horsetail rush, under that downed tree that looks like a bridge. He hit his head on the rocks, and I couldn’t get to him in time—no one could. I can still see what he looked like when he died. I wish I couldn’t.

At least I don’t have the nightmares so much anymore.

I sit down on our log, remembering:

“Do you think ghosts are real?” Jake asks, scooping up a stone.

“Not really.”

“How come?” His arm bends like a heron’s neck.

I peer into the water. “Never seen any proof of ‘em, I guess.” 

“Maybe you have, and you just don’t know it. Maybe ghosts look like regular stuff—like that birch tree, or that merganser, or that kingfisher up in those branches. They could all be ghosts and you’d never know it.”

“They probably aren’t.”

“But they could be.”

I sit there thinking for a long time, I don’t know how long—until my chin is sticky and starting to scab. 

I watch mallards, minnows, and jays, and a bald eagle high in her nest.

Jake changed the world with his words.

I don’t know what I’m looking at anymore.

Joy S. Mahar

Menu