Spirit Nonsense

by Aylya Mayze
© 2021 Wittily Writ Publishing

“This is insane!” Mallory declared, her voice struggling toward me against the bitter wind.

“Shh” I whispered, turning back toward her, “We don’t want them to hear us.”

Mallory playfully wrinkled her nose and stuck out her tongue at me. I could barely see her outline through the darkness, but I knew her well enough to know exactly what she was doing. I had to laugh.

“Now whose being noisy?” she teased, coming up beside me.

A single moonbeam pierced the clouds and dodged the forest’s jittery branches to land, sparkling, on Mallory’s golden hair.

“God, you’re beautiful!” I exclaimed, pulling her to me.

“I’m cold, tired and hungry.” She sounded annoyed even as she snuggled in my arms. “Why did I let you drag me here? I don’t believe in ghosts!”

“Spirits” I corrected her.

“What’s the difference?” she asked, then silenced me before I could answer. “Don’t bother, Greg. Whatever you call them there’s no such thing.”

“We’ll see” I answered, trying to sound mysterious. “It’s just ahead.”

I took her to the place my grandfather had shown me eighteen years ago. The ground ended abruptly, tree roots dangling into a deep, narrow chasm where the earth had split in a quake centuries before. Gramps believed it had cracked the earth straight down to Hell and let loose evil spirits. He said they came back here every full moon to dance on the large rock mound that guarded the small clearing just across the chasm. In the daylight the largest boulder had seemed ordinary, but now in the shadows cast by the moon it looked like a skull’s face watching me, smiling. I felt my skin prickle.

Gramps had shown me this place so I would know to avoid it. He had told me stories of unwary hikers who stumbled upon places like this at the wrong moment and were haunted, ever afterwards, by evil, implacable spirits. His stories had scared me so badly I had never come here again…until now.

Now I was a sophisticated, 27 year old, college graduate and computer programmer. There was no room in my logical, rational world for spirit nonsense. Also, I was engaged to marry the incomparable Mallory Hanson whose single flaw was that she teased me for being superstitious.

I honestly don’t know what I intended that night. Maybe I wanted to prove that I didn’t believe the legends of my ancestors or maybe I meant to show Mallory they were true. I probably hoped to spook her so that I could tease her for a change. Anyway, it was an excuse to get her alone in the forest.

“I don’t see any spirits” Mallory said, staring at the rock mound, an I-told-you-so lurking in her voice.

“We’re early.”

“How long do we have to wait? I’m cold.”

“Come here” I said, drawing her into my arms and settling us down beneath a tree. “I’ll heat you up.”

When my attention finally returned to our surroundings it was well past midnight. The tumbling clouds cast shadows everywhere, spinning and whirling as though they were dancing. Shadows, I told myself firmly, but I felt a quivering knot squeeze my stomach and the little hairs on the back of my neck stood stiff.

It seemed to me I saw a lithe, black shape, like a large cat or a small monkey, but more agile and streamlined, jumping silently from branch to branch in the trees overhead. The boughs bobbed with its weight when it landed – or was that merely the wind? The wind, of course, I told myself, peering closer. It was only the wind moving branches against a stormy sky. It was only the wind keening with an eerie wail. It was only the wind rustling through dying leaves, making it sound as if something inhuman were murmuring over and over: “mine…you’re mine…”

“Let’s go” I whispered in Mallory’s ear.

“Mmmm” she agreed, half-asleep.

I helped her up, shuddering at every sound we made. It was silly, of course. There were no such things as spirits.

Mallory stood and stretched luxuriously. It seemed to me that the shape in the trees stopped too and turned its head to stare at her with burning, red eyes.

“Come on!” I grabbed her hand and fled, dragging her behind me.

“What’s the rush?” she complained, stumbling in my wake.

“Just run!”

“Why?” she demanded, even as she complied.

“I’ll explain in the car!”

We tore as quickly as we could through the bushes and thorns. I could hear Mallory’s sputtering anger as they ripped at her clothes and skin. She was going to be furious with me, I knew, unless I could invent a good reason for my fear. She’d never believe I’d seen a spirit.

I kept glancing back, scanning the trees. Sometimes I thought I saw it, leaping gracefully from bough to bough, slowly gaining on us. Other times I saw nothing, yet I knew it was there. I could feel it stalking us from the shadows. My panic surged, stealing my breath and clutching at my heart.

Then I heard a strange laugh, unlike the cry of any creature I knew. It shrieked with malevolent, exultant glee. I froze, terrified. I tried to hear what direction it came from, but it echoed all around us, everywhere, inescapable.

“Come on!” Mallory cried. She grabbed me as she passed and pulled me back into motion.

The car was just ahead. Somehow I got my keys in my hand and pressed the remote to unlock the doors.

I glanced back and saw the creature only a few trees away, coming straight toward us. It glided with awesome grace, clutching branches with fingers and toes tapered to sharp talons. Its fiery red eyes were fixed on me. I stop and stared, mesmerized by its gruesome beauty, until Mallory shoved me toward the driver’s side of the car.

“You’re mine!” the creature screeched in triumph.

I sensed it leaping toward me as if I were the one leaping, flying with incredible power through the air. I dove into the car and slammed the door, locking it behind me. There was a thud on the roof. To my relief Mallory was already strapped in, her door safely closed and locked.

I started the engine, threw the car into gear, pressed the accelerator against the floor and sped away. As I drove I clearly saw the creature’s face, looking down into the car through the locked sunroof. It sneered at us, displaying jagged, yellow teeth. I swerved, trying to shake it off.

“Watch the road!” Mallory screamed as I barely missed a tree.

Then, suddenly, it was gone.

It wasn’t until we were safely out of the forest and surrounded by the reassuring glow of street lamps, headlights and neon signs that I finally began to relax.

“So what’s this all about?” Mallory demanded.

“What do you mean?” I asked, confused.

“I mean why were we running? You said you’d tell me when we got to the car.”

“Well that thing…that…chasing us…and the laugh…” I paused, forcing myself calm. “Didn’t you notice?”

“Notice what?”

“That thing chasing us!”

“I didn’t see anything.”

“Of course you did!” I insisted. “You ran too!”

“I ran because you told me to. I wanted to get you to the car so I could figure out what was going on.”

“But you heard it. You must have!”

She shook her head, a worried frown shadowing her lovely face.

Self-doubt crashed upon me with tsunami force. I was crazy. I could have sworn I saw an evil spirit chasing us, but that was impossible…wasn’t it? I knew there were no such things as spirits and yet…I was insane. There was nothing left to do but find the nearest loony bin and check myself in.

Mallory reached out, took my hand from the gear stick and squeezed it reassuringly.

“I think you just let your imagination get away from you,” she comforted me. “Maybe a part of you believed that old legend and wanted it to be true. Or maybe it was a nightmare and you didn’t give yourself enough time to wake up. I mean, we were half-asleep when you started getting panicky.”

“Yeah. Of course.” I eagerly embraced her theory. It sounded reasonable and it meant I could still be sane.

By morning everything seemed normal. Work and wedding plans commenced. Mallory and I were married and, the following summer our baby was born.

I sat in the hospital, next to my sleeping wife, marveling at the sweet perfection of our little daughter cuddled in my arms. I had never seen anything so purely beautiful in my life. Suddenly her tiny eyelids blinked open and she stared at me through triumphant red eyes.

“You’re mine!” her baby voice trilled. An inhuman laugh filled the room.

The End

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