On a dreary, cold October while I watched the leaves descending,
twirling orange, red, and golden from the trees,
my frame of mind, it dourly echoed the depressing song of autumn,
for my life had turned as dull and dry as leaves.
I slipped on a woolen sweater, though a coat may have been better
to protect my skin from harsh and chilly winds.
It was not my first concern to contemplate external comfort
when my heart and soul were agonized within.
Nay, I don’t recall the day when joy began to fade to nothing,
turning every hour a somber shade of gray.
Drawn out weeks I spent alone while urgent business called you elsewhere,
keeping both your mind and body far at bay.
It was never my intention to reside apart from others,
but the woods’ enchanting mood had won our hearts.
I remember how romantic it had seemed to build a cottage
in the trees for you and me to make a start.
Nonetheless, when life demands it, love and fantasy erode
until the push to make a dollar turns to greed.
And so you spent more time without me, crafting deals and making money,
never meaning to neglect my greater needs.
Oh, it was a slow descent that over time brought me to madness.
Years before, my heart did love you evermore,
knowing hours away were only meant to ease our mortal burdens,
so with eagerness I’d meet you at the door.
Day by day you lingered longer in the caves of money changers.
Night by night your presence failed to warm my bed.
But oh! The times you did appear with pretty gifts and warm affections,
not one small complaint or griping word was said.
Perhaps that was my err. I should have voiced how dreadful lonely
and depressing isolation was for me.
So stale and stagnant fell my solitude that time and time again
I tried to coax intruding squirrels to sit for tea.
Sipping chamomile while nibbling almond crumpets, I would
hear a spotted owl that answered every noise with “who?”
And for weeks my desperation found the owl a fine companion
‘til I realized we were “whooing” out for you.
It was on this dark and starry night I first set out to wander
far beyond our property into the woods.
And despite the nippy weather, with a sweater wrapped around me,
I determined to hike on as best I could.
An enchanting moon shone luminous upon my virgin path,
highlighting every step into the yet unknown.
I traveled on with neither destination nor a goal in mind
except to walk the aching sorrow from my bones.
‘Midst the timbers I did travel, scrunching underbrush and mushrooms,
being careful of dead branches on my way.
Moss and pine assailed my nose while I was much opposed to stepping
foot in mucky piles of weather and decay.
It was in an open circle, very small but boasting daisies
and white asters growing wild among the grass,
well-illuminated also by a moon so full and glowing
it appeared to be a lid of giant mass.
Though the night was getting colder, it was like the sun had risen.
I absorbed a ray of warmth that wasn’t real.
Nonetheless, my skin behaved as if the hotness of the day
was being mirrored by the moon for me to feel.
With my face turned up to heaven, eyelids closed against the moonlight,
I stepped slowly to the circle’s very heart.
There my foot bumped into something far more supple than a boulder.
When I looked, the image gave my fright a start.
For a moment I stood frozen, hardly breathing in the evening,
hoping what my eyes beheld would cease to be.
But the body, white as ivory, lying still within the grasses
neither vanished nor attempted aught to flee.
Just a gasp at length I managed, for a scream seemed rather pointless
in the middle of the forest in the night.
With wide eyes I scanned the body, more than certain it was lifeless,
seeking evidence of how she met her plight.
A young woman, maybe twenty, seemed to sleep among the flowers,
blooms so white and wild around her pretty dress.
I could see no sign of mischief, not a wound or laceration.
By my scrutiny she seemed in no distress.
Then I noticed in her fingers lay a vial. It was empty.
I could picture how in life this troubled soul
had destroyed herself through poison in a bleak, crestfallen moment,
having nobody and nowhere else to go.
Oh alas! How bitter sorry I did feel for this sweet maiden,
empathizing with what mystery was her pain.
The enormity of anguish must have been an awful burden
to convince her every hour was lived in vain.
As I shed a tear or two, my fingers touched the cold cadaver
and the strangest shiver traveled up my spine.
At my back, I felt a chill that far surpassed the curious warmness
I’d encountered stepping through the ring of pines.
The impression of a presence made me glimpse across my shoulder
where I spied a being ethereal and fair.
The ghost was no illusion but a shadow of the maiden
lying at my feet, devoid of mortal cares.
For a brief eternal moment I believed my life in danger,
but that notion faded with a simple smile.
The young spirit kept her distance as she studied me in wonder,
lost in mutual contemplation for a while.
Then she spoke, her visage beaming, and she seemed a friendly specter,
overjoyed to come across a living soul.
And despite her eerie aura, I could honestly admit
her mere existence did my loneliness console.
“Speak your name,” said she in eagerness. I did without delay.
She told me hers, at which we shared a pensive sigh.
Placing both feet on the grass, she stepped beside me near her body.
Pointing to the vial, I softly uttered, “Why?”
In a dull and solemn murmur she replied, “What’s done is done.”
And then she turned away, refusing more to tell.
As her ghostly form moved off to wander weightless o’er the grasses,
my gaze lingered longer on her lifeless shell.
Then, as if she were a child, I heard her say, “Come play with me.
It’s been so very long since I have had a friend.”
I turned to find her two eyes hopeful, glowing near as white as starlight,
with a longingness my heart could apprehend.
I too was greatly hungering to make a new acquaintance,
craving personal companionship once more.
So I shed my woolen sweater, amply warmed by mystic moonlight,
to engage in dance and singing tales of lore.
In the morning I awakened ‘mid the mossy ring of pine trees
with my sweater draped across my shivering arms.
I had almost deemed the evening but a figment of my dreaming
when I spied the ashen corpse with some alarm.
Casting glances ‘bout the meadow where the air had felt like summer
up until a timely autumnal sunrise,
I was highly disappointed not to spot the pretty specter who
had capably my sorrows minimized.
Determining it wise to leave the body where it rested,
I stepped back into the trees to head for home.
Momentarily, I paused to scan the circle for a sign
that night had not elapsed with me out here alone.
Seeing nothing in the daylight, I moved off somewhat bewildered.
I could not erase the maiden from my mind.
It was crazy to feel grief o’er an imagined apparition,
yet I could not leave her memory behind.
Had I fantasized this friendly specter out of desperation?
Had the solitude and quiet made me mad?
Or, rather, had the most delightful night I’d spent in ages
been a pleasure for one living and one dead?
Wrestling sanity amid these thoughts, I drifted off in slumber,
waking just as sunset turned the sky maroon.
I pulled on my woolen sweater and ducked out into the forest,
keen to reach the meadow heated by the moon.
When I passed between the pine trees, smelling moss upon the branches,
I glanced everywhere with highest hopes indeed.
At the feel of drenching warmth my eyelids closed to face the moonlight.
Then I felt a shiver, followed by a plea.
“Please come play with me.” A soft request that covered me in goose bumps.
When my eyelids flickered open, I grinned wide.
“I would love to play,” I answered to the same incorporeal being
whose mortality had ceased in suicide.
I scarcely can express the great relief I felt to know
I wasn’t half as mad as I had first assumed.
And throughout the moonlit evening we did laugh instead of grieving.
In my heart a bud of optimism bloomed.
Daylight hours I used for sleeping while each precious night I rushed
To find my ghostly sister waiting patiently.
The moon above remained a nightlight warming up our magic circle
where the wild asters grew tenaciously.
One wet and drizzly afternoon while I was fast asleep in bed
I felt a large and gentle hand against my cheek.
My mattress shifted at the weight of someone sizeable and heavy,
and I heard a man inquire if I was weak.
“You look pale, my dearest. Are you ill? Your skin’s in need of sun.”
I felt big fingers cup my face as I awoke.
And for a moment it was if I had an onset of amnesia
‘til I recognized my husband, and I spoke.
“It is you!” I cried. “My darling, you’ve returned to me at last!”
He hugged me tight, and in his ear I breathed a sigh.
“How I’ve missed you!” “Oh, I’ve missed you too, but sadly I can’t stay.”
A cold remark to which I gravely uttered, “Why?”
“There’s important work to do, my love. Please try to understand.
It is our future for which business doth provide.
But I promise I shall not be long. One week and I’ll return.”
He smiled softly while my tears I blinked aside.
He then showered me in gifts, so I put on a glad expression
and accepted dainty trinkets and a ring.
I was grateful for the night we shared exchanging warm affections,
but by morning he was flittering his wings.
“Must you fly from me so soon?” I asked, already feeling lonesome.
“You could sit a spell and share a pot of tea.”
With a hand upon my cheek he pacified me with a kiss.
“I’m sorry, dearest, but I’ll be home soon—you’ll see.”
Now, before I said goodbye I made him swear to backtrack quickly.
He assured me it was just a few more days.
“I’ll be standing on our doorstep by this very hour next weekend.
Hear my promise; I shall rush and not delay.”
Late that evening I revisited the moonlit grassy meadow.
There I found the ghostly maiden shedding tears.
Strands of haze were misted sorrow that fell o’er her empty body;
She was mourning loss of life, so it appeared.
I rushed over, arms outstretched as if to offer an embrace,
but when I reached the girl my hands dropped to my thighs.
A dismal exhale crossed my lips; my features twisted with compassion.
No one spoke until the mourner raised her eyes.
I was shocked when she proceeded to recount her day of death
by first confessing that a man had won her heart.
They had proved their love in secret when society forbade them,
though in open view they spent their time apart.
Months elapsed and turned to years while their love blossomed undiscovered,
yet they yearned for more than meetings in the dark.
But alas! The unforgiving world denied them any refuge.
To the afterlife they both vowed to embark.
It was here inside this same secluded circle they met up
to swear their love to one another evermore.
If the world refused a nuptial kiss for man and wife to wed,
the pitying angels would hold open heaven’s door.
Beneath a harvest moon they spent their last devoted hours,
resolute to make the final sacrifice.
Star-crossed lovers held up vials as they toasted their affections.
To their lips they put the poison and imbibed.
But that wasn’t true. Her sweetheart hesitated as she swallowed.
Not a drop of poison touched the craven’s tongue.
First confusion, then betrayal, lastly fear sunk in to haunt her
knowing there was no reversing what she’d done.
She collapsed and breathed her final dying breath among the daisies
while her living lover muttered deep regrets.
He scurried off, a single kiss upon her icy hand in parting—
wanton cowardice she never would forget.
She remained night after night beside her still and frigid body,
where the moon’s full eye had witnessed bitter woe.
And there she meant to haunt the woods until his passing made things right,
for she had nobody and nowhere else to go.
A well of tears I shed at hearing her disastrous tale of heartbreak,
and upon its end she questioned where I’d been.
Disappointing her the prior night had caused a valid worry
that, just like her love, I’d ne’er return again.
I first apologized and then began the tale of my own sorrows,
how essentially I lived each day forlorn.
Though I loved my husband dearly and I longed to have him near,
his frequent travels meant he scarcely stayed at home.
We connected much like sisters and divulged a wealth of secrets.
In our misery, we howled up at the moon.
For the first time in my life I felt both understood and pitied.
It was hard to part when morning came so soon.
Daylight hours I slept away until the moon became my sunshine.
After dusk, I basked in treasured company,
until one windy autumn night a whispered wish disturbed my thoughts;
my ghostly sister bid eternity with me.
She said there was another vial filled with poison, left untouched.
Her fleeing lover had abandoned it in haste.
She suggested that if someone sought to reach the world beyond
the vial’s contents would require but a taste.
I’ll admit at first the notion was distressing to my mind.
“I have a husband and a home and seeds to sow!”
My spirit sister forced a smile. “And so you shall….at least a while.
Though eventually all treasures you’ll forgo.”
I understood her subtle meaning: now or later ends the same.
But giving up my now seemed wasteful and unwise.
“You forget what you’d be gaining—an eternity together.
What you’d lose are lonely days that you despise.”
At the leading rays of sunrise, I proceeded toward my home.
It was impossible to sleep a wink that day.
Call it madness. Call it reason from an otherworld perspective.
The allure to join my friend had taken sway.
She was there for me. A ghost! Not now and then but every evening.
While the flesh-and-blood I’d married, he was gone.
Though he’d promised one week prior to return at dawning light,
my sole companion was an owl the whole day long.
Pulled apart by clashing wants, I chose to stay the night at home
and pray my husband would arrive before the dew.
I yearned to speak to him of love and verify his heart’s desire,
but the only voice I heard kept crying, “Who!”
So I contemplated hour by hour that one repeated word,
and in the morning I continued wide awake.
As the owl and I “whooed” out for you, my tears turned to a river.
And the sun, he traveled slowly for my sake.
And I waited.
Oh, I waited! ‘til the sky turned red with envy!
But you didn’t come to beg me stay with you.
Hence, my darling, where one lay now there are two.
― Richelle E. Goodrich
Copyright 2016 Richelle E. Goodrich
Copyright 2016 Richelle E. Goodrich