It’s only midnight, so I probably won’t get to sleep for another few hours. I never do, especially on week nights, there’s just too many thoughts to be had. Thoughts about whether or not I will be fired tomorrow. Thoughts about whether one of the people on Tinder will message me so I can use that meaningless conversation to feel less anti-social. Thoughts about what that intermittent thumping coming from the other side of my room. Most of the thoughts keeping me up are about the first two. If something is going to burst out from the shadows and kill me, that would not be the worst thing in the world. Death doesn’t scare me but filing for unemployment and admitting to myself that I am lonely does.
So, I just stare at the ceiling and think my little thoughts and wait for sleep or the creature in my closet to take me. I don’t have a preference as to which comes first, so long as it comes quickly. But, after a while, the incessant knocking is getting on my nerves. It’s been going on for a half an hour, just a knock every couple of minutes. Exasperated by this being’s unwillingness to come and introduce itself, I get up out of bed and pad across the room in my underwear to flick on the light. Nothing noteworthy jumps out at me as my eyes adjust and I scan the room, but one more thump comes from the far wall.
I walk to the closet and fling it open without a second thought. Before me stands two racks of clothes and a pale being floating a foot off the ground. It looks mostly human, except with translucent skin and legs that turn into wisps of ethereal light instead of feet. It also looks a lot like me. Which is upsetting for two reasons. One is that I do not really like how I look, especially in the light of this spectral being. The second reason is because I now realize this phantom is not here to kill me. I would never trust anything that looks like me to take my life. It stares into my eyes, knowingly. I walk back to the bed and lay down. I look up to the closet, where the specter floats, still staring into my eyes. I rest my head on the pillow and fall asleep swiftly.
I wake up to the sound of my second alarm. I never remember waking up to turn off my first alarm, but it always happens. I get up and stumble to the bathroom, eyes blinking away the red spots in the early morning brightness. Halfway through washing my hands I rush out of the bathroom without even turning off the taps. I come to a stop in the middle of my room, staring into the eyes of the ghost, now sitting on the edge of my bed. Its eyes stare right back.
After three minutes frozen to the floor, I slowly start reaching for my phone, intending to take a picture to prove that my brain has not simply started augmenting reality. The ghost reaches out its own arm, stopping mine just short of the phone on the other pillow, the one without a dent from my head. It cocks its head and smiles kindly, before getting up and leaving the room. I turn and follow it to the kitchen, leaving my phone where it is on the bed.
The phantom gestures towards the fridge and then to the pantry. I prepare two bowls of cereal and two glasses of juice, before hurriedly scarfing down my shares. I had not realized how hungry I was until the ghost insinuated it. The ghost does not touch its food but stares maternally as I fill my empty stomach. It then motions for me to follow back to the bedroom, where I presume it is time to get ready for work. I walk over the closet where the ghost used to preside and reach for a dress shirt and tie. Once again, the spectral hand reaches out and stops me. The faint glow that is the head tilts to the side as the eyes stare. I instead grab my comfiest cardigan, the t-shirt with the cartoon Martian on it, and a pair of ripped jeans that would get me fired on their own. After I’m dressed, the ghost starts heading for the door to the apartment. I grab my cigarettes and my journal with the crab on it and follow, head swimming with curiosity as to where we will go.
I follow the spectre to the forest, not far from where I live. Pedestrians ignore the both of us, walking through my new friend and looking as though they wished they could walk through me. The ghost leads me down a trail to a bench, along the way I notice it glancing at the little signs under all the trees, telling us their genus and species. I had never noticed there were little signs there and follow the ghosts’ gaze to read them all.
Acer Saccharum Var. Nigrum
Tree branches wave in the wind as we pass, moving further along the trail. We pass dogs and I smile as they walk by. The dogs look up at the ghost and give it a friendly blink while their owners just keep moving, wondering why their dogs look at the sky in that way. We finally come to a bench, seated comfortably in the shade of two overarching Amelanchier Laevis’. The ghost gestures to the journal and I open it up.
I sit there writing for most of the day, while the ghost glances around calmly at the surrounding forest. It is alive with sound. I work in the alterations of tree names as names of my characters; Abi, Cary, Sacha, and Amelia. As the sun begins to get low along with the temperature, the ghost smiles and stands. We walk along the path back towards my home. The ghost again gestures to my fridge and pantry when we get there. I fill my belly once more and fall asleep not an hour later.
When I wake up the next morning, the first alarm has already been turned off, but the second is yet to ring out. I push back the covers on my bed, take off the t-shirt with the Martian on it, throw it in the hamper, and go to open the closet. On the floor sits my journal with the crab on it, a half-smoked packet of cigarettes, and a leaf from Acer Saccharum Var. Nigrum.