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There she was again, the ghost of our small village. She faded in and out, only to be seen after dark. Her skin like porcelain, completely flawless shown even in the darkest night. Her long black hair was always pulled back and up away from her stunning eyes. I was so happy she never hid her beautiful face.
“Benjamin,” My mother’s frail voice came from behind me. “Why aren’t you asleep?”
“Why aren’t you?” I asked in reply taking her hand and leading her back through the dark halls of our small house.
“I had a dream. Kathy is back, Benny.” She was referring to my sister who had been killed almost 10 years ago. I sighed. My poor mother; we went through this almost every night. Unable to cope with the loss of her eldest, she lost all ability to decipher dream from reality. She had regressed so many years and when we lost my father six years ago, I, only 10 at the time had to take care of her. Who else would? The hospital had shut down long ago with most of the family owned businesses. The new king had destroyed the little peace we had made for ourselves.
“Kathy is not here, Mom.” I didn’t want to hurt her, but she could not go on believing what was not true. We had reached my mother’s bed and I helped her climb back in. I could see through the dark that her eyes were upset with me for bringing back the pain. “I’m sorry Mom.” I tucked her into her covers and kissed her goodnight.
“You’re such a good boy Benny, always helping your mother.” She smiled at me, unable to hide her pain, but she closed her eyes anyway.
I walked back to the window; my goddess had vanished. I rested my hands on the window sill. Once again I had missed my chance.
The tavern filled with laughter. “You missed out again?”-“Whoo-wee Ben, you better get her before I do!”-“Pretty Lady like that’ll get snatched up right quick around here.”-“When you gonna stop dreaming boy, and get yourself a real girl?”
My friends never believed that the girl I saw every night was real. No one else had ever seen her. I don’t even know why I brought her up again. I set my glass down and put a few dollars on the table. “I’ve gotta go.” I said standing up and stretching my legs.
I didn’t really have to go. I just needed to take a walk. I watched my feet as I walked along the village’s main road. The dirt shifted under my step, leaving my impression on the ground behind me- I couldn’t help but feel like I wasn’t alone. I walked out of the village to my favorite tree, a huge live oak that had to have been there for over 100 years. It was the shadiest, most secluded place I knew. It’s where I did all my thinking. I sat down and pulled my hat over my head; thoughts of the girl raced through my mind.
I must have fallen asleep because I awoke to darkness. I stood up quickly and a creeping sensation swept over my body. I stepped on a twig and jumped. I began to fall backward but was caught.
“Careful.” A wispy voice spoke.
I stood up and turned abruptly, but no one was there. My body froze in fear as my mind raced to find a logical explanation. I must be hearing things, I thought a little unsure of myself. No one said anything, there’s no one here. I eventually broke free of my body’s held position and bolted for the village, my mother surely needed me.
I slipped in the front door as quietly as I could. “Benny is that you?” My mother had heard me anyway.
“Yes Mom. Can I get you anything?” I shut the door and walked to the kitchen. She was sitting at the table reading a letter by candle light. I glanced at the old yellowed paper and black scrawl, then instantly recognized it. It was the letter written the day before Kathy passed.
“Mom, why are you reading that?” I wanted to take it away from her and throw it into the tiny flame.
“Because she’s here Benny. Kathy is back.” She looked so happy as she stood up slowly from the table. “Won’t you help me fix up her bedroom? She’ll be here soon.”
I took the letter from her and set it on the table. I put my hands on my mother’s shoulders and looked down at her. “Kathy is not coming back. Please, understand.”
“She is, Benny.” My mother’s smile never lied. She really did believe that her daughter would come back to her. I sent her off to bed and walked out front.
Staring up at the stars, I sat on the porch steps. “I’ve seen you watching me.” I jumped at the familiar voice. It was the same voice that caught me earlier that evening. I turned my head and saw sitting next to me the beautiful girl I had been watching for so long. I wanted to say something but my voice had gone missing.
She smiled at me and handed me the loaf of bread that rested in her hands. “You’re taking care of your mother; that can’t be an easy task. So I brought you something.”
I felt rude for staring but I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I took the offered bread with a sense of trepidation. “Th-thank you” I stuttered.
“You are very welcome.” She stood up and walked away. All I could do was watch her disappear into the night.
That’s when it all started. Every night she would come to see me, always with something new. We would share small talk every other day, but I never understood why she chose me.
She came one evening with a brown bag full of red apples. She handed them to me, and I gladly accepted. She asked me the normal questions: “How was your day?” and “How is your mother?”. And I answered in the normal way: “Alright, I suppose.” and “Still thinks Kathy is back.” She always reacted in the same way: smiling about my day and looking pained about my mother.
She turned to leave me for the night when I said “wait.” I was surprised I had been able to say anything, but she turned around with a huge smile on her face.
“What is it?” She asked me.
“Why me?” I managed while clutching the bag in my arms, “What is so special about me that you would take care of us like this?”
“I once had a younger brother.” She walked away. That’s all she said, and it’s all I needed to know. I once had an older sister, so I understood the emptiness she was feeling. I knew that technically she was just using me to fill that void, but I was also using her. We had an unspoken bond. She was like my sister and I like her brother, and she took care of me.
About a year after I met her my mother passed away. And I was left to live alone. The girl started visiting less frequently; she came by once a week with something to share and a few more words. I didn’t understand then, but I think her coming by less and less was preparing me for my 18th birthday.
Waking up that morning was like waking up on any other day in the past year. The heavy mist clung to the village, so I walked to the tree where I first came in contact with her. Not expecting her until after nightfall, I settled down to think. My thoughts were then interrupted. She stood over me cake in hand.
I must have looked confused because she sat down next to me and handed me the cake. “Happy birthday.” She half smiled.
“Thank you.” I replied as I took the cake and set it aside.
There was a pause like no one knew what to say next. Breaking the silence she stood up and said, “I’m so sorry.”
She faced me and I felt her lips on my forehead. “Good bye Benny.”
I had never told her my name.