This is a magical realism piece, not a ghost story. I'm trying to move towards doing fantasy-literary fiction, and magical realism is a good place to start. If you have any critiques, please, please, please post them up. I'd love to hear them. I just wanted to have an audience reaction to this piece before I sent it out for attempted publication.
Word Count 2484
Ellie watched her feet as she tromped across the treeless, half-acre plot of overgrown grass behind her house. She was heading for the backend of the property, towards the woods behind their house. She wore her normal hiking ensemble: a sweat-stained white t-shirt, khaki cargo shorts, and an old pair of dirty tennis shoes. In the messenger bag strapped across her shoulders and chest, she’d packed two apples, one peanut butter and jelly sandwich, two bottles of water, a lighter, and half a pack of cigarettes – stolen from her mother last night. It had been almost two years since her last hike in these woods.
She lifted the latch on the gate and pushed against it, but it didn’t budge. The unkempt grass had intertwined its blades within the chain-link fencing, forming a natural lock at the bottom of the gate. Ellie shook it, loosening the grass’s grip, and managed to push the gate open just wide enough for her to fit through. She left the gate open and went to her left, toward the clearing that bordered the woods and civilized life. She kept scanning the ground, watching for any critters that might scamper or slither underneath her feet. When she glanced up, Ellie stopped dead in her tracks.
Not but ten feet from her something tremendous stood in the clearing. She squinted her eyes against the sun to confirm what she’d thought she’d seen; in front of her loomed a massive, black figure. It stood almost seven feet tall, with thin, sharp appendages. Between a pair of angular shoulders sprouted a scrawny neck, physically incapable of holding up the thing’s large, perfectly sphere-shaped head. Despite the fact that it was broad daylight, and despite the fact that she was only ten feet from the massive-thing, it’s only visible facial feature was a pair of large crimson eyes that burned like fire. The rest was just a black blob, its only definition in its outline.
Ellie wanted to run, to leave the gaze of this strange thing, to return to the safety of her home. But she didn't. She folded her legs beneath herself and sat down in the tall grass. She stayed like that, watching the figure as it watched her. It was a he. It felt like a he. His eyes went through uncomfortably strange, slow movements, opening wide, then becoming thin slits, then opening wide again as he stared at Ellie.
Whenever his eyes went wide, Ellie could see whole world reflected in them. Tinted in red, she saw her head floating atop tall blades of grass. Sometimes he shifted his weight to the left or a little to the right. Sometimes he wandered about the clearing. Sometimes he stared elsewhere for extended periods of time. His attention had no rhyme or reason. He would go from Ellie to the ground, to a flower, to a tree, then back to Ellie. He stared at the ground and flowers and trees with great, expanded eyes, but when his attention fell back on Ellie, his eyes performed their opening and closing ritual.
She sat for almost an hour, her head and shoulders baking in the hot sun, trickles of sweat scurrying down her neck and back. Again, the massive-man took his eyes from Ellie, becoming deeply invested in another tree. She took his distraction as her opportunity to leave and stood, unfolding her long legs, and walking to the gate then stopping. Ellie turned back to the clearing. He was still staring at the tree, eyes literally the size of teacup saucers. Her absence went unnoticed. Ellie slipped back through the opening, and pulled the gate shut behind her, and made her way back toward the house.
Ellie’s mother was standing at the counter, sawing into two large sirloins, her long gray hair pulled up and out of the way. Her green eyes didn’t even flick from her hands when her daughter walked through the back door.
She smiled at the steaks. “You’re back early. Didn’t think you’d be back for another hour or two.”
Ellie took off her messenger back and laid it on the table. She sat down on one of the bar stools and rested her elbows on the plain, tan countertop and put her jaw in her hands. Her teeth clicked together as she spoke. “There’s a man standing in the clearing behind the house,” Ellie said to her mother in a dreary voice, “so I didn’t go.”
Her mother found the statement abrupt, almost staggeringly out-of-the-blue. She stared at Ellie, her mouth hanging open, fear in both her voice and expression.
“There’s a man where?”
“I don’t mean, like, a real man.” Ellie quickly cut in. “I mean, like, this thing,” and she commenced in relaying the physical details of the massive-man to her mother, who went back to cutting up her steak, nodding as she listened.
“Hmmm.” Her mother’s lips formed a rigid, tight line that frowned ever-so slightly. She finished cutting the steaks and put the four slabs of raw meat into a large, round Tupperware container. She then poured about a cup’s worth of lemon juice over them. “Sounds like an angry spirit. You should stay away from him.”
Ellie’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “You think he’s a spirit?”
Her mother smiled as she poured a liberal amount of teriyaki sauce into the container. “If he feels like a he, then he’s definitely a spirit.”
Ellie’s mother completed the concoction with swift working hands, throwing several dashes of garlic powder, paprika, cayenne, as well as a mounded spoonful of brown sugar in on top of the steaks. She put the lid on the container and began swirling around the juices, spices, and raw meat.
“What’s he doing back there?”
“I dunno,” she bounced her shoulders in a shrug, “just watching, I guess. Whenever he looked at me, his eyes would do this weird thing where they’d go from big to small, like he was blinking in slow motion or something, but they never closed all the way. He watched other stuff too, like trees or whatever, but his eyes always stayed big and round unless he was looking at me. Other than that, he just walked around or stood in the clearing.”
“Hmm,” was her mother’s only response as she set the container down on the counter.
“What if he’s like...the wood's guardian or something?”
Her mother shook her head as she swirled the container. “If he was a guardian, you'd have seen him when we first moved here. He’s gotta be an angry spirit.”
After her parent’s divorce three years ago, she and her mother were forced to move to the outskirts of Hamilton in Harris County, Georgia where rent was cheap and the school systems weren’t terrible. At fifteen, Ellie made straight A’s in school without her mother having to ride her. She also held down a part time job at the local library. Her job was more for when her father was late paying his child support, for when her mother needed help with the bills.
“I don’t think he’s a spirit.” Ellie said as she stood up from the counter.
“Where're you going?”
“Out to watch him some more.” She grabbed a bottle of water from her bag.
Concern etched a frown into her mother's face. “Be careful.”
“I will.” Ellie said. She leaned across the counter, flattening her palms against the countertop to hold her wait, pecked her mother’s cheek, and walked out the back door. Ellie’s mother winced as she slammed the door behind her.
The massive-man affected Ellie’s mother more than it affected Ellie. The next day, he was all she could think about, even while she was at work. Ellie’s mother stood at the cash register, blank-faced and silent as she rang customers up. She wasn’t sure why, but the man made it impossible for her to concentrate. Customers were concerned. Several of the old women asked after her daughter. When she tried to talk, she would accidentally double ring an item. In the span of 2 hours, Ellie’s mother rang up seventeen people incorrectly.
“Why don’t you take the rest of the day off? Hmmmm?” Mr. Cooper offered as the front door swung close behind the day’s seventeenth irate customer.
She didn’t argue with her boss. Instead, she thanked him and went to go get her things. He wished her well as she stepped out the door. Ellie’s mother couldn’t breathe, let alone respond, so she nodded and waved. She hurried out the door and into her Buick LeSabre, shoved the key into the ignition and twisted her wrist. The car came to life.
As Ellie’s mother made her way home, the closer she came to her home, the more anxious she became. When she got home, she parked the car in the driveway, and immediately went towards the fence at the back edge of the property. She did not see the strange man her daughter had described. There were only pines and oaks and sweet-gums and blooming dogwoods jutting upwards, stretching their branches into the ever expansive blue sky. She forced the fence open by pushing against it with her shoulder, and almost fell as the gate gave into her massive shove. Cautiously and with tender steps, she made her way to the clearing, stopping at the threshold.
A light breeze sent goose bumps up her left arm. She felt on edge. Ellie's mother drew in a deep breath, and stepped into the clearing. A giant materialized less than three feet in front of her. Air evaporated from her lungs. He rose almost a full foot above her with his fiery eyes opened wide. She felt herself needing to breathe. The massive-man’s attention was caught on an oak tree, and he didn’t seem fazed at all by the woman's sudden intrusion into his clearing. Leaves crunched beneath her feet as she stepped backwards. She was relieved that the massive-man did nothing. He remained engrossed in the oak tree, and when she exited the clearing, he was gone.
Ellie's mother did not stand around pondering what she’d seen. She went back to the gate, pulled it shut behind her, and headed to the house.
When Ellie came home from school, she noticed that her mother looked paler than normal, and her eyes held a distracted gaze. Ellie stood in the doorway and waited for her mom to yell at her to shut the door. Ellie counted to twenty before her mother realized that she was standing there.
“Shut the door,” she said in a calm voice. “Sit down.” She complied, taking a seat in the recliner across from her mother. As soon as her daughter was settled, Ellie’s mother began talking about her run-in with the massive-man. Then her mother said, “I want to go out there with you.”
Ellie nodded. “Ok.”
They stood up together and went to the back door, Ellie following behind her mother, and waded through the knee-high grass. When they reached the fence, they stood at it with their attention fixed on the clearing.
“Is he still there?” Her mother asked.
Ellie nodded. “Yeah. He's still there.” The massive-man stood, slouched and staring with those two fire eyes. They were huge and open and staring in their direction, but just off to the left of them.
“The same thing he was doing yesterday, watching. His eyes are really big right now."
“Is he looking at us?”
“No. He's looking this direction, but not as us.”
Her mother bit her pinky nail and spit. “I'm going to get the the rock salt.” She turned and went towards the house. “I read online that rock salt keeps the bad spirits out.”
Ellie didn't move to follow her mother. She stayed and watched the figure. There was something captivating about the massive, lone figure, in a clearing surrounded by trees. He shifted from one foot to another, then his head lifted and turned just slightly. Ellie's body went cold. They were making eye contact. He lifted his arm into a L-shape like he was waving at her. Without hesitation, Ellie repeated the motion. When his hand returned to his side, so did her's. His body began to disappear. It started with his fingers first. They became more and more opaque, then see-through, then they vanished completely, and as they'd disappeared, the opaqueness traveled up his arm.
Ellie heard the sound of feet swishing through grass. She knew without turning around that it was her mother.
“What happened?” Her mother asked through little heaves of air."
She couldn't turn her head from him. “He's leaving, I guess.”
They didn't speak, just watched. The opaqueness took over his abdomen and split him in two, dissolving both upwards and downwards, until finally nothing but his head and feet were left. The feet shifted again, the head floated, suspended in the clearing, then he was gone.
Ellie laid on her side, staring out the window next to her bed, into the expanse of nothing, a lone street light casting a soft orange glare on the yard and trees. Then he was there, materialized in front of her eyes. He had not faded in as he'd faded out before. He appeared in the thin light, those same, fireball eyes wide and glowing. She watched as his hands passed through the window and wrapped around her neck. He applied pressure. She choked. His face came closer to her's until all she could see was her own, tinted-red face reflecting in his eyes. He spoke in a hushed whisper and said, “Wake up.”
Ellie woke with a start, gasping for breath. She could still feel his hands on her throat. She stood too quickly and wobbled. Once her dizzy spell passed, she rushed to the bathroom, and flipped on the light. It took a second for her eyes to adjust, but she saw them in the mirror: two red hand prints fading from her white neck.
The scared, childish part of Ellie wanted to run for her mother’s door, to knock, to sob the story to her. But she didn't. It was late and her mother would have to be up early for work. She returned to her bedroom and lay back down on her bed, but she did not sleep. She sat up in her bed and pulled the cord to open her blinds, then lay back down again, staring out into the blackness of the wee morning hours. She was waiting for him to return. As the outside world began to awaken, Ellie realized that he would not be coming back, and as the birds began their, high-pitched morning chirping, Ellie felt incredibly melancholy as the night shifted into day, as the blackened versions of trees and rocks and cars began lightening back into themselves.
The air around her felt heavy and flat as the tears came on.