the only light for miles seemed to be coming from her mouth and eyes. her skin was the color of wet sand. how to reply, how to reply, i looked down at my hands - i hated them, crossed my legs, i fucking hated them, soft and skinny but bruisy and pale like a patient in a hospital bed. i said nothing.
'a long time' she said and nodded once with her eyes closed. 'you don't have to look at me.' i didn't look. she coughed and said 'wait, please look at me.'
i looked at her, her teeth were broken and the skin on her hands looked like the bark of a tree. i didn't want to touch her, i thought she'd become dust, or worse, grow and become a whole tree, making the ground shake and crack open. i didn't want to touch her but i wanted to feel everything that she was. it felt like we were all hiding but it wasn't in a bad way. i don't think.
in the store her people, family, or "cult", really, if you will, around here that is what they call them. here they're considered evil, they're ignored, people keep their self-absorbed distance. they are associated with things kept quiet and underground, demons and chaos, the people here would sometimes say that they were dark, that they were surrounded by a darkness that gave them nightmares and made them keep rifles under their pillows while they slept. i looked at the woman and the bodies moving around inside the store. it wasn't for buying things, it was more like the store was a stage prop and i was watching a performance. they were all women and very old, ancient like. even the men were women. they always moved slowly. i didn't speak much, mostly i watched them, everything they did was musical, i wanted in on this supposed darkness. the trouble was that i was only seeing light, i only saw light around them. but i could be wrong, there's always the chance that i'm wrong. watching them turned my clock hands, the ticking seconds everyones heart beats. it made me recall writing somewhere how strange it is that we grow up with this innate fear of darkness, its funny because for me, my ghosts are creatures with a light. the ones i know are preternaturally irradiated, shining. i couldn't even count or explain all the different shades of light if i wanted to.
the woman with the hands like bark tapped my knee and began to walk fast, summoning me, she walked so fast, faster than i'd seen any of them move, with an urgency that made it hard for me to swallow or feel reality. we came to a house i knew, i had lived there before, in a state of hibernation, ghosts too. the front yard of the house had sunk in, filled with water and froze over. a female deer and a small spotted fox were both stuck halfway in and halfway out of the ice, they looked dead but not peaceful. there was a horse, too, immersed fully underneath, through the ice i could see him struggling, his muscles angry and tired, his eyes wild - full of all fear. i could feel their frozen limbs inside my blood like an intravenous, intramuscular injection. the three animals made no audible sounds but i could hear them screaming. the rest all happened very fast, my brain clattering like the horses hooves trying to push against the ice. the woman pointed to me from across the yard and kept her finger there in the air, straight and steady and for me. her mouth was moving fast, quietly talking to herself or the earth or both. it was no longer dark, i touched the ice, it turned to cold powder inside my fingers. i lied down onto my back, knees buckling first and i squeezed the freezing seeds of ice hard in my fist, praying, how cold is too cold and i swore i'd stay right there and never move and never tune out the screaming and kept strangling the ice with my fingers and then i passed out. when i woke up i was sitting indian style, the deer on my lap in my arms, its fragility i could taste while it shook there. its blood was almost as warm as mine. i wanted to share bloods. the horse was there too, laying behind me, it's body curved making an arc sheltering the deer and i, its big dark horse-eyes did not leave me for a second, after every blink they were still on me, knowing something good but also too much. i felt like the something good but also the too much. the melted ice had created a deep lake where the fox sat beside, cleaning its paws with its tongue. the woman with the tree skin hands was still across the entire yard, clapping and laughing at the setting with her mouth open and no sound, her broken teeth like stars in pitch black. i couldn't tell you what was shining then, if it was with darkness or light, but everything was seen and immersible, everything was what it always called to be and i got in, in the end it wasn't her i wanted inside of but this. the deers body hummed: "my,my,my " my pupils were dark and wet the corners of my eyes lit with little teardrops.