Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Ghost Story

Through the darkness on the heavily wooded path, the travelers can see the remnants of a once good-sized bonfire burning low. On the far side of the fire sits a woman wrapped in an old Indian blanket. “Hey… over here,” she beckons. “Come warm yourselves. Pull up a log and sit a spell.” So they do, casting off their heavy packs with relief.

She hands them each tin cups filled with dark, steaming coffee, merely nodding as they thank her. Settling back with her own cup, she muses aloud, “A wise man once told me that a campfire is useless unless there’s a story told by it. As the universe would have it, I am in possession of a story. A true story if you believe dreams have any power.” She pauses for effect. “And if you believe the dead still have something to say.”


At first I didn‘t realize it was a dream. I was back in the old Kirkland house and my late mate, John was in the bedroom dying, just as he did in waking life a little over four years ago. I felt all the old dread and sorrow so clearly. I went into the living room where my friend Jessica was reading and told her it was time, that he wasn’t going to linger much longer. She followed me into the bedroom where he lay. Jessica went to one side of the bed, perched on the edge, and took his hand, I did the same on the other side. We sat there, silently, listening to his labored breathing as it slowed, slowed, slowed. His eyes fluttered open and he looked at me. His voice was a rusty whisper, but I heard him clearly. “Alchemy,” he said. “Make it golden.” I heard Jessica gasp, but I couldn’t tell if it was with wonder, surprise, sorrow, or what. I didn’t look at her to see which. My eyes were riveted on John as he took one last breath and then died. Again. I felt my heart once more shatter into a billion tiny shards. I began to sob as Jessica rushed to where I was sitting, held me and rocked me. “Why did he do this to me again?! Why? I could barely take it the first time.” “He needed you to hear that,” Jessica said calmly, although through tears of her own. “He needed you to hear.” And she kissed the top of my head the way one kisses a forlorn child.

I left the dream at that point. It was too painful. My chest felt heavy and I could barely breathe. The oppressive familiarity of those feelings were enough to give me the lucidity I needed to, although still soundly asleep, leave the dream. And fall right into the next.

I was in a very well appointed kitchen cooking with Laurence Fishburne. Yes, the Laurence Fishburne, he of Animatrix and CSI and what have you. We were cooking together. I was making chicken paprikas and potato dumplings, Laurence was making dinner rolls. The air was redolent with the scent of good food. We finished cooking dinner and served it up, taking our places at a small table at the side of the kitchen since it was just the two of us. “This is nice,” I said. “We work well together.” “That we do,” Laurence responded with one of those hooded-eye, enigmatic traces of a smile he’s so well known for. There was silence for a few moments as we ate. I groaned as one does when does when eating a particularly good meal. It’s almost an involuntary reflex, is it not? Laurence gave me one of those famous Fishburne smiles again, raised a gravy soaked dinner roll in my direction and said, “Alchemy. Make it gold.” I was startled. “What made you say that?” I asked. “I just had a dream that my mate who died said those exact words to me right before his last breath." “Huh,” Laurence replied, head cocked as he pondered my reaction. “Seems that I heard those words from a dying man myself. I don’t know what made me say that.” I left him there in the kitchen. I had to go upstairs and get ready. I had no idea what I was preparing for. That part of the dream was yet to be revealed. I only knew that it was to be a somewhat formal occasion.

I stood on stage, microphone and podium in front of me. I was wearing a simple light blue dress, adorned with a silver and sapphire necklace and matching earrings. I held a book in my hand. I recognized the artwork on the cover as my own. Upon closer inspection, I realized that I was the author. I quickly thumbed through the pages, trying not to look too stupidly lost in front of my audience. It was a book of my artwork and poetry. I blushed, feeling a little undeserving and completely put on the spot. I looked up from the book and out at the audience. I recognized many faces - all of them people who’ve passed on from this life, from my life. They sat, attentive, a copy of my book in one hand, and a cocktail in the other. I opened the book and quickly selected a poem, immediately realizing that I didn’t at all remember writing it. I began to read:

Autumn presses her lips
to the breast of Summer.
I will feed from you
‘til you are no more,
then shepherd you in death
to a crystalline shore.
The old man waits
as surely as you burn.
There is a time for everything
and in everything we return.
In light and in shadow
beyond woodlands, beyond sea,
there is no golden promise,
only alchemy.

The audience stomped their feet in applause. I saw my long dead father rise from the third row, holding his glass high over his head. He grinned at me like the proudest proud papa ever, and shouted, “To Alchemy. Make it golden!” The rest of the dead rose from their seats, all holding their glasses aloft, and echoed, “Alchemy. Make it golden!”


The woman stirs the embers of the fire and throws another log on top of them. The log crackles as it settles and begins to burn. Aside from that and the wind rustling through the trees, there is no other sound. Everyone gathered around the fire is preoccupied, each with his or her own thoughts, and is mesmerized by the flickering campfire.

After many minutes the woman finally breaks the silence. “I wasn’t going to tell anyone. It was almost too big for me to absorb, much less share. But I believe it was meant to be shared. I believe the dead leave behind a bit of their soul energy, but only a little bit. So when they choose to expend it, it’s best to pay attention.”

She invites the hikers to roll out their gear and stay the night. They accept. None of them are ready to jump up and wander off just yet. As they drift off, they in their sleeping bags, she in her bedroll of blankets, like spokes around the hub of the dwindling fire, the wind whispers. “Alchemy,” it says in the hushed voice of a mother soothing a baby to sleep. “Make it golden,” the trees respond in the whisper of a father who loves his family.


  1. I totally dig this Barb. Twisty and still connected. Just a beautiful piece of storytelling.


  2. Wow. This is simply wonderful, and the poem...amazing. Please tell this post (and the dreams) will be inspiring some future art! "...there is no golden promise, only alchemy." Just...wow.

  3. Brilliant all-around-- possibly some of your best to-date. The poem is, by far, one of your best. I'm agog ~


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