"Let us go in. The fog is rising."
I look down at the river beneath me and listen to the roar of the water as it hits the pillars of the bridge. There is an icy wind, the first breath of winter, and the coldness of the pitted concrete seeps through the thin soles of my shoes, but that is not why I shiver. I shiver because of the memories this place brings to me.
There are only two of us left of those who began the war against the aliens. Myself and Shannon who even now stands beside me - unharmed, unchanged, immortal - holding my hand to make sure I don't fall. Or perhaps she's afraid I might jump. I think the reason why she remains with me is because she too is lonely.
We are all that is left. The others are dead.
It has been thirty years since the war ended. I think we won, but as years go by and the last traces of my old world die around me, it's getting harder to remember what we fought for. All that I had, all that I was, it's all gone.
We buried John five winters ago. He went peacefully in his sleep, and I still find it difficult to remember he's gone. There are nights when I open my eyes in half dream to see him sitting on the side of the bed, coughing, trying not to wake me. Tears of pain and, perhaps, sadness in his eyes. In the darkness I can hear his breathing, laborious after the bronchitis set in, until I remember the last night, remember waking up into a silence and realizing that he was gone. I can't sleep in silence. Silence means death.
I leave the bridge and climb down the bank to the water front. The stones are slippery, and I almost fall many times, but Shannon holds my hand and keeps me standing. The water rushes past me in torrents, and I listen to its music as I search for river stones. I know what I want - rounded, beautiful stones polished by the running water - and when I find them, I put them in my pocket, feeling their reassuring weight on my side.
My coat hanging heavy from it's burden I turn to look at the river one more time. The water is always cold, even in the summer, but I don't think I have ever seen the river frozen. This is my place, the river, the bridge, the water. I come to here because this is where the memories come to me. Where he comes to me.
In my memories it is spring and I'm leaning against the rail, watching the sunset, when I hear his footfall. I turn and see him approach, smiling, a small flower in the buttonhole of his shirt.
"What's with the flower?" I ask.
He shrugs and conjures another one from behind his back.
"Brought you one too."
I take the flower and try to put it in my hair but the wind catches it and it falls into the waters below. We lean over the rail to watch it disappear.
"Looks pretty cold," I say after a few minutes. He shrugs again, leaning further.
"S'not that cold."
I laugh and nudge him playfully, as if trying to push him off the bridge.
"Oh, so in that case you wouldn't mind taking a swim."
He gives me a boyish smile and climbs up on the rail.
"What do I get if I jump?" He asks like a stupid teenager.
"Get down from there, John!" I shout in reply, but not in anger or fear.
He just smiles and takes a few dancing steps, showing off like a happy drunk.
"C'mon, Monica. Just say the word and I'll do it."
"You're an idiot."
"So I'm an idiot. What do I get if I jump?"
"Pneumonia," I shout, foolishly, unaware that I'm tempting fate.
He hops down and kisses me, and I can remember the sound of the river beneath us, the touch of his hand under my blouse and the warmth of the last rays of the sun before it disappears below the horizon.
In my dreams he is always young and climbs up on the rail without any effort. In my dreams we are never old.
"It's time to go," Shannon says, and I nod, wiping the tears from my eyes.
"Yes it is."
As we walk down the path towards the house I see a shape waiting for us in the backyard. It stands unmoving behind the apple tree, half-hidden in the first strands of night mist, and at first I think it's only a trick of light and shadow. I can't take my eyes off it, and when we pass the front gates it walks towards us, gestures me to follow and then disappears.
I stand outside, staring at the mist, until Shannon calls for me. It could have been just the shadow of a passing night-owl. It could have been many things, but in my heart I know what it was. A ghost. John would have laughed at me, but I know what I saw.
When I was young I believed. I believed there was something greater than us - not necessarily a god, but something. I believed there was a place where we go after death and meet our loved ones again. I believed we were not alone. Now I'm old and I no-longer believe. I know. I know that aliens and werewolves and telekinetics exist. I know many things, and the more I know the more difficult it becomes for me to believe. And I so want to believe again.
I don't know if Shannon saw the ghost. When I go inside she doesn't mention it, but then again, she hardly talks about anything these days. I don't even know why she's here. She died, years ago, long before the war, or so we thought. Then one day she returned, came to us with information and a promise for help. I can't remember what happened to her during the war, but I didn't see her again until soon after John's death when she appeared in our garden, young and unchanged. She has been with me ever since, but I don't believe she has spoken more than a hundred words since her return. When I don't need her she wanders around the valley, and I believe that she can see things that I can't, and that is why she remains silent. Silent like my ghost.
I wake up in the middle of night to the sound of footsteps in the living room. I get up, carefull not to wake John, once again forgetting that he is dead, to go and see who it is.
There is a stranger standing in the doorway. A tall and handsome man with the same tired look in his eyes that we all have. He looks familiar, and I'm not afraid.
"Who are you?" I ask. He looks at me and smiles in a way that reminds me of someone.
"You knew my mother," he says, and I recognize him. He has Dana's eyes.
"Yes, William Van De Kamp."
"William Scully," I correct him. "Why are you here?"
"You delivered me."
He sits down in the armchair by the window and stares at the darkness outside. There are tears in his eyes.
"Where is she?"
"I don't know," I tell him even though I can see Dana leaning on the windowpane just a few feet from him. She sighs, wipes away the tear falling on her cheek and waits, and next to her the boy she lost is looking right at her, unable to see her like he is invisible to her.
Between them I stand in silence until the sun rises and the ghosts fade away.
The morning feels even colder than last night, and when I fetch water from the well, I see the first few snowflakes fall from the sky.
Winter is here.
There is a graveyard less than a mile from our house, but we only bury there those who have died in the winter. Those who died in the summer, like John, are buried in the grove on the other side of the valley. If I wish to visit him, I must do it today, before the winter storms block the roads. I take with me the rocks I gathered yesterday and set out.
Every spring, as soon as the roads are clear again, I go to his grave and every year I am afraid that I will not find it anymore. His grave is only a small pile of stones under an oak tree, so much like all the other graves. When there are many deaths, like this summer, people do not bother to bring stones to mark the new graves, but take rocks from the older ones and the last memories of the ones who died before fade away.
I sit down by the grave and, talking to him - or more to myself actually - make a pattern of the new stones on his grave. I know the younger people laugh at me, call me a senile old fool when they think I can't hear, and sometimes kick the stones on the grave, scattering them around. They don't understand that the grave and the memories are all I have left. They don't know what it's like to remember the times before the war.
The voice startles me, and I drop the stone I was holding. I look up and see a young woman standing next to me. She gives me her hand and helps me up.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you. I'm Janine."
"I'm Monica," I reply and wipe away the blades of glass that have stuck on my skirt.
"Was he your husband?" Janine asks and nods towards John's grave.
"Yes," I reply, and then correct myself. "No. We were never married, but we lived together for..." I stop, suddenly feeling confused. How long did we live together? I have no idea what year it is. When people ask, I tell them that the war ended thirty years ago, but how long have I been saying that?
"...since before the war," I say finally.
"That's a long time."
"Not long enough."
The wind is picking up, so I kneel down again to finish the pattern on the grave. Janine looks at me, and I know she pities me, the foolish old woman with nothing else left to do in this world than to arrange river stones into a pretty pattern on the grave of a man no-one else remembers anymore.
"Who do you have here," I ask her as I put the last stones where they belong.
"My daughter. She died this summer." The woman sighs. "She was only five."
She points at a grave nearby, just a pile of stones like all the other ones.
"We buried her there."
I stand up and take a step towards the little girl's grave when suddenly Dana gasps and grabs my arm so hard that it hurts.
Her fingers dig into my arm, and now I too can see it. Across the fields is the farm, burned down, with smoke still rising from the ruins.
She lets go of me and begins to run towards the house. I call after her, but she doesn't hear me and then Mulder also runs past me, towards the house, towards the pillar of smoke. I turn to look at John, and then we too begin to run.
When we reach the house, we see that it is only half burned as if the fire had grown tired and simply quit halfway through. There is no life anywhere, no sounds, nothing, and we abandon the caution that has kept us alive so long and just walk into the ruins. The scorched walls creak ominously around us, but we continue further inside even at the risk of being trapped or killed should they collapse.
When we find the Van de Kamps in the kitchen I try to hold Dana but she struggles, screaming hysterically, and pulls us both down on the floor. Finally I let go of her, unable to keep her away from the bodies, and she embraces the small skeleton that crumbles into ashes at her touch. Next to me Mulder sits on the floor, crying, and when I look up I see John, his face deathly pale, staring into the distance.
"They killed him," he whispers, and I too begin to cry.
"Maybe we should start heading back. The wind's getting colder."
Dana's screams fade away and I turn to look at the woman again.
"Yes, perhaps we should."
When I get back to our house I call for Shannon, but she doesn't answer. A woman I do not recognize is in the kitchen, and tells me that dinner will be ready in a few minutes. I ask her name, but she simply smiles and helps me sit down in the chair by the window.
Outside the window the apple tree is slowly being covered in snow.
The next night I wake up and for the first time in years the silence does not disturb me. The ghost is standing next to my bed, again gesturing me to follow and this time I do as he wants.
Outside the fog and the snow have robbed the world of colour and life. I follow the ghost through the still and soundless village, past the graveyard and through the forest until we reach my river and he fades into the fog.
For a few minutes I stand alone looking at the river, and I'm just about to turn away and go back home when a little boy suddenly runs past me. He disappears into the mist but then returns, looking at me curiously.
"Are you William?" I ask, but he shakes his head.
"No, I'm Luke."
"Luke, what are doing here?"
"I'm waiting for you."
"Where-" I start but he puts his finger on his lips to silence me and then smiles, gesturing me to follow.
I wrap my nightgown tighter around me and set out after Luke but he is already gone, and as his footsteps fade away, I realise that instead of the sound of water there is only silence and I know that the river has finally frozen solid.
Alone again, I continue down the river bank, the icy ground burning my bare feet.
The ghost is waiting for me on the ice, just a shadow in the white mist and a quiet echo in the silence. It's calling me by my name now, and when I look carefully, I can see other shapes standing behind it. Familiar shapes and familiar voices, and they are all waiting for me.
I hesitate and Luke appears from the mist again, taking my hand, pulling me to the ice.
I take a step but then stop when I feel another hand on my arm, Shannon's hand, that rests there for a few comforting seconds before she turns her back on me and walks away. I'm about to call after her, but then I remember saying goodbye to her when she volunteers to lead the super soldiers into a trap, a cavern filled with the metal that destroys them all. She is dead, I know that now, she has been dead all these years and the woman who lives with me, she is not Shannon, but some kind stranger who has taken to herself to watch over me, the foolish old woman.
Luke is tugging at my hand and we continue further on the ice, but when I turn to look at him it's not Luke who is holding my hand, but Dana.
"I'm going back for Mulder," she says, her voice strong and resolute even with the tears streaming down her face. "You two go away, run, don't wait for us."
John begins to object, but she silences him with an embrace.
"Please, just go," she whispers and lets go of him. She takes my hand one last time, squeezes it reassuringly and then runs back towards where we came from, disappearing into my past.
"Goodbye," I whisper, like I have done every time she leaves us.
We're alone now, John and I, but when I turn to him he's gone too, and there is only the silence left. Ahead of me the ghosts are still waiting, still calling my name and know that if I go to them I will no longer be cold and hungry and alone.
I take step forward, the ice cracking under my feet, and suddenly I hear another voice, a gentle voice, not from the mist, but from within me, and the memories come to me again. That's not him, that cold and pale apparition that waits for me on the ice. He's alive, even in his death, not as a ghost, but as a memory. I turn away from the river and the ghost speaks one last time, its voice fading into wind.
"Why would you not follow me? Why would you return when there is nothing left?"
I reply without turning, speaking in his voice, his spirit living on in me.
"I'll take the bad as long as I remember the good."
I am all that is left. I am the memory of us all, the memory of John, Dana, Mulder, William, Shannon, Luke, Brad, Walter. The memory of a world that did not survive. I walk away and behind me the ice begins to break with a sound like thunder.
When I reach the bridge, John is already waiting for me, smiling, and I reach for the flower even though I know the wind will take it as it always does.
We kiss, and the river begins to flow again.
Please post a comment on this story.
Title: Winter Dreams
Author: Ruuger [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | PG-13 | gen het | 15k | 02/28/06
Characters: Monica Reyes
Summary: Reyes after the world has ended. A post-colonization ghost story.
[top of page]
|Home/QuickSearch + Random + Upload + Search + Contact + GO List|