Extended With An Alternate Ending
Sean sat up in the bed. He shivered as cold sweat clung to his chest and back. It was difficult to breath.
“Babe, what’s wrong,” Amber said in the dark. “The same nightmare?”
His throat was so dry. Swallowing was painful.
“Yeah,” he managed to say.
Yes, it was the same damn nightmare. Only it wasn’t just a nightmare. It was a memory. He was camping with his family in Pinecrest. There was a little girl who would come by, her blue summer dress billowing up as she twirled like a ballerina.
One morning while hiking with his parents and little brother, the girl came to him. She looked like she was about ten years old. His age.
Sean was not yet old enough to be distracted by girls, but he couldn’t deny how beautiful this little girl was. The sun reflected off her straight blond hair. Her blue eyes seemed to pull him in her world, making him forget everything around him. His parents were several feet away, unaware that he had fallen behind.
The words were soft, like a whisper in the summer breeze, but sharp as they cut deep in Sean’s mind
She smiled, then turned and ran away.
“Wait,” Sean yelled.
He followed her through the tall brown grass, trying to catch up to her. What was she doing out here by herself? Sean noticed that he was too far himself, and that she was gone.
“Hey, buddy,” he heard his dad say. “Are you chasing a squirrel?”
Sean looked up at his dad. The truth almost slipped from his lips. But the truth wouldn’t be easy to believe. Instead, he said, “Yeah, I was chasing a squirrel.”
Since that day, the little girl in the blue dress, haunted his dreams. Sean eventually confided in his mom, but that proved to be a mistake. She quickly dismissed it.
“She was probably just chasing squirrels like you were, and ran back to her family.”
“Did you see her family, Mom?”
“Well, no,” she said. “I never saw a girl in the dress you described.”
As Sean persisted the story, his parents became increasingly impatient with him. They sent him to a psychologist. Sean finally decided that no one would ever believe him, and didn’t tell anyone else.
After thirty years, the nightmares were more frequent. When he first told Amber about the little girl, she didn’t judge him. She didn’t try to explain the possibilities as to why she was alone in the woods, or how she disappeared. In the back of his mind, he already knew. But he couldn’t say it aloud.
Amber had said it for him.
“Maybe she’s a ghost.”
Now it was a year later. His wife stood before him in her black panties and tank top. She held out a glass of water. He was unaware she had left the room. Sean took the glass and drank like a man who’d been stranded in the desert for days.
“I know what we have to do,” Amber said.
The light from the hallway allowed Sean to see the determination on her face.
“We have to go find her,” Amber said.
“Are you out of your mind,” Sean shouted. He’d regained his voice.
“Did you forget that everyone thinks you are?” Amber fired back.
Sean lowered his head without responding. He knew he wasn’t going to win this argument.
“Look,” Amber said, squatting so she could look him in the eyes. “She’s trying to tell you something. She’s still out there. I know it.”
“I do too.”
The trip was three hours. The Nissan Rogue was packed with hiking gear, and plenty of water and high protein snacks. Sirius XM was on the classic rock station, and they sang to songs by Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones.
They arrived at six in the morning. The first rays of the sun peaked through the towering pine trees. Intermittent squawks and chirps interrupted the peaceful silence. Sean smiled at his wife as they prepared their backpacks.
“Are you ready,” she asked.
“As I’ll ever be.”
They set out on the same trail his family had taken all those years ago. The two were silent most of the way. Sean would find himself three minutes ahead, then waited for Amber to catch up. He wanted her by his side when he found the spot.
They stopped to rest.
Amber took out a water bottle from her pack and guzzled half.
“I think we’re close,” Sean said.
After finishing their snacks, they continued their hike. This time Amber was right behind him. She was just as determined as he was. The trail opened up to a broader scene of tall trees and wild grass.
Sean stopped. The sounds of nature had gone quiet. No squawking birds. No squirrels scurrying across and racing up the trees.
“This is it,” Sean said.
They both stood there silent, taking in the scene around them.
Sean turned around and grabbed his head.
“What’s wrong,” Amber said.
Amber was about to put her arms around him, but stopped.
“Sean, look,” she said.
His head stopped throbbing. He followed Amber’s gaze.
There she was. The girl in the same dress. Same golden hair. And she was the same age. Stretching her arms out to the sides, she twirled. Her dress flowed up around her. Then she ran off behind the trees.
“Wait,” Sean said.
Pine needles crunched under his boots as he ran after her. Pine cones went flying as he kicked them out of his way. He jumped over a fallen tree, nearly crashing to the ground. He wasn’t going to lose her this time. But she was so fast, always ahead of him, her dress flowing behind her before disappearing around a corner.
The cliff appeared before him without warning. He planted his boots on the ground and slid to the edge. He watched as dirt and rocks fell down, way down. Then he saw the girl at the bottom. She stared up at him for a long moment, then disappeared behind a boulder.
Sean studied the cliff’s edge, determining if it was possible to go down without killing himself. There were several spots that had enough room for his feet.
“Sean!” Amber called from behind him.
He turned and waited for her.
She stared at him with sad eyes, then took his face in her hands and kissed him.
“Be careful,” she said.
The descent wasn’t as difficult as he expected. When he made it to the bottom, he looked around the rock where he saw the girl hide. He noticed there was a gap underneath, like a mini-cave. He moved in closer and hunkered down to see through the darkness. The bones lay in perfect formation of a human skeleton. There was no evidence of any clothing or jewelry.
Sean stumbled back as he stood up. His heart was racing, aching for the little girl he thought was just part of his imagination.
He felt a tug on his shirt. He turned and saw the girl looking up at him. Then she was gone again. But this time, she was inside him.
Ballet music began to play. Along with ten other girls, Sean spun around, dancing on his toes. He glanced at the mirror on the back wall. Instead of his own reflection, he saw the girl. Now he knew her as Emily. Like the other girls in the class, Emily was wearing a black and white ballet uniform. Sean felt her excitement.
Then he was whisked away and taken to the place where he had first met her. She was giggling as she chased a squirrel through the campground. The fat rodent raced up the tree. Emily huffed, disappointed that he escaped her childish torment.
“Humans are no match for squirrels,” a man said. His voice matched his pleasant smile.
“I guess not,” she said.
“Hey, would you like to see something really cool,” the man asked.
Sean felt himself spinning. Streaks of blue, red, brown, and white flashed across Sean’s mind. Emily’s memory had skipped. She was screaming now, her clothes torn from her body, and held down by the man’s strong hands. She couldn’t fight him off.
Sean was on his knees, rocks digging into his skin. He felt the cool air against the sweat dripping from his face. He felt the comfort of Amber’s hand on his back.
Crumbling to the ground, he sobbed.
“I know who killed her,” he said, choking on the words.
He sobbed some more.
“Who,” Amber said.
Sean was left crippled by the revelation. He couldn’t find the words. He couldn’t tell Amber who the man in the vision was. He couldn’t tell her that the man who killed the little girl was his father.
© Josslyn Rae Turner
Based on the 100-word-story, Ghost Dancer, which was written for the Friday Fictioneers Challenge.