The wind carried the odd crunching sound and the laughter of the little girl past my ear once again. And again I turned around, only to find no one standing there but The Wife with an odd look on her face. Had she now heard it too?
It had been over an hour, and our walk through the woods surrounding the lake had been uneventful — except for the crunching and the laughter. Both had started soon after we entered the woods.
The deeper into the forest we traveled, the more the pine tree canopy above thickened, eventually screening the harsh afternoon sunlight and defusing before reaching the moss-covered ground below. The effect cast the forest in a cool constant twilight. Maybe that’s the condition most favorable for ghosts to visit. For visit us one did.
The pathway we followed wove through the woods, eventually leading us to a small open field of grass, flattened by deer from evenings past. It was a perfect place for our picnic and a short respite for our ghost. I wouldn’t have thought that ghosts need rest, but they must. What else could explain why the laughter and crunching finally ceased just as we entered the clearing?
Afterwards we continued our walk. Nearing the end of the path, the woods thinned as the lake came back into view. A gentle wind blew, causing diamonds to shimmer and dance on top of the water. We paused to take in the sight. With the pines now behind, the ghost receded back into the woods, waiting for us to revisit her when our busy lives permitted. A hug and a soft kiss on the neck came from behind me. The Wife, she was smiling.
As we drove away, I couldn’t help but wonder. Had anyone else walking through the woods surrounding the 100-acre lake ever been visited by the little girl ghost? Once back home, it was back to the stresses of our lives and time to get ready for the coming day of work. Unbeknownst to me at that moment, my question would be answered later that evening.
I switched off the lights, kissed The Wife goodnight, and settled in for what I thought would be a relaxing night’s sleep. Thinking back on the events at the lake and a perfect afternoon spent with the one I love, sleep slowly started to wash over me. All was again right with the world. The ghost, the crunching, and the laughter were fading.
Then I heard the laughter once again. Only this time it was much closer, much softer, and even a bit sad. I switched on the lights to ask The Wife if she had heard it too, but she was already asleep, a faint smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.
Finally, as sleep reached out and grasped the last conscious thoughts from my mind, I understood. The little ghost from the haunted forest had followed me home, and now lay beside me.
We all have ghosts. They’re our memories from the past, both good and bad, forever part of us. It’s our choice which ones we let visit to enrich our lives, which ones we let pull us down, or which ones we keep hidden away because they’re too painful to be revisited by the living. I think only with age can one truly balance them and discern which are which.
For an hour, The Wife took childhood enjoyment out of crunching pine cones on a walk around the lake. And with each crunch, stress left her body to be replaced by the fond memories of a 6-year-old girl walking in the woods.
We should never forget the joy of being a child. Some ghosts from our past are best kept hidden in plain sight.