Ghost

Some time ago, he didn't know how long, he walked out of that building with the metal frame. "He" was his best guess, as he assumed the papers on the table were for him. The words came easy when he read them, but most of their meanings eluded him. What he was, what he should look like, how he knew what he knew, it was all blank like the space outside the building. No other forms greeted him in his wandering, none that could move. Rocks, dirt, sky, land, he recognized them. They existed in his dreams, mixed with something between the color of the sky and sun that was soft on his skin. He didn't know the word for that color. There was gray, blue, yellow, orange, red. When he dreamt, he saw others on forms he didn't recognize. He reached deep for their names, but nothing came. His own name, he assumed, was Wolfe. That was the third word he remembered reading off of the top of the paper. The others, he forgot long ago. He never needed to say it aloud, but when he realized he forgot the others, he made a conscious effort to remember the third one. He repeated it to himself three times every morning. Wolfe, Wolfe, Wolfe. As with every morning, he got up and wandered towards the sun. Soon, the sea of dust would come. Not long after sunrise, no matter how far he wandered, waves of dust blew over the land. Wolfe would hide behind large rocks and wait for the dust to pass through. Once the dust passed over, rocks would be moved about and the sky would momentarily change from red-orange to blue before settling into gray until sunset. When sunset came, he'd lie down on the ground and sleep, slipping quietly into a dream of a more colorful, filled world. The concept of night existed in his mind, but he'd never seen it. Not that he could remember, at least. Something in him always made him sleep before the darkness came and wake after it left. He didn't question it. He assumed there was a reason for it that he simply forgot. He didn't know what he lived for. Waking in the morning was growing more difficult. He wanted to sleep forever, and live in his vibrant dreams. Waking to find emptiness and isolation each morning was a perpetual living nightmare. He often thought of ending his life, but he didn't know how. That knowledge too was absent from his memories. In the morning gray, the sea of dust swept through again. Today, it brought something strange--something not made of stone. A form stood on four legs covered in what looked like thick hair. Its face was long and what Wolfe assumed to be its ears hung at the side of its face. The body was gray except for at the feet, which were white with gray spots. The form had something he didn't, a strange fifth limb that wagged at the back of its body. The form walked up to him and rolled over onto its back on the ground. Wolfe got on his knees and rubbed the form's stomach, instinctively knowing that was what the form wanted him to do. A new word came to his mind. He chose that for the form's name. "Ghost. There, now I have something to call you. Can you speak?" The form made a noise, but it didn't sound like words. It got up and wagged its extra limb. "Do you like the name Ghost?" Wolfe asked. Ghost jumped around then ran in circles, wagging away. "I'll take that as a yes." Wolfe smiled. "Well, Ghost, do you want to come with me?" Ghost jumped on its hind legs and knocked Wolfe to the ground before licking his face. "Another yes, huh?" Wolfe hugged Ghost, letting his face be buried in the thick hair. This was the first form he had encountered outside that moved like him, the first form that had warmth and made noise. Perhaps, he hoped, there might be others somewhere. He wasn't alone. At sunset, when he lay down to sleep, Ghost curled up against him and kept him warm at night. Until Ghost came, he never realized before how cold he was. Though Ghost didn't speak the way he did, he spoke to Ghost constantly throughout the day. Occasionally, Ghost would make a noise back at him. For moments like that, he kept on talking. He had little to talk about. Nothing changed from day to day. Out of desperation for words, he spoke of each rock and stone as if they were unique and different from the ones they encountered before. He came up with different names for clouds, and names for the sky when its color changed. Ghost listened to his every word, and offered little in return. Every small gesture nourished his weak desire to wake another day. When there was little else to talk about, he recounted what little he remembered from the day he left the building with the metal frame. He walked out of a strange thing made of glass in nothing but a liquid substance covering his body. A set of clothes was left on a metal table with a stack of papers. The building was empty and the land outside just as much. There was no thought in his mind other than to wander. He never had any idea where he was going. He had no goals. He didn't know why he did it or what he wanted out of it. It was uncontrollable. He had to. On some level, Wolfe wanted Ghost to give him the answers he was seeking. Ghost only made the occasional noise and huddled beside him in the fading sun's light. For now, that was enough. In time, Wolfe came up with other ways to interact with Ghost. He threw stones and watched Ghost chase after them and bring them back. The two of them raced towards the horizon until they were out of breath. They play fought on the ground. When the sea of dust came through in the morning, he taught Ghost to follow him and hide so he no longer had to carry and hold Ghost when it came. Since Ghost showed up, Wolfe started keeping track of days again. He'd stopped at some point around the fiftieth day originally. Now, he was on the thirtieth day with Ghost. At sunset, Wolfe sat with Ghost watching it disappear. "Sometimes, I wish you could speak like me. I'd give anything to hear words I can understand." Wolfe said as he petted Ghost's head. Ghosts's ears perked up. Wolfe looked out at the horizon. Gray clouds were building in the distance. "I wonder what that's about." He rested against a large stone, watching the clouds. Ghost stood up and ran. "Hey, where are you going?!" Wolfe jumped up and followed. Ghost ran faster the closer he got to catching up. "Wait! Ghost, what's going on?!" Ghost ran on towards the big, dark gray clouds. Wolfe kept runing behind Ghost. As the sun began to set, and the dark clouds were tinted with red-orange, Ghost slowed down. Something started to come into Wolfe's view, something made of stone. Ghost walked up to the stone structure and stopped before it. Wolfe ran faster to see it. Unlike all the other stones he'd seen, this one had an unusual shape, one that had to have been artificially made by someone else. He didn't know how he knew, but he was certain something so complex could not exist in stone naturally. The stone had a shape like his, but slightly different. It was more similar him than it was to Ghost. Long legs and arms, an upright position, the design of a face much like his own. The clothes carved onto the body were different from his. The legs were half uncovered and the arms not at all. The waist of the carved stone was smaller than his and the chest was different. He examined the stone closely. Parts were chipped away here and there, likely from the sea of dust sweeping through daily and bringing all sorts of debris with it. The face carved into the stone haunted him. He was certain, somewhere, he'd seen that face before. Like everything else from before he left the building, nothing came. Ghost hopped into the "lap" of the stone and stared at Wolfe. Ghost's eyes turned a deep blue, deeper than any blue he had ever seen in the sky. A blue that only existed in his dreams. When he looked into them, he saw another place, a landscape familiar and full of pain. The words flowed back to him. Wild flowers, grass, green, rain, crows, tree, oak. The field he saw was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He wanted to reach out and touch it, hoping its contact would unravel the remaining knots tying up his memories. A voice that came from neither the stone nor Ghost boomed around him. "Who will lead you away?" Transparent hands lifted themselves from the stone ones, glowing the same shade of blue as Ghost's eyes. Wolfe offered his own, but they made no contact. His hands slipped through the other pair. The stone disintegrated along with Ghost. A piece of the horizon opened up in the shape of a doorway. A figure stood in it against a black backdrop. The world around Wolfe shrunk inward. He looked around. His empty scenery had shifted form to become a small room with wallpaper of that landscape with a ceiling painted like a sky and tile designed to mimic rocks. In the doorway, though it was long since he'd seen it, he recognized his own reflection. "I would think you'd pick a nicer distraction while you wait out in this prison. Or are you too guilty to enjoy yourself because you couldn't save her?" His reflection asked. Then his reflection lowered his voice and said in cold words, "No one's going to save you." Wolfe couldn't hear his reflection anymore. His body ached. He collapsed to the ground, roots of a tree growing through his skin. Branches pierced out through him as his body broke. Crows came to perch on his limbs and chattered amongst themselves. He wanted to scream, but his throat was blocked by leaves. The world around him suffocated him, but he couldn't die. The lights came on. His body was back to normal, and the walls were white and empty. A man in a lab coat stood in the doorway. "Congratulations. You lasted the full duration of the experiment." Those words brought back a flood of memories, superimposed over the ones he already had. The lines between them blurred as pain shot through his heart and spread across his chest. He collapsed onto the floor. An hour passed before anyone was able to calm him down. The man who opened the door sat with him in an office and talked with him once he relaxed. "How long was I in there?" Wolfe asked. "Four days." The man said. "Four days..." Wolfe thought of Ghost, his only companion in that empty wasteland. "My dog!" "Samson's been waiting for you patiently at home." "Samson..." His mind replaced its picture of Ghost with the image of a golden retriever. That was his real life. Ghost was a hallucination. He sighed. "Right." "You should get home soon and see him." The man patted him on the back. "Was it really only four days?" "Yes, just barely. We didn't think you'd make it." Wolfe tried to imagine what everything looked like to the scientists observing him. He must have looked like a madman. "What did it look like watching me? What was I doing?" "Mostly you'd get up, stand, and walk in place for a while. You'd sit occasionally, then lay down. Sometimes, you'd lay for hours staring up." He couldn't comprehend it--that he could see all those things, interact with them, and none of it have been real. The ground, the air, the sky, Ghost. They were there. He could see and touch things. His real memories confirmed for him the truth he struggled to accept. "Did I say anything?" "During the first day. You would hum little melodies and you'd say things to us, but that stopped after the first day. You never said anything else." "I didn't?" "Did you perceive you were speaking?" The scientist scribbled something down on a piece of paper. "More than that. So, that was in my head too..." "You may experience some breaks with reality in the following days. You've already been through the procedure before on what to do, but we'll go over it again before you leave." Wolfe struggled to pay attention to what the man was saying. Time slipped away from him over the next two hours, and soon he was home. The neighborhood was quiet, as it always had been, and his house was dead silent. Appropriate for a bachelor who'd been away for half a week, but he was a little unnerved by the quiet atmosphere. He almost expected a ghost to be lurking around the corner to give the house a little more life. A loud bark interrupted his thoughts. Samson, he was in the backyard. Wolfe rushed to the back to see him. The dog was sitting by an old, wooden doghouse beside an oak tree. When he opened the back door, the dog's ears perked up. "Come here, Samson." Wolfe knelt down to greet his golden retriever. The dog ran straight into his arms and smothered his face with kisses. He petted the dog's head. "Have you been a good boy?" Samson let out a loud bark and jumped back and forth, his tail wagging like lightning. Samson ran around the yard. He went wild from excitement. As he circled around the old oak tree, for a moment, a gray dog with white feet covered in spots with a happy grin ran in his place. Wolfe mouthed the word "ghost" out of habit, but when he blinked, the golden sheen of Samson's coat swished in the wind on the dog's third lap around. Another trick of the mind, he reasoned, an illusion cast by the shadow of the leaves and the sun rays dancing in between. Wolfe retired to his back porch and sat down in his rocking chair. Samson chased squirrels and birds that landed in the yard while Wolfe rocked and looked on. The blue sky was an unreal, perfect shade. His heart raced and his mind was lost in it. For a moment, he thought he was floating in a sea. He let out a heavy breath to prove to himself he wasn't submerged. A stinging sensation drew him out of his skyward paranoia. His gaze shifted to the source, his left arm. On his forearm, letters cut themselves into his skin. The first half was clear but the second half was partially blurred in his eyes. MY NAME IS _D_I_ T_O_A_ On his other arm, more words cut through. I HAVE NO DOG He waited. The letters faded away, not a trace of blood. He rubbed his eyes, certain again that it was merely another illusion. His mind was still unstable from the experiment, he was sure. That was all it was. The strange words were already fading from his mind and another odd image entered in their place. Underneath his shirt, hands moved over his chest. From inside, a scalpel sliced open the front of his shirt from the top down to the bottom. The fabric fell away like water. He was laying on a table with a bright light shining down on him. It cast a spotlight on his open ribcage and his beating heart. He watched it in its beautiful rhythm. So captivated by it was he, he wanted to touch it. He reached in and scooped it out, holding it high toward the center of the light. The disembodied hands with the scalpel cut it in half, each hand taking a slice a piece. His bloodied hands met with his face again as he rubbed his eyes once more. He was sitting as he was before in his rocking chair, looking out at the empty yard and the shadows of the leaves dancing with the sunlight.
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