Comparatively speaking, the day dawned bright and cheery for Halloween. Earlier in the week, temperatures had dipped. Along with abundant frost and the lake thickening toward its eventual feet of ice, there’d been the light skiff of snow. But for now, sunny and clear blue skies greeted the morning, making one forget the months of snow and freezing temperatures which would soon be upon them.
The threat of trick-or-treaters offered a remote afterthought this far out from town and with the opening of hunting season the next day, the opportunity to get out in the bush while it remained relatively quiet had me reaching for my heavy clothes and packing my kit before I could change my mind or get distracted by other chores.
Bared of most of their leaves, the limbs of the trees seemed to sway and wave as I passed adding to the spritely atmosphere. Further in, the bogs and marshes offered up their tangy scent of fallen vegetation over ripe and decaying into the ground, returning nourishment previously granted. Birds skittered overhead. The more stubborn of the ducks and geese remained resolute on the lake, seeming to be intent to delay their long flight until they had to. The occasional partridge thrummed as I passed and ran in circles, flapping its wings only to hover slightly.
These were the sights and smells to absorb the attention. Taking away from noticing the darkening sky, the passage of time, the lifting of the wind, and the cooling of temperatures. I only felt the increasing chill after stopping for a bite and enjoying the still hot coffee in my thermos. I was in a clearing and the grey of sooty clouds seemed to march across the sun reminding anyone in any other doubt what day it was. Old Hallows Eve. The night when the dead woke to roam freely with the living.
An eerie shudder coursed across my shoulders, the down my spine. I shook off the feeling. Obviously, I was letting my imagination get the better of me. Still, the roll of darkness made me realize it was time to get back. Gone were the endless daylight hours of summer. Now was the season of a warm fire and a hot meal.
Yet as I walked the creaks of the cooling branches echoed loudly. The shuffle of crisp autumn leaves made me glance back along the trail. A sudden flight and squawk from a startled blue jay set my blood pounding.
Foolish, I said and laughed out loud Yet the more I chastised myself, the more my thoughts ventured to the supernatural. To the time of my youth in English class when grandfather was very ill. Everyone had paid their respects, knowing time was short. Then in the middle of the teacher’s lecture, the board, where he jotted his notes, faded to black and in its place I saw the cardiac monitor with its blinking blue line—up and down—in a heart’s regular rhythm, until the flattened line squealed. Like fingernails on a chalk board, the sound reached the depth of my soul and stole my breath.
I remembered how I pushed my chair back and started to pack my books. The teacher paused mid-sentence to look at me quizzically, but never had the opportunity to speak. At that very moment, the class phone rang, and I was summoned to the office. My grandfather had died.
The intense feeling of loss weighted my heart. Still, the logical side of my brain shouted, that was long ago and the memory of supernatural merely a kid’s fancy. Nothing more.
Now thoughts of my grandparents and those who’d gone on before drifted in and out of my consciousness. The lives they lived. The adventures they’d had.
All the while, the clouds had folded in on themselves until the thick carpet of gray balanced just above the treeline. The evergreens stood as bush sentinels, protecting and guarding its inhabitants. The creeks from the bare branches no longer waved cheerily, now they scorned and warned me off, chased me, quickened my steps back along the trail toward my own home. A home which had belonged to my parents and before them, my grandparents, passed down generation to generation. A safe haven...always.
Tendrils of fog laced along trunks to snake across my path and the dusk enveloped everything like a hungry shadow devouring the very essence of light.
I paused my trek and pulled deep gulps of air into my lungs. I must get a grip. I shrugged my pack into a more comfortable position and pulled my pen light from my pocket. I wasn’t far from home, yet the distance seemed insurmountable if I were to continue to let my fantasies rule.
In the moments I had stopped, so too had all sound. Like being sandwiched between two pillows, even the creeks and rustle of the forest dimmed with the fleeing light. The click of the flashlight and its brightness brought necessary order to re-establish my purpose. This was my woods. I'd grown up here. Soon, I would be home before a comfy fire, eating the soup left warming in the slow cooker. Halloween or no, this was just another day.
The glare from the light arched across the path. The yellow moon-like beam through the thickening fog. Chill seeped through my clothing with the icy mist and I pulled my scarf tighter.
I glanced down briefly and when I returned my vision to the path, movement caught my eye. Shadows within shadows shimmered and swayed in the murk. A mirage. A figment of overactive thoughts.
Slender like a sapling, not quite as dark as the enveloping gloom. So close, yet still a great distance away to make out any distinguishable features. The apparition remained.
I approached with caution. I wasn't scared, just curious. I placed each foot precisely to avoid unnecessary noise. My ears were keenly attuned, but a cushioned stillness blanketed everything.
Now another stood close to the first specter, their shapes merging and separating with the roll of the fog against the glare of my light. I had the feeling they were walking hand and hand. Then they seemed to stop and glance back at me their features still offering nothing discernible. After a long pause where I continued toward them, they walked off the trail.
I marked their location next to a gnarled and broken trunk of a tree where a wall of fog bracketed the location as well.
Within seconds, I’d reach the spot and stopped, searching for the couple for I had no doubt they were a couple, but they were gone. I shone my light into the forest, piercing the vapor, blinking the midst from my vision. But whatever had been was no more. As I turned back to the trail, light blinked back at me like a stray sunbeam caught unaware from when it had been so vibrant in the sky only a few hours earlier. I stepped back, arched the beam across the matt of leaves and mud searching for the source. And there it was again, twinkling at me as though waiting to be found.
It was so tiny, nestled next to a fallen branch and rotting foliage. I wondered how I had noticed it. A ring…in all this undergrowth, vegetation, fog, and mist. A diamond ring.
I wiped the grime from the gem and its brilliance against the light showed its antique setting in a integrate band sculped like vines, twined together to protect the precious stone.
I look around then, half expecting to hand the jewel to the couple. I peered up and down the trail for as far as the shadows allowed, but there was nothing. What had been had now passed and within a few steps I had reached the border of my property now in possession of a ring I knew had been lost my grandmother more than seventy-years previous. A ring my grandfather brought back from France when he returned from the war to propose.