By BARRY VAN-ASTEN
THE SAD LITTLE GHOST
As Pegamina walked beside the winding river in the twilight, she thought about what the toad had said about the miller’s boy and his poor grandfather, the time keeper. Suddenly the air seemed to grow cold and it began to rain as she quickly crossed the bridge that was almost hidden by willow trees. In the distance, she could see the top of the clock tower rising above a small clump of trees which lay in a hollow, not far away, and as she began to run towards it, the rain ran down her face. A blustering wind seemed to appear from nowhere, and all along the dark lane she imagined that she could see things moving in the hedgerows. Faster and faster she ran until she came to the old time mill with its clock tower which seemed even more desolate in the darkness. And at each side of her the trees seemed to whisper: ‘go back!’ but Pegamina was tired and wet and wanted to rest and sleep until morning and forget the darkness that was all around her.
She found herself standing in the entrance to the mill, looking about her, at the shadows in the trees and at the black clouds descending over the ghastly garden that had been forgotten and run to weeds. As she stood for quite a while listening to the rain and the wind howling, she thought: ‘surely no ghost could be more frightening?’
The door was unlocked and she pushed it open, as its creak echoed down the dim, uneven passageway which lay like an open grave before her. Finding courage, she went inside and opened the door to the first room she came to. It was an old and elegant room, smelling of the past, and through its windows she could see the shapes of huddled trees that seemed to claw against the glass. Even in the darkness she some of its fine furniture and dusty heirlooms; there was a large bookcase full of rotten books; a cabinet containing a small collection of unusual objects. And a few upholstered armchairs, very worn and very tattered, lying like a herd of some long extinct species of animal around a table on which stood a carved wooden bust of a woman’s head, and more books, balancing precariously here and toppled into a heap upon the floor there. To her surprise there was a small fire lit in the fireplace and so she stood before it, drying her wet hair and giving no thought as to why the fire was alight. When she was dry she sat down upon the armchair, near to the fire and fell fast asleep to the sound of the rain on the window panes.
During the night, she found herself in that curious and helpless state between sleeping and waking, where nothing is as it seems and she could not remember where she was or how she got there. She looked at the faint glow of the fire and all around the room until it all came slowly back to her. The rain had stopped and in its place she thought she could hear the sound of someone singing. As she listened, it seemed to grow louder until she could make out the words of the song. It was a very sad melody sung by a very tearful voice:
‘Spider, spider, spinning tight
Threads of fury through the night!
In its black and gathered eye:
The destruction of the fly!
A silken web that shows to me
The spider’s fearful symmetry,
That fills my heart with so much dread
To see eight legs and a head
Spin so much and hear it spin
Strange and weird cathedrals in
The darkness where it’s fancy wills
Great monuments of archway frills!
Spider, spider, spinning tight
Threads of fury through the night!’
Pegamina was afraid, but not so afraid that she wanted to scream, just hide herself away in the darkness and not be seen. But there was something about the voice that seemed to say ‘don’t be afraid, I will not harm you!’ And Pegamina sat still in the armchair, expecting the door to fling open and reveal some headless monstrosity or a woman in white, wailing into the cheerless room. But nothing did appear and the voice had faded away. Peg curled herself up into the armchair once more and very soon she was asleep again.
She dreamt that she was walking through vast woodland. It was dark except for a bright light that she was following and seemed to be leading her somewhere. Suddenly, the fiery orb halted in front of a great stone temple and its bright light lit up the temple’s entrance, where, above its huge door she could see strange words cut into the stone, which read as follows:
tu stesso, ti fai grosso
col falso immaginar, sic he non vedi
cio che vedresti, se l’avessi scosso *
Pegamina did not know what it meant, or even how it was meant to be pronounced, but she thought it must be very important for it to be carved into stone. Then, all of a sudden, it went very dark, darker than she had ever known before; the light had left and she had to find her own way out of the woods. She was terribly afraid and she could feel all the hanging branches brushing against her face. Then, she awoke, suddenly with a start, and she could feel her heart pounding, for there, standing before her, drawing its hand from her face, was a small boy. Pegamina knew she was not dreaming, for she could see him, although his image was a little unclear. She opened her mouth as if to scream but nothing would come out.
‘Don’t be alarmed, I didn’t wish to wake you’ whispered the ghostly boy in a gentle voice, stepping away from her.
‘Who are you?’ Pegamina managed to utter after recovering her speech.
‘You know who I am! I’ve been expecting you!’ the boy answered with a smile.
‘You’re the time-keeper’s boy aren’t you?’
‘Dead?’ said the boy, finishing Peg’s sentence for her.
‘I am dead!’
‘Then you’re a ghost?’
‘It appears so’.
‘But you touched my face; everyone knows that ghosts can’t touch’.
‘Of course ghosts can touch, but ghosts can’t feel things’. And they both looked at each other in silence for a short time until Pegamina said:
‘Why were you watching me?’
‘Forgive me! I was watching you because I had forgotten what it is like to sleep’. And the boy moved towards the fireplace where he sat upon a small stool that had been occupied by Peg’s shoes, which he carefully placed upon the shelf beside the fire.
Pegamina could see that the boy was about her own age and seemed awfully sad. And when he looked at her, she turned her face away, not through fear, but because he was so terribly handsome, she thought, even for a ghost! And she did not wish him to see her blushing! As they sat there, each glancing at the other, Peg asked the ghostly boy if it was him she had heard singing that sorrowful song about the spider.
‘That was me! You have no idea what a wretched place this is; to be here forever with its constant scratching behind walls. This house haunts me more than I haunt this house! With its infernal loneliness and the sunlight that pours through the windows!
‘Don’t you like the sun?’ asked Peg.
‘I hate the sun! It always finds you out; nothing can hide when it shines!’
‘But the sun is warm and it makes things grow!’
‘It makes only loneliness grow!’ said the little ghost. And after a brief pause Pegamina said:
‘I don’t like the darkness!’
‘But the darkness is beautiful; things remain unseen in the dark’ the ghost said, his bright eyes staring deeply into Pegamina’s.
‘If things want to remain unseen’ said Peg ‘then they can’t be very nice things!’
‘Then am I not very nice?’ asked the ghost in a gentle voice. Peg turned her eyes from him and did not answer, and there was another silence which was soon broken by the ghost wanting to know her name.
‘Don’t you know?’ Pegamina said shyly, looking into his eyes and then turning away.
‘Ghosts don’t know everything!’
‘My name is Pegamina!’ she uttered softly.
‘What a beautiful name. What does it mean?’
‘I don’t know that it means anything’. Just then, Peg’s eyes were drawn to a small wooden box upon the bookshelf.
‘It’s very pretty’ she said, lifting its lid. And the room seemed to come alive to the sound of a melancholy waltz tune.
‘Do you know what you hold in your hands?’ said the sad ghost. But there was no answer from Pegamina, for the music seemed to hold her in its spell.
‘My heart... my heart...’ sighed the ghost.
Pegamina still could not bring herself to look at him, although she desperately wanted to. Then, as the waltz tune ran down and the fire crackled, Peg felt as if a curious mist were enveloping the room, as if a thick fog had suddenly drifted in. She fell back into the armchair and found the urge to close her eyes so overpowering that she had to close them; she fell into a deep sleep with the words ‘you will remember me...’ turning in her mind and everything was darkness, utter darkness.
*Thou thyself makest thyself dense with false imagining, and so thou seest not what thou wouldst see if thou hadst cast it off. [Dante]
The old Time Mill