Matiere Opaque : Ghost Stories Greeley's Rancho Arcana

Orange Is The Color

This last story is a little different from the rest of my Halloween stories. If you've read them, you'll have noticed that all the other stories respect the world of reason. For this one, we are going to abandon all reason in the name of art.



This is a story about the first ghost I ever met; one that still visits me from time to time and to a large extent informs most of my writing.

If you have lived long enough then you have probably met this ghost too.


+ - + - +


Fall 1967. Sunset. The north wind comes to bite, tickle, play and tug,
sweeping away the sweet summer of mowed lawn and magnolia
with the spice of dry air and decay.
Ear, fingertip and leaf burn gentle,
yellow and red, for the sixth time,
and the wide awake sky waits in deep blue for black.
Two stars begin to blink, then three.
All sounds are near,
then far away,
then near again.

Today was a good day. The numbers on the blackboard were added and subtracted and all the words spelled. Everybody got a big star with a pumpkin drawn on it. The classroom smelled like mittens and the milk was really cold and the peanut butter sandwich had a new kind of jelly and it was good. After lunch, a new color was added to the tempera paints by the sink. Miss Vonn showed the class when you mix yellow and red together you get orange. Orange is the color of fall. Then everybody painted their pumpkins orange and glued black triangles on them to make eyes, nose, and mouth. Miss Vonn said tomorrow we'll press leaves between wax paper and crayon shavings, to hang in the windows.

Everyone went home and all the pumpkins hung on the wall in a row, grinning at no one in the darkened classroom.

+ - + - +

Night approaches; time to walk the dog before dinner.

The world feels new, scrubbed clean by the wind. The dog trots away fast, snaps at leaves, sniffs at everything, then races back to the heel and starts again. Smoke rises from Mr. Adams' chimney and the air is peppered with the warm smell of soup and the murmur of the dinner table, the clink of dishes, forks, spoons, and knives. Water turning on then off in the sink. A laugh. Happy sounds, human sounds; each home a lantern, each home leaking quiet joy out the kitchen window.

The wind picks up suddenly.

Husssh! call the trees to all who can hear. Hush! Lissssten!

to the old sound...

...born when the breeze played among the leaves
of the first tree in the garden,
and the leaves turned and died
and dried
and fell and then moved on...

You stop at the command, listening with awe, and the leaves skitter and dance away down the sidewalks, over the gutters, cartwheeling through yard and street...

Hush! Listen! young one; the world is big and alive...

And soft as a moth, the world rushes in.

Between eye and ear awakes the knowledge that everything that has ever been and all that is to come happens here; in front of you, behind you, all around, far and near, and somehow it's all the same place and it belongs to you and you belong to it forever and ever and ever...

Hush! call the trees again. Hush! Listen! young one; do not forget...

And charged with the power of the wind at your back, you race home under the darkening sky with the dog happily chasing your heel. As you draw near, you spy one little leaf, faster than all the rest, and with your new eyes you grab the stem and hang on, sailing away on the wind in a world alive with motion and sound, obeying its own rules; and even though it's your world, you, like the leaf, are also somehow a guest here, waiting to turn into something else, waiting your turn to fly...



...and 37 years later, I finish raking the yard.
My children are inside waiting
to carve the pumpkin and try on their costumes.
The candy is hidden away.
As I bend to pick up the last leaf,
the trees murmur,
then call out to me once again:

Hush! Listen! young one, do not forget...

...and, keeping my promise, I remember.

The world is big and alive.

Orange is the color of fall.

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