If Only the Rain-Worn Ghost Had a Shadow In the Woods

Wood of Words

“You’re adopted.” 

Each time my dad told me this jokingly with serious eyes, I’d end up crying. My mom would then rush to hold me in her arms as she gave him an accusing glare saying, “Stop teasing her like that.” Then, she’d turn to me and say, “You know your dad is joking, right? He’s just messing with you.” My parents didn’t know the real reason why my face would sour and my tiny hands would plaster themselves together as I stared at my blurred toes. 

I was scared. 

The possibility of being adopted was a concrete confirmation that I really was different from the rest of my family, that I was no one but an outsider. I felt that way even when he wasn’t making these jokes. I felt out of place in that family, a family where everyone was a success in some form or another. 

My dad, an immigrant who managed to start his own independent life in an unfamiliar land, far from his hometown. 

My mom, who managed to stay afloat despite having led a previous life drenched in poverty. 

My sister who was brilliant in anything she had ever tried and not tried to do. She seemed to have an effortless skill for nearly anything, including gymnastics, music, art, writing, academics, sociability, chess, and people who’d put their trust in her without hesitation. 

On the other hand, I was bland like a dull shade of brown. Not a white and empty canvas with potential, but a dull shade of brown. The kind of brown that turns any color it mixes with into an ugly shade, the kind that’s out of place anywhere except in crumpled paper bags. More often than not, my words were nothing more than the descent of a winter-worn leaf. Barely existent and easily overlooked. I knew it wasn’t just my words, but the fact that they were from me. Sometimes, my sister would take my words and make them her own, and to my surprise each time, they were eagerly met by concentrated ears. 

Eventually, my throat ran out of words, and they seemed to have been flown by the wind into the endless ocean sky. The sky swallowed everything, my words and my tantrums. Since the sky took everything, I’d write the words and anger I had left into a wooden table. Nearly everyday, I would crawl under the reddish brown table in the darkness with a pencil in hand. There, I’d etch the fleeting thoughts and sadness I felt. 

Anger: “I hate my family”. 

Sadness: “I wish I was never born”. 

Regret: “I should’ve never existed.” 

I wrote so much that eventually the faint silver started overlapping, and with that, I had created my own sky under that table. One that did not swallow my words, but held them, carefully, caressing each one in its shadowed crevices. 

image courtesy of pixabay.com

There’s a Ghost

There’s a ghost. 

There was a ghost. 

I heard it every drowsy night when I was six. As soon as I slid the door gently shut, making sure to pull the handle firmly down to close it silently. Clack. The light shrunk as the shadows lurked in crevices, stirring awake. I’d hold the soft flower scented blanket close to my cheek as I stared at the shadow inhabited ceiling. Then it’d start. The ghost would let out a lonely protest, its pitch rising and falling like my rhythmic breath. The mysterious notes sounded piercing, low and dull at first, but rose abruptly like splinters and stopped just as fast. In the silence that followed, there’d be a fwish as the water tumbled into the pipes. 

Not a minute later would the shrieks of the treadmill thrum with a steady rrrrrvvrrrrr… 

The ghost would then be gone for the night and I’d seal my eyes shut under the roaming shadows on the dimly lit ceiling. 

As if timed, voice trembled like shattered glass every night while I’d peek under my door as I watched the yellow light spill in, mixed with the white luminescent light from her room. 

image courtesy of pixabay.com

Every morning, I’d hesitantly ask my dad, “Is…the ghost okay?” and he’d respond saying, “Yes, don’t worry about it. It’s not a big deal.” Eventually, I stopped being worried about it. Afterall, Dad said the ghost was fine. So, I told my best friend about the ghost, brushing it off as something no more than a fleeting thought. She thought differently. Her face shifted to slightly parted lips and angled brows. “Is the ghost okay?” I nodded, “Dad said the ghost is fine.” 

Years later, we moved away from the ghost that pierced the air with its strange notes at night and the faintly draining toilet. I thought the ghost had stayed behind, so far that the ghost was nothing more than a faded memory in my mind. The only thing that stayed was the worn belt of the treadmill, so worn it was imprinted with darkened footprints and tattered edges. The only thought I held onto was how tired the machine looked, the plastic coating the buttons were punctured randomly, and the treadmill seemed sleepy from the white switch that always slanted, stopping right before “ON”. It took a while to wake up and when it did, it’d jerk suddenly as the belt sped up, skidding violently over the edge until it disappeared. 

Then one day, the ghost appeared again, like chewed up gum, the ghost had followed our footsteps. 

I remember it was after a trip to the grocery store, the one where my arms were reddening from the tightened plastic bags that were slung over them. I slouched in the hallway as I watched my dad’s red car inch out of the driveway as he drove away. Usually, I’d announce, “I’m back!” while stacking the groceries in the shelves of the fridge that were already bursting, with bags of random vegetables toppling over another and yogurt containers that were filled with fishy sauces. That day was different as I chose to crouch on the cold marble floor with the stack of crumpled plastic bags. 

Then, I heard it, buried in the hums of the vent in the bathroom. 

It rang so sharp and clear that I finally found its name. 

The familiar retching of the “ghost”. 

Rain-Worn Tent

There’s a place I always go to. 

It’s nothing but a simple tent in need of stitches and fresh seams. The one woven with silk threads of warm words, with tattered holes patched with a sun painted bench. It’s patched with crunchy warm baguettes slathered with runny golden egg yolks. Beyond the soft patterning, it’s a tent with gentle folds that wrap me in their warm embrace.

It’s more than just a tent and a place to temporarily take shelter under. 

It transforms into lyrics and melodies 

               t      h     a     t 

             ↘ d                 e

                      a         c   

                           n     ↗







                          r      o   

themselves ↻a the air u

                          n    d

Despite its pretty and clumsy embroidery, it’s not rainproof. On the rainy days, I sit wrapped in my tent as the rain dribbles in through the seams and stitches clustered around frayed holes. The water slowly piles into a small puddle, the kind that swirls with wandering dirt and the specks of long lost pebbles. At times like this when the music and color is drained by the thundering rain, a small voice slips in faintly between each pitter-patter

When I get lonely enough between the puddles and swirling dirt, I let the words slip out of my mouth as my tent listens silently. The words form easily, and face only the gentle pats of worn out fabric as the cold rain taps my face. 

image courtesy of pixabay.com

“If Onlys”

There are too many “if onlys”. They float out of my parent’s mouths heavy and drenched in regret. Like a sponge that sits in the clogged sink buried in frothy soap suds and forgotten plates. Often when I was 5 after a fight I heard my mom say, “If only I didn’t have you two, I could’ve left your dad. The only thing he knows how to do is get angry and yell.”

While my sister heard my dad say, “If only it wasn’t for you two, I could’ve left your mom. I wouldn’t have to listen to her nitpick every little sentence of mine.”

A bad grade provoked, “If only I had been born here I would’ve been something great. At least something better than you two” and those words hung in the air, still and refusing to budge. 

Then, another “if only” rose with the warm steam of the tofu stew, “If only it wasn’t for you two I could’ve been happy. I wouldn’t be rooted here rotting away behind countless pots and pans in an empty house”. 

Then, another where my mom wore a forlorn look, her elbow propped on her knee as the silky red brush danced along her fingertips, “If only I hadn’t taken the plane here, I would’ve stayed where I was wanted. Somewhere where I was more than a minimum wage worker. I wouldn’t have had to leave the place where I was loved”. She set the nail polish down after that as our eyes met and I quietly left the room like a shadow. 

Once when my dad’s face became cloudy he looked my mother in the eye and with a smile and said, “If only I never married your mother, I could’ve been something better. I would’ve educated myself and been happy”. After my dad left the table leaving behind a few seconds of silence, she spoke, eyes that drooped with remorse with, “If only I had seen your father’s true colors before our marriage. If only I hadn’t listened to his honey coated words, maybe I would’ve left him and his bitter temper.”

The next “if only” appeared when my dad saw the emptiness of my room and said, “If only you were like your sister, your shelves wouldn’t be so empty. If only you were like her, having you join all those extracurriculars wouldn’t be a waste of money.”

Now another “if only” felt as heavy as the dark empty night sky traced with faint light of Micheals in the background. The light grazed my dad’s face as his “if only” said, “If only we stopped at your sister, I wouldn’t be stuck with a monster child like you”. The light was so faint my dad was barely anything more than a shadow, but even though I couldn’t see the rest of his face, I saw his smile. His lips curled upward as he saw my stoic expression slightly shift as I flinched. 

The “if onlys” followed, like the serene moon that occupies the sky, the one that follows no matter how many turns you make. They followed my mom to the traffic light while the red illuminated her face, my mom gripped the steering wheel until her knuckles turned white as the “if only” toppled on top of her frown, tumbling onto her tongue which said, “If only I had never started a family, I could’ve opened my own business. Your dad wouldn’t take all my hard earned money and there’d be no kids to chain me to responsibilities.” The light was still red. “If only you were normal, like other kids, I wouldn’t regret having this family so much.” Finally, her face was bathed in a bright green as the car slightly shifted, speeding away from the traffic light. 

As I stared out the foggy window as the warm yellow slowly started bleeding in, I silently wished the “if onlys” stayed there too.  

image courtesy of pixabay.com

Shadow Hunter

Shadow hunter: a being that hunts shadows.

As a shadow hunter myself, I’ll gladly inform you of this wonderful activity, but do be aware, it requires the utmost determination. I’ll begin with the net. The best net for shadow hunting is one that is slim and weighs as much as the air around you. Make sure to weigh it precisely. It must be made with a thin and delicate thread in order to improve its speed and flexibility. The thread must be preferably transparent or black in order to blend in with its surroundings. 

Now, onto the handle. The handle must be rough so the net won’t slither out of your grasp, but it should be sanded enough to not plant splinters in your palms. 

Besides the net, a small trinket is optional, but it yields exceptional results. The trinket must be small and lightweight as the thread, but contrary to the transparent strings, this trinket must be lustrous in order to emit a faint glow. Nothing else is necessary for shadow hunting besides the prior items mentioned. After all, any surplus items will only slow the hunter down. 

Now some tips: don’t be fooled by the looming figure of the shadow, for no matter how vigorously you scoop the shadow sprinkled under your feet, your net will be nothing more than a void. The shadows are often ever changing, like the eroding rocks that a river spills over, so one must be fast on their feet. It may only be possible to capture a shadow successfully if the root of the shadow is disposed of, so one must follow the pace of the shadow in order to do so. Emphasis on the “may” as no shadow hunter has been…successful. That is why this activity requires an immense amount of patience as one must constantly monitor an empty figure lurking beneath one’s feet. 

Now, what else? Oh? The best place for shadow hunting, you ask? There is no such thing, only choose a vacant shadow of your liking and pursue it. 

Just do what I do. 

Look down and never stop. 

Not until you catch it.

image courtesy of pixabay.com

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