It's about that time of year -- the time when people come around and ask me what all those wavering, translucent, pale, luminous sshapes that are floating around.
See, when people die out here on the plains, their souls are vulnerable. They can't retreat to the deep forests or the safety of the mountaintops, nor the hidden valeys. They have to hole up in nooks and crannies, for most of the year, or in the unused spaces of attics -- occasionally finding refuge in objects that have enough sentimental value to hold such emotional beings as ghosts.
But these places are temporary, too easily discovered. So, around this time of year, when the shadows are lengthening, they begin to migrate en masse, much in the manner of Cicadas, based on the same principle: their predators (Hide-behinds, Sidehill Gouger, Pinnacle Grouse, and cats) can't get more than a few out of such a large group.
That it coincides with Halloween may not be a coincidence; these are the souls of people who understood that late october is a macabre time. Traditionally, discussion of the holiday has focused on the more terrifying aspects of night, of monsters, of the thin veil between the realm of the living and the dead; it may be this memory that drives them. Or perhaps it is simply the lengthening night, which gives them more time to travel before they must hide from the burning rays of the sun. We cannot know. They cannot tell us. If a ghost moans, that is because all it can convey is emotion.
There is much moaning, in the week leading up to Halloween. Children are advised to stay indoors after midnight, although the bravest may seek out the ghosts. They generally do not do this more than once, for ghosts, being souls without the protection of bodies, can only defend themselves through terrifying illusions. Many children who seek out ghosts to pester come running back home with wild stories of phantom snakes, howling wind, and ear-piercing shrieks. Elders admonish their children for such foolish behavior, but the lesson is usually taught best by the ghosts themselves.
But then, where do the ghosts go? In the mountains, they can hide on the mountaintops, as I have said, and await the passage into true afterlife there; on the plains, they have no such opportunities, and, once they emerge from hiding and gather in their swarms, no time to wait in the open; passage into the afterlife takes far more time than their predators will give them.
I took the opportunity to observe them, one evening around this time last year, and noticed that they were heading in a particular direction; following them by car, I discovered that they were gathering around the shallow river valley. More specifically, they were hiding amidst the trees. They were fading, darkening, becoming the blue shadows that fade into view among the trunks, as each day turns to dusk; that was their safety, to be an integral part of the forest.
It's possible that they remain in this state for a very long time, considering the eternal presence of these shadows, although the shadows of a November dusk, as the last leaves are falling, are quite different than those of earlier in the year, and it may be that by May, all of the ghosts in the forest have passed on. I have no way of measuring.
One evening in Late November, I was walking along a ledge that looked out over the river. No living people were there, besides me, but there were a number of figures on the shore. They were ghosts, translucent and pale as I had seen them in October, and as I watched, a cluster of shadows deatched themselves from the trees and resolved into the same ghostly form. They did not tocuh each other, or seem to notice the presence of others, but had their faces fixed upon the river. They waited like that for quite some time. I was about to dismiss this behavior as the simple inscrutability of ghosts, but then a large tree trunk floated by, and all the ghosts piled onto it. They floated slowly downstream, making not a sound, moving not an inch, simply letting the current carry them where it would. They arounded a bend, and were soon out of sight.
I wondered what lay in store for them. Were they set for an afterlife? Perhaps they assumed they would be reincarnated. Perhaps they were destined for the eternal sleep. They could not tell me.
A single shadow detached itself from the treeline, and moved out over the water, quickly taking a ghostly form as it did so. It, too, began to float downstream, despite hovering above the water. So the ghosts didn't really need the trunk after all. It was simply a stimulus, as if to say, Time To Go.
These souls had all bought themselves time, not any more time of life, perhaps, but time enough to get ready for whatever lay ahead.
If you live out on the plains, and you see a ghost this Halloween, do not be frightened. Only respectful. It might be someone you knew. It might be a friend of your friend. It might be someone who, having received no good breaks in life, is trying to make it in death. Only wave the poor souls on their way, and tip your hat, if you have one.
For someday, you will be among them.