Spirit on the Hill

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

A man revisits his childhood home and the shrine that lies in the hills behind his house.

On a warm summer day, a young, casually dressed man approached a yellow house in a suburban area. He looked at it with a glazed-over expression. It was a sight he had seen so many times its image became redundant in his memories.

Clutched in his fist were a set of keys.

The young man, Samuel, was medium build with round glasses. He had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He inhaled—the cherry lit bright orange—then exhaled. The smoke swirled around as it rose and vanished into the clear-blue skies.

He put out his cigarette on the heel of his shoe and made his way to the front door that was made of oak. Fumbling with the keys, he found the one he was looking for and unlocked the house. Upon opening it he was blasted with dust. It was like a cannon had shot him in the face without any ammunition.

“It hasn’t been that long—cough, cough—and it is already this dusty?” He covered his mouth with his hand, avoiding any more inhalation of the volatile particles.

This mustard-yellow house was his childhood home that resided in the small middle-of-nowhere town, Coyote Bluffs. Samuel’s mother and father left it for him when they moved away to somewhere less boring.

“A couple months and this place became a disaster zone. Ground zero of the dust wars.” Sam chuckled to himself as he stroked a nearby coat hanger with his finger, which had now become so covered with dust he could not discern his fingerprints.

Samuel was a freelance photographer and could work with a lot of his clients online. His parents were reluctant to just sell the house to a stranger, so when they offered it to Sam it had been a perfect opportunity. This nothing-of-a-town was ripe for photography. Everything about Coyote Bluffs was rustic, and the town was surrounded by lush wildlife.

“I should probably air out this place first. Nothing seems to have color anymore from the layers of dust. It’s like a black and white picture. I know mom was bad at cleaning but…” He continued mumbling to himself as he walked room to room opening the blinds and the windows.

He opened the final window of the house to let light bleed into his old bedroom. Many of his old toys were still there. They had been boxed up and condensed with numerous other belongings that were not his own. His old bedroom was now a storage room—the only belonging he had that was not boxed up was his old bed.

Sam began opening boxes to see what he used to be into as a child, just out of pure curiosity. Lots of robots and cars, superhero action figures and the like. “I was pretty generic child, huh? I do not remember playing with any of these toys or even picking them out.” He glanced around the room filled with so many boxes. “Maybe I can turn this into a study. If I am able to clear out all of this rubbish first.”

Sam glanced over at his bedroom window, which faced the back of the house. The house’s backyard was just a hill; actually, it was several hills, and trees as far as the eye can see. This town was a valley town in the sticks, separated from the busting big cities in the pre-internet days.

Pushing open the slide window, Samuel stuck his head out, feeling the wind on his face. The fresh air was beyond euphoric. The atmosphere in his hometown was so calm and the air untainted, unlike the city where he lived beforehand.

He felt an unexpected bit of nostalgia when he looked out at the tree-filled bluffs. So many gentle thoughts swam out from the back of his mind.  Those thoughts brought out memories alongside them; memories he had buried in the depths of his mind came flowing out all at once.

The memory of the time he got lost in those hills stuck out more than any other.

I wonder if that shrine is still out there? Nature might have destroyed it over these past years, He pondered.

***

 

When Sam was a child, around the age of ten or eleven, he had woken up in the dead of night after escaping a nightmare he was having. He looked frantically around his room; moments of stupor from waking up.

Once he calmed down a bit, he decided against bothering his parents, who were fast asleep in the room across from his own.

It was just another nightmare. I am not afraid. I do not need mom and dad.

For the past month he had been having nightmares and kept waking his parents up whenever he was afraid to go back to bed. The young boy felt guilty for doing this—his mother and father did not mind though. They were a lovey-dovey couple who were ecstatic at having a child. They overhyped every experience they would have with their child. Good times or bad times, each one felt like an earned achievement of parenthood.

Young Sam felt the urge to open his window and stare out towards the hills. The air was cool, and it was quiet. The only sounds that were heard were the chirping of crickets. Fear had left his body.

The hills were usually lit only by moonlight and the stars­, but this night was a bit different. Sam noticed in the center of one of the hills a green, dull light emitted. He had never experienced this before. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. The light was getting brighter and brighter. For several minutes, the light intensified before finally going out. Samuel assumed he was only tired and went back under his covers.

The next night the same thing happened. And the night after. Every following night the green light would appear, get brighter, then vanish. Such an event only happened for ten minutes at most.

Young Sam’s curiosity was peaked, it was not his imagination running wild. He told his parents about the green light he had been seeing through the trees at night, but they did not believe him. “Our son has such a creative imagination,” they would say.

Sam took the matter into his own hands and began to explore the hills on his weekends to try and get to the bottom of the mysterious light. He did not have any friends, so he had a lot of free time to explore the hills. Every time he explored, he went farther and stayed out much longer, searching for where the light came from. He only did this during the daytime because he was afraid of the dark. This did not help his search as the green light only came out in the dead of night.

Samuel had gone too far one cloudy day. He was lost amongst the endless trees and the hillsides. The young boy panicked; the sun was setting.

If he were lost in the hills at night he would surely die from nature’s wrath—at least that was what he believed. Falling and injuring himself was a possibility if he stumbled around in the dark, or, worst of all, the creatures that gave the town its namesake could catch him and tear him apart. Coyotes.

Darkness fell. Unable to see a few feet in front of him, the boy curled up into a ball. He sobbed. The nightmares he had been having were not as scary as reality was right now. Never seeing his parents again was all he could think of.

As he was crying he could hear a faint sound. The crickets that had been chirping earlier were deafened and replaced by this noise. Samuel stopped his crying, looking around his black environment.

“.....”

He heard it again. It sounded almost like words, distant and muffled.

“.......!”

It was louder this time. Samuel thought for a moment that the sound was coming from the dirt below him. He stuck his ear to the ground to listen.

“......lass?”

Sam picked his face back from the ground. The sound was coming north from him. Ears were his guide in the darkness until he was able to see that light. That green light he saw in the hills at night was glowing through the trees, not too far away from where he was.

“Why.......glass?”

He heard it much more clearly. It was a woman’s voice. He picked up speed, weaving through the trees as he got closer and closer to the light, until he had reached a clearing.

Sam scanned the odd clearing. The moonlight lit up a strange group of stacked rocks. There were smaller stacks of rocks circling a tall stone obelisk. The obelisk in the center of the stacks was by far the tallest among the rock formations. Sam assumed that this was a graveyard of some kind; a hidden graveyard with no paths leading to it.

“Hello?” He called out, unsure if he wanted a response.

A green flame burst from atop the stone obelisk in the center. It crackled and danced. The conflagration twisted, becoming a defined shape. The fire was replaced with that of a woman.

The young woman was beautiful. She had a soft, constant glow coming off her. The robe she wore was one Samuel recognized, a robe worn by priestesses in this town decades ago. A white silk robe tied with many green, decorative ribbons. The ribbons came in many sizes, the one around the woman’s waist being the largest.

Her face was covered with white makeup. Green eyeliner and lipstick enhanced the spirit woman’s delicate facial features. A look of high status that was complimented by a sweet smile.

“Why are you wearing glass?” The ghostly woman asked Samuel. Her expression was soft, finger was pointed at Samuel’s astonished face.

“...you mean... my glasses?” Sam stammered and pointed at his own face along with the spirit.

“Yes, those. Is that what they’re called?” The Spirit giggled, waving her hand around. “Yes, then why do you wear those glasses?”

“I-It’s to help me see. I have bad vision,” Sam replied.

The spirit vanished in a poof of emerald fire and reappeared directly in front of Samuel. Her face was just inches away from his own.

“Are you sick then?” The spirit seemed to be very curious. She grabbed Sam’s face, pulling back his skin with her thumbs and looked deep into his eyes.

Sam pushed her off him, surprised by the fact they could physically touch each other. “No. I’m not sick,” Sam responded mildly annoyed. “I just have bad eyesight. That doesn’t mean I’m sick.”

“Interesting. Seems that human technology has evolved quite a bit since I last recollected.” The spirit rubbed her chin. Her feral, amber eyes were like a coyote’s.

Sam just glared at her. She went to go touch his face again, but he pulled away baring his teeth like a wild animal. The Spirit broke out in laughter, she was amused.

“I like you Samuel. You are very, how do you put it, entertaining.”

“How do you know my—never mind it doesn’t matter. I’m going to die out here anyways.” Sam remembered the situation he was in. He was alone in the dark in the wilderness—well, not entirely alone.

“Why do you think that?”

“I’m... I’m lost... and it’s dark. I ended up at this gravesite that has a... well, I think you’re a ghost. You must have died out here in these hills. I’m going to be a ghost too, aren’t I?”

The Spirit wagged her finger. “No, no, I’m not a ghost, silly boy. I’m a goddess. Also, this isn’t a graveyard, it’s a shrine. My shrine.”

“Goddess... Shrine...”

“Yup, yup. I’m an animal spirit; a coyote goddess. I used to be worshipped by that town long ago when it was just a few houses. I was prayed to and even gifts were brought to this shine in exchange for blessings. They asked for good crop harvests, better weather, curing of illnesses, etcetera.”

Sam sat down leaning his back on the obelisk, soaking all he had just heard in. This would have normally felt disrespectful and blasphemous to the goddess in the olden days—to use her shrine like a casual resting place. But times have changed. The shrine was not kept up and Sam was just a child, so she felt scolding him was not necessary.

The spirit sat beside Sam. Her green, ghostly fire that floated around her felt warm and soothing to him.

“You seem worn Samuel. Perhaps you would like me to sing you a song. Villagers loved when I sang to them. I may be a bit rusty though.”

“The last thing I need right now is a song. I want to go home... do you know the way back?”

The spirit was saddened by the rejection of her singing voice. “Well, uh, no. Sorry. I am sort of stuck here at this shrine and can’t travel far. Everyone just came to me.”

Some goddess. Samuel thought.

“So, why doesn’t anyone visit the shrine anymore? Did you scare them away from being too annoying?” Sam asked bluntly.

“Nothing of the sort,” She huffed. Never had she felt such an attack on her character. “You humans grew too fast. Your technology—like those glasses you wear—made me obsolete and forgotten. Nobody needed to pray to the hill spirit anymore. My power has grown weak because of this. All of my spiritual energy came from worship.”

“You’re weak? Do... do you hate humans then, spirit? Do you hate us because we have forgotten you?”

“Not at all.” The spirit looked at her open hand with a smile as one of the green flames that surrounded her floated and rested onto her open palm. “On the contrary, I am very happy that beings, such as yourself, have evolved to the point of not needing us gods anymore.” The spirit’s smiled faded; her look became solemn as the floating flame burned out.

“Doesn’t that make you feel lonely though. No one comes here anymore. It’s not easy to get here anyway... I’ve seen your light out my window at night. Are you... are you trying to be found? Are you lonely?”

The spirit ruffled up Sam’s hair and grinned, masking the frown she accidently had shown the young child. He wanted to push her hands away again, but he was too tired. “Perceptive little one, aren’t you?” The spirit was intent on changing the subject. “You seem to be not afraid of me in the least bit. Even after everything I told you. I could change the weather and bring disasters, even command the coyotes to attack the town. Scary goddess, aren’t I?”

“You are not very scary, just irritating. Your just like everyone at school. They’re annoying too. I’ve gotten used to it. I think you’re... well... less annoying than them. You at least talk to me without telling me to go away.”

Sam had a hard time making friends due to his habit of being blunt and overly truthful about others. Whenever he tried to make friends with someone he would rub them the wrong way and they would lash out at him. This was the reason he felt everyone at school was “annoying” and never bothered pursuing any relationships for more than a few moments of meeting someone.

“Seems like you have troubles of your own, child. Are you sure you’re not the one who is lonely?” The Spirit giggled, laying her hand on the boy’s shoulder.

Sam had no response. The perceptive spirit was right, but it did not take a genius to figure it out.

They talked for about an hour, but to Sam it felt much longer. Spirit would ask what was taking place in the human world at this time. She asked about how Sam would travel in vehicles and communicate long distances with phones. All these questions Sam answered to the best of his knowledge, he was still a child after all and could not reply to anything that would be too technical. Samuel was enjoying himself, enjoying talking to another person—even if it happened to be a supernatural being.

Sam was exhausted and his eyes grew much too heavy to remain open. He fell asleep beside Spirit. The night was cool, and Sam was not dressed properly for the weather. He shivered in his sleep. Spirit used her fire to remedy this.

As Sam slept, Spirit gazed up at the moon, realizing how weak she had become over such a long time without any prayers or worshippers. She would last maybe a year or two longer in her current position before she ceased to be in the human world.

Would she even die? What happened to a deity when they ran out of power? These thoughts flooded her mind. Spirit feared the unknown, but she wanted to leave this world by her own will and not let time decide.

The coyote spirit was happy, happy to have met the young Samuel.

The spirit touched young Sam’s head. The last of her spiritual power flowed from her heart to her arm and lastly at the tips of her fingers. This would be her last godly act, but when she looked at Sam, her fear of the unknown no longer mattered.

“I’ll be watching you, Samuel.”

There was a flash of green light from the hills that night. It was the last one that would ever happen.

 

***

 

Young Samuel was awoken by the sunlight beaming through his window. In a fog he surveyed his room to see if anything was out of place or odd. But it just the same as it ever was. He checked himself for any injuries he could have gotten while lost in the hills, but he was perfectly fine. Not a scratch on him.

“Was that... another nightmare?” He muttered to himself. “No. This dream was... different... it was pleasant.”

He opened his bedroom window and looked out at the hills behind his house. The shrine and the spirit were weighing heavily on his mind that morning.

“Maybe it was not a dream. I must know. It felt too real.”

Samuel wanted answers. It was still the weekend, so he set out to find that shrine he saw in his dreams out in the hills. This time he took a better precaution not to get lost in the hills. He started at a different point in town and searched for that holy shrine based off what he could remember from that dream.

He found it again, the circular pattern of rock stacks surrounding an obelisk. The area was quiet. There was no sign of the coyote goddess, just several birds that sat and pecked atop the rock formations. He was determined to meet her again even if it would take a long time.

Every weekend he would go up to that shrine and wait. He would even bring food or a book to keep himself busy. Every weekend he went up; every weekend there was silence at the peaceful shrine.

Samuel had done this for several years. At first it was obsession, but after a while it became a sort of tradition. His own little hang out that no one really knew about. A calming place to all his own.

Samuel was about to enter junior year of high school when he made his decision. He came up to that shrine like he always had done, but this time it was different. He followed the same path he had taken hundreds of times. The grass was stomped on so often that Samuel had made a dirt footpath leading up to the shrine in the hills.

Sitting against the obelisk, he looked up to the sky and pictured his future. He knew he must stop coming here; he knew it was time to let go. Today was the day he wanted to tell the spirit goodbye.  

There were so many things he could of said, wanted to scream, wanted to whisper. “Thank you for saving me that night,” or, “I did not feel lonely when I was talking to you,” were just a couple of phrases that burned on the tip of his tongue. What could he say for his official goodbye to the mysterious goddess?

So much he could have said at that peaceful shrine, but Samuel ended up not saying anything at all. He left in silence with a bittersweet smile. It was time to move on and look towards the future.

 

***

 

Samuel’s back was starting to ache from moving all his belongings he had brought from the city into his old house. It was a several-man job done just by one. Chunk by chunk he was clearing out the moving truck until the afternoon when all that was left in the truck was his photography equipment. Once he got the last box into the house he crashed on the couch, planning to organize all his things the next day.

Samuel spent the morning unpacking most of his belongings. He was eager to take his camera out and get some good shots of Coyote Bluffs, so he hastily threw together his bedroom, kitchen, and living room.

“It’s not pretty but it will do,” he told himself, looking at the organized chaos he made in the living room.

Samuel set out while the sun was still high in the sky with his overpriced camera. He first got some pictures of his old high school which hasn’t changed in the least bit except for the repaved parking lot. Next he checked out downtown taking pictures of the rowed buildings and family-owned stores. Sam got a genuine chuckle out of how many of his former classmates had now taken over their family’s stores.

All of them recognized Samuel and made small talk with him, none he had ever considered friends, but it was quite exciting to see everyone so mature.

Afterwards Sam went to the small park in the center of town. It was mostly flat grass dotted here and there with some trees. Birds native to this town were a rare sight in the cities and Sam got a good batch of pictures of those feathery creatures.  


Submitted: May 22, 2021

© Copyright 2021 M. R. Vattic. All rights reserved.

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