I walked across the plain, looking to neither side, interminably, doggedly, as if this were a real desert ahead of me, not just something that simply looked like one, thirst being the main driving force, even though I did not feel thirsty at all. Not even a little bit.
They had let me out of their prison with no reason not only for releasing me but also for having imprisoned me in the first place. I had forgotten about the trial court, and only now remember it in passing so that I can tell you that I have forgotten it. And the detailed circumstances themselves of the trial have long been buried in expended time, along with the trial itself.
I know who I am, however. There is no mystery there. It's only my memory underpinning such identity that's gone south while I presumably go north.
It's not really a plain stretching into the distance. Now looking to the side, I see that I am bordered or should I say boarded by blank hoardings, upon which I somehow cast a shadow. A normal human shaped shadow. With no defining features. Then I see it is a double shadow, one on each side of me, upon the left and right hoardings that stretch onward alongside of my path. I can’t even see a single light source able to create shadows.
I could go on and on describing this journey, itself without defining features. And I probably shall do so, a minimal refrain, an incantation, an incantation again. Until I look down at myself walking.
Yes, it looks like my walking, and they are my feet, and the fact I'm wearing trousers, but no mirror to look much further – except that I am seeing through the lenses of a pair of glasses, and my hands and arms when they are brought within sight are pink and a bit hairy. Clothes unremarkable, typically an incarnation of me.
Suddenly, I spot a presumably accidental gap between two of the otherwise conjoined hoardings. A terribly narrow slot but wide enough to see a cross-section of the buildings that makes me assume that I am still within an urban area, despite the channel of featureless plain or desert that I otherwise walk along between the hoardings. Incantation by incantation. Refrain by refrain. But completely pain-free, a condition that feels welcome to a body like mine, a body, I feel certain, whose only claim to fame was more and more pain.
I now wonder if this is how death feels. It rings true, somehow.
An aircraft, with thick stubby wings, followed me from above – a sort of manned drone, complete with vestigial propellers and tailfins, indeed following me within the constraints of the channel's hoarding boards invisibly extended skywards, its engine threatening to impinge on my hearing while I was also followed by other walkers behind me that I had not yet noticed following me, and I did not hear their nearing footsteps because the aeroplane's engine had already begun to blot them out even before itself beginning to impinge its own sound upon me.
This all became clear to me in hindsight. As later told by others. Or just by a single other with clearer views than anybody else, clearer even than Captain Ab Bintiff and his co-pilot Clovis Camber who were on board the aircraft.
Overheard conversation between them...
AB: Get ready to drop it all on them as soon as there are enough following through the channel to warrant the use of so much explosive...
CC: What about collateral, Ab?
AB: Collateral what?
AB: The boards will stop that widening out, Clove.
CC: The city buildings are now right up close to the boards. And a lot of people have even got houses using the boards as their gardens' back fences!
AB: You of little faith! We are pinprick accurate these days. And there will not even be a scorch mark on any of the boards, rest assured.
CC: Last time we did this, there was some collateral.
AB: Not much. A million is only a million.
CC: A million is still a million.
AB: (laughing) So that got us enough ghosts now to haunt a million houses. Each a story to be told to scare us at bedtime.
With no rear-view mirrors, little did Bintiff and Camber know, but their aircraft was now being followed along a narrow channel of sky by many similar aircraft, each engine masking the sound of the other engines that were following each other's flight path, causing each crew to underestimate the numbers involved.
AB: (shouting) Fire!
AB: (shouting louder) Drop!
CC: Drop our aircraft or drop what our aircraft carries?
AB: We're not suicide bombers, Clove, just bombers. Give it to them!
Camber manipulated the craft’s controls, releasing swarms of living explosive creatures, each like the craft itself, into a downdraught upon those they believed to be dangerous migrants as they swarmed along the channel of passage between the custom-built faceboard fences or proto-Trumpish walls. Its red river rapids.
Ghost Story No. 1, among a million others, even if a million as a glib arbitrary number would never be enough for time’s endless river of souls, each that would want its own story to be told.
The citizen named Emfa Hogga witnessed the TV switching itself off, as he watched the picture abruptly become a white dot in the middle of its emptiness. The Trial of the Century they had called it, broadcast live, and indeed the chosen man had been found guilty, but guilty of exactly what, and was it a punishment at all to bear a single day in solitary confinement then being merely released into the anonymity of a people’s diaspora? The way to show symbolically that each and every single one of the swarming escapees were similarly guilty? The way to pass unnoticed with ease into oblivion, being the greatest punishment of all?
Emfa shrugged; the way the machine stopped. The way to cleanse, even throttle, the faceboards of human frailty, except for the singular selection of self who Emfa assumed himself to be. He looked around him at the traditional objects of his parlour, a large pedestal clock among them ticking near silently, a growing silence beyond the reach of the screens of contact, where faces once had been shown large and living, faces upon globular hairy-topped domes, pore-sticky, with defining features underpinned by every pixel, if pixel was the right word. He no longer believed half of it.
It was then he heard the ghost’s footsteps coming from the wardrobe that separated the chintzy parlour from his brocaded bedroom. The pad pad of easy approach. The slippered incantation of fear. And the buzzing of tiny creatures with vestigial wings that attacked Emfa’s face. Scorching off bits of skin with every jab. Each a sting’s sting as part of the ghost’s refrain of pain upon realising that it was haunted by the man, not the other way around.
Only one ghost story. One is still one, though. Enough collateral to scare us at bedtime.