Gonzalo Gala Guzmán

The shadow of the past.

What was natural in me, was natural in other people?, thougth Herbert. In other ocasion, He once read that everybody must be the hero of hisown life. It was true. Herbert Oswoold was an old man that lived in a great house at a little town. He knew enough of life and  had lost the capacity of being much surprised by anything. And he was a peculiar wealthy man, the wonder of his town forlong years and his travels and the fortune that he won as a writer had become a local legend. Herbert was generous with  the money, but he had no close friends and he lived alone. His life was very simple, with some odditties that most people were willing to forgive and one usual habit: he imbibed the smoke of his pipe, while he sat down by the hearth, lost in his  thoughts, with the eyes apparently closed. But under beneath the lids he was watching fixedly the red embers on the hearth fire. 

  One morning, after a good breakfast, Mr Oswoold was sitting by the open window of his living-room. Everything looked fresh and the sun was warm.Then the sky was suddenly clouded,  when a heavy silence fell in the room. It was cold out in the road and the rain did not stop for a minute. He saw more fog in this day than he had seen in a year, and as he looked out of the window, observed that his old house could pull down, but in the living-room he was nice and warm. The old man went to the hearth with a flamming brand of wood in  both hands. The evening deepened in the room, and the firelight burned brighter. All was calm except that he could hear the rain on the windows. 
  - It´s a bad night, - Herbert thought.- It´s not a good one to be out.  
 At night, the waxing moon was climming slowly; then, it seemed the best retreat that the imagination of man could conceive. To hear the wind outside and think that there was no house nearby. At this point, he could  sit in the living-room with the silent company of his book, while he was smoking his pipe. He was thinking about the book he was writting -his first novel of fiction- when he heard a noise. The old man got up from the chair and went to open the front door. The road was dark and there was nobody to be seen. Later the noise came back again. Then he ran upstairs, back into the living-room and he closed the door behind him.  
- What 's that? - He cried. 
   The candle died and the room got dark. The anxiety was so intense that he could hear his heartbeating within his breast.  Suddenly, he saw a face looking at him, out in the road, that passed from window to window. Quickly, Herbert looked again, but there was nothing there. He had felt nothing like this since h childhood, when he lived in another old house at a big city. Sometimes it happened that it was not easy to remember, if he may trust to my imperfect memory. For a long time, he had a close friend, Helen Swift. They were always together. In asummer day, they went swimming to cool off, while in a snowy winter day, bundles up to play snowball.She wished studying hardly and waiting patiently, but she was an ill girl and her parents thought of leaving that little town. Her health was severely impaired, however it was quite restored slowly when she was being friend of him. 
 One evening, he arrived at her house and the young Herbert was conduced  to her in the garden. She was sitting at one kind of terrace, overlooking the swiming-pool and this garden. It was a sombre evening, whit a lurid ligth in the sky. Helen was pleased to see him, but she was surprised to find out that he was there. He mentioned to her at nigth, on the first branch, that nothing could be better that his friendship whit her, but he couldn´t visit her always. He will be sent to the hardest school that ever was kept, during a year 
 - What is your favourite wish, my child? - Helen said. 
 He did not understand her. She only asked one question, but Helen was suspicious; then she was crying. However, she was quite passive, and Herbert heard her crying, while he asked her forgiving for the desolation he had caused, and he was criying too. It was difficult for him to resolve to stay with her, but he looked about her and made a discovery, that is, she had not been very happy there. Helen was not particularlyhappy in this side but was, on some ocasions, particularly attentive. As she looked full at him, he saw her face. She was very pale and her eyes seemed to see things farther away. She dozed, felt the pain of her wound was growing slowly, and a deadly chill was spreading from her shoulder to her arm and side. He sat down in the bed and sang a slow song in a soft voice. And, while he murmured the last words her head dropped on her chest and she died
  The fact was commented in the neighbourhood and indeed all over town. During a month, the general opinion was that she had gone quite mad and run off to the death. Some people were rather shocked, but this story  was not remembered much longer. As time went on, they began to forget us. 
  When the night comes, the candle  must stood. 
  The darkness returned and the old Herbert turned and speeded up stairs, but pull down. He must have fallen, but how long he had lain there he did not know. For a moment he wondered where he was, and then all despair returned to him. Before Mr Oswoold had been on fire and desperate; now he was in the deep dark outside and was shivering and cold. Herbert struggled to steady himself and think, but his head ached and he saw shadows in the darkness. He could heard faintly the voices of past clamouring, but soon they stopped and all was still. He looked back and when he looked up, he was amazed. 
  When the night comes, the candle must stood. 
  - What is your whish, my child? 
  Every Night. 
  At the moment Mr Oswoold heard a door slam, feet came walking along the passage. He rushed in, he shut the door hastily and leaned against it. He was out of breath. The voice repeated the question, word to word. And when it had hardly spoken these words, there came a great noise. 
  - What´s that?, The old man cried. 
  The noise rolled again and the walk shook. There was a rush of hoarse laugther and he began to tremble all over. Suddenly, the shadow slowly advanced, but in the dark the shape became terribly clear.  He saw a vivid glimpse of a girl, claid in pure white, whose gentle voice was sad and soft.  
Herbert lifted up his arms, and spread out his hands in a gesture of rejection. And she walked in front ofhim, and kept there for some minutes. During this interval, I observed the expression on his face, and his eyes still directed to me. 
  As he could obtain a perspective view of the question, the silence of his existence, the progress of his life, from childhood, but it was just at this the past reappeared after itslong absence, all a life. For a moment, she walked in silence until the girl ghost began to talk. 
  - It´s a pack of lies. I´m sure of that. 
  She was not worse. At that moment, this old friend of childhood returned of past to have justice. Suddenly, the fireplace light was waning fast, the room was veiled in deeping dusk and the wind was cold. 
 - Do not frighten!-said the girl. There was a pause longer than usual.- Do not frighten! Come on whith me. 
  A deep silence fell. As if it were a breath that came in through doors out of deep places, dread came over him. His hands were cold. He listened, but he heard no sound, not even the imagined echo of a footfall, except the ghost's voice. "Do not be afraid!", said. 
  They went down a long flight of steps, and he looked back, but could see nothing, except the ghost´s light. They stood peering up stairs into the darkness. He could hear the voice of the girl, muttering words that ran down the sloping roof with an echo. The air became very hot. Then there was a dull rumble and very heavy thud, and suddenly at the top of the stairs there was a stab of white light. Soon, it became unmistakable as it  was flickering and glowing on the walls. 
 His voice faltered and the song ceased. 
  - Don' t move! 
  For a moment, she stopped and looked him, when she gave an object to him; it was a little mirror. 
  - Do you whis to look?, asked the ghost. 
  Suddenly the mirror cleared andhe saw a brief but very vivid picture, that of himself walking restlessly about his living-room, rain was beating on the windows. Then there was a pause, and after in many swift scenes followed until he could see his own image in a twily moment. For a moment, he wavered and bent away. Herbert looked down his own boy with horror. It shrank and the shrivelled face became rags of skin upon a skull. 
  - That's the end. - She said. 
 - The end? No!. 
 The ghost laugthed with a sudden clear laugh.Then she let her hand fall, the light faded and the girl laughted again. He wished he needn´t have seen this nasty end, but it was a good riddance. He hurried off and dissappeared into the darkness.



All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Gonzalo Gala Guzmán.
Published on e-Stories.org on 02/10/2008.


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