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The little girl ran hurriedly along the path in the darkness. Tall, black, towering trees raced past on both sides. A dirty shirt acted as her dress, billowing in the wind. She ran barefoot; the gravel dug into her skin like nails. Only the street lamps illuminated her path. Tears flew from the corners of her eyes as her breathing gradually became faster. She sprinted like a wild deer, desperately trying to outrun a hunter’s arrow.
She lost her balance. And she regretted it big time. In that split second, as she tripped over her own feet, all she could think of was the pain she would now have to endure as a result of her carelessness; she would have to run with not only sore, frozen feet, but bleeding knees and scarred elbows too. Perhaps a bruised chin.
Just before she touched the ground, a cold arm slid underneath her. It suspended her firm and steady, preventing her from scraping her knees. Startled, she stood up and turned to her saviour.
A woman; young and very beautiful. Her skin was outstandingly pale, and blended in with her golden hair, which was long and straight like her own. Her body was almost transparent. She seemed to shine like a bulb, emitting a white glow wherever she walked; acting as a light source.
The girl’s heart started to race as her eyes moved down the woman’s body. The glowing lady’s previously white blouse had been stained with blood, and the patch of material covering her stomach was light brown. The stains dripped down onto her dress. She also had a wound in her neck and several gashes on her face; a bloody mess, but still beautiful. Serene.
The woman looked at the child’s shocked face. For a tender moment, she had the urge to ruffle the girl’s hair, to cuddle and embrace the child. To tell the poor soul that everything would be fine in the end. But she kept her emotionless, stern façade.
“What are you doing out by yourself here in the cold, young one? Where are your parents?”
The girl shuddered. The lady’s voice echoed. It was graceful, like an opera singer’s.
“A-are you a ghost?”
“Don’t worry, you don’t have to be scared of me. I won’t hurt you. If you tell me what’s wrong, I might be able to help you.”
“Please help me. I’m running away from daddy. Please don’t tell him, or he’ll get me.”
The woman frowned, suddenly concerned.
“Why are you running away from him? What has he done to you?”
“He-he…he hits me. He locks me up, and makes me clean stuff for him. The worst thing is, sometimes at night, he comes and lies on me. It hurts, it really does, and I’m scared. I ran away before, but he caught me, and he beat me real hard. Now I’m gonna try again.”
She squeezed a few more tears from her eyes, then wiped them away. The woman cringed, anguished. She knelt down, their eyes now level.
“What about your mother?”
“I don’t know anything about my mommy. I never met her. I once asked daddy about her. Daddy says she was a ‘sobby little tweed’. I don’t know what happened to her, or where she is.”
The girl received a sympathetic tap on the shoulder.
“Don’t go any further.”
“What? I can’t go back. If daddy sees…”
“Go back. You have to. The forest stretches dozens of miles along here, and you won’t make it to the police station or even the town by morning. Your daddy will drive out here in his car. He’ll be ten times faster than you, and he’ll be looking for you. He will find you.”
“Quick, follow my advice. Go back now, before it’s too late. Maybe he’ll never know you even came out.”
She understood the ghost lady’s logic, and nodded.
“But will I ever escape him? Will I ever be able to get away?”
“Don’t be afraid. I’ll help you escape. But you need to remember to come back here tomorrow at midnight, exactly.”
“Will you be here?”
“Yes. And I’ll help you then.”
“Um, thanks.” The girl smiled with slight relief and nodded. “By the way, what happened to you?”
“Me? Well, let’s just say…I died five years ago.”
“So… you are a real ghost! How did you die?”
“It all started when I fell in love. With a man. I thought he was kind. He treated me well at first, but then, he started to control me. He hit me, spat at me, and called me all sorts of names. He raped me. It means he lay on me when I didn’t want him to, like your daddy lay on you. I got pregnant – I never wanted a child, but my parents wouldn’t let me have an abortion. I gave birth. Then…”
She paused, sighing.
“You’re young, and I shouldn’t be telling you these things. It’s coming to morning, and you’d better go, otherwise your daddy might know you ran away. Take care of yourself, and don’t be afraid anymore.”
The girl nodded in thanks, and ran off into the distance. The woman watched her, wiping away a tear from her eye in sorrow and disappointment.
The woman looked up. She was glad to see that the girl didn’t seem as tense as before.
She walked over and placed her hands on the girl’s shoulders comfortingly. A taxi was parked behind her. It was invisible except for the glowing white sign on its roof.
“I’m glad to see you’re safe. Did your daddy hurt you yesterday? Did he find out you’d left the house?”
“Nope,” she said sternly, shaking her head. “He didn’t notice a thing. He just told me that tomorrow, I would be going with him to the forest. He didn’t tell me why.”
The woman was suddenly alarmed.
“It’s…it’s very good that you won’t be. I'm going to get you out of here today. A cab came along this road in the morning. I stopped it and told the driver to wait here for someone. You should’ve seen the look on his face. He was dead terrified! He did as he was told, and waited all day for you, so remember to thank him.”
She handed the girl thirty bucks.
“That’s for the journey. And remember, don’t talk to strangers. Just tell him you want to go to the children’s care home in the town centre, and he’ll take you there. Make sure you behave well, and don’t ever come back here again, do you understand?”
“Tha-thank you so much!”
The girl smiled with happiness, and hugged the lady. Not expecting the response, the ghost tensed up, but then relaxed again. The girl laughed.
“So, since I’ll never be seeing you again here, I wanted to know the rest of your story. How did you die?”
“If you really want to know…the man I loved…he murdered me. He wanted to keep me quiet. He never got caught. But my spirit still lingers on, so I will never be silenced.”
“Why don’t you go back and take revenge on him, like the ghosts in the story books?”
“I can’t leave this place to get him. But now you mention it, if he does walk past here, I might just not waste the chance.”
The lady winked.
“I used to be scared of ghosts, but I think they’re actually quite cool. If they’re all nice like you, then I’m not scared of them anymore!”
“Alright. Goodbye, young one.”
“One more question before I go.”
“Fine. Bring it on.”
“What’s your name? I want to remember you, but I don’t want to think of you as the ‘ghost lady’ every time.”
“I’m Susan.” She paused as the girl began to walk away from her. “Take good care of yourself, and never give up. Happiness is a door in the world of life. The key to that door is freedom.”
The girl got into the cab and paid the driver. She waved at the Susan through the window, smiling as she finally escaped the prison she’d been trapped in all her life, heading forwards towards a new future. A happy and hopeful adulthood. Susan started to cry again.
“I’m Susan, young one” she whispered after the taxi, “Susan the sobby little tweed. Stabbed to death by a heartless thug in the forest five years ago.”
That girl just had been spared from the same gory fate.
It’s funny how history repeats itself', Susan thought, as she watched the taxi disappear over the horizon.