I was lonely on the day I met Jonny.
I'd moved earlier that summer, and my shyness had so far ensured that my only companions were books. I spent most of my days perusing the shelves of the modest local library or secluded away in my room, devouring page after page of fantastical adventures and strange tales, whittling away the time until the school year started.
I can't explain why I decided to take a detour through a nearby forest on my way to the library that warm afternoon. Maybe it was the omnipresent hand of fate guiding my path, or maybe it was simply the pleasant weather—either way, that's where I first saw Jonny. He was standing in a small creek with his pants rolled up to the knee, his hair a pale tangle of uncombed wisps and his skin as sallow as a white trout. He was so frail and wan that he looked eerily out of place among the forest's rich greenery. When his dark eyes met mine I saw within them a loneliness even more poignant than my own, as if he had spent an eternity waiting for someone to arrive and had long ago given up hope that they ever would.
I recognized immediately that he was a ghost, yet when he waved at me I returned the gesture without fear or hesitancy. Unlike the phantoms and ghouls in the stories I'd read, somehow I knew this spectral boy had no desire to frighten me. He smiled faintly, I smiled back, and our friendship began.
I abandoned my books in favor of spending afternoons with him at the creek, wading through the cool water and skipping stones across its glassy surface. I never asked about his past, and he never asked about mine. When I was with Jonny, nothing outside the forest mattered—not my parents' divorce, or the long shifts my mom now worked, or my dad forgetting to call on my birthday. A ghost could never leave me or let me down the way the living had, and for that reason my friendship with Jonny became the most cherished thing in my unhappy life.
We were catching minnows when he slipped and gashed his leg on a sharp rock. He howled in pain as I watched ribbons of his blood dance through the water like crimson ink, reeling as if I'd just been punched.
“Ghosts don't bleed,” I said numbly.
“What?” Jonny looked up at me in confusion. “Come on, help me—“
I brought a rock down onto his head, over and over again, before pressing his face into the creek until his legs quit thrashing. I left him in the water and ran home, where no one was there to see the blood on my wet clothes.
And now I lay awake in my bed, counting down the hours until I can return to the forest and see Jonny again.
He'll be waiting for me, and he'll be a ghost.
Written by CertainShadows