ghost story for the day of the dead

You can never cross the same river twice.

One last ghost story, then--though I suppose all stories are ghost stories eventually. This one came after a summer spent at sea on a salvage vessel, so far north there were days where I thought I'd never see another sunset. But even endless days have to end sometime, and eventually the dark crept back into the world. We were trying to get as much done as we could before the winter made our work impossible.

This was the night of the equinox. I didn't have a calendar, but I could feel it in the air: this was the day that summer was finally in retreat. So I went above decks, and I watched the ocean, and my thoughts turned dark. How many men had died here, under this moon, on this ocean? How many had never received a proper burial, and were left adrift forever?

A truly ancient sailor's ghost joined me on the decks, then. I don't know how he got there, or how long he'd been standing there. I didn't dare speak, but I watched. At first I thought he didn't know I was there. Then he turned to me and looked at me with empty eyes and told me his story, which I sensed was no longer merely his story. It was the story of a man who had left everything behind for a life adrift, and who fled that life, terrified that he would be adrift forever. It was the story of a man running: running from stability, running from chaos, until ultimately running was all he knew.

He died at sea. He could just as easily have died in some quiet seaside town. What I think he wanted to impart most is that he did not die at peace. He seemed relieved, having told his story, but he did not go away. I sat with him, and we waited for the first dawn of the winter. Then I went below decks and slept like a stone. I'd never been so eager to return home.

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