Kit imagined a ghost climbing up the grassy hill, still wet from fog and rain. The ghost was waving her small arms, pointing to the clear sky like it was the first beautiful thing she had ever seen. Her bare feet made small impressions in the grass like they would the shore. Chris kept shouting for him to come closer, to climb faster. She didn't want to see the stars alone.
And there Kit was, lagging behind, out of breath, the clean air too much for his dirty old lungs. The air was clean, it was fresh, and it was true air one would never feel unless they got lost into the deepest part of the woods that have never felt a human breath. The dew moistened the tongue, and he was drowning in his own saliva, the sensation made him feel pathetic and out of shape.
The locals referred to this steep mass of dirt and grass as a hill, a big hill, but always a hill. And this hill was beating him without even trying. Over 50 years of life and all that experience could never make getting up this thing easier. Yet, a little girl of barely six climbed it within minutes. What a pathetic thing adults were compared to their children.
But, despite all the moaning and bitching, he got up to the top, tired, sweaty, with lungs screaming for him to just die already so they could rest forever.
The ghost beside him, sitting in the grass, oblivious to the stains she created on her white dress, asked in the most serious tone he ever heard, "How many stars are up there?" Chris lifted her small translucent arm to the sky. She wanted a fact, a hard number she could give to her other schoolmates to prove she was smarter.
Kit mulled it over a little bit. "Ten," he said just as seriously.
Chris looked at the infinite, innumerable things in the sky as vast as all creation, each one a sparkling grain of sand on a black coast that stretched into eternity. "Are you sure it's only ten?"
"Pretty sure." Kit counted out ten stars directly above them, ignoring the others. "See? Ten."
"What about that one?" Chris pointed to one near the horizon, floating carefree above an old church.
"My mistake, eleven."
"And that one?"
"I guess it's twelve."
"And that one?"
"We already counted that one."
"Oh." Chris laid back against the grass, tall blades sticking up above her small shoulders.
The man felt a wave of loneliness as it occurred to him just how silent it was here. No cars passing by, no drizzle of afternoon rain, no singing of hanging wind chimes. Just silence. He was alone with the world; with the stars, with the grass, with the clean valley air that was attacking his unprepared lungs. Chris wasn't here; only a ghost, a memory, a thing that had no tangible or sane value to anyone but him. The ghost looked up with curious green eyes, even in the dark of night, they somehow always remained green. There were parts of her that were miracles.
With little to do up there besides admire nature, an act completed in a minute on average, he pulled out a half empty carton from his front coat pocket and slid a white stick out. He was about to grab it, but the ghost spoke to him again.
"Smoking's gross. You should stop it."
"Yeah, it is gross. I won't deny you there."
"Then stop it!"
"It's not that easy, plus, I kind of like it."
"Why would you like it?"
"Well, don't tell your mother, but I always thought it made me look pretty cool."
The ghost burst out laughing, kicking her legs up and down for effect. "No it doesn't," she said sternly.
Kit couldn't help but laugh too. He let the cigarette slide back into its dirty home. "You know, maybe it doesn't."
He took a long breath of cold air. Back then, he thought there was something lacking in it, but now he was thinking there was something lacking in him.
"You never really thought it made your old man look cool?"
"Not even a little bit. Grass is cooler than you."
He sighed as he put the pack back to the place by his heart.
"So grass is cooler than me?
"And Lady Shiala, like when she defeated Marcelo the Dragon God."
"Especially Lady Shiala. Who could be cooler than her? She killed a dragon that was also god."
"Nobody, that's who!" Chris shouted so the stars could hear.
How young was he when they climbed this? Did he have as much scruff? Did Puck die before, or after this? There were moments when he thought he heard him pouncing on the windowsills, brushing against curtains, but that was just a mind yearning for some company. It was funny how the mind, when getting old and alone, would start to create imaginary friends again.
The ghost was gone as the clarity of memory ended. Sure, there was some more; more talking, the walk down where he carried her on his shoulders because she was too tired, tucking her back into bed, but all those were fuzzy, like they were obscured by a morning fog, muddy like his mind after the car accident. He reminded himself how he was alone here, no real company left in the world beside silence and ghosts.
Then he heard something rustle behind him. A deer had snuck up on him. He and the thing looked each other in the eyes, and he couldn't help but think that they looked vaguely green. It took a few steps towards him, hesitant, as all animals should. He smiled at it, just glad for a little company. After awhile of stop and go, the deer was with him on the hill. It licked his hand, the sensation somehow wetter than the grass, and the two looked up at the stars a little longer, letting new and old memories linger on.