Posted on: April 29, 2014
The road runs beside cliffs that look like someone cut them with a giant celestial butter knife. Down and drop to rocks and waves of death. What possesses you to do it? To take the wheel and jerk, to take the plunge, to wave the white flag? Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away.
When I first told him that I didn’t believe in ghosts, he said, “Well that’s too bad, because they believe in you.” When I replied that I was curious how he knew such things, he came back with: “Because they told me.”
His wisdom lifts up into the warm air and is whisked away, shoo fly don’t bother me, by the wind. He waves goodbye to it and we continue down the road. I ask him to tell me more about the ghosts of Cliff Road. “Well, first off,” he replies, “First off, they are all happy.”
“No hauntings on Cliff Road?” I ask.
“No hauntings on Cliff Road,” he reiterates. “It’s because they all want to be here. They all want to be dead.”
“They all want to be ghosts?” I ask. “Suicide?”
My travelling companion nods his head. “Affirmative,” he mutters. But then he reverses course, back it up, back it up. A little further now.
“Actually, no,” he says, “I guess if you think about it they probably hate being ghosts just as much as they hate being alive. That would make more sense.”
“Maybe they wanted to be ghosts to haunt people,” I say, “And that’s why they kill themselves. The grass is always greener sort of thing.”
My companion has a deep beard that resembles the forest that flanks Cliff Road, and he scratches it constantly. He’s scratching it now: “I grew up here,” he says. “Funny thing about growing up.”
I believe he will continue, but when he doesn’t I’m not surprised. He appears to be that sort of fellow.
“Like, here, here?” I ask.
He shakes his head. “In the region, though. Not far away.”
“Is that why you’re here? To come home?”
“No,” he says. “Have you ever heard of Aokigahara Forest?”
I don’t reply.
“It’s a forest in Japan,” he continues. “People go there to kill themselves.”
“Why?” I ask.
“Well,” he begins, “I guess their life isn’t all that great. They say suicides go up during the holidays, but I read somewhere that was actually an urban legend, and that suicide rates actually stay pretty constant throughout the year.”
There is a beat of silence while I wait for him to catch up.
“Oh,” he says, “Right. Why do they go to the forest?”
His voice trails off gradually, more and more after every sentence, disappearing until he’s nothing but mumbles.
We continue walking in silence, thumbs out. Books in a bag slouched on his shoulders; romance and Dharma Bums and half-smoked cigarettes. You’ve seen it all before.
There is a fog rolling in, not uncommon to the region. The warm, moist air from the land encounters the cool waters of the Pacific and sparks fog – Mr. Gardner taught me that in sixth grade, probably the closest I came to a mentor.
I saw him again when I graduated-Gardner; his son was in my grade. He was awful. Three months out from a divorce he surely knew was coming. Drunk on scotch and self-pity.
“We are all atoms,” he slurred at me. “Buncha’ protons and electrons circlin’ like a hurricane the eye of our nucleus. Carbon pullin’ us all together, fusin’ us with one another and the world we inhabit at large. Until the sky and stars are made of us and vice versa.”
“Goddamn fog, man,” says my companion. “Gives me the creeps.”
“It should,” I say and finally, finally, finally he looks at me like he really sees me. Finally, he seems to know.
What happens next will take some time, but I’ll savor the moments as his face contorts slightly, before the naturalistic display of toughness. No fear, his chin will try to say – but it shakes. I want to pat his head and whisper the truth. You can’t escape fear.
“They go because they’re called there,” I say.
“The forest…In Japan,” I whisper. I know he can hear me, I don’t have to raise my voice. “I asked why they went there to kill themselves. Of all the places, why there?”
“I mean,” he stutters, “Nobody really knows. It’s probably because it’s like the cool thing to do now, you know? Like if you’re going to do it, might as well do it here?”
He looks like they all look about this time; like he wants to run away but can’t. His body is even angled away from me, down the road toward the bend, into the fog.
“No, you’re wrong,” I smile at him. “They’re called there, just like they are to other places. Golden Gate Bridge…Beachy Head…Mount Mihara….Aokigahara Forest.”
I pause for dramatic effect.
“Here…” I finish, “Cliff Road.”
The young man looks around. He is on the verge of weak, puny tears.
“Who?” he asks, “Who calls them?”
“All of us,” I reply. “All of us that came before. The more the merrier.”
I laugh and he begins to cry. Poor boy. He looks through the fog and sniffs and wipes tears because he knows what’s out there. That’s what so beautiful about it; he can’t see it but he knows it’s there.
“I’m sorry,” he apologizes.
They all apologize. I apologized. There’s no shame in the fear you find at the end of the road.
“I’m sorry,” he says again. “I was sick. I was so tired and there’s just…there’s just everything…”
He trails off again. It strikes me that, really, he’s just a child. The beard made him look older, but the sadness and the designation and the pity show his true age.
“You’re not here to stop me,” he says.
I shake my head and say, “On the contrary…”
“Why?” he asks.
He cries deep, hard tears and his body convulses. All like the rest, all the same.
I shrug. I am void of this pity. I am tired of this show.
“Are you going to finish this?” I ask. “Or am I?”
Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Angela DeRay
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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