We stood like statues in the nighttime forest, barely breathing. A howl ricocheted through the trees, but we saw nothing but fog. We conjured ghosts in our minds. I wished I were home in front of the fire in my robe and slippers. Wilson and I were out here in the night instead, clutching our knives against the darkness. Wishing we’d heeded the merchants’ offers to sell us something deadlier.
Those merchants had tried to warn us. “It’s the statues,” they’d said. I gripped my knife, remembering their warnings. “They haunt the forest, disguising themselves as trees,” they’d said. “They’re slippery buggers, these statues. Even the ghosts are afraid of them.”
But how could we be expected to take these tales of statues and ghosts seriously? The merchants were surely mad, we thought, or making up stories to sell us more equipment. They were just looking to slip pricier items into the deal—so we thought. Now, of course, with unseen statues looming around us, things were different. Every tree was suspect. And knives wouldn’t do much good against wood or stone.
I could almost knife Wilson for making me come out here. If I’d had a ghost of an idea what this would really entail, I’d never have come. What business do two coal magnates have traipsing around trees at night? I should have taken the merchants’ advice; they knew something was off. They could see someone of my stature had no business chasing statues in the forest. If I didn’t have so much to lose, I’d slip this blade through Wilson’s ribs right now.
“Let’s slip in between those two trees,” said Wilson. “Keep your knife ready.” “Is it a statue?” I asked. I couldn’t see anything, only ghostly fog. The merchants had offered us high-powered rifles, I mused. We could have obliterated everything between all the trees, visible or not.
We crept toward the trees Wilson indicated. I slipped between the birches after him. I could almost hear the tsk tsk of the merchants, imagined their shaking heads. I gripped my knife tighter. I’d almost prefer a ghost right now. The last thing I wanted to see was a haunted statue.
The merchants burst out from between the trees. They were dressed like statues, with togas and capes and shoes like Renaissance slippers. They carried their knives like warriors, and made ghosts of Wilson and me.
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Tara Campbell is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, Barrelhouse fiction co-editor, and graduate of American University’s MFA. Publication credits include Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, Uncharted Magazine, and Escape Pod, as well as a novel and four multi-genre collections. Connect with her at www.taracampbell.com.