Mother's Angel

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"Ghosts are the superstitious nonsense of heathens, son," Pa used to say, but I'd been haunted by one in the forest behind our homestead through much of my childhood.

I was about five years old the first time I saw it. A white entity moving deep within the trees at dusk. Then again one grey afternoon a couple of years later when I was mucking out the stable, and heard a crackle of movement on dead leaves. Gripping my shovel in front of me like a protective spear, I peered into the nearby treeline from whence the sound had come.

We lived in a forest in Upper Canada, trees furrowed and thick, undergrowth prolific and tangled. In some directions you could trailblaze for days without encountering a single trading post or homestead. Yet there it was some fifty feet within and as tall as a man: a flash of white appearing for a second between tree trunks, disappearing behind others, and reappearing again as it seemed to float along. However, though I strained to see its contours, I could not piece together its form; and as soon as it was there, it was gone.

These apparitions occurred only once or twice a year and always in the same manner: at dusk or predawn, and only when I was working quietly by myself

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These apparitions occurred only once or twice a year and always in the same manner: at dusk or predawn, and only when I was working quietly by myself. The times when I helped my father chop wood and gather kindle from the forest, I always kept an eye out for it, but whether due to the reverberating splitting sounds, or the trampling of twigs beneath our boots, it never showed itself when I was with him.

One harvest when I was around twelve years old and unable to contain my growing paranoia any longer, I confessed it all to my father, barely able to lift my eyes to his face. I'd been right to fear his response. He scolded me for my fright and told me not to indulge in such nonsensical fantasies again. My face grew hot and I tugged down on my cap in a futile attempt to hide the blushing.

"Don't want you soft in the head like your mother," he grumbled, securing a harness to our two horses, and fastening the wagon behind them as he talked. "She's giving you ideas, I reckon, with those angel stories of hers. Claiming there's an angel out there what wears a white cloak, and has big white wings on its back." A sharp laugh and the scowl deepened on his scruffy face.

"The heathens believe in ghosts," he went on, "and the Christians, well they believe in angels, that's how it goes. Now here's what I say. I say, where were the angels when Ma and Pa traveled here from America to build this here homestead, only to have a falling tree crush my mother's skull? And where is her ghost, having left my father to raise what remained of our humble family all by his lonesome? If she could've stuck around to make sure we was all making it okay, surely she would have done."

He lifted a sack of threshed wheat into the back of the wagon and reached for the next one in the pile. "Why a spirit would wander around out there in the woods anyhow I should like to know. What'd be the purpose?" He slapped my shoulder and I stumbled forward. "Nah, your imagination's fooling you, that's all there is to it. Now get yourself back to work, you know your mother's busy with the baby. And son,"—he met my eyes with a stern look—"no more silly talk, understand?"

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