I don't see her until I walk right through her and she eddies around me in a swirl of cool, moist air. There is no sound. She smells earthy and damp and not like death at all. I stop and inhale deliberately, not scared, standing in that pocket of coolness where she haunts like humidity after sundown. Her essence settles deep into my lungs and whatever she was, all those years ago, bonds like oxygen in my bloodstream. My cheeks feel warm.
Mosquitoes will find me if I don't move on, so I continue down the gentle slope, fingers brushing the top-heavy, hip-high grasses that line the path. But she trails along in dewy bits, soaking my shoes.
She was young when the light left her eyes, I can feel that. A certain electricity hangs about youth that the old ones lack. And a measure of ignorance, too. She wasn't paying attention that day when she walked in these woods. She missed all the signs and stepped right into his sights. It was quick. Shock registered with the explosion and her last ounces of adrenaline fossilized, left here for me to trace and wonder.
A breeze kicks up and she leaves me in wisps, settling back into the low spots to rest in cool, dewy peace.
Spread my ashes here, please. I'll rest just as peacefully, haunting walkers and runners who won't hear me humming harmonies to the bird songs because their ears are plugged with those white buds that blast in and block out. They'll pass by in their throngy parades on a Sunday morning but leave me in silence at 8pm on a Friday night. I will watch the sun set alone.
But today i'm alive and breathing and thinking and here, unaccompanied and unbridled by thoughts of endurance or who is nearing their edge, of sunburns or bug bites or blisters or I'm too hot or Can you carry this. I walk through this place I consider mine but which really belongs to all the panthers and people who have passed through here, then and now. My invisible footprints trail behind me, leaving barely perceptible traces of my own storied vitality.