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"Ghost of the Mountain" by Huina Zheng

Amid the solemnity of Qingming, I ventured up the mountain, a lone pilgrim on a path of remembrance. Winding upwards, the trail was a verdant tapestry, embroidered with spring’s tender rain and the delicate, snow-like white of tung blossoms. These blossoms, clustering in profusion on the branches, fell like a soft flurry of spring snow, carpeting the path with their ethereal beauty. The breeze, a cool and gentle consort to the rain, whispered through the leaves, refreshing as it caressed my face. Atop, before a monument cloaked in moss’s green embrace, I arrayed the offerings and kindled the incense. Spirals of aromatic smoke rose, sketching delicate patterns against the somber sky. A wail, forlorn and piercing, sliced through the mist. Eyes lifting, I beheld under a tung tree’s shelter a spectral figure in dark red. Her gown, adorned with peonies stitched into the fabric, fluttered in the wind’s melancholic dance. A phoenix crown, faded yet echoing past magnificence, crowned her pale, sorrowful visage – eyes brimming with a solitude profound and ancient. Tales had spoken of such forsaken spirits, condemned to wander these woods, unacknowledged, un-mourned. A chill of fear touched me, yet within me, empathy bloomed. Are you the lone spirit of this mountain? I whispered. No words returned, only a gaze upon the offerings in my hands. Summoning bravery, I offered, these are for you, may they grant you peace. Her eyes, pools of the forgotten, flickered with surprise, then a slow nod – a silent thanks from the realm of shadows. In that hushed mountain stillness, a mortal and a ghost shared an ephemeral connection. Around us, the forest deepened into twilight, the persistent rain a gentle symphony. I’ve navigated the realms of the living and the spectral with differing strides – cautious with one, unexpectedly bold with the other. Was this the destined moment? As my homage drew to its close, her form began to blur, merging with the mists of time. Preparing to depart, her whisper, a gratitude as ancient as the hills, brushed my ear. Turning for one last look, she had vanished, leaving only tung blossom petals and the fading wisp of incense. In that fleeting encounter, our worlds – one of flesh, one of spirit – touched, before diverging once again into their solitary journeys.

Huina Zheng, a Distinction M.A. in English Studies holder, works as a college essay coach. She’s also an editor at Bewildering Stories. Her stories have been published in Baltimore Review, Variant Literature, Midway Journal, and others. Her work has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize twice and Best of the Net. She resides in Guangzhou, China with her husband and daughter.


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