There once was a ghost who lived deep in the forest. He was utterly and completely alone. Even in his earliest memories, there were no other ghosts to play with nor humans to spook. Occasionally groups of hunting parties came through—fierce looking men with steely eyes and determined frowns. They brushed him aside, laughing at his moans and groans, the rattle of his small chain.
Then one summer afternoon he heard voices that were high and light and full of laughter. They were the voices of children.
He peered through the leaves at a boy and a girl gathering berries, their mouths stained with rich, purple juice. They laughed about the delicious pie their mother would make and how good the berries would taste covered in rich cream, if only they could stop eating long enough to fill their buckets.
The ghost had never seen children before and he watched them curiously. When they finally set their full buckets down and began to play a game of tag, the ghost didn’t want to watch anymore. He wanted to play.
He flew as softly as a summer breeze and dropped in front of the childrenmwith an impish grin. The children took one look and began to scream.
The ghost’s eyes widened in shock and surprise. He wanted to tell the children that they had nothing to fear, that he only wanted to play, but they were already gone. They ran as fast as their legs would take them, leaving their buckets behind.
The ghost climbed into the crook of a tree and began to plot his revenge. The next morning, he tracked the children. A bent twig, a footprint in the soft earth, a single strand of hair caught in a bramble—these gave the children away.
At twilight the ghost slipped through the gathering darkness to a clearing in the forest and to the very window of a small cabin.
He crouched under the window and peered through his own reflection in the glass to watch a family eat their fill under their sturdy roof. The father slipped a shiny knife out of a sheath on his belt and used it to slice an apple while the family told each other stories in the candlelight.
The boy and girl told a tale about an eerie creature they had met in the forest. The father laughed a rich deep laugh and the mother gently scolded the children for leaving her buckets behind. The creature did not exist at all, she said, but was a trick of the sun and shadows and too many berries.
A trick? The ghost’s anger returned like a boiling fire in his belly. He waited for the small family to go to sleep. Then he opened the window and slipped through the glass into the one-room cabin. At first he was as silent as starlight. Then he let loose with such a roar, such a moans and groans, and such a rattling of chains that the family jumped out of bed screaming.
“A trick?” he shouted, making himself grow tall enough to tower over the quaking humans. “Here’s your trick!
The next time a hunting party came through the clearing, they found not a family, but four corpses, their faces frozen masks of fear.
A little ghost family of five watched. And waited for nightfall.