The sun was already hanging low in the sky by the time I drove out to Allison’s farmhouse. Her home was nestled in a lonely valley, sitting between two farms. In the distance, there was a small range of hills that circled the basin. The only other sign of life on the land was her cattle grazing, on tall dry grass.
We ate dinner on her patio as we watched the sun set. I couldn’t take my eyes off the scenery. No sign of cars or people, just the quiet click of cicada and the occasional fluttering of passing wings. As we cleaned up, she suggested we head out into the field to watch the moon rise, and I eagerly agreed. We grabbed a couple glasses of wine and headed out the back of the house into the prairie.
Her tidy lawn turned into wild grass as we reached the end of her yard. We gingerly navigated the tall stalks, and the landscape slowly turned to puddles of shadows as the daylight faded completely. After walking for some time, she pointed to the distant hills and announced we simply had to wait for the moon.
We stood still, and as I started to brush away the tickle of unknown bugs crawling over my legs and arms, I began to feel the vast open nature grow wild and oppressive. Nervously, I glanced back and forth between the house and Allison, trying to reassure myself I was still connected to some semblance of safety. As the noises of nature grew louder in the dark, I became consumed with the uneasiness of knowing we were in the middle of nowhere, all alone.
Allison finally broke the silence. “Did I ever tell you about how my grandma died?”
“She died in my house.”
“What was that like?”
She shrugged. “She just…kind of…went quietly. She was old. We knew it was time.”
I nodded in the dark but didn’t know what else I could say.
“It was fine, except for the ‘visitors,’ as she called them.”
My heart began to race and I felt myself holding my breath, afraid she would continue to explain.
“One night I was sitting beside her, just reading to her. She stopped me to ask me to tell the people watching her through the windows to go away. She said they were bothering her.”
“Who was there?”
Again, she shrugged. “No one, of course. No one I could see any way. But the way she described it, there was a lot of people. Just standing here, in this field, watching her. And I guess sometimes they would get close enough to look through the windows.”
A bright slice of moon finally began to show over the distant hill. The crescent spilled silverlight into the valley as my eyes worked to focus on the horizon. My gaze finally settled on a range of trees in the distance, and I watched the light dance and change over the shapes. After admiring the glow for a few minutes, the trees began to strike me as odd, and I wondered what type of trees would grow in the flat land. They were thin and barren, and even as the light moved over them, they didn’t seem to sway. I watched a few seconds longer, then I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t actually seen any trees on my drive in. No trees at all.
Squinting, I now saw something entirely different. They weren’t far, tall trees; they were close, short figures. There were no leaves, just shallow, ghostly faces illuminated by moon, with shadows filling the eyes and mouths. They had no branches, but limp hanging arms at their side, unmoving. They didn’t sway; they simply stared.
Ever so slowly, I turned to Allison, worried any quick movements would draw the figures closer. She was looking at the moon, casually sipping her wine, and I realized with a combination of terror and relief for my friend that she was not seeing what I was seeing. Saying nothing, I turned back to the horizon, and felt my stomach lurch as I perceived them to be closer now than they were a few moments ago. Their faces still obscured in the dark, I became almost certain they looked only at me.
Suddenly, Allison spoke again. “Apparently it’s not that uncommon. I asked her doctor about it. He says around these parts people see them all the time.”
“All the time?” I managed to whisper.
“Well, what I mean is, they appear all the time to people who are about to die.”
“Wow. What a bummer.”
She apparently sensed no fear in my voice as she continued to gaze off at the moon. I felt a chill of bitterness and anger at the ugliness of what I was seeing now. I thought of all the beautiful things people promise you at the end: your life before your eyes, a bright light, a sense of peace and comfort. Instead, I got those ugly gawkers watching me: there, in the dark, in a moment that I was least expecting it, in a place I had suddenly decided I didn’t really even like. What comfort was that? What beauty?
I wondered if I had the power to tell them to go away, like Allison’s grandmother had tried. They didn’t listen to her, but what if they listened to me? What would convince them? What could I really say? What could I do? What can any of us do, besides just wait? Wait until you see Them. Wait until it’s your time.
Marie Baca-Villa is a victim advocate by day, artist by night. Her most notable accomplishments are in the areas of academia and criminal justice, but she plans to expand her visibility as a writer and creator in the future. She lives in southern California and has just begun to tweet at @AdvocateArtist