Man and ghost stared at each other.

April 13, 2010

Christine Zilka has kindly included me in a literary relay, where ten bloggers each write a 250-word post about a stranger coming into town, and must use the previous writer’s last line as the post’s first line. Because I’m first up and had nobody to steal a last/first line from, I stole the last line from a favorite novella: César Aira’s Ghosts.

The next person in the relay is Jamey Hatley.


Man and ghost stared at each other. They stood on the footpath leading to the crest of the mountain, their mutual home, though one lived on the east side of this crest and the other faced west, natural preferences for each, the one enjoying shimmering dawns and the other, velvet sunsets. For ten years, however, neither man nor ghost had encountered anything past his own shadow, the other’s existence having been mere rumor—and how unkind, both realized with regret, was unrelenting rumor, for a ghost, the man saw, was not a fire-breathing beast, and neither, conceded the ghost, was a man a thing of utter ugliness. In fact, one was indistinguishable from the other.

The man wiped a hand on his pants and held it out to the ghost. He had been swimming in the river below, he explained, taking a break from his farm work. The ghost looked down at his own hand, which was stained with poetry’s ink. He had once worked on a farm himself, long ago. Perhaps now was the time to share each other’s gifts. Who, he wondered, shall invite the other into the folds of his mountain, treating him no longer as stranger but, finally, as guest? For a moment, memories of life, rich with earthly scents, overwhelmed the ghost, and his eyes were blinded by the mountain’s sun pinned high above their heads. But when he could see again, really see, the man was gone. The river, he noted, had darkened.


[Other contenders for last/first lines, after the jump.]


He tied the end of the thread around his ankle and set off into the darkness.
(from José Saramago’s All the Names)

Be grateful you left.
(from Horacio Castellanos Moya’s Senselessness)

Yes, I am giving him up.
(from J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace)

I was hoping that I would find the main road again.
(from Halldór Laxness’s
Under the Glacier

20 Responses to “Man and ghost stared at each other.”

  1. […] Comes to Town, Part 1 | April 13, 2010 Wah-Ming Chang has started the relay with “Man and ghost stared at each other.”  Go read it!  Right now! Posted in Literary […]

  2. […] Wah-Ming Chang: […]

  3. c(h)ristine Says:

    I love this. This is epic.

  4. arachnomaria Says:

    I’ll follow your ink.

  5. heather Says:

    I second Christine–epic and haunting. So beautiful.

  6. I could hardly breathe as I read this.

    That transition from first to second paragraph, that merge of man and ghost: “In fact, one was indistinguishable from the other,” is wrenching.

    The entire piece is exquisite.

  7. jamey Says:

    this is absolutely lovely. i hope i did justice by your line.

  8. wmc Says:

    Thank you for the kind words! I look forward to the next rounds. Meanwhile, ink is running down my leg.

  9. […] 1: Man and ghost stared at each other. (Wah-Ming Chang) Post 2: The river, he noted, had darkened. (Jamey Hatley) Post 3: I didn’t […]

  10. […] Part I: Wah-Ming Chang, Man and ghost stared at each other. […]

  11. Jennifer Says:

    I just discovered I could leave a reply, even though I’m not a blogger. I wanted to tell you your piece is one of my favorites. 🙂 What a gorgeous way to have kicked off the relay!

  12. wmc Says:

    Fyi, I’m continuing this story. Bit by bit. Will post somewhere when I’m done.

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