He followed the highway as it slowed and narrowed, and bearing to the left at the foot of the mountain, he then veered right into a sleepy suburban community. Climbing a steep hill, descending a narrow, slippery, pine-covered path, he met with a promontory overlooking the sea. He sat with his back to a thick gathering of naupaka at the highest point on the rocks, which commanded a view of the cliffs stretching north and south until their shadows, indistinct in the predawn world, twisted inland. To the east, the stygian brine and the sweet, gray rainclouds mingled and rolled beyond sight.
When the sun rises over that place, it is as if a black hole, an empty space with no thing in it at all, opens—or rather, it closes—and from somewhere in the dark, there is an inrush of substance, the stuff of the world. When taken in by one’s senses, the sunrise seems to happen quickly. Although the ostensibly permanent dark of night is so frightening that it threatens to deny day’s coming, day arrives suddenly and completely and one can’t remember suffering the total paralysis of night, deaf and dumb. In reality, as opposed to the sensory experience, measuring the sunrise’s elapsed time demonstrates that the process is a long one. The miserly sun allows only trickles of its light to diffuse the sky, and if one pays careful attention one can watch the stages, from first light to the sun’s entire circle above the sea. It is, perhaps, the slowness of the sun’s self-revelation—the bits of blue piercing the distant clouds, pink borders becoming orange, then yellow, then white, the world’s fire-lighting—the slowness of the process makes it beautiful, how the world gradually turns from pitch to pearl. Sid saw all of this from his high perch, observing the sun’s daily struggle to tip the horizon until it finally dominated the land, sea, and sky.
He was filled with the coming of the new day he witnessed on the cliff, and had forgotten about everything else: the unfortunates, his malformed childhood friend, the little boy in the park, the death of the crazy man, his parents, his own place on his own, only island. Slowly, however, those things he had forgotten seeped through, and the old feelings battled with his contentedness.
The ghost came again. Although the encounter had stayed in the back of his mind, the full distress of the Colonel’s previous night visitation hadn’t outlived the dawn; day has a way of banishing things like that, and making us question if they had ever been there to begin with. But the sun’s wide, far-seeing face affirmed that the ghost’s new incarnation was real, and that it would always be real.
This time the ghost wasn’t satisfied with an inert demonstration of its immortality. It rotated its profile, displaying its full face while extending gnarled, blackened claws towards the height of the promontory. Sid read what the phantom wanted—it wanted sympathy, it wanted him to lose himself in pity for the passing of the man. It was persuasive. Sid struggled with the hungry thing as it crept closer, until its nose nearly touched his nose, and the foul, dead mouth opened and he believed he could smell rot from inside it, and the mouth gaped wider so as to eat him where he sat.
When it seemed to the mouth that it had won, and it prepared to gobble its opponent as a powerful shark would a little seal, Sid resolved otherwise. At that moment he denied the thing its pity, and with its hold broken the spirit vanished through a fissure in a bright cloud.
Subsequently, however, Sid had other visitors—after the passing of the cloud that swallowed Colonel his parents were revealed, shining hazy and indistinct, gods in the halo of the sun. He held his hand to his forehead and gazed at them, squinting, waiting for them to offer him a sign. But, like Colonel’s fierce specter, Sid’s mother and father didn’t speak. They only smiled and, although they were two distinct entities, they returned to him a single, curious, sphinx-like gaze, until finally the father seemed to separate and, inhaling the distant clouds so that the sky was empty, he extended a fiery hand to the son.
As the great hand approached, it opened itself like a yellow bud, and Sid saw that his father was returning the gift he had given his son in life, that which Sid had given to the Baby Bear. Unlike the distorted outline of his mother and father, the gift was easy to look upon—it was so clear to him, and in focus, he didn’t doubt at all that it was before him. All you have to do is reach out and take it, my son, his parents’ smile whispered in unison, and our connection will remain—you’ll see us clearly, we’ll be here again. The temptation was great, and Sid wanted his parents’ promise to come true. But looking at the gift, he knew that promise would somehow be twisted, that it would deliver only part of its claim, or else it would deliver its full promise but with a hidden cost greater than its bounty. So, he released his want, and closed his eyes on the gift. After darkening that sense, the intensity of the others waxed, and in his chest he felt an acute pain, like the invisible touch of a lethal, microscopic jellyfish. That instant he reflexively opened his eyes to discover that the gift, his parents, and the phantom sting were all gone.