A spooky post-Halloween story

Published 8:41 am Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Shrieks of ghoulish laughter and screams erupted from the speakers at Pike County’s only picture show. Ted snickered behind his hand. “Cap, I told you this was more fun than that silly church bazaar. That thing’s for little kids. Aren’t you glad you ditched it to hang out with me and Gill?”

“Yea, sure Ted. Who wants to dress up in a costume and bob for apples with the goody-goodies?”

My palms sweated as I thought of what Mama would say if she knew. When Miss Lizzie asked how I was feeling the other day, I just knew Mama would find out I had skipped Sunday school to go fishing with the McKay boys. They were all right and had been teaching me to spit.

“Mama says little gentlemen never spit, but I’m getting pretty good at it,” I thought, puffing my chest out a little farther.

Mama had always kept me close since Baby Ray died of whooping cough. “A little too close,” I thought, for about the hundredth time.

At the showing, Baby Ray had looked like a little doll dressed up in a white gown but his skin was the color of paste. I had never been allowed to see a dead person before, and curiosity got the better of me so I reached out to touch him when no one was looking. His skin felt cold, and I jerked my hand back guiltily. No one had seen me, but I had dreamed more than once of his cold lifeless body and wondered where Baby Ray had gone.

“Cap’n, don’t worry your Mama with a lot of questions. She will be sad for a while. I don’t want you and Quentin to bother her. Be good little men.”

“Yes, Papa. We won’t worry Mama.” So I tried my best to be a good boy. Her happy smile seemed farther from her eyes these days. She didn’t speak of it, but when her fingers gingerly stroked the ivories, the lively tunes of days past seemed a forgotten memory as melancholy melodies flowed through the old farmhouse. She is such a good and beautiful mama, but after all, I am almost 10 years old, I argued with myself.

The death thing was hard to figure. My Sunday school teacher told me Baby Ray was in heaven, and I believed her. But since the funeral I avoided the graveyard on Apple Street. Instead I took the long way home and had to hurry to get my chores done before Mama rang the bell for supper.

It didn’t help when Ted and Gill said, “Old Man McKay haunts the graveyard you know. He stands sentinel over the graves and drags a chain behind him. You really can’t believe the junk your church feeds you about heaven. Everybody knows the old geezer died in shackles while on trial for the death of Bobby Burns. You better steer clear of the cemetery.”

Mama said ghosts aren’t real. She said when people die, their souls leave their body and go to heaven or hell. I wonder if she knows for sure?

“It was fun, Gill, Ted. But I’d better get home. See you guys tomorrow. I’ll ditch Sunday school again; maybe the fish are biting.” Each time I brushed away that annoying twinge of guilt, it faded a little more and I was glad. A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do, I thought somewhat self-importantly.

The evening’s shadows quickly deepened to a pitch black. No moon tonight, I’d better hurry before Quentin beats me home. A brisk northern breeze picked up and rustled the falling leaves about me as I tucked me head and wrapped my coat a little tighter around my slim figure.

An old hoot owl’s peering eyes seemed to question as my feet shuffled through the wooded land of old man Shilling’s place. Whoo whoo do you think you are disturbing my hunting on this chilly evening?

Night sounds encompassed me, each causing my feet to tread a little faster. I know I’d better take the short cut. Ted and Gill don’t know what they’re talking about. Mama said there is no such thing as a ghost!

A lone bead of sweat trickled down my back as I forced my wooden legs toward the graveyard and home. The erratic beating of my heart quickened, as did my pace. “Don’t be a coward, for goodness sake, old chap,” I murmured, forcing my shallow breathing to slow. Just when I had somewhat regained my composure I heard it — breath that was not mine — and it was close. Chills ran through my body at the sound of footfalls accompanying the steady breathing.

I wanted to run, but instead moved more hurriedly. The footsteps behind me also came more quickly. My legs soon took on a jog … the footsteps behind me also hastened to a jog. My heart almost leapt from my chest when the clang, clang, clang of chains assaulted my ears.

“This can’t be happening! I don’t believe it!” my heart cried out. But it was happening.

I broke into a full sprint, determined to outrun the unearthly spirit chasing me. Jumping over tombstone hurdles at breakneck speed with sweat coursing from my body, I finally had the sense to cry out “God help me get home!”

Full speed ahead was my front porch with the light on. I didn’t check up because the ghoul on my heels didn’t check up. Crashing full force into the front door my hands tore at the handle, desperate to escape the menacing creature of death on my heels.

Chains rattled behind me as I thrust the door open. Out of the corner of my fear-crazed eyes, my dog Skip lay worn out and panting at my feet. Relief swept through my body, and I began to laugh. “Come here Skippy, how did you break your chain? You almost scared me to death.”

Taking a deep breath I entered the house, slipped to my bedroom and laid out my clothes for Sunday school, thinking, “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.”