Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Short Story - To Be a Ghost...

 I wrote a short story for a Halloween anthology that didn’t get published. So I thought I'd post it here. Hope you enjoy it.

                    To Be a Ghost or Not to Be a Ghost

   Henry Wyatt tramped down Main Street of Hollowville. Pumpkins and witches decorated store windows and doorways. Photos of the headless horseman were posted on walls and posts.
   This time of the year tourists spilled into town to see the famous headless horseman ride through the town on his black stallion and across the covered bridge at midnight on Halloween. On the other side of the bridge, the horseman turned, the stallion reared up, and the horseman removed his plumed hat, which sat on thin air. He waved it at the crowd, threw a fireball toward the town and disappeared.
   The fireball evaporated, leaving no residual ash.
   Henry shook his head. “There’s no such thing, and this year I’ll prove it.”
   “Hi, Henry. Talking to yourself?”
   “What? No, yes, I guess I was. I’m working out my plan to expose the headless horseman as a fake.”
   “Why? You tried that last year. You took pictures, but they were really blurry.”
   “My hand must have been shaking a lot, that’s all.”
   “Sure, okay. But ghosts are never photographed.”
   “There’s no such thing as ghosts. Their existence has never been scientifically proven. It’s someone dressed up in a headless horseman outfit. His head and eyes are probably at buttonhole level. This year I’m going to get him.”
   “And the year before you tried to track the hoof marks down the road, but there weren’t any.”
   “The road was pavement. You couldn’t see the tracks.”
   “Henry, the horseman has been part of the town’s Halloween for over a hundred years. You really think a man more than a hundred years old is still riding through town on a black stallion?”
   “Maybe it’s a family thing. The great-great-grandfather started it as a joke, and then his son took over. When one person gets too old to ride the son takes over. Once I expose him, you’ll see there’s a perfectly logical explanation.”
   “Hollowville is a small town. Where do the black stallions come from? They’d get old, too.”
   Henry shrugged. “I’ll work that out when I catch him this year.”
   “You’ve lived here for five years. Have you heard of anyone, except you, who wants to prove he’s a fake? You do realize the headless horseman’s ride through town at midnight brings lots of tourists to town. They come in the day before, stay overnight at local accommodations, and buy food and souvenirs. It’s good for the town’s economy.”
   “But it’s a myth. People will be glad to know it’s not real. They can keep up the act for tourists if they want. I just want everyone to realize it’s just a joke.”
   “It’s a takeoff from the Sleepy Hollow story, except this one really happens and has for over a hundred years.” Maggie shook her head. “I realize you come from the city and you work in a lab with formulas and scientific facts, but some things in life can’t be explained. Give it up and have some fun. It’s Halloween.”
   Henry looked at Maggie. She was in her late twenties, a few years younger than him. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail. They’d gone out a few times and he liked her, but she believed in all these fairytales. “Once I make my point.”
   “And if you don’t? Are you going to try again next year?” Maggie pulled her full lips into a pout.
   Henry contemplated her question. It was a fair one. Was this going to take over his life? He spent most of the year working out a plan to expose the fake horseman. When it failed, he started on a new plan. It occupied most of his non-working time. Maggie was an attractive woman. He was attracted to her. They should spend more time together. Maybe they even had a future, except for those silly beliefs she had. But he might be able to accept that.
   “I’ll be glad when you give this up. Are you coming to the Halloween party at the community center?”
   “Not this year. I need to be ready for midnight. I’m sorry, Maggie. I’d like to go with you. Maybe we can go out after. I’ll bring the man to the center and expose him. Then he can go home and we could go for something to eat.”
   Maggie shook her head. “I may meet someone at the party, and then I might be busy later.”
   Henry felt a rock land in his stomach. Anyone would be happy to spend time with her. She might find someone else. It hadn’t occurred to him she might not be there when he was ready to consider a serious relationship.
   “Maggie, please don’t be like that.”
   “What if the ghost escapes again? What if it really is an apparition you can’t explain scientifically?”
   Henry scratched his head. She was wrong. It couldn’t be an apparition. Everything could be explained scientifically. But it wasn’t something that would change the world.
   “Everything can’t be explained scientifically. How do you explain love?”
   Henry’s mouth dropped open.
   Maggie smirked. “Maybe you should be trying to solve love scientifically?” She turned and flounced down the street.
   Henry watched her. Her cute butt swiveled back and forth in tight jeans. Her ponytail bounced back and forth. Love? Where did that come from? But maybe he should explore that option. Would Maggie be open to that?
   The next day, on Hallows’ Eve, he passed Maggie. She was headed to the party wearing a cat woman costume. It revealed every luscious curve of her body, and was cut low over her full breasts. Suddenly he wanted to take her to the party and spend the rest of the evening, and maybe more, with her.
   “Love your all black outfit. On your way to catch a ghost?” she asked.
   Henry stared briefly at her breasts before he raised his eyes. “Yes. I’m sure I’ll get him tonight, but if I don’t, I’ll give it up. I promise. I’ll accept there are some things that can’t be proven scientifically.”
   “Really?” Maggie grinned up at him. “What brought that on?”
   “Something you said about love not being scientific. I agree with you on that, and I’m thinking I might like to do some research on it.”
   “You’re going to research love?” Maggie’s eyes twinkled and she put her hand on his chest. “I like that idea. If you want a subject, I’m willing to volunteer, for science.”
   Henry’s heart rate increased. He couldn’t think of a single scientific fact to explain it, except one.
   “That sounds good, Maggie. I might take you up on your offer. See you later?”
   “I’ll be there with everyone else watching the horseman ride across the bridge. Come find me after.” Maggie proceeded toward the community center, switching the tail of her costume.
   Henry watched until she disappeared around the corner and then marched toward the bridge. He’d hidden a ladder on the other side. He set it up about two feet from where the horseman always stopped and turned around, facing the spot so Henry could jump across and grab him. Henry climbed the ladder and sat down to wait. He had about an hour to wait.
   He kept thinking about Maggie volunteering to be a subject in his love study. She was cute, fun, and worked as an accountant. So she was also smart and organized. He liked her a lot. Spending time with her sounded like a lot more fun than tackling the horseman. He’d get him tonight. It would be over and Henry could move on.
   He heard the townspeople and tourists out in the street, drinking and talking as they waited for the specter. He checked the illuminated dial on his watch. Five minutes to go.
   Then he heard it, the hooves pounding down the street. The crowd cheered. The hooves clattered across the bridge and there he was--the headless horseman. He was right in front of Henry.
   A hand reached up and removed the hat.
   Henry jumped, arms extended out front. He landed on the hard ground with a thud. His breath whooshed out. He looked up.
   There was nothing there. No rider--no horse.
   He must have miscalculated and fallen before he reached the rider. But his fingers should have at least brushed his clothing or the side of the horse. But then where had they disappeared to?
   Henry stood up and looked down the road. There was nothing, only an eerie silence.
   On the other side of the bridge, people were heading back inside or returning to the party.
   He had no scientific explanation.
   It wasn’t possible. Was it? He’d seen him. He’d been a few feet away, and then poof!
   Henry lugged the ladder back to the hardware store and left it propped against the outside wall. He trudged toward the community center. He kept shaking his head as he tried to get his mind around what happened. It just wasn’t possible. Or was it?
   Maggie waited on the front step.
   Henry held up his hands. “I’ve given up. I should have had him. He was right there.”
   “You’re really giving it up?”
   “I said I would. Maybe the explanation is related to love and how it works. Who knows? I’m going to see if I can work that one out, scientifically, of course.”
   “Of course,” Maggie tipped her delightful mouth upwards.
   Henry bent down and kissed her, deepening the kiss. He wanted her more than scientific explanations of ghosts. This new research on love would more enjoyable, and could take many years.