In keeping with the spirit of Halloween, I wanted to share a little clip of a story I wrote about a month ago. In between queries and new ideas, I've been creating a collection of short "ghost" stories. Enjoy this snapshot:
Monday was miserable. Unseasonably cold weather had blown in over night and the sky churned, the clouds silently laughing that they knew something those beneath did not. Cathy was shoved down the bus steps when she got to school. Timothy helped her up and scowled at the boys who did it. They only laughed and called her a "crazy retard" and him a "freak lover".
"Ignore them," Cathy said, wincing at her skinned palms and knees. Timothy picked up her book bag for her and slung it over his back. "They're only repeating what their parents tell them."
"I don't care!" He turned to glare at the backs of the still laughing kids, "They should be so stupid as to believe everything that said!"
One of the bigger boys turned around, "Wha'd you say, Cooper?"
Timothy, trembling and seeing red, repeated, "I said you shouldn't be so stupid as to believe everything you hear!"
"You callin' me stupid?"
"If you're repeatin' crap your parents told you about Cathy then yeah, I'm calling you stupid."
"Why you little-"
"Chad!" Miss. Pimsler, Cathy and Timonthy's teacher, appeared at the door. On her face was a dangerous expression. "I think you had better get inside before the bell rings. If you're late again, it's detention for you. I'd hate to see you sit in detention again."
Chad made a cutting motion across his neck at Timothy and walked to the door.
Miss Pimsler stopped him, "Mr. Smith, if you so much as lay a finger on Mr. Cooper or Miss Parkins, I assure you I will tell your father and he will not be pleased with you causing even more trouble at this school."
Chad snorted, "He don't care what I do. Go ahead and tell him. He'd probably be happy with me if I busted the little creep in the face. Everybody knows he's gonna be an orphan soon. No good ever come from orphans."
Timothy lunged at Chad but Cathy held him back.
"You can take yourself to the principals' office, Mr. Smith. Tell them I sent you. If I find out you didn't go there, I'll pull you out during whatever class I find you in and escort you there myself."
Chad didn't say another word. He knew better than to cross Miss Pimsler. She was the best teacher that school had ever had, and one of the nicest. But cross her and she was more than able to make your life a living hell.She believed in the old way of running a classroom: the teacher made the rules and the students obeyed or they got in trouble. It was a novel approach, but it worked.
"Are you alright, Cathy?" Miss Pimsler held the door for them as she and Timothy entered. The bell rang and Miss Pimsler smiled, "Don't worry. You're with me. I won't count you tardy."
"I'm ok, Miss Pimsler," Cathy said. "Just a scrape."
"Timothy, please take Cathy's things to class. I'll take her to the nurse and get her cleaned up and then return to class. And would you mind stopping by Mrs. Daniel's room and letter he know I will be a few minutes late and if she'd listen out for my class I'd appreciate it."
Timothy nodded and left Miss Pimsler and Cathy to walk to the nurse's office."That was a very brave thing you did, giving Preacher Larry that letter."
"You knew it was me?" Cathy sighed. "I knew everyone would know, but I couldn't help but wish they wouldn't."
"No one else in the town would write anything like that. You're a brave girl, Cathy and I'm very proud to say I'm your teacher."
"Thank you, Miss Pimsler, but I'm afraid it didn't do any good. Except to make people hate me more."
Miss Pimsler stopped at the door to the nurse's office. She knelt in front of Cathy, took her by the shoulders and looked her deep within the eyes, "People always hate that which they don't understand. They're afraid of it. Don't you ever change who you are because of how other's may treat you. You keep on doing what you have to do, being who you are. I promise you, one day, it will pay off and you'll be glad you followed your heart and not the masses."
"Why do I have to be so different?" Cathy's eyes brimmed with tears. "I didn't ask for any of this. I didn't ask to hear the Music."
Miss Pimsler stood up and knocked. The nurse opened the door and frowned when she saw the state of Cathy's hands and knees. "Because we need you to be different," Miss Pimsler smiled down at her and they both walked into the nurse's office.
Cathy and Timothy hurried up the road. They had notes to get off the bus at the stop by Cheshire Bridge. They jumped off the bus to the tune of "freak" and "weirdo" and "hope you get lost on the way home". Cathy ignored them. Timothy's nails dug deep into his palms.
"Ignore them," she told him again, "they don't know any better."
"You're way too trustin'."
Cathy shrugged her pack up her shoulder. "Come on. There's Preacher Larry."
They rushed up the drive to the little white church. Preacher Larry was standing there, leaning on a shovel. Aunt Jessica was sipping iced tea. Her face was smudged with dirt.Cathy looked around and sighed.
Timothy was indignant, "Where's everyone else?"
"Ain't no one else," Aunt Jessica said. "Your Mama would have come had she felt like it. I told her you'd be here. She was very proud." She smiled at Cathy, "She'd mighty proud of you too, for writin' that letter."
Preacher Larry handed them both some rags and a spray bottle of cleaner. "Here you go. You get the grand duty of scrubbin' off spray paint from the head stones."
Cathy smiled sadly. "Did you get the graves fixed?"
Preacher Larry's smile faltered slightly, "Almost. Just one more to refill."
"How many had been dug up?" Timothy asked.
Preacher Larry cut his eyes to Aunt Jessica. "Several," was the only reply they got.
"That means a lot," Timothy said as he and Cathy began scrubbing a large black mark off a tombstone.
"Why would anyone want to dig up a grave?"
Cathy looked up the hill to the old tree. It swayed in the wind, a dark silhouette against an increasingly darkening sky. "I don't know."
"In stories, people dig up graves for treasure. I don't think there could be much treasure in these graves."
"I don't think this grave robber is looking for gold."
There he was. Lurking behind the tree, his eyes fixed on Cathy and Timothy. "Something worth a lot whole lot more than gold."
Timothy followed her gaze and stiffened as he saw the Locust Man. "You think it's him?"
"I know it is."
"What's he stealin'?"
"I thought souls left when a body died?"
Cathy shrugged with one shoulder. "Does anyone know what happens once we die? Maybe some leave at once. I reckon some hang around, afraid to leave what's familiar. Afraid to leave their loved ones."
"You mean ghosts?"
"Like the one they say haunts Cheshire Bridge?"
Cathy nodded, her eyes never leaving the Locust Man. He tipped his hat, his eyes gleaming deep red in the late afternoon sun.
"I hear it's an old soldier, still troops up and down the bridge at night. Perry Macy said he ain't got a head."
"It is an old soldier and he does have a head."
Timothy's eyes widened. He looked at Cathy. The Locust Man vanished. "You've seen him?"
"I have." She turned to Timothy. "Let's finish this stone. There's something I want to show you."
Cathy took him to the oldest part of the cemetery. No grave robber had bothered to dig there. These bodies had long been decomposed. Some as far back as the Revolutionary war. "I can't take you to him, not for danger of the Locust Man."
"The soldier. He's buried in this cemetery. he fought in the Revolutionary War."
"You know this?"
"He told me."
Timothy looked at his friend, his eyes filled with fear and admiration.
"Plus it ain't hard to tell from his uniform."
"How'd you talk to him if he haunts the bridge?"
"He don't just haunt the bridge. Remember the fall festival last year? I came out here while everyone was doing the cake walk. Something in the air was different. I heard a new song, one I'd heard at the bridge but never so close up."
Timothy shivered and wrapped his arms around his chest.
"It was a sad tune, old and not of this country. Beautiful but sad. I walked out to this old graveyard and saw him coming out of the woods. He was dressed as if the war was still going on, his musket over his shoulder. He was humming. When he saw me, he looked a bit startled but then he bowed, tipping his tall hat in my direction. I smiled back and he introduced himself."
"What's his name?"
"I'll tell you later. Not here. Don't want the Locust Man to hear."
"He told me he'd been guardin' the bridge when a cannon ball took out the part he was standin' on. He fell to the rocks below and died. He didn't leave when the light came. Said he felt he needed to still guard that bridge. He's been there ever since."
"That's a long time to guard a bridge from nothin'."
"How do you know he's guardin' it against nothing?"
"I ain't never seen anything. No bad guys have come in from the woods. No monsters have-"
"How do you know it's not because he's kept them back?"
Timothy didn't have an answer.
Cathy heard the awful sound that accompanied the Locust Man. It drifted over the hill like a mad violinist, skipping through the leaves and playing everything but the right notes. It was shrill and chaotic and made her heart skip a beat. "Come on. Let's go back down. We need to clean off more stones."
"Yeah," Timothy watched as the wind picked up and carried a pile of leaves up and over the hill. They swirled from the forest's edge as if someone had left a door open in the trees and a cold draft was pouring out. "I'd rather be down there anyway, closer to people who are alive."
Cathy looked over her shoulder as they walked back to where Preacher Larry and Aunt Jessica stood. A soldier, dressed in red held up one hand in greeting then peered over the hill, his musket at the ready.
Have a safe and happy Halloween,