The Ghost in the Basement – A Halloween Special

Nobody believes you when you tell them there’s a ghost in the basement.

And why would they? The one time the surveillance camera caught me, I was only a quick flash of light crossing the view. “There! Right there!” you said, voice cracking with fear as you pointed me out on the footage playback. I know, because I was watching over your shoulder. Maybe it was my icy breath down the back of your neck that had you so convinced. But your co-workers just smiled, shook their heads, hand-waved. Rationalized. Laughed. Like I said, no one believed you.

So now you’re down here in my basement to prove a point.

I can guess why you crept down those creaky steps after business hours. You’d be embarrassed if one of your co-workers caught you down here, what with your obsessive behavior this week. Your boss already had a talk with you about your productivity drop and the IT department had to report you for excessive internet searches relating to “how to find a ghost.” But that research paid off, because now you’ve got a top-of-the-line (free) EMF sensor app on your phone, even though cell phones are crap at detecting electromagnetic frequencies.

The beam from the flashlight in your other hand shivers as you pass it over boxes full of junk from the ’90s. Don’t you know there’s a light switch right beside you? To my surprise, no one else comes downstairs behind you. What, like you don’t even have a friend to back you up? Wow. Irritated, I push over a stack of files. I swear you jump three feet as you swing your light around, illuminating the yellowing papers slithering across the concrete floor. But you don’t scream. That’s the impressive part. You don’t expect anyone to come help you.

You’re going to be so fun. I let a little giggle bubble from my mouth.

“Who’s there?” you whimper. I roll my eyes; you and I both know no one else is down here. Your voice echoes back at you from deep within the vast basement. “We’re closed.”

“Closing time!” I sing out, mimicking in my raspy voice that popular song retailers like to play to get customers out of the store. I don’t quite remember all the words. “Duh duh duhduduh duh but you can’t stay here!”

You whirl around, flashlight beam swinging crazily, until it lands on that creepy mannequin someone left down here ages ago. You freeze to the spot, your eyes growing huge and your mouth making an O shape when you see what I’ve written in red Sharpie on its bare, silicone chest.

GET OUT.

“We’re closed,” I whisper into your ear.

You swallow, gaze jumping to the EMF reader app. I’m right beside you, but it’s not detecting anything at all. Like I said, useless. I let the silence grow heavy. Just your flighty breaths, in and out. In, out.

Then, I scream. “WE’RE CLOSED GET OUT WE’RE CLOSED GET OUT WE’RE CLOSED GET OUT…!”

My chanting matches rhythm with the crash of your footsteps as you dash for the stairs. You’re making some kind of weird “aaahaaaahaaahaaa” noise as you go, but still no screaming. Of course you drop the flashlight and your phone. The bulb shatters on impact, plunging us into darkness, but the screen does not.

I let you go. This time.

After you’re gone, I retrieve your cell phone. You’ve got a pattern lock on it, but that doesn’t stop me. I take a selfie, flashing a peace sign and a smile full of sharp teeth. Then I replace your phone back on the floor, knowing you’ll come looking for it tomorrow.

But when you find my picture, all you’ll see will be a quick flash of light in the dark.


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The Hopeful Wanderer 25 – Hungering Mountain

Perched upon a porous boulder at the toes of a fiery mountain, I regarded a distant but nearing lava flow. No flames breathed from the peak above, but smoke billowed moodily into the evening sky. The ground vibrated with constant rumbling and heat soaked my hair with sweat. This was no place for people, yet many had waited here before me, judging by an ash-dusted stack of stones nearby.

It was not until after nightfall that the approaching lava flowed close enough for a vapor spirit to step from the fiery goo. The smokey creature billowed forth, eyes and mouth mere burning pits. Behind it, the lava strip glittered like a golden ribbon.

“My master has accepted your request for audience.” The spirit’s voice hissed like escaping gas. “You may ascend.”

I nodded my thanks, holding my breath against its toxic vapors behind a cloth mask.

Upon the mountaintop, I found bubbling magma simmering within a massive crater. Extreme heat snatched at my eyebrows.

“What would you ask of me?” the mountain growled. “A bountiful crop? Love? I cannot grant those wishes.”

Keeping my distance from the rim’s edge, I held up a carved jade figurine – a stylized bear, all wide eyes and snarling maw. “An offering. For safe passage.” With a grunt, I hurled the figurine far into the center; it burned up before even touching the surface.

The entire mountain hummed. “Delicious,” it rumbled. “You will pass in safety.”

I glanced out at the huge lava field blocking my way forward. Before my eyes, distant glowing stripes of melted rock and pockets of fire blinked out as the magma cooled and solidified. When I passed by the stone pile below, I set another on top, for solidarity with those who’d told me the secret of what to offer.


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The Hopeful Wanderer 24 – Cat Curiosity

Upon a stone fence along a country road, a cat rested in the warm sunshine. It was doing that thing cats do where they stare into space at something invisible, perhaps at a lingering spirit, perhaps at a mere dust mote. This cat’s eyes moved back and forth, like the perpetual swinging of a clock’s pendulum. Curious and lulled with the heady scent of lavender and honeysuckle, I paused next to it. Squinting in the direction of its gaze, I expected to perhaps find that the passing of a distant train or something had its attention.

After a moment, the cat said to me, “What do you see?”

Excitement surged through me; at last I could ask a cat why cats did this. I said, “Nothing that I expected.” Certainly, no train or anything else of interest appeared in this direction. “What about you?”

“I see the passage of time,” the cat replied. “Streaming and streaming and streaming by.”

I blinked, at once uneasy. “And… how does time appear?”

“Like a road of stars leading into eternity. But the ones which have passed glow brighter than those still to come.” Now the cat looked at me. I saw its pupils had become ticking hour and minute hands, spinning around the clock faces of its eyes. “Your time is running out, Wanderer.”

The afternoon closed in, the musty scent of rot rising with the wind. I took a cautious step backward. Though my heart tapped against my collarbone at this brush with the future, I kept my voice calm. “Time runs out for all eventually.”

The cat returned its gaze to the horizon. “Small comfort, that. But if you must.”

I hurried on down the path, prickling with the sense that as the cat watched time, it also watched me.


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The Hopeful Wanderer 23 – Concerned Cloud

At the top of the world, I approached a cloud that had come to rest on the tallest mountain peak. Though a rocky path indicated this as a thoroughfare, the cloud had remained for days and days, obscuring passage and worrying the locals, who asked me to climb up and negotiate.

“The people need to pass this way,” I told the cloud. Wind eased around my clothes and tugged chill fingers through my hair. “Please return to the sky.”

Foggy particles of moisture thickened, blocking my vision until I could no longer even see my feet. I had the cloud’s attention.

“If I go, they will come with me.” Its voice was muffled, like someone speaking from beneath a blanket. It sounded big and old. “Whisked away to the clouds yet too heavy to float upon air.”

“Who?” I asked.

“Follow their calls.”

I heard nothing but my own breathing. But then, distantly, thinly, a sound reached me; a damp cry of distress. Following it, I found I had to leave the guiding safety of the path and plunge into the blank depths of the fog.

“Can you not release them?” I asked, hesitating.

“They are enthralled,” the cloud replied, “following wherever I move. You must lead them out.”

I stepped off the path, making scuff marks in the mud as I went, to follow back. Down the mountainside, huddled beneath a bank of rocks, I found people, shivering and miserable. The slack in their bags showed they had used up their supplies.

A hollow-eyed man gazed pleadingly at me. “Help. We’ve been here so long.”

On the way back, my scuff marks had filled with rainwater, as if the cloud wept. It vanished as we passed out of its boundaries, relieved to at last be freed from the ground.


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The Hopeful Wanderer 22 – Living Art

Beneath the tiny bristles of a street artist’s paintbrush, an alien landscape spread across what had once been a blank wall. I caught glimpses of her progress in flashes, around the bodies of people moving up and down the sidewalks between us. Some of these, like me, stopped to watch, mouths open and faces tipped upward as the painting spread, higher and farther outward, seemingly on its own. Those unimpressed jostled us on their way by, cursing our wonder. But even these dwindled as more and more of the crowd stilled, mesmerized.

Soon, no sound broke the quiet but the scrape of paint against brick. All motion had ceased, every face turned toward the mural and its creator. She ignored us, big green hat flopping around, focus zeroed in on her work. At last, the spread of paint began to slow, revealing tufty trees and floating, geometric shapes, sparkling planets, and long-limbed creatures cavorting across unimaginable worlds. Yet the artist had imagined it, and from her work, vitality resonated. People began crowding in, hands outstretched toward the spark of life within the mural.

Before anyone could get too close, the artist’s gaze snapped to the crowd, burning with molten fire deep within her irises. She held her arms out, protecting the painting with her body. “Don’t touch it,” she snarled. Those in the front halted in surprise, faces shamed. Her expression softened some. “Wait until it’s dry. Then,” she gazed up at her creation, “do what you want.”

A breath passed in which we basked in the warmth radiating from the stunning work. Then the artist gathered up her paints. She just managed to squeeze free of the roaring crowd as they surged forward to rest their cheeks against the painted wall. As she walked off, she didn’t look back.


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The Hopeful Wanderer 21 – A Way Marker

There was a light shining from beneath the sand. I spied it while walking along the seashore late on a moonless night, chilly surf chuckling around my bare toes. Just a steady glow ringing a patch of emptiness. I guess I already knew what it was when I started digging there, because this had happened a few times now. Not the sand part or the buried part, but the light. I wondered what object would contain it this time, which direction it would seek to send me.

Cold, wet sand scraped against my fingertips and packed beneath my nails as I shoveled mounds aside. Soon my fingers struck a metal handle and, tugging it, I dragged up a lantern caked in muck. When I washed it off in the nearby sea, it turned out to be new and red as blood.

The lantern was full of stardust. Bright, glittering shards, fine as powder, rolled around within the glass globe as I set it upon the sand. The light of ancient stars cast outward from the hearts of these, shining across the waves as far as the horizon and reflecting bright as day off nearby dunes. But its most intense light shot off in one direction. A beam, pointing north and just slightly west, angling away from the sea, bending maybe a little more than the last one had. I consulted the time and the constellations above to verify. Then I shrugged. Now I knew the course, I would get around to following the way marker’s direction eventually.

Gaze following the beam, I wondered where these markers were meant to lead. Yet, somehow, I felt no inclination to follow. Disquiet settled over me. Nothing like sensing danger and everything like being lost.

Who kept leaving these behind?


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The Hopeful Wanderer 20 – Catching Strays

Pure white light blazed in my eyes. A moment before, it had been the kind of vast, empty night that only farmland can offer. Corn rows marching away into the distance. Stars blazing overhead, etched sharply against the shapes of distant trees and a cluster of silos on the horizon. No artificial light for miles around, save for my own flashlight. Now I couldn’t see anything.

Throwing a hand up, I shielded my eyes, squinting against the intense glow from down the dirt road. Beyond it, I could just make out a hulk of green metal, dark rubber wheels rising higher than my head. Light reflected from cab windows above like the eyes of a wild animal. A row of long, sharp teeth glinted across the front.

A growl. Loud and rumbling, shaking the earth beneath my feet. Diesel smoke drifted to me on the still air, thick and sooty. The light grew brighter, nearer. Then those teeth started up, crashing together.

I stood right in the way, there on the road.

My boots sank into mud as I stepped off into the irrigation ditch. The combine rolled past me and I snagged a metal rung, swinging myself up the side, my mucky boots clanging mutely as I clambered toward the cab. The combine paused to examine a nearby irrigation system, ignoring me.

The cab door popped open. I plopped down into the patched driver’s seat, giving the dashboard an affectionate pat. “We’ve been looking everywhere for you,” I said, or rather, yelled over the engine roar. There was a reason why farm gates had to stay shut: combines would test any escape opportunity. Even worse than tractors. “Let’s get you back home.”

Catching the wheel, I angled us toward the barn, radioing the farmer to meet us there.


I’m always tired, so please consider buying me a coffee to keep me awake while I write the next story. To read more free original short fiction, hit that follow button, subscribe through email, or throw a like on the Word Nerd Scribbles Facebook page.