Ghost Lights (A Halloween Story) [fiction]

A spine-tingling tale for Halloween.

Happy Halloween, everybody.

This story © 2002 by Steven Campbell.

I write this alone somewhere within the outer bowels of Myers Ridge. I hope I will survive to get this to the proper hands for publication. And as implausible and of unsound mind as it will seem, what I am about to write is true.

Myers Ridge is haunted.

I made that claim thirty years in my last book about Myers Ridge: Ghosts of Myers County. I was twenty-seven when I wrote about the supernatural events around my hometown of Ridgewood, Pennsylvania, citing references to stories from the town’s newspaper and the Myers County Historical Association, and investigating the contributions of dozens of friends. Little has changed since that book’s publication. Things still go bump in the night. Reports of strange lights and noises on Myers Ridge and at Ten Mile Swamp still come from people who live there. And every five years or so someone mysteriously disappears from one of those areas.

Myers Ridge is a large hill outside of town known for its caves, abandoned mines, and cozy hillside where teenagers park with their dates. It is not as popular as it used to be and the state has been slowly selling the land for its timber. A Michigan recreational tycoon named Mort Jacobs recently purchased parts of the south side and put in ski slopes and a lodge there. But those of us familiar with the hill know the area is populated with sinkholes—the kind of thing you do not want to fall into while skiing down a five-mile slope.

Also plaguing the hill are mysterious lights seen at night. Local legends call them will-o-wisps, jack-o-lanterns, and phantom orbs. Earth scientists claim they are luminous protean clouds rising from deep within the hill. However, eyewitnesses allege that these glowing clouds sometimes emit arrays of flickering hypnotic strobes of lights, causing confusion among people who witness them.

Long before Ridgewood was founded by settlers, the Seneca people living along the fertile lands below Myers Ridge knew well of the lights and spoke of them within their oratory, which was later recorded to text by early settlers. The Seneca knew never to look upon the lights lest their flickering dislocate the mind from the spirit and cause the victim to live the rest of his or her days tormented and mad.

The first recorded casualty made by a white settler was in 1702 when, upon viewing the strange lights, he killed his wife and children and stuffed them in the belly of a slaughtered cow.

In 1852, some miners looking for gold allegedly stumbled upon the lights and went crazy. One survivor, an Irish fellow named O’Grady, claimed Goblins, Trolls, and Boggarts cursed the hill.

Famed geologist Norman Myers discovered gold in the deforested hill in 1901. In a dash to become rich, he and other miners hauled out millions of dollars in gold, ores and other precious metals until Myers disappeared three years later. During a manhunt through the mines, sightings of strange lights in the hill caused over seventy men to lose their minds and kill each other. Reports to law officials state that several people saw Myers’s ghost among the lights, and that he searched for his murdered body inside the mines.

Reports about the mysterious lights and Myers’s ghost continue today, although our police force no longer fields those calls. Those calls come to me. I received a telephone call last week that finally gave me a chance to see the famous poltergeist myself.

The call came from Melissa Laine, the town’s art gallery director who wanted me to see a piece of coal that her father had left her. Curious, I went to her gallery and saw what appeared to be a copper coin protruding from the black rock. Melissa took the odd artifact to the state university’s science department for analysis. Their official finding, which I saw in a letter, was that the coin and coal were more than twelve million years old.

I analyzed the coin, which looked like an American penny. Its exposed flat surfaces were worn, but its round edge had that familiar ridge caused by stamping. While I puzzled over the coin and wondered how it got there, Melissa told me that her father had given the coal to her the day before his death. He had told her that when he was a boy and during a visit to one of the old abandoned mines, Myers’s ghost appeared to him and gave it to him. Melissa never truly believed her father’s story until this past April when she happened upon my book at the library.

She and I immediately readied for a trip to Myers Ridge, and despite inclement weather, she directed me to the old coalmine. To the side of the mine we found a cave. The entrance was small but big enough to allow us to crawl inside it. Our flashlights revealed a large vein filled with marble and limestone, and white flower-like formations called cave pearls grew on the walls. Dripstones hung from the ceiling and white puttylike flowstone called moon milk covered the floor.

That was when I saw Myers’s ghost.

To write it now sends chills down my back, but it was a far more chilling event to stumble upon a ghost, even a friendly one.

My fear soon passed to a feeling of accomplishment. Melissa, however, remained frightened. When I finally calmed her, the ghost said to her, “Did your father like the gift I gave him?”

I knew he referred to the piece of coal. So did Melissa after a false start.

“Yes,” she finally said, forcing some calmness into her voice. “My father cherished it. When he died, he gave it to me.”

The spirit seemed pleased that Melissa now owned the gift. I felt him leave us before I saw him disappear. At the spot where he had stood, a chunk of gold the size of a soccer ball sat on the floor.

Upon inspection, I found the initials NWM carved in it, something miners did to mark their property. I must only believe that the initials stand for Norman Wesley Myers.

There was no possible way for us to carry out the gold, so we headed out into a downpour. As we ran toward our cars, a wall of rain hit us. I turned to tell Melissa to stay with me, but the ground suddenly sloped away. I fell from one of the cliffs and plummeted on my back. For a moment, I thought I was floating. Raindrops hung in the gray air all around me. Then my landing came abruptly and bristly, yet softer than I expected. Boughs of pine and spruce bent and broke as I tumbled from tree limb to tree limb. Branches snapped off in my hands as gravity pulled me down to a mattress of pine needles. Unable to breathe for moment, I gasped for air until my lungs and stomach hurt. When my breathing became normal, I closed my eyes and rested. I may have napped, for when I opened my eyes, the storm had lessened and evening had fallen.

I called for Melissa over the drizzle. No answer. Cold rain dripped on me through the towering canopy of pine and spruce branches stretched over me. I called again for Melissa and waited.

Still, I wait.

Six hours after my fall and further into the night, I have tried to stand, but my legs refuse to work. Pain knifes through my lower back and left hip. My left leg is numb and looks twisted. I am certain it is broken.

I used pine branches to pull myself into a seated position so I can write. My backpack has given me food and drink as well. And beyond the trees is something I do not want to face.

The lights are out there. Five of them. I fear they are the lights that have driven other men insane. And I fear that they are coming for me.

During the past hour, one of the pulsating lights has moved within twenty yards from me. I have tried not to stare at it, but an attractive humming sound emits from its bluish white center.

I turned off my flashlight ten minutes ago in hopes that the light would change direction. It has not altered its course.

Its pleasant sound is difficult to ignore. It sings to me, almost lulling me to sleep. I feel my eyelids growing heavy. I—Dear God, I must have dozed—the light is upon me.

I pray that it is friendly.


My Halloween Contribution [fiction]

Hello and Happy Halloween. My younger grandkids are excited about trick-or-treat tonight: Candy, candy, candy. While I break from working on my writing project, I am posting an old story for Halloween.

Benefactor deals with crazy people and arson. Happy reading, heh-heh. And have a Happy Halloween, of course. Whether you are in it for the tricks or the treats or the scares, have a safe and fun one.

I hope to post again before Thanksgiving. Until then, peace and love be with you always.

“He’s out there,” Sarah’s mother said. She rushed from the front window and snatched her cell phone from the dining room table. Her hand trembled while she dialed. She almost dropped the phone twice before she put it to her left ear. “Hello? Police?” Jessica’s face contorted into a mask of disappointment. “Yes, I need the police,” she said. “Hurry. Send someone right away. He may be crazy … my ex-husband. He’s been angry ever since the divorce.” Her bottom lip trembled as she forced herself not to cry.

Something heavy pounded against the front door. Thump thump thump. This time she did drop the phone.

“Don’t answer it,” Jessica said to Sarah. She scooted behind Sarah’s chair.

Sarah sat with her laptop on her lap. The screen showed her Facebook wall where five new updates waited for her to click on them. “Is the door locked?” she asked.


The pounding started again, louder.

“Is the back door locked?” Sarah asked.

“Yes … NO.” Jessica hurried away to lock it.

The pounding continued. Sarah’s stepfather shouted for someone to let him in.

“Are all the windows locked?” she asked when Jessica returned.

“It’s January. Of course they are.”

The pounding stopped. Jessica grabbed her phone from the living room carpet and dialed 911 again. She gave her address this time. “You tell them to get here right away. They don’t want me calling the mayor.” She hung up, paced the floor, and watched the front door.

“Where are the sirens?” she asked a minute later. She went to the front door and peeked through one of the three diamond shaped windows. “I don’t see him. His car’s still there but he’s not inside.”

“He should be behind bars for terrorizing us,” Sarah said. She glanced at the back door past the kitchen. He stood there, large and dark, peering through the glass. She ran and closed the yellow blinds. The hulking shadow of her stepfather silhouetted the thin plastic.

“Let me in,” he growled, “or I’m going to break the glass and unlock the door.”

“The police are coming,” Sarah yelled. She hurried back to her mother.

“Where are they? Why aren’t they here yet?” Jessica asked. She stopped pacing and sat on the sofa next to Sarah’s chair. “This is a small town.” She lit a cigarette from the pack of Marlboro Lights on the coffee table and sucked menthol-flavored smoke into her lungs. She held her breath for several seconds, then forced it out. Smoke rushed to the ceiling.

Sarah closed her computer, breathed in the pleasant smoke, and waited for the police.

Three minutes later, her mom’s cigarette was in the ashtray and Sarah was at the front door. Her stepdad’s blue Impala from the 1990s was still there. Rust had eaten into the doors and fenders. Howard loved that car more than he loved her mother. It was shocking to see it like that. But Sarah knew times had been hard on him since the divorce. The plastics factory where he once earned premium wages had closed. Someone said he now worked as a maintenance person at one of the Walmart stores near Buffalo.

She felt sorry for him. Divorce had been brutal on the guy. Her mom had made out, getting everything in the settlement, including the small, gingerbread-style Victorian house that had belonged to Howard’s parents. The only thing he loved more than that car was this house.

A floorboard above her head squeaked.

Howard was in the house.

Jessica rushed past Sarah, heading to the stairs. Sarah caught up to her at the bottom step and stepped in front of her.

“Don’t go up there, Mom.”

“I have to. Let me pass this instant.”

Howard’s voice bellowed from upstairs. “Don’t come up here, Jessica. I have a gun.”

“Get out of my house, you son of a bitch.”

“Not your house,” Howard yelled.

Sarah pulled her to the front door and unlocked it.

“This is so my house. I hope the police lock you up for a long time for breaking and entering, you lousy—”

“Come on,” Sarah said, opening the door. She pulled Jessica outside into a winter chill. It clawed instantly through the back of Sarah’s sweatshirt. She shivered. Her mom complained that she was not inside, taking care of Howard with her fists.

“It’ll be okay,” Sarah said. “The police will take care of it. Meanwhile, everyone’s safer out here.”

An upstairs window broke and smoke rushed to get outside. Flames leaped from the curtains at the window.

Jessica screamed. “NO.”

When the first police car drove up, foul smelling smoke billowed from the front door Sarah had left open. That’s when she heard a gunshot. By the time the fire department arrived, the house was ablaze and burning the branches of two maple trees in front of it.

Blistering heat sent Sarah and Jessica into the street, which was a sea of emergency people and their vehicles with pulsating blue and red lights. A police officer led them across the street to the sidewalk, away from the firehoses and their house. Some of the neighbors who had peered from their homes joined them to watch the house burn. It was a giant, gloomy bonfire. No one spoke.

When part of the roof collapsed, Sarah ran to Howard’s car and kicked the front passenger’s door, denting it. “We’re homeless,” she yelled. She wept and Jessica pulled her into an embrace.

“We have nothing,” Sarah said.

Jessica released her and went to the driver’s door. “I thought I had lost them at the restaurant. We had been drinking.” She got into the back seat, took off her diamond engagement ring and handed it to Sarah. “The night Howard proposed to me at the restaurant, he gave me a matching set of earrings.” She dug around inside the seat. “I remember now that I took them off back here because I didn’t want to lose them while we … you know. So I wrapped them in a Kleenex. A-ha.” She backed up and staggered from the car. In her hand was wadded tissue. She unfolded the Kleenex and showed Sarah the diamond earrings. “These and our homeowners insurance will get us back on our feet.”

A well-dressed man in a fur coat and hat hurried to where they stood. “I’m so sorry, Jessica.” He looked at Sarah sadly. “You too, Sarah, you poor child.”

“Howard was inside, Ronny,” Jessica said. She took him by the arm and he steadied her. “He did this. A twisted act of revenge.”

Mayor Ronald Peters shook his head. “If there’s anything I can do,” he said.

Jessica pushed herself closer to him. “I don’t know what Sarah and I are going to do.”

The mayor put an arm around her. She rested her head against his shoulder. Sarah stood behind them and eyed the ring finger of his left hand. It no longer held the gold wedding band. Lucy Peters had died of cervical cancer more than ten years ago. It had taken him this long to let go. She looked away and watched plumes of water from several hoses douse the burning house.

It will be okay, she thought. Mother will provide.

Vree’s New Journey [character development]

I am preparing to write stories about Vree Erickson and her friend Lenny Stevens again. Lenny is a character I created 48 years ago, named Liam Burkhart then. Vree soon followed.

The above statement makes it seem like I have written for a long time. I have not. I spent most of that time painting and creating art. Even then, I labored a good part of that time working jobs that paid the bills and gave my family and me food and shelter. I have always struggled commercially and financially as an artist. More so as a writer. But I still do it. Not for fame and fortune. I do it because it still drives me.

Vree and Lenny

Vree and Lenny still come and speak to me, whether I am asleep or awake. Sometimes they tell me of adventures that I end up recording and publishing on the Internet. Someday, those adventures may make it to the print market where people pick books from shelves. For now, though, I publish those adventures in the quickest medium I know.

Lately, Vree has been revealing new stories to me. She does this every year around this time. Winter is coming and I am going to be spending more time indoors. Now is the time to dust off the old laptop and write again.

The last story I published about Vree had her battling the ghost of a witch named Mergelda, also called Margga in an earlier version, which bloomed into a novel from a short story about Lenny and ghost dogs that I called hellhounds for dramatic purpose.

It was my first novel and I was excited to have reached that pinnacle as a writer. But it was not the story I wanted to publish. Or, more accurately, it was not the same story Vree and Lenny first told me, the one that made me rush to my laptop and spill out 100,000 words.

Since then, I have stopped rushing to write more stories. I have taken the time to listen to my characters and to take notes. Vree, who was once an only child 48 years ago before she became the youngest of triplets in the novel, is back to her old self. She is 13 again and dealing with the loss of her father. He died when lightning struck him. The lightning struck her too and changed her—she can hear someone’s thoughts when she is close to the person. And the lightning burned down her home, forcing her and her mother to move to Myers Ridge, a common spooky place in my stories.

Vree can also see her father’s ghost. He appears to her as a friendly apparition. He was a spirit in the novel, but Vree argues with me that he is a ghost. “We cannot see spirits,” she says. “We can only sense them. We see ghosts because they hold to the light they had when they had a human body. We don’t see spirits because they let go of the light.”

I do not know what the light is, but I am sure Vree will show it to me. She has already told me that we are beings who embrace light, and that we fear darkness. “Darkness is the absence of light,” she says. But I question her for more information. Is darkness a void? A black hole? Negative energy?

“Darkness is no light. Exactly that. Nothing more and nothing less.”

I can tell it is going to be an interesting winter with her. I hope she and Lenny show enough of their world and themselves to me that I may produce a new book in the spring. A book that stays true to my characters’ revelations. And a book that will satisfy them and me after all the edits are done.

Nightmare, part 3 of 3 [fiction]

The last part of this 3-part story is a work-in-progress I have never finished.

All the same, I decided to post it to coincide with this month’s lead-in to Halloween.

Happy Reading.

~ 3 ~

Sarah could not believe Julie had followed her. Did Julie actually think scaring her with the knife would make her want to go back? How stupid was she?

Thunder growled.

Sarah stumbled toward the highway. She had to keep going.

More thunder growled. The storm was closer. A car passed before Sarah reached the highway. She wished she had remembered to bring her cell phone. She could have called Annie to come get her and be gone by now.

Sarah turned toward Clearview and the purple-gray sky. Escape from Julie and Odinwood meant going into the storm.

So be it. The thought of Julie following her did not slow her.

She scanned the woods for any glimpse of her. Her muddy boots were evidence she had come from the swampier part of the pond, which meant she had kept herself hidden by the woods on that side of the highway.

She flipped a middle finger at the woods.

A crow cawed from its perch atop a pine tree. Then the bird lifted into the sky with bulky wings as the first drop of rain struck the top of Sarah’s head.

The crow banked left, soared across the highway, and perched atop another pine tree. It pranced on a branch and positioned itself so it faced Sarah. Then it stared down at her.

She yelled at it, told it to fly away.

It cawed at her. A few more raindrops fell as she started up the highway. Sarah had gone about twenty yards when the crow flew past her head and landed a few feet in front of her. It turned, faced her and stood defiant.

Sarah refused to stop. As she passed to the left, it pecked the back of her right knee. She yelled out as pain burned there.

The crow struck her leg again with its chisel-like beak and sent more pain shooting through her.

She jumped away from the crow, then kicked at it as it came for another peck. It dodged her foot, spread its wings, and danced along the shoulder of the road as it squared off with her.

She turned and ran. More rain fell and struck her face. As she wiped rain and tears from her eyes, the crow flew past her head again and landed in front of her. Then it turned and charged.

Sarah screamed and kicked at it as it attacked her legs. Its beak made direct hits as she kicked and screamed at it to leave her alone.

Her legs throbbed in pain. The crow tore at her pants legs and at her tender flesh beneath the jeans. Her head swam and her knees nearly buckled. Her stomach lurched and she staggered to escape. Rain fell harder. A vehicle passed dangerously close. The driver blew its horn as the car whizzed past and continued on.

The crow continued its attack. Sarah kicked blindly, erratically, and uselessly. She stumbled, caught her balance, and looked up. A pair of headlights came at her, fast, and lit up her eyes in a painful, fiery red.

She leapt out of the way in time for the truck to miss hitting her. The crow took flight. Its flapping wings sounded like someone shaking sand from a beach towel.

When Sarah turned, the truck had stopped. Dr. Bisbee got out of the driver’s side and hurried to her.

“Sarah? Is that you?”

She nodded her head and sobbed.

“What are you doing out here on the highway?”

“The crow,” she said in a bullfrog’s voice. “It’s trying … to hurt me.” The pain behind her knees caused her to stagger.

Dr. Bisbee took her by the shoulders. “Where’s your mother?”

Thunder rumbled. Cold rain fell. Sarah lifted her head, opened her mouth, and let the rain quench her thirst.

Dr. Bisbee led her to the passenger door, away from the truck’s warm grill, and helped her climb into a dry seat. The allover warmth inside swallowed her immediately. Before the doctor closed her door, the crow cawed from somewhere nearby.