Halloween Ghost Story Contest -- 2010
Adult Winners

Second Place

Our second place winner is Ryan Dale Deardorff (also known by his pen name Sir Ryan Dale, under which he writes literature for children) of Merriam, Kansas. His story was inspired by a famous recording of a séance held for Harry Houdini ten years after his death. It is one of thirteen stories he hopes to someday publish in a collection entitled Tales from Choctaw Cemetery. He invites you to check out some of his other work on his web site

The Great Casperik

Ryan Dale Deardorff

She sat in front of the dressing room mirror with three envelopes laid out before her.  One envelope had long ago been open but the other two, although equally as old, were still sealed.  She turned her eyes to the mirror.  She strained at her reflection to find the wide-eyed, smooth-skinned, red-haired girl of long ago, but instead saw nothing but age. 

She was the magician’s assistant, Ms. Rosabelle Palmer.  For thirty-two years she assisted the Great Casperik as he dazzled the world with an arsenal of illusions and tricks unequaled by any magician.  But John Casperik was dead and had been for thirteen long years.  She had been there when it happened, at his bedside, holding those same three envelopes that now lay before her; envelopes the famous magician had given to her moments before his death.

Upon the open envelope read the words “Read only after my funeral”.  She pulled out the yellow letter and laid it before her.  She hadn’t read it in years.  She didn’t need to.  She knew the words by heart.


To my beloved and faithful assistant Ms. Rosabelle Palmer,

Your hard work and loyalty never went unnoticed and from the depts of my soul I thank you for your years of service.  Throughout the good times and bad times you stayed by my side as we performed wonders before children and Kings alike.  Together we created a world of magic that went far beyond any sleight of hand.

If you are reading this letter then surly death has claimed my soul.  I pray you will not grieve too long over me and will venture on with a long and prosperous life. It is on that note that I regret, whether a victim of the times or perhaps just bad luck, that I have nothing to leave you as compensation for your many years of service.  I am wise enough to know you have spent the best part of your life assisting me and now must find your way without me.  I pray you will not be too lost.

Now if I may be so bold as to ask of you one last request that is of no easy matter.  I ask to deliver a message.  Inform all who will listen that on the exact night of the thirteenth year following my death, I shall return from the grave to dazzle the world one last time.  Boast to them I shall perform the greatest act of magic the world has ever seen; of this I promise.   Fill my theater again and tell the world that the Great Casperik will appear at midnight.  Sell tickets a hundredfold their normal price and promise a full refund if I do not only appear, but also fulfill my promise of performing the greatest act of magic the world has ever seen.

I have entrusted with you two more envelopes to be read at a later date.  Please, Rosabelle, fulfill my wish, however fantastic it may appear and, as promised, I shall return.


John Casperik


Ms. Palmer had done as the famous magician had requested on this the exact night of the thirteenth year following his death.  The announcement had been made and the years had passed with great debate and anticipation.  Now, the tickets were sold, and the seats filled.

The door to the dressing room suddenly flung open and in rushed the usher boy.  “Ms. Palmer, it’s ten till midnight.”

“Thank you Peter,” she said.  “I’ll be down shortly.”

Peter paused before leaving the room.  “Ms. Palmer, do you really think he will show—I mean—is it possible?”

Ms. Palmer once again searched her reflection in the mirror and said, “If it is possible, make no mistake, John will find a way.”

Upon Peter’s exit, Ms. Palmer took hold of one of the two envelopes that still remained sealed.  This one read, “Please open ten minutes before midnight”.  She obediently did so and read the letter she found inside.


For thirteen long years I have been at rest and at last, tonight, I shall return from the grave to perform my greatest act of magic.  Rosabelle, I now ask of you a second favor.  Along with this letter there is a key you will recognize belonging to my chest.  Within my chest are the props that I will use to perform what I have boldly claimed to be the greatest act of magic the world has ever seen.  If undisturbed you will find my chest at the back of the stage.  Please arrange the props inside to your best judgment, one of which is a clock intended for the audience to see.  Set the time, and when midnight nears, announce my return and as promised, return I shall.


After one last glance in the mirror, Ms. Palmer took hold of the key she had just received and tucked the last unopened envelope into her shirt pocket before rising from her chair and leaving the room.  As she stepped out onto the winding stairs that led to the back of the stage, she was filled with the echoes of the awaiting crowd.  She paused midway down to entertain a few fond memories the noise had suddenly stirred from the depths of her mind. 

She was young again; the right hand to the greatest magician the world has ever seen.  As she distracted the crowd with her beauty, John Casperik performed acts of the impossible.  For a moment she felt utterly alive, with a sense of excitement she had not experienced in years.  She cherished the moment until her memories began to fade then continued to follow the stairs down to the back of the stage.

 The magician’s chest sat undisturbed as it had for years.  After unlocking it and looking inside she discovered the clock John Casperik had mentioned in his letter.  It was a peculiar clock displaying an inner and an outer face.  The outer face was a normal clock showing the time one through twelve, but the inner clock was quite different.  It had only one hand with numbers running one through ten, with the eighth number being red as opposed to the others that were black.  The chest also contained four candles, a black cloth and a folding table she recognized from tricks performed in the past.

Ms Palmer unfolded the table and sat it in the middle of the stage.  She draped the table with the black cloth.  She next placed the four candles in relation to the corners of the table and lit them one by one.  Last, she set up the clock near the front of the stage and faced it towards the audience after setting the time accurately to her own watch.

Peter appeared again near the edge of the curtain.  “Three minutes till midnight, ma’am.”

“Show time,” she said, straightening her outfit.  She walked to the front of the stage as Peter pulled the curtain and started the show.

Upon the raising of the curtains, the crowd who had been chattering anxiously grew suddenly silent.  Most were dressed in black suites or black dresses which complimented the darkness around them.  Not a seat was empty.  All eyes were fixed upon the stage.

Ms. Palmer nearly lost her breath.  Casperik Theater had never looked so grand.  The chandelier was faintly lit, shimmering above the heads of the audience.  The piano sat dignified and silent in the corner.  Again it reminded her of the early days, the glory days; when the world was full of promise and possibility and the Great John Casperik with a quick hand and a clever mind ruled the unseen world.

Ms. Palmer stepped out to the center of the stage.  Upon taking a deep breath she spoke with robust and spirit as she had not done in years.  “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome once again to Casperik Theater!”

The crowd applauded in appreciation.

She continued.  “As you know, it’s been thirteen long years since the death of The Great Casperik and as promised by the Magician himself, he shall return tonight and perform what he has dubbed the greatest act of magic the world has ever seen.  So settle into your seats, grip your arm rests and prepare to be dazzled as we await the approaching midnight hour.”

The clock showed the coming of midnight within one minute and counting.  All eyes in the audience were entranced upon it.  All breath was held.  The stage for the return of the Great Casperik was set and all that remained was his appearance. 

As the seconds ticked away with great anticipation by all, the room seemed to shrink.  Darkness seemed to cast a deeper veil over all in the audience. 

Suddenly, the clock struck midnight.  Many jolted in their seats.  All hearts skipped a beat. 

The clock chimed again and again.  The audience sat petrified. 

The chimes continued to ring out one by one until all twelve tools had been exhausted.  The Great Casperik had yet to appear.

Seconds passed like minutes and still nothing.  Slowly the crowd began to stir.  Ms. Palmer searched the shadows at the back of the stage and found nothing.

“I want a refund!” shouted someone from the audience.  This set off a riot of jeers of disgust, all directed toward the magician’s assistant.

Ms. Palmer shot a look at Peter who was still standing at the side of the stage.  The boy simply shrugged.  She then took in a breath of disappointment and stepped out to address the infuriated audience.

“Please settle down,” she said, trying to disguise the disappointment in her voice.  “I assure you, you will all get your money back as promised!”

The audience grew more hostile.

Someone from the shadows in the back of the theater shouted, “I traveled halfway around the world for this.  Are you going to refund the expense of my trip?”

The rest of the audience roared similar remarks.  Ms. Palmer was without words.  She stood in disbelieve.   She too seemed a victim of John Casperik’s flamboyant and apparently false claims. 

Perhaps she deserved it, she thought.  Perhaps they all did, after all, who could realistically overcome the shackles of death and return from the grave.

Suddenly, there came a blood curdling scream from somewhere in the audience.  All gasped together in choir.  A shadowy figure was now standing at the back of the stage, hidden from the light, except for his broad outline.  He took a step forward into the dim light cast from the chandelier.  

Ms. Palmer nearly fainted as she found herself looking upon the distinguished magician who in life had been known at the Great Casperik.

He took a second step forward, more into the light.  Upon removing his top hat the white of his hair became visible along with the carved features of his long face.  His long black cape stirred behind him.  He looked over the crowd who most certainly was looking at him.  He laughed a bit and said, “Your expressions are such as if you’ve seen a ghost.”  His eyes quickly turned angry.  He spoke in a commanding voice, “Had I not dazzled you in life?  Did you think it would be any different in death?”  His voice rose even louder.  “Did I not say I would return?  Many of you doubted, yet here I am standing before you.”  His eyes seemed to burn a hole into each and every one who looked upon him.  “I am the Great Casperik.  I have felt the sting of death and traversed its shadows only to return to you and perform what I have promised to perform; the greatest act of magic the world has ever seen.”

The crowd retreated as far as they could in their seats, white knuckled and awe stricken.

The magician suddenly spun himself around the table in the middle of the stage and sat down upon it.  “Prepare to be thrilled as I shall now demonstrate my command over death.  Watch in wonder as I lie upon this table, slow my heartbeat to a stop and prove to one and all the existence of the afterlife.”

Upon lying down on the table, the magician turned to Ms. Palmer and said, “Please Rosabelle, if you would assist me this one last time on stage.”

Reluctant, Ms. Palmer obeyed.  She walked over and stood by his side, awaiting further orders.

The Great Casperik continued.  “Let us now begin.  Although I have been among the dead for the last thirteen years, I am flesh and blood before you now.  Please, if you would be so kind Rosabelle; lay your ear upon my chest, listen to my heart beat, feel the warmth on my face.”

Ms. Palmer did as instructed.  She laid her ear upon the magician’s chest.  The gallop of his heartbeat could be heard.  She felt his face with the back of her fingers and it was indeed warm.

“He is as he says,” she announced to the crowd.  “He’s as alive as you and me.”

The magician now lay completely still.  “I will now attempt to slow my heartbeat, ultimately to a halt.  Rosabelle; lay your ear upon my chest at any time to confirm this phenomenon.  Once my heart ceases to beat, start the inner clock on a countdown to eight minutes.  It is during this time I shall perform my miracle; one that will surely astonish all who behold it.  To further astonish, after the passing of eight minutes I shall resurrect myself once again, but this is a delicate window, for any longer than eight minutes and I shall not be able to rise again.”

He then turned his head to the audience.  “During my performance I welcome any man among you who doubts to come on stage and listen for yourself whether or not my heart still beats.”  The magician laid his head still on the table and turned his eyes to the ceiling.  His magic act had begun.

As the magician lay still, Ms. Palmer took the opportunity to catch her wits.  She had seen John Casperik—not the great magician, but the mortal man — die from natural causes.  She had touched his cold hand in the casket and seen him buried.  Still, here he was, on stage, performing once again.  It was as he had promised, but still fantastic.  She swept her thoughts aside and instinctively began to play the role of the magician’s assistant once more.

She walked over to the magician and lowered her ear to his chest to listen.  “His heart still beats,” she announced, “however much more faint then before.”

The audience also had time to gather their wits and began to stir.

“This is rubbish,” said a man boldly from among them, “I don’t believe any of this.”  The man stood up from his seat and made his way onto the stage.  He walked up to the magician and a bit hesitant, he lowered his head to listen for a heartbeat.  “It does indeed still beat,” he confirmed to the audience.

A minute passed, Ms. Palmer again listened for a heartbeat.  “It’s barely audible,” she announced, “but still present.”

After another minute the man once again took his turn listening for a heartbeat.  He searched for a sound but found none. He backed away with a look of astonishment and said, “I now hear nothing.”

Ms. Palmer confirmed it, the heart no longer beat.  She walked over and started the inner clock.  “You’d better sit back down,” she said to the man who had joined her on stage.  She next turned to the audience and announced, “The Great Casperik is now in a state of suspended animation.  Observe the clock as it ticks away eight minutes and let us all behold what fantastic spectacle he has in store for us now.”

Ms. Palmer disappeared to the side of the stage where she could observe the clock, the magician and the audience alike. 

A hush rolled over the theater, like dying thunder.  Not an eye wondered; all were fixed upon the stage.  The inner hand of the clock slowly rolled passed the first minute.  The candles onstage flickered ever so slightly.  The clock hand marched on nearing the number two.  Again the candles flickered but this time, more profound.  They hissed and danced to stay alight for several seconds until suddenly dying out. 

The crowd stirred as the theater grew darker.  The minute hand began its march onward towards the three.  Over head, the chandelier began to jingle.  All eyes turned upward to watch it. The jingle quickly gave way to a sway and the sway to an all out shake.  Many in the crowd grew frightened, while others of more courage were wide eyed with delight. 

Suddenly the chandelier went still.  The crowd sank back into their seats.  The clock continued its crawl, passing the four.  The silence in the theater grew maddening.  The audience held their breath.

 The silence was obliterated by the sound of exploding glass.  One by one the windows of the theater began to shatter outward in a shower of glass.  Cries of fear quickly filled all corners of the room.  Many jumped from their seats and several ran toward the doors at the back of the theater but tug as they may, the doors would not budge. 

Soon, laughter, haunting in nature, began to echo from all corners of the theater.  Many covered their ears, while others screamed along with the sound.  The chandelier began to violently rattle, its light died out, giving way to total and complete darkness. 

Invisible to all, the clock hand moved passed the five.

Desperate cries from the audience filled the air.  Many were cursing the vile act they were witnessing.  Others were simply weeping.  The focus in the room quickly turned back to the stage as the candles that surrounded the lifeless magician suddenly burst back to life.  The flames reached high resembling torches before flickering back down to dancing flames. 

The theater began to shake.  Again the chandelier began to violently rattle.  The piano boomed to life all by itself and began to play a haunting pounding tune.  The crowd continued its choir of terror as the hand on the clock began to climb towards the six. 

It was then that something happened that made the faint of heart collapse back down into their seats.  >From the lifeless body of the magician suddenly arose his spirit.  Like a wisp of smoke it took shape above him, the outline of a man’s features, the same as the Great Casperik. 

Shrieks of terror instantly filled the theater; many clambered away from their seats, falling over one other in desperation.  The great specter rose from the stage and suspended itself in mid air before the audience.  Its eyes were like fire; it’s laughter, like thunder.

“Who doubted me!” its voice boomed, shaking the walls.  “Who among you did not believe?”

All cringed and cowered at the sound of the voice. 

The clock marched on to the seven.

The specter glided out over the audience.  Its red eyes seemingly pierced the hysterical spectators below as many scrambled over one another to get away.  The phantom roared in anger.  The theater once again shook.  The roar of the specter grew to an ear piercing cry.  All covered their ears and many screamed along with it. 

Like a howling tempest, the specter suddenly flew over the tops of heads towards the back of the theater.  With a crash, it splintered the doors to the theater and disappearing into the night. 

The piano instantly went silent.  The chandelier slowly glowed back to life.  The audience began to compose themselves, straining to catch their breath, their eyes instinctively turning to the lifeless magician onstage.

The hand on the clock moved to the eight.  The magician still lay silent.  The clock continued to march on, moving past the eight.  Ms. Palmer remembered the magician say beyond eight minutes he would not be able to rise, but eight had passed, and soon so had nine.

The audience had now recovered, at least best they could.  Their eyes lay fixed upon the magician, who still did not rise.  Ms. Palmer, although hesitant at first, walked up to him, and lowered her head to his chest to check for a heartbeat.  She stood back up and spoke to the crowd, her eyes remaining fixed on the lifeless magician all the while.  “Nothing,” she said.

The clock hand reached the ten, and having run out of numbers, it stopped.  Still nothing happened; not a stir from the magician.  Many had their hands over their mouths.  Many believed they were looking upon a dead man. 

Then it happened, with a great gasp of air, the magician suddenly sat up.  With his head lowered he seemingly caught his breath.  He then turned towards the audience and leapt to his feet.  With a wave of his top hat and a grim, the great magician began to take his bows.  The audience roared in appreciation.  The magician motioned towards Ms. Palmer and she too took a bow.  The audience showed their appreciation towards her.  Then at the height of the applause, the great magician whisked his long black cape before him and in a flash and a puff of smoke, he was gone.

The audience roared again with approval for several minutes.  Many spoke of wonder and delight as they gathered themselves and left the theater, with none among them entertaining the thought of a refund.

When all had left, Peter approached Ms. Palmer who was in the act of returning the props to the magician’s chest.  “I’ve cleaned up the best I can,” he said.  He then handed her a rather large envelope and added with a beaming face, “This is the take from tonight’s show, Ms. Palmer.  I’ve never seen so much money in my entire life.”

“Nor I child,” said Ms. Palmer examining the contents of the envelope.  She pulled out a rather generous stack of bills and handed them to Peter.

Peter’s eyes widened.  “Oh, no, Ms. Palmer, this is too much.”

“Nonsense,” smiled Ms. Palmer.  “Take it.  You deserve it for your help tonight.”

“Thank you,” he said over joyous.  He took a look at the theater one last time, then turned and left for home.

Ms. Palmer watched him leave, and then looked over the destruction around her.  The old theater looked as if a victim of an earthquake.  She knew that tonight it had seen its last performance and what a grand performance it was.  She wondered how John had done it.  How had he returned from the grave and what of the awesome effects that everyone had just witnessed?  Having been his right hand for years on stage she knew many of his secrets but still there were others he never revealed to her; tricks that seemed impossible, but nothing compared to what she had witnessed tonight.

She suddenly remembered the third envelope.  The only one that remained sealed.  She reached into her inner pocket and pulled it out.  It was labeled “Please read after the performance”.  Upon opening it, she found it to be short and at first glance a mystery.  It simply read…


Please give half the money to my brother.


It quickly sank in.  Ms. Palmer held her hand to her mouth, half laughing, half crying as she realized the Great Casperik had indeed pulled off the greatest act of magic the world had ever seen, but with a little more help than anyone realized.

She turned and ran up the stars to the dressing room.  She quickly opened the door to find just what she expected, that the room was occupied.  There, in front of the mirror stood the brother of John Casperik. 

He turned to her and showed a smile.  “So you figured it out,” he said with a chuckle.  He was not quite the spitting image of his older brother, but in the dark of the theater, even Ms. Palmer had been fooled.

Ms. Palmer was in tears.  “I must admit I was quite fooled.  I did not know John had a brother.  If I may be so bold, John never spoke of you, nor were you at his funeral?”

“Something I rather regret,” he said.  “John and I had a falling out long ago when we were young.  He ran off to chase his dreams while I stayed at home to push the family plow.  Oh, I admit I did catch a show or two of his throughout the years, but only as an anonymous face in the crowd, however, John’s eyes always seemed to find me even in my stealth.  Imagine my surprise when I heard John had died and asked only of me this one last request.”

Ms. Palmer walked up to him, sorted through the money in the large envelope and handed him half.  “John asked me to give this to you,” she said.

“These have been especially hard times,” he said modestly, taking his share of the money.

Ms. Palmer tucked the rest of the money away.  “Well, I really should be off, Mr. Casperik.” she extended a hand.

“Please, it’s Ronald,” he said, shaking her hand.

Ms. Palmer turned to leave, but then turned back.  “One last thing if I may?  How was it done, the trick that is?”

Ronald Casperik took up a thin metal breast plate that was sitting before the dresser mirror.  “By wearing this it blocks most of the sound of my heartbeat from being heard.  When I flex it by pulling in my shoulders it lifts from my chest and you can no longer hear my heart beat.”

“Genius,” smiled Ms. Palmer.  “And the other tricks?”

Ronald shook his head.  “That’s just another one of John’s secrets,” he simply said.

Ms. Palmer’s eyes filled with tears again and she raised them to the sky.  “Thank you John,” she said, “wherever you may be.”

She turned and left.

“Yes, thank you John,” echoed Ronald Casperik as he turned his eyes to the shadows in the far corner of the dressing room.

From the shadows emerged the ghostly figure of the Great Casperik, who, with a tip of his top hat and a grin, vanished into thin air.

Continue to the 1st place story

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