Halloween Ghost Story Contest -- 2012
Adult Winners

Second Place

Our second place winner is Joseph Patchen of Milford, Connecticut. Mr. Patchen also scored a victory in this contest last year.

The Death Knell

Joseph Patchen

Leonard feels queasy tonight. He feels more queasy than usual. He feels more queasy than a forty year old man trapped in a body ravaged and aged some seventy years hence could ever feel.

Leonard feels queasy beyond his time.

And as time is swallowed into the night those shakes and tremors from years of alcoholism and the underlying guilt of throwing away a promising literary career for oceans of brandy returns. Leonard is also becoming reacquainted with the boa constrictor and knife blades in his chest; tightening and stabbing each time his heart beats, caused not only by the mechanical squeeze of a deteriorating organ pumping sludge through his bloated and toxin soaked flesh, but also by the knowledge that he alone is to blame for eight failed marriages - four to the same woman.

And of course, there is swelling in his legs and hands, the failing eyesight and hearing…

Yes, Leonard feels more queasy than usual tonight, with a stomach churning and burning more than usual on this dark and stormy moonless night.

Besides collecting junk and monthly assistance, his dilapidated trailer houses all manner of leaks. As with every rain, water is piling in the corners and dripping from the ceiling into a cacophony of pans, bowls, cups, and dusting cardboard boxes.

“It would almost be fitting if it happens tonight,” he dramatically whispers to himself. “It would almost be fitting if this were the night. What a gothic poem I could pen - if only my hands would stop shaking and my mind would clear.”

Then he hears it.

Tap, tap, tap. It is a different sound than the rain. Tap, tap, tap. It has a more insistent rhythm than water drops. Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap again on his trailer door.

“What manner of creature would be out on a night like this?” Tap, tap, tap. Clearing his throat, the rich baritone voice honed in his youth booms, “I say, who is it?”

In reply, there is only a muffled whisper.

Tap, tap, tap. Leonard now cautiously shuffles closer to the sound. “I say, who is it that ventures to my door this most dark and vile of nights?”

This time Leonard’s query is met with a bone curdling shriek, a loud crash and a thud against the trailer’s front wall. Licking his lips and swallowing hard, Leonard re-asserts himself, “Could this be a spirit? This must be a spirit! Sent to me this dreary evening with a communique from the great beyond.”

 Confidant of his conclusion, Leonard waddles around the room and hunts through his piles for a Ouija board.

“Leonard!” The voice is loud and clear. “Leonard!” The voice fills the trailer with its firm and insistent tone. A damp cool breeze flows in with the rain, chilling Leonard to the bone. Fretting, Leonard is overwhelmed and frozen in place. He wants to run. He wants to reply. He wants to find his Ouija board and a bigger glass for his brandy.

“Hey Lenny! Get your fat self over here with a flashlight. I think I broke my coccyx.”

Strangely, the voice still sounds otherworldly as it echoes throughout the trailer, bouncing from tin wall to tin wall.

Leonard scrambles up a small pile of clothing, bags, boxes and papers, to the drapes covering a large front window. Tearing them from their rod, he finally sees it. Down below, on the ground in front of the trailer the phantom has manifested itself to him.

It is the Grim Reaper himself - flat on his back, scythe four feet from his grasp. Leonard was correct: he has come to take him this dark and stormy night. But first, this long feared spirit of  death needs to extricate itself from a thicket of weeds, two garbage cans, and a broken picnic bench.

Leonard quickly waddles to open his door.

“Leonard―do you know your doorbell is broken?” The thin imposing form of phantom and bone rises, dusting itself off.

“It broke two years ago.”

“I kept pushing it. I heard movement inside and assumed you were on your way to the door. I kept pushing it and pushing it and was wondering where you were. I leaned over to see if I could look through the window since I saw a crack of light and those stairs leading up to the front porch - that’s what I fell on man. They just toppled over. My God, I’m all bone --- do you know how that hurts in a fall? It’s not like I have fat cushioning me. All I have is this shroud which is basically a bed sheet with a hat, and my God - it cushions nothing.”

“Is it time then?”

“Time for what?”

“Well - you know - my time?”

“Oh yeah, yeah, yeah―your dead. I’ve come to get you. Boy my butt hurts so much.” The Reaper holds his scythe in his right hand but uses the bony digits of his left to rub his, well you know. “What do you do with your time? Don’t you do any repairs around this dump?”

“Well - no. I’ve been ill and --- well, I ---”    

“Ill? From looking at this place you must’ve been in a coma. I see a lot of houses and while I’m not critical about people and their lifestyles; Well, it seems to me you just let this place go to pot.”

“I have a lot of problems.”

“You can say that again. While I was lying on the ground do you realize the moorings under this trailer have rotted. The thing can collapse at any moment. You have loose wires and hoses on your propane tanks. Your doorbell doesn’t work. Those stairs I fell from have no railing and the stairs themselves are just cinder blocks. Cinder blocks are not stairs, they’re just blocks. Doesn’t anybody cut the grass or landscape here? I mean, plant some flowers and a couple of nice shrubs; clean this garbage. Instead of that broken down picnic table maybe get a nice café set with a bright umbrella.”

Leonard interrupts, “But you said I’m dead.”

“Oh you’re dead alright. From what I see here, you have a variety of building violations, zoning violations and violations of the anti-blight ordinances. I’m filing complaints with the city and you’re going to clean this place up before I take you anywhere. It’s downright dangerous – I could’ve killed myself. Well,  maybe not killed, but boy my butt hurts...”

And as the Specter of Death, known world-wide since the dawn of time, droned on and on, flailing his arms and scythe about in dramatic fashion, talking about such things as mold and the poor choice of siding, Leonard stood dumbstruck, realizing that he was about to experience something worse than Death, something more horrible than the fiery pits of Hell, and something more excruciating than the tortures of Purgatory.

Leonard was about to face the awe inspiring power and terrifying authority of special permits and municipal boards.

Continue to the 1st place story

[home] [up]
Copyright © 2012 & Joseph Patchen;
See original rules for an explanation