Halloween Ghost Story Contest -- 2017
Adult Winners

Second Place

Our second place Adult winner is Leonard Varasano of Sea Bright, NJ. Mr. Varasano also won this contest last year, in 2013, 2012, and 2011, making him among the very few who have managed to win this contest an astounding five times. Since his prior victory he's also gotten a novella published. It's a work of World War II historical fiction, has already won an award, and is called Joe Louis Is Coming to Town!

The Little Ones Don’t Sleep at Night

Leonard Varasano

I was a small boy when we moved to Oakhurst; at the time a sleepy town where the roads had yet to be paved.

I soon found a friend in my neighbor, Mr. Eggie, a kind, elderly man who had lost his wife many years before. His children had grown and moved away and as I didn’t have a father it was a perfect fit to fill voids we both needed and drew upon.

I met him when he was outside his house, watering his lawn and myriad of plants growing around his yard. He had garden pool you could see from the road where orange fantails swam slowly by through water hyacinths; always with an eye looking up at the chance someone might soon feed them. That day was the first of countless times where Mr. Eggie offered me black licorice from an old-fashioned looking jar; later on, sometimes the licorice was red.

There was a piano in his living room, which even to my untrained eye seemed from another time.

One evening, about a year after we’d met, we were talking on his front steps when I heard the piano sounding notes in the same manner of a kid striking the keys; one who had no idea how to play. I looked inside through the storm door but saw nothing and then glanced at Mr. Eggie, who smiled and shrugged. “The piano does that sometimes.”

“Why’s that, Mr. Eggie?”

But Mr. Eggie just smiled.

One night I looked outside my window and by the light of the solitary streetlight up the road, saw the two tire tree swings in Mr. Eggie’s yard moving back and forth. The surrounding trees were still and through my open window I could hear and feel there was no wind that night. I watched the swings until I fell asleep. 

The next evening, I saw Mr. Eggie and asked him about the swings. “There was probably a breeze,” he said.

“But the leaves in the trees weren’t moving,” I countered. “My window was open and there was no breeze.” Just then the piano sounded from his living room. I laughed. “What’s going on here, Mr. Eggie?”

“Why don’t you have a seat? I’ll tell you”.

Wide eyed, I sat down on a step next to a Halloween pumpkin and listened to his tale.

“Long before I lived here and built this house, when I was young man, I had backpacked through Europe, taking in the sites and the beauty of the land. I had made it to a small town outside of Vienna around Christmas, and was really low on money. My spoken German was decent, and as I was walking down a side street I saw this little curio shop with a sign saying “Stellenangebote”, which more or less translates to ‘Help Wanted’.  

“I entered the shop, loaded with trinkets and novelties and spoke with the humorless proprietor, who sized me up and down. ‘Du bist ein American?’ he asked. I laughed a little and said “Yes, is my German that bad?” and he responded without mirth, “I’ve heard worse.” I guess that was his attempt at a compliment.

“He told me that I would need to work on Christmas Eve and keep the store open past midnight. As I had no place else to go, and the pay he offered was decent, I accepted.

“Surprisingly, on Christmas Eve, the store was bustling; a little bell attached to the front door sounded every few minutes, and the people were buying tree decorations, glass angels, manger displays, castle miniatures, crystal balls and the like, well after dark.

”Finally, it quieted down. The proprietor looked at his pocket watch and then gestured to a glass angel in the display case, one with a missing wing. ‘Someone will be in around midnight to buy that angel. Be sure to wrap it very carefully with tissue paper, so that if it happens to fall to the ground, it won’t break.’

“I shrugged and said ‘all right’. It was now after 11:00 p.m. and the proprietor seemed to grow nervous while he kept eyeing his watch. ‘I’m leaving now. I’ll return in the morning to pay you. I’ve seen that you’re good with people. You can stay here after Christmas if you’d like and continue work.’ His attitude towards me had softened a bit. ‘There’s a cot in the back room you can use after locking up.’

“He left soon after. I glanced through the store window to the empty streets, wondering who’d be arriving within the next hour to buy the angel. A gentle snow had begun to fall, covering the street and sidewalks with a fine, white powder.

“Behind the counter there was a comfortable chair where I sat down. The last time I glanced at the store clock was when it tolled 11:45. My eyes grew heavy and I dozed off.

“The clock began to chime twelve times and when my eyes blinked open, I was startled to see a young girl looking at me through the display case. I jumped up. Strangely, I must have slept through the door bell sounding when she entered the store. ‘Hello, Fräulein!’ I said.

“She looked at me through melancholy eyes and pointed to the display case. ‘I’m here for the angel.’ There was something about her demeanor and appearance that chilled me but I outwardly remained calm and removed the broken-winged angel from the case and wrapped it repeatedly with tissue paper, then placed it in a small box, which I also wrapped.

“I placed the box in a small bag and handed it over to her. In return, she handed me a gold ducat and gave me a sad smile, then turned away towards the door, walking with a slight limp…”

Mr. Eggie hesitated and I asked him what happened next.

“I expected her to open the door, but upon reaching the glass…she simply vanished. The bag she was carrying dropped gently to the floor. I went to the door and looked outside…there were no footprints in the snow.”

“Where did she go?” I asked, astounded.

“She returned to wherever she’d come from, I suppose.”

“What happened next?”

“I locked the door and picked up the bag. For a while, I watched the snow drift down through the golden aura of a streetlight, then went to the backroom and lay down on the cot, my heart racing a bit.

“The next morning, though it was Christmas, the proprietor returned, carrying a platter of food and cookies. ‘My wife prepared this for you…Merry Christmas.’ The nervousness he had displayed the night before was gone. He asked ‘Did you have a midnight patron?’

“I nodded yes and pointed to the wrapped package and the gold ducat upon the display case. ‘Don’t you think you should have warned me?’ I asked.

“The proprietor nodded. ‘ Yah, but then you wouldn’t have accepted the job.’ I suppose that was true, that if he had told me there’d be a midnight spirit visiting the store, I probably wouldn’t have stayed.”

“What happened next?”

“I worked there for a while, earning enough money to make my way towards France, from where I departed to return home.”

The piano sounded from his living room and I pointed towards the door. “Is the piano playing connected to what you just told me?”

Mr. Eggie gave me a wistful smile. “Since that Christmas, I’ve had the occasion for others like that young girl…to visit me here. I don’t always see them, but I do hear their presence.”

It was dusk now and we sat in silence as the streetlight flickered on. Just then, the piano sounded an extended, off-key tune while the tire swings began to sway like pendulums, joined by the faint, haunted laughter of children wafting through the windless October night.

Continue to the 1st place story

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