An excerpt from the forthcoming short story collection, Shy Ghosts Dancing: Dark Tales from Southeast Alaska by Mark Zeiger
All content ©2010 Mark A. Zeiger. All rights reserved.
Alan flipped through television channels on his day off. His friends worked on different schedules, so he had no one to hang around with. He had finished reading a novel two hours before. His did his household chores the previous evening to keep his day off free.
He risked becoming very bored.
At that time of day, the T.V. schedule offered game shows and soap operas, but Alan subscribed to cable. He flipped toward the movie channels, half hoping to find an “R” rated feature, full of sex and creatively executed mayhem.
He paused at one channel when he recognized the Terrytoons theme, announcing the beginning of a cartoon. From the style of the opening graphics, Alan guessed this one dated from the late 1950s. He stared at the screen, idly scratching in impolite places as the action began.
A cute, juvenile ghost, possibly a prototype Casper or Spooky, appeared on screen. The tyke read a newspaper want ad. The ad’s text appeared long enough for most viewers to read it, but in Alan’s lethargic mood he barely caught it. It requested a ghost to haunt a house.
Alan sat up abruptly. What a great idea! He snapped the television off, not bothering to learn what happened to the little ghost. He had found something to do at last.
Alan loved subtle practical jokes. He specialized in pranks so obscure they went unnoticed by all but a very few particularly observant people. He fancied himself a master of understatement, perpetrating stunts within full view of thousands of people, yet going undetected by all but one or two.
While vacationing in Seattle, he visited the Space Needle. At the top of the towering landmark he leaned out past the guardrail. Using a pair of toy boots on his first two fingers, he made a little path of footprints leading straight off the ledge. He knew the prints wouldn’t last long in Seattle’s rainy climate. They would probably wash away before anyone noticed, but that didn’t matter. His satisfaction came from knowing he had done it, knowing someone might see, and wonder.
One year, Alan’s college theater department staged A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The lighting crew designed a delightful sunset and moonrise. One night Alan added his own touch to the rising moon: the faint silhouette of a witch riding a broomstick. An accomplice urged him to do it again the next night, but for Alan the beauty of the trick lay in doing it only once. Very few people noticed the witch, but those who did talked of it for years afterward.
Alan’s coworkers learned to be very wary, always waiting for the next joke. Alan did very little at all, enjoying the daily search for his handiwork. Most of the stunts they “uncovered” proved to be the product of their own paranoia rather than Alan’s mind. He had been the one who scattered pieces of a toy skeleton under the copy machine. He waited four years for the machine to get moved. The discovery created a small commotion. Paranoia levels increased dramatically for a time.
Six months had passed since Alan’s last prank. “It’s time,” he told himself as he sat down at his typewriter and composed a letter to the Want Ad Editor of his local newspaper, containing the following:
WANTED TO HAUNT: A ghost to occupy and terrify 2247 East Pasqual Road. Must be experienced. Females encouraged. Apply in person.
Alan closed the letter appropriately and wrote a check to cover the cost. He smiled as he addressed and stamped the envelope. He chuckled as he stepped out to the corner drop box.
Walking back up the hill, Alan surveyed his property. He had been raised in this fine old two-story Victorian. He had always thought it would make a perfect haunted house. Anyone who read his ad and decided to check the address would be pleased. This house obviously needed a ghost. That made the whole idea sweeter.
Three days later, Alan checked the evening paper and found his ad. Carefully, he clipped it and took it to his file cabinet. He kept a folder of newspaper articles and other souvenirs of his pranks. It wasn’t very full, since most of his activities went unnoticed by the press. Alan hoped to keep the file as empty as possible, regarding media attention as more failure than success. He considered the file more precious to him than the insurance policies and other important papers he kept in the cabinet.
The door chime rang just as Alan replaced the folder and locked the drawer. He walked to the foyer in high spirits. Here was a new challenge: entertaining friends while in his fresh excitement. As a rule he never discussed his pranks, and he felt particularly tempted to share this one.
The front door swung open on an empty porch. No one appeared to be there. Alan snorted and began to close the door. Ringing the doorbell and running away was not his idea of high art in the prankster world.
The door almost shut before he heard a small, polite sound, like a clearing throat. Curious, Alan opened the door again.
The hot day’s warmth lingered into evening, but Alan felt a cold draft encircle him. In the porch lamp’s glow he could barely make out a shimmering, milky light. It reminded Alan of the aurora borealis, which he had seen once when his family had traveled to Canada. Now, standing in his doorway, it seemed as if that electromagnetic phenomenon had somehow manifested itself on his front porch. Again he heard the throaty noise. The light congealed into a vaguely human form.
“Good evening,” intoned a voice. It sounded deep yet reedy, with a transparent quality like low notes on a glass flute.
Alan stepped back, startled.
“Good evening,” the voice repeated. “My name is Arthur Gwaingellen. I’ve come to apply for your haunting position.”
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Thank you for reading this excerpt! To read the rest of this story, and others like it by Mark A. Zeiger, order Shy Ghosts Dancing: Dark Tales from Southeast Alaska.