by Pam Sears
Is it haunted or not?
|“Oh, man, what a perfect place for a Halloween party!” Davis was almost dancing with glee. They were standing outside the Morgan Estates Carriage House as Davis tried to convince them it was the right place to hold their Senior party.
Carol stared dubiously at the ramshackle building before them. It had peeling yellow paint, white trim with bald patches and bare vine-branches that crept up the siding, nearly covering all of the windows. It was, indeed, spooky under the late afternoon over-cast sky. Still, she wasn’t sure how safe it was for the yearly Senior Scare Party their school held.
One of the other girls seemed to side with her. “I dunno, Davis. It looks pretty unsafe to me. What if someone got hurt?” Lisa’s eyes bounced rapidly from window to window, door to door.
“Right.” Davis sneered. “How could they get hurt? It’s just a party. We aren’t going to be tearing anything up, Lis.”
“They could fall through the floor, for one thing.” Carol snapped. “That place hasn’t had anyone living in it for at least seventy-five years. Maybe more. I don’t see any upkeep on the outside. Do you expect us to believe they kept the inside in good condition and ignored the rest?”
Davis pouted. He actually pouted. Carol stared at him in disbelief. The guy was the football team’s lead running back and he was pouting?
“Maybe it’s not so bad inside as you think, Ro.” Dusty, another guy from the team spoke up. He didn’t sound too convinced but he didn’t want the other two guys, both linesmen, to think he was chicken. “Why don’t we go take a look before we make a final call?”
Davis brightened. “Yeah. Majority rules.” He exclaimed and headed for the main door. The other four guys followed him excitedly.
“Majority rules.” Carol snorted. “We know how *that’s* going to turn out since there’s five of them to three of us.”
Lisa and the other girl, Mary, both nodded as the three of them watched the guys a moment longer. Finally Carol sighed.
“Might as well join ‘em. If a couple of them get hurt or disappear at least we’ll have a tie. Shoot, might not even have to have a vote.” She chuckled grimly.
The others followed as she headed after the guys. They’d managed to get the door open and were crowded in the entrance, craning their necks as they peered about.
“Well?” Carol called.
“Actually not as bad as I thought it’d be.” Dusty admitted reluctantly.
“It totally rocks!” Davis crowed. “C’mon, Ro. Take a look. A little elbow grease and the committee could get this place set up for the best Senior Scare Party ever!”
Carol stepped inside and took a slow look around. To her surprise the entry way seemed to be in great condition. The floors didn’t sag, there had obviously been some leakage over the decades because the walls held water stains but she didn’t see anything to make her worried they were about to let the house collapse on them.
“Your dad’s a construction contractor, Ro. You know enough to tell us if this place is safe?” Dusty prodded quietly.
“Yeah, Pop’s taught all of us what to look for. Got a flashlight? We can do a quick check. But if there’s even one area that’s questionable, I’m getting him in here. He says no, it’s no.” She gave the guys all a hard look.
Davis snorted again. “You’d say there was a problem just to shut the party down, Ro.” He snarked.
“No, I won’t, Davis. I’ll be fair, I promise. It really would be a great place for the party.” As he started to grin smugly she added “But only if it’s safe! I’m not having one of our schoolmates get injured or, worse, because you think you’re going to get me to keep my mouth shut over an unsafe area just to get your party where you want it.”
Once again, the pout appeared. “Fine. Let’s get looking.” He sulked.
“It’s actually in better condition than I’d have given it credit for, just looking at the exterior.” Carol’s dad, Mark Bennet, flashed his light around the second floor hallway, then turned into the second room on the left.
“This the area you were concerned about, punkin’?” He squatted in the doorway and shone his light along the floor.
“Oh, yeah. I see it.” He murmured when Carol spotlighted the area she’d felt was “mushy” with her own light. “Let’s check it, and those other areas, and I’ll give you my expert opinion.” He winked at her.
“I can’t believe we’re stuck to the first floor, only.” Davis muttered as the Senior Scare committee members worked at cleaning and decorating the old Morgan Estates Carriage House for their Halloween party.
“Look, I told you there were areas of concern up there. And I told you, if there were, I was calling in my Pops.” Carol glared at Davis who glared back. “He approved the entire first floor as safe for the party but the second is a no-go. The floor up there’s too unstable. If someone stepped in the wrong place they’d -“
“Yeah, yeah, they’d fall through.” Davis waved a hand disdainfully. “So? It’s not that far to fall.”
Carol blinked at him. “You…” She paused. “You’re serious.” She managed not to gape at him in shock. “You think no one would be seriously hurt if they fell through the floor. You don’t think they’d be torn up by the broken boards? Or that they’d likely fall in a bad way and, if they were lucky, only break a bone?”
“Pshh! That’s not likely to happen.” Davis waved again, dismissing her concerns. “We should go ahead and decorate the second floor, open it up and let people go where they want. Just stick up an “at your own risk” sign so we don’t get blamed if they do go up there and get in trouble.”
Carol had to take a deep breath and count to ten. Then to twenty. After a few more deep breaths she pushed him to one side, out of the hearing of the others, and got in his face.
“I’m gonna tell you this once, Davis. That floor is unsafe.” As he opened his mouth she talked right over him. “IF you try to open it up, or put up any signs, or encourage anyone to go up there, I will have my dad shut this party down so fast you won’t see it for the way your head’ll spin. Am. I. Clear.” She poked a hard finger into the center of his chest with every word.
“Ow!” He whined then huffed a put-upon sigh. “Fine. Have it your way. Never did understand how a kill-joy like you ended up on the Party Committee in the first place.” He threw his hands up in surrender as her eyes narrowed at him. “It stays closed. Whatever! Sheesh!”
He stalked off, tossing his unused orange crepe paper at the decorations box and missing.
Lisa joined her as Davis stalked away. “He still whining about your dad closing off the upper levels?”
“Yeah. He can’t understand how unsafe it is. We don’t want anyone hurt. Scared -just for fun kind of scared- yes, but not hurt.” Carol shook her head.
“Don’t get how he’s the top running back for the team. He’s a whiny child.” Mary added her two cents, coming up on Carol’s left.
“Because his running of the football is faster than the running of his mouth.” Dusty snorted, coming up beside Mary then grinned. “I’d like to see how fast he runs if he got a good scare at the party.”
The girls all laughed. “Yeah, but I don’t think we’ve got anything to scare him with or about.” Lisa shook her head, still grinning.
“Well, they say this old Carriage House is haunted.” Mary said, then shrugged when the other three turned to look at her. “What? I like the paranormal. I study up on places that are supposed to be haunted.”
“So, this old building is haunted?” Carol glanced around skeptically. “I haven’t seen or heard anything and I’ve been in and out most of the week.”
“I love a good story.” Lisa nudged Carol, eyes on Mary. “Tell us what you found.” She encouraged.
Well,” Mary hedged, glancing from one girl to another, then to Dusty before giving in. “The story goes that back in the late 1930’s, a few decades after the main house was built, the chauffeur’s son fell in love with the youngest Morgan daughter. She was a pretty girl, dark hair, dark eyes and petite. Sweet to everyone in spite of the wealth she was born into. But her mother didn’t approve of “fraternizing with the servants” and tried to get between the two.”
“There’s always a kill-joy.” Lisa muttered before gesturing Mary to continue the story.
“The girl, Fern, returned the love of the chauffeur’s son, Paul, and the two would sneak away every chance they got. But Mrs. Morgan found out about it and was furious. She complained to her husband but he wasn’t upset. He’d earned his money, not inherited it, and didn’t see a problem with Fern and Paul falling in love.” Mary kept her voice low but there was an intensity that drew her listeners closer.
“But Mrs. Morgan was having none of it. She had married for money, so could her daughters. So one night, she decided to lay in wait for the boy. Young man, really.” She amended, then shook her head. “No matter what Fern or Mr. Morgan said Mrs. Morgan wasn’t having a “lowly servant” marry her daughter.
“She knew the two had gone off into the woods for a rendezvous earlier and she hid behind some bushes to the side of the carriage house doors. When they returned Paul parked the car and moved around to help Fern out. As he opened the door Fern saw her mother step from the bushes and aim a gun at Paul. With a scream of denial she threw herself forward, shoving Paul just as her mother fired.
“She was trying to save her love but Mrs. Morgan was using her husband’s hunting rifle. And she wasn’t that far from the car. When Fern threw herself at Paul he caught her but the bullet struck him in the back, right through his heart, and exited his body and then Fern’s.”
The others gasped in horror as Mary nodded sadly. “Paul died immediately but Fern didn’t. The two young lovers collapsed to the ground, Fern draped over Paul’s bloody body, staring at her mother as Fern gasped her final breaths.
“Seeing what she’d done Mrs. Morgan ran from the scene screaming in horror. When her husband finally found her she was hiding in her closet, clutching his gun and rocking back and forth as she stared at nothing, her mind gone. They say, to this day, you can hear the shot and Fern’s scream if you’re here at the right time of night.” Mary finished.
The other three stared at her a long moment, then Dusty shook himself. “That is some tale. And you’re good at the telling, girl.”
Mary blushed but Carol nodded and held out her arm. “I’ve got goosebumps. I almost expect to hear the shot or scream any moment, now.” Then a crafty gleam entered her eyes. “Maybe Davis ought to hear it. We might be able to set up a little show for him on Halloween night. We might even get to see how fast he can run if we do it right.”
The others laughed at the thought, comments of what a great gag that would be passing around, but they turned back to their jobs of decorating the first floor. They had a party to get ready for and not a lot of time left to do it in.
The night of the Senior Scare Halloween Party was a hit. For any number of reasons.
The Decorating Committee had done an excellent job with the decorations. They’d done an even better job getting the food and snacks for the party. And it had gotten around that the Morgan Estate Carriage House where the party was being held was possibly haunted. Not a single High School Senior was about to miss this year’s party, whether they had a date or not.
Dusty, intrigued by Mary’s story telling skills, had asked her to be his date and the two had come dressed as Fern and Paul. But as the gunshot victims, not the living pair.
Davis, having heard a slightly embellished version of the story, had rolled his eyes. He had no time for ghosts and ghouls. Seriously, who believed that goop anyway? Really? Romantic ghosts?
Mary and Dusty ignored him.
Actually, most of the Seniors ignored him. He was a bit of a self-centered jerk and tended to treat others as much less important than himself. Or pouted when he didn’t what he wanted. The only reason Dusty dealt with him at all was because he was actually a good football player and the team needed him.
Odd, when you considered how selfish he otherwise was.
The party was still in full swing and it was nearly 12:30 a.m. The parent-chaperones were starting to eye the clock, trying to decide when they would have to tell the kids to close it down. Mary and Dusty were sitting in chairs outside the front doors as they talked quietly. In spite of the time of year it was unseasonably warm and that many kids in one room, no matter how large, made it hot.
“Thanks for asking me, Dusty. I’ve really had fun tonight.” Mary smiled shyly.
He grinned. “I’ve been looking for an excuse since last year, Mare.” He confessed. “I really like you. And these costumes are great. How’d you get them to look so authentic to the era?”
“My mom owns a vintage consignment store. She let me find what I needed for us.”
“Really? That’s -“
“Lame.” Davis broke in. “Really? “Vintage” is just another way of saying “old and used up” to make it sound like it’s worth something.” He sneered. “What are you wasting your time for, Dust? On this?”
Mary’s head bowed, her cheeks lighting with embarrassment as Dusty stood, anger in every line of his body. “You’re a jerk, Davis. There’s no call to treat anyone that way. You need to apologize to Mary.” He stated quietly.
“What? Why? Who really cares? She’s not a cheerleader. She’s never gonna be one of the popular kids.”
“Neither are you, Davis.” Came Carol’s voice. “Not with the way you treat people. And, quite frankly, I don’t like the “popular kids”. They’re usually the insecure bullies trying to build themselves up by tearing others down. That’s not how it really works.”
“Besides, I like Mary just as she is. She’s real. She’s honest. She’s interesting. She’s things none of the popular kids ever will be.” Dusty added. “Now, apologize.”
“Well said.” Carol applauded.
“Yes, it was.” Added Lisa.
Both girls stood near Mary, their dates with them, and all of them stared at Davis with cold eyes. Davis fidgeted but hid it behind bravado.
“Or what, Dust? You gonna punch me? Tackle me to the ground to teach me manners?” He sneered.
“No. I’ll ignore you. As will everyone else. Including the rest of the team. You’re a good player, Davis, but you’re not a good guy. Being a good player doesn’t make up for that. I’ll be talking to the coach about it because I’m not going to be on the same team as someone who isn’t going to build up others, even if it’s not a team mate.”
“What do you think you’re gonna do? Get me kicked off the team? I’m the star running back.” Davis laughed.
“No. I’m going to quit.” Dusty said in a mild tone. “Like I said, I won’t be around someone who has to tear others down rather than build them up. Or who refuses to be kind to and protective of women. You don’t treat women like that. You protect them. You take care of them. What you don’t do is mistreat them. Not even verbally.”
There was quite a group now, all gathered behind Dusty and the girls. When Dusty turned away, offering his hand to Mary to help her to her feet, the rest of them turned away, too. Leaving Davis standing there, jaw agape as they began to walk away.
“What- where- I don’t-“ He stammered, trying to find words. Then he found them. “All this over some GIRL!?” He roared. “Who do you think you are?”
No one answered. They all kept heading for the house. Rage built and snapped inside Davis as Mary put her hand into Dusty’s and let him pull her to her feet. She happened to glance past him to Davis and her eyes widened.
Davis planted his feet and pointed at them. “You stay put and finish this like a man!” He bellowed at Dusty.
Dusty started to turn, to tell Davis to go home, when Mary screamed and threw herself at him, slamming into him harder than he was prepared for. They went down in a heap just as a gunshot exploded through the night and other screams rent the air.
There was a sudden pounding of feet as the loudest scream streaked past them and off into the dark. Dusty, bewildered, glanced around but saw nothing, only his classmates milling around, the guys comforting the scared girls. He felt hands and found Carol and Lisa, along with their dates, pulling Mary and him to their feet.
“What just happened?” He looked around again before focusing on a wide-eyed Carol.
“You didn’t see?” She gasped.
“I- no.” He frowned. “I started to tell Davis to just go home when Mary barreled into me with the best tackle I’ve seen so far this year.” He grinned at her as she blushed, a bare smile tilting her lips even as she glanced past him again. “Then I heard a loud noise and lots of screaming.”
He frowned at Carol and Lisa’s exchanging glances. “What?” He demanded.
“Did either of you set up that Morgan family gag we talked about? Where we thought we’d try to scare Davis?” Carol questioned instead.
“No. No one had time.” Mary allowed softly.
“Ro? What. Happened.” Dusty demanded just as softly.
Carol gave a nervous giggle. “Well, apparently the right time to be here for the showdown with Mrs. Morgan and Fern is 1 a.m., post-Halloween.”
“What?” Dusty paled.
Lisa and her date nodded in unison. “Seems we heard the shot Mrs. Morgan took to kill Paul and Fern.”
Dusty turned to Mary. “But, why did you scream?”
Mary looked worried. “You can’t laugh, Dusty.” She said quietly.
“Babe, we all heard the shot. I don’t think one of us is going to laugh.” He assured as he took her hand.
Swallowing and giving a hesitant nod, Mary pointed a shaky finger to where Davis had been standing. “When you helped me to my feet I looked over at Davis and saw…”
“Saw what, Mare?” Carol prodded gently.
“I saw what I think was Mrs. Morgan. Or something… -one… whatever. It looked like it was pointing a gun at Dusty. Really, I just saw the gun more than anything. It actually glinted in the light. The barrel came up next to Davis’s shoulder and pointed right at Dusty. I… I didn’t want to take a chance it might not hurt him, so…” she shrugged and blushed and looked away
“I’d say you did him a big favor.” Said Carol’s date, nodding behind Dusty and Mary.
Everyone turned to look and a hole in the back of the chair Dusty had been in peered back at them. There was a loud, group gulp, then Lisa frowned, leaning closer.
“But… that looks old. Like it’s been there forever. Not like someone just did it.” She looked at the others.
They all nodded.
“Could it have been a gag? Not a real ghost?” Dusty murmured.
No one said anything for long moments as they all looked at that hole. Then Lisa frowned and glanced around.
“Where’s Davis?” She asked.
And both her and Carol’s dates started laughing. Chuckles that quickly developed into bent over, clutching their stomachs, hands on knees laughter. It had the others chuckling helplessly in response as they waited for their answer.
“I- it t-turns out there real-really is a reason Davis is the star running back.” Carol’s date chortled. “He lit outta here like his costume was on fire. That scream you heard after the gunshot was him as he headed for the barn and home.”
And the night filled with the sounds of laughter of their small group even as the parent-chaperones began clearing out all the rest of the party goers from the grounds. Seems no one but those outside had heard anything and even those not an immediate part of the drama hadn’t seen anything. So no one else really knew why Davis had lit out of there, screaming like a wounded banshee on helium, and no one ever copped to having set off the “fire cracker” even though all the kids were grilled by the school principal.
Shaking his head in exasperation, Mr. Muster hoped that the following year’s Senior class was a little more mellow. He glanced down the road. He also hoped Davis Parks stopped running before he hit the town limits. He hid a grin as he glanced back at the Carriage House.
“Thanks, Mrs. Morgan. Everyone needs a good scare now and then.” He murmured as he closed and locked the doors behind the last party goer.
From the corner of the carriage house, near the bushes, came the sound of quiet sobs.