Tim was pretty sure his big brother was kidding about the ghost at the park, just trying to scare him. He changed his mind when he saw the boy. Or, rather, when he saw through the boy.
Hughie and Tim sneaked out of the house after their parents were asleep. If they had done only that, it would have been the scariest thing that ever happened to Tim. He never snuck out or had been outside this late without Mom and Dad’s permission. But Hughie said the ghost at the Flatwoods City Park only came out at night. So here they were.
They sat on the edge of the amphitheater stage, kicking their legs and trying to stay warm.
“So who is this ghost again?” Tim said.
“Some kid who lived here when this was a farm, a long time ago,” Hughie said.
“Why’s he hang around here?”
Tim shrugged. “He’s a ghost. I guess he likes to scare people.”
“Let’s go home,” Tim said.
“You scared?” Hughie smiled at him.
“N-no. I’m cold and I’m bored.” But Tim was scared, a little. He hadn’t seen the boy yet, and that was fine with him. He didn’t exactly believe in ghosts, but he didn’t exactly not believe. Hughie sighed. Tim could tell his big brother was getting bored, too.
Then the ghost walked across the frost-dappled lawn right in front of the stage. He was small, not much bigger than Tim. His hair was kind of long, like he was past due for a hair cut, and he wore old-fashioned clothes covered with patches. He was barefoot.
“Do...do you see that?” Hughie whispered.
Tim’s mouth suddenly got so dry he couldn’t make a sound. The boy wasn’t solid. The shadows of the playground equipment showed through the ghost’s body.
Tim swallowed and found enough of a voice to mutter, “Can he see us?”
The ghost boy stopped. He turned to stare at Tim and Hughie. His eyes were pale blue ovals. Instead of being scared, Tim sort of felt sorry for the ghost. He looked lonely and cold.
For a long moment, the three boys – two living and one not – stared at each other. Then Tim pushed himself off the stage and landed on the grass.
“What are you doing?” Hughie whispered. Instead of answering, Tim walked to the ghost boy. Being this close to a ghost was pretty scary, but not as bad as he had feared. Up close, the boy’s image flickered like an old movie.
Tim bent over and removed his sneakers. His socks were immediately soaked by the grass. Tim shivered. He held out the shoes to the ghost.
The boy hesitated for an instant before he accepted Tim’s gift. He slipped his ghostly feet into the sneakers. It looked to Tim like a perfect fit. The ghost boy smiled. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a small object. He passed it to Tim. When he touched the ghost boy’s hand, Tim felt a slight tingle.
The ghost boy turned and walked away toward the picnic shelters. Tim’s sneakers left small footprints in the frosty grass. As he got further away from the stage, the ghost boy faded away.
Neither Tim nor his brother could speak for a moment.
Finally, Hughie said, “What did he give you?”
Tim stood close to a streetlight and examined the crude wooden disc. Words had been carved into the disc’s surface.
“Where’s Advance?” Tim said. Hughie thought for a minute before he exclaimed, “Here! Mrs. Robinette told us that Flatwoods was called Advance way back, like before the Civil War!”
Both boys looked at the spot where the ghost of John Driscoll had vanished.
“What do you think he wanted?” Hughie asked.
“A friend,” Tim said. “I think he just wanted a friend.”
“Let’s go back before your feet freeze,”Hughie said. “I can’t wait to hear how you explain your missing shoes to Mom.”
Tim laughed, and, along with his big brother, he went home.
© 2009 Mark Justice