A readers’ advisory for this collection of nine stories forecasts widely scattered ghosts with a chance of rain. Caution is urged at the following uncertain places: an abandoned mental hospital, the woods behind a pleasant subdivision, a small fishing village, a mountain lake, a long-closed theater undergoing restoration, a feared bridge over a swampy river, a historic district street at dusk, the bedroom of a girl who waited until the last minute to write her book report from an allegedly dead author, and the woods near a conjure woman’s house.
In effect from the words “light of the harvest moon was brilliant” until the last phrase “forever rest in peace,” this advisory includes—but may not be limited to—the Florida Panhandle, northwest Montana, central Illinois, and eastern Missouri.
“Cora, I’m going to pick you up and put you in the car,” I said.
“Have you ever picked up a Negro woman?”
“Do I need a special technique?”
“Yes, but don’t worry about it,” she said. “If you drop me, I’ll kick your ass.”
“You and what army?” I asked as I lifted her away from the grass.
“I don’t see you going into the comedian business either,” she said.
She was lighter than the summer wind.
“John, get the door. She weighs more than a Mack truck.”
“That’s why you’re carrying her and I’m carrying the first aid kit.”
The ghost was rising up out of the dark and dripping trees when I heard the shot, felt the pain in my left shoulder, and stumbled against the railing. John turned off the headlights. Smart move.
“Ed, you devil, leave be,” Cora shouted.
“I won’t drop you, Cora. Hold on.”
“Sweet Jesus, Randy, haul ass.”
I ran toward the open back door of my car, highly conscious of the jumbled scents of metallic Betadine, citrus Emeraude, gin house baldcyprus and fear.
“He coasted in close without lights,” shouted John.
“Do him under, Ghost Lady,” screamed Cora.
John shifted into reverse as I slid into the passenger seat. A bullet tore through the door seconds before I pulled it shut.
“Sweet Jesus,” I said, stealing Cora’s phrase.
The ghost rose up out the trees in a flash of white heat like a Redstone rocket out of Cape Canaveral and flew west and arrow straight into a small red car that sat low on the road. The explosion shook the swamp, coloring it blood red like a sunrise warning. A howl, hardly human, more like a wolf on a far hill, followed the light.
“Damn you, Edward Hannibal , damn you and your devil eyes.”
Cora pulled herself up in spite of her splint and leaned over the front seat.
“Stay down,” I snapped.
“How’s your shoulder?” asked John.
“Torn up, but not broken.”
John let out the clutch, stalled the car and couldn’t re-start it.
“Damn Green Smoker,” he yelled as he got out. “I’ll pull us out of here with the Jeep. Hold the steering wheel straight.”
“It runs?” asked Cora.
“Sure, but it won’t stop. The brakes are out,” I said
I slid over into the driver’s seat and got a low grumble from the engine when I turned the key.
“Damn, look there, stumbling down the road.”
She pointed at the twisted silhouette of a man firing another shot. The slug cracked the far corner of the windshield. The ghost flew through him and spoiled his aim. Ed fired again and missed. The rifle sounded like a bolt action .22 caliber loaded with rounds meant for small game and beer cans on fence posts, yet sure as hell, they could strike down a human stone-cold dead.
Copyright © 2019 by Malcolm R. Campbell
Moonlight and Ghosts
High Country Painter
The Opera House Ghosts
The Lady of the Blue Hour
Patience, I Presume
Haints in the Woods
"Cora's Crossing" is set at Bellamy Bridge near Marianna, Florida. Part of a historic heritage trail, this purportedly haunted bridge is now disconnected from any roads. However, when I was in high school, I drove my car over this bridge many times. Unfortunately, I never saw images of the ghost which scared many people over the years. - Jackson County Tourist Development Council photo.