Harry had just finished his evening meal and was in the right frame of mind for some quiet reading time; preferably in his favourite chair, with the footrest up, where he could relax and put the problems of the day behind him. In fact, it was entirely possible that he might even get comfortable enough for a little snooze. And with that thought in mind, he poured a little brandy in a glass and set it on a side table next to his chair. Settling into the familiar comfort of the worn old chair, book in hand, he sighed in anticipation.
“Bang!” Good heavens! Was that a gunshot?
As Harry snapped to attention there was a second bang, followed by the most awful screeching sound he had ever heard. He tensed, waiting to see if there would be a third bang, and was startled by a loud knocking on his front door instead.
Uh-oh. That likely meant trouble and the end of his quiet, restful night. He jumped to his feet and was at the door in several long strides. Throwing open the door, he opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again as his gaze travelled down. For a split second he stood there, bewildered.
“Trick or treat?” Half a dozen pairs of small hands were thrusting open bags towards him.
Just a bunch of neighbourhood kids in all sorts of costumes. Harry took a deep breath and shook his head, trying to focus. Open bags and colourful costumes… oh yes! Halloween treats… potato chips, chocolate bars… now where… okay, got it, he thought. “One minute,” he told the kids, reaching into the little porch closet. Quickly tearing open the grocery bags, he dropped the expected handouts into each waiting receptacle. As they turned to leave, with a chorus of ‘thank-yous,’ Harry smiled to himself. He had forgotten that tonight was Halloween.
That was it. Halloween! That explained the shots and the screams – nothing more than revellers and party-goers setting off firecrackers and letting off a little steam.
Realizing there was no possible chance of any quiet time for the next couple of hours, Harry switched on the television and turned to the history channel. Retrieving his brandy, he took a generous mouthful and was placing the glass on the coffee table as he sat down on the sofa. His late wife used to grumble about the rings on the polished surface but Harry didn’t polish as often as she did.
“Bang!” Momentarily startled, Harry’s hand jumped and the brandy threatened to spill onto the table. Then another bang and another blood-curdling scream.
Somehow, to Harry’s trained ear and finely-honed senses, it didn’t quite sound like a firecracker. Maybe he should… no! He shook his head emphatically. He was off-duty and not on call. Let someone else deal with it, whatever it was.
In between handing out treats, Harry heard the bangs and screams four more times throughout the evening. The last three were preceded by a long mournful wailing as well. He hoped it wouldn’t continue too late into the night and he fully expected to hear reports of mischievous tricks and pranks the next day.
It was a bleary-eyed, slightly grumpy Harry who reported for duty in the morning. Without a full eight hours of sleep he needed at least three cups of coffee to wake up properly and he’d only had the first one yet.
“What’s the matter, Hogan?” his partner asked as he walked in. “Trick-or-treaters keep you up past your bedtime last night?”
“Ha-ha,” Harry replied. “It was the blasted firecrackers and the revellers screaming. Have any complaints come in?”
“What firecrackers? What screams? I didn’t hear anything.”
Harry sat down at his desk, coffee mug in his hand. “Come on, Bruce. You had to hear it. Two bangs followed by an ear-splitting scream. Happened six times, last one was just after midnight. I mean, I know it had to be fireworks of some sort but it sure sounded like gunshots.”
“They were gunshots,” Bruce said.
“Okay, so what happened? Where’s the…?”
Bruce was shaking his head, his face serious. “What you heard were the Ghost Shots,” he explained.
“Say what?” Harry sputtered and grabbed a handful of tissues to wipe the coffee from his chin. “Did you just say what I thought you said?”
“Legend around here says that several hundred years ago, on October thirty-first, a local man with six kids lost everything he had. After a week with no success in finding work and their last few dollars were gone, his mind snapped. They say he took the kids outside to the barn one by one and shot them. The poor mother screamed with each shot.”
“What happened to them after that?” Harry asked.
“After disposing of the kids, he locked his wife outside and set fire to the house, burning himself along with it. The grief-stricken mother never recovered and spent the rest of her life in a mental institution, screaming and wailing for her babies.”
Harry refilled his coffee mug. “So why didn’t you hear those… ghost shots?”
“Ahh,” said Bruce. “It seems that every year on Halloween the tortured soul of this poor man is doomed to repeat his horrific crime, from now until eternity. But there’s only ever been one person each year who hears it.”
“Ghost shots, my foot,” Harry scoffed. “Tall tales and legends made up by someone to tell around the campfire, that’s all.”
“If that’s true,” said Bruce, “then what exactly was it that you heard last night?”
“Firecrackers, nothing but firecrackers,” Harry mumbled to himself as a shiver ran down his spine and goose bumps rose on his arms.
© 2018, F. Herridge
Story Quilt, October 2018 [Online]
Fayz World *** Fiction
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