T he hunting club was gathered in the round corner booth of Doreen’s 24 HR Eat Gas Now Café on a stormy Halloween eve. We were waiting for the wives and kids to return from taking the grandkids trick or treating.
Our original idea was to spend the weekend getting deer stands ready for opening day, but the rain and Hairy Eyeballs from the spouse changed our minds.
The cafe was a good place for us, out of the way, out of the rain, and safe in the hands of Doreen, who had the café decorated for the season. She even ignored our activities in the booth, which was rare. I was sharpening knives for everyone, and it seemed to be the perfect time for that because the customers kept giving me wary looks. Probably something to do with the slasher movies on the television over the counter.
Of course it might have been because I’d sharpened four skinning knives, two hand-axes, several lockback knives, two folding knives, and one very old butcher knife we use in camp.
Every now and then some wet kids came in, dressed like little ghosts or superheroes. Their parents huddled outside under umbrellas as Doreen and Trixie, who was splendid in her tight witch’s outfit, bent to drop candy bars into the kids’ containers.
We watched carefully. You never knew when some kid was going to snitch more than their share.
Visibility was zero as rain sometimes blew sideways, and even the car’s headlights on the highway barely cut through the thick soup. Condensation ran down the windows.
Doc wiped at the glass. “You can’t see a thing out there.”
“I’ve never seen a storm like this on Halloween. It’s creepy,” Wrong Willie said.
Jerry Wayne made what he thought was a spooky sound. “It’s the perfect weather for Halloween!!! Ghosts!!! The walking dead!!!”
Doreen came around and threw a handful of mini chocolate bars on the table. “Quit that. You sound like you had a stroke. Eat these and try not to bother me.”
A covey of little kids came in and Trixie knelt to put candy in their bags.
“Owww!” Woodrow rubbed his head where Doreen hit him.
“You guys leaned so far over to look that I thought the room tilted. Y’all get to your candy and behave.”
Doc sighed. “Well, at least we can go through the kids’ candy when they get here and pick out some good stuff. We can take it to snack on when we get to the deer lease.”
The door flew open and Delbert P. Axelrod nearly fell over the little pre-school superheroes. Dripping wet, he staggered to the booth and shoved in beside Wrong Willie. “I can’t believe it. I’m safe!”
His face was pasty white, and his hair was plastered to his head. The boy was breathing so hard I thought he had asthma.
I thought I needed to check his pulse, which must have been off the charts. “What’s the matter with you?”
“I just saw a ghost!”
“There were three of them in here just a minute ago, about three feet tall.”
“No, this one was real. It must have been the lady of the lake.”
Woodrow grunted. “Well it is Halloween.”
“No, really. I saw a ghost. It was driving a car.”
Doc leaned back. “What happened?”
Delbert swallowed half of my coffee, not realizing that Doreen had just filled it. The scalding liquid didn’t faze him one bit. “My truck died down the road from here, and the storm is so bad I was afraid somebody would hit me. I pulled way off the side and tried to get it started, but didn’t have any luck.
“So I turned around and here came a car that slowed down. Man, I was glad to see him, and didn’t want to walk all the way down here in the storm, so I jumped in the back seat. I leaned my head back as the car started to move again and thanked the driver for picking me up. That’s when it happened.”
“I opened my eyes and there wasn’t anyone at the wheel! The wipers weren’t going and car picked up speed and I knew there was a stiff curb coming up. I screamed and just as I did, a ghost-white hand came through the window and the car turned.”
A car slowly turned off the highway, the headlights barely cutting the rain. It crunched to a stop in front of the café.
“I was so terrified, I couldn’t even think to climb over. The car started going faster and faster and another curve came up and the hand appeared again and turned the wheel just in time. I was screaming and crying, and it kept up until I saw the lights of Doreen’s here. The car slowed down again, so I jumped out and ran inside.”
We sat there for a whole minute absorbing the story. Doc broke the silence. “So it was kind of the Lady of the Lake ghost story in reverse.”
“No! It was real! It happened!”
Another gaggle of kids came through the door, followed by two men who were soaking wet and apparently exhausted. They stopped behind the kids, and when the tallest one saw us sitting at the booth. He pointed a finger.
“Look there’s that lunatic that jumped into the car while we were pushing it.”
Email Reavis Wortham at [email protected]