By Scott Warner
Done! It was 2:30 in the morning and the last box was finally unloaded. I was standing in my new dining room, blearily saluting the castles of cartons stacked around me with a cold cup of coffee. Despite the arduous, painful exasperation of moving, I was extremely happy to have discovered such a pleasant dwelling at the end of Maguire Street in the quaint, quiet town of Otterton. The price had been surprisingly economical and it was all that a weary denizen of Cleveland could possibly wish for: my dream come true.
Suddenly, I caught a blur of motion from the corner of my eye through the sliding glass doors. The harsh reflection of the dining room light on the glass made it hard to see but it looked like a teenage kid running through the backyard into the woods beyond! He was fast and I didn't get a good look at him. I was very startled, who knew with teenagers today? It could be trouble or it might be nothing. But I was too exhausted to care. Tomorrow was going to be another long day of furniture moving and I desperately wanted to hit the sack.
By nine o'clock the next night, I had seriously restructured the castles into a small hamlet. I even had a place to sit down and enjoy my dinner, a microwaved hotdog without any ketchup or mustard. I had the morbid thing halfway to my mouth when I noticed movement in the backyard. I ran to the doors and cupped my hands around my eyes for better vision. It was the same damn kid in my yard! He hesitated a moment but all I could see was his profile. He was wearing chinos, a plaid shirt, high top tennis shoes and glasses with thick black frames. Without thinking, I slid the door back to yell at him but he had already taken off into the woods.
I had trouble getting to sleep that night, I couldn't stop thinking about this guy. Why would he be trying to harass me this way? Was he some kind of nutcase trying to scare a new stranger in town? It didn't make any sense. A few nights later, I was watching some inane show on the SyFy channel when it happened again in the exact same way. It was like watching a replay. At that point, it dawned on me I was in big trouble. Twice is just a coincidence but three times isn't logically possible. My skin crawled as I realized I had witnessed some sort of supernatural manifestation, the kind that I had always sneered at as brainless hokum.
I didn't sleep at all the next few nights even though I drew the newly hung drapes and refused to look. I left the lights on, inside and out. I knew what was out there but didn't want to face the truth. After three nights of this, however, I finally resolved to try and put a stop to it. I was a nervous wreck, it couldn't continue. Luckily, whatever it was didn't seem intent on terrorizing me personally. That night as soon as it got dark, I donned a light jacket, flipped on the porch light and settled into a lawn chair with a thermos of hot tea. I waited nearly four hours and was ready to give up when I heard a faint background noise I couldn't identify; and suddenly he was there. It didn't look like a ghost, he appeared to be solid and real and in full color. I wondered if I could touch him.
"Who are you?" I shouted. "Why are you doing this to me?"
Even though the event wasn't outwardly frightening, I was trembling violently and chugged the rest of the tea straight down. I went back inside to recover and thought about what had happened. Apparently it involved some nasty type of trouble at the kid's house. It might be an accidental injury, a terrible illness, a drunken abusive parent or something much worse. From traditional ghost story lore, I assumed it involved my property or the woods. Whatever it was, I was pretty sure it was going to entail some gruesome, grisly business I didn't really want to know about. No way was I going into those woods at night.
It was more than a week before I could force myself to try again. The vigil was much shorter this time. There was a faint roaring and then the kid was standing in my yard twenty feet away. His back was turned to me and he was staring off into the woods.
"What's your name?" I shouted loudly. I was keyed up to tripwire intensity.
With little alternative, I decided to find out who this kid was and why he was haunting my backyard. The question was how to do this. I needed to ask someone if there were any stories or rumors about my house, maybe that would explain why the price had been so low. The realtor was out, I wouldn't get any straight answers from her. I was afraid to approach my nearest neighbors without knowing what type of people they were. As a newcomer in town, I didn't want to be labeled as a loony tunes right off the bat. Going to the police was a dicey proposition, they would have heard about any rumors or reports but it would gain me an instant and official reputation as far out in mental left field.
I drove to the tiny station house, sucked in a deep breath and pulled the door open. A middle-aged officer turning paunchy was sitting behind the only desk. His name tag said Young.
"Hi, my name's Josh Graham and I just moved into a vacant house on Maguire Street near the woods," I babbled. Don't stop or you'll chicken out, I thought. "Something odd has been happening ever since I moved in. I keep seeing a teenager run through my backyard in the middle of the night," I admitted. The cop's eyebrows immediately went up; too late now I thought.
He reacted in classic cop fashion, laconically pausing to consider the question, making it quite apparent that the inquirer was a dumb ass. He jutted out his lower lip before answering "No, I never heard of nothing like that before." I wondered if he practiced.
"I don't want to give you the wrong impression," I explained desperately, "but it's happened several times and I just want to it to stop. I think it's..." I swallowed, "I think it's a ghost. He said his name was Casey." The eyebrows went up another notch. The officer scribbled something on the pad in front of him while trying not to snicker.
"Look Mr. Graham, we both know there's no such thing as ghosts. If you've been feeling stressed out lately, my advice is to seek medical attention. Doc Perry would be the best person to consult."
"Yeah well, I've never had any trouble like that before and I was fine until this whole thing started happening and I don't think I'm hallucinating. If you'd like to come out to my place and take a look?"
The cop huffed and replied, "Otterton can only afford one duty officer in the daytime and one at night. We don't even have a dispatcher. I can't afford to leave the desk unattended unless it's a real emergency. My only advice to you is to consult with Mrs. Hacker down at the Records office on Cochrane Avenue."
I turned to leave, giving up. "My next stop," I acknowledged. I'm sure Officer Young hoped he never saw me again.
Clawing through the land records wasn't difficult but it certainly was boring. My house had been built by a Levittown type developer in 1961 on the site of a recreational park. The patch of woods was all that remained. Former owners of the property had been named Jackson, Thomas, Robinson and Williams. The realty company had purchased it from the previous owner, Hal Lynn, hoping to cash in on its isolated location. But few offers matched the asking price until I came along.
With no where else to turn, I started sifting through old newspaper articles on microfiche at the library. I was looking for any information related to Palmer Park. The librarian informed me that the records were incomplete the farther back you went, so I started at 1960 and worked backwards. I spent five weeks on the search, squandering as much free time as I could spare. I saw Casey several times at night during this period and managed to confront him twice. His answer was always the same. The clatter of the fiche reader had driven me nearly crazy by the time I finally found what I was looking for. And it pierced my heart.
His name had been Casey Nolan. In October of 1953, he was only sixteen years old. He had been playing baseball at the park; he was on third base when the hitter bounced one up the middle. He took off for home but a drunk driver named Roger Bonds lost control of his car, crashed through the fence and smashed into Casey, killing him instantly. That's why Casey wanted to get home. Fifty years later and he was still trying to score.
But that wasn't the end of the story. Casey's mother, a war widow, had hired the Rose McGraw funeral home to cremate his body. However, when she opened the urn, it was empty. After an investigation, the whereabouts of Casey's remains was still unknown and charges of fraud were filed against Rose McGraw. The Winchell inspired policeman who handled the case, Officer Tom Davis, waggishly dubbed it "The Case of the Un-Urned Run." No wonder Casey couldn't reach home.
I was appropriately attired that night in a long black overcoat and leather gloves, my breath fogging in the late October chill. This time I stood close to where Casey appeared, not silently but calling for him. And he materialized.
"I need to get home!" he yelled and took off. I hustled hard to keep up.
He beamed joyously as he faded away. I have not seen him since. I sincerely hope he's celebrating with his teammates.
[Note: This was literally the oddest dream I've ever had. I simply used Shrunk and Head's "Elements of Guile" to jazz it up. Apparently I've reached a mental state where I dream in puns. Either that or I've been watching way too much baseball. But that's what happens to you when you're a Nats fan.]