Issue No. 6, Autumn 2013

Old Ghosts
Cezarija Abartis

Caroline extended the bag of Halloween candy to the three kids wearing storebought ghost costumes. Why buy them when it was so easy to make over an old bed sheet? She shrugged. These were the premier kids on the street: polite, quiet, obedient. Ralph and Mary Anderson raised them right. These were the kids she and Eric would have, if they had kids. Theirs, however, would be creative and, of course, make their own costumes.

Little Tommy asked: “How many ghosts does it take to change a lightbulb?” Her hand rested on the door and she noted that the door and porch needed painting, that their house was a perfect Halloween shanty. She had heard the joke already that evening. Tommy had got it wrong. It was supposed to be “vampires.”

Caroline had her own ghosts. Real ghosts, not children in storebought costumes. Eric was late again. Perhaps he stopped for a drink at The Late Edition. He liked hanging out with journalists more than lawyers. This house that they bought with all optimism last year seemed to leak good things–vibes, happiness, luck, until she felt heavy with bad luck. He seemed unhappy with practicing law as she was dissatisfied with being a copywriter for an ad agency that was losing business and letting people go.

“Trick or treat!?” little Janey sang.

What if Caroline said “trick”? What would little Janey do? Did these children have a plan, a superplan, an overarching sequence of tricks? What was their plan of life?

When Eric came home yesterday, his jacket smelled of cigarette smoke, though he hadn’t been to the bar. Okay, he spent time with someone who smoked. So what? But there was also a red stain on his shirt cuff–was it lipstick?

Three teenage girls dressed as vampires with sharp fangs and scarlet shiny bustiers laughed and demanded treats. Caroline offered them the brown paper bag of chocolates. Antioxidants–good for them actually. Destroy the free radicals. How many vampires does it take to change a lightbulb? She knew the answer was “None. They like it in the dark.”

She wanted to leave Minneapolis and this house, and Eric wanted to stay: his job, of course, and people he worked with, and friends.

Who are your friends, she’d asked him.

“You know–Lou, Mike, others, Louise, Debbie.”

“Tell me about Debbie.”

“Nothing to tell. She’s a great paralegal, hard-working, knowledgeable, devoted.” His full lips stretched into a smile.

She wondered if his full lips had been planted on Debbie’s devoted lips. Caroline knew she had to stop being jealous. She would have to confront this ghost.

The newspaper had a story about the Halloween blizzard of 1991when it snowed nine inches then nineteen inches more over the next couple days, and the snow didn’t completely melt until April. It must have damaged a lot of roofs. That was a long winter. What did the homeless people do? And the stray dogs and cats?

Now a group of tiny kids, with a young mother as chaperone–Julie from across the street. Her little boy wore a wolf mask and a tiger costume. He giggled. “Ruff-ruff, boo,” he sang out.

“Hey, that sounds just like a wolf,” Caroline said.

Julie shivered. “I hope they don’t get colds in this weather.” She looked around at the falling twilight and hugged herself in her windbreaker.

Caroline thought it would be an act of  mercy to invite Julie in out of the cold. “When you’re finished with the walk, come on over for a drink, if you like.”

“I’d like that but I gotta watch the little one. Steve’s out of town.” She patted Kyle’s head. “Why don’t you come to my house. You can leave a note for Eric telling him to call when he gets home.”

“Mom, you’re mussing my hair,” Kyle said.

“I’ll see you in a while.” Caroline watched Kyle skip down the sidewalk. The lights in the windows of the houses across the street were jolly. On the porches skeletons dangled, pumpkins with missing teeth grinned widely, cutout witches flew determinedly on brooms. In the west the streaks of sunset were swallowed by the night.

The phone rang. Eric said he would be late. She listened intently but could not hear anyone else in the background, no pretty woman laughing, no pretty woman waiting, no pretty woman putting on crimson lipstick.

She had not turned on the light in the shabby living room. “We thought we were building a house, not a shanty.”

“What?” Eric said.

“Never mind. I was just missing you.”

“I’ll try to finish up quickly. This could be the case that makes me partner.”

“Okay,” she said. “Okay.”

Outside the window, what had been smudges of darkness pooled into clouds and continents of shade.

The wolf at the door shouted he’d huff and he’d puff and he’d blow the house down.


Cezarija Abartis’s Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Per Contra, Pure Slush, Waccamaw, and New York Tyrant, among others. One of her flashes was included in Wigleaf‘s Top 50 list of flash fiction. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University. Her website is magicmasterminds.com/cezarija

  • April Winters

    Poignant story set at one of my favorite times of year. I felt very sad at the end. Good writing tugs at my emotions. Nice!

    • Andrew Stancek

      Truly scary story, Cezarija. So well-told, so sad.

  • G. K. Adams

    Yes, very poignant. I was glad Caroline and the neighbor reached out to each other.

  • This pulled me right into scene and held me there throughout. The ending is breathtaking 🙂 and, yes, sad.