This story is by Rose Ann Hirsch and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Erie View Park’s sign said it was closed for the season. The two boys went inside anyway. Crumbling leaves crunched beneath their sneakers as they headed down the deserted midway. A chilly, early October breeze blew off Lake Erie, penetrating Cory’s thick hoodie, but he wasn’t sure it was the cause of his shivers.
He felt uneasy in the closed park even though Mac had assured him it was okay for them to be there. The place looked creepy. The Tilt-A-Whirl platform was void of seats, and cobwebs clung to the arches around it. The bones of the carousel reached out from the center pole, searching for its runaway horses.
“We’ve got the entire park to ourselves.” Mac grinned at him.
Cory shoved his hands in his hoodie pockets so Mac couldn’t see they were shaking. “There’s nothing to do here.”
“Sure there is. I’ll show you. Hey, look, there’s Sully. He owns the place. Come on.”
The boys jogged past the kiddie roller coaster toward the miniature train. A tall, thin man was pushing the passenger cars into a tunnel. He straightened up and turned when Mac called out to him.
“Hello, Mac. Who’s your friend?”
“This is Cory. He moved next door to me last week. He’s never been to Erie View, and I thought I’d show him around. Is that okay?”
“Of course. It’s nice to meet you, Cory.” The play of shadows and sunlight turned Sully’s face into a skull.
The hairs on Cory’s neck prickled.
“Wander around all you want, but stay out of the dance hall. It needs repairs and isn’t safe.” Sully went back to work, and the boys headed down the midway, shuffling through the dead leaves.
Cory caught a glimpse of yellow from the corner of his eye. When he looked full on, he saw nothing. He decided that the yellow color must have been the sun’s reflection on the Ferris Wheel’s steel skeleton.
Mac ran up onto the worn porch of a weird-looking house. Its roof sagged, the doors on either end didn’t fit the frames, some shutters were missing from the greasy plastic windows, and it was painted black and puke green. He stood next to a box with buttons on the top.
“Welcome to the Haunted House,” he announced with a flourish of his hand. “Want to take a ride? The cars are inside and I can bring them out. Sully showed me how to work the controls. It’s a delayed timer so I can jump in the car before it goes through the door.” Mac’s hand hovered over the buttons.
Cory’s breath caught in his throat. He had hated dark rides ever since he went to his old school’s carnival two years ago. A couple of ginormous eighth-grade boys had grabbed him and stuffed him under the seat of a Devil Den’s car. They sat on the seat and rode through three times while he was squished beneath them, unable to move or breathe. His face had been black and blue from them purposely bouncing on the seat. He was still angry about the incident, and he was angry with himself for not fighting back.
“It looks boring.” He tried to sound casual and uninterested.
“You’re just saying that because you’re scared,” Mac teased, not realizing it was the truth. “This is an old dark ride, real low-tech, wood and pulleys and stuff. Not very scary.”
Cory shook his head. “Let’s go to my house and set up my gaming system. I’ve got Ghost Killers.”
“I heard that game isn’t scary, not like a real ghost. Erie View has a real ghost haunting the dance hall. Maybe she’s around today. Let’s take a look.” Mac ran off the porch and grabbed Cory by the arm. He hauled him toward Lake Erie, where a bulky pink and purple building hugged the cliff’s edge.
“Sully said to stay out of the dance hall because it isn’t safe.” Cory pulled his arm out of Mac’s grip.
“He says that because he doesn’t want anyone ghost hunting there unless they pay him.” Mac sprinted toward the dance hall.
Cory reluctantly followed. Up ahead, something yellow moved along the side of the building. His skin crawled, and he looked away, wanting to believe it was nothing more than a butterfly or a late-season flower.
“So, what’s the ghost story?” He was trying to delay the inevitable and not think about that bit of yellow.
“Sixty years ago, there was a concert in the dance hall, and this girl left the hall for some reason, maybe to go home, I’m not sure. It was dark out and she fell off the cliff into the lake. Her body was never found.” Mac threw open the dance hall doors, and they walked inside.
Daylight spilled into the big room from vaulted windows at the front and back of the hall. Cars from the Ferris Wheel, Tilt-A-Whirl, and the kiddie roller coaster stood against the walls. Carousel horses straddled wooden racks. They seemed to mock Cory with their frozen smiles.
“What does the ghost do?” He heard his voice crack.
“What do you mean?”
“How does she scare people? Does she move things, cry, scream?”
Mac shrugged. “I’ve never seen her, so I don’t know for sure. The kids at school say that during a dance, she waits by the side door for someone to leave the hall, and then she pushes them off the cliff.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“It’s true! People disappear over the cliff all the time.”
“It has to be part of the ghost story.” As Cory finished his sentence, the side door burst open, and a flash of bright light filled the hall. A girl in a yellow dress, a matching ribbon tied around her brown ponytail, materialized in the space between the boys. Mac screamed and ran.
Cory couldn’t move. He realized that her dress was the yellow he’d seen on the midway and along the side of the dance hall. He looked around for Mac. His new friend was cowering inside one of the Tilt-A-Whirl tubs. He wanted to hide in one too.
A second burst of light exploded in the dance hall. The girl’s arms jerked up toward her ears, her legs went out from under her, and she was dragged across the hall by an invisible entity, the heels of her shoes scrapping the maple floor.
“Help me! Help me!” she shrieked as the unseen thing yanked her out the door.
Without thinking, Cory ran outside. He watched as two boys shimmered into existence. They were standing at the cliff’s edge, laughing as they swung the girl back and forth between them above the churning water of Lake Erie. The ghost bullies were as enormous as the eighth-graders who had tormented Cory at the school carnival. Something inside him snapped.
He threw himself at the closest boy and sailed through him, landing on the ground. Scrambling to his feet, Cory pummeled the air with his fists, hoping one of his punches would make contact with the ghost. The boy swung around and swatted at him, but his arm went through Cory without any impact.
Cory tried a Karate kick, expecting his foot to go right through the ghost. Instead, it hit hard against the boy’s spectral body. He fizzled away. The other boy disappeared before Cory could attack him.
He was breathing hard, and his heart was pounding. He had fought a ghost. And won!
“Everyone in the dance hall saw those boys pull me out the door, but nobody helped me,” the girl in the yellow dress said. She stood at the edge of the bluff, glowing. “They threw me off the cliff. I hit my head and drowned. The tide pulled me far out into the lake. It’s been happening over and over again for years. No one helped me except you. Thank you.”
She smiled and faded away.
“That was incredible!” Mac squeaked from the doorway. “I didn’t know anyone could fight ghosts like that! You’re lucky they didn’t throw you over the cliff!”
“I didn’t think of that,” Cory said. It hadn’t occurred to him that he had been in danger. He had just wanted to help the girl.
“You vanquished my ghosts, kid.”
Cory jumped and turned around. Sully had snuck up behind him.
The park owner stood on the edge, scowling. “Nobody is going to pay to investigate a dance hall without ghosts. You owe me a ghost. It should be you.” He lunged at the boy.
Cory dropped to the ground. Sully lost his balance and fell.
Mac ran to Cory and helped him to his feet. “I can’t believe he tried to push you off. I thought Sully was a good guy. You okay?”
Shaking, Cory nodded. “We have to call the police to rescue him.”
They looked down at the lake, but they didn’t see Sully’s body.
Inside the dance hall, a new ghost howled in anger.