This story is by Charm Harris and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Run!” Nick yelled over his shoulder. Shana palmed her stomach like a basketball
praying her little girl wasn’t bouncing in her stomach as her feet slammed against the
dried leaves and dirt.
“I’m sinking,” Daniel yelled. Shana spun on the heel of her sneaker still holding her
stomach. She leaned forward as a sharp pain soared from one side of her stomach to the
other. Shana clenched her teeth and inhaled deeply as she stumbled towards the dense
tree line and picked up a long branch.
“Give it to me, Shana,” Nick grabbed the long thin branch with both hands. “Grab this,
and I’ll pull you out.” Daniel grabbed the end of the branch with both hands.
“Hurry,” Shana screamed. “We have to get him out of there.” Nick groaned as he
pulled the end of the branch with all of his might. “Hurry, Nicky the branch is cracking.”
Shana inhaled deeply and forced herself to stand upright as she moved toward Nick. Her
sneakers felt like they were sinking in the mud.
Crackle. Crackle. Snap.
“I love you, Cardinal.” Daniel gasped. The last thing Shana saw was his mask.
Twelve Years Later
“Happy Birthday and Happy Halloween, Aliyah,” Shana forced herself to smile. She
carried a tray with pancakes and a small glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. Shana
swallowed the lump in her throat as she glanced around Daniel’s old bedroom. She
suddenly realized moving into the house her husband grew up in was going to be harder
then she thought. Shana was haunted by memories of her husband. The bookshelf was
filled with model trains that he put together. Even the faded blue curtains covered with
trains filled her mind with memories of Daniel.
“Mom, do you believe dad is here with us?” Shana shook her head slowly.
“I believe your dad is in Heaven.” Shana blinked away tears as she watched her
daughter enjoying her husband’s favorite breakfast. She switched off the nightstand light.
“Did you sleep with the light on?” Aliyah’s mother was sad, and it scared her. She decided
not to tell her mom the reason she slept with the nightstand light on. It would only upset
her more. Aliyah shoved a fork full of pancakes into her mouth.
“It’s no wonder he became a Train Conductor,” Shana sighed as she glanced around
the room and picked up the empty tray.
“He was the best Train Conductor,” Aliyah’s smile was warm. The love in her eyes
brightened Shana’s mood. She turned and walked out of the room.
As soon as the door closed, Aliyah leaped out of bed, and raced to the window. She
pulled the string and the metal slats on the blind opened letting in warm rays of sun. She
spun on her heel and walked to her bed. Aliyah tossed the pillow onto the floor, and
pulled the sheet, blanket, and comforter up to the edge of the mattress. She spun on her
heel again and stopped in her tracks. Her mouth dropped open. She wanted to scream,
but no sound came out.
“Don’t be afraid,” the Ghost Man whispered as he placed his fingers against his mask.
“I would never hurt you.” Aliyah remained frozen in place. Her eyes met his, and she
slowly let out the breath she was holding.
“Who are you?” Aliyah asked her eyes fixed on his. She was afraid that if she blinked
her eyes, he would disappear. His smile was kind. “My name is Aliyah.” Ghost Man
nodded as if her already knew her name. “What’s your name?” The sound of squeaking
hinges made Aliyah turn her head toward the door. Her eyes grew wide when her mother
swung the door open and bolted into the room.
“MOM!” Aliyah gasped.
“Who were you talking to?” Shana demanded. Aliyah wondered what she should tell
her mother. “I’m waiting.” Aliyah let out a long sigh.
“I was talking to Ghost Man,” Aliyah looked toward the foot of her bed where he stood
before he disappeared.
“Ghost Man?” Shana glanced around the room.
“I knew you wouldn’t believe me,” Aliyah plopped down onto her bed and folded her
arms across her chest. “That’s why I slept with the light on last night.”
“I’m going to ask Amy to come over and cleanse this house,” Shana reached into her
back pocket, pulled out her cell phone, and tapped the screen.
“No, Mom,” Aliyah yelled. “I want to find out who he is.”
“That’s insane, Aliyah, what if he’s a demon…it is Halloween.”
“I know it’s Halloween, but he’s not a demon,” Aliyah insisted. “Please, Mom, don’t call
Aunt Amy.” Aliyah knew that look all too well. Her mother was going to call her sister the
great Psychic Medium.
“You should come with me downstairs,” Shana said. Aliyah knew by her tone that
protesting would be useless.
“I’ll be down in a few minutes, okay?” Aliyah bit her bottom lip. She rose slowly from
her bed after her mother reluctantly nodded in agreement. After the door closed, Aliyah
stomped over to the small closet door. She swung it open and peered at the shoe boxes on
the top shelf. Aliyah spun around hoping to find something that would help her reach the
boxes. She dragged a chair across the carpet into the closet. She placed one foot in the
center of the chair and pulled herself up. She reached for the shoe box on the bottom of
the shelf directly in front of her.
Aliyah jumped off the chair and sat down. She closed her eyes and blew a thin layer of
dust from the edges of the shoe box before she removed the lid. When she opened her
eyes and looked down into the shoe box a wide smile formed on her lips.
“Photographs, how perfect,” Aliyah pulled out the first stack of three and began to look
through the Polaroid pictures. Aliyah recognized her grandparents. She didn’t recognize
the little boy in pajamas with trains on them.
Aliyah grabbed the sides of her head with her hands and groaned after going through
seven boxes. “The only thing I have seen so far is Grandma and Grandpa aging as the
little boy grew up.” Aliyah sighed and hesitated before opening the last box. Frustrated,
tears filled her eyes as she tossed the cardboard lid onto the floor. She picked up the
picture on top of the first stack of photographs taken with a 35mm camera. Aliyah leaped
to her feel and raced to the bedroom door. When Aliyah swung the door open, she
“Aunt Amy, how did you get here so fast?” Aliyah blinked. A thick stream of tears
flowed down her cheeks. ‘It’s not too late.’ She thought.
“It appears as though I arrived just in time,” Amy raised her arm, and pushed her
way into the bedroom. “I feel a strong energy in this room.” Shana gasped.
“You have to listen to me,” Aliyah begged. She extended her hand holding the
photograph towards her mother. “It’s him, Mom, and he’s with you. You’re wearing
Halloween costumes. You’re pregnant and wearing a red sweat suit with a large stuffed
cardinal sitting on your shoulder. The Train Conductor wearing the white mask is Ghost
Man.” Shana’s hand shook uncontrollably as she reached for the photograph.
“Kids were chasing us with a chain saw…it was a stupid prank that cost Daniel his life,”
Shana shook her head. “Aliyah…Ghost Man is your father,” Shana stared at the
photograph and sobbed.
“I’m going to start the ritual,” Amy threw her hand into the air. “This is ridiculous. It’s
Halloween and Aliyah had most likely made friends with some demonic force.”
“No,” Shana grabbed her sister’s arm. “I have to see him.”
“Mom, look by the foot of my bed,” Aliyah said without looking in her mother’s
“It is Daniel. A demon couldn’t mimic his loving smile,” Amy wrapped her arm around
Shana and pulled her toward the foot of the bed.
“Why can’t I see him?” Shana’s head turned quickly from side to side.
“Believe,” Amy said.
“Hello Dad,” Aliyah said. “It’s so nice to meet you.”
“Hello Aliyah,” Daniel smiled as he removed his mask. “Hello Cardinal.”
“I see you, but you appear transparent,” Shana took a step forward.
“He’s not transparent because we can’t see through him, Mom,” Aliyah grabbed her
mother’s hand. “Please stay with us.” Aliyah pleaded with her father.
“I’ve been with you and your mother since the day you were born,” Aliyah’s Dad, Ghost
Man, opened his arms. Shana and Aliyah stepped into Ghost Man’s arms. Shana closed
her eyes as she tried to imagine that she could feel his tender touch once again. “I will
never leave you.” Aliyah smiled.