The Howling Ghost
The day the howling ghost kidnapped Cindy Makey’s kid brother, Neil, was rotten from the start. Cindy began to expect bad times ever since her family moved to Springville, or Spooksville, as the kids in town called it. At first—even though she disliked the place—Cindy didn’t believe half the stories she heard about it. But after the ghost came out of the light-house and grabbed Neil, she was ready to believe anything.
“Can I walk on the jetty?” Neil asked as they
reached the end of the beach, where the rocky jetty led out to the lighthouse.
“I don’t think so,” Cindy replied, stuffing her hands in her pockets. “It’s getting late and cold.”
“Please?” Neil pleaded, sounding like the five-year-old he was. “I’ll be careful.”
Cindy smiled at her brother. “You don’t know what the word means.”
Neil frowned. “Which word?”
“Careful, dummy.” Cindy stared at the churning ocean water. The waves weren’t high, but the way they smashed against the large boulders of the jetty made her uneasy. It was as if the surf were trying to tear down the structure. And the tall lighthouse, standing dark and silent at the end of the jetty, also made her nervous. It had ever since she moved to Springville two months ago. The lighthouse just looked, well, kind of spooky.
“Pretty please?” Neil asked again.
Cindy sighed. “All right. But stay in the middle, and watch where you put your feet. I don’t want you falling in.”
Neil leaped in the air. “Cool! Do you want to come?”
Cindy turned away. “No. I’ll sit here and watch.
But if a shark comes out of the water and carries you out to sea, I’m not going in after you.”
Neil stopped bouncing. “Do sharks eat boys?”
“Only when there are no girls to eat.” Seeing Neil’s confused expression, Cindy laughed and sat down on a large rock. “That was a joke. Go, quick, have your walk on the jetty. Then let’s get home. It’ll be dark in a few minutes.”
“OK,” he said, dancing away, talking to himself. “Watch out for falling feet and girl sharks.”
“Just be careful,” Cindy said, so softly she was sure Neil didn’t hear. She wondered why the dread she felt about the town hadn’t touched her brother. Since their mother had moved them back to their father’s old house eight weeks ago, Neil had been as happy as one of the smiling clams he occasionally found on the beach.
But Cindy knew the town wasn’t safe. In Springville the nights were just a little too dark, the moon a little too big. Sometimes in the middle of the night she heard strange sounds: leathery wings beating far overhead, muted cries echoing from under the ground. Maybe she imagined these things—she wasn’t sure. She just wished her father were still alive to go with them on their walks. Actually, she just wished he were alive. She missed him more than she knew how to say.
Still, she kept going for walks late in the evening.
Particularly by the ocean. It seemed to draw her.
Even the spooky lighthouse called to her.
Watching Neil scale the first of the large boulders, Cindy began to sing a song her father had taught her. Actually, it was more of an old poem that she chanted. The words were not pleasant. But for some strange reason they came back to Cindy right then.
The ocean is a lady,
She is kind to all.
But if you forget her dark moods.
Her cold waves, those watery walls.
Then you are bound to fall.
Into a cold grave.
Where the fish will have you for food.
The ocean is a princess.
She is always fair.
But if you dive too deep.
Into the abyss, the octopus’s lair.
Then you are bound to despair.
In a cold grave.
Where the sharks will have you for meat.
“My father never was much of a poet,” Cindy muttered when she finished the piece. Of course, she knew he hadn’t made it up. Someone had taught it to him. She just didn’t know who. Maybe his mother or father, who had lived in Springville when her father was five.
Cindy wondered if he had ever walked out to the lighthouse.
Without warning, the top of the lighthouse began to glow right then.
“Oh no,” Cindy muttered as she got to her feet. Everyone knew the lighthouse was deserted. A pillar of spider webs and dust. Light had not shone from its windows since she’d moved to Springville. Her mother said it hadn’t been turned on in decades.
Yet as she watched, a powerful beam of white light stabbed out from the top of the lighthouse. It was turned toward the sea. It raked over the water like an energy beam fired from an alien ship. The surface of the water churned harder beneath its glare, as if it were boiling. Steam appeared to rise up from the cold water. For a moment she thought she saw something just under the surface. A ruined ship, maybe, wrecked on a sharp reef that grew over it with the passing years.
Then the light snapped toward the shore, spinning halfway around. It focused on the jetty. Still moving, still searching.
Cindy watched in horror as it crept toward her brother.
He was already partway down the jetty, his eyes focused on his feet.
“Neil!” she screamed.
He looked up just as the light fell on him. It was as if something physical had grabbed him. For a few seconds his short brown hair stood straight up. Then his feet lifted off the boulder he was standing on. The light was so bright it was blinding. But Cindy got the impression that two ugly hands had emerged from the light to take hold of him. As a second scream rose in her throat, she thought she saw the hands tighten their grip.
“Get away, Neil!” she cried.
Cindy was running toward her brother. But the light was faster than she was. Before she even reached the jetty, Neil was yanked completely into the air. For several seconds he floated above the rocks and surf, an evil wind tugging at his hair, terror in his eyes.
“Neil!” Cindy kept screaming, leaping from boulder to boulder, not caring where her feet landed. But that was her undoing. She was almost to her brother,
within arm’s reach, when her shoes hit a piece of wet seaweed. She slipped and went down hard. Pain flared in her right leg. She had scraped the skin off her knee.
“Cindy!” her brother finally called. But the word sounded strange, the cry of a lost soul falling into a deep well. As Cindy watched, her brother was yanked out over the water, away from the jetty. He was held suspended, as the waves crashed beneath his feet and the wind howled.
Yet this was not a natural wind. It howled as if alive. Or else it shouted as if it hungered for those still living. The sound seemed to come from the beam of light itself. There was a note of sick humor in the sound. A wicked chuckle. It had her brother. It had what it wanted.
“Neil,” Cindy whispered, in despair.
He tried to speak to her, perhaps to say her name again.
But no words came out.
The beam of light suddenly moved.
It jerked her brother farther out over the sea. Far out over the rough surf. For a few seconds Cindy could still see him, a struggling shadow in the glare of the cold light. But then the beam swept upward, toward the sky. And went out.
Just like that, the light vanished.
Taking her brother with it.
“Neil!” Cindy cried.
But the wind continued to howl.
And her cry was lost over the cruel sea.
No one heard her. No one came to help.