Eleven-year old Lennie Briscoe straightened and took off his baseball cap. He ran his arm across his forehead and put the cap back on. Even in October a six inning game of baseball make him sweaty. He wiped the moisture off his hand onto his already dusty jeans.
Lennie leaned in and stared from the pitcher's mound at the boy in the batter's box. Ice blue eyes met his brown ones. A grin spread over the batter's face, showing a mouth full of braces. Lennie was glad he didn't need those.
It was two outs in the bottom of the sixth with a runner on second. Lennie needed this out and it would be especially sweet to get it against this batter. Calvin McNeil was not only the best hitter on the other team, he had been Lennie's nemesis since kindergarten. The two boys competed over everything, including Debbie Pfister.
Lennie looked to his catcher for the sign. He nodded and quickly pitched. Swing and a miss. He contained his excitement. He still needed two more strikes.
Calvin smirked at Lennie because he already had two hits in the game. He glanced towards the stands and smiled at Debbie. Then he looked back at the pitcher with a challenge in his eyes.
Lennie grinned and threw a pitch up and inside. He was satisfied to see Calvin move off the plate. He looked at Debbie. She looked away but a small smile came to her lips. He shifted his attention back to Calvin who stepped back up to the plate and glared at him.
Lennie got the sign for the fastball and let it go. A sharp grounder to the shortstop and the out at first. He pumped his fist. "Yes!" He looked over at Calvin who threw his cap to the ground and kicked the first base bag. When the two teams shook hands, Calvin shoved him and said, "You were just lucky."
"No, I'm just good," Lennie responded and watched Calvin stalk away.
A week after the game Lennie was sitting in the cafeteria with his best friend who asked, "What are you doing for Halloween on Friday?"
Before Lennie could answer, they heard Calvin's voice, "I hope that you two aren't gonna dress up. That's for kids."
"Well what are you gonna be doing?" Lennie asked. He straightened in his chair when Debbie sat across from him.
"I don't know," Calvin answered, sitting next to Debbie, "I can't think of anything that would top last year."
"What did you do last year?" Debbie asked, only mildly interested.
"I went into the old Cole house."
"Yeah right," Lennie said. Everyone in the neighborhood stayed away from that house. No one had lived there in over one hundred years. Strange things were supposed to happen there.
"Yes I did," Calvin insisted.
"Weren't you scared?" Debbie asked.
Lennie listened as Calvin went into a story about the Cole house. He didn't buy a word of it but Debbie was hanging on every syllable.
"What do you say now, Briscoe?" Calvin asked when he was finished.
Lennie looked at the crowd that had gathered around their table and answered, "I don't believe you."
"Because you're the one, who hid under his desk the first time we heard the new fire alarm," Lennie replied and everyone laughed.
Calvin's face flushed and he rallied by saying, "Just because you won't go in the house, doesn't mean that I wouldn't."
"Who says I wouldn't?"
"You'd be out of there in five minutes."
"No I wouldn't," Lennie stated.
Lennie met Debbie's gaze. He couldn't back down in front of her. Once again his big mouth was getting him into trouble. "Ok, I will. I'll spend the night there."
The school day went by too fast for Lennie on Halloween. Most of the other kids wished him luck. Calvin came up to his locker as he was getting his coat. "You'll be out of there in five minutes and I'll be there to see it."
"What do you mean?" Lennie asked.
"I'll be waiting outside the house for you."
"Great," Lennie said sarcastically.
A few hours later, Lennie stood in front of the dark house. It reminded him of one of the houses he saw in the old horror movies that his dad liked so much. He looked up at the stars and was about to open the gate when Calvin came up behind him. He sighed and turned around to see his nemesis and Debbie.
"Good luck, Lennie," she said sincerely.
"Yeah. Good luck," Calvin echoed with a smirk.
"Thanks," Lennie answered and turned back to the gate. As he reached out for it, it opened on its own.
"It was probably just the wind," Debbie said nervously.
Lennie shrugged. He nonchalantly said thanks to the invisible force and walked through. The gate clanged shut behind him.
Lennie slowly went up the stairs to the front porch. He tested the front door to discover that it was unlocked. He took a deep breath and pushed it open. He pulled the flashlight from his backpack and went inside.
Lennie found himself in the front hallway of the large house. It was quiet except for the sound of the wind outside. He flashed the light all around. He didn't see much except the thick dust on the floor. He took a few more steps in and came to the base of a stairwell. The light showed him more dust and an old portrait.
The boy walked past the steps and into a long hallway with several doors on both sides. Lennie winced as the floor creaked under him. All of a sudden he heard knocking noises from above him. He shined the light on the ceiling but didn't see anything. Then the knocking began to move. He thought it was like someone walking with a wooden leg. His dad had made the same noise when dressed as a pirate with a peg leg the year before.
As suddenly as the noise began, it stopped. Lennie took a few more steps, trying to walk lightly enough to stop the floor from creaking. When he briefly stopped, the door to his left opened and he felt a gust of hot wind.
The boy wasn't scared. He'd seen a lot worse stuff on tv but this place was really weird. Curiosity got the better of him and he went through the door. He flashed the light on an old fireplace. Just then, the fireplace came to life and the light of the flames illuminated the room.
Lennie stared at the fire in wonder. Then he looked around the rest of the room. There were two big armchairs by the fireplace, a couple of bookshelves against the wall, and an old desk. He ran his hand along the top of the desk and noticed there was no dust.
The next thing to capture the boy's attention was the model of a ship on one of the shelves. He stepped up to it and read the nameplate, "The Shadow." He jumped when the door slammed. He heard the same knocking again but this time it was in the room with him.
Lennie looked around. He felt like someone was in the room with him. That didn't make any sense. Stuff like that only happened in the movies. He thought Calvin was playing tricks on him to embarrass him in front of Debbie. "Very funny Calvin. You can come out now."
"That's not my name boy," a British accent said.
"What is your name then?" Lennie asked. He wondered why he wasn't scared but he didn't feel like he was in any danger. He froze when a man, dressed in a long coat with a sword and peg leg, materialized in front of his face. The man grinned at him, displaying yellow teeth.
"The name's Johnny."
"I'm Lennie," the boy answered.
"Aren't you scared?"
Lennie shook his head. He was more fascinated by the fact that Johnny was transparent. He could see the wall through him. "Are you a ghost?"
Lennie stuck out his hand and it went straight through Johnny. "Do you feel that?"
Johnny laughed, "That tickles. You're a brave lad. All the others I've come across ran away long before now. Some don't even make it past Gate."
"How many boys come in here?"
"At least one every Halloween. You see, that's the only night I can interact with the living," Johnny explained, "It gets lonely the rest of the year, not having anyone else to talk to?"
"You don't know any other ghosts?"
Johnny waved that off, "They're all bags of hot air. I don't listen to a word they say."
Lennie nodded. He knew people he'd rather not listen to, especially his teacher Miss Bishop, but he didn't have a choice. "Do you like scaring people away?"
"You're full of questions aren't you," Johnny answered in an amused tone but he liked to talk and answer questions. "Only some people. I like to get the ones who come in here full of pride and bluster. I get the most laughs watching them clear out of here. Why did you come here lad?"
Lennie shifted his weight from one foot to the other and his face flushed. How could he say that he did it for a girl?
"Well, you got quiet all of a sudden. Sit down and tell me about it," Johnny said.
Lennie found himself in one of the armchairs, which was way too big for him. He almost disappeared into the cushions. Johnny seemed so interested that he couldn't help but tell the ghost about how he came to be there.
Johnny listened in amusement as the boy told his story. When the tale was finished he said, "So you're doing this for a girl."
Lennie focused on the carpet and answered, "I guess so."
"She must have her eye on you."
"What do you mean?" the boy asked, not even thinking about hiding his excitement.
"She came, didn't she? She's waiting out there to see if you'll be safe."
"Calvin brought her," Lennie stated.
"You're too young to know about women my friend. No one makes them go anywhere that they don't want to go," Johnny explained. He sat back in his chair and added, "They're both gone now anyway."
"How do you know?"
"Gate told me. He opened and shut a couple times on his own. That was enough to scare the boy away. Gate says the girl stuck around a little while longer before she left too."
Lennie laughed, "And he told me that I was scared."
Johnny rubbed his chin, "I think I remember your friend Calvin from last year. He took two steps through the door before making a hasty retreat. He also left a nasty little puddle on my floor."
"Really?" Lennie asked. This was just too good to be true.
"I swear to God, mate."
Lennie smiled, savoring the ideas of what he could do with that little piece of information. After a few minutes of evil planning he asked, "What did you do when you were alive?"
"Sit back lad and I'll tell you about my adventures on the high seas," Johnny declared and pointed to the model, "That was my ship. The Shadow. She never let me down."
The boy's face lit up like only a child's can as the ghost began telling him tales. Johnny started by explaining that he was an English pirate paid by the Queen to rob Spanish and French ships. He eventually retired to America and built this house. Every Halloween he came back to it.
Lennie woke up when sunlight hit his face. The last thing he remembered was Johnny telling him about all the gold on Spanish ships.
"I'm glad you're finally awake, lad."
Lennie heard Johnny's voice but couldn't see him.
"My time here is just about up," Johnny continued.
"It was good talking to ya. It's been a long time since I got to share my stories."
"I had a good time," Lennie said.
"Well come on back next year. I'll have to tell you the rest of that story. You fell asleep before the best part," Johnny responded, "I'll tell Gate to expect you."
Lennie grinned, "Great!"
"Oh, and bring Debbie with you. I'll make you look good in front of her. Now go home."
When Lennie stepped onto the front porch, the door closed behind him. He looked into the bright sky and grinned. Then he went down the steps and out the gate. He saw Debbie riding her bike towards him. She stopped and got off, "Did you really spend the entire night in there?"
Lennie nodded, "Yup."
"What was it like?"
"It was nothin'," Lennie stated, deciding not to mention Johnny. He didn't need Debbie to think he was crazy. Besides this was something he just wanted to keep for himself for awhile.
On the next day of school, word spread that Lennie spent the night in the Cole house. Calving came up to his locker and scowled. Lennie spoke first, "I heard you got out of there because of the clanging of the gate."
"Where'd you hear that?" Calvin asked and added, "Debbie doesn't know what she's talking about."
Lennie looked over his shoulder to make sure no one else was listening and responded, "She's not the one who told me."
"Then who did?"
Lennie grinned, "The same person who told me about that little accident you had at the Cole house last Halloween. He said it was very rude of you to have left that mess." He saw the look of panic in Calvin's eyes and added, "Don't worry. I'm not gonna tell anyone. At least not yet."
"What are you doing tonight for Halloween?" Ed Green asked.
"I'm visiting an old friend," Lennie answered, "We get together every Halloween."
"For how long?"
"Since I was eleven," Lennie stated and stifled a laugh at the expression on Ed's face.
"You mean that there's someone around who knew you as a kid."
"Yup. He even helped me get my first girlfriend."
"He must be ancient," Ed said.
"You don't know the half of it," Briscoe said. Before his partner could ask anymore questions he said, "See ya tomorrow."
A half-hour later, Lennie stood in front of Gate. It opened for him with a groan. "It's been a lot of years, Gate." Gate groaned again and hit him in the back lightly in response.
The door to the house flew open and three boys ran out. They went past Lennie at top speed and climbed the fence when Gate wouldn't open. The detective heard Johnny laughing and said, "I see you're up to your old tricks again."
"I just couldn't resist. Besides, I had to help this young man. Those other boys were chasing him," Johnny's voice answered.
Lennie climbed the steps to the porch and found himself face-to-face with a boy in a red baseball cap, who couldn't have been more than twelve. The boy was laughing and pushed his glasses up when he saw the older man.
"You must be Lennie."
Lennie nodded, "That's me."
The boy stuck out his hand and said, "I'm Davy."
Lennie shook Davy's hand. "Nice to meet you."
They both heard Johnny say, "Lennie, bring our new friend inside. I haven't talked to anyone in a year and you need to tell me what's been going on in the world."
"That's all I need, more pirate stories," Lennie said and winked at Davy.
"You used to love my stories," Johnny pouted.
"I'm only teasing Johnny. Stop being a baby."
"Was he really a pirate?" Davy whispered.
"At least that's what he says. Personally, I think he makes it all up," Lennie answered, knowing full well that Johnny heard him. He grinned when Johnny snorted in response.
As they went inside, Lennie touched Davy's cap. "Do you play baseball?"
"Yeah. I'm a pitcher."
"No kidding. So was I," Lennie said as the door shut behind them.