Old Man Bradley’s Ghost (flash fiction)
Some people swore that the house was haunted. It sat apart from the other houses in the neighborhood, decaying slowly as we grew older. No one had lived there since Old Man Bradley had died, which had happened so long ago that Jimmy Rumsey, the youngest kid in our group, hadn’t even been born yet.
Neighborhood legend had it that Old Man Bradley’s ghost still lived in the house, guarding the piles of money and treasure he was said to have kept there. He was a cantankerous old coot, according to the stories that had trickled down to us from the older kids, who didn’t trust the bank to keep his money safe. So he hid it in his house, under mattresses and behind walls and sealed up in rusty old paint cans in the garage. There was treasure everywhere, if you were brave enough to go look for it and Old Man Bradley’s ghost didn’t get you.
So the story went. None of us had had the courage to see if it was true.
Jimmy’s older brother Billy had been inside once, according to Jimmy. But Billy had joined the Marines after high school and got killed in Iraq, and could neither confirm nor deny his brother’s story. There was no word on whether Old Man Bradley had been involved.
It was almost Halloween when the For Sale sign went up. We were in the Johnsons’ yard, Emma and Jimmy and I, raking leaves into piles which we would then jump into. The leaves were starting to get pretty crunched up when Emma’s brother Elijah arrived with the news.
“No way,” said Emma.
“Way,” said Elijah. “Come see.”
We abandoned the leaf-piles and ran over, cutting through Emma’s backyard and the empty house behind hers’ yard to make better time. Sure enough, there it was.
“What about the treasure?” Jimmy asked. “Does whoever buys the house get to keep it? What about the ghost?”
None of us knew the answers to those questions.
I was a ninja for Halloween that year. After we’d made the rounds of the neighborhood and gotten our candy, me and some other kids met up over by my house to decide what to do with the rest of the night.
“We should go break in to Old Man Bradley’s place,” said Elijah. “It’s our last chance to find his treasure.” The house had sold a week before Halloween.
We stashed our candy in my house’s garage and made our way over there, ducking behind bushes when cars drove by and sneaking past the kids still out trick-or-treating. We went around back, where no one could see us, and regrouped. Elijah and the other kids found a broken window and climbed in. Emma and I were about to follow when a long, slow creaking sound came from inside.
Emma grabbed my hand in the dark.
“I don’t want to go inside,” she whispered. “Stay here with me.”
Something funny started happening to me, something I didn’t understand. I was intensely conscious of Emma’s hand in mine.
The house creaked again and somehow we were hugging.
Then, there in the dark, I felt a pair of lips touching mine. A tiny wiggle of tongue. I tried my best to do it back right.
We were trying again when Elijah and the others came back out.
“Did you find any treasure?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “It’s just an empty old house. There’s no treasure.”
“Did you see the ghost?”
“There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
Nothing was ever the same again after that.