The Witching Hour
by Tom Arbino
Rick gazed into the eyes of his uncle, but he died seven years earlier. He could feel his jaw muscles becoming tight, and as he put his finger in his ear, his uncle faded away. While not sure if it actually happened, he tried to convince himself that it was just his imagination, but his racing heart and sweat covered body told him otherwise. He reached into the plastic grocery bag that he had with him, cracking open a beer and taking a huge gulp. After stopping to take a breath, he took an even bigger drink. He sat on that bench waiting for a bus, and he was all alone.
Just then, he witnessed his uncle standing by a stall. He watched his uncle stare right at him from two benches down and for a moment he thought that he said something to him. His heart began to beat out of control, and the notion that his uncle died of a heart attack became more and more dominate in his mind. Before he could draw another breath, he spotted his uncle’s heart come out of his chest. The heart, also a ghost, came after him while continuing to beat. Fear petrified him, allowing him to stand up but not move. The organ descended upon him in a rapid manner, and he could hear it throb in a diseased style. He watched it come to within five feet of him, bracing himself for attack. He cringed, expecting impact at any moment, and then he saw nothing.
A breeze swirled around him, and the way that it felt made him nervous. As he scanned the immediate area, he observed nothing. He sat down, finished his beer, and then opened another one. His eyes never left the spot where he viewed his uncle, and the image of his heart coming at him made him quiver. He didn’t know what was going on, and at that point he would settle for getting out of there over an explanation. As he took another gulp of his beer, he realized that he uncle could appear at any time, and he understood that he could’ve killed him with his heart.
The clouds appeared thick and fast moving on that Halloween night, creating the impression that the sky was falling. The hour approached 11:00 p.m. He sat on the bench in Government Square, the central bus stop in downtown Cincinnati. All of the surrounding office buildings were empty, and there were no cars on the streets. A series of diagonal long wooden benches, each anchored in a concrete structure that surrounded it, which had a trash can at each end, made up part of a block in front of the old post office. Each bench had a lighted glass roof, which had the numbers of the buses that stopped there painted on the front panel.
“Is the bus on time?” Someone asked from the other side of Rick.
Rick jolted, and shock devoured every part of him. He didn’t hear someone come up from the other side and sit down, and at that moment he wondered if she had walked at all. He said, “You scared the hell out of me.”
“I didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”
“It’s okay,” Rick finished his beer and then put the can back in the bag. He gazed at Ginger, and at that instance he wasn’t sure if he knew her at all. She was what social psychologists called a familiar stranger, someone that he saw on the bus each night but a person that he really didn’t know at all. He had become comfortable with her, having ridden that same bus home each night with her for several years.
Rick Dellecave looked muscular though had somewhat of a beer gut. He stood six-one and weighed close to one hundred and ninety pounds. He had shabby brown hair, which he parted to the left. It hung over his ears and was in need of cutting. His sideburns flowed to the bottom of his ears and his mustache was in need of trimming. He acquired his drinking habit, and many tattoos, while in the Navy, having spent six years working as a machinist. Since he was still employed in a machine shop, albeit second shift, he wore a green factory uniform with his name on it and steel-toed boots. He had a four-year-old daughter, which he visited only once in a while, though he didn’t care for his ex-wife.
“I thought it was going to rain,” Ginger said.
“It looked that way.” Rick glanced at his bag.
“You weren’t on the bus Friday.”
Rick saw someone else that he knew walk up and sit down on the bench. He said, “I took a sick day.” “The bus was really late. I think the driver was drunk.”
Rick saw his uncle sitting at the bench across from his. He shuddered, and then he felt nervous energy consume his body. He said, “T-That’s the s-same old guy that was on i-it last Wednesday.”
“That guy even smelled of whiskey,” the man who sat down said. “The way that he was nodding off I thought he was going to fall asleep at the wheel.”
“He almost did on the levee,” Ginger said.
Rick watched his uncle stare at him in a sinister manner, believing that the others only witnessed a man sitting there. Before he could take a second glance, the roar of a bus inundated him. As he looked up, he viewed the number twenty-four Mt. Washington bus roar into the slot in front of him and stop. The vehicle hissed as it came to a halt, and the sound of the door coming open disturbed him.
As Rick clutched his bag, he could hear the echo of a heart pounding in his ears. Each beat had a peculiar and diseased rhythm, telling him that it was his uncle’s organ. His chest got heavy as he walked toward the door, and he began to ponder what his own cholesterol count was. With each passing step, that throbbing shocked him even more. He had to take a deep breath and hold onto the handrail as he stepped up onto the bus, wanting nothing more than to sit down and crack open a beer.
When he got to the top step, he froze, and panic crushed him. The driver was one that he was familiar with, and one that he recognized as having died two years earlier. The fat and gray haired man behind the wheel died of lung cancer, and he always used to light up while the bus was on the road.
He fumbled with his changed while putting it into the fare box, dropping a quarter. While bending over to pick it up, he could hear the driver’s diseased lungs wheezing. The puffing was rather creepy, bringing the image to mind of dark brown snot lining the respiratory organs. Each breath that the driver drew made him more and more nervous, and every inhalation rang out as though it was going to be the man’s last gasp.
He put the coin in the fare box, listening to it grind as the machine processed it. Just as he was about to step away, the driver turned to him and stared into his eyes. The driver appeared pale and purplish around the edges and the pack of cigarettes in the man’s shirt pocket stood out in his mind.
The driver grabbed Rick’s arm, and then said. “That’ll be another dime.”
Rick sensed his body becoming heavier, and he had to force himself not to piss right there in front of everyone. The driver’s touch was ice cold, and images of the grave and hard dirt on a cold winter day flooded his mind. Something eerie and off in the mist was pulling him toward it, and he knew that he didn’t want to go there. He said, “I... I don’t r-remember t-the f-fare going u-up.”
“You’re the guy who always shorts me a dime.”
“I p-paid you t-the full f-fare.”
“Another dime buddy. I’m not going to take any shit from a punk like you.”
“O-Okay.” Rick reached his shaky hand into his pocket, pulling out a quarter and sliding it into the slot.
“Make sure you pay the right amount the next time.” The driver let go of Rick.
Rick walked back about halfway, sitting down in a seat and sliding up to the window. He opened a beer, gulping down about half of it and hoping that the others didn’t see him. He watched Ginger sit in the seat opposite him, and the man, Steve, took the one in front of him. The doors snapped shut, and the last bus to Mt. Washington took off.
The bus accelerated faster than Rick thought it would, missing its usual turn and heading straight for Columbia Parkway. He said in a panicked tone, “It missed its turn.”
“There’s something really funny going on here. That driver died awhile back,” Steve said.
“Is this even the twenty-four?” Ginger wondered. She was in her late twenties, slim, attractive, and had short brown hair. A health care worker by trade, she always wore a white uniform and white shoes.
“That’s what it said on the sign,” Rick said. The bus headed down Columbia Parkway, a four-lane road that ran along the Ohio River. The expressway had a guardrail on the watercourse side and a high concrete retaining wall on the other. No cars traveled the thoroughfare at such a late hour.
“I think you should say something to the dude,” Steve said.
“M... Me. What about you?” Rick took a gulp of his beer.
“Just ask him why he missed the turn,” Ginger said.
“I’m going to get off as soon as we reach Delta Avenue. I don’t care if I have to walk,” Rick said.
“Just...” Steve began.
In the next moment, the bus went careening into the guardrail at close to sixty miles per hour. Fear deluged him, making his senses alive. He gripped the bar above the seat in front of him, clinging to it in a desperate style. He said, “W-What are you d-doing?”
“I’m going to kill you,” The driver yanked the wheel in the opposite direction, sending the bus into the concrete wall on the other side of the parkway.
The resulting crash threw Rick from his seat, causing him to strike the bench opposite of him with his shoulder. The pain that he felt oscillated to severe levels, compelling him to believe that he broke his collar bone. He knew that he had to get to the driver and somehow wrestle that bus away from him or force his foot down on the brake.
Rick grunted while pulling himself up, noticing that both Steve and Ginger were on the floor and moaning with pain. Once on his feet, he witnessed the driver yank the steering wheel all the way to the left, and he realized that the accelerator was floored. He grabbed on as tight as possible, watching the bus careen over the guardrail. The vehicle soared into some thick brush and small trees, heading down a hill. Before he could draw another breath, the bus bottomed out hard, sending him rolling to the floor. Despite his efforts to grab onto something, the vehicle struck a thick elm.
Rick lied in a state of semiconsciousness, not sure if he was injured in the crash or not. In the next moment, he believed that he saw his deceased father standing in front of him. His dad spoke to him, but he couldn’t tell just what he was saying. He wasn’t sure if he could feel his body, thinking that perhaps his spirit had left it.
“Rick. Rick,” Ginger said.
“Wha...” Rick mumbled.
“Rick. Are you okay?” Ginger said.
“Come on. Snap out of it. We have to get out of here,” Steve said.
“What’s going on?” Rick began to see Ginger, although her features appeared rather fuzzy to him.
“I think he hit his head,” Ginger said.
“What happened?” Rick lifted his head.
“We’ve been in an accident. Can you walk?” Steve asked.
“I think so.” Rick noticed that Steve and Ginger had cuts about their faces and arms. He saw Steve holding his left side and Ginger quivering.
“If that bus wouldn’t have bottomed out like that we all would’ve been killed,” Steve said.
“What about the driver?” Rick grunted while pulling himself up.
“I think he disappeared,” Ginger said.
“We have to get the hell out of here before he comes back,” Steve said.
“Okay I’m coming.” Rick cringed when he got to his feet, staggering forth and making his way off the bus. Since he was only a mile or so from downtown and it was closer than the East End, he decided to walk. The journey proved uneventful, though the streets were mysterious and dark. Deep within him, he understood that he wasn’t going to encounter anyone, and he realized that a supernatural energy was at work.
When Rick entered downtown Cincinnati, the odor of rotten meat devastated all five of his senses. The stench seemed not only to be sweeping through the area, but to have become it as well. His eyes searched for anyone who might be able to help him, but all he saw was darkness that loomed all around him. Returning to Government Square didn’t comfort him, but rather only offered him a bench to sit down on.
After Rick sat down, he probed his face with his fingers, finding a number of small cuts. He tried to hide the fear that coursed through him from the others, but he could tell by the way that they looked at him that they knew every thought that circulated in his head. His eyes perked up when he saw Ginger pull a cell phone out of her purse, and for a glimmering moment hope remained alive in him. He said, “Did you get a dial tone?”
“All I can get is this funny noise. Listen.” Ginger handed the phone to him.
When Rick put the phone up to his ear, he felt his chest become rigid. A thickening layer of sweat clung to his skin, affecting his very complexion. What he heard on the other end startled him, reaching into the dim recesses of his mind and raping him of his sanity. The clatter on the phone sounded as voices, yet he couldn’t make them out. The tongues seemed to be in English, yet he couldn’t make anything out. While unable to listen for even a second, he switched the phone off and handed it to Ginger. He said without looking at her, “Forget about it. There’s no way it’s going to work. Not tonight.”
After rooting through his pocket and pulling out a quarter, Steve said. “I’m going to try the phone over there.”
“Go ahead,” Rick said.
“Don’t leave without me.” Steve got up and walked about fifteen feet to a bank of pay phones. He was close to thirty-five, African-American, slim, tall, wore a goatee and had his head shaved. He sported work boots and a blue factory uniform with his name on it.
When he saw Steve return after only a few moments, he knew that the phone didn’t work.
“So what happened?” Ginger asked in an excited tone of voice.
“There was no dial tone. I couldn’t get nine one one, the operator, or information.” Steve sat down on the bench.
“Something really weird’s going on tonight,” Rick said.
“What are we going to do?” Ginger asked. “We have to get the hell out of here,” Steve said.
“I have to rest for a minute. My shoulder’s starting to throb. I think I broke something,” Rick said.
“I think we should...” Steve began.
Just then, Rick watched a shadow move toward him from the bench in front of him. The darkness pulsated and changed shaped, becoming that of a man. The guy, a fifty year old janitor who died a year or so ago, strolled up and sat down next to him. He sensed his stomach churn with acid, and he could taste its nasty tang on the back of his tongue.
“Has the bus to the Beechmont Mall been by yet?” The man asked while looking Rick right in the eye.
Rick shuddered, and then attempted to choke it off before the man saw it. He wished that he still had his beer with him, desiring to take a big swig at that moment. He said, “Y-You should know. Y-You’ve taken this b-bus for years.”
“Well I haven’t taken this bus for over a year now. You see I’ve been dead. Perhaps you would care to join me?”
Rick leaked out of the way just as the man dove for him, and he didn’t wait for the others as he dashed for the corner of Fifth and Walnut. He ran diagonally across the street, angling for the hotel on the other side. As he gazed back, he noticed that the man was right on him. He wanted to scream out, but his body wouldn’t respond. He put more and more energy upon it, but he just couldn’t get the words to come out of his mouth.
He came to the bank of glass doors in front of the hotel, opening one and running into the lobby. After scurrying past a restaurant in the atrium, which had a high glass ceiling, he came to the front desk. The area contained no one. Several people worked behind the counter at all times, and bellboys hustled people in through the side door. As he gazed out the glass entries, which contained the marquee where cabs and valets usually assisted arriving guests, he beheld only an empty street.
Looking back, he witnessed only Steve and Ginger standing nearby. He took a moment to catch his breath, for he wasn't sure just what was going on. He said, “What happened to him?”
“I don’t know. He was chasing us,” Ginger said.
“Do you want to go upstairs and check the rooms?” Steve asked.
“I want to get the hell out of here.” Rick began to fell the pain in his shoulder.
“So do I,” Ginger said.
“There might be somebody up there. This is a big hotel,” Steve said.
“Yeah, somebody who blew his brains out five years ago. I’ve met enough ghosts for one night,” Rick said.
“There might be somebody up there just like us. Somebody who’s holed up and waiting for help to arrive,” Steve said.
“If you want to check it out then go right ahead. I don’t want to get trapped up there with nowhere to run. At least down here on the streets we have a chance,” Rick said.
“Let’s walk over a bridge into Kentucky. Things might be different over there,” Ginger said.
“It sounds like a plan to me,” Rick said.
“Let’s go,” Steve said.
Rick led them out the door, wishing that he had some alcohol to still the agony that he felt in his shoulder. He strolled out from under the marquee, planning to turn left and head south for the river. As soon as he got to the road, a bus came barreling at him with every intention of running him down. He darted up onto the sidewalk, but the vehicle rode one wheel over the curb, angling right for him. While hurrying back into the hotel, he watched as the driver, the same one who send the twenty-four over the guardrail and crashing into that tree, rammed the front end into the door. He jumped back as glass spewed toward him, knowing that one more thrust of that beast would send what was left of the doors crashing in.
The driver tooted the horn, lighting up a cigarette and then sticking his head out the window. He said, “Hey Rick. Your bus is here.”
Rick heard the engine rev high, seeing the driver back the vehicle up. After inhaling hard and holding his breath, he took off running through the lobby back toward the main entrance of the hotel. When he got about fifteen feet away, he heard the doors smash to pieces. The bus’ engine roared to life, and the vehicle moved in on him fast. With nowhere else to go, he ran up an escalator that went to the mezzanine, which served as a balcony that overlooked the lobby and hosted a row of shops. The elevators lined the back wall.
Just then, the floor beneath him vibrated. He stopped to look back, and he sensed terror pouring through him at an ever-escalating rate. The bus had hammered into the escalator, riding up it to a point where the front wheels were off the ground. For a moment he wasn’t sure if he was breathing, having to inhale through his mouth just to be on the safe side. He would’ve pinched himself if he wasn’t so frightened, and he wondered what he might find.
The driver tooted the horn, sticking his head out the window. He said, “Hey Rick. You’re bus is here.”
Rick saw that the sign read twenty-four Mt. Washington, noticing the man try to back it off the escalator. The bus’s engine bellowed, yet the vehicle remained stuck. He realized that it was just a matter of time before the driver got the rig free, so he darted for the elevator. After taking the car down, he raced out the side door and headed up Fifth Street.
“We should’ve went up,” Steve said.
“We would’ve been trapped,” Rick said.
“We’re out in the open here. He’s going to get that thing off of there any minute now,” Ginger said.
“If you want to go back then go back.” Rick didn’t turn around to glance at either of them.
“So what’s this great plan of yours?” Steve asked.
“We have to stay on the streets if we’re going to have any chance of getting out of here,” Rick said.
“But we have to...” Ginger began.
Just then, he heard the bus break free. Glancing over his shoulder, he viewed the vehicle heading for the side doors, understanding that it would soon be right behind him. He bolted for the other side of the street, sprinting past a tall building and turning into the entrance to the Fountain Square Garage. He rushed down the first three ramps, stopping and standing with his back to a wall. Few cars were parked in the structure at that hour. He wanted to say something to the others, but he was too winded to allow such.
Just then, he perceived a terrifying crash. The resonance of metal being ripped away by concrete made him weak, causing him to digest his food much faster than he otherwise would. He listened to the bus’s engine rumble, hearing it back up and then open up wide as it made another attempt at the entrance. When the vehicle struck the cement roof, he thought that he felt the entire building vibrate. He knew that he had to get out of there, but he didn’t have the strength to move.
In the next moment, he heard the bus depart, but his excited pulse told him that he wasn’t safe. Before he could draw another breath, he listened to the squeaking of several tires as they made their way down to his level. He realized that he was trapped down there, so he forced himself to move away from that wall. When he gazed at the ramp that went up, he saw a cab come at him fast. A large African-American woman sat behind the wheel, and he could tell by the manner in which the entire back of her head that was blown away that she put a pistol in her mouth and pulled the trigger.
“Did anybody call a cab?” The woman pulled in front of him quickly and slammed on the brakes, thus cutting him off from the door leading to the stairs.
“What are we going to do?” Ginger asked.
“I don’t know,” Rick said.
“Well I don’t have all night. Come on. Get in. The meter’s running,” the woman said.
Rick paused for a prolonged moment, and then said. “We didn’t call for a cab. I think you have us mistaken with somebody else.”
“Be careful because she might have the gun that she used to kill herself in the car with her,” Steve whispered.
“You have to be the one who called a cab. I sure as hell don’t see anybody else standing around here,” the woman said.
“I think you went down one too many levels. I think your fare is one level up,” Rick said.
“You’re Rick Dellecave. You’re my fare. You’re the one who’s supposed to die tonight,” the woman said.
Rick pissed the front portion of his pants, unable to determine if the ground was shaking or they were having an earthquake. He said through stammering lips, “I... I think y-you h-have me c-confused with s-somebody e-else.”
“I don’t have nothing confused Rick Dellecave. Now do you want to die in my cab or do you want to die under the wheels of the number twenty-four bus? It doesn’t really make a difference because you’re going to die tonight either way,” the woman said.
“P-Please j-just l-leave me a-alone,” Rick said.
“Suit yourself. But the number twenty-four is up there waiting for you.” The woman backed the cab up several feet, allowing Rick and the others to head for the door.
By the time Rick got to the door, he couldn’t help but to glance back at the cab. He witnessed the woman’s brain come out of her head, and then he viewed it as it chased him into the stairwell. Most of the back of the cerebellum had been blown away. He knew that if it caught up with him that it would enter his head, and destroy his own mind. While bringing up the rear, he observed it right on his heels. He forced himself to run faster and faster, knowing that he had to get out of that stairwell.
“Watch out for the bus,” Ginger puffed.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about any damn bus,” Steve said.
“Hurry up.” Rick glanced back fast.
“Steve don’t.” Ginger said as Steve opened the door and stormed through it.
After Rick got through the door, he slammed it. It heard the brain strike it with a disturbing squishing noise, seeing blood and gray matter oozing out from under the panel. He ran with the others up the ramp to Fifth Street. He approached with caution, seeing pieces of concrete all over the place from where the bus attempted to force it’s way into the garage. He slowed down to almost a crawl, listening for the clatter of that big diesel engine. He said, “I don’t hear it.”
“That doesn’t mean that it left,” Ginger said.
“If it’s out there then what?” Steve said.
“I don’t know. But we have to go out there. We have to try to make our way south,” Rick said.
“Too bad there isn’t a car in this garage with the keys in it,” Steve said.
“If there was I wouldn’t trust it,” Rick said.
“LOOK.” Ginger pointed.
Rick glanced to where she was pointing, spotting a police car sitting in an alley behind the old post office. A cop sat in the sedan, and he appeared to be writing something on a clipboard.
“Maybe that’s why that bus isn’t waiting for us,” Steve said.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure I trust it,” Rick said.
“We have to ask him for help,” Ginger said.
“What if he’s a ghost too?” Rick said.
“I don’t see any visible wounds,” Steve said.
“That still doesn’t mean that he didn’t smoke himself to death or drink himself to death,” Rick said.
“Isn’t there a way that you can tell?” Ginger asked.
“There wasn’t with all the others,” Rick said.
“So far everybody we’ve come across tonight has been a ghost,” Steve said.
“Since he hasn’t spotted us let’s just wait here a minute,” Rick said.
“He’s going to...” Ginger began.
“Be on the look out for a Metro bus that is going on a rampage downtown. The bus has the number twenty-four Mt. Washington on its sign,” a voice over the police radio said.
“It sounds like there’s somebody at the dispatch place. I know that isn’t downtown,” Steve said.
“Let’s go talk to him,” Ginger said.
Rick sighed, and then said. “Okay, but everyone eye the man real careful. If you see anything out of the ordinary take off running.”
“And remember to head south,’ Steve said.
As Rick walked, his eyes scanned the big man that he saw in that car. The African-American man behind the wheel measured better than six-five and weighed in at close to two hundred and eighty-five pounds. Getting closer to the car, he examined the man’s chest. He viewed no cigarettes in his shirt pocket, and he didn’t notice any organs that were going to jump out at him. The guy didn’t appear as a ghost, and he witnessed air flowing into his lungs. The calls coming over the police radio seemed to be legit, but this fact didn’t reassure him any.
Steve cleared his throat, and then said. “Excuse me sir.”
Rick stopped with the others about two feet from the car, hoping that his nightmare was over. When the man made eye contact with him, he shuddered. He said, “There’s this Metro bus that’s been trying to run us down.”
“And the one that we were on crashed. The driver said that he was trying to kill us,” Ginger said.
The officer gazed into Rick’s eyes for a prolonged moment, and then said. “We’ve had reports about that. We’re looking for that bus. Don’t worry, we’ll catch the driver.”
“We’re trapped down here. Is there anyway that we can get to Mt. Washington? Can you give us a ride?” Rick said.
“I ain’t no goddamn taxi service,” the officer snapped in a raised voice.
“But w-we can’t stay down here a-all night. The n-next bus doesn’t come until morning,” Ginger said.
“Just stay off the streets until we catch that bus driver,” the officer said.
In the next moment, Rick’s complexion turned pale. A realization seized him with such vigor that it rendered him unable to speak. While petrified by fear, his eyes honed in on the officer’s name badge, which read BISHOP. His body became ripe with nervous energy, making his breathing difficult. The man’s face as it appeared on the news flooded his consciousness, and the entire news story played over and over again in his thinking. The cop was killed in a shot out with a gang member almost two years ago.
Just then, Rick took off running down Fifth Street. Not long after hearing Steve and Ginger catch up with him, he perceived a bullet whiz past him. He listened to the police car come after him, and he knew that he had to get off that road. After rounding the corner, he headed toward the hotel. Three shots just missed him, and one of them hit the street hard, which produced a long spark.
“RICK DELLECAVE. I HAVE A WARRANT FOR YOUR ARREST. HOLD IT RIGHT THERE,” the officer said over the squad car’s bullhorn.
When Rick opened a door to the front of the hotel, he watched the car come flying at him, and he knew that it wasn’t going to slow down. He ran into the lobby just as the sedan came crashing into the doors, perceiving the Crown Victoria bottom out hard. Once the vehicle recovered, he detected the engine open up wide. He felt the automobile bearing down on him, and then he descried the lights and siren come on.
While gasping for breath, he ran up the smashed up escalator. He heard the police car came to a grinding halt, and the cop fired until he was out of bullets. He ran past the row of shops, leaving the building and entering the skywalk that connected it to the edifice across the street. He apprehended the thuds of the large policeman pursuing him, and he knew that his own body was wearing down.
After making a few twists and turns, he came to a long atrium with a round glass ceiling. Rows of shops lined either side of the arcade, having tables and a few trees in the center section. Dim moonlight was all that lit this area, which provided him with only a few feet in which to view anything. He planned to run all the way to the end and exit through the doors, but when he saw that the roll down chain-link door to a suit store wasn’t pulled down all the way, he slid underneath it and entered the establishment. He scurried with the others, going behind a display and lying down on his stomach. He forced his mouth closed, attempting to keep his breathing quiet.
He heard the cop step off the frozen escalator, listening to his hard-soled shoes as they approached him. Though he couldn’t view the man, he knew that his gun had been reloaded and was now at the ready.
“RICK DELLECAVE,” the office shouted. His voice echoed against the high ceiling. “TONIGHT IS THE NIGHT FOR YOU TO DIE. COME ON OUT. IT’S HALLOWEEN. I PROMISE YOU A QUICK BULLET IN THE HEAD. IT’S A WHOLE LOT BETTER THAN BEING RUN OVER BY A BUS.”
Rick put his hand over his mouth, fearful that his efforts to catch his breath could be heard. He listened as the pace of those shoes slowed, and then he saw the beam of a flashlight shining from side to side. At that moment, he realized that he should’ve pulled the roll down chain-link door all the way down. He clenched his fists tighter and tighter, perceiving the man stroll right up to the suit store. In the next moment, the cop stopped. He shrunk when he observed that beam of light move through the store, and he hoped that it revealed nothing that would make the cop enter the establishment.
“RICK DELLECAVE,” the officer shouted. “ARE YOU IN THERE?”
Rick constrained his knees to prevent them from knocking, and he prayed that he didn’t make a sound that would give him away.
“RICK DELLECAVE.” The cop continued to shine his light through the suit store. “If you’re in there and I find you I’m going to make you suffer. If you come out now I promise you a quick bullet in the head.”
Rick clamped his jaw muscles down even firmer, compelling himself not to scream out. The tension that was building inside of him was becoming unbearable, and he understood that it would find its own outlet before long.
“RICK DELLECAVE,” the officer shouted.
Rick watched the beam remain focused on the entrance to the fitting rooms for some time, believing that the cop was going to check it out.
“RICK DELLECAVE,” the officer snapped. “I’m not playing around with you.”
The longer that beam of light remained focused on the entrance to the fitting rooms, the more disturbed it made him. By this point he could hear the policeman breathing, determining that he was within ten feet of him.
Just then, the beam of light focused out into the arcade. His heart raced when he heard the cop take a few steps. In the next moment, the man stopped. The beam of light scanned the store. The officer searched the store several times, and then continued to stroll. Rick listened to every step the man took, thinking that he was going to turn around fast. He perceived the cop slow down, and then he felt panic swirl around inside of him at such a rate that it was making him dizzy. In the next moment, the cop picked up his step. The arcade became dark, and then he descried one of the doors at the other end open and then close.
In his mind, Rick saw the cop standing there just waiting for him to come out. After inhaling hard, he crawled forth on his belly, and he continued until he came to the roll down chain-link door. When he stopped to stick his head out, he sensed one of the other two run into him from behind.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Steve whispered.
“What if he’s just standing there?” Rick said.
“That’s a chance we’re going to have to take,” Steve said.
“Just wait another minute.”
“We don’t have another minute.”
When Steve slid out and stood up, Rick thought for sure that heard the cop running after him. He didn’t bother to look down there, but rather made his way by what little moonlight there was to the turned off escalator. He dashed up it quickly, planning to piss the first chance that he got.
After exiting the hotel, Rick strolled upon the streets of downtown Cincinnati. The area appeared dark and quiet, giving everything an eerie feel. In the next moment, he heard someone scream out in terror. The voice sounded to be several blocks away, and he entertained no intention of checking it out. He managed to make it to the Public Landing without seeing a ghost, and it was there that he decided to sit and rest. The bank of the Ohio River that he sat on was sloped and paved with cobblestones, having remained unchanged since Mark Twain brought riverboats to rest upon it. Spaced every hundred feet or so where two inch thick metal rings, and the bottom halves of which were anchored into the landing. A floating nightclub, now dark and closed, had metal cables attached to two of these rings. Bridges were on either side of him, and a dark Great American Ballpark lied behind him. From this vantage point, he could see the other side of the river. He viewed the line of clubs and entertainment complexes in Newport Kentucky with a keen eye, knowing that he only had to walk across one of the bridges to get there.
“Are we going across or what?” Steve asked.
“Just give me a minute,” Rick said.
“We have to get out of downtown,” Ginger said.
“And we have to get out of here now,” Steve said.
“There’s no guarantee that there aren’t going to be ghost over there,” Rick said.
“But we know for sure that there’s all kinds of ghosts over here,” Steve said.
“If he won’t go then let’s just go,” Ginger said.
“If a car comes while we’re walking over the bridge we’ve had it,” Rick said.
“If a car comes while we’re standing here we’ve more than had it,” Steve said.
“Okay...” Rick began. Just then, a wind blew by him and the way that it curled around him made his body ripe with nervous energy. Though he didn’t have a watch, he understood deep inside himself that it was almost midnight. As he gazed down the landing in the direction of Paul Brown Stadium, he saw a man approaching him. Though he couldn’t make the guy out, for some reason fear evaded him.
“Let’s go,” Steve said.
“Go ahead.” Rick didn’t take his eyes off the man.
“It’s another ghost. It’s going to try and kill us just like all the others,” Ginger said in a panicked tone of voice.
“Then run away,” Rick said.
“I’m out of here. If you want to stand here then stand here.” Steve began strolling away.
“Don’t leave without me.” Ginger ran to catch up with Steve.
Rick remained focused on the man that he saw, wondering why he was clam when his body should be trembling. The guy came to within ten feet, and then the gent got closer still. When he could tell whom the individual was, he gasped. His jaw stayed in its agape pose, and his eyes didn’t blink even once. His dad appeared as he did when Rick was a boy, looking to be in his mid-thirties and in the prime of life. His father had short black hair, glasses, stood about five-six, and had roll about his middle. His dad was dressed in the shorts and shirt that he wore when he took him on vacation to the Smoky Mountains. He saw no signs of the weathered old man who drank himself to dead.
When his dad got to within three feet of him, he stopped. He said, “Hello Rick.”
Rick stood there for longer than a moment, and not one part of him moved. Following another ten seconds or so, he said. “What are you doing here?”
“I’ve come to visit you.”
“But you died.”
“I didn’t die. Only my body died.”
“You shouldn’t have drank so much. You could’ve made it to seventy or eighty years old.”
“I didn’t make it, but you can. How many beers have you had today?”
“Now. I haven’t even got home to drink one.”
“Didn’t you buy a six pack when you left work? You didn’t even remember doing it.”
“Okay, so I bought a six pack.”
“You’re drinking just like I was. A six pack becomes a twelve pack and a twelve pack becomes eighteen and pretty soon you’re not sure just how much you’re drinking.”
“I only drink a few beers after work. I’m not drinking like you did.”
“You drink a six pack on the way home from work on the bus. How many beers do you have waiting for you at home? I bet you have two or three cases waiting for you in that small refrigerator.”
“S-So I’ll quit.”
“You can’t quit Rick. You don’t want to quit.”
“I’m not going to end up like you.”
“You have already turned out just like me. And you’re going to die the same way that I did.”
“LIKE HELL I AM.”
“Your liver will pickle just like mine did. And it’s going to happen tonight.” In the next moment, Rick watched his father’s diseased liver leap out of his abdomen. The organ appeared much larger than normal, having several yellowish area and a few cracks that trickled with blood. He knew that if the liver entered his body that he would die a horrible death. He ran with everything that he had, but he wasn’t sure that it would be enough. Glancing back, he saw that the organ was right on his heels. After turning onto the road, he dashed around US Bank Arena.
By this point he could taste the beer that was in his belly, and for the first time in his life the flavor disgusted him. He saw Steve and Ginger heading over the bridge, but realizing that he was going to catch up with them didn’t comfort him any. In the next moment, he felt a strange sensation in his Achilles tendon. When he turned to glance at it, he experienced rigidity in his chest. Shock devoured every part of him, raping him of his sense of well-being. He tried to sprint even faster, but his body wasn’t able to. As he beheld the liver that partially entered his heel, part of him desired to slow down and let it consume him.
While zigzagging back and forth, he shook his right leg in a violent fashion, attempting to get that liver off of him. Looking back, he noticed that it was still there. He thought of scraping it off, so he strove to brush the toe of his left foot against his right heel. After doing this a few times, he slowed down to a point where it alarmed him. While seeking to both scurry and get the liver off of his heel, he tripped and fell. His heart raced, and alarm devastated every part of him. As he rolled over to examine his leg, he huffed in a desperate style. He witnessed the liver nowhere, believing that it entered his body. Exhilaration whirled around inside of him, and at that moment he could taste his very death. Glancing at his abdomen, he observed nothing. He didn’t feel any different, yet he spotted the liver nowhere.
“RICK. RICK. COME ON,” Steve shouted.
Rick saw Steve and Ginger standing on the ramp that led up to the bridge and they were waiting for him. He panted through his mouth as he glared at his belly, watching for any indication of his father’s liver.
“RICK. WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE,” Steve said.
“COME ON RICK,” Ginger said.
“Okay,” Rick gasped. “I’m coming.”
“Well move your ass,” Steve said.
Rick started up the ramp, heading up onto the Taylor Southgate Bridge. The span was a modern structure built at the turn of the last century, being a fairly bland looking overpass, which was designed for functionality and not aesthetics. A white box beam edifice supported the four lanes of pavement that spanned the Ohio River. A suicide fence lined each side of the road, but he had no intentions of jumping.
As Rick got out over the river, having better than a football field to go, he began to hear noises from the Ohio side. He struggled to push it out of his mind, but the racket got louder and louder.
“What is that?” Ginger asked in a worried tone of voice.
“I don’t know,” Steve said.
“Whatever it is I sure as hell don’t want to see it,” Rick said.
“It sounds like they’re coming this way,” Ginger said.
“We have to move faster,” Steve said.
“I don’t think we’re going to escape it,” Rick said.
“Don’t say that.” Ginger shuddered.
In the next moment, Rick heard thousands of people cry out in terror. The wailing got deep inside of him, bringing a tear to his eye. He wanted to shut them out, but they were all around him. After stopping, he turned around and gazed at the Ohio side. He expected to see the individuals who were making those shrills, yet he witnessed nothing. Before he could utter a single sound, a peculiar sensation welled up inside of him, and it told him that something was about to happen. He sensed a chill on his back, and all of the small hairs upon his neck were standing straight up. Without warning, everything became quiet, and he knew that it was about to happen.
As he turned and began heading for Kentucky, organs of every kind and disease surged toward the river. A bypassed heart rushed in on him, and although he sprinted with everything that he had, he foresaw no way of escaping it. Glancing back, he observed it move to within three feet of him. After sucking in his lips and biting down on them, he scampered even swifter. While looking back again, the heart went into his chest.
Rick collapsed onto the pavement, striking it hard and skinning himself up. His chest became heavy, and he had problems breathing. Attempting to fight it, he held his breath and pushed on it. He saw part of it sticking out of his torso, understanding his will had an influence on that phantom organ. Despite the pain, he clenched his muscles and shoved even harder. He watched the heart leave his chest, though it didn’t go far away. Before it could attack him again, he dashed away from it. The heart pursued him, and he saw that it was gaining on him. He put out a burst of speed, gazing back to see if he was putting any ground between the organ and himself. He observed nothing. As he scanned the bridge for the organs that he saw, he noticed nothing. He stopped.
He stood there struggling to catch his breathing, eyeing Steve and Ginger who rested not far away. Each of them had been wrestling with organs of their own, yet they remained there the same as him. He said, “What happened?”
“I don’t know. They had us,” Steve huffed.
“Let’s get out of here. I don’t like this,” Ginger said.
“There’s nothing left to run from,” Rick said.
“Why the hell is that?” Steve asked.
“I have no idea,” Rick said.
“We’re not safe until the sun comes up,” Ginger said.
“That only works in vampire movies,” Steve said.
“It’s after midnight,” Rick said.
“So what,” Steve said.
“It’s no longer Halloween. The dead can only haunt when the veil between this world and the world beyond is thinnest and that’s on Halloween.”
“There has to be a ghost out there somewhere,” Ginger said.
“I don’t see any. And they were all around us,” Rick said.
“I think he’s right,” Steve said.
“I know I’m right. Come on. Let’s get to Kentucky before the liquor stores close. I need a drink,” Rick said.
“So do I,” Ginger said.
Rick led the others over the bridge, realizing that he escaped having a heart attack by mere inches. Despite his survival, the ghost of his father’s liver pulsated inside of him.
Copyright © 2004 by Tom Arbino