The first story of the day in our 2022 Halloween Flash Fiction Blog Event comes from Morgan Brice. Today we get a peek into her Treasure Trail world! I hope you love all our stories this week, and be sure to check at the end of each one for the contests/giveaways!!
by Morgan Brice
Erik Mitchell looked up as his boyfriend, Ben Nolan, walked into Trinkets, the antique shop Erik owned.
“More boxes from that estate sale last week. The Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern pieces were so good I bought boxes in lots, so there’s some junk in with the really great stuff,” Erik replied.
He sat at the big table in the shop’s back room as he unpacked yet another box. Crumpled balls of old newspaper and brown packing paper littered the floor as he carefully unwrapped the items.
“Of course that means I have to go through everything carefully so I don’t miss a treasure among the trash.”
“We still on to do the Halloween thing tonight?” Ben asked.
“Absolutely,” Erik promised. Cape May held a big community Halloween festival, and they had both been looking forward to it.
“The live music at The Spike starts at eight, and they’ll have their fire pits going,” Ben reminded him. “The Regent Theater is running classic monster movies until midnight. There are ghost stories at the haunted lighthouse at nine, and the library has a Goosebumps marathon with local celebrity readers. Plus all the food!”
One of the big—and reputedly haunted—hotels was hosting “Tricky Treats,” an all-evening buffet featuring themed specialties from many of the town’s bakeries and restaurants. Afterward, the hotel ballroom promised a DJ and a “Monster Mash” dance party for all ages. The proceeds benefitted local charities.
“I won’t be much longer here.” Erik reached for another item in the box and froze.
“Erik? What’s wrong? I know that look.” Ben came closer, moving from the doorway to stand beside Erik at the table.
“I’m not sure what this is,” Erik said, shaking off the premonition, “but it’s got energy. Maybe a ghost.”
Erik had a touch of magic, the psychic ability to read the history of objects by touching them and to see ghosts associated with those items. His “gift” had been a mixed blessing when he worked in the art world since many famous pieces had tragic or violence provenance. Here at Trinkets, Erik was more likely to run into things that came with a ghost along for the ride or the resonance of strong emotions that needed to be cleansed before it could be ethically passed along to someone else.
He wasn’t going to complain since cursed and haunted antiques brought Ben into his life, exploring an old Mafia cold case that came complete with angry spirits.
“You want to wait to open that?” Ben asked.
Erik shook his head. “No. It’s not going to go away. Lots of stuff from estates has resonance. It’s probably nothing.”
“It’s never ‘nothing,’” Ben muttered.
Erik had to admit that Ben was right about that. Maybe people who owned this sort of store without his abilities didn’t even realize that the energy of former owners clung to the things they left behind. For Erik, it wasn’t that easy.
“Okay, here we go.” He carefully unwrapped the item he had pulled from the box.
Inside was a photo of a teenage girl. From the clothing and hair, Erik guessed the picture had been taken in the 1980s.
“There’s something taped to the back,” Erik said, sorting out the impressions he received from touching the picture. Sadness. Longing. And a strong desire not to be left out.
Erik turned over the photo and carefully opened the envelope. Inside, he found two newspaper clippings and a handwritten note.
“Is that blood?” Ben pointed to a dark spot on the yellowed notebook paper.
Party at the Sullivan barn at 9. Bring snacks to share. Don’t be late. Happy Halloween!
The note’s rounded letters and decorative flourishes suggested a teen girl’s handwriting. Erik frowned as he set the paper aside and looked at the first clipping.
“Looks like Belinda didn’t make it to the party.” Erik scanned the account of a fatal one-car accident that claimed the life of Belinda McMillan, age eighteen.
“What’s the other article?” Ben leaned in close enough to read over Erik’s shoulder.
“Halloween Blaze Kills Six, Destroys Barn,” he read aloud. “A teen party turned tragic when a fire broke out at Sullivan Farms on Halloween night. Authorities believe lights and a stereo used for the party overloaded the barn’s electrical system and caused a fire. Six people died in the fire, and fourteen escaped with burns and smoke inhalation. The police are treating the incident as an accident, and no charges have been filed.”
“You think that was the party Belinda was on her way to when she got in the accident?” Ben sat on the edge of the table.
“Makes sense. And here I am, on Halloween, reading her story.” Eric closed his eyes and held the photo and papers with both hands. After a few moments of silence, he looked up at Ben.
“This is going to sound bonkers, but I have the strongest feeling that Belinda wants to go to the barn.”
“Except the barn is gone,” Ben countered.
“I’m not a medium, and I can’t carry on a full conversation with a spirit unless they do most of the communicating,” Erik reminded him. “But I can sense ghosts and strong emotions. Belinda’s presence is attached to the photo and invitation. I think she needs to go where she was heading that night and see for herself.”
“Okay,” Ben said. “That’s not the weirdest errand we’ve ever had from something that triggered your woo-woo. But how do we find the barn after all this time? For all we know, it could be underneath a housing development by now.”
Erik grinned. “We ask Susan. She knows everything.”
Ben and Erik went to the front of the store, where Susan Hendricks was finishing up with a customer.
“I thought for sure you two would have already headed to the festival,” Susan teased. “Things should be getting started pretty soon.”
“We’re still planning on going,” Erik told her. “But I’ve got a question for you. Do you remember anything about a barn burning down on Halloween back in 1980?”
Susan raised an eyebrow. “The Sullivan place? Sure. That was a big deal around here. Bunch of teenagers died in the fire; a lot more ended up in the hospital. Why?”
Erik showed her the picture and papers. “I have the strongest feeling that Belinda wants to finally make it to the barn dance.”
Susan took the photo and ran a finger gently around the frame. “I knew Belinda. She was in the class behind me—all those kids were. I had graduated in the spring, and they were the new seniors. Took a while for folks to get the holiday spirit back after that.”
“Can you give me directions?” Erik asked. “I’d like to take the photo out today since it’s Halloween. Before we go to the festival.”
Susan glanced at the shop’s big plate glass window that looked out onto the street. “You won’t have the light much longer, so you better go now. I can give you directions, and I’ll close the shop today. No need for you to come back.”
She wrote down the instructions. “The Sullivans never rebuilt the barn. They lived in the house until a couple of years ago, but I believe they moved to Florida. Last I heard, the property was still for sale. I don’t think anyone who remembers the fire would want it. Bad memories and all. Probably going to sit there until an out-of-towner buys it.”
“Thanks, Susan,” Erik said. “Maybe if we take Belinda’s photo out there, at least one of the spirits might rest easy.”
Ben and Erik had recently moved in together and lived in the apartment above Trinkets. That meant they didn’t need to drive much since all of downtown was in walking distance. Erik pulled the car out of the driveway, enjoying being behind the wheel for the first time in a while.
“I always forget that it doesn’t take going far from town to be in the ‘country,’” Ben commented as they drove into a stretch of woods and open fields.
“It’s not exactly the wilderness, but I imagine it was more rural forty years ago,” Erik mused.
Ben reached over and took his hand. “Thank you for taking the time to do this.”
Erik glanced at him. “You’re not upset that I’m being a buzzkill for the festival tonight?”
Ben twined their fingers together. “Not at all. We’ll have a little Halloween adventure, make Belinda’s ghost happy, and then celebrate with the living.”
Erik came to a crossroads, where a weathered wooden signpost sat silhouetted against the sky, a relic from a bygone era. “Susan said the farm is just a little past here. We’re almost there.”
The sun hung low in the sky by the time Erik turned into the old farm driveway. Faded lettering on a battered mailbox still read “Sullivan.”
The rutted drive made them go slowly. Weeds rose high on either side, and underbrush had already begun reclaiming what had once been farm fields. Up ahead, Erik saw a boarded-up farmhouse, still in good shape.
He stopped the car, angling so the headlights shone to the right. “Susan said that the barn should be over there.” Erik pointed in the direction of the high beams.
They got out of the car and walked toward a still, mostly open space dotted with low bushes and young trees. The rectangular stones of a foundation emerged as they got closer.
“I’ve got you covered,” Ben said quietly, holding his gun at his side.
“You’re going to shoot at ghosts?”
“You never know what you’re going to find in a place like this. Better safe than sorry,” Ben replied.
Shadows lengthened as they approached the old barn. Erik could make out where the footprint of the building had been, and the stones were still blackened by fire in some places. Even abandoned, enough remained for Erik to get a sense of how beautiful the farm must have been and what a perfect spot for a fall party.
As soon as Erik stepped onto one of the foundation stones, he felt a shiver of connection as his gift woke. People died here. Of course it’s going to resonate.
He didn’t want to push his luck moving farther since he had no idea what was underfoot beneath the debris. Erik took Belinda’s photo, invitation, and articles and put them just inside the big stones. Overhead, the sunset sent streaks of orange, yellow, and purple across the sky.
“You made it to the party, Belinda,” he said quietly. “I hope your friends are waiting.” Erik thought he felt the brush of lips against his cheek and caught a whiff of perfume. Erik turned away, walking back to the car with Ben beside him, and his skin prickled as he sensed spirits close by.
Behind him, the faint sound of music and laughter carried on the cool breeze.
Want to read more about Ben and Erik? Look for Treasure Trail and Blink, their book series!
Win a an ebook from Morgan’s catalog!
To enter to win:
In the “spirit” of the season, let us know if YOU believe in ghosts!! Have you ever had any kind of paranormal experience?
Contest starts today, and our winner will be chosen from all eligible commenters at the end of our event. Winner will be chosen, then announced in our wrap-up post on November 1st.
Check out the Kick-off post HERE to see the full list of authors participating in our 2022 Halloween Flash Fiction Blog Event. Links will be added to the main post each day when that author’s story goes live. Each post will include the inspiration image from a DeviantArt creator, the story, and the contest/giveaway info.