A Ghost Story

Maple Westgate had often been a little bit drunk after leaving Jack Dawson’s card parties late at night, but tonight he felt especially giddy. He and his playing partner Billy Painter had combined to win the competition and so as Maple’s prize Jack Dawson and his son Earle would be over tomorrow morning at five a.m. to do Maple’s chores. He looked forward to sitting on the extra milking stool in his barn and laughing at them.
But right now he had to button up his hunting jacket right up to his neck as he stepped out into the cold, starry late October night. The dead leaves crunched underfoot as his stride lengthened, as it was almost two miles to his own farm and he had to walk, as he still hadn’t quite got around to fixing that flat on his Model T Ford. She was a good one alright; Maple
had driven her back all the way from Detroit where he had worked at the Ford factory for the past three years. The money had been good and Maple had enjoyed talking to Henry Ford when the great man had made his frequent visits to the assembly line which broke down periodically. Ford would always be wearing his rubber boots and could get the line up working again much quicker than the factory’s mechanics. But city life and being away from the hunting and fishing of the Eastern Townships had brought him back home again.
He thought he heard a slight movement as he made the turn out of Jack’s long driveway and started the trek along the gravel road towards home. He was walking by Marjorie Cooper’s house now, who lived alone on the town’s assistance and as everyone knew, wasn’t quite right in the head. She’d been known to follow people furtively and when confronted would ask for a handout of some kind. Maple smiled to himself as he thought of the last time he had talked to Marjorie and asked her how old she was. She was thirty six years old she replied, and next year she would be twenty four. But it was late and there was no light on in Marjorie’s ramshackle dwelling and even someone as addled as she was wouldn’t be wandering around at this hour.
So Maple quickened his stride. His mind was probably still in overdrive from the card game and after all this wasn’t Detroit, where people came from all over North America looking for work and you couldn’t be too careful. But still, Maple trusted his instincts and something was telling him that he had company with him on his way back home. He decided that he would stride along for the next quarter mile and then suddenly turn around, catching whoever was following him completely unaware.
He felt a little better as he passed by Howard Mosher’s dilapidated dwelling. Howard wasn’t much of a carpenter, or even a farmer, but nobody spent more time hunting, either in-season or off. Maple could recall Howard’s story of encountering a black bear while walking back to his bushlot. As Howard recounted the tale the bear had ignored him, but he assured Maple that if he had had a kitchen knife on him he would have “tackled the old bugger.” The sad, as well as the funny part of the story, is that Howard probably would have. After all, wasn’t it Howard who after eating a stack of homemade pancakes looked more carefully at the bag of flour ? He had mistakenly made his breakfast with ‘bugdeath’; potato bug poison.
Maple figured he was still a mile and a half from home and with all of this strolling down memory lane he had managed to bury his uneasiness. But when he glanced over his shoulder he couldn’t deny the shadowy spectre that was there. Without a moment’s hesitation he exploded into a run, and a quick glance over his shoulder proved his pursuer was equal to the task. Maple was only forty years old and farmer-strong, but the last time he was forced to run was a year ago. Jack Dawson was boasting about how quiet his bull was, and to prove his point whacked the large beast on his butt with his walking stick. This proved too much to take for even that placid creature and he took right off towards the nearest poor wretch in front of him, which had been Maple. But at least then Maple had known what he was running from. And his home, which Maple was not sure he would ever see again, was still a mile in the distance.
His breath coming hard, he passed by the Catholic cemetery just beyond the Ewing farm. There had always been stories about unusual goings-on there at night, and Maple wasn’t a member of the Orange Lodge or anything, but you know the Catholics. Superstitions, candle-lighting and beads on a string. Maple didn’t have any use for all of that nonsense.
The ghost, or whatever it was ,stayed with him. Easily, it seemed. Maple could feel the terror welling up in his chest and stifling his breathing every bit as much as the unaccustomed effort. Half-a-mile to go.
Three hundred yards from his farmhouse were two large tree stumps, all that was left from the diseased old elms that he had been forced to cut down last year. Maple was finished. His lungs on fire, his heart in overdrive and ready to explode, he couldn’t take another step. He flopped down on the nearest of the two stumps, shaking and retching from either the effort or fear, or more likely the both. I’m going to die, he said to himself, I know it.
The ghost rose up above him and then eased silently beside him onto the second stump. Maple couldn’t even look up.
“That was quite a race we had,” was all that Maple heard.
“That’s right,” Maple was able to respond. “And as soon as I catch my breath, we’re going to have another one.”

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