Episode 33: Aloysius on the Town
Halloween night came to Scryer's Gulch, and many a party was planned. For most of the camp, they were not so much for celebrating; they were more about not being alone. Always tatty at best on top of the hermetauxite deposit, the veil between worlds got even thinner on Halloween.
Plenty of folks had died under difficult circumstances up in the hills, down in the mines, in bar fights, hangings and accidents, but most of those who'd become spirits were too weak to manifest and all were nailed to their one spot--except for tonight. On this night, ghosts were free to walk the streets, bold as disembodied brass, and no one wanted to face one alone. Brother Fattipickel over at Our Lady and Pastor Billson at the Methodic Church each held services that night, so those without the inclination or opportunity to go carousing would still have some place to be at least for a few hours.
Over at the jail, Halloween plans were being discussed in earnest. "Where you gonna go tonight, Aloysius?" said Jamie. "Wanna come with me? The Prakes is havin' a party. You could come watch. Harry and Fanny Lockson'll be there, and Lily Bonham, and Amelia and...and Georgie, too," he finished glumly.
"You an' young Georgie still on the outs, I'd-a thunk," said Aloysius.
Jamie frowned. "We are. But Miz Prake invited me, so Mrs Smith has taken it that I should go. Come keep me comp'ny, Aloysius! It'll be fun!"
"I don't think Aloysius had a children's party in mind for his only night on the town, son," said his father.
"It is my one night outta this cell, Jamie, otherwise I would--and I might," hastened the ghost at Jamie's crestfallen face. "But you know, I got a passel of visitin' to do. No promises, but I'll try to poke my head in."
"You ain't got a head," grumbled Jamie.
"No need to insult a feller! I cain't rightly help that, now, can I?"
"Speaking of heads, d'you intend to go out on the town in style, Aloysius?" said Rabbit. "All visible and such?"
"Don't reckon I'll bother. More fun lookin' in on folks when they cain't see me."
"If you don't stop jawin' you won't be lookin' in on anyone till next year comes around," said Rabbit.
"Go on, Aloysius," added John. "We'll struggle along somehow without you."
"Waaal, if'n you say so! Sure feels good to get outta that cell!" A vague outline of a pot-bellied, rather greasy-looking man in suspendered trousers and a frock coat over long underwear flickered by the door. "If'n I had a hat to tip, boys, I'd tip it. An' I'd say I'll miss ya, but you know it ain't true." With that, Aloysius floated through the door and out of sight.
The Prakes' back parlor smelled of popped corn, doughnuts fresh from the fryer, hot cider and excited children. Harry Lockson had so much popcorn stuffed into his front pockets that he crackled when he sat, and the doughnut he'd carefully wrapped in his hanky and stuffed into his back pocket for later had mashed itself into a sticky mess that would have Mrs Lockson fretting to herself in the morning.
Two apples on strings hung from the ceiling, just in front of Georgie and Jamie's faces. The two boys were competing to see who could eat his apple down to the core first, hands behind backs; the other children cheered them on madly. The apples gyrated wildly on their strings with each bite. Georgie was this close to winning when suddenly a voice whispered in his ear: "BOO!"
Georgie spewed apple all over the room; Jamie bit his apple through.
"Jamie Runnels, you cheated!" shouted Georgie, bits of apple still dribbling from his lips.
"Waddaya mean, I cheated? I was mindin' my own business!"
"Oh yeah? Something just said BOO in my ear, and I bet I know what!"
"Who, Aloysius is a who, not a what!"
"Oh, so you admit it!"
"Boys!" said Mrs Prake in a firm voice that silenced the entire crowd. "Now. Aloysius, if you're here, show yourself."
"Yes'm," mumbled a voice, and the blurred outlines of the ghost appeared near the buffet. "Didn't mean nothin', just havin' my yearly fun. Jamie didn't have nothin' to do with it, neither," he added. "Beg pardon, Miz Prake, the kid askt me to tag along and I thought I'd make a quick stop. Ain't like I take up space or eat or anythin'."
Georgie glared for a moment, but relented. "Aw, it's all right, Aloysius. You an' me, we're pals. You stuck up for me when other people ought to have," he said, renewing the glare in Jamie's direction; Jamie's ears turned pink but he didn't look away.
"It's not a Halloween party without a ghost," smiled Mrs Prake. "You've had your fun, Aloysius, and thank you. Now get along. I'm sure a friendly fellow like you has more folks to visit."
"Thank you, ma'am!" said Aloysius. His obligation to Jamie discharged, he vanished through the wall and floated toward the Hopewell Hotel.
Just why he headed that way was unclear even to him. Habit, perhaps. Every year since his death he'd gone to the Hopewell on Halloween. He'd spent a fair bit of time there when he was alive, but that was when the goodtime girls were in residence. The only girl of that stripe left was Emmy, and she wasn't in that line of work these days--much, anyway. Aloysius had just determined to leave when it occurred to him to do the Sheriff a kindness and look in on Miss Duniway. Besides, he reckoned he might see her in her underthings.
Instead, he found her drowsing by the fire in her room, a giant black cat in her lap. No sooner had he entered when the cat opened one sour amber eye and growled, "Annie, we've got company." It leaped from her lap, and before it hit the floor it was half-man half-cat.
The schoolteacher was on her feet, too, holding out a funnel-shaped doohickey attached to a hose. It led to a bottle that filled the ghost with dread that only increased when she called, "Show yourself, whatever you are, or it's into the spirit-bottle and onto a shelf--or worse!"