“I don’t think we’re supposed to be here, John.”
“What are you talking about, Amelia? Who’s going to stop us?”
John brandished the startling white ‘ten-gallon’ hat he’d purchased in Scottsdale and gestured towards the boarded-up buildings that lined the street.
Street was a bit of a misnomer, Amelia thought. It had once been a street – when ‘Bald Junction’ had once been a town.
Bald Junction wasn’t even a speck on the map. John had heard about it in the bar the night before, as he tried to ingratiate himself with some old-timers. Amelia loved the man, but sometimes he just made her cringe. He was charming, certainly, but the desire to ‘fit in’ wherever he went was exhausting.
Amelia suspected that the old-timers had seen John coming by a mile. It was probably the hat. They spun some fantastic yarn about a missing treasure – or had it been a murdering lunatic? Amelia couldn’t remember; she’d had one-too-many Jack-and-Cokes. She liked the way the old coots sounded, but she didn’t find their stories nearly as entertaining as John did.
“Where’s your hat, honey?”
“Oh, that? I um, left it in the car.”
“You’ll burn without something.” John had turned and was walking up to the nearest dilapidated building. Its sign was long gone, and the porch was crumbling. The remains of the shutters hung by tenacious threads of what, Amelia didn’t know.
“Well, it’s cloudy, but I have sunscreen,” she put in, but John wasn’t listening. He didn’t really care about the hat. It was just something to say – something to draw her into his madness.
John was peering into empty windows and Amelia watched with detached alarm as he wandered into the building.
“Hey, Amelia – grab the camera, honey. I think this must have been the blacksmith’s shop.”
Amelia was about to remind him that he had the camera around his neck when the ignored flickers in out-of-the-way corners began to demand her attention. Flickers turned to shadows, and the shadows began to move. Human-sized figures slid from the depths of the ruined buildings. They moved slowly – some no more than hazy outlines, others nearly solid in form.
“Sweetheart, I think this place has some real potential. I think this is it, hon. We could buy that place up on the ridge – I can treasure hunt and lead tours, and you can write all day. What do you think?”
Ah, that’s right, the retirement plans. Amelia wasn’t nearly ready to retire, even if John was old enough. She thought she should probably warn him about his growing audience, but why burst his bubble? She fought the irrational, and possibly cruel, urge to laugh.
“Amelia? Where are you hon? You should see this!”
“I’m . . . I’m here.” Amelia’s words fell flat – they had an odd, tinny sound, as though she were far away from her own body. The unholy mass before her shifted and stirred, but continued to ignore her presence. It seemed they were waiting for John.
John came to the gaping hole of a doorway and shaded his eyes. “Amelia, what has gotten into you? Amelia? Amelia, where are you?”
Amelia cocked her head and waited.
The spectral host slowly moved forward. It enveloped John in a welcoming embrace. His image flickered before her and then vanished. His smile had never faltered.
The host was gone. The town was empty. The wind picked up, sending dust devils through the canyon of Main Street. It was time to go.
Amelia sighed and spared Bald Junction a grin. That was just like John – always fitting in.
For the Creative Writing Challenge, Day 18 prompt: Ghost Town.