Fiction Friendship

Cousin Irving has a reputation for being outlandish.  His wife Dottie thinks it’s cute, but the rest of us aren’t always so sure.  Well, let me start at the beginning since that seems what most people do. 

All of the cousins had gathered at Aunt Melissa’s house like we do every month.  The conversation is lively with talk about this, that and the other.  But I could see by the twinkle in his eye, Cousin Irv had something up his sleeve.  Once the main course had circulated the table, Irv clanged his fork against his glass of iced tea (or at least that’s what he told us it was, but we suspected he had added something from his hip flask), “Everyone, may I have your attention please.”

It took about a minute, but then he had our undivided attention.

“Ever since we were kids, we have always held contests proving who was the fastest or smartest and so on.” His smile spread on his thin face, “I propose we determine who is the bravest.”

Dead quiet.

“I have decided in order to do this we spend the night in the Old Hinkley place.” His laugh was downright evil. 

“Are you crazy?” Aunt Betty blurted out after downing a glass of red wine.

“Some would suggest that is accurate.” He chuckled some more as Dotty beamed her approval.

“No one has lived in that place for almost thirty years.” Cousin Herb pointed out.

“Precisely.” Irv nodded, “And why is that?” 

“Yul Hinkley murdered his wife with an ax.” Herb answered.

“And her body was never found.” Cousin Glenda remarked.

“And there is a wicked ghost who haunts the place.” Cousin Kevin added.

“Who among us believes in ghosts?” Irv rubbed his pointed chin.

We all raised our hands.

“So the challenge has been made.  The gauntlet has been thrown down.” He tossed his napkin into the middle of the table.  Everyone stared at it as if it had been a spirit from beyond.  

“Irving, dear.” Aunt Melissa shook her head, “Are you sure this is a good idea?” 

“Yes, mom.” He nodded at her, “It will prove once and for all who among us has the courage to spend the night in a haunted house.” 

“Oh dear, I have heard such stories about that place.” She rested her head on her elevated shoulder. 

He looked around the table, meeting each of us with his determined gaze.

 It was just after the war when they enacted the GI Bill which provided affordable housing to those who had served.  My three uncles and my father had gone to Europe to fight the evil dictators and bring peace to that troubled place. 

Uncle Donald had lost an arm riding in a Sherman tank that was hit by a German shell.  Uncle Fagan took a sniper bullet in his hip and walked with a limp. And Uncle Tony came home with nary a scratch.  My father Zachary was too young to enlist, but Tony talked the real estate agent to give him a break on the mortgage as a favor to his older brothers. Each of them married their high school sweethearts just like they were supposed to, adding a final note to the “Star Spangled Banner.” 

Uncle Tony married Aunt Melissa and had one son, Irving.  Spoiled to the core, Irv was a prankster and a brat who always plotted to get the rest of the eight cousins in trouble including me. 

So the eight of us, Cousins Irv, Donna, Kevin, Glenda, Maurice, Herb, and me, Sandra put our pinkies together and swore to meet at the Hinkley place two weeks later and spend the night in that dilapidated house haunted by the headless ghost of Yul Hinkley.  Growing up in the outskirts of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, I can attest to the fact that nothing noteworthy has ever occurred there.  It is a nice place, but it came without a sense of adventure.  

“This place is so boring.” Irv would complain when we were kids and rode our bicycles into the orchard and fields beyond. 

“What about the ogre who lives in the woods?” I would point to the trees just beyond the orchard.

“There ain’t no ogre.” He would shake his head. “How about we smoke some cigarettes by the lake?” 

“Cigarettes? Ugh.” Kevin would stick out his tongue.

Lake Winnebago appeared as if it had fallen off a postcard with sparkling blue waters to match the peaceful blue skies, but Irv would sit under a tree smoking one Lucky Strike after another.

When Yul Hinkley came back from Vietnam, everyone sensed he was not the same wide-eyed boy who had left in 1967. He married a poor Vietnamese woman from a farming village that had been firebombed.  His Vietnamese was poor and Mai’s English was far from passable.  According to the V.A., one night Yul woke up from one of his nightmares believing Mai was a Vietcong enemy.  Taking his machete, he killed her and got rid of her bloody corpse that had never been found.  When the deputies came to get him, he took his service revolver, put it in his mouth and pulled the trigger.  No one had set foot in the house since then until Cousin Irving decided this would prove which one of us was the bravest.

“We have to stay until the morning.  Sunrise.” He said as he lit a Coleman Lantern which lit up the spooky living room where supposedly Yul killed himself.  The bloodstains had faded into the thick layer of dirt over time, but you could feel a presence that was eternal. “If we are all still here at that time, we will call it a draw.”

I shuddered feeling a cold breeze run up the back of my loose fitting hoodie. 

“I somehow feel that someone will decide to leave.” He smiled.

“What if we see that ghost of Yul walking around?” Kevin asked.

“Find out why he pulled the trigger.” Irv laughed as he lit the cigarette in his mouth. 

“Great idea, Irv.” Glanda laughed, but it was more like a sneer.

“I heard a noise.” Donna moved closer to me.

“What was it?” Maurice peered through the coke-bottle lens of his glasses.

“How do I know?” Donna snapped.

“Somebody is jumpy.” Irv cackled.

“Hey, this isn’t funny.” Donna put her head on her knees that were bent up.  “Sandy, did you hear it?” 

“No.” I answered, trying not to shiver. 

“Later maybe we can go out and look for Mai’s body.” Irv suggested tossing his cigarette out of the permanently open window.

“You can shove it, Irv.” Donna moaned from between her knees. 

“Temper, temper.” He scolded. 

“This is nuts.” Donna raised her head.

“Are you ready to run home to mommy?” He mocked her.

“Screw you.” She snapped.

“You graduated from the University of Wisconsin as a philosop[hy major, right?” Irv tilted his head.

“Yeah, so?” Donna scowled. 

“What philosophy deals with poltergeist?” He purred.

“The branch called ‘up yours.’” She bantered. 

“So what really happened here?” Herb mused as he tried not to seem quite bored by the conversation up to this point. 

“Yul hacked up his wife with a machete and then ate his gun when the cops showed up.” Irv recounted.

“Oh yeah?  Sounds like he had a bad case of PTSD.” Herb put his hand to his chin as if in deep thought like Rodan’s The Thinker

“You think?” Irv mocked him. 

“Why don’t you knock it off, Irv.” Donna protested, “Some of us are kind of scared.” 

“I haven’t seen anything to be afraid of.” Irv glanced around the dark room with a single halo of light from his lantern. 

“Give it time.  Sooner or later the ghost of Yul will show his face.” Maurice was cleaning his glasses.

“There you go.” Irv smiled. “Or Mia’s ghost.” 

“Yeah, she will be in pieces.” Maurice reasoned.

“Can we stop this conversation?” Donna held out her hands.

“We could, but what fun would that be?” Irv shrugged, “You know we all grew up in this dead end town where not a damn thing ever happens, but the one thing of interest that does happen and you don’t want to talk about it?  I call unfair, cousin.”

“I think you are just trying to freak us out.” Donna sneered.

“Bingo as they say at the Knights of Columbus Bingo Parlor.” Irv slaps his knee with his hand, “I have served that establishment and let me tell you cousin, it is the epitome of boring.”

“Yeah, well there’s a lot to be said for boring.” Donna retorted.

“Like what, cousin?” Irv crosses his arms across his chest.

“Like not provoking the spirit of a man and his wife who were brutally killed.” Donna elbows me looking for an ally.

“Aren’t you curious?  Where is your sense of curiosity?” He glares at her.

“Curiosity killed the cat.” She adds.

“And satisfaction brought him back.” Irv replies with a twinkle in his eye. “What do you think, Cousin Sandy?  We haven’t heard from you. What brought our youngest cousin to this place?” 

His smile spreads like before and I feel that even the ghosts hiding in the shadows could not scare me any more than his smile. 

“I came because I am tired of always being the youngest.  The child. I wanted to prove to you all that I am just as brave as any of you.” I could not believe what was coming out of my mouth, but I had said it and there was no taking it back now.

“Very well said, Cousin Sandy.” He clapped his hands, but it was a mocking gesture, a sarcastic capiculation to me. 

“Leave her alone, you bully.” Donna snapped.

“Please, please, I am no bully.” He chuckled, “I merely wish to separate the sheep from the goats is all.” 

One by one we fell asleep as the lull in the conversation became a lullabye.  The hardwood floor was difficult to get comfortable on, but the intoxication of slumber could not be ignored. 

We spent the rest of the evening telling the most wretched ghost stories that came to mind.  During summer camp, the camp counselors encouraged us to tell the most grotesque tales we could think of and there were some that sent chills up and down my spine.  Davy Warnock ended up in the infirmary because these stories made his delicate system break out in hives.  Cilicy Ronark wound up with screaming nightmares that sent the counselors scrambling.  A few years later, Iriving told me Gene Padorke had been accused of doing scandalous things with a couple of female campers.  I was sad because I had fond memories of Mr. Padorke who told the best ghost stories I had ever heard.  It seemed that nothing from my past was ever quite the way I viewed it.

I awoke to a groan, a deep throated groan that knew my name.


My eyes fluttered open to a room that was completely dark, so dark I had no way of knowing if my eyes were open or closed. 

When I heard the groan again, my awake mind ascertained that the ghostly voice was indeed human made. 

Closing my eyes tightly, I heard the voice call a third time.  There was a hitch in his delivery much like my Cousin Kevin.  It made sense as Kevin was often the accomplice of his older cousin, Irving. Their history had been long and jaded, filled with merciless pranks that kept the rest of us on our toes.  

Another groan, this time from a completely different source.  I had no doubt now, Irving and Kevin were cahoots together.

“Sandy.” I heard Donna say as she stumbled out of sleep.

“Shush.” I put my finger to my lips “They are at it again.” 

“Figures.” She sat up.


“It’s Kevin.  I knew it.” She said crossly folding her arms across her chest.  “Neither of them will ever grow up.” 

“It’s Yuuuuuuuulllllll.” 

“No, it’s Irving.” She shook her head. 

“Did you hear that?” Glenda was now awake. “I think I want to go home.” 

“And let those two brats win?” Donna put her hand on Glenda’s arm. 

“I’m scared.” She shivered, “What if it’s really a ghost?” 

“It’s not.  It’s Kevin and Irving.”  Donna assured her cousin.

“What if it’s not?  They’re grown up.  You’re supposed to outgrow this kind of juvenile behavior.” She shook her head.

“Obviously not.” Donna rolled her eyes  just like she did when she was in junior high. “We can’t let them get away with this.” 

“I agree.” I nodded. 

“How?” Glenda asked with terror still in her dark eyes. 

“Beats me, but the best thing we can do is stay put.” Donna looked at Glenda who shook her head in agreement. 

“Sounds pretty scary.” Kevin sounded close.

“I’m sure it is.” Irving agreed from nearby. 

“Who made that sound?” Glenda was terrified all over again.

“I don’t know.” Donna was flabbergasted. 

“It sounded like them.” I added. 

“I want to go home.” Glenda was on the verge of tears.

“It will be alright.” Donna assured her, but Glenda already had her sleeping bag cradled in her arms and was headed for the open door silhouetted by the moonlight. 

“Glenda-” Donna called after her in a harsh whisper, but it was too late, she was gone.

“One down it seems.” Irving replied from the darkness. 

“I don’t know what kind of game you are playing, but it won’t work.” Donna answered.

“It seems like it already has.” He chuckled.

Later when I went to the bushes to do my business, I found the tape player Irving had used to make his creepy ghost groans.  I felt bad for Cousin Glenda since she had been pranked.  Glenda was the daughter of Uncle Fagan and Aunt Thersa who had sent her to a private college where she earned her degree in education.  She had been a kindergarten teacher for seven years and according to the records was a damn good one.  

Picking up the tape player, I brought it back with me to show Donna who was lying awake in her sleeping bag.  She had warned me not to let the boogieman get me while I was in the bushes.

“Why those guys.” She hissed as she held the tape player. 

“There aren’t any ghosts in this place.” I shook my head.

“Well not the spooky kind anyway.” She chuckled.

“It’s almost sunrise.” I stood in the doorway and watched the sun crack over the horizon like a raw egg.

“We made it.” Donna shrugged.

As the light spilled across the old room, I noticed that Donna and I were the only ones left in the living room.

“What happened?” I asked as I walked through the empty room.

“Beats me.” Donna shrugged again.

“Looks like the rest of them scattered for the hills.” I walked into the abandoned bedrooms. “There’s no one here.” 

“I wondered what spooked them?” Donna walked outside where the lake appeared as a glass mirror.  There was not a soul around. “How did you sleep?”

“Like the dead.” I answered. “I mean I heard the tape player with that silly recording. And I saw Irving try to play it off as if it was nothing.”

She picked up the tape player, “Hey Sandy.” 

“What?” I turned to face her.

“There’s no tape in the player.” She opened the tape player to show me it was empty.  

“That’s weird.” I nodded.

“Maybe Irv took it with him when he left.” Donna reasoned.

“How would he know you had it?” I asked and her expression went blank. 

“I don’t know.” She said after thinking it over for a moment.

“Still didn’t see any ghosts.” I concluded.

“C’mon, let’s go home and claim our prize.” Donna raised her fist.

“What prize?” I asked.

“Bragging rights.  They are worth gold as far as Irv is concerned.” Donna laughed. 

“They took the car.” I looked out in front of the house where Irving had parked the car.

“So, we hoof it home.  It’s only about two miles.  Worth every step, don’t you think?” Donna rolled her sleeping bag.  “I’ll treat you to breakfast in town.” 

“Alright by me.” I threw my sleeping bag over my shoulder.

“The lake looks so pretty from here.” Donna took a moment to reflect as the sun burst over the horizon.  I could hear loons cry out along the lake. 

I also heard a voice with a heavy accent say, “Ca’m o’n.  Thank you.” 

“Did you say something?” I asked Donna as we walked out to the two lane road in front of the house. “Some strange voice thanked me.” 

“Wasn’t me, I didn’t say a thing, dear.” She smiled as we began our walk. “Can’t wait to see the look on Cousin Irving's face when we show up at home.” 

“Me too.” 

A few months later a land developer had the house torn down. Donna and I were the only ones brave enough to drive out there to watch the crew raze the old house. 

“So long, almost haunted house.” Donna said as she got into the car.

September 22, 2023 22:39

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Kathryn Kahn
20:27 Oct 05, 2023

The first two sentences of this story are pure genius. I was immediately sucked in, and with a smile.


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Rose Lind
00:19 Oct 01, 2023

So many times old stories are dragged up of youths going into haunted houses, or doing oujii boards there. I think the feeling of danger ignited hypersensitivity, a pin drops but sounds like a bang. I prefer to see how you write, your strengths and help nurture them. As an artist, our group would do various still lives etc and the teacher would move around seeing the potential in each student. Eg, I like the way you used the continuous lines. One fellow built 3d sculptures from old machine parts, 20 years later, I look at a 3d cuckoo clo...


18:33 Oct 01, 2023

Thank you Rose for your comments.


Rose Lind
21:07 Oct 01, 2023



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George Pickstock
14:04 Sep 30, 2023

It's capitulation, not capiculation. This is a decent story. You tend to switch tenses from past to present and back to past. It's minor, but it can make the reader stumble. I would have given this a 4 out of 5. I might even shortlist this piece but for the dialogue attributions and one other misstep. You have Sandy waking up in total darkness. So much so that she can't tell if her eyes are open or shut. Not sure I can grasp that concept, but okay… Yet moments later she sees Donna fold her arms, shake her head, and roll her eyes. Then she se...


21:29 Sep 30, 2023

Thank you George for such a detailed review. I do appreciate your detailed feedback. It will make me a better writer.


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