By Harriet Darling

October 31, Late Afternoon

“You’d love it!” Michelle Franklin said, grinning delightedly, though her friend couldn’t see her, of course.

Angie Hansen, on the other end of the phone, laughed and said, “I’ll bet! I wish I could be there.”

Michelle said, “Me, too! This haunted house will be the best thing yet! Those kids will get the life scared out of them!”

“What do Inky and Ghost think about it?” Angie wondered. The two black cats Michelle had inherited from her grandma were both middle-aged, and they didn’t like change.

“Oh, they don’t really care much for it,” Michelle said. “But I’m putting them in my bedroom so they won’t bother us at all.”

“So tell me what you’ve done, okay?” Angie said. “The parade won’t start for a few minutes.”

Michelle nodded. “Well, when the first kids ring the bell, I open the door wearing a vampire costume, and invite them in. They walk through the ‘haunted house,’ and then I’ll give them candy and they’ll leave.”

She went on to tell Angie what the two front rooms looked like. “I’ve attached some wires to the fireplace, the rocker with a skeleton sitting in it, and a big box with a curtain on it and a goblin inside. I also have realistic-looking pictures of bats, spiders, and snakes stuck on the walls and the window drapes, and my laptop is on the coffee table set to stream scary pictures.”

“Ooh, that sounds perfect!” Angie exclaimed.

“Then, I have a fog machine, and I’ve set a little path on the floor with orange lights flashing to guide them around the room. Plus, there’s scary music, and a fan to blow cold air on them.

“So, what do you think? Scary?”

“It sounds pretty terrifying. You’ll have to take pictures for me.”

Michelle grinned, and hung up the phone. Time to put on her vampire outfit.


Later That Evening

The doorbell rang with the first group of kids. The overhead light went off and Michelle switched on the automated wires, smoothed her black wig down, checked her fangs, and then opened the door.

In a deep voice, she said, “Come in,” smiling so the fangs showed in the porch light. “Vould you like a tour?” When the kids yelled, “YES!” and the woman accompanying them nodded, she ushered four kids and one parent into the front room. “Velcome to my home.”

The little group filed into the darkened room while Michelle stealthily slammed the door behind them, making them all jump. Orange lights went on under the fog, along a path that led around the room, and the first child started down this lane, the others following and the woman last.

The music started, “The Danse Macabre,” and then the strobe light came on. The breeze from a fan swung slowly across their faces. In the flashing strobe light, the kids gazed with wide eyes at the scary creatures on the drapes and the walls. Suddenly, a sickly odor wafted to them with the breeze, and Michelle could hear one or two of her visitors gagging.

At one end of the room, a rocking chair draped in a black cloth moved slightly; the skeleton sitting in it seemed to be rocking it. Then pictures began flashing on and off in the middle of the room, pictures of a large dark castle; a gargoyle; an evil-looking clown; a roaring lion; a monster with red eyes, fangs and claws.

Suddenly, a flame darted out of a small fireplace, towards what looked like a child sitting in a tiny chair, and then died down. As the kids reached the middle of the room, a curtain opened and a crouching green goblin appeared holding a bloody knife. In the strobe light, large black spiders, lizards, bats, and gargoyles seemed to be all around them; several children shrank back. One child, smaller than the others, rushed to the only adult and grabbed her hand.

Michelle was thrilled to see that all four kids were breathing hard as they returned to the front door. They nearly forgot their candy as they rushed outside, gasping and chattering excitedly.

Another set of kids arrived, one girl dressed as a ballerina, a boy as a werewolf, and finally a cowboy, all of whom were 8 or older.

The next group had five quite young ones and two adults, a man and a woman. Both groups were noisily rattled as they walked through, and then left.

A fourth group of kids was halfway through the door when, from out of nowhere, a ghostly stagecoach raced into the room. Sweat streamed off the backs of galloping horses, the driver’s whip lashed the air, bandits zoomed down on the stagecoach, yelling and shooting guns, bandanas tied around their faces, bullets whizzed past the trick-or-treaters, and then the stagecoach reached the opposite end of the room and vanished, as if it had driven right through the wall!

Michelle gasped, having no time to do anything but slap her hand across her mouth. She stopped at the door and managed a frightened peek at the newest group, who were backing off the porch quickly, their eyes wide. She shut the front door and stood inside, staring around the room and breathing hard.

The ghost stagecoach and bandits didn’t reappear for the rest of that Halloween evening, but the anticipation that it might was even more thrilling and fun than Michelle would have thought. She was sorry she had to tell Angie that she had no pictures of the best part of the evening.


The Next Morning

“As I was explaining to you just now,” Michelle went on to the insurance adjuster, “it just came barreling through the room and did a lot of damage. Isn’t it your job to pay for damages to a policy holder?”

“It is, madam. I just have to see if your claim is something our company covers for your particular policy.” It’s always the same, the adjuster thought to himself. People just think we hand out money for everything. “Can you tell me, again, what happened? In a bit greater detail, please. Maybe include what led to this ‘situation’.”

“Well, I decided to do a little Haunted House at my home this Halloween. I’d shown a few parties of kids and adults through the house—you can see, here and here, where I’ve done a few things.”

“Yes, madam. Very nice. The fog effect is a nice touch—this claim didn’t have anything to do with this fog, did it? You know that if this was an issue caused by carelessness….”

“NO!” she protested – Perhaps too much? thought the adjuster. “This wasn’t my fault. The stagecoach did this!”

“You put together a stagecoach effect? Very nice. I don’t see it here; did you move it out to the back porch area?”

“It wasn’t MY stagecoach. It showed up while I was giving a tour.”

“It ‘showed’ up? How did it do that?”

“I don’t know! It looked ghostly, though. There were bandits, too!”

“Yes, madam. Are these ‘bandits’ not here, either?”

“No. I think they were ghosts, too.”



“I’m sorry, madam. As you can see, your policy specifically states, ‘If spirits were involved in the action being claimed, the agency is not obligated to provide remunerations.’ I am very sure ‘spirits’ were the cause of this stagecoach and bandits. In the future, please drink responsibly.”


Harriet Darling has published eight novellas and two short story collections. She also has stories in two Aurora Wolf anthologies and a horror flash-fiction piece published by Vile Press. Her most recent e-books are The Haunting of Wicker House and The Dawn People. All of her books can be found on Amazon.com. She lives in Sacramento, California.