Starlight Spectre • Part 1: No Ghosts


This is Part 1 of a serial horror novella. Learn more about it here.
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Part 1: No Ghosts

The library’s aging caretaker arched an eyebrow at Barton. “If you’re done work for the day, what’re you hangin’ around in this heat for? Waitin' on a date or something?”

It was a late and lazy summer afternoon, with brilliant orange squares floating over the bookcases, bringing new fire to the stacked, faded covers. The library was almost empty, due in part to their lack of A/C. Big ceiling fans and half a dozen standing fans whirred and chopped the air.

Barton sat straighter in his big, high-backed chair. “As a matter of fact Rudy, yes. Yes I am.”

Rudy plopped onto the opposite couch. “That the spritely little brunette what with all the curls I seen you chattin’ to, is it?”

“Uh huh. Gabriella," said Barton. "She’s studying engineering up at UG Tech.”

“She summerin’ down here, aye? Not from around this patch of a place.”

“That’s right.”

Rudy grinned, his eyes lost in some old memory. “What kinda trouble you getting up to for this date o’ yers?”

“I’m not sure,” Barton said. “I thought maybe we’d take a walk down by the river, maybe see a movie.”

“Peh. You know, when I was a lad, we’d do that sorta crap too. But the best times, ladyfriend or no, was when we were making our own adventures. This heat, I tell ya. It reminds of the old tracks up past the scouting camps. Them haunted ones. You know ‘em?”

Barton had lived here most of his life, and every little kid had heard some variant of the haunted railroad tracks story. The forest north of town was a popular camping ground, both for tourists and regional scouting programs. But farther north was just wilderness for miles and miles. Easy for a wandering kid to get lost.

An abandoned rail line cut east-west through the area north of the campsites—a convenient border that marked the safe zone from the dangerous one. The stories of a phantom train had been around forever, likely spun up and exaggerated through countless retellings around fire pits, the kind low lit with coals and ringed by wide-eyed faces.

“Yeah, I know them,” said Barton. “Ghost stories supposedly keep the kids away… or at least alert so they don’t go wandering aimlessly into the unmapped part of the woods.”

Rudy smiled again, that long-lost look in his eyes still dancing. “You ever go see for yerself?”

“Sure. We all did as kids.”

“What’d ya see?”

Barton suppressed a snort, not wanting to insult the old guy. He couldn’t tell if he was being put on or not. “Just tracks. I guess they were a little eerie, I remember it was really quiet. But that’s it. No ghosts.”

“Was called the Starlight Spectre, ya know. When she ate coal ‘steada eatin’ dumb kids or however they tell it.”

“So there was a real train, then?” Barton leaned in.

“Oh, aye. See, the tale gets all cut up and watered down by folks who’d rather a show of it, like you said, to spin up the little ‘uns inta thinkin’ twice about that forest beyond. Make the main event the spook story, and you can go home with a dare done did in your pocket and that’s that. So the real history is lost.”

“Well, you have to tell it now.”

“There’s a whole history section yonder,” Rudy said, waving over to one of the corners.

Barton folded his arms, smirking, until Rudy crumbled into a soft chuckle.

“You’d spend an hour just digging up them old records anyhow, I suppose,” said the caretaker, relenting. “It’s a short yarn, but damn near as strange a one as they get.”

Continued in Part 2: Crisped Out Wreck

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