Not Your Average Ghost Story
Average Ghost Story
Ackerly, dressed in a wizard’s robe and hat, glanced over his shoulder at the
four people backstage in the school auditorium.
“Is everyone ready?”
brown-haired girl, wearing a witch’s robe with a black school gown and a
pointed black hat, nodded nervously. She
was clutching a set of papers in her right hand.
Behind her was a lean man dressed in a plain shirt and pants; he also
nodded. An older man and a thin
woman lurked behind a rear curtain that shielded the back entrance to the stage.
The woman, who had been introduced as Calandra Saint-Saëns, held a pad
of paper and a pen; she kept peering at the tip of the pen as if she’d never
seen one before. Considering that the woman was really a witch who usually
wrote with a quill and inkbottle, Dennis thought, she had every right to stare.
The old man, dressed in dark clothes and seated on a tall stool, had a
leather patch over one eye. The
good eye flickered to the stagehand, the only one not in on the plot, then back
to Dennis. The old man nodded.
Dennis said to the girl. “Let’s
girl slid out from behind the curtain and stepped up to the stage’s
microphone. “The Forgotten
Ghost,” she read from the paper in front of her.
“A story by Dennis Ackerly.” Then
she glanced off-stage to her right and added, “With research help by Lisa
came Dennis’s protest.
it’s true,” Lisa replied over her shoulder in an undertone.
older man’s voice growled, “All right, you two.
Lisa, read. You --” this
to the stagehand holding the ropes, “--open the curtains.”
thick red drapes parted to reveal a darkened stage, with a few piles of dead
leaves scattered about, and a trio of cardboard trees in the background. The leaves hid the boxes that held the old man’s “stage
lights” and “fog machine”. Actually,
the boxes were completely empty. The
true source of the special effects was a wand, tucked up the old man’s dark
moment later, tendrils of mist began to curl around the stage, and dim light
cast shadows behind the trees. Dennis
walked out onto the stage, wand in hand. A
point of light winked from his spectacle lenses.
He scanned the faces as best he could and found his parents and aunt
sitting in the visitors’ section of the auditorium.
He didn’t quite dare wave to them.
there was a boy named Ainsley Mooreland,” Lisa read.
The sound system projected her words perfectly, and Dennis breathed a
sigh of relief as he stood on his stage mark.
Mr. Moody hadn’t been sure if the magic would disrupt the electrical
equipment or not. But as he’d
said to Dennis, the spells wouldn’t be very strong -- just enough to create a
bit of fog and some lights.
grinned inwardly. He’d always
liked watching the annual Halloween programs done by the older students in his
school; this year, for the first time, he was actually presenting one instead.
Mrs. Marsham, his teacher, had been more than a little surprised at the
old man Dennis had brought to school to help with the skit. “Oh! Uh,
Dennis, i-is this your grand-father?” she’d stammered.
ma’am,” Dennis had replied. “This
is Mr. Moody. He lives up the
road.” Then he’d added,
dead-pan, “He’s a special effects wizard.”
was born with magical abilities,” Lisa was continuing.
Dennis flourished his wand to underscore her words.
A shower of sparks shot out of the end, and he almost dropped it; that
hadn’t happened in either of the practices.
The audience murmured in appreciation.
walked off the stage and stood where he could both watch the play and peek
around the curtain at the audience. He
wanted to see their reactions.
continued, “Ainsley became a respected member of his community, although he
never told anyone he was a wizard.” Dennis
carefully eased the curtain aside enough for him to see the audience.
girl in the third row saw it first.
gasped and pointed, and the people around her suddenly stared at the center of
the stage. Dennis glanced to his
right. On the darkened stage, a
figure was materializing in the wispy fog, a man wearing a neck ruff and
close-fitting clothes. Dennis had
made it a point to call him “Sir Nicholas”, since the man had seemed miffed
when Lisa had introduced him as “Nearly-Headless
Nicholas, playing Ainsley Mooreland, bowed to the audience.
Two more forms were materializing, a man with a woman on his arm; behind
them a pair of ghostly children winked into sight. As they passed Ainsley, the specter doffed his hat to the
lady and the girl child behind her, and the family smiled back, floating across
the stage and vanishing as they passed the curtain.
liked to help his neighbors, especially the children,” Lisa read, and on stage
the two children scampered back to Ainsley, who drew out his wand and waved it
over their hands, causing a pair of spectral sugarplums to appear. Grinning, the children bobbed their thanks and ran after
of course, wanted to have children of his own,” the narrator continued, “and
at last he met a beautiful woman who agreed to marry him.”
A tall, stately ghost with a long gown and a regal bearing appeared at
Ainsley’s side, and suddenly a plump man in friar’s robes popped into being
in front of them.
audience jumped; behind the curtain, Dennis grinned.
Friar gestured to end the ceremony, then snapped his book closed and waved the
newly-weds across the stage. He
winked at the audience and vanished. By
now some of the audience members were murmuring.
was well for many years,” Lisa said. “Ainsley and his wife lived happily and
had several children. But one day a
terrible storm swept across the valley and its town.
Heavy rains poured down, day after day.
Rivers and streams rose. Roads
were flooded.” On stage, the
lights flickered and died; a rumble of thunder rolled through the darkened
auditorium, and the lights flashed off and on like lightning. The mist coalesced into a single cloud that flowed into one
corner of the stage and took on the form of waves, building higher and higher.
The feeble lights returned. The
ghostly family, the Friar, the stately lady, and a handful of other dim forms
materialized in front of the waves, arms raised as if to ward off the water.
knew that the time had come to use his magic to save his townsfolk,” Lisa
read. On the stage, Ainsley bounded
through the crowd (literally passing through a couple of people) and halted
before the water, striking a dramatic pose, wand raised.
The rest of the ghosts turned and ran offstage, except for the Friar, who
stood his ground behind Ainsley with his fists raised.
The stately lady rematerialized behind him, snagged him by the hood of
his robe, and dragged him off. A
chuckle ran through the audience. Dennis
thought he heard a growl from Moody.
cast spell after spell at the water,” Lisa continued, and Ainsley waved his
wand dramatically at the mist, which plunged and rose like a flood.
“The waters were high, and the storm was powerful, but at last Ainsley
managed to block the waters and turn them away from the town.”
Two of the cardboard trees suddenly flung themselves in front of the mist
water, which swirled and foamed, but remained contained.
a last great gust of wind brought a massive tree crashing down upon Ainsley’s
head, killing him.” The third
cardboard tree toppled over and fell through Ainsley; for a moment the ghost
froze, then clutched his head and staggered about the stage for nearly a minute.
Dennis heard Moody’s stage whisper. “Nick!
We haven’t got all afternoon -- die already!”
The ghost glared in Moody’s general direction, then collapsed on the
stage and vanished.
that day forward, Ainsley’s ghost wandered the countryside,” Lisa read. On the stage, a different figure appeared, this one dressed
in tattered robes, a long bandage wrapped around his head, moving with a
shuffling gait back and forth across the stage, each hand clutching the opposite
arm. The audience, who
had chuckled over Ainsley’s demise, fell silent as the specter limped
back and forth. “Because of the
blow to his head, Ainsley’s ghost couldn’t remember what had happened to
him, or anything about his past. He
was doomed to wander the countryside as a spirit, until someone could tell him
about his life and how he had died.”
figure came to the edge of the stage and stood peering into the audience as if
searching for a familiar face. Then
he turned to stare at Lisa, who offered him a smile and said, “That’s the
story of Ainsley Mooreland.”
figure, still facing Lisa, blinked several times.
A timid patter of applause began, then died away.
Ainsley’s ghost looked back over his shoulder at the dimly lit stage,
then at the audience, and back to the girl in the witch’s robes.
His mouth moved.
-- remember,” the ghost whispered. “I...
I remember! That
was right! That’s what
happened! I REMEMBER!” And with a cry, he rose into the air and winked out of
a moment the audience sat in stunned surprise; then they burst into applause and
a babble of voices. Lisa, grinning,
stepped out from the behind the microphone and bowed.
As the clapping continued, the ghosts materialized on the stage in a
group, linked arms to form a line, and bowed (a little raggedly).
Sir Nicholas came strolling from backstage and waved so enthusiastically
that his head began to flop to one side. The
stately lady stepped forward and caught his hair before things went too far;
Dennis didn’t think anyone in the audience had noticed.
just sit there, my lad,” came the Friar’s voice in his ear.
The ghost had materialized beside him.
“Get onstage and take your bow.”
Dennis stepped onto the stage; the ghosts, applauding with the audience,
parted to give him room, bowed once more, and then vanished.
He was left alone on stage with Lisa, who grinned at him.
worked!” she yelled over the clapping.
guess so!” he shouted back. “Let’s
go make sure!” But even he
couldn’t resist taking one more bow.
they slipped out the stage door, Mrs. Marsham stopped them.
“Dennis! That was amazing!
I’ve never seen such real effects!
Do you have any idea how your friend did all those ghosts?”
not sure,” Dennis answered. “He
said it was hardly any work for him at all.”
Behind him Lisa uttered something that sounded like a cough.
I must talk to him about them,” Mrs. Marsham said, pulling the stage door
open. “I wonder if we could get
him to help us do the ghosts for A
Christmas Carol this year....” The
door closed behind her. Dennis and
Lisa looked at each other and grinned.
Dennis said. “Let’s go find
exit to the parking lot was at the end of the hall.
From there it was a short walk to the cemetery down the block.
The tall witch was seated on a gravestone in a secluded corner of the
cemetery, waving the pen at the Friar. “Amazing,”
she was saying, “what Muggles can do, even without magic.” The Friar nodded politely and turned to smile at Dennis and
well! Excellent work!” he
exclaimed, beaming. In a moment the
rest of the ghosts had appeared and either sat or stood around them.
yes, a masterful performance, if I do say so myself,” Sir Nicholas drawled.
you will no doubt do,” the stately Grey Lady remarked dryly, “probably for
years to come.”
now,” the Friar began.
the ghosts continued their discussion, Dennis turned to Saint-Saëns. “What about Mr. Mooreland?”
smiled. “I think your idea
worked,” she replied. “While we
were waiting for you, he began pointing to the different hills and parts of the
town we could see, and saying things like, ‘I remember when that building used
to be the tanner’s house’, and ‘that flat land used to be corn fields’,
and such. I’m curious, young man
-- how did you find out the story of what happened to him?”
ghosts had all stopped their discussions to listen.
“When we first found him wandering around Mr. Moody’s property this
past summer, all he could remember was his first name,” Dennis said. “So Mr. Moody owled the Ghost Liaison Office.”
we couldn’t find anything,” the witch supplied.
“Records from that time and place are sketchy.
thought he must have come from around here,” Dennis said.
I asked the school ghosts, and they said usually a ghost doesn’t wander far
from the place of his death, especially not in Mr. Mooreland’s condition,”
nodded; with the play successfully completed, he was more than willing to share
the credit with this cousin. “So
I made a sketch of his clothes, and I went to the library.
We have a whole section of local history books, and one of the librarians
studies it as a hobby. Once she
figured out the time period of the clothes I had drawn, I looked through the
books until I found the name ‘Ainsley’.
It’s not a very common name. And
I found an account of how a man named Ainsley Mooreland was credited with saving
a whole town from a flood, but disappeared afterward.
His neighbors said he was a good man, but rather odd in some ways -- he
always seemed to have what someone needed, and always had treats to give
children, and kept odd pets.”
the play, depicting his life?” Saint-Saëns asked.
year, my form in school puts on Halloween presentations for the younger kids,”
Dennis said. “So I thought we
could make a play about Ainsley, and let him watch it, and see if that helped
wrote to me about it,” Lisa added. “And
when I asked the ghosts if they thought it would work, they wanted to be part of
it. Some of them are old enough to
remember that time, and they all wanted to help.
I think they get tired of being around the school all the time.”
we worked out a skit that would include ghosts, and I told my teacher that I
knew someone who could make the ghosts seem real.”
Dennis smiled. “On
Halloween, lots of people want to believe in ghosts and fairies and magic.”
didn’t add that the project had also drawn Mr. Moody out of the depression
that had surrounded him when he’d returned from the year at the magical school
of Hogwarts. Dennis didn’t know
exactly what had happened, but he did know that the old man had spent this past
summer and early autumn alternating between bouts of weariness and anger. Mooreland’s problems and the play had given the old wizard
something to focus on besides cleaning up the mess of his home.
turned his attention back to the conversation around him as the Friar said
cheerfully, “It’s been great fun!”
don’t suppose we could make this an annual event?” Sir Nicholas asked
hopefully. “We could do my life story next year for my Deathday anniversary--”
Dennis could open his mouth, the Grey Lady snapped, “Enough!
We must go -- they’ll be expecting us at Hogwarts tonight for the
Halloween Feast.” All of the
ghosts perked up at that, and offered Dennis a chorus of “Good-bye!” and
“Thank you!” before fading away, leaving only Lisa and the Ghost Liaison
we must be going, too,” the witch said,
rising. “I’ll drop Lisa off at
Hogwarts, and then I’ll have to go to the office and write up my report.”
She smiled at Dennis. “Thank
you, Mr. Ackerly. While my
department works primarily with the ghosts who choose to linger, we also try to
help any of those that seek to move on. You’ve
done Ainsley Mooreland a great service. If
he does seem ready to move on, we’ll be sure to let you know.”
She offered him the pen back. “I
believe this belongs to you. Thank
you for the loan.”
almost laughed. “Please keep it,
Ms. Saint-Saëns. I have another
one at home.” Actually, his
father had a box of them stashed in his desk.
witch’s face lit up. “Oh! Well, I really shouldn’t.... I mean, it’s a Muggle
item.... If you’re sure? Well,
thank you very much.” She beamed
as she handed the pen to the air; the pen disappeared.
contrast, Lisa’s face took on a mournful expression.
“I’m sorry you can’t come to the feast,” she said.
“I really wish you’d been accepted at Hogwarts too!”
shrugged. “Well, I got to be a
wizard for a little while, anyway,” he said finally, trying not to sound too
disappointed. After finding out
last year that his young cousin Jeremy had magic, at the same time he’d met
Mr. Moody, Dennis had hoped that he too might have the gift, but no owl had
appeared at his house; unlike Lisa and, someday, Jeremy, Dennis was an ordinary
know,” Lisa said suddenly. “I’ll
save some of the treats from tonight, and owl them to you!
It’s not Halloween without candy!” She grinned mischievously. “And
just wait until you see what I’m getting you for Christmas!”
minutes later, Dennis let himself back through the stage door, to find Moody
stacking the last of the “prop boxes” while the stagehand coiled electrical
cord. Mrs. Marsham was saying,
“Are you sure you don’t need any help with those?”
ma’am, it’s all under control,” Moody replied, giving Dennis a Significant
Look, followed by a rolling of his good eye and a scowl.
I can’t thank you enough,” Mrs. Marsham continued.
“Those were the most amazing effects....”
say,” the stagehand remarked dryly. “He
brought all these electrical cords, and didn’t plug a single one in!”
in the process of handing Dennis a stack of boxes, froze.
“Unh,” the old wizard muttered.
“I’d better take care of this.”
He straightened up and drew his wand.
“Or I’ll be stuck here doing some sort of Christmas play, too.”
Dennis backed through the stage door with the boxes as Moody turned to
deal with the stagehand and Mrs. Marsham.
few minutes later he joined Dennis in the parking lot, where Dennis was piling
the boxes into the trunk of his parents’ car.
“Got them out of the way,” Moody rumbled, and Dennis nodded. They worked in silence for a few minutes before Moody
remarked, “That was a good job on the play, by the way.”
Dennis sighed. “But it didn’t go exactly the way I planned.
I think some of the ghosts got a little carried away.
And you did all the special effects.”
course they got carried away. This
is the first time in years most of ‘em have done anything like this, and they
didn’t even get to rehearse here,” Moody growled.
“They got a little over-excited, is all.
And if I hadn’t done the fog and lights, you would have found some
other way to make the play work, without using a shred of magic.
Don’t be too hard on yourself -- the play got done, it helped
Mooreland, and everything had the blessing of the Ghost Liaison Office.
That’s got to be a first in the annals of magic -- real ghosts in a
magical play put on for Muggles. Plus
your audience got a bit of local history along with its Halloween celebration,
even if a couple of people needed to have their memories adjusted a bit
afterwards.” He grinned and shook his head.
me, when I think of what could have gone wrong, but didn’t...”
what?” Dennis asked.
could have given your characters dialog,” Moody replied, glancing around the
parking lot to see if anyone was watching.
Seeing no one, he gave a flick of his wand, and the rest of the boxes
floated into the air and stacked themselves neatly in the trunk.
“Just imagine Sir Nicholas de Mimsey-Porpington having to speak actual
lines.... Now that would have been
sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
-- Arthur C. Clarke (scientist
and science fiction author)
advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology!”
(from Mercedes Lackey’s novel Born
Note: all recognizable characters from the Harry Potter books, include Alastor
“Mad-Eye” Moody and the various ghosts, as well as the concept of the Ghost
Liaison Office, belong to author J.K. Rowling.
They have been borrowed here without permission, and no monetary
compensation was gained for the writing of this story.
Many thanks to the incomparable Zsenya, for beta-reading this in its raw
form, and to Yen, who helped with a bit of tweaking.
full story of how Dennis Ackerly, Lisa Thurber, and Lisa’s younger brother
Jeremy met a strange old man who turned out to be a wizard is told in the story If It Hadn’t Been for the Owl, which is lurking about the SQ site
somewhere. I don’t think you need
to have read that story to understand this one, but I’m not above advertising
my own work occasionally... ;-)
the editing process, a question came up: what unfinished business would children
have that caused them to become ghosts? Having
done a little reading on the subject, I ran across a couple of possibilities.
One account told of a ghost so young that he hadn’t even been named;
finally, after several people had seen the ghost, a man addressed him as
“short hoggers” (a local phrase meaning “baby booties”); the child
accepted it as a name, and vanished. There
are a couple of other stories about what unfinished business a child might have,
but they’re just too gruesome to mention here.
Brrr..... I hope the
children who are ghosts at Hogwarts have a more innocent reason for staying on.
(If anyone would like to see those untold stories, though, they’re
found in The Enchanted World: Ghosts,
published by Time-Life Books.)
familiar with classical music will probably recognize the surname of the GLO
witch. Camille Saint-Saëns
composed two of my favorite pieces of music: Carnival
of the Animals, and Danse Macabre;
I thought the latter in particular qualified his name for a story like this.
Danse Macabre would also
provide excellent background music for reading the SQ Halloween fics….along
with Night on Bald Mountain (Mussorgsky),
Devil’s Dance (from John
Williams’s The Witches of Eastwick),
the Hooked on Classics version of Dance
of the Furies (Gluck)/Summer (from
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons), and In the Hall of the Mountain King (Grieg). There’s actually an entire CD entitled Devil’s Dance, performed by Gil Shaham and Jonathan Feldman, which
features 13 (yes, really!) pieces relating to devils, ghosts, and other