The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
The Reclamation of Benny the Fox
by Naching T. Kassa
Nalin Kratides studied the battered boxcar. The red paint which had once covered it was scorched by fire. Some of it had bubbled up during the moments of great heat and during cooling, had flaked away. A soft moan sounded, shifting her attention to the shadow-filled doorway.
A spirit floated from within the confines of the boxcar, wearing a pinstripe suit and a black fedora. It stopped and gazed at Nalin with sad eyes.
“He doesn’t look agitated to me,” she whispered to the man beside her.
Detective John Warren drew close. “Watch this.” He motioned to a young man clad in a police uniform. “Officer Colt, take a step toward the boxcar.”
“Do I have to?”
“Miss Kratides needs to see what the ghost does. And, since he only does it when you approach the boxcar, you need to do it.”
The young man frowned. “Alright, sir. If you say so.”
The moment Colt moved the spirit transformed. The once calm face became a mask of fury as the ghost burst into flame. It howled and lashed out at Colt. The young man stumbled backward.
“Is that all, sir?” the young officer asked, shaking.
“For now. Go on back to the car and take a break.”
“It does that every time?” Nalin said, as Colt retreated.
“Every time that kid comes near. Doesn’t pay attention to anybody else. See for yourself.”
Nalin faced the ghost. “What’s your name?” she asked.
The ghost stared. Nalin took a step forward, but before she could pose her next question, the spirit floated away.
“See what I mean,” John said.
“Weird. I wonder why it doesn’t like the officer.”
“Probably for the same reason no one else does. He’s a dick.”
“John, that’s not very nice.”
“Just stating the facts.”
Nalin turned her attention back to the boxcar. “It looks like the track hasn’t been used in years. Why would anyone leave a boxcar out here in the middle of the woods?”
“There’s an old roadhouse about half a mile from here. The locals say it was a speakeasy in its heyday. They claim the ghost of Benny the Fox haunts this boxcar.”
“Benny the who?”
“The Fox. Small-time gangster and rumrunner. He was killed by a rival called Gianni Vitello in 1925. Vitello confessed to the murder on his deathbed. Claims he burned Benny to death on this spot.”
“No body then?”
“Do you know anything else about him?”
“One thing. The guy loved kids. Most of his money went to orphanages and schools. Apparently, he and his little sister were abused as kids. His sister didn’t survive.”
“Where did you get all of this information?”
“The curator of the local museum. He likes to talk…a lot.”
“Good for him.” Nalin circled the boxcar. “If the ghost is still haunting this place, he must be connected to something. Maybe, it’s a personal possession.”
“Or he’s protecting something.”
“What is it?” John asked.
“I think you may be right. There’s a tunnel here.”
“A tunnel? Like a death tunnel? How come I can’t see it?”
“What does that mean?”
“Whoever it belongs to is still alive. But they won’t be for long.”
“We’ve got to get in there.”
“If the ghost is protecting something inside, he’ll become violent. One of us should distract him while the other goes in.”
“I’ve got some salt in the car. Want me to trap him for a bit?”
Nalin watched John hurry back to his unmarked vehicle and return with a box of salt. The ghost showed little interest as he approached and poured a circle around it.
“Ok. All set. I’ll stay out here and keep an eye on him.”
“Alright. Be right back.” She gave him a quick kiss and darted inside.
Strange scents bloomed around Nalin as she entered. Mold and decay filled her nostrils. As did the sweet scent of perfume.
A girl of about sixteen, lay on the floor, her eyes closed. Dried blood matted the hair just above her temple. Nalin hurried to her side.
The girl’s eyelids fluttered open and she cried out.
“It’s ok, sweetie,” Nalin said. “I’m here to help you.”
“Who-who are you?”
“I’m a friend. Can you stand?”
“I don’t think so.”
“John,” Nalin called. “John, I found someone.”
The girl’s eyes widened. “Stop! Don’t make a sound. He’ll kill us!”
“No, he won’t. He’s a friend. A policeman.”
The girl’s face grew ashen. “No. He stopped me on the road. Attacked me. Chased me here.”
A chill crept over Nalin’s skin. She glanced back toward the boxcar’s doorway.
“John!” she cried. “Hurry!”
A figure appeared in the doorway. It wasn’t John.
Officer Colt stood before her, a demonic grin on his face. Grotesque bulges formed on his face and hands, as though something writhed beneath the surface, aching to be free.
Nalin rose to her feet, scanning the floor for anything she could use as a weapon. Nothing lay within her grasp.
“Where’s John?” she asked.
“Sleeping on the job,” Colt replied. “Don’t worry. He isn’t dead…yet.”
“What do you want?”
“To make a deal. Come outside and I’ll explain.”
Nalin glanced at the girl.
“It’ll only take a second.”
“You go first.”
Colt stepped out of the boxcar and Nalin followed.
Warren lay in the dirt a few feet away. Within the circle, the fiery ghost raged.
“It was awfully nice of you to trap him for me,” Colt said. “I couldn’t get near her while he was there. That’s why I called you two in. You didn’t really think there were complaints of a haunting, did you?”
Colt approached Warren.
“What are you doing?” Nalin asked.
“I’m giving you a choice.”
“What kind of choice?”
“You leave the girl here with me. I load him in the car for you. You drive off.”
“What if I call the cops?”
“All they’ll find here are two dead bodies. Sorry, toots. Human jurisdiction doesn’t apply to me.”
“What if I say no?”
“Then I’ll toss your boyfriend to our extra-crispy friend here, kill the girl, and possess your body. I’ll take it for a little joy ride. A little murder. A little mayhem.”
“You’ve really thought this through, haven’t you?”
Colt smiled. “I do pride myself on my reasoning.”
“I think there’s one thing you haven’t considered though. A third choice.”
Colt frowned. “There are no other choices.”
“Obviously, you haven’t been human long. You don’t know anything about free will. Excuse me as I exercise mine.”
Nalin sprinted forward and dived toward the circle of salt. She swiped the edge away.
Unimaginable heat rushed over her as the spirit left the broken circle. Nalin pressed her face to the ground.
An inhuman scream of agony filled the air.
Colt tried to flee the ghost but hadn’t made it far. Fire engulfed him. Within seconds, he’d become a mass of charred flesh upon the ground.
Warren stirred as Nalin reached him.
“Who’s that?” he said.
“Benny got him?”
“Like you said. He’s a dick.”
The spirit of Benny the Fox, having resumed ghostly form, floated by them.
“John, there’s a girl in the boxcar who needs our help. She’s hurt. We have to get in there.”
“I don’t think that’ll be a problem. Look.”
The ghost stood in the doorway. He smiled and beckoned.
Nalin helped Warren to his feet and they hurried inside.
Fiction © Copyright Naching T. Kassa
Image courtesy of Rie Sheridan Rose.
More from Naching T. Kassa:
Crystal Lake Publishing proudly presents Arterial Bloom, an artful juxtaposition of the magnificence and macabre that exist within mankind. Each tale in this collection is resplendent with beauty, teeth, and heart.
Edited by the Bram Stoker Award-winning writer Mercedes M. Yardley, Arterial Bloom is a literary experience featuring sixteen stories from some of the most compelling dark authors writing today.
With a foreword by HWA Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient Linda D. Addison, you are invited to step inside and let the grim flowers wind themselves comfortably around your bones.