by Tony Noland
Some people swore that the house was haunted. Pfft. That's only because they wouldn't know a real ghost if it bit them on the ear. Regardless of what Mr. Archer's books said, the fact is, that old place was the only spot in the county that wasn't haunted. Like my Uncle Caleb always said, where the body dies, the soul resides. Until last year, nobody ever died in the house itself.
The land, though... the land didn't lack for ghosts. Shawnee and Lenape braves, English colonist irregulars, Army of the Potomac infantrymen. All around here, they were crouched and waiting, gripping their bowstrings and rifle butts, alert for some sign of attack.
I used to hope they'd realize the war was over, whichever war it was they were fighting in. Used to hope they'd turn from the battlefield and go on home to their mothers or their wives. But there they were, ready to fight the battle that already killed them.
I'll tell you, it was the saddest thing, looking at them. Smoky-looking men, thin and wispy. They looked like a mass of cobwebs quivering over a candle flame - crowded out in the meadows, packed shoulder to shoulder, and all of them on a hair-trigger. Worst part of it was that not one of them could see another. Thousands upon thousands of fighting men, ferocious warriors and soldiers from a hundred generations or more, and every one of them terrified 'cause he thought he was facing the enemy alone.
Archer said he had the Second Sight, but I know for a fact that he didn't. About eight years ago, when I was fixing the sump pump down in the basement of the place, he mentioned he'd seen a ghost in the kitchen. He said it kinda sidelong, like he knew how much trouble the Sight has been for me and my family. Then he started talking about how he could hardly stand to walk through a graveyard for all the ghosts around. That's when I knew he was a liar. People are dead long before they ever get put into a graveyard. It's hospitals you gotta watch out for.
He was a convincing one, though, I'll grant him that. Archer wrote two books about his fake haunted house. They were full of nonsense and lies, but they generated enough interest in the old place that he turned it into a haunted bed and breakfast. After a few years, it was pretty regular to see ghost-hunting tourists coming and going.
I heard about the "seance weekend" packages he was offering for the fall tourists. Archer was a fool. Still, he might have gotten away with his seances as long as he stuck to fog machines and hidden wires. It was when he started daring the spirits to show their cowardly faces, to reveal themselves and be vanquished... that was when they heard his voice, recognized him as the enemy and moved in for the kill.
Out my window, across the valley, I saw them, a rippling silver wave, on the march. All over the fields, I saw them heft their weapons as they moved in towards the house. I know what happened; I heard his screams. They faced the enemy and showed no mercy.
These fields used to be rich with the spirits of the dead. Now, there are no ghosts anywhere in the county anymore, except, of course, for Archer's up in the house. He decided to make himself their enemy. Nothing was ever the same again after that.
n.b. This was written for NPR's Three Minute Fiction contest, which I didn't win. You can read the winning entry here. My thanks to Icy Sedgwick and Danielle La Paglia for their excellent beta reads & comments.
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