In the spirit of Halloween, ACF has a three-part spooky story to share. It’s a story about giving and kindness to others; and, of course, about things that go bump in the night. Happy Halloween!
It was October, and the winter winds had come early. They howled around the house, rattling doorknobs and shaking windows in their frames. Clara lay wide awake in her bed. Though it was the darkest hour of the night, she couldn’t sleep. The house felt cold and empty. Goosebumps pricked her arms and her spine tingled with every whoosh and sigh of the wind. It sounded alive, somehow. The harder she tried not to listen, the more she seemed to hear. Somewhere, a floorboard creaked. A far-off dog barked. A tree just outside scraped its branches across her bedroom window.
Then it knocked against it with twigs like gnarled fingers.
Clara jumped. Had that been a trick of the wind? Or was the tree knocking?
She sat up and glared at the tree, waving black branches at her as if beckoning her outside. So rude of it to come knocking in the middle of the night, of all times.
It was clear she wouldn’t get any rest tonight until she investigated this knocking business, at the very least. She summoned all her courage, shoved her feet into her slippers, wrapped herself in her dressing gown, and strode resolutely outside into the wind.
The ghost who lived in the tree allowed himself a small chuckle. Amazing, really, the stunts you had to pull to get mortals’ attention. Any more wind and the poor woman’s house would have collapsed around her ears.
Once, a few centuries back, he had shared an old farmhouse with a family who seemed determined to deny his existence. When water damage rendered a portion of the house unsafe, he had done everything he could think of to let them know; levitating pots and pans, slamming doors, blowing out and re-lighting their candles. But they insisted on pulling blankets over their heads and blaming everything from the weather to their own imaginations. He had eventually had no choice but to erect a forcefield around the damaged floorboards to prevent anyone from falling through and breaking a leg. The family had moved out shortly after that, strangely enough.
All things considered, haunting a tree was just less hassle than haunting a house. He worried too much about mortals when he was too close to them. But sometimes a situation called for getting their attention at any cost.
He saw Clara approaching the tree and waved its branches at her in what he hoped was a welcoming sort of way.
It was imperative that she see what he had to show her.
The black kitten crouching among the roots of the tree hoped the ghost knew what he was doing. Cold and drenched from the early snowfall, the kitten had wandered toward the house in hopes of a bed and maybe some warm milk. But he found the house shuttered up tight for the night, and so the ghost had offered him temporary shelter at the base of the tree while he got the human’s attention. (All black cats, as everyone knows, can talk to ghosts.) The kitten appreciated the help, but he did question the ghost’s methods, although he was too polite to say so. He hated the wind. It made him feel even colder.
But there – the human had come out! She was shivering in her dressing gown, glaring reproachfully at the tree. Then her gaze fell on the kitten, and her expression softened. She murmured something, crouched down, held out her hands. Without hesitation, he leapt into her arms. He should come inside, she assured him, and she would put some milk on the stove.
Clara looked up at the tree again, this time in some awe.
Thank you for this gift, she thought to the tree.
Thank you for this gift, the kitten purred to the ghost.
Thank you for this gift, the ghost smiled down at them both.
Clara carried the black kitten inside. The wind died down, and the night returned to stillness.