I met Hawky and Co’ by the rotten old stump behind Old Man Jenkin’s place. We were somewhere around 14 years old that summer, the year I really got to know those two. They waited for me while I arrived late like I always did.
Hawky, called that since he always hit his mark with his tomahawk, occupied himself by balancing his hatchet on his chin. He and his dad started blacksmithing out of their garage as a hobby, and they managed to make the thing out of some old wrought iron they salvaged. Proud as hell of it and always learning new tricks.
Co’, short for Commander – she could get anyone to do anything. There was something terrifying about her which made me more afraid of her disapproval than that of my parents. She was wearing a camera around her neck when I arrived, so I knew she was up to something.
Then there was me, Grub. I got called that because I was the new kid, even though that was my third summer with the gang. I didn’t have any special talents other than reading far too many ghost stories, but I ain’t no slouch. I just hadn’t found my real calling yet.
“Bout time,” Co’ said, jumping off a big rock.
Hawky holstered his ‘hawk and crossed his arms, turning his shoulders square to face both Co’ and me.
“What’s up,” I said, greeting the rest of the Black Creek Gang with a nod.
“You’re gonna love this.” Hawky gave me a half-grin.
“Oh yeah?” I raised my brows.
“We’re gonna shoot a ghost.” Co’ flashed me a smile and hefted her camera. “Jenkins died last week, right?”
“Yeah,” I said. “You think he’s haunting or something?”
Hawky fidgeted with the button on his hawk holster. “He was a mean sonova bitch. And you was saying last month how angry ghosts stick around.”
“And that big ol’ Scooby-Doo mansion of his is sitting vacant,” said Co’. “So we’re gonna do some exploring and a bit of ghost hunting.”
“I’m in,” I stood up straight and broadened my shoulders.
We hiked our way up the goathead-covered hill behind the old man’s house. Co’ was unfazed. Hawky and I did our best to claw our way through behind her, trying not to appear weak.
The house itself was this huge ridiculous gothic thing like it should be full of Addams’ or maybe a wolfman or a Frankenstein. It lorded over us as we crept up to the back door.
Co’ flipped her mom’s credit card out of her pocket and slid it between the door and the frame. With a lot of fiddling and a lot of swearing, she managed to get the door to open. It groaned on its rusty hinges as it reluctantly welcomed us in.
“Hawky,” she whispered, “you’re first.”
Hawky nodded and carefully unbuttoned the strap on his holster before taking a few timid steps into the darkness.
“Shoulda brought a light,” he hissed as he squinted into the innards.
I spotted an old brick half-buried in an overgrown planter. I snatched it up and knocked off some of the dirt.
“The hell you doing?” sneered Co’.
“Gonna brick the door open,” I spit back. “He might try and trap us.”
Her face shifted in approval and she followed Hawky without another word, taking the camera from around her neck. The stillness of the air was interrupted by the high pitched whine of the camera flash warming up. I made my way inside after making sure the door was safely propped open.
We picked our way through the house on tiptoes into a large living space. We stopped as soon as we heard humming drift in from the other room. Hawky turned back toward us with his face all twisted up somewhere between confusion and panic. All it took was a few forceful gestures from Co’ to get the gang moving again.
We peeked around the corner like a three-headed monster and squinted into the library. In an old wingback chair sat a glowing, transparent figure. The chair was turned away from us, denying us a good view of its occupant.
Co’ looked to Hawky and me and gulped. Anyone else might have turned away and escaped, but nothing scared Co’ more than being labeled a coward. She crept around the periphery of the library, aiming her camera at the chair. Made it halfway before the figure leaped to his feet, and I swear that old ghost had fangs and claws where most folks would keep their usual teeth and fingers. She yelped, dropped her camera, and forced her way past Hawky and me.
Hawky skittered away, losing his hatchet out of his open holster.
“Get out!” bellowed the spirit as I snatched the camera from the ground.
The flash snapped when I released the shutter, and the ghost staggered back. I continued to snap photos as I stepped backward toward the open door, slowing the ghost’s pursuit.
I reached the hatchet. With a quick spin, I yanked it off the floor and bolted toward the exit, collapsing on the dry grass at the feet of my companions.
“Jesus,” gasped Hawky. “I didn’t realize you were fearless!”
Co’ slapped me on the back, “You sure are, Mongoose.”