“Looks like some kids driving too fast on their way to a Halloween party took out a utility pole down the street,” Hutch said, walking back into Starsky’s house in the dark, wooded, residential neighborhood. “It wasn’t a prank, just an unfortunate accident. They were lucky they sustained only minor injuries.”
“Did they say how long the power would be out?”
“No, and I didn’t feel like sticking around to find out – the wind is really starting to pick up out there and the temperature is plummeting.”
“Plummeting, huh? Why does that sound sexual in nature?”
“Only you would think that was sexual in nature,” said Hutch, sidling up to Starsky and putting his arms around him. “It wasn’t meant to be, but what did you have in mind?”
“How ‘bout we take advantage of the darkness?” Starsky replied.
“I don’t know, Starsk, maybe we should go to my place for the night. There’s no telling how long the power’s gonna be out. And you know -- you can’t open the fridge or you’ll let out the cold air. Besides, didn’t you want us to watch that Bela Lugosi movie tonight?”
Starsky considered this for a moment. “I did, but I think we should stay here – instead of watchin’ TV, we can tell ghost stories!”
Hutch looked at Starsky with a dubious expression. “I don’t really know any ghost stories, Starsk.”
“That’s okay, I do,” Starsky said as he energetically rummaged through the drawer. Finding what he was looking for, he lit the candle and placed it in the center of the coffee table. “And I bet I can scare the pants off you.”
“I’ll take that bet,” Hutch replied.
“So you agree to take your pants off if my story scares you?”
“Sure. But I don’t scare easily. Besides, how will you know if I’m scared or not?”
“Oh, I’ll know.” Starsky said, cracking his knuckles and settling back into the sofa in the darkened living room while the single candle cast strange shadows on the ceiling as the wind whooped through the trees outside.
“Ahem…” Starsky commenced, “it was a dark and stormy night—“
“And then the murders began,” Hutch interjected, pleased with himself.
“No, no, no, there are no murders,” Starsky corrected him. This is a ghost story.”
“Oh, sorry. Please continue, oh master of horror.”
Starsky rolled his eyes and introduced his story. “I have an old friend from back in NYC…haven’t seen him since we were about ten years old. His name’s Benjamin, but we called him Ben. He lived at the end of my street and we used to play stickball together—“
“So far, Starsk, this story isn’t scary.”
“No, not yet, Blondie. Be patient -- I’m just gettin’ started. Ben’s parents owned a bungalow out in the sticks of New Jersey where they spent the summers. Ben and his mom would stay there from June through August, and his dad, who worked for the Coast Guard in Brooklyn, would take the train out there every Friday night after work, stay the weekend, and take the return train back to the city on Sunday evenings. Most of the dads there did the same thing.
When we were about eight or nine, I spent a couple weeks there with his family. So this musta been around 1951, 52 or so. The next year, Ben’s dad got transferred to Florida and the family sold the bungalow and moved down there and I haven’t seen or spoken to him since.”
“I’m still not scared.”
“Don’t worry – you will be. So,” Starsky continued, “this bungalow community out in Jersey was built in the 1920s on land next to the Ramapough River and you had to drive down a steep, narrow, winding hill to get down there. Ben’s dad told us about how every 10 years or so, they’d have a great flood and between bein’ at the bottom of the great hill and bein’ next to the swollen river, they’d get several feet of water rushin’ through those bungalows and liftin’ up their cars and occasionally someone would drown in the flood waters. I never understood why anyone would want to own property there, but I guess it musta been cheap.
The bungalows were small and most of ‘em weren’t winterized, so most families only stayed there during the summer. But there were a couple houses where the people lived there year-round. In one of them, it was just an old lady named Gussie who lived all alone, as her husband had died some years earlier. I always wondered why anyone would want to stay in that bungalow community, all alone and isolated like that, in the winter. Because from September through mid-June or so, there’d be almost no one else there, and the only way in or out was by navigating that steep hill, although I suppose you could get out if you had a boat.
I remember Ben’s place clearly -- it had two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and a small living room, and his mom would give the dog a bath in the kitchen sink whenever it had gotten into the mud. There was a full-length mirror in the hallway, an old-lookin’ thing, something that maybe had belonged to his grandparents or somethin’.
But we mostly spent our time outside. It didn’t get dark ‘til almost 9:00, and even then, we’d stay out with flashlights. The bungalows were arranged in a rectangle that surrounded a ballfield and a clubhouse. Us kids used to play all kinds of games on that ballfield – not just stickball, but dodgeball, tag, anything where we could run around and get overheated, and then we would all go over to the river and cool off.
The people had built a concrete patio next to the river where they brought their chairs and blankets. I remember this one kid, she musta been around six years old and was visiting her grandparents, and she kept drinkin’ glass after glass of grape juice, which finally commenced into her puking all over the concrete patio. It looked like a murder scene with all that grape juice and whatever else was in her stomach coating the gray concrete—“
“That’s great, Starsk, good thing I wasn’t planning on eating anything tonight.”
“Anyway…funny thing about that river…even though it was moving, as rivers do, and there was a small waterfall nearby that we could play in, there was this one spot, right next to the patio, where there were all these mosquitoes in the water. It was funny because mosquitoes don’t like to be in moving water, they like to lay their eggs in standing water. But this one spot they found next to the concrete…for some reason it had this eerie stillness about it. The river was flowin’ all around it, but that spot was completely motionless. Weird, right?”
“Is there a point to this story, Starsk?”
“Just wait, I’m gettin’ there. So at night, us kids would sit in the middle of the ballfield where the only light came from a single bulb outside the clubhouse, but everyone had flashlights and the kids would tell ghost stories and urban legends and stuff, to try to scare each other.
There was this one kid named Jack, he was a tall, scrawny kid with a severe crew cut and a funny birthmark on his shoulder, and he used to bully the younger kids, although I put a stop to that the summer I was there. He told us this story about a girl who had drowned in the river about twenty years earlier. Her name was Amelia Frances and she was supposed to be a flower girl in her older sister’s weddin’ which was bein’ held a few miles away in the town, and she was dressed all in white when she wandered off to pick some flowers for her basket.
She was about seven years old and had long blonde hair that fell a few inches past her shoulders. She wore a white barrette made of that fancy fabric they make ballet skirts out of—“
“Yeah, tulle, I guess. It was sort of in the shape of a butterfly, and she was wearin’ a long white dress made from the same material, and she was carryin’ a white basket. She told her parents she was just gonna gather some flowers from the woods and they warned her to stay away from the river.”
“What happened to her?”
“She never returned. They sent a search party out to look for her. They even had dogs. They scoured the woods near the bungalows but found no trace of her. They realized they needed to search for her in the river but by then it was gettin’ dark and had begun to thunder, with great flashes of lightning all around, and they had to suspend the search until the next morning.
At the break of dawn, the search party headed for the river and that’s where they found her. Her small bloated body was floating motionless just next to the concrete patio where all the mosquitoes were. Floating beside her was her basket, which was filled to the top with small white flowers that the locals called little floatinghearts. She had picked them from a type of plant with heart-shaped leaves that floated on top of the water. She must not have found any suitable flowers in the woods and so she somehow ended up by the river.
She would have had to lean over to reach the blossoms. Her basket was full of them, but the cops thought she must have fallen in just as she was gettin’ ready to leave. They said her face was all blackened and swollen and that her mother had refused to identify the body, so they had to wait until her father could take the train out from the city before she could be positively identified. Supposedly, he said that he couldn’t tell who the face belonged to.”
“God, Starsk, that’s awful,” said Hutch.
“Yeah, but it’s what happened afterwards that really got everyone spooked. Because every year on the anniversary of Amelia’s death, she would appear in someone’s mirror late at night in their bungalow. They think because she was dressed up all pretty for the weddin’, and had gotten her hair and makeup done, that she came back each year to admire herself in the mirror.
And that kid, Jack, warned us not to ever look in the mirror, because if we saw her, she would reach into her basket for a handful of those flowers and scatter them around as if she was walking down the aisle. And if you looked at her long enough, she would scatter those flowers in your direction and walk right towards you through the mirror. And then you’d be done for.
And it turned out, the night Jack was tellin’ us this story on that ballfield was the anniversary of her drownin’. Around 11pm, all the parents started callin’ us kids in for bed and Jack warned us not to look in the mirror when we got back to our bungalows. So I climbed into the bed and pulled the covers over my head, still spooked from the story.
‘It’s not true, is it?’ I asked Ben who was on the other side of the room. He nodded and said it was.
I managed to fall asleep, but a few hours later, I woke up in the middle of the night havin’ to pee somethin’ fierce. I had to walk past the hallway mirror to get to the john, so I covered my eyes and looked away as I hurried past it, my heart thuddin’ in my chest, and then I did the same thing on my return to the bedroom.
The next morning, I asked Ben if the story was true, then why weren’t his parents scared, and he answered that only kids could see the girl in the mirror. One year, Ben told me, he had covered the mirror with a sheet but his parents made him take it down.
Well, that’s it…that’s the story. What didya think? Did I succeed in scarin’ you?”
“I think we should go to bed now, because it’s late and it’s starting to get cold in here. And if you don’t mind, I’ll be keeping my pants on, since you failed to scare me. Besides, we’ll freeze our asses off tonight if that wind keeps whooping the way it has been.”
Hutch blew out the candle, took Starsky’s hand, and led him to the bed where they climbed in and pulled the covers over them. He kissed Starsky goodnight, turning his head so Starsky couldn’t see his smirk. He could wait ‘til morning to fool around with his partner, but he doubted if Starsky could.
A few hours later, Hutch woke to the sound of sudden banging against the glass patio door. He looked over at Starsky but his partner was sound asleep. Quietly, he walked over to the door to investigate, but saw nothing except for some tree branches scattered around the deck. Figuring that was the sound he’d heard, he walked back into the bedroom and headed for the john. He tried the light switch but the power was still out, so he stood over the toilet in the dark, his eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness.
Walking over to the sink, he noticed there was a sheet covering the mirror. Shaking his head at Starsky’s attempt to scare him once more, Hutch turned on the faucet to wash his hands, only to find that the sink was filled to the brim with small white flowers. Smiling, he started to pull the sheet off the mirror, marveling at how Starsky had managed to do all that after they’d gone to bed, when suddenly, more flowers tumbled out from beneath the sheet as he felt a cold hand on his shoulder. His heart suddenly racing, Hutch whirled around…
“Scared yet?” Starsky asked, bemused, moving his hand off Hutch’s shoulder and placing it against his chest, feeling the thudding heart beneath.
“Jesus, Starsk, you had me going there for a minute.” Hutch tried to sound calm, but he knew he wasn’t convincing.
Starsky beamed a wide smile. “Take off your pants, Blondie, I won the bet.”
Hutch smiled back and began to undress in the darkness.