Moonlight shone through Mandy’s window in long skeleton claws across her unicorn bedspread; shadows cast by the tree outside, still bare though spring had arrived. The tree as ancient as the graveyard adjacent her house.
Mandy sat on the corner of the bed, huddled against the headboard with the comforter drawn up to her chin and her brother Mick’s baseball bat beside her.
Tonight was the scary night. It came twice a year when the light and the dark were equal… and this was the scary hour. The soft rustling of the wind through the half-open window billowed her white curtains. Soon, just at the darkest moment, the voices would begin.
Mandy closed her eyes and held her breath. She slid her hand out from under the covers and gripped the bat. The wind stopped, and the curtains settled against the wall like a dying breath.
“Help me,” a soft voice whispered.
“Pardon me, do you have the time?”
Hooves clopped and wheels rattled in the night.
Mandy wormed herself to the window, her back scraping against the wall, knuckles white around the bat. She peeked out.
A multitude of people crowded the yard. Women in long dresses and hoop skirts danced with men in long pants and tailed coats. Two soldiers faced one another swords drawn, one in a blue jacket, the other in red. A man wore a metal breastplate, puffy pants, tights and a pointed helmet; he leaned against a long heavy gun. They went about their business, unaware of the darkest hour and of the frosty graves on which they trod. A car sputtered by, and Mandy glimpsed the crank necessary to start it. A train horn blew and chugged in the darkness.
Most nights, Mandy leaned on the windowsill and watched them, unafraid and taking in every detail. At seven years old, she now knew the difference between a barouche and a stagecoach, a musket and a rifle, a cloche hat and a bonnet. But tonight… the stench of rot and decay wafted into the room.
Mandy gasped and pulled herself away as yellow, baggy eyes and rotted teeth peered through the glass. Greasy long hair flattened against the saggy cheeks; a tattered top hat sat crooked on the head. Only on the scary night, he came.
“Let me in, child,” his voice sounded like a creaking door.
“No,” Mandy whispered.
“You know you want to,” he cooed and chills ran up Mandy’s spine.
“We’ll have such fun,” he hissed.
Mandy pressed the bat against her, as white skeletal fingers slithered over the sill and into the room, reaching for her bare feet.
She drew herself up into the tightest ball and whimpered, “leave me alone.”
“I want you,” he sneered.
The ghosts were now silent and a dense evil had fallen like a rotten, lingering mist. The fingers closed in on Mandy and she felt the icy bone on her skin.
The door slammed open and Mick burst into the room. He seized the bat and brought it down on the spectral hand. It retreated through the window. Mick faced him.
“Leave her alone.”
“She’s mine!” The rotted teeth bared.
A cloud passed across the moon and the graveyard fell into momentary darkness. When the sky cleared, the graveyard was empty; the phantoms gone.
Sunlight peeped through the window and shone on Mick and Mandy asleep, their hands clasped around the baseball bat between them.