A Ghost Story for Pat (Flash Fiction)

It was one of the first festivals of the season and a time to renew acquaintances and to greet old friends. Most of us hadn’t seen one another since that dreary cold day last winter. The sweet smell of woodsmoke summoned us to perch on camp chairs and coolers and begin to spin yarns from memories and moonshine.

“I first met Davy, we were in high school together. He was one crazy sonovabitch then, too.” DJ’s booming voice carried easily over the crackle of burning brands. “We used to drag race cars down by the lake every chance we got. Of course, the cops know all about us; they knew our cars, and they’d take any excuse to pull us over whether we deserved it or not. One night the deputy sheriff sees Davy’s car parked along the side of the road. He was sitting there with his girlfriend at the time, just talking, and when the deputy shone his flashlight at them through the window, Davy says to him, ‘Now just hold on there! I haven’t even got her pants off yet!’ He never did have too much respect for cops.”

“He only had the one girl in there with him?”

“He mostly only ever had one at a time. He tried dating two at once a time or two, but he always said that was too much work.”

“He know how to woo a woman, that’s for sure,” remarked Jen, Davy’s first ex-wife. “He just couldn’t keep us. We mostly forgave him. Eventually.”

I took a swig from the bottle and passed it along. “I first met Davy five—no, I think it was six years ago at that little festival they used to have down by Tecumsah. It was the last day, I had just finished with my tear down, it was late, it was raining, I had a four and a half hour drive ahead of me, and I had to be at work in the morning. Suddenly I realized that I had locked my keys in my car. I had no idea how to tell Triple-A where the heck I was, and I was practically in tears when Davy comes by and stops to ask me what’s wrong. He just happened to have slim jim in that truck, and had my car unlocked in nothing flat.”

“Davy had one of everything in that truck. Anything you needed.”

“That truck was Fibber McGee’s closet,” I agreed.

Randall told me, “For a while, he even carried around a kitchen sink.”

“What the hell did he do that for?” DJ barked.

“Something to do with a remodel job, I think. But if anyone was ever short something, I used to tell them, ‘Go find Davy, he’ll have something. Look for the license plate BLU HAND.” Us old-timers chuckled at that.

“I don’t get it,” said the new kid.

Randall explained. “Davy was a proud member of the Blue Hand Club.”

“What’s the Blue Hand Club?”

“That’s when you’ve dropped something down the porta-john and have to stick your hand into the blue water to get it back.”

A chorus of “Ewwww!” at that.

“What did he drop?”

“His wallet, wasn’t it?”

“His glasses. He was blind as a bat without them,” I corrected.

Jen decided it was her time to reminisce. “Back when we were still married….”

The stories went on into the night. Cancer’s a bitch, you know? Afterwards, all you have left are a graveside and the stories. Someday even those will be gone.

I don’t drink often—it makes me sleepy—and once the various bottles had made a round or two more I decided it was time to find my sleeping bag. I had pitched my tent a bit up the hill from the main camp, for the quiet, and I guess my flashlight needed new batteries. I ended up nearly tripping over something. A hand grabbed my elbow, keeping me from diving face first right through somebody’s tent wall.

“Thanks,” I grunted. The hand was cool against my arm, and looking down I saw it was outlined in a faint blue glow. Or maybe that was the starlight. I looked up at my helper and saw only the glow of campfire flames reflected in square lenses in stainless steel frames. He turned—I think he turned—and suddenly I couldn’t see him any more. I could only hear the wind in the hickory leaves above us, and they seemed to whisper, “What? Did you think I was going to miss this?”

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