Johnny had gone to the party stag. At least that was the term that his grandfather might have used in his own era way before the war. He was thinking about a lot of things now that had never crossed his mind before. Rack it up the the holiday and buttercup ice-cream served too soon after a hearty rare steak. A thirty year old’s stomach wasn’t designed to take it without yielding some unexpected result. Still it was the long laborious weekend as he and his brother would have termed if after chuckling at their own juvenile cleverness. It was nearing eight in the evening and the sunlight had already faded behind the Poconos. The chill of that ‘old Demon’ Winter had slapped down its calling card for a second night in a row. A few of his workmates were busy crumpling up old newspaper and arranging it around some logs on the fireplace. Their second round of Martini’s sitting half full but still frosty. His wife Sally was not prone to coming along on these affairs that promised recreation but were in actual fact designed to foster new business relations between rising young executives and their potential clients. The first round of high school reunions were becoming plentiful enough! Of course the two of them had not attended any of their own up to this point! Yet an early cycle of unexpected passing’s in both their families had embedded a certain degree of nostalgia within the two of them. The fact of their two little boys and their future’s in this uncertain world to mind already setting the the couple adrift as an ensemble. Their former respective wildness enduring a maturation from the old Friday night Frat house beer bashes to occasional semi-monthly downtown urban lounge meet-ups. for dinner and drinks. This sort of get together so far from the city being a rarity and exception that Sally being ever-worried about their two boys would naturally avoid. The normality of life had taken steadily taken hold of the two of them. Sally had seemed to be enjoying herself in parallel tailing her former best friend Margie around their own spacious suburban home. The girls manufacturing undeserved gloss to their shared version of those ‘good old days’ of prep school. The last check in via phone had him wishing goodnight to their boys and feeling uneasy about the vacancy of the immediate prince of his wife. Johnny preferred to safely field a few opinions on the current sports dramas posing a few purloined specifics from the lips of his own favorite sports bloggers on the web. The enthusiasm of the enclave of young professionals about him seemed to ebb and flood accordingly to who was arriving late and those few with their own ‘made up excuses’ of having to be back in town at the office by early next morning. Johnny’s turn was coming up as the hour was now closing to eleven-forty-five and he wanted to get back to the Hampton Inn at Stroudsburg as the ride in the morning to his home in Wyckoff would take a safe hour and a half.
The night had worn on and he had managed to stretch out his second drink to phantom ice cubes that were no longer audible within their watery glass. And was preparing to leave walking past a small entryway to discover the whereabouts of his overcoat when a strange thought struck him. He had the impression that it was no longer Friday night and he was no longer here in some familiar place. How odd he thought to have a physical sense of being swept away in spirit but continue to know in your conscious mind the particulars of your own whereabouts. His confusion must have been too obvious as one of the hosts came up to him and asked if he was feeling OK. This opened the proverbial can of worms as Johnny knew that he would have to spend and extra hour or two making a show of proving that he was road worthy or risk returning on Monday morning to a water cooler reputation of not being able to field his Martinis. He found himself deposited in the dining area just off the kitchen where the last of the evening’s refreshments were being taken from the dirty pile and scrupulously transformed to an original pristine form. The irony of the location not lost on its latest guest. He sat there for a while contemplating a call to Sally but thinking better of it as there really was nothing to tell her beyond that he would arrive later at the motel than he had planned. He would only cause concern if he called now since the last time he spoke to her an hour earlier he had said goodnight for the evening. No sense in causing needless concern. The aura of the strangeness he had experienced had not dissipated but one of the night’s designated ‘kitchen slaves’ had offered him a glass of sparkling soda. He was hoping that might adjudicate what was probably the delayed effect the heavy meal. “What are ay in for?”, asked a disembodied voice from over his shoulder. “Buttercup ice-cream!”, Johnny replied to thin air. “You mean Butterscotch, don’t you?” A new face hovered before him in the empty chair. “Did I say Buttercup?” “You sure did!”, answered the other occupant. The strangeness of the person’s presence was deferred by their innocuous habit of dress complimenting their everyday features. The hostess came back over from where she was standing by the hallway minding the exiting traffic. He looked over from his seat and gave her an obligatory mock smile of perfect sobriety as she passed to the kitchen. When he looked back the chair opposite was once again vacant.
There was a sense of soundless whistling going through his ears as he felt the aftermath of that roller coaster thrill of an instantaneous adrenaline rush. He put his hand to his head self-consciously catching it in mid motion an inch before it gripped his forehead. His act of wellness dissembled and quickly waning. He stared down at the table edge trying to make himself as small as possible so as to repair the damage that the obviousness of his startled reaction might have caused. The party’s hot was now speaking in polite tones to his wife. Johnny aware that the woman must have caught a glimpse of his momentary freak. A wave of embarrassment flooded over him as he noticed the host coming in his direction with an obvious sense of nonchalance. Johnny gripped that extended hand with medium force applied to the appropriate level that would signify too weak a state of being or the free fall of an overbearing alcohol freed ego. “Hi”, I’m Fred “, the guy said with a painted on smile. “I’m Johnny!”, came the reply fully in line without he import of the handshake. “Enjoying the party?”, said his host. “Yeah, the food was excellent!”, was the reply. “Yeah, it was our turn in the accounting department to host and we all pitched in!” “Great party!”, quipped Johnny still ensconced in his best behavior. “I was just feeling a bit feint a while ago?” Johnny confessed, “Maybe the change of seasons?” His host looked at him intently and after a minute excused himself having heard his name called format he other room. Johnny sat pants glued to the chair for a few minutes before rising to leave. This time going up to the hostess whose name was Peg and begging her assistance in finding his coat. “I hope I wasn’t a cause of concern?”, he said while she graciously held the garment for him to get his arms into its sleeves. “No!”, Peg said, “You just looked like you saw a ghost!” A cold chill hit Johnny as it some skeletal digit had suddenly hit an organ key. He turned about to face her with only one arm fully in the sleeve of the coat. “Perhaps?”, Johnny replied. Peg smiled nervously, “I didn’t mean to embarrass you but we are in the area for them!” “In fact Fred, my husband is convinced that our holiday cabin here has the Olyphant curse.” Johnny stared at her for a second, “So, uh would I be considered crazy or just over served if I told you that I had seen one?” “I don’t know about that but this area of the Poconos all away up past Scranton in Canaan County has all sorts of strange history.” “Maybe its because of all those tourists and travelers that have been hiking up here for hundreds of years?” “We’re up to our ears in ghosts!” Johnny, “Really!” “You should talk to my husband, it’s almost become his hobby.” “You look like you’re back on track!” “Thank you for coming tonight!” The woman turned and walked away to another couple bustling into the kitchen.
The ride down Rte. 80 south to the Hampton Inn was uninterrupted by other vehicles the blackness of a moonless evening compensated by the brights of Johnny’s vehicle. The strangeness of the incident back at the party still hung about his person like a chill. He kept the front windows open to allow the rushing wind to disguise it. The lobby was empty as he entered and decided that he would see if the small bar on the end of the tiny atrium was still serving. He sat down upon a stool and a bright faced young bartender came up to him to take his order. “We just past last call and I locked up the coolers and was working on the tally but I can get you a quick shot or something?” Johnny smiled deferring to a Scotch. He stuck his elbows under him upon the bar and looked around as the sound of ice being scraped into a glass announced itself. The tables behind him were empty. And the night clerk had come over from the desk to straighten the stools. The young woman set the glass down before him and he responded by offering a crumpled ten dollar bill. “Don’t worry, you’re a guest, its on the house!”, she replied, “Besides, don’t take offense but you look a little rattled!” “Ouch!”, said Johnny blushing a bit as he took a sip. “I feel like an ad on the side of an barn on the highway!” “Don’t let it bother you mister.”, she said. “This part of the Poconos can scare the beejeezus out of anyone this time of year at midnight!” “These hills are as old as time!” “You don’t say?”, said Johnny staring back at her. “You grow up around here learning about a lot of strange stuff like the ghosts of dead maidens scalped by the Indians and old inns full of demons straight from Satan, even UFO’s and glowing pyramids!” “Good for the tourist trade I imagine?”, he replied. “You bet!”, she replied. “Are you good?”, said the woman taking off her apron and folding it up, “Because I got to get home to the hubby.” Johnny smiled and nodded, “Thanks for the entertaining bit of history!”.
He looked back towards the entrance as the bartender now with her coat on was tightly securing the strap of her purse to her shoulder saying good night to the clerk by the entrance. The room was now dead quiet save for the low drift of lobby music. The scotch was half gone and watery in his glass as he sat alone trying to sort things out. “Your buttercup feeling better?”, a voice chimed up to his left. Johnny shot his gaze over to another figure comfortably slumped over on the bar’s far corner. “What did you say?”, shot back Johnny now fully thrown off his pins. The gray shadow turned back its attention to Johnny with the blankness of an empty indefinable stare. “Cold’s coming in early this time of year!” The visage of his companion remaining visible yet night quite clear turning back its attention to the far wall. Johnny looked down at the drink wondering how hard a shot the young woman had poured him as a courtesy. His own sudden silence caught somewhere between cautious politeness and unreasoning fear. “It’s OK, don’t bother!” said the other figure, “I’m off duty right now.” “The tourist season is over and I’m on vacation.” Johnny looked over at the shade perplexed, “Come again?” He looked over at what appeared to be a man dressed in nondescript outfit composed of shadows. “Don’t let it get to you” “I’m not on duty.” “I just hitched a ride from the cabin with you a little earlier” “I don’t think I’d be a bother.” Johnny sat inert and then took a hard swig of his drink. It didn’t matter if he had food poisoning or was just too drunk to care if he was dreaming all this stuff up passed out somewhere else. “So, you’re telling me what mister?” “That you’re a ghost?” The shade replied, “Actually, the Germans call it a Poltergeist,” “The slang around these parts is a furniture rattler.” The amorphous shape managing the facsimile of a smile. “I’m over up the road at Sturdevant hall in Wilkes Barre.” “Just visiting a fellow spirit near here.” Johnny stared back hard at the shape now convinced that the small bar’s hall of mirrors decor was playing tricks with his eyes. The spirit slid over across the stools to nest beside Johnny who was too overwhelmed by the boundaries of his own curiosity at this unexpected phenomena and the effect of the liquor to summon being further startled.
“You don’t say?”, Johnny replied as he mentally helped fill in the details of a reasonable face upon the blank emptiness of what should have been conventional human sitting just beside him. “I do say!” the revenant added playfully. “Eternity can be a Bitch sometimes!” “Even those caught between dimensions need some time off!” Johnny looked up thoughtfully and then back at this temporal companion, “So you’re saying that when someone dies off that they still find themselves working?” His drink drawing his attention momentarily away taking a watery sip. “Sounds kinda nuts to me!” “Oh not really.” said the shade. “You find that some caught up in living just can’t learn to cut down on the habits they picked up in their last life.” “You meet a girl, maybe it goes well for a while and then both of you are getting aggravated by living together too long and she fucks up one day and doesn’t have the dinner on the table on time so you stick a carving knife in her eye?” The shade looks up at the ceiling pensively. “Not something that you or anyone else is likely to forgive or forget for a very long time!” Johnny’s face transforms into a skeptical expression, “Buuullshhhit!” “I find that hard to believe!” The phantom looking back at Johnny’s doubtful visage. “I mean don’t get me wrong!” “Murdering someone is not a little thing!” “But nowadays look at the world!” “You go to Chicago and they are shooting people left and right in record numbers like it’s not a big deal!” The spirit looks away back down indifferently at the the bar. “They’ll get their chance!” The two sit in silence for a minute or two. Johnny turns to the phantom, “Hey look, I didn’t mean to be out of line or nothing.” “I guess that I can’t hold my liquor like I used to?” That’s OK the spirit replied, “It’s a chunk to swallow overtime you find yourself incarnated someplace new.” “You never get a chance to sit down with it long enough in life so you get these times in-between.” “You try out some new things while you get out of the habit of those old things.” “It takes a small eternity or two to let go and move on!” Johnny looks back at the ghost with a calm sincerity, “Y’know, I never thought of it that way?” He mused pensively on, “My wife, Sally and I are so busy making a living and worrying about the kids, we don’t think that far into the future?” The ghost rises up from the bar stool with an unexpected mournful sigh, “Think of it like real life insurance!” His form fading fast as he heads for the motel’s entrance. “Ciao, and thanks for the ride!” “My pleasure!”, as Johnny slowly turns back to the bar and slowly shakes out a cigarette, lights it and stares quietly calm back down at the bar before him.