While daylight brightens this Hallowed Eve, the six ghost stories that follow are transparent tales that cast no shadows.
While the sun shines, there could never be a Burning Island nor Haunting Globes, no Phantom Infant, o Hope House phantasm, no Corpse-Mother of the forest, no Revenge of the Eaten Cats.
Not while the light lasts. But sunset today comes at 5:09 p.m.
"There is only one place you must not camp, and that is Burning Island." But the four students laughed at the grizzled man who rented canoes, and paddled swiftly onto the deep lake. It was dusk, and a mist rose above the water.
They set up their tent among the broken trees. Even their campfire, however, could not dispel the damp that reached into their sleeping bags like a cold, gripping hand. After a while, they heard a noise. A rhythmic thumping, like the disembodied bass tones of a stereo playing a block away.
"They say that when ths island caught fire, an entire tribe of Indians was burned alive," one of the boys said. "Their canoes burned, and they were trapped."
The unmistakable sound of tom-toms grew louder, and it no longer masked an even more terrible one: the sound of wailing, distant screams, unimaginably horrible and sad. A hot wind had sprung up, bringing a sickeningly acrid scent. Perhaps it was only their campfire, but that did not explain why the ground trembled with the sound of running feet. Or the chilling cries of horses threatened by fire.
The campfire leaped higher, and as it did the brush parted in an instant to reveal a tall Indian in chief's attire, his mouth open, the soot on his chest streaked with sweat. In his arms he carried a screaming child. Both were as transparent as a Kodak slide, and both were enveloped in flames.
Now, on the trail behind them, an entire village could be seen also afire, and from tepees that had become volcanoes spewed a doomed burning human lava. Toward the students camp this burning tide advanced at a headlong run, preceded only by howling animals also aflame, huge dogs driven mad by fear and a great stag whose antlers glowed like tongs from a furnace. The chief of the burning tribe raised his hand, and pointed toward the beach.
"My God!" screamed one of the boys. "They're after our canoes!"
In an instant the students were on the run, abandoning their tent and sleeping bags, and also abandoning the plastic bag of funny-smelling herbs that they had been smoking. Fire exploded from tree to tree as they stumbled into the canoes.
Too late. The Flaming Chief was upon them. Tipping, swamping, screaming, they tried to paddle -- but their movements were in slow motion, molasses-bound, futile, doomed. The glowing tomahawk was raised above the boiling surface of the lake. Yet as the chief struck, his charred and smoking arm -- cooked through like a chicken wing left too long on a Charm-Glow Gas-Fired Outdoor-Indoor Hibachi -- broke from his shoulder, and fell harmlessly to the ground. The students paddled for their lives.
In his wrinkled bathrobe the canoe-rental man greeted them at the dock and read the tale of terror in their eyes. "I thought I smelled some funny kind of smoke," he said laconically, refilling his pipe with Prince Albert.