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, no 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.
The first time I met Michelino I was about 8 years old and was riding in a Chevy pickup with my grandfather to visit his small coal mine dug into a hillside on the far side of his farm. In the Ohio Valley of those years, nearly every hillside had some kind of shallow shaft where afew men with stunted ponies brought coal to makeshift tipples for their own use or for sale. s
The mine was nothing more than a dark hole, framed by heavy railroad timbers. There was a wash house with an outside hand pump and up near the trees, several hundred feet away, a small rough wooden shack with a tar-paper roof and a metal stovepipe chimney.
Michelino, who worked the mine, was waiting for us near his front door for the groceries we were bringing; a large calico cat was sleeping in the sun near his feet.He was a small man with a hawk nose and sharp features, dark complexion and black, untrimmed oily hair pushed straight back. His clothes were muddy and his face and neck were smudged with coal dust. He greeted grandfather in Italian and shook my hand with a heavily callused hand, his fingernails embedded with a lifetime of mud and coal.
He invited us in and offered jelly-jar glasses when he saw the gallon jug of wine my grandfather had brought. To my glass he added water and sugar. He gulped the first glass, refilled it and then drank more slowly. The shack was one room with a coal stove, a cot, a wooden table and two chairs. There was little else in the room. A pot of what looked like squirrel stew with vegetables from his garden bubbled on the stove. He offered me some but grandfather refused.
On the way back to the house my grandfather glanced at me and said: "I don't think you would have enjoyed his stew, he often makes it with cats. Didn't you see the cat skulls?"
Two months later grandfather became ill and died. My grandmother sold the farm and moved into town and I forgot about Michelino. Then one October afternoon about four years later, I was walking home from school with three of my classmates when one said, "Let's go see Meow." I didn't know what they meant, but followed them up an alley behind the Front Street Presbyterian Church. The three boys ran toward an old coal shed on the far edge of the property, shouting a sing-song "meow, meow, meow."
I joined in the chant and stopped when the door was thrown open and a man wearing only a filthy work shirt glared out, swearing angrily at his tormentors. There was something about the gaunt features, the greasy graying hair, the broken English. Then I knew, it was Michelino. I had been making fun of my grandfather's friend. Before I turned to go home, I noticed three yellow cats watching from the side of the shed.
I put the incident out of my mind, too ashamed to tell my parents. The following Saturday morning I was sitting at the kitchen table sorting my trick-or-treat candy from the night before when my mother returned from answering the phone. There was a look of horror on her face as she spoke to my father.
"That was the police," she said. "Someone told them I had known Michelino. He's dead. He's been dead for several days." She hesitated and looked in my direction. "His face. The police say it's gone. When they opened the door, three yellow cats ran out. They think the cats ate his face. There was nothing left but his skull."