Authors: S.D. Hintz
Tags: #ghost, #haunted, #shipwreck
Published by Aristotle Books
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
This work, including all characters, names, and places:
Copyright 2013 S.D. Hintz
Originally published by Lyrical Press Copyright 2009
All rights reserved.
Original photograph used with permission by Dana Borbely
Model pictured in photograph is Kay Sewell
Cover art Copyright 2013 S.D. Hintz
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of both the publisher and author.
for the fond memories on the boardwalk.
Passing Bell was a graveyard poet’s paradise. With the dawn came the chorus of crows and colliers. Black Locusts and bleeding hearts lined the sickle-shaped streets, shading the buried dead scattered about the woods. And the town had been built to outlast their owners, buildings of ivied bluestone with mansard roofs and mullioned windows. It was quaint and secluded, rife with campfire legends that blazed through generations.
Jack Jericho had heard them all. Thirteen years in his hometown had soaked up every bloody tale. His favorite was the century-old shipwreck on the pier that killed a crew of pirates. It was said they stalked the woods nightly at high tide dragging rusted anchors.
Similar yarns had been woven around the abandoned Skelt house across the street. Legend had it that at midnight on the nineteenth of every month, one could spot Lester “The Skeleton Man” Skelt hanging in the second story window. Jack had yet to see these ghosts with his own two eyes. Until then, Passing Bell would be a boring town full of glorified stories.
Jack straightened the corduroy collar of his trail duster as he headed down the cobblestone bikeway. He was eager to see what Old Willard Reed had in stock today. Mondays were the largest loads of the week. They were delivered via ferryboat with the rest of the town supplies from Portage. On the days Jack had an inbound order, he would pace the pier with Old Willard, watching the sun rise through the ferry’s steam.
Jack had collected nineteenth century antiques for as long as he could remember. Of course, Old Willard had lived next door all his life. So, it was no wonder he had such an obsession. Everything about the era intrigued him. Vaudeville, the Old West, ragtime, you name it. His parents thought he was crazy for spending his weekly allowance at Reed’s Antiques, and they were sick and tired of the stockpile in his bedroom. But what could he do? It was his hobby. His parents were obligated to tolerate his passion until he moved out of the house.
Jack looked up from the misty street. Mack Milton waddled across his lawn. He was a month younger than Jack and the only son of the town cleaver, hence his daily garb of a white full cut butcher coat. He was bull-necked and porky with a butch haircut that hid beneath a Detroit Tigers cap. As big as Mack was - standing five foot eight inches tall and weighing in at one hundred and eighty pounds - he was as chicken as they came. It was a known fact that he boarded up his bedroom window because it faced Lester Skelt’s hanging quarters.
“What the hell kind of hat is that?”
“Porkpie? Sounds like something I ate last night.”
“It probably was something you ate last night.”
Jack shook his head. He knew his hat would raise eyebrows. While it lacked the peculiar look of a deerstalker or stovepipe, it had the name that would be the butt of many jokes to come. Oh well. He was used to it. Besides which, it made him look like an Old West gambler, a regular Bat Masterson. And it complimented his charcoal Dodge City pants and gray crook scroll shirt. He had even plastered his dishwater blond hair and parted it down the middle to fit the image. Hell, if there was a sheriff in town, he would have been mistaken for an outlaw.
Mack warped the brim of his cap. “Let me guess, you got it from the old man.”
“Who else? It had my name written all over it.”
“Whatever you say, Porkpie.”
“Ha-ha, Beefcake. I’ll see you in a few.”
“I gotta mop the meat locker. Maybe I’ll see you at Blue’s.”
“Have fun scrubbing blood.”
Jack cleaned his glasses on his shirt as he emerged from the mist, en route to Reed’s Antiques. Old Willard’s house stood on a weedy knoll at the end of a crumbled brick walk. It was three stories of faded bluestone with ivied eaves and a corbled chimney, from which wisps of smoke swirled into the ashen sky. Dark lanterns burned in the first story windows.
Jack followed the walk to the oak double doors, which Old Willard had imported a couple of months ago from Paris. They had two windows at the top shaped like pizza slices behind wrought-iron whorls; they were the strangest Jack had ever seen, and rattled at his knock.
The doors creaked like a rusted sewer grate. A ghost of a smile haunted the sallow face of the swagbellied shopkeeper. He ran his four fingers through his straggly silver-gray hair.
“Morning, Willard. Anything cool come in today?”
“Look for yaself. Ya know I keep ‘em aside ‘til ya have a gander.”
Jack removed his hat as the doors screeched shut. The shop was reminiscent of the attic in
. It was drab, dusty, and cluttered wall to wall with antiquities. Spidery shadows wavered like windblown webs in the lantern light.
Jack wove through an aisle of lopsided coat racks and seamers to the back storeroom. Willard was on his heels. He reached over Jack’s shoulder and drew the black velvet curtain.
“Gotta strange ol’ load in this mornin’.” Willard followed Jack into the stuffy room, which was the size of a walk-in closet. “Looks like it came straight outta the Iron Age.”
Jack perused the array of rusted objects. “They sure do.”
It was a strange load indeed. Iron antiques rarely came off the ferry, and when they did, it was one or two items a year, not a shipment of thirty-plus. Jack leaned over the pile. Every item looked as if it belonged to a blacksmith.
Jack craned his neck. “They all smell so…burnt.”
“Like charred trout. Ya’d think it all shipped on the collier.”
“Yeah, I don’t think I’d waste my allowance on any of it.”
Jack had his back half-turned when a glint snatched his gaze. He pushed aside a pair of andirons and reached into the pile. Willard winced as they clanged on the floor.
Jack’s eyes widened. A bicycle with a dull bowl bell mounted on the handlebars stood between a small cannon and a potbelly stove. It was the oddest two-wheeler he had ever seen. The front wheel was oversized, while the rear one was undersized. Both lacked rubber, as did the seat, but had short narrow fenders that curled upward an inch beyond the axles. The pedals resembled miniature dumbbells and were positioned on the front wheel. The bike had no chain or gears whatsoever. In Jack’s eyes, it was perfect for his collection, not to mention for a town where bicycles were the primary means of transportation.
He looked to Willard. “I’ve never seen a bike like this before.”
Willard fingered his overall straps. “It’s a boneshaker all right.”
“Watch an’ learn.” Willard cleared a path, lifted the bike by the handlebars, and dropped it. It landed with a thud and resonated like an off-key triangle. “No springs. Rock-solid tires. Guaranteed to give ya one helluva jolt.”
“How old do you think it is?” It was by far the oldest bike in town. Even Mister Milton’s 1952 Columbia had rubber tires.
Willard scratched his stubble. “Best guess? Just shy of a century. The bell’s a bit odd.”
Jack rooted around in his trail duster. “How much?”
“For the bike. What’s your appraisal?”
“Ya kiddin’ me? Ya want that deathtrap?”
“Hell yeah. It beats the Huffy I ride.”
“How so? It’s a barebones bike. It ain’t got brakes or reflectors. The seat alone’s bound to bust ya balls.”
Jack grinned. He knew Willard was right about the bike being dangerous, but that failed to change his mind. He wanted to stand out. He was always looking for new ways to spice up the boring town where little changed besides the weather.
Jack withdrew his wallet. “I’ll give you thirty for it.”
“I’ll take twenty. Ya can save ten fer the hospital bill.”
Jack was overjoyed. He would be the talk of the town! In his mind’s eye he saw his friends cheering behind him as he coasted the streets.
Willard shook his head as he wheeled the bicycle through the front doors. “I don’t know, Jack. There’s somethin’ real odd ‘bout this one. I ain’t never whiffed such a stench on antiques.”
“Likewise. I can’t wait to ride it.”
“Take it away. I’d stand it up if it had a kickstand.”
“Thanks, Willard.” Jack grabbed the handlebars. The iron was cold and sleek, contrary to its scorched odor. He handed Willard the money. “Well, I might as well take it for a test drive.”
“Enjoy. An’ be careful. I don’t need ya father poundin’ at my door.”
“Safety first, right? See you tomorrow then.”
“I’ll be here.”
Jack wheeled the bike down the walk. He paused a few yards from the curb and tied his porkpie around his neck so that it dangled on his back. He mused at the antique. What a dinosaur! No brakes, rubber tires, cushioned seat, or reflectors. He was dying to show it off.
He climbed onto the seat. He suddenly wished he had worn a nut cup. He felt as if he straddled a frosty flagpole, so he bunched his trail duster beneath his crotch. It worked for a makeshift cushion and raised his comfort level a notch.
He clutched the handlebars and leaned forward. The bike rolled down the bricks. Jack felt as if he rode across a washboard; his teeth chattered with every bump. The bike hopped over the curb with a jolt. Jack’s skin tingled from head to toe, and he tightened his grip.
Boneshaker. You can say that again.
“What the hell is that, Jericho?”
Mack sat on his blue Supergoose across the street. The BMX looked like a tricycle beneath his girth. It was no wonder he had to inflate the tires on a daily basis.
“It’s a boneshaker, meathead. It cost me a month’s allowance.”
Mack grinned from ear to ear. “That definitely beats the Huffy. Yeah right! Ride ‘em cowboy, Porkpie!”
Jack flipped Mack the bird as he coasted through the dense mist on Skean Street. He paled at the thought of riding the bike down Bodkin Bend. The steep incline ahead sent a shiver up his spine. Rolling downhill without brakes was kamikaze. He wondered if Blue could assemble a braking mechanism. Until then, he would have to follow the shortcut through the woods between Mack’s and the Skelt house.
Jack veered left. He bounced an inch off the seat as the bike hit the cement walk. He hopped down, not about to risk riding up an incline without brakes, and steered it to the house.
He worried about how his parents would react to his new prize possession. He could see their looks of incredulity. They knew he was bullheaded. If he saw an antique that tickled his fancy, he had to have it. Saving his allowance for college was ridiculous, especially since he was doomed to follow his father’s footsteps and inherit the seafood shop.
He reached across the handlebars and rang the bell. It sounded like a hammer on an anvil. A vibration hummed through the bike frame, jarring his bones. He let go of the bike and it fell against the side of the house.
The screen door opened. Jack’s mom stepped out with her arms crossed. Her strawberry blond hair was tangled in her red glasses. Jack’s friends often joked that she was Sally Jessy Raphael’s twin sister. She huffed when she saw the bike.
“Please tell me that washed ashore.”
“Kind of.” Jack lifted the porkpie onto his head. “It came on the ferry this morning.”
“Oh, Jack! You just spent five dollars on that ridiculous hat yesterday! How much of your allowance is left?”
“Five dollars? Out of thirty?”
“I know, Mom, but it’s a boneshaker. It’s over a hundred years old. I got a good deal on it.”
“What’s wrong with the bike you have?”
“Nothing, but this one’s a collectible. It’s probably worth a mint.”
“I’m sure it’s not worth the twenty dollars you blew on it.”
Jack’s mom approached the bike, the screen door slamming behind her. She seized the handlebars and steered it across the yard.
Jack was on her heels. “What are you doing?”
“Locking it up. I’m sick of you wasting your allowance when you should be saving for college.”
“But, Mom, I just bought it! Here! You can have my last five dollars!”
His mom stopped at the corner of the house and turned on him, shoving her index finger in his face. “This addiction of yours stops here. I’m not going to watch you kill yourself on this deathtrap.”