Chapter 2 of the "Ghostly Outlaw" has been selected for Daddy-O's annual Scary Story feature. The writer of this version is Phil Moen, a father of two from Eden Prairie and the president and CEO of Unimax Systems in Minneapolis. Thanks Phil! All of the submissions can be viewed by clicking here.
The release of Chapter 2 means we're now in the hunt for Chapter 3. Take a read of the unfolding narrative so far, and then send your idea for Chapter 3 to firstname.lastname@example.org by Sunday, Oct. 21. 500 words or less. Scary but not too freaky for young readers. We're only writing four chapters, so the third one really needs to move the action along! I'm sure historians would roll over in their graves reading these accounts. But we're writing fun fiction here, so use the history of James' thwarted Northfield bank robbery as much as you want, or ignore it and take the story in whatever ghastly direction you wish.
And now ...
THE GHOSTLY OUTLAW
The last of the cars drove off from Sechler Park, leaving Andy in the growing darkness with only his soccer ball and an empty water bottle for company.
Andy never liked to ask for help or a ride. It was embarrassing for an 11-year-old. “My mom is coming!” he’d say confidently, though he knew she wasn’t. Some meeting in St. Paul always made her late. Or some three-car pileup slowed her drive home to Northfield.
But now it was 7. Practice was long over. A north October wind chilled Andy’s body. His teeth chattered.
“Forget this!” he shouted to the world, and ran back to the field.
It was so dark that the neon yellow ball was barely visible. His juggling record was 22, and he was going to beat it.
“One-two-three,” he said, as he tapped the ball off one knee, then another, and then a foot. His excitement grew as he kept going and going.
“18-19-20!” he yelled, stretching to get to the ball. It flew high into the breeze. Andy gave chase, just sliding his foot under the ball before it hit the ground.
“21!” he yelled, but then watched the ball squirt away toward the woods that buffered the Cannon River.
“Shoot,” he yelled, and chased blindly after the ball.
And that’s when he saw it. Deep in the trees, there was a faint blue glow. Andy stepped into the woods, hoping for a better look. The gusting wind paused, and Andy could hear something too.
“Schick … schick … schick.”
Andy tried to walk quietly through the underbrush. The blue glow was near the river. It wasn’t at all like the house lights he could see twinkling far off on the other side.
“Schick … schick … schick.”
It was close. Andy had been too curious to be scared at first, but not anymore. The glow had a shape – a man! He was crouched to the ground, digging with – is that a gun?
“Schick … schick … schick.”
Andy took one more step forward, not seeing his long-forgotten soccer ball. His foot slipped on the ball and sent Andy tumbling face-first into the clearing. The blue form twisted and suddenly it was upon him. It had steely eyes underneath – a cowboy hat?
The ghostly form sneered. Andy knew who it was. Didn’t everyone?
And then it spoke: “Name’s Jesse … Jesse James.”
CHAPTER 2, by Phil Moen
Andy felt the question’s awkwardness as it escaped his quivering lips, “THE Jesse James?”
Everyone in Northfield knew the James-Younger gang. Not only was it a part of school curriculum, but every year, just after Labor Day, the entire town celebrated the defeat of James and his band of ruthless men by reenacting their fateful bank raid. In this historic town, where James' gang met its downfall, Jesse now stood, glowing blue.
“Not sure what ya mean by THE, but sure as S is Ulysses’ middle name, I’m Jesse.”
Andy stood in a bizarre combination of awe and terror. A notorious outlaw from the 1800’s stood in front of him. The desperado was impressive: strong, good looking, intense. But with a Peacemaker in his hand, Jesse looked like Casper’s unfriendly cousin. And he was blue.
“Don’t just stand there gawkin’ boy. Grab something and dig. Because if ya ain’t with me, yer against me.”
Like a January breeze, Jesse’s order triggered powerful goose bumps. Andy jumped into action. He wasn’t about to have it all end here, just minutes after soccer with his mom on her way to pick him up. Wait, he thought. Mom? Oh no! She can’t come here now. Surely she would suffer the same fate as he.
Fighting the nerves inside, Andy forced out a question, “Mr. James, what are we digging for?”
Jesse seemed annoyed by the question, “The money!”
Andy found a healthy piece of newly fallen oak to use as a shovel. He anxiously scratched the soft woodland top soil, not so much to find the cash, but rather to look active and thereby avoid a perilous outcome. As he dug, he knew he needed to get Jesse away from here – away from his mom. And he had to think quickly.
“Jesse,” Andy uttered, this time with more resolve, “perhaps we should look downstream in case the river carried the money away.”
Without pause, and showing the quickness of an old gunman, the cold barrel of the Colt suddenly appeared under Andy’s chin. The stench of 130 year old breath pronounced, “Boy, don’t cross me. Don’t try to take me off my track. Do that again, and you’ll be buried in them there holes we’re diggin’.”
Both went back to their moonlit excavation. Andy was shaking with the fear of what would happen if the treasure was revealed when there was a loud THUD. Jesse’s gun had hit something in the dirt. Frantic hands pushed back more and more of the rich, black earth uncovering the prize. Jesse stood and slowed his speech, “Well, well, well. This changes everything.”
It’s unlikely their discovery would have been visible without the ghostly blue light. As he stared, Andy’s fear descended deeper. At their feet lay a pine coffin box with an ominous inscription: Here Lies Frank James. May He Never Come Back.
Simultaneously there was both a murmur from within the box and a voice from across the field, searching, “Andy?”