The following Halloween tale is suitable for kids eight to 108. So, gather round, kiddies; the season is upon us. Let's not wait, let's get started...
Beans looked around the old vacant house and shuddered as the cool draft flowing down the long hall touched his collar. The hall was wide and ended with a paneled, bolted door at the rear of the house. He smiled too. When his family's home burned he wasn't sure where his mother and two brothers would go; now they had this fancy house. It wasn't just any fancy house either. It was old Judge Horton's caretaker's home and was draped in what a more sophisticated person would have called genteel shabbiness. He'd lost track of what young Mr. Horton was telling his mother.
"Here's all the keys...hmmm...I'll take this one. It's to the door in the back and you won't be needing that one. You and your family have complete access to all the rooms but that one." Young Mr. Horton, who didn't look so young to Beans, pointed toward the wide white door that had already captured the young boy's attention. At ten, Beans was four years younger than Straud and two years older than Pete. Beans always felt the necessity of telling folks his brother Homer, who would have been two years older, had died as a baby, but his mother had made him stop. It was too morbid, she said. Beans wasn't sure what morbid meant, but he always wondered if Homer was lurking somewhere above feeling very slighted by the omission.
Summer was rapidly fading, a fact that Beans didn't really mind, but the days grew shorter, and that meant an earlier supper and earlier bedtime. He liked the days when Mr. Horton came by to collect the rent or to inspect the locked room. These visits always disrupted his mother's meal preparations, thus prolonging the time he had to read by the fire. Sometimes all he had were almanacs or an old set of Palmer Cox's Brownie books, but he read them over and over until his mother called for him to lay the table.
One afternoon in early October, young Mr. Horton arrived with several parcels. Beans watched him slowly unlock the thick pine door and enter. Light from the front hall prevented him from seeing into the dark expanse, but it didn't seem to deter Mr. Horton. Only a few seconds passed before young Mr. Horton exited the forbidden room, now carrying only a small cardboard box marked with water stains. Beans and Pete thought they were well hidden behind the stairs, but Mr. Horton's keen eye had detected them.
"Hello, young chaps. Fine day, isn't it?" The two brothers were too astonished to speak, but managed to nod in agreement with young Mr Horton. "Oh, you two do remember that the back room is off limits, don't you?" Beans and Pete nodded again, this time swallowing as they did so. Mr. Horton donned his Homburg, tipped it once, and let himself out. The boys fell to the floor in unison.
"You know what that means, don't ya, Beans?"
Beans knew it wasn't good, but he wasn't as given to flights of fancy as his younger brother. "I'd say that means he doesn't want us in there."
Pete nodded his head vigorously, causing a small cowlick to jiggle atop his brown hair. "And he doesn't want us in there because there's a ghost. That's who he takes all those gifts to. He knows if we go in there without something to offer the ghost, that ol' haint will eat us."
Beans doubted the possibility of a ghost, but... just what was in the room young Mr. Horton had forbade the boys from entering? He couldn't ask his mother, but maybe Straud would know. His older brother was already a full time worker at the mill at the age of 14 and considered himself the man of the house. Surely, Straud would at least have an idea.
"A ghost? Why, yes, that's exactly what's in there," Straud spoke in his most serious voice. "So, you better be careful, Beans. You don't want to be a spirit's dinner, now do you?" Beans looked suspiciously at his older brother. Straud could pretend well when the necessity arose, but was he guying him now? Beans decided the best thing to do was keep his own council until he had the mystery worked out.
It was three more weeks before Mr. Horton returned--late in the afternoon of All Hallow's Eve. Beans knew Straud had plans to take his girl Annie to a dance at Bethel School. He and Pete would probably go as well and raise some mischief--if they could talk their mother into letting them out of her sight on what some people still called Devil's Night. What would be Mr. Horton's plans for such an occasion? Did he need something from the locked room to ensure the success of his machinations?
Beans stood lost in thought as Mr. Horton passed him on the way out, gathering his coat and hat from the hall tree and exiting with a tip of his Homburg. This time...this time, something fell from the shallow side pocket of Mr. Horton's black wool topcoat. Beans looked at the brass object as if it were an archaeological find; it was the key to the room at the end of the hall.
He didn't hesitate, at least not after he picked up the ornate brass key. His mother had already lit the lamp by the stairs, a lamp that would shed enough light to give Beans a dim peek into the mysterious room. If there were ghosts, he'd just close the door and lock it back tight. No one would ever know he had chosen to disobey Mr. Horton.
The key turned easily in the lock, but the knob creaked with what sounded like a banshee's wail to Beans. If there were any ghosts in that room, they sure knew he was coming now. The door opened inward, slowly at first, then with something akin to a supernatural push. Beans sucked in his breath, managing not to whistle. His pupils grew large, and he saw them. Standing before him were Judge and Mrs. Horton, all dressed for a party, a Halloween gala Beans imagined. Young Mr. Horton had been visiting the ghosts of his parents for all these months. The boy felt dizzy.
As the adrenalin rushed into his system, his pupils opened even wider. He saw the Hortons were looking at him through two windows. No, not windows, but...picture frames. The stately pair he saw before him weren't spirits; they were three-quarter length oil paintings in gilt frames. Around the paintings stood all manner of Empire furniture laden with china, silver, and crystal. Young Mr. Horton hadn't wanted anyone in this back room not because it was haunted, but because it was a trove of family treasures.
Beans literally backed out of the massive storage chamber and relocked the heavy pine door. He never ventured near the room again and...he never again believed in ghosts.
The above story is true. Young Mr. Horton is better known today as Judge James Edwin Horton Jr. who went on to become famous for presiding in the Scottsboro Boys' trial.