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A SPECTRE LURKS AT THE PUTT-PUTT ON RIVERSIDE by Keef

The ghost in our town haunts the putt-putt golf course with the big Peter Pan statue out front. The haunting is the only semi-interesting thing about the course, and even the ghost is dull. Kyle from AP Biology works the concessions, wearing a paper hat and staring at his phone. Hot dogs are only a dollar, but you get what you pay for. All the holes are pretty busted, and there’s always a parade of sad single dads tromping around the place with their kids, trying to make up for neglect and inattention and assumptions that they’d always have what they love.

Todd wanted to see the ghost and I wanted to take him on a date, so we headed down there on Friday after sunset. He drove us in his mom’s minivan. I warned him beforehand that the ghost wasn’t very cool; it was just a ghost. It wasn’t scary and it wasn’t some gothic spook in a shroud whispering cautionary tales about the mistakes it made in life or whatever. 

“It’s just a guy,” I said. “You sometimes have to wait for it to move if it’s in the way.”

But Todd still wanted to see it.

It took us a while to pick out putters that weren’t too bent-up from douchebags bashing them against the statues. I bought us a couple hotdogs. Kyle said “Gentlemen,” and gave us the nod and only charged us half price. We still got what we paid for.

“These hot dogs are so bad,” I said. “You sure this is what you want? A lame ghost and lousy hotdogs? It’s not too late to let me take you to IHOP.”

“You’re just scared,” he said. “Of the ghost. Or maybe just the, you know, the eerie vision of the sad dads. Under the phantasmagoric light of the, uh, gibbous moon.”

Sometimes Todd is the funniest person in the world, so I kissed him.

He’s also really cute, especially when he’s concentrating on putting. His tongue sticks out between his teeth, and if I say something to break his concentration, his shoulders slump and he throws his head back and rolls his eyes and makes an exasperated noise, which is adorable, and I shouldn’t do that but it’s so hard to resist.

The seventh hole is a bull rearing up, but one of the front legs broke a long time ago, so now it’s sort of kneeling. I was trying to chip the ball up and bounce it off the bull’s nose to make Todd laugh, which is hard when all you have is a putter. All the hair on the back of my neck went up. The chill started on the soles of my feet, like someone massaging them with seaweed.

“Wow,” said Todd. “You feel that?”

“Yeah,” I said. The icy feeling slid up the back of my calves and circled up and around my inner thighs, settling in the middle of my torso. “I should’ve brought my hoodie.”

“Look,” he said, and pointed.

The ghost hovered on the brick pathway between Todd and the eighth hole. It was wearing a polo and khakis, which faded and became transparent above what probably would’ve been a pair of Sperrys. It had a dad-bod paunch, a pancake ass, and no head.  Its clothes and skin were the dirty white of the moon in an old mirror.

“Jeez, gross,” I said.

The cold clenched in my center, in my belly-brain, which Mr. Jamison from AP Bio calls the “enteric nervous system.” It runs from the throat to the anus and has more neurons than the spine. It’s what clenches when I cry, warms when I laugh, and turns to warm goo when I look into Todd’s eyes in his basement. When I saw the ghost, frozen fingers slithered around it and caressed my xiphoid process into an icicle.

I shivered. “It’s a lot spookier than I remembered.”

Todd put his arm around me, which made me feel a little better.

The ghost slowly reached a diaphanous hand into its pocket and withdrew a phantom phone, which it held up in front of where its face would’ve been. Wind whistled over its open windpipe, low and hollow, like a freight train far away in the night.

“God damn,” I said. 

The ghost lowered the phone. The visible muscles in its neck stretched as it turned in our direction. It wheezed and produced a deep rumbling sound, the suppurating beginnings of what might have been a yell if its vocal cords had still been in place.

“Excuse me,” said a sad dad behind us. “If you’re not going to putt, can we play through?”

“There’s a ghost,” I said, and pointed at the ghost.

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “Can we play through or what?”

I picked up my ball and stepped back. He and his kids bustled through, putted, and moved past the ghost to the eighth hole.

I held Todd close to me and we watched the ghost lift the phone once again and meander down the pathway. At one point it was looking at its phone, not paying attention, and its invisible feet caught on an uneven brick. It pitched forward, did a little two-step, caught itself, and kept shuffling. The icy fingers caressed my heart.

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