Lake Jackson’s Riverfront Ghosts (A Short Story)

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“How long are you staying?” the hotel clerk asked him.

It was an elderly white guy who wore glasses.  Also, the guy owned short white hair.

“Two nights,” Terrence said.

Terrence noticed the pause on the clerk’s face.

“Something wrong?” he asked.

He hoped this wasn’t some racial shit.  Terrence thought black people’s money spent just as well as everyone else’s. The last thing he needed was some redneck clerk believing differently.

The clerk smiled.

“Oh no,” he said. “I just thought of something else. It isn’t related to this. Of course, you can stay two nights.  There’s no problem. Stay as long as you want, sir. It’s nice to have you.”

———-

Later that evening, the summer sun still shined over Bradford Hotel.  The hotel existed on Lake Jackson’s riverfront. A few cars were parked in front of Bradford.  On the hotel’s far right existed the restaurant Riverfront Eats.  Further down, a marina existed.  On the hotel’s left stood Manatee’s Bar and Grill.

As the evening sun continued shining, Terrence walked out of his second floor room.  He walked off the hotel’s property, passed Riverfront Eats and found a brown wooden pavilion sheltering over two picnic tables.

He sat on top of a picnic table and watched the sun set over Lake Jackson.  He saw a few sailboats.  Sometimes, a fish would jump up out of the water. Then, would plop back below the surface.

As he looked across the lake, Terrence saw mostly trees. Yet, a few houses existed here and there.

Suddenly, a voice from behind said, “Hey, boy, what are you doing out here?”

A chill crawled down Terrence’s spine.

He turned his head and saw a white guy wearing a white shirt and blue jeans. A brown fedora rested on top of his head.  Also, he was chewing tobacco.

“I said what are you doing out here?” the fedora guy said.

Burning rage filled Terrence. He turned his whole body around and faced the man.

“Minding my own goddamned business,” Terrence said. “And watch who you’re calling ‘boy’.”

“Listen here, boy,” the man said.

“Didn’t I tell you stop calling me ‘boy’?!”

“Coloreds aren’t allowed out here after sunset.”

“Say what?!”

“ You best get going. Or else your uppity black ass is gonna live to regret it.”

“Says who?”

The man spit towards Terrence. The brown liquid splashed on the concrete in front of the picnic table

Then, the man vanished.

“I did not see that,” Terrence said to himself. “No, I refuse to believe I saw that. Ghosts are not real.”

———-

At Manatee’s, Terrence sat at the bar counter.  Another black guy was sitting beside him.

In front of the bar, a middle-aged white guy wearing shades sung the blues as he strummed his electric guitar.

“So, where are you from?” the black guy asked Terrence. He was a big dude, looked like he hadn’t skipped a four course meal in his whole entire life. Earlier, Terrence learned his name was Carl.

“South Carolina,” Terrence said. “I’m on vacation. Thought I’d stop here before I hit Orlando.”

“Why this town, bro?”

“Read on the Internet it was a nice town to visit. Why do you ask? You don’t like it here?”

Carl looked down.

“What’s the matter?” Terrence asked.

Carl looked back at Terrence.

Then, he said, “Nothing. It’s an okay town.”

Then, Terence said, “You know, you’re the second one I saw doing that today.”

“Doing  what?”

“First, when I mentioned staying here two nights, the hotel clerk paused.”

“You’re staying here two nights? You didn’t mention that.”

“You see? Now, when I mention my staying here to you, you act funny too.  The way folks are behaving? I guess what I saw earlier must have been real.”

Carl aimed a serious look at Terrence.

Then, he asked, “What did you see earlier?”

Then, Terrence said, “I was sitting at the riverfront. Next thing I know, a hillbilly ghost was telling me to leave. He even spit chewing tobacco at me.  What kind of ghost spits chewing tobacco, man?”

Carl remained silent and continued looking at Terrence.

”Because I don’t believe in ghosts,” Terrence started again. “I thought I imagined the whole thing. Seeing how locals are acting, I guess I didn’t.”

Carl tilted up his beer mug and swallowed it empty. Then, he slammed the mug down on the counter.

“Look here, bro,” he said. “Leave this town.”

“So, I did see a ghost.”

“Just leave.  Go back to your hotel room. Pack your things and haul ass. Forget you even passed through this town. Just go.”

Carl stood up.

“Was that really a ghost, man?” Terrence asked.

Then, he noticed a few other patrons of various races staring at him.

Then, Carl said, “Just get the hell out of here, man.”

With that, he walked away.

———-

From Manatee’s, Terrence headed towards the hotel. He noticed a small bat flying through the air.

Then, he heard an infant crying. He looked around.  He still heard the crying but didn’t see anything. Yet, he heard the direction the sound was coming from. The picnic tables.

He walked towards the direction. As the infant continued crying, Terrance stepped up the pace.

He almost reached the picnic tables. Then, he heard the child screaming

“Holy shit!” Terrence said.

Next, a familiar voice from behind said, “I thought I told you no coloreds are allowed here after sunset.”

Terrence turned around. Standing in front of him and holding a shotgun was the tobacco-chewing hillbilly he saw earlier.  The hillbilly aimed his gun at Terrence.

Terrence’s heart started beating rapidly.

Then, the hillbilly spit on the ground next to him. Next, he re-aimed the gun back at Terrence and smiled.

Then, he said, “Run, nigger.”

With the quickness, Terrance turned around and ran. He heard a gunshot. Then, he heard the hillbilly laughing. Then, he heard another gunshot. Then, he heard more laughter. Then another gunshot.

Terrance ran all the way and started pounding on a door.

“Help me!” he yelled. “Somebody help me. A man out here is trying to shoot me!”

He continued pounding, but the door never opened.

Another gunshot ranged out.

Terrence ran towards the stairs and ran up to his room.  As soon as he opened the door, he saw a bull alligator waiting for him.  Suddenly with speed, the alligator moved towards him.

Terrence turned and ran down the hall.

Yet, coming up steps was the hillbilly. When he reached the floor, he looked at Terrence and smiled.

Then, he said, “Hey, Little Black Sambo, I got a present for you.”

The hillbilly aimed his gun at Terrance.

Terrance turned to run but he saw the alligator looking at him.

Then, Terrance looked at the railing. He ran towards it and moved over it. Then, he jumped.

After landing on the ground, he started running again. Yet, he bumped into the hotel clerk.

“Man, what kind of place is this?” Terrance said. “This hotel is haunted!”

With a calm face, the clerk said, “Let’s go back to your room.”

“I’m not going back there! Fuck that!”

“They’re not going to hurt you. They just scare people. Now, let’s go back to your room. I’ll help you pack. Then, you can check out.”

“You damned right, I’m checking out!”

Terrance followed the hotel clerk back to the room.  The alligator was gone.

Like he promised, the clerk helped Terrance.

Next, they headed to checkout. As he stood behind the desk, the clerk reached down and pulled out a greetings card. On the card, a black baby was sitting on a riverfront’s coast. Behind the baby, an alligator was moving in.

“What the hell is?!” Terrence said.

Then, the hotel clerk said, “On the riverfront, there was a time when black babies were used as alligator bait. The guy you saw with the gun? He ran the whole thing. Spectators from all over Florida would come and watch. Of course, things like that don’t happen here anymore. Yet, the ghosts live on. It’s as if they want folks to remember this town’s ugly past.”

Terrance started handing the card over to the clerk.

“No,” the clerk said. “You keep that as a souvenir.”

“Thanks, man,” Terrence said.

The clerk watched him leave.  Next, he walked to the door and watched Terrance drive off.

Suddenly, the few cars in the parking lot disappeared.

Then, the clerk spit tobacco on the floor.

In the hillbilly’s voice he said, “Run, nigger.”

photo credit: Aesum Restless Gondolas [Explored] via photopin (license)

About Patrick Scott Barnes

Most of Central Florida knows Stone Crazy (Patrick Scott Barnes) as a poet. Yet, he also photographs, DJ and blogs. The rest of the time, he's guzzling booze in a Central Florida bar.
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