The following free online ghost story appears in my novel Evermore. It is told by a professional storyteller to a crowd, playing on the fears that the nearby forest is haunted:
Lest you think that all hauntings occur here or nearby, the tale of the Twisted Maple of Andar will make you think twice about fleeing elsewhere for safety. A man visiting friends there was given a first floor room at the back of an old house, where a wide window stood just feet from the bed. It gave a lovely view of a lawn stretching to a line of trees, where a peculiar maple with a twisted branch drew the eye. A path of loose stones passed under the window, and he left the drapes open so the bright moonlight filled the room. He’d been asleep for some hours when a noise roused him, for the sound of stones crunching uderfoot frew louder and louder so that he fully expected to see someone pass by outside. And yet one did not, even as they passed on. Moments later, when the foot-steps returned, he cautiously rose and peered through the glass but again saw nothing despite the sound passing by. Unnerved, he returned to bed and lay pondering until the window drew his attention again, for a chance look showed something he’d not soon forget. Across the field, a tall glowing figure in white was moving by the twisted maple. Unable to tell what it was doing, he lay still until it disappeared, then tossed and turned all night to awake tired the next morning.
He mentioned nothing of this to his hosts and went about his affairs, but on returning to the house mid-afternoon, he decided to walk the grounds and soon found himself by the gnarled maple, certain he’d dreamed the whole affair. The ground lay undisturbed and showed no signs of activity. Since the afternoon was pleasant and he had a short time left to him, he lay down beneath the tree to rest.
He awoke with a start hours earlier, a deep, heavy sleep having kept him here past nightfall until a peculiar cold roused him. The frightful figure of the previous night bent over him, a hideous countenance of glowing menace staring into his eyes. Terrified, he asked what it wanted, but the spirit merely searched the earth beside the tree in agitation before disappearing. The man quickly returned to the house, refusing to stay in that room another night,=, and yet curiosity overcame him days later, when he approached the twisted maple to search as the ghost had done. Barely visible and wedged in a crack of the tree’s trunk was a small golden key, which he retrieved after much prying.
That night, against his better judgment, he once again slept in the room overlooking the field, the key on the night table. When the footsteps sounded outside as before, the walker remained unseen, passing by unmindful of the key, if indeed this was known to be present. The man rose from the bed and stood before the window, key in hand, thinking to lay it upon the sill, when the spirit appeared beneath the twisted maple, again searching. The sound of the window sliding open drew its attention, and only a moment passed when it noticed him raising the key. The ghost whirled towards him with breathtaking, menacing speed to stand beyond the window. Startled motionless, he stood staring as it slowly opened one palm as if wanting the key laid there, and this he did, trembling. The ghost gleamed brighter, slender fingers closing upon it fast. With nary a nod of thanks, it walked away, the stones crunching beneath its feet.
The next morning he woke to a commotion, for a gold key had been found inserted into the lock of a prized box that had been in the family’s possession hundreds of years, and yet no one had ever been able to unlock it or otherwise devine its contents, even the most powerful magic-users. It resisted all attempts to dash it to pieces, too. And the only thing that lay dashed now were the hopes of his hosts, for while the box now held the key, it held nothing else, its interior as empty of treasure as their hearts were of hope.
Only after the ghost did not appear again that night did the man reveal what he’d seen, whereupon he learned the ghost appeared to be that of an ancestor rumored to have made a deal with the god of death, a deal which he had, perhaps, not honored.
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