Short Story Wednesday: A Story As Old As the World

Short Story Prompt: “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell

“I am the man who killed your son,” said the early balding man in a dark blue suit and tie to the woman behind the screen door.

“Dead?” she said without thinking. Then the woman’s face went as pale as the ghost of her dead son who was haunting the man. Then she said, “You?”

The woman turned away from him and back into the house, closing the door behind her.

In his hotel room, the ghost of her son confronted him. “Did you tell her?” The ghost could see that he had not told the woman the circumstances of his death. “You must tell my mother,” the ghost urged.

The next morning the man set off to the woman’s house, each step heavier than the last, like he was a man plodding forward to the gallows for a crime he did not commit. Unlike that innocent man, he had done the deed. He had killed the woman’s son. And now the son’s ghost was haunting him. He couldn’t get the ghost off his back until he told the dead man’s mother how he had been killed.

He came to the house with the white picket fence. He walked through the gate and up onto the porch, straightened his tie and made a loud knock. “Go away,” came the words from inside the house.

So he went away, head bowed, and returned to his hotel room, and to the ghost. The ghost could see that his mother had once again rejected the man.

“Look, I tried to tell her,” the man pleaded. “You have to give me credit for trying.”

“Trying isn’t good enough,” the ghost said.

“She won’t listen. I could force her but I am not going to do that.”

“It’s the only way,” the ghost said, “for you to get off the hook. Now get over there and tell her. Otherwise you’ll never be rid of me.”

“But…”

“Don’t but me. If you don’t want me to continue to haunt you, then you have to tell her what happened. Otherwise she will continue to blame you for my death, and I can’t have that.”

The man looked over at the gray ghost. “I wish you hadn’t started the whole thing. You’d be alive today if you hadn’t. And I wouldn’t be on the hook to tell her the circumstances of your death so I can get you off my back.”

“It was all a game. Then you had to go and kill me.”

“But it was in self-defense.”

“Are you sure?” the ghost wanted to know.

“Yes, I’m sure. And I seem to remember that you said it was the most dangerous game.”

“I was just kidding,” the ghost said. “And you couldn’t take the joke.”

“Oh, you weren’t kidding. Chasing me with that gun and those dogs.”

“And you had to kill my lead dog too,” the ghost said. “What kind of man are you, killing an animal like that?”

“He was going to tear me apart. And you would have let him too. I had no choice. It may not have been a dangerous game when you started but it sure got that way.”

“I didn’t think it was going to be that dangerous,” the ghost said. “I was so relieved when you jumped into the sea. I thought you’d actually escaped. But no, you had to come back and do me in. Now I am being punished because you screwed up and killed me. For no good reason too. You’d escaped.”

“Oh, I had good reason.” The man glared at the ghost. “Your death has made our mother sad. My mother will no longer speak to me. She sees in me nothing but a stranger, a wanderer, a murderer.”

There was a knock on the hotel door. It was insistent that it be answered. The man got out of his chair and opened the door. A handsome young man in his early twenties pushed his way into the room. “May I come in?” he said.

“Who are you?” the man asked.

The young man answered, “I’m the man who is here to tell you to leave my mother alone. She can’t take it. And if you don’t, I will make you.”

The man said, “I have no choice but to speak to her and explain.”

“Why do you have no choice?” There was anger in the young man’s voice.

The man pointed at the ghost. “Doofus over here insists.”

“Don’t call me Doofus,” the ghost said. “You know how much I hate that, Cain.”

The man laughed. “Well, you are a doofus, Abel.”

“Wh-wh-what?” they young man asked. Exasperated.

“Well,” the man said, “you’re not going to believe this. I can’t ditch this guy until I tell our mother the story of how he died. I know she won’t believe me but he insists.”

“And I cannot escape roaming the earth and haunting my brother until Mom knows that it wasn’t his fault. I got the order from Dad and the Man Upstairs. Oh, and Dad says to tell you hello. He’s sorry he had to leave so early in your life, Seth. It couldn’t be avoided. Some nimrod wanted to build a Tower on a little piece of property Dad had been saving up for his retirement. The nimrod even had the gumption to call it Babel. The darn thing fell on Dad.”

Seth could not believe his ears. He dropped into a chair, shook his head and said, “Mom lied to me. She told me I was an only child. Now I find out I’ve got two brothers.”

“Just like Mom,” the ghost said.

“Yep,” Cain said. “And she lied to Dad about that apple too. Can you believe that she called it a lollipop?”

“And Dad believed her,” Abel the Ghost said. “If he’d only gotten glasses, he would have been able to tell an apple from a lollipop.”

“By the way, Bro,” Cain asked Abel, “is he still as blind as he used to be?”

“Blind as a bat,” Abel said.

Next Wednesday’s Prompt:”The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant

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