Along the sidewalk of the tree-lined street, the little old man shambled; his beat up steamer trunk in tow. The rusty wheels of the trunk's hand cart rattled loudly, breaking the peaceful quiet of the residential avenue.
On their way to school, Richie and Tim doddled as they stopped to look at the strange wildlife of caterpillars, beetles, and spiders that thrived upon the grassy yards of the well-kept homes they passed.
Across the street, Richie spotted the little old man who had stopped and set up his trunk atop the hand cart which doubled as a stand for the worn and battered case.
The hunched man stood serenely beside his closed trunk; as if awaiting any interested parties to arrive.
Richie tugged at Tim's packsack and motioned for them to go over to see what the old man was all about.
Reluctantly, Tim followed as he ran to catch up to Richie who had already started to cross over to where the benign looking old man stood.
"Hey, Mister," Richie blared unabashedly. "Whatcha got in the trunk, there?"
The old man smiled to greet them as Tim came up beside his friend, but the way in which his grin did not touch his black eyes made Tim's skin crawl. There was nothing benign about the little old man in the brown polyester suit.
"Oh, hello, boys." He said in a tinny voice that set Tim's teeth on edge. "My trunk? Oh well, I have something very unique inside; very special."
He placed his ancient fingers upon the leather-bound case, gently kneading its scuffed surface as he leaned in closer so he could lower his already quiet voice to a whisper.
"Would you believe," he started, the black pools of his eyes glistening. "That inside this old trunk of mine, I have a real, honest and true ghost?"
Richie scoffed loudly, but Tim's eyed the case warily.
"There ain't no such thing as ghosts, mister." Richie stated brazenly. "My dad told me, they're just in stories to scare people."
"Oh?" the old man questioned mockingly. "Is that so? Well, I can tell you for a fact that there are ghosts and that I have one right here in this trunk."
Tim looked from the serpent-like smirk on the old man's wrinkled face to the mysterious steamer trunk with an impending sense of dread that made his stomach tense and knot.
Richie laughed out loud this time.
"Oh yeah?" he said belligerently. "Prove it. Show us your 'ghost'!" he nudged Tim with his elbow knowingly, but Tim continued to stare at the now menacing trunk on its rickety old cart stand.
A curious thought popped into his and a got the better of his fear so he heard himself start to speak before he realized what he was doing.
"How," he creaked, "how did you catch a ghost in there?" His own voice seemed distant in his ears. "If it's a ghost, couldn't it just float through the case and escape?"
Finally looking back to the old man, Tim was startled by the knowing wink he gave as his smile grew, this time making it all the way to his raven-black eyes; making him all the more terrible.
"Ah, yes." The old man delighted. "That's the tricky part. You see this is a very special trunk. Why don't you boys come closer and I'll show you."
Crossing his arms in defiance, Richie scoffed again and took a bold step toward the trunk. Tim however, an icy chill stealing over his heart, shook his head and took a step back.
"We... we better get to school, Richie." He said as he tried to pull his friend away by his shirt sleeve.
But Richie pulled away, moving closer to the trunk still.
"We got time." Richie stated, not taking his eyes off the old man who simply smiled his sickly smiled back at the pig-headed boy. "Go on, show us."
Sliding his bony hands to the trunk's tarnished brass latches, the old man's smile broadened and he became even more hunched and warped-looking as the locks snapped open.
"You sure now?" The old man inquired, almost gleefully. "You really want to see?"
Tim backed away as the trunk top creaked open to let a sliver of the darkness it held inside, and real fear gripped him; terror at what was in that darkness.
Richie's smug expression started to falter as the lid slowly opened wider and Tim almost thought he heard him whisper, "No."
But he would never be sure, for as he looked on in terror, the image of Richie doubled and a transparent version of his friend began to be pulled from his solid form and sucked into the blackness within the trunk.
Finally finding his legs, Tim turned and ran; horrid cries from Richie mixed with the cackling laughter of the old man filled his ears as he sprinted down the street, leaving his friend and the nightmare of what was happening behind him.
The screams and laughter faded and were soon replaced by the noisy squeaking wheels of the big, leather-bound trunk being pulled along on its cart by the little old man in his brown polyester suit, shambling along the picturesque suburban street.