A PLEASANT SURPRISE • by Peter Goodrich

After a long bout with Parkinson’s, my Grandmother had passed. And as a pleasant surprise, I was in the will. I had inherited her car, and the ghost that came in the car. That’s right. Grandma’s car was haunted. Her 1980 Chevy Citation was haunted.

I was surprised in so many ways. Hell, when I first turned the key I didn’t think that the thing would even start, let alone be haunted. It was an aged hunk of junk, and hadn’t seen much use in the past twenty years. And then when I saw the little figure creeping along the dash, I started to wonder if this was why she chose to stop driving it; and not because of the glaucoma.

I was fiddling with the radio, trying to find something that wasn’t static, when it came. It was tiny, the size of my hand. It was the classic ghost. Literally, the classic ghost. In a little white sheet (a handkerchief, really) with tiny holes where the eyes and mouth would be. I couldn’t see any feet beneath the hem of the shroud, but it seemed to have tiny little hands poking up as it levitated towards me. And as it came drifting along, it was making a little ethereal ‘whooooooo’ sound at me.

It was freaking adorable.

I mean, come on. It was like a kindergarten Halloween decoration had come to life and came to visit. It was so little! It was smaller than the rat I had when I was in college. It was smaller than my breakfast sandwich. I wanted to pet it.

I suppose in retrospect, yeah. I should have been a little more respectful. Maybe taken it a little bit more seriously. Seeing visible proof of the afterlife, actual confirmation of existence after death… well, that’s serious stuff. And, one would think, deserved more respect than the delirious giggles I wasn’t holding back.

I think even the little ghost was actually taken aback by this. It stopped mid-‘whoo’ and kind of stared at me. It just drifted in place, bobbing like a floater in the corner of your eye.

And there I sat, snickering and crouched back against the driver’s side door of the old Citation. The car still smelled like Vicks and old menthol cigarettes, the defining scents of my dear old Grandma.

Was this Grandpa, maybe? Could it be? My mind raced. Grandma never spoke much of her ex-husband, just that he was a son of a bitch and that he had gotten his ‘just desserts’. Did his ‘just desserts’ involve being murdered and cursed to haunt a handkerchief on his jilted wife’s dashboard? But then I remembered mom saying that her dad had just jumped ship and moved to Iowa, where he had died in 1979.

So my theory was obviously sunk. I peered at the little thing, static from the dusty old radio an idle buzz in the back of my mind. The ghost just bobbed in the warm air beneath the windshield, occasionally emitting little ‘Whooo’s!’ at me. I didn’t think it was trying to scare me anymore.

Then a much more troubling idea occurred to me. What if this thing was my grandmother? Oh, now that’s a terrible thought. I couldn’t think of a worse fate than being doomed to spend the rest of eternity haunting the interior of a mid-80’s compact.

And worse, if this was my Grandma’s spirit then I’d feel especially guilty taking the Citation to the junkyard to sell for parts.

I had to know. I sat in thought for a moment, then came to a resolution. I was going to see exactly who — or what — this thing really was. I sat up in the drivers seat, steeled myself. I reached out towards the little ghost with my fingers trembling.

I won’t lie to you, I was terrified. At first I thought the whole thing was kind of funny, this little cutesy ghost the size of half a donut. But the prospect of what could be under that little white sheet, that scared the hell out of me. I didn’t want to see my undead Grandma, pale and shrunken and horribly shriveled after death. I wanted Grandma to be in heaven with Great-Uncle Al, and all of her dogs, and her one cat that I had liked.

As I slowly reached out my shaking hand, it actually reached out to me a little bit. I was startled, and snatched my hand back a little bit. But I focused, and mentally pushed my hand forward again. I had to know.

I yanked up the little white sheet with my eyes shut tight, and after a second I slowly eased them open so that I could see who — what — it was.

I didn’t know the guy.

I ended up making four hundred bucks at the junkyard. Which was another pleasant surprise.

Peter Goodrich lives in Watertown, MA. He does not suffer fools gladly, but he will certainly suffer them.

This story is sponsored by
Hydra House — Publisher of Pacific Northwest science fiction and fantasy, including K.C. Ball’s collection of scifi shorts “Snapshots from a Black Hole & Other Oddities” and Danika Dinsmore’s middle-grade fantasy “The Ruins of Noe,” sequel to “Brigitta of the White Forest.”

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