Ghost Girls by Joyce Carol Oates, 1995
The magic trick:
Giving weight to a ghostly encounter after the fact
Man, this one got to me. Read it in the apartment by myself on a Sunday night. Thought, wow, this is a really good story. But it’s not very scary. It doesn’t create any kind of scary vibe to it. There’s no spell cast here.
Then the hammer strikes.
I was wrong.
It’s really, really scary. Or maybe it just really got to me.
It’s not unlike Large Marge’s story in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. The ghostly moment itself isn’t that scary. But when you get context later and can look back on the ghost with new knowledge… well, you may just start screaming.
And that’s quite a trick on Oates’s part.
The girls made me feel sad. And scared something was going to happen that couldn’t be stopped.
How long I listened to them not hearing any actual words but only their voices, I don’t know. Pressing my face against the screen until finally the voices went away, the little girls were gone without my noticing and there were just the night insects like before, crazy and loud. And Momma’s breathless little pants and snores in the bed behind me.
Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.