A short story by Karen Di Prima

            Last night I thought I saw Ghost Buck, the big white deer they’re always talking about on the Pine Run Park Neighborhood Patch. But I dropped my phone and didn’t get a picture, so Howard in the double-wide next door says it doesn’t count. I hope nobody dies because of me. The sooner Ghost Buck gets here, the sooner the virus will be done with us.

            Ghost Buck’s more popular on the Patch than Senior Scams & Flimflams. Even more than that video Walter put up last September, of somebody stealing the HurryCane he ordered right off his porch. The closest thing to all the excitement over Ghost Buck happened two years ago, when the owners of Pine Run wanted to raise the land rent rates – that caused a heck of a stir, let me tell you.

            Staring at the woods behind my house now, I’m wondering if I saw Ghost Buck at all. Tell you the truth, I’m not really sure how long we’ve been locked up, maybe it’s week four or five, maybe only week three. Those fellas from the grocery store been by how many times? Drop off food bags for all us old folks so we don’t go out, spread it to other people. Sure feels like a long time since I’ve seen my grandbabies.  Howard in the double-wide next door says it all reminds him of September 12, the Day After Nine Eleven.  No cars on the road, no planes in the sky.  What I miss most is the children’s voices. Quiet so loud I need cotton in my ears. 

            Forever ago, the virus took Gertrude and Ruth, the two spinster sisters who lived at Pine Run going on thirty years. Next was Martha, then Charlie.  After that, Arty fell sick, and they carted him away to the hospital, plugged him into a ventilator does the breathing for him. People on the Patch wondering who’ll be next, calling out Dickey Melbourne, Homeowner Association President, to do something. Then Howard in the double-wide next door reminded everybody that the last time we saw Ghost Buck, State won the national college football championship. Sign of good luck, better times, Howard said. Dickey took the proverbial ball and ran with it, organized the official ‘Pine Run Park Ghost Buck Watch.’

            First week of the Watch, everybody’s outside at dusk, some on the lawn, some in the street on fold-out chairs. People on Pine Run Drive with the premium lots facing the woods like me and Howard in the double-wide next door, are on our decks.  Across the street, that old fool Ray climbs on his roof, binoculars in one hand, phone in the other. Walter broke in his new camera with the telephoto lens, got delivered just in time.

            Tilley got the bright idea to send her husband Barney around with a cooler full of her sausage rolls wrapped up in individual bags, enough for everybody. Barney leaves the cooler at the door, steps ten feet back, then takes it to the next house. The second night, I had my own bright idea, baked brownies all morning and left them in a box outside for Barney to give out with the sausage rolls. Others did the same. By the end of the week, Barney’s hauling the load around in his grandson’s Flexible Flyer.

            Seems like food only goes so far, though.  By now, enthusiasm’s kinda dropped off. We still got me, Dickey Melbourne, Howard in the double-wide next door, Ray on the roof, and a couple other diehards. Barney’s back to hauling only the cooler.

            It’s still dark when I get up this morning, thinking I’ll make Rice Krispie treats for tonight, just a small batch. Happen to glance outside, see a ball of white, like a cloud fallen from the sky, in motion along the treeline behind my house. Go out on the deck for a better look; the cloud forms a shape, steps into the yard. It’s Ghost Buck. This time I’m sure.

He looks like somebody from Hollywood dreamed him up. Taller than me and as wide as a buffalo, glowing white like the moon, a rack of antlers on his head must’ve stretched out ten feet. I inched my fingers into my pocket and brought out my phone, zoomed in, clicked the button three times.

            I said out loud the first thing that popped into my head, “So you’re the one eating up those junipers.” Soon as he heard my voice, that animal bobbed its head, leaped ten feet straight up from a standing start and bounded back into the woods.

            I told Howard in the double-wide next door first, before I posted all the pictures on the Patch. My phone buzzed with comments about how handsome Ghost Buck was. Dickey Melbourne thanked me for my service to Pine Run Park.

            Only one person had something bad to say. “Good going, @grammajoyce64. Thanks to you, Ghost Buck’s got a target on its back. Only a matter of time before somebody comes along and shoots it dead!”

            Well, that one made me need to sit down. While I was trying to think of a reply, @TigerKingKenB answered for me. “Don’t you get it, genius? It’s a ghost. It’s already dead!”

            Ghost Buck sure looked alive to me, but there was no time to argue because there were flashing lights outside and an ambulance speeding down Pine Run Drive. Looked like the virus got another one. Howard in the double-wide next door comes out, Ray across the street, too.             Ambulance pulls right up to Arty’s trailer, and out he comes, almost as pale as Ghost Buck himself. A little worse for wear, but smiling. Everybody claps and cheers. Arty walks up to his door, turns around and raises his arms up in victory, like Rocky. 

Karen DiPalma is a novelist and short story writer. Her work has appeared in Dream Noir, Flash Fiction Magazine, Rock and a Hard Place, Crack the Spine, the Broad River Review, Image OutWrite, and Our Happy Hours: LGBT Voices from the Gay Bars. She has written also for The Philadelphia Business Journal, The Philadelphia Lawyer, NJ Lifestyles Magazine, and others.

Ghost Buck, by Carol Palmer Brilliant