THE HAUNTED FOOTY
No one believed me when I found the haunted footy. It was in the grass on the side of the oval and when I picked it up and kicked it it grubbed straight through the goal posts. I was rapt. I’d never kicked such a good grubber before.
I whooped with delight. Then I turned around and there standing before me was an ancient spectre, brown and crumbling with tomb dust sloughing off his shoulders. He was wearing a Numbats jersey with number 4 on the back. He looked at me for ages and finally said in a creaking whisper, “I’m Alfie Gunson... I have been haunting this ball for 80 years. Now you have released me by kicking it.”
I looked him in the eye and said “Pleasure to meet you, Alfie, I’m Trent,” just like my mum told me I should when I meet an old fella. She said old fellas crave respect. “What are you gonna do now you’re out of the ball?”
He moaned creepily and floated off towards the public toilets. I tucked the footy into my schoolbag and rode my bike to the library, where I sat down to examine town records to unravel the mystery of Alfie Gunson.
“Trent Tenderson, what are you doing in this bit of the library?” It was Mrs Brudeaux, the crotchety old librarian. “Nothing, Mrs Brudeaux,” I told her. “Just researching the history of the footy team.”
“What footy team?” She asked suspiciously. “You mean the Numbats? But they haven’t existed for 80 years.”
80 years? I thought to myself. That can’t be a coincidence. “What happened 80 years ago, Mrs Brudeaux?” I asked casually.
She looked at me suspiciously. “Why, 80 years ago their captain Alfie Gunson kicked a grubber so fast it opened up a sinkhole and swallowed half the town. The Numbats never came back. You reckon you’ve never heard that story before?”
“Thanks, Mrs Brudeaux,” I shouted, already halfway out the door.
I raced home and showed mum. “Knock it off, Trent,” she yelled. “It’s not an 80 year old ball. It’s a friggin new Steeden. I bet it’s still got the sticker on it.”
She could see I looked disappointed so she came and sat down next to me. “That stuff about the Numbats is true, though,” she said softly. “Alfie Gunson is a son of a bitch. I hold him responsible for the death of your great grandfather. If he’d never kicked that grubber great grandpa John would probably still be alive.”
She went off to cook dinner. I turned the ball over in my hands. But the sticker wasn’t still on the ball... so what if?
I got back on my bike and rode back to the oval. It was getting dark now. The weeping willows at the creek end of the oval looked huge and black. Only one of the floodlights was working at the moment and when you stood in front of it you looked 10 metres tall. I forgot that I was supposed to be looking for Alfie Gunson’s ghost and started stomping around to make my shadow look big. I imagine I was crushing all the people who didn’t believe my story.
Suddenly, I felt a paranormal presence behind me. I whirled around and there stood Alfie Gunson again. His hair was tousled and there was a pink glow in his beige, ghostly face. “Jeez, Alfie,” I said, “you look more relaxed.”
He grinned. “Bloody good public toilet, that one,” he said. “Always has been.”
“Did you really kick a grubber so fast it made the earth swallow the town?” I asked. “Mum said you killed great grandpa John.”
Alfie frowned. “You should have never come back, kid,” he said threateningly. All of a sudden he dissolved into wisps and zipped back into the little air hole on the footy. It squirmed in my hands and then exploded.
It was so loud it took a minute for my ears to stop ringing. When they did I collected all the blown up bits of plastic and took them back to the bin. At the bin I noticed that it was empty and freshly cleaned. Huh... that was weird. I didn’t remember the bin being clean. I dumped the bits in there and went to get on my bike but it was gone. I looked around for a bit but I couldn’t find it. Mum was gonna be so mad. This was the fourth bike I’d lost since the start of the year.
As I walked home I tried to think of an excuse for how I’d lost my bike that didn’t involve going to find the ghost of the man who’d killed great grandpa John.
But when I got home I could tell something was wrong. There was a different car in the driveway and the house had been renovated. Where the dry, brown front lawn used to be there was a luxurious marble water feature with a fountain and a bird bath. The bricks had been rendered with stucco and beautifully maintained rose bushes lined the perimeter. In front of the lounge room window was a tiered herb garden with thriving evergreen and annual herbs. Someone had added white plantation shutters to the front window. There was an upwards extension on the house. I looked at the letterbox and there was a little plaque that said “The Johnsons”. What? My family wasn’t the Johnsons. This was crazy.
I knocked on the door and a woman who wasn’t mum answered. “Are you lost, young man?” She asked. “Why are you knocking on the front door of my home at such a late hour?” I was starting to freak out. I think she could tell because she said, “don’t worry... I’m not mad. Ah, you look so familiar! You look just like the Tenderson boy... but he disappeared decades ago. He’d be all grown up now, and you’re still a boy.” As she said the words I started to freak out again.
Inside her phone was ringing. “Ah, the phone!” she said, and shut the front door. I turned around and stared up at the dark night and the everlasting stars, who had twinkled ambivalently down at me before I met the evil ghost of a dead footy player and twinkled down on me still. Looked like Alfie Gunson had fucked me right up.