I paused with my coat half way to the old brass coat hook. Nathan was looking at me like I'd busted his mom's favorite plate or something?
Nathan shook his head and reached for my coat. "Don't hang it on that one."
I stared at him. What was so great about that hook? It looked like all the others to me. I tossed him my coat. "Why not? It's the only one that doesn't have a coat on it?" I glanced out the tall narrow window at the empty driveway. "Are you expecting someone...important?"
Nathan looked uncomfortable. "No. Mom wouldn't have let you stay for Thanksgiving if we'd been expecting company."
I eyed the hook doubtfully as we headed down the hall to his bedroom. It wasn't like Nathan to be so secretive - not to me, anyway. We'd been best friends from kindergarten through the tenth grade, but since he'd moved into this old house, he'd been acting strange. Maybe it was all the pressure he was getting from his parents about which college to attend. Shoot, we still had almost two years to decide. Didn't his parents realize that two sixteen-year-old boys had more important things to worry about?
After I stepped into his room, he glanced back down the hall and then closed the door securely. When he turned to me, he was getting red around the ears. He lowered his voice until I could barely hear him.
"I'm not supposed to say anything about this, but since it's you…." He glanced around, as if expecting someone to pop out of the closet or something. "We've got an uninvited visitor," he whispered in a hoarse voice.
The way he said visitor made my skin crawl. "What do you mean," I asked, trying to keep my tone conversational. "Who is it?"
"Shhh," Nathan urged with a finger to his lips. "You might upset him."
I lowered my voice to a barnyard whisper. "Upset who?"
Nathan eyed me distrustfully for a moment before muttering, "The ghost."
I didn't actually laugh. It was more like a snort, but Nathan's brows came together, and his eyes flashed a warning that I knew well. I gathered my face together and tried to look serious. "Whose ghost?"
Nathan plopped down on the bed. "They say it's the man that used to live here. A man with a peg leg."
This was getting ridiculous. I couldn't contain myself any longer. "Who says?" I blurted out in a commanding tone.
Nathan's face turned beet red. "You think I'm imagining things, don't you? Well, you just go ahead and hang your coat on that hook and see. First the room gets cold, and then it won't be long before you hear him walking the floor. Clomp, slide - clomp, slide. I've heard it."
I dropped beside him on the bed and shook my head. "What's got into you, Nathan? You've been acting weird ever since you moved into this old house. And now you act like your scared."
Nathan's chin shot up and his eyes burned with pride. "I'm not scared of anything. I didn't run from the graveyard this Halloween, did I? You didn't hear me say anything about ghosts then."
I couldn't deny that. He was the only one who hadn't run screaming when that screech howl flew over them that night. Nathan had sand; that was for sure. So what was this thing about a peg-legged ghost walking the floor? I shrugged.
"Have you ever seen the ghost? Has anybody ever seen the ghost?"
Nathan fell back on the bed and stared sullenly at the ceiling. "Have you ever seen God? Has anyone?"
He had a point. It wasn't that I didn't believe in ghosts - or that I did believe in ghosts, for that matter. I just figured that most 'sightings' could be explained. I flopped back on the bed beside him and tried to mend the fence by straddling it.
"Some people contest the existence of God too, you know. I never said ghosts didn't exist, but I don't think every bump you hear in the night is a ghost, either. Now, getting back to your ghost; you say he walks the floor when someone hangs a coat on that specific hook. Is that the only time you hear him?"
Nathan rolled over on one elbow and made a face. "The previous owners claim they heard chains rattling and stuff, but I haven't heard anything like that. It's an old house - it creaks and groans when it's windy."
"Like today," I said. That gave me an idea. I leaped up from the bed. "Let's go find this ghost."
Nathan sat up and eyed me distrustfully. "That's fine for you. But I have to live here."
I shrugged. "I'll be the one that he's mad at, then. Let's get this over with while everyone is gone."
Nathan reluctantly pushed off the bed and stood in front of me. "If you're determined, let's get to it."
Back in the front room, I took my coat from its hook and paused ceremoniously over the brass hook in question. Then I placed my coat on the shiny brass hook. Seconds ticked by. Nothing. I glanced at Nathan and lifted my palms to the sky.
But Nathan wasn't convinced. "Wait a little longer," he said.
We retired to the couch in silent anticipation. We might not have noticed when the wind picked up and the house began to groan if we hadn't been listening so hard. I glanced at Nathan. Surely he didn't think that was a ghost.
That was when it started. First a dragging sound, as if a wooden peg was being drawn across the hardwood floor. Then a solid thump - and then the dragging sound again.
Nathan's face went white, and I knew mine couldn't have too much color. I waited, though, and gradually the sound diminished. We sat there, waiting for it to begin again. We didn't have to wait long. The house groaned again and the dragging sound renewed.
Something was strange, though. The sound didn't seem to move from that one spot on the floor in front of the hook. I walked over to investigate, and Nathan's face got even whiter.
"Take your coat of the hook."
I did, and the noise ceased. I replaced the coat and it began again. I glanced at Nathan.
"Is there a crawl space under this part of the house?"
I didn't think Nathan's face could get any whiter, but I was wrong. He gulped.
"Yeah, lots of it, but I'm not going under this house."
"Do you have a flashlight?" I persisted.
The thumping had stopped, and a little color returned to Nathan's face. "Sure."
A few minutes later we were outside, moving the wooden board away from the hole in the foundation. I flipped on the flashlight and crawled under the house. I was determined to find the source of that noise. Nathan stayed at the entrance, and I have to admit his presence was somewhat comforting. I crawled with my elbows until I reached the spot that I determined to be directly under the hook. I shined the light around, but didn't see anything but a bunch of cobwebs. That sight gave me reason for concern, and I started feeling crawling things all over my body. I was considering vacating the place when I heard the wind start up again. A cold wind blew over me.
The dragging noise was right above me, and then the thump. The hair lifted on the back of my neck and I directed the flashlight beam to that spot. I grinned and turned to Nathan.
"Do you have a hammer and a nail?"
Nathan stared at me. "What for?"
"I'm going to nail this ghost of yours," I said with a laugh.
"What is it?" He asked, sticking his head into the opening and squinting at the spot above my head.
"A loose board," I answered. "And you've got an open spot in your foundation that you need to plug. Every time the wind blows, it catches that loose board. Apparently a little weight on that hook is all it takes to pull the board out far enough for the wind to catch it."
We'd solved the mystery of the brass hook, Nathan and I. I say we, because I'm not sure I'd have had the nerve to crawl under that house if he hadn't been there - and Nathan wasn't about to let me face danger alone.
This story can be purchased in the collection of short youth stories "YOUTH YARNS."