short fiction

The “Haunted” Dude Ranch: A Short Story

Cassandra and her ten-year-old sister, Michaela, settled into their assigned cabin of The Kullen Ranch. The parents took their room across the hall. Cassandra and Michaela shared a room with two different beds.

Cassandra picked up the guide on the nightstand. She opened it—only to spot handwriting that said, “Beware of the cowboy ghost and the vampire weasel.”

Cassandra ignored that. She still remembered being told that Santa Claus didn’t exist four years ago, at age eight. She was twelve and would begin seventh grade next month. That writing had to have been a prank or some fool messing around.

Michaela had a guidebook on her nightstand too. She picked it up and read it. She looked up at Cassandra. “Cassandra, there’s this weird message about a cowboy ghost and a vampire weasel.”

“Ignore it.” Cassandra flicked her long, braided locks behind her shoulders.

But there was a whish coming from outside. The wind blew the yellow grass. The sound increased to the inside of this room.

“Cassandra, what’s going on?” Michaela looked around.

“I… I have no idea,” she said.

“Beware of the vampire weasel,” said a man’s voice. “It’s real, all right. And it’s on this property.”

“Who was that?” Michaela bolted up from her bed.

“I don’t know,” said Cassandra.

There was a knock on the door. Their mom opened it. “Girls, is everything all right?”

“Mom, we heard a voice,” said Michaela.

“And we both got a message about a cowboy ghost and a vampire weasel,” Cassandra added.

But the mother tilted her head. “You’re ten and twelve years old and you believe in that stuff?”

“Didn’t you hear it?” asked Michaela.

“Grow up, both of you.” The mom closed the door.

Cassandra hung her jaw down and turned to Michaela.

“What’s wrong with mom?” asked Michaela.

“You don’t think we’re the only ones, do you?” Cassandra asked.

There was another knock on the door. The mother opened it. “Girls, it’s time to have dinner.”

Cassandra and Michaela left. They followed their mom and dad downstairs and outside.

Michaela adjusted her bun and caught up to the father. “Dad, did you hear a voice about a vampire cowboy and—”

“Let’s not discuss that,” he said.

Cassandra said nothing and followed everyone to the patio.

A waiter sat them down. He directed them to the barbecue buffet. They went up and helped themselves to their food.

Cassandra stirred her baked beans. But air swished again—yet without any wind.

“Once again, beware of the weasel,” the same mysterious voice as before said.

“Cassandra, aren’t you going to eat?” asked the mom.

“Yeah, but I heard that voice again,” Cassandra said.

The mom sighed.

“What did I tell your sister about that?” the father asked.

“Since when was I dragged into this?” asked Michaela.

“You girls are to stop making up stories this instant,” said the dad.

“It’s not a story, though,” said Cassandra.

“Enough,” said the dad. “Now there is to be no more talking until your plates are cleaned.”

Cassandra sighed and ate. She considered if anyone else on this ranch had heard the voice? Had it been set that only kids could hear it? Just her and Michaela?

Of course, it wasn’t like she and Michaela had been jinxed with this. But how would they prove to their parents that they did hear the voice and didn’t make up stories?

 

A few hours had passed. Cassandra had changed and did her evening routine. Michaela had already fallen asleep.

Cassandra crawled under her bed covers and turned off the lights. But as she lay her head on her pillow, the swishing sound occurred again. Cassandra lifted herself up.

Rays of light shined from the ceiling. Cassandra covered her eyes. Michaela woke up. “Cassandra, what’s going on?”

A gaseous boot showed itself, followed by jeans, a torso, and a man’s head. Cassandra and Michaela screamed.

“Relax, girls,” said the translucent figure. “You don’t want to wake your parents up.”

“W-who are you?” asked Cassandra.

“The cowboy ghost.”

“Oh my God.” Michaela hopped out of her bed. “I’m telling my parents.”

“No, you’re not.” The cowboy ghost flew and blocked Michaela’s path. “I’m only visible to you guys.”

“What?” asked Cassandra. “Why won’t you make yourself visible to our parents? Or anyone else here?”

“I don’t know,” the cowboy ghost said. “But I tried to make myself visible to everyone. For some reason, I only got you guys.”

“So what are you doing here?” asked Cassandra.

“I’m here to tell you that at nine a.m. tomorrow, the vampire weasel will come here,” said the cowboy ghost.

“In the day?” asked Cassandra.

“Well, it’s supposed to rain tomorrow,” said the cowboy ghost. “So you need to find some garlic and throw it at the weasel.”

“But where are we going to find some garlic?” asked Michaela.

“You’ll need to figure that out yourselves.” The cowboy ghost flew back up into the ceiling.

“Wait.” Cassandra held her hand out.

But the ghost had left.

Cassandra thought about where to find garlic. There was no garden. Guests would not be allowed in the kitchens. Did people put garlic in their eggs?

Although Cassandra and Michaela came from New York, they couldn’t imagine that having garlic at breakfast happened a lot here in Wyoming.

 

After last night Cassandra had not told her parents about the ghost. Neither had Michaela. The mom and dad had not even asked who they’d talked to.

The family walked to breakfast. They held it out on the patio, despite what the cowboy ghost had said.

The clouds had darkened. But no rain fell from the sky. People served themselves breakfast. No signs of the vampire weasel came up.

Cassandra and Michaela stood in line for the buffet. Cassandra eyed the food for any signs of garlic.

But a paw climbed the patio. Cassandra and Michaela gasped. The creature showed its face. It looked like a weasel. It hissed, revealing its sharp fangs. It spread its wings and flew into the area.

The people screamed and ran. Cassandra and Michaela stayed, though, still searching for garlic.

“What are you girls doing?” the father ran to them. “Get away from here!” He grabbed both girls and ran with them off the patio.

“We were looking for garlic,” said Michaela.

“Now’s not the time!” exclaimed the dad.

But the clouds cleared, letting the sunlight in. The weasel shrieked and flew away.

The crowd watched it. It soared far away.

“Guys, you can come back now,” said a waitress.

The crowd returned to the patio.

“I think the sunlight was enough,” Cassandra told Michaela.

Michaela giggled.

 

 

 

movie

“Paranorman” (2012): Must be the Time of the Critique

Warning: Contains spoilers***

 

I first discovered this film when my family watched it in the living room of our house. I didn’t see the whole thing until the second time on my own. However, I saw enough that it caught my interest.

“Paranorman” portrays a young boy, named Norman Babcock, who can talk to the dead. He is the only one who can see ghosts. However, others don’t understand him and they think he is crazy… except for a heavy kid named Neil, who gets excited by Norman’s special powers.

But Norman is given a task to stop a witch’s curse from raising the dead. He fails and the zombies go to town. The community tries to hurt the zombies until Norman understands them and discovers that they are not trying to hurt anybody.

I enjoyed the movie enough that I watched it over and over again on my own. In fact, “Paranorman” is one of the few movies I can watch a lot in a short period of time.

And now, what I admired about the film:

 

1: The humor

 

Despite the dark tone, the humor added was done well. I loved the scene of the guy waiting for his snack at the vending machine while the zombies come closer to him. The dialogue also expresses humor effectively. It’s especially funny in the second half of the film.

 

2: The plot twist revealing the “witch”

 

I appreciated the twist on how the “witch” was just a miserable little girl that nobody had understood and had been executed for “witchcraft”. That plays well into what people should be expected to know today. Obviously, there were never wicked witches who flew on broomsticks and cackled in real life. However, the accusation of people being witches throughout history and getting punished for it actually happened in history.

Of course, people have changed then and try to support those that others constantly miscomprehend. I adored how Norman tried to talk to the girl, called Agatha, to get her to stop the jinx. After the fight scene, the next one calmed down and showed Agatha’s true innocence.

 

3: The historical facts about Puritans

 

Although this is frowned upon in storytelling if overdone, just the right amount that the plot needs will make it work. In “Paranorman”, the facts about the Pilgrims and their culture engaged my interest in the film even more. I was reminded facts that I had almost forgotten myself, like when people found guilty of witchcraft were no longer considered humans.

 

Now onto the parts I believe could have been portrayed better:

 

1: Believability

 

Despite the humor in the plot and characterization, I found certain elements to be unbelievable. While that didn’t bother me much, I was surprised when I discovered that “Paranorman” was based off a book. Book rules are another story, but characters do have to behave like real people. Unless the movie changed pretty much everything from the book, I feel that the story and characters could have been more believable.

For example, Norman walks to school for minutes by himself, at age 11. If the story took place in the 70’s or earlier, then that would have been believable. However, it takes place around the time it was released. If you let your eleven-year-old child walk to school in a city alone, you could get in trouble with CPS.

Another example was when Salma barely reacted to Norman thinking that the zombies were about to eat him. She just sighed and answered his question about finding out where the witch was buried. Even if you didn’t care about your classmate, wouldn’t you be scared if he or she called you and told you about a zombie currently attacking him or her? I certainly would.

 

2: The character stereotypes

 

Norman’s mother is more gentle and shows more effort in understanding him than his father, who is rougher and refuses to comprehend what he goes through. His older sister, Courtney, gets annoyed with his actions, talks on the phone a lot, and talks with the stereotypical teenage girl language. Doesn’t anyone find these clichéd at this point?

 

3: The mildly mature content

 

I used to think “Paranorman” was rated PG-13 due to the language, mildly sexual terms, and dark tone. It is actually PG, like almost every children’s movie is these days. The others may have crude humor or mild language (not cursing, but words like “idiot”), but they are not usually like “Paranorman”. I don’t know if a child under 12 should watch “Paranorman” unless they are considered very mature for his or her age.

 

Overall, though, I would rate “Paranorman” 5 out of 5 stars. I still enjoyed it very much and hope to watch it again soon.