Sometime later, I became aware of the scent of dry leaves and campfire smoke. As I opened my eyes and slowly sat up, a dark-colored woolen cloak slid down my back. I gasped as I recognized it. The phantom knight’s cloak! I shoved it aside and shrank away from it.
Getting clumsily to my feet, I looked around. The knight was nowhere to be seen, and I seemed to be alone. The silence pressed in around me, making me uneasy. An icy fog had rolled in and swirled eerily in the breeze, shimmering in the firelight. “Hello?” I whispered uncertainly, then louder. “Hello? Are you still there?” As much as my captor had frightened me, I was even more frightened being out here alone in the middle of the night.
I turned slowly in a circle, trying to get my bearings. The fog kept closing in, and soon I could hardly make out anything beyond the small campsite. The jack o’lanterns leered at me from their places around the circle, their faces hazy in the mist. Even the moon was just a misty silver sphere in the sky, its light unable to reach the earth below. Fingers of fog caressed my exposed skin, making me shiver. I hastily knelt to snatch up the cloak and wrap it around my shoulders. When I stood up to look around once more, I let out a startled gasp.
The grinning pumpkins that had surrounded the campfire only seconds ago were now lined up single file along a narrow path up through the upper orchard. How could that have happened? As I leaned forward trying to see where they led, a voice drifted down to me on the wind. “Come, princess. Come to me.”
Anxious, yet mesmerized, I pulled the cloak tighter around me and started up the path. Before long, as I made my way up and over a little rise, I could see a glimmer of light shining through the trees. Fear gave way to curiosity, and my steps quickened, barely noticing fallen branches and briars scraping my feet and ankles. As I started down the other side of the rise, I stopped dead in my tracks, breathless with amazement. All at once, the orchard had ended, and there, rising up out of the fog, was…it couldn’t be. Was it?
There in the clearing stood a small castle, no larger than a modest-sized two-story cabin, but with a turret rising up along one side where a chimney should be. A castle? Here on Holland Farm? I picked up my skirts and hurried towards the castle.
As I reached the steps leading up to the door, I stopped short. A dim light in one of the windows on the lower level suggested that a fire burned warmly in the fireplace. I realized I was still cold, despite the cloak around my shoulders; it would be wonderful to sit inside and warm myself by the fire, maybe with a mug of hot cider. A shiver brought goosebumps over my skin and urged me up the steps. Just outside the door, wariness returned, and I hesitated for a moment. What if this was someone’s house? What would they think of a costumed young woman knocking on their door after midnight on Halloween? At best they might tell me I was too old for trick or treating; at worst, they might call the police, or be psychos themselves.
A sudden icy gust of wind wailed through the orchard, startling me and making me huddle down in both fright and cold. I raised my hand to knock, but the door creaked open of its own accord, and a voice whispered, “Come inside, princess.”
“No, that wasn’t clichéd,” I muttered with a wry smile, stepping forward to peer cautiously inside. My jaw dropped at the scene before me, and I walked in, entranced. Moonlight shone brightly through two Gothic-style arched windows, revealing a heavy wooden table set with two pewter tankards. A large pillar candle sat in the middle of the table waiting to be lit. Suspended from the ceiling by a chain hung an iron chandelier. On the side of the room closest to the turret was an enormous stone fireplace. On the mantle above sat three glowing pumpkins. On the left was one carved with a simple princess silhouette; on the right was one carved with a knight silhouette, and the one in the middle showed the knight and the lady in an embrace. My pulse quickening as I realized the phantom knight’s intent, I turned and made a dash to the door, but I wasn’t quick enough. As mysteriously as it had opened, it closed and locked, trapping me inside.
A loud whoosh! made me turn, and I let out a startled scream. The logs in the fireplace ignited into a cozy fire, and the candles on the chandelier and on the table lit on their own. Most frightening of all, in front of the window stood the phantom knight, his face still half-hidden by a mask. Where had he come from?
“Ah, princess, please don’t leave. You’ve only just arrived.” He moved slowly to the table and pulled out a chair. “Come, sit awhile and warm yourself by the fire.”
Still facing him, I wrapped my fingers around the doorknob, attempting futilely to open the door and escape. “Who are you?” I cursed the tremor in my voice. “Why are you doing this?”
His low, suggestive chuckle made me tremble, as did his words. “Ah, princess, you were waiting for a Spook, but instead you found a knight…a black knight.” Before I could respond, he closed the distance between us and took me into his arms. “Haven’t you ever dreamed of having a knight…” He brought his lips close to my ear. “Steal you away?”
Steal…Steele? In my mind I asked myself once more if my phantom knight really was Spook. I couldn’t deny that I was excited by the possibility that this was all part of his surprise, but the uncertainty still unnerved me. I whimpered and pressed against the door, willing myself to be able to slip through like a ghost and make my escape, but of course I could not. Unable to escape, I brought my hand to his chest to push him away. “Please…?”
Mere inches away now, the knight leaned in even closer and captured my hand in his. His demeanor changed as he kissed my fingers tenderly. “My dear princess, don’t be afraid. I have no intention of harming you.” His lips were soft and warm on my chilled hand, and his scruffy beard against my skin made me tingle from head to toe.
When I glanced up at him, a flash of mischief in his eyes reminded me of…”Spook?” I felt my face reddening at the whimper in my voice, and I was thankful for the dim lighting.
The knight’s lips parted in a wolfish grin that made my legs threaten to collapse beneath me. In one swift motion, he was beside me, my hand tucked into the crook of his elbow. “Come, princess,” he purred. “Let us go sit by the fire and get you…warmed up.”
Logic screamed that I shouldn’t give in, shouldn’t trust him, but my heart argued even louder that I was safe with him, and that I wanted to give in to whatever the Spook-knight had in store. I nodded weakly and crossed the room with him. I was only somewhat surprised to see a pile of plump, oversized pillows and furs on the floor in front of the fireplace. I hesitated only a moment before letting myself sink down onto the pillows and snuggling into the furs’ warm caress.
A moment later, the knight joined me on the floor. In his hands were the pewter tankards from the table. Handing me one, he offered, “Hot spiced cider to warm you, princess?”
Recalling that I had earlier hoped the homeowners might offer hot cider, I thanked him and reached eagerly for the tankard. I raised it to my lips, inhaling its spicy aroma. Just as I was about to take a sip, I stopped, wary. “How do I know it’s not…?”
The knight gave me a half-smile, taking my tankard and quaffing deeply before handing it back. “No worries, m’dear princess. I’ve slipped you no poison, nor have I given you hard drink that would dull your senses.” He scooted closer to me. “You will be able to recall every magical detail of this night.”
At his term of endearment, my eyes snapped up to meet his. Spook always called me Kyr m’dear. For only the hundredth time, I wondered if my phantom knight was really Spook in disguise. Or if I were only dreaming. As the chill slowly began to leave my body, I settled back to savor my cider, regarding my captor. The voice of logic had retreated somewhere deep in my mind, and the other voice inside urged me to relax and enjoy this fantasy. I had the eerie sense that the knight could read my thoughts, for his lips curled up in a slight, triumphant smile. I set my tankard on the floor and asked, “So, Sir Knight, what other magic have you planned for this night?”
His delighted laugh sent a thrill through me as he set his own tankard down and edged closer, taking me in his arms. He nuzzled against my neck for a moment before he brought his lips to my ear again. In a low voice that left me breathless, he said, “My darling princess, I thought you’d never ask.”
The next moment, his lips claimed mine in a kiss that made the ground fall away beneath me. Logic finally caught up to what my heart already knew. “Spook,” I whispered, surrendering completely to his caress. I no longer needed him to confirm or deny his identity; I knew this was my handsome black knight, and I needed no other.
We kissed for what could have been minutes or days before he reluctantly pulled back with a growl. “M’dear, you enchant me. You’re no princess; you are a sorceress who has me under a spell.” He kissed me again, tangling his hands in my hair, which had come loose from its bun. He laughed deeply. “Before your magic entraps me again, come with me.”
Trembling, I gazed up at him. I was certain my legs were too weak to go anywhere with him. I swallowed hard and asked in a whisper, “Where are you taking me?”
His wolfish grin returned, shining like the moon, and in the next instant, we were dashing hand in hand through a dense forest. All around us, fireflies winked…wait, fireflies? It was October; it was much too late in the year, and much too cold for fireflies. Before I could ask, we came to a clearing. We stopped, and a gasp escaped my throat. What other wonders were in store for this night?
There in front of us was a gazebo aglow with hundreds of twinkling white lights. The knight raised my hand to his lips and murmured, “Shall we?”
I nodded, speechless, and he led me up the gazebo steps. Once inside, he took me in his arms once more. Our eyes met, and he leaned down to kiss me tenderly. Finding my voice, I asked, “Where are we?”
He seemed to find my question humorous. “Why, princess, you don’t recognize this place?” When I furrowed my brows in confusion, he said, “Aren’t we in your wildest dreams?”
Before I could respond, he stepped back and waved his arm. Music, beautiful violin and harp music, began to play around us. I looked around wildly, trying to find the source, but I saw no speakers, no sound system. He pulled me close again, one arm around my waist, and the other outstretched, holding my hand in his. “Spook, what are you…?”
“May I have this dance?” he interrupted. Not waiting for an answer, he began to move in a graceful, slow waltz. I stumbled along till I caught his rhythm; then we glided effortlessly around the gazebo to the haunting tune being played. My mind spun with confusion. Dancing? Spook didn’t dance; he hated dancing…didn’t he?
Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly, the gazebo suddenly vanished, and I found myself dancing with him through the night sky. As we glided along through the heavens, shimmering clouds of stars entwined around us, resting in my hair, on my gown, and in the knight’s dark eyes. For a moment I leaned against him, afraid he’d suddenly disappear and become part of the night sky. A whisper floated by my ears—“your wildest dreams…” I gasped, recalling a dream I’d once had, a dream in which Spook and I had soared high above the earth as we shared kisses and caresses. But I’d never told him that…how could he know…?
With a sudden, dizzying whoosh! the music ended, and I found myself back inside the little castle, cuddled up in furs by the fire. I sat up and glanced wildly around me, wondering how I’d gotten back here. “Princess…” I turned towards the voice of my phantom knight. He lay next to me, a mischievous smile on his face. Taking my hand and bringing it to his lips once more, he asked softly, “Did you enjoy your Hallow’s Eve surprise?” When I didn’t respond right away, he continued, “It wasn’t what you expected; if it were, then it wouldn’t have been a surprise, would it?”
As I focused on him, I realized that he had removed his chain mail and the shirt he wore underneath it. His skin glistened in the firelight, and my eyes came to rest on his shoulder, where I saw a familiar tattoo—a heart run through with a sword. I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding, and I smiled. “Spook. Spook, it is you!”
He laughed and then leaned forward to kiss me deeply for a long moment. When he drew back, he sat up and reached up to remove his mask. To my dismay, as he did so, he began fading from sight. As he loosened the mask, he became completely transparent, and when he removed it completely, he vanished from my sight altogether.
“Spook?” I cried out in panic. “Spook, where are you? Come back! Come back to me!” As quickly as they had ignited earlier, the candles on the chandelier and the candle on the table extinguished themselves, and the fire in the fireplace went out, leaving me in complete darkness. “Spook?” I whimpered, drawing the furs around me.
When I opened my eyes, early morning sunlight poured through the window next to my bed. My bed? I sat up, dazed, and looked around wildly. I was back in my room at the Holland Farm. My princess costume lay like a puddle on the floor next to my bed, and I wore my orange Halloween nightshirt and black lounge pants. What had happened last night? Had it only been a wild dream, born of my disappointment of Spook not showing up for the party? The smell of coffee drifted up from the kitchen, so I decided to go downstairs to see who was awake.
In the kitchen, JoEllyn bustled around, getting donuts and muffins ready for breakfast for her guests. “Good morning, Kyr. Did you sleep well?”
I returned her look blankly. Had I slept well? Had I slept at all? “I…guess so. Last night was…” I couldn’t finish.
“Aw, I know you were disappointed that Spook never showed. What a cad, right?” Something in her voice suggested that she was playing along with some ruse, and I wondered if she had been in on whatever I had experienced in the castle.
“Yeah,” I replied weakly. “A cad.” I watched her as she opened a box of Entenmann’s, and her lips seemed to quiver as though she were trying not to smile. I poured myself a cup of coffee and took a sip before saying, “I had such an odd dream last night. About a ghost kidnapping me.”
JoEllyn’s laugh rang out. “All those ghost stories really did a number on you, didn’t they? For a ghost hunter, you sure don’t have much tolerance for spooky things, do you?”
I cocked my head at her response. “No, I guess I don’t.” Her comment made me question anew all the things that had happened last night. Suddenly recalling something from my adventure, I asked, “Hey JoEllyn, who owns that castle on the far side of the orchard?”
She turned to me with genuine confusion on her face. “Castle? What castle? Good heavens, Kyr, who would build a castle on an apple farm?” She laughed. “You really did have an odd dream, didn’t you? Hey, I’ll be right back. I need to go upstairs and make sure Brad is awake.”
As soon as she left the room, I set my coffee cup down and went to the door. I grabbed my coat from the coat rack, slipped my sneakers on, and headed outside. I made my way up the path to the orchard, pausing briefly when I found my discarded shoes from the party last night. My heart began racing; last night must have been real if my shoes were still out here. Knowing I was on the right track, I continued running up the hill and into the orchard. When I found the place where I’d seen the phantom knight last night, I stopped and knelt down, looking for any kind of clue. Wait, was that…? A few steps ahead of me the leaves on the ground were disturbed as though there had been a struggle. I recalled trying to run from the phantom knight, and him wrestling me to the ground; that must have happened right here.
I followed the path through the orchard, finding a few hoofprints along the way. When I came to a clearing, I gasped. There on the ground was the remains of a burned out campfire. As I got closer to the circle of stones, I could smell traces of smoke, as though the fire had only been extinguished a few hours before. I thought about going back to get JoEllyn, to show her that my adventure had really happened, but there was one more thing I needed to see first.
Standing up and looking around to get my bearings, I was able to make out a path leading up through the trees. A bit of orange caught my eye, and I gasped. That looked like a pumpkin! I hurried up the path, and sure enough, a leering jack o’lantern, its inside blackened from a burning candle, lay discarded at the side of the path. I laughed triumphantly. If I had found this much to prove that last night was real, then certainly the castle lay just on the other side of the rise…
I took off running up the hill and over the rise. Just ahead, I could see that the trees thinned. “Please be there, please be there,” I repeated as I broke through the trees. Inside the clearing, I stopped dead in my tracks. “No,” I whispered. “It can’t be. It has to be here. It just has to.” No castle, no building of any kind stood in the clearing. I walked into the middle of the meadow and turned in a slow circle, looking for even the smallest piece of evidence that a castle had stood here last night. Finding none, I sat down right where I was and let my head fall forward onto my knees, defeated and confused.
I don’t know how long I sat there before a voice spoke right next to me. “Fancy meeting you here.”
The phantom knight! I leapt to my feet and came face to face with…”Spook?” My eyes darted wildly around before coming to rest on his face. “What are you doing out here?”
He took me in his arms and brushed my hair back out of my face, looking at me with mixed concern and amusement. “I might ask you the same thing.” His gaze swept over me. “You’re in your pajamas. Kyr m’dear, I hope you didn’t sleep out here last night. It’s a bit cold for a campout, don’t you think?”
At a loss for words, I gaped at him. “Campout? In the castle?” I stammered, sounding as crazy as I felt right now.
“Castle?” Spook raised his head and looked around. “What castle? What on earth were you drinking at the party last night?”
Suddenly angry, I pushed away from him. “Well, I suppose if you’d shown up last night, you’d know what I had been drinking. If you’d shown up, I wouldn’t have ended up being kidnapped by some…phantom knight.”
He looked at me incredulously for a moment before barking out a laugh. “Kidnapped? By a phantom knight? Not the Phantom Knight of Holland Farm?” I jammed my hands into my hips and glared at him. He wasn’t taking me seriously. “Kyr, you do know that’s just a story?”
“Just a story, is it?” I exploded. Everything that had happened last night came tumbling out of my mouth—the horseman on the hill luring me into the orchard, my capture, the campsite, the castle, and the wonderful fantasy dance through the stars. “It was you, wasn’t it?” I asked helplessly. “It had to be you; I saw the tattoo on your shoulder…his shoulder.” My shoulders slumped in defeat as I looked at his confused face. I could tell he didn’t believe me.
He came towards me and took me into his arms, kissing me tenderly for a moment. When he drew back, he said softly, “It sounds like you had a wonderful dream, Kyr. A wonderful, Halloween, ghost-story-inspired dream. But you can see, there’s no castle here.”
I looked over my shoulder and all around the clearing. He was right. There was no evidence of a castle here. Or a cabin. Or a gazebo. Or anything but a meadow outside of the orchard. I met his eyes sheepishly and shrugged.
“Come on, Kyr m’dear. Let’s go back to the house for some coffee. I think you could use some.” He held his hand out to me, and I went to him.
He put his arm around my shoulder and gave me a little shake. As I reached over to put my arm around him. my hand bumped something in his back pocket, knocking it out. I turned quickly, trying to catch whatever it was before it hit the ground, but I wasn’t fast enough. I gasped as a black half mask fluttered to the ground. I stared wordlessly at it for a moment. When I raised my eyes to meet his, a slow smile spread across his face until I was staring at the same wolfish grin I’d seen last night. I leaned over to snatch up the mask and then shook it at him, not sure whether I should be angry or amused at his antics. “It was you, you…you naughty knight!”
He laughed aloud, then picked me up and twirled me around. “I told you I had a surprise that would make this a Halloween you’d never forget.” He set me back on my feet and kissed me. “You’ll never forget last night, will you?”
I couldn’t stay mad at him. “No, I won’t. Not ever.” I kissed him again. “But how did you do it? How could you pull all that off?” I shook my head, trying to come up with logical explanations for everything that had happened.
“Now why would I give away my secrets? But you know,” he said, chuckling mischievously. “They do call me…Spook.”