I entered and won the 2019 EdHat Halloween ghost story contest. Most of the names and places in the story are of interest only to long-time Santa Barbara residents--that was the audience I targeted.

The rules: Every entry had to have the same opening paragraph, and the text had to include these words: ghost, snickers, and avocado farm.





By Colin Campbell

  State Street was abnormally quiet Friday night. The cold October breeze picked up and swirled around me as I walked past dimly lit restaurants and closed storefronts. The former Macy’s department store stood still and dark. I paused before its front windows and looked inside. A small glow of yellow light suddenly appeared from inside the empty building. It grew bigger and bigger moving closer towards me.

It was a man with a flashlight. He shined the light in my face, then gestured toward the door. He opened the door, keeping the light in my eyes, and said, "We ain't open to the public."

"I...I've been out of town a long time," I said. "I heard that this was the place, that tonight was the night for the gathering of the ghosts of old businesses."

"What are you, a t-shirt shop?" he said, looking me up and down.

"No, I was an ad agency that had the Piccadilly Square account, long ago."

"You're early," he said, "All Souls day doesn't officially start until midnight. After bar closing time, when all of downtown is dead, that's when we can come out and haunt our former spots."

He took the flashlight out of my eyes and I recognized him. "Why, you're Rocky Galenti," I said.

"The one and only," he said. "Hah, wait until Beaudelaire's gets here, I can't wait to tell him somebody off the street remembered me."

He led me through the dark and eerie innards of the abandoned Macy's up to the iciness of the third floor, where a crowd was already growing.

"There will be a lot of us here, there's more of us every year," Rocky told me."

"How does this all work?" I said.

"We put our heart and soul into our businesses," Rocky said. "Our hearts stopped. Our souls remained. As long as someone is alive who remembers what we did, our soul persists. Every year at Halloween, we gather to see how many of us are left."

Rocky introduced me around. "An ad agency, huh? You must have known Aaron Brothers, all the art supplies you needed."

"Yes," I said, and shook hands.

"I can't wait for Aldos and The Copper Coffee Pot to get here," said Little Audrey. "There's going to be a catfight between them to see which one rules their old space." More restaurants were present than any other companies. 1129, State & A, The Head of the Wolf, Casa Blanca. The event was catered by Jimmy's Oriental Gardens.

I was always more of the intellectual type, so I yakked for a while with Andromeda books and Earthling Books and Morning Glory Music, along with some youngsters like Hot Spots and Scavenge.

"Everything's different now," said Ott's Hardware. "Back in the day, you came to us for vacuum tubes when your TV went on the fritz. Today? Vacuum tubes might as well be little jars of nothing."

"I can help you make a note of that," said Banks Stationery.

Mr. Milton shrugged. "The way things were going, it was enough to make your fur stand on end. At least they're not throwing red paint on me, now."

The Green and Yellow Basket said, "We couldn't believe that we were now old hat."

I saw Bernie MacElhenny regaling the crowd that all this downtown development should have been left up to him, but I heard a lot of snickers.

"It's been hard for Bernie to be here," Rocky confided to me. "You know how he used to count his own money in front of the mirror, so he could make sure he didn't cheat himself, out of habit? Now he can't see himself in the mirror any more."

It was a long night of revelry, but you know what? I didn't see a single avocado farm. I guess that sector must be doing okay.