This short story, set in the world of my urban fantasy series The Yo-Yo Files, features a local Shirley, MA urban legend connected to the Bull Run Restaurant. All of the characters and events in the story are fictional. I think. Read about the Bull Run and its legendary trophy at bullrunrestaurant.com. The one thing that is not fictional is that the food is very good!
By M.A. Kropp
“Where’s a good place to get dinner?” Johnny took the two keycards from the desk clerk. The young woman smiled.
“Lots of good places here,” she said. “But I recommend the Bull Run. The building is an old tavern and there’s a covered bridge over a brook behind the restaurant. The food is really good.”
“Thanks,” Johnny replied. He handed one of the keycards to Cerise and they got on the elevator to take them to their rooms. A few minutes later, they met in the lobby and walked to Johnny’s car outside in the hotel parking lot. Cerise gritted her teeth as the beat-up yellow sedan sputtered to life.
“This thing is going to just up and die one of these days,” Cerise said. “And it will probably be when we are a billion miles from home, like now.”
Johnny laughed. “She’s been going strong for a lot of years. She may not be the prettiest, but you have to admit, she’s got -”
“Character. Yeah, I know.”
Johnny backed out of the parking space and drove to the restaurant. Sitting on the corner of a main road, it was a sprawling, barn red building that looked like a colonial-era tavern. The parking area at the side of the building was full, so Johnny headed to the covered bridge behind the restaurant. After crossing the bridge, he parked the car and they walked across the bridge.
“Pretty popular place,” Cerise commented.
“Well, that’s not a bad thing,” Johnny answered. “If this many people eat here, it must be good.”
Cerise stopped halfway along the length of the bridge and looked out over the small river the bridge spanned. It was still light enough to see the water moving slowly under the bridge, and the dense vegetation and trees that lined the shore.
As they got to the end of the bridge, Cerise turned to look back. “Pretty neat looking bridge.” It was made up of crossed timbers that formed a lattice pattern on each side rising to the roof trusses. A walkway along one side kept foot traffic separated from the cars passing over the bridge. Cerise pointed to a sign hanging above the bridge.
“This bridge built without state or federal funds,” she read. “Wonder what that’s about?”
Johnny shrugged. “Dunno. Probably some local thing. I’m kind of fascinated by that big cow. I wonder how they got that thing up there.” Standing on the lower roof of the building overlooking the parking lot was a life-sized statue of a Hereford bull.
“Well, the place is called the Bull Run,” Cerise said. “Maybe he’s their mascot.” They walked into the restaurant and were greeted by a hostess.
“Welcome to the Bull Run. Have you been here before?”
“No,” Johnny answered. “We had a job up near the Canadian border and we’re here overnight on our way home. The desk clerk at our hotel recommended you.”
“That’s nice to hear. Did you want a table, or would you like to sit in the Taproom?” Johnny glanced down at Cerise, who shrugged.
“Let’s do the Taproom,” he said. They walked into the bar area. There were a few other people in the room, and they chose a table near the brick fireplace.
“Welcome to the Bull Run,” said the waitress as she came up to the table and set two menus down. “I’m Jean, and I will be taking care of you tonight. Can I get you something to drink?”
Cerise ordered a glass of water and Johnny decided on a local beer.
“Interesting building,” Johnny commented. “It’s old, right?”
The waitress nodded. “Built in 1740. It was an inn and tavern for years. First stop on the stagecoach run from Boston to Albany. It’s been in the same family now for several generations.”
“That’s great,” Johnny answered. “What’s the story with that picture behind the bar?” Hanging on the wall was a large mural that showed a man climbing one side of a set of stairs and down the other. He held a tankard in his hand in each depiction.
“That’s the Drunkard’s Progress,” Jean replied. “It was one of the prints by Currier and Ives in support of the temperance movement. It shows what happens to a man who drinks, from his first glass to the grave. That mural is a reproduction, painted and lettered by the grandparents of Ben and Casey Affleck. They lived in a local town.”
“Well, this place sure has some history to it, doesn’t it?”
“It does. We even have a ghost.”
Johnny and Cerise exchanged a look.
“A ghost?” Johnny asked. Jean nodded.
“Yep. Nigel. He hangs out on the third floor. He’s a friendly ghost, like Casper. Let me go get those drinks now.” She walked over to the bar and returned a moment later with two glasses.
“Here are your drinks,” the waitress said, setting the glasses down on their table. “Did you want to order dinner?”
“I think I will have the veggie burger,” Cerise said. “With the sweet potato fries.”
“Okay. And for you?” The waitress turned to Johnny.
“I’ll have the smoked cheddar burger, medium rare, with regular fries, please.”
“Great. I’ll get those orders right in.” The waitress left and Johnny and Cerise sipped their drinks. While they waited, they looked around the room. It was like the rest of the building, old and rustic, with beamed ceilings and plaster walls. Over the brick fireplace hung a trophy that didn’t look like anything either of them had ever seen. It had a long face with a bulbous nose and dark eyes. Coarse fur surrounded the head.
“What the hell is that thing?” Cerise asked, tipping her head in the direction of the fireplace.
“That’s our egopantis,” the waitress said. She delivered a to-go box she was carrying to the table next to the fireplace, collected the empty plate from the table, and came back to stand next to Cerise.
“Egopantis. Legend has it that the beast lived in the woods around the Mighty Mulpus. That’s the brook the bridge crosses. One night a long time ago, Captain Nathaniel Smith, who lived next to the inn, was out fishing in the brook when the egopantis broke through into the water. Smith shot it and it died in what would now be our parking lot. It’s said that was the very last egopantis that existed.”
“There’s another one.” The voice came from the table Jean had just served. Johnny and Cerise looked over and saw an older man, slightly built with thinning gray hair. He wore a checked, button-down collar shirt, khakis, and scuffed boots. Jean waved a hand at him.
“Oh, stop now, Carl. These folks don’t need to hear your stories.”
“Ain’t stories,” Carl said, tapping the to-g box on his table. “This here’s for him. Burger, well-done, cheese and pickles, fries, extra ketchup. Keeps him from bothering the folks who come to the restaurant.”
Jean leaned down and whispered to Johnny and Cerise. “We think he just doesn’t want the chef to know he feeds that burger to his dog.” She shook her head and walked away.
“Don’t think I don’t know what they think,” Carl said as he got up and picked up the box holding the burger. “Some days, I think I should just stop feeding him. Then they’d see.” He walked past their table on his way out, grumbling. “Feed it to my dog! Hmph!”
The waitress brought their food. When they were finished, Johnny paid the check.
“I hope Carl didn’t disturb your dinner too much,” Jean said when she brought Johnny’s credit card and receipt back to the table. “He’s a good enough fellow, but that egopantis thing is a bit much.”
“Not at all,” Johnny said. “It’s actually kind of fascinating. We sort of work with stuff like that.”
“Like ghost hunters or something?”
“Something like that. We were just up near the Canadian border looking into a report of some odd stuff going on.”
“Did you find anything?”
Johnny shook his head. “Nothing specific.”
Jean started to turn away, and then stopped. “Hey, do you want to see the rooms where our ghost is? There’s nobody in there right now, so I can take you up.”
“Sure,” Johnny said. “Always interested in a good haunting.”
They got up and followed Jean up the old staircase to the third floor of the building. They peered into several of the rooms at the top of the stairs.
“These were mostly bedrooms when the place was also an inn,” Jean explained. “Now, we use them for small dinner parties or cocktail receptions.” Johnny and Cerise walked to the center of one of the rooms. Johnny glanced down at Cerise, who shook her head slightly, telling him she saw no evidence of the daemonflash that marked an otherworldly presence.
“How often does the ghost appear?”
Jean laughed. “Well, like most ghosts, Nigel’s not very predictable. He’ll come around at random times, and rearrange stuff in the room, knock over a bottle or two, that sort of thing. He’s pretty harmless and hasn’t ever really scared anyone too much.” They walked around the room, looking at the pictures hanging on the wall and other bits of period décor. After a few minutes, Jean shrugged.
“I guess he’s not interested in saying hello tonight,” she said. “Sorry.”
“No problem,” Johnny said. “Thanks for letting us try.” They went back down and Johnny and Cerise left the restaurant. They walked from the front entrance and crossed the parking lot toward the bridge.
“So, you didn’t want to do a summoning to see what their “ghost” really is?” Cerise asked. Johnny shrugged.
“Not really much point, I didn’t think,” he replied. “You didn’t see anything, right?”
Cerise shook her head. Cerise could see the flashes of light invisible to most people that marked the presence of a supernatural being. “Not a glimmer.”
“They didn’t ask for our help, and it’s not doing any harm. Better to just leave well enough alone.” By this time, they were at the bridge. The sign planted at the bank of the brook identified it as the Mighty Mulpus Brook.
“This is where that egopantis thing lived, eh?” Cerise said.
“According to the story. Now, that’s something I’d be interested in finding out more about. I mean, that thing hanging over the fireplace looks more like someone’s idea of a joke than a demon, but you never…” He stopped. “What is it?”
Cerise had stepped closer to the edge of the brook and was staring intently at the water. She held up a hand.
“There wasn’t any daemonflash up in that room, but there sure as hell is out here.” Johnny reached into his pants pocket and pulled out his silver yo-yo. He started throwing it out and back to his hand.
“Where?” Johnny asked. Cerise pointed to a spot across the bank from where they stood.
“Just in front of that big tree there,” Cerise said. “Something’s out there.”
Johnny walked onto the bridge and crossed the brook, with Cerise right behind him. On the other side, he scrambled down to the edge of the brook and pushed his way through the tangled brush toward the tree where Cerise saw the daemonflash.
“Still there?” Johnny asked quietly.
“Yeah. It must know we’re coming. Surprised it hasn’t bolted.”
“Maybe it’s waiting for dinner.” Johnny stopped and spun the silver yo-yo out to the full length of its string, and back again.
The silver toy reflected the lights on the bridge as it spun out and back. A soft silver glow began to form in the air as the toy passed back and forth. It grew to a circle barely noticeable on the earth encircling the tree and Johnny. He gave the yo-yo one last throw, holding his palm up and letting the toy hang from his hand, where it spun slowly in a “sleeper”. Johnny spoke to the invisible creature.
“Got you! Now, let’s see what you are.” He turned his hand and with a quick tug, brought the silver disc back to his palm. He tossed the yo-yo to a spot near the tree’s rough trunk where the silver glow was noticeably brighter. It hit something with a soft thud. “Show yourself.”
There was a flash of green light. When it cleared, an imp stood at the base of the tree. Two feet tall with gray skin that looked like old leather, the creature was rubbing a spot on its bulbous head between a pair of long, thin horns. It raised its head to gaze at Johnny with bright red eyes. There was an open takeout container on the ground at its feet. In one claw, the imp held a half-eaten burger. The claw rubbing its head held a fry, dripping ketchup.
“Ouch!” The imp’s voice was high-pitched and almost squeaky. “You didn’t have to do that.” Its voice was garbled around a mouthful of food.
Johnny shrugged, rolled the yo-yo back on its string and clasped it in his hand.
“Would you have listened if I didn’t?” The imp grinned. “Thought so. You got a name?”
The imp laughed. “You think I’m dumb enough to tell you that? And let you have control of me? Nuh-uh. You can just call me,” the imp hesitated. “Nigel.”
Cerise snorted a laugh. She came down off the bridge to stand just outside the silver circle next to Johnny. “You’re the poltergeist upstairs?” She nodded to the upper floor of the restaurant across the brook. The imp grinned, showing two rows of small, pointed teeth.
“An imp’s gotta do what an imp’s gotta do.”
“And the ego-whatever it is?” Johnny asked. The imp’s grin widened and there was a flash of dull lightning. Where the imp had been standing, there was now a creature that stood on four legs, covered with coarse, dark fur. It had a head that matched the trophy in the restaurant’s Taproom. The top of its head reached Johnny’s elbow.
“The one inside looks bigger,” Johnny commented. The imp returned to his normal form.
“Yeah, well, no need to scare people to death. Especially the ones that bring you food.” He took another bite of the burger and turned serious as he looked at Johnny again. “Look, I know who you are. There’s a sprite knows you pretty well. Says you like to toss demons like me back to the underworld.”
Johnny grinned. “Trippy? Yeah, we’re acquainted. And he exaggerates.”
“So, you don’t banish demons? Ever?”
Now, it was Johnny’s turn to shrug. “Depends. Cause enough trouble, and we just might give you the old heave-ho.”
The imp wiped a smear of ketchup off his beak with the back of a clawed hand. “Then you got no beef with me. I don’t cause any trouble.” He waved his claw at Cerise’s pointed look to the second floor of the restaurant. “That’s just a little mischief. I mean, I am still an imp, y’know. Gotta have some fun. And I don’t do anything mean or hurt anyone. Does something get broken now and again? Sure, but some of that stuff is breakable. I can’t always tell. And when I’m the egopantis, I don’t chase anyone or try to hurt or destroy anything. I just collect my dinner and take off. And Nigel is good for business. Everyone likes a good ghost story. No harm, no foul.” He looked up at Johnny, who gazed back at the little demon for a moment. He pulled the yo-yo out of his pocket. The imp cringed.
“Hey, now, there’s no need- “
Johnny held up a hand. “I’m not going to send you back. You’re right. You really aren’t hurting anything. Just make sure you keep it that way. Because I’ll be watching. I have my ways. And if I find out you ever go beyond the simple mischief stuff, I’ll be back. And a lot less friendly.” The imp grinned.
“Now, that’s more like it. I’m good with things just as they are. Heck, I get fed pretty good. Why would I want to mess that up?” He gestured with his burger. “So, can I go finish my dinner now?”
Johnny chuckled. “Yeah, you can.” He dropped the yo-yo to the ground and let it “walk the dog” across the boundary of the silver circle. The glow faded and the imp waved before it picked up the takeout box at its feet.
“Thanks. Hope I don’t see you again. No offense.”
“None taken,” Johnny replied with a laugh. As he climbed up the brook’s bank back to the covered bridge, there was a flash of green light and the imp disappeared. When he got to the edge of the bridge, a hand lashed out and grabbed his arm. It startled Johnny and he dropped the yo-yo. He spun and found himself facing Carl. The older man looked angry.
“You trying to hurt my egopantis?” Carl almost yelled. Johnny held up a hand.
“Hey, listen, we were just trying to get a look. We’ve never seen one and just wanted to know what it was.” Carl looked down at the silver yo-yo lying on the ground at Johnny’s feet.
“What’s that?” He looked up a Johnny again. “Trying to strangle him or something? Freaking trophy hunters!” Before Johnny could say anything, Carl stomped on the y0-yo with his heavy boot. The toy shattered into pieces.
“Hey!” Johnny shouted. “Why did you do that?”
“Keep you from hurting the egopantis, is why,” Carl said. He stood facing Johnny, hands on his hips. “I tell ya, if you’ve hurt him,” He didn’t get the chance to say what he would do because he stumbled forward a step as something nudged him from behind. He whirled around to see the egopantis-imp standing there. He reached down to pat its coarse, furry head.
“Oh, good,” Carl said, calmer now. “You’re okay. Go along with you now. These folks ain’t gonna hurt you. I’ll make sure.” The imp dipped its long snout and trotted away. Carl turned back to Johnny and Cerise. “Guess I was wrong. Sorry about the toy. I get a little possessive about that feller.” He walked across the bridge to a pickup truck parked next to the restaurant building. As the truck pulled away, Johnny looked down at the pieces of his yo-yo.
“Why is it always my stuff that gets broken?” He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wrapped the pieces in it.
“Guess you’re just the lucky one,” said Cerise, trying not to laugh. “Good thing you bought a case of them last time. And since you actually have the bits of the old one left this time, it’ll be easier to charge a new one.”
Johnny tucked the handkerchief bundle into his pocket with a shake of his head. As he and Cerise headed back to the car, the imp’s voice came from further down the bank of the Mighty Mulpus.“Long live the Egopantis!”
Copyright 2020 M.A. Kropp