Tuesday, June 23, 2009

ghost (short story)

She loved her friend Peggy dearly and treasured their daily afternoon rendezvous at the café on the promenade in the oldest section of town where the streets were narrow and crumbling. She looked out the window and noticed a thin sheet of ice covering the green round tables, and the chairs were frozen solid to the ground. Looking at her friend she sensed some deep burden, for her companion’s eyes seemed darker. It was as though her spirit was broken and her nerves were shattered. There appeared to be a deep sadness in her blue eyes and she was pale and looked tired and fragile.

Anastasia took two sips of her tea, set her porcelain mug down softly and turned it slowly in quiet thought. She reached over and softly touched Peggy’s hand.
“What’s wrong, darling?” she said sympathetically, leaning closer.
Her companion looked away for a minute, fumbled with the silver locket on the chain around her neck, then turned back and looked at Anastasia’s forehead and then directly into her eyes.
“Do you believe in the supernatural?” she asked at last, her voice quivering.
Anastasia leaned back and her eyes widened.
“Well…I,” she started.
“I mean..if you saw an apparition…would you be more curious than frightened?”
“You’ve always seemed to me to be strong and open-minded.”
“Yes,” she laughed, “I guess…the human brain can only handle one strong emotion at a time.”
“Please don’t laugh.”
“What’s this all about, Peggy?”
“Will you spend the night at my house…in my bedroom…alone?”
“What have you seen?”
“No…I don’t want to say in advance to prejudice your mind.”
“Please…Anastasia,” she pleaded with her eyes closed.
“Alright. I’ll do it..if it eases any burden upon you.”

The wind was raw as she arrived that evening wearing a long heavy coat and a black hat that she had to hold down at times to keep from blowing away. She carried a small black overnight suitcase with brass trim and an umbrella tucked under her arm. The key was under the front mat as prearranged and inside was a note on the hall table that welcomed her warmly. She had visited many times before and knew her way around the two-story dwelling once owned by Peg’s grandmother. Peggy was staying at her mothers across town. She locked the front door and turned the deadbolt. From the inside the wind outside sounded like the cry of a woman in hopeless grief. She turned and checked the deadbolt once more.

In the upstairs bedroom she pulled the curtains back from the bay window and looked out. The wind was dying down now and the bare trees were swaying gently. The clouds were breaking away at dark and were rolling off to reveal the bright face of the moon. Anastasia sat on the edge of the bed and looked around. It was a cozy room she thought, but she was all but cozy to say the least. There was a lovely antique dresser with mirror, a cherry curio cabinet in one corner and a well-stocked bookshelf opposite the bed. She was drawn to the curio cabinet by the reflection of the small white marble cross on the top shelf. She reached in and closely admired a glass unicorn and a tiny penguin made of porcelain. On the bedstand was a small lamp with a white-laced shade. Various framed portraits covered the walls, including one of an old man who had an expression like he was asking ‘What the Hell you looking at?’ She smiled and laughed and stuck her tongue out at him.

She decided to sleep in her clothes and just kicked off her shoes and pulled the quilt cover up over her. There were some magazines on the bottom shelf of the bedstand, including one with her on the cover. ‘Peggy has good taste’, she thought. She thumbed through it and surprisingly found that she was dozing off. Despite her adventure into the unknown, every effort to stay awake failed and she dropped the magazine to her side, snapped off the solitary lamp and fell into an easy sleep.

Anastasia was awakened a few hours later by some sound in the room and a blast of ice-cold air. She raised up slowly and felt for her cell phone, but she forgot to take it out of her coat, which was downstairs in the foyer. She tried to say ‘Who goes there?’ but choked on the words. It took her eyes just a few moments to adjust to the light of the moon streaming in through the opening in the curtains. She heard what sounded like a soft shuffle of footsteps and labored breathing. A figure was definitely moving slowly and it stepped into the light from the moon. She could see it was an old man, hunched over and wearing a cream colored robe. His face was deadly pale and whiskered. He moved along the wall, stopped and inspected items in the curio cabinet carefully, looked in each drawer of the dresser, then moved to the bookshelf and studied each shelf in detail and shook his head dejectedly. Then, he swung around and looked at her with blazing wide eyes, shook his fists and seemed to mouth some words. Anastasia reached over and grabbed the table lamp, pulled it from the base out of the wall socket and hurled it with a violent crash against the bookshelves. The vision desolved like melting glass….and he was gone.

She remained motionless and her heart raced. Clutching the edge of the quilt, her mouth dry, she tried to regain her composure. The one true strong emotion was fear although she hadn’t counted on it. She stayed awake the rest of the night going over the events and tried to sort it all out. When the darkness faded she inspected the room looking for any evidence of her visitor but found nothing. She cleaned up the remains of the shattered lamp and hurriedly collected her things and left so she could meet again with Peggy.

“Well? Did you see him?,” she asked excitedly as she walked quickly into the café.
“The old man searching?”
“Yes!,” Peggy cried.
“I saw him,” and she recounted the visit in the night.
Peggy fell into the chair, slumped over and buried her face in her hands and began to weep.
“Thank, God, I thought I was going mad!,” she said through her tears.
Anastasia moved next to her companion and pulled her close and whispered comforting words.
“I will not leave you.” After a few moments she asked, “Who is he and what is he looking for?”
“I don’t know. But, every night, even if I do happen to fall asleep, he shakes me awake and gives me that horrible frown of despair.”
“I have an idea, Peggy”, she said as she softly blew coolness across the top of her tea mug.
“It came to me about four o’clock. I have this friend….”

The taxi pulled up in front of a gray stone house at the end of a curving country road. The remains of brown ivy creeped wildly on one wall and beyond the house there was a shimmering lake in the bright frosty morning. Two huge men were standing at the gate and they were turned in towards the middle like two turtles trying to shield out the brisk wind.

“Whattya want?” one of them asked, as the girls stepped from the taxi.
“I’m a friend..and I want to see…” Anastasia began.
“Whoa there, Missy..” one demanded, as he stopped her by grabbing her wrist.
“My name is not Missy!,” she cried, and she turned on her left heel, spun and kicked him in the mid section. He fell back two steps almost in slow motion and dropped like an elephant hit with a tranquilizer.
She wasted no time and reloaded for the second giant. He fell forward towards Peggy, but Anastasia grabbed her hand and they dodged the falling tree and ran down the path together towards the front door. It was unlocked.

A long dim hallway turned left to a shorter hallway and they stopped in front of double oak doors. Soft Classical music was playing inside. They both swept in quietly and halted. An old woman standing in the shadows near the curtains smiled at them, and her husband followed her gaze and turned to face them from his oversized leather desk chair.

“Hello, Godfather,” sparkling brown-eyed Anastasia said sweetly.
He smiled back and gestured with his hand for her to approach.
“This is my friend, Peggy,” she said, nodding towards her.
“Any friend of Annie,” he began to say in a raspy voice. The door burst open and the two whales, panting and wheezing, rushed in. One had a handkerchief at his bloody nose.
“You need to keep that head back,” Anastasia offered sympathetically. The man behind the desk shook his head disappointedly, shooed them with his hand and the two quickly exited.
Peggy was shaking. It was a bit too much for her, the room began to spin and she fainted.

When she came too she was on the couch, the old woman was bending over her offering sips of brandy to her lips. She gulped it down. Anastasia had given a detailed account of her adventure to her illustrious friend. He had listened intently with his fingertips pressed together, rising once going to the window and returning.

After two long minutes of silence he motioned Anastasia closer, and speaking barely above a whisper in Italian, he said:

“You’re chasing ghosts instead of chasing men?”
Anastasia shrugged her shoulders laughing silently.
“A friend in need. You can appreciate that, Godfather,” she said haltingly in his native language.
He nodded in thought. He gently rubbed his face with the back of his hand.
“Do you need…uh…any assistance…in securing a job?”
“Maybe”, she blushed. “grazie, il mio Godfather.”

The eminent man went to the couch and sat down next to the recovered patient.
“Feeling better?”
“Yes, Godfather.”
He smiled. “Let me ask you..”
“When did your visitor first appear?”
“Shortly…the day after…my Grandmother died.”
“Ah..that’s important. You’re in her old bedroom. And you don’t recognize him?”
“No, Godfather.”
“Is he threatening or violent towards you?”
Anastasia thought of the lamp she threw. She frowned.
“No, not really” Peggy replied, fumbling with the silver chain around her neck.
“May I see that?” He was gazing at the lump under Peggy’s sweater.
She pulled out the locket. He handled it gingerly and inspected it closely.
“Little flower..top drawer..on the left…bring me the glass,” he motioned looking over his shoulder.
He scanned across the locket with the magnifying glass, then Peggy reached over and pressed the top and it opened. He inspected the two old miniature portraits of her Grandparents inside.
“Your Grandmother’s locket?”
“Yes. She gave it to me. I always wear it. But, strange..,” she thought for a moment, “now I remember how on her death bed, when I visited, she seemed to be desperately grasping for it.”
“These initials engraved..A.C?”
“I’ve never seen those, Godfather.”
He handed her the glass and she looked closely and shook her head.
“Who is A.C?” she wondered aloud. She saw the answer in Godfather’s expression towards his wife standing behind the couch.
He rose and slowly waved his finger back and forth.
“There is no compromise…for the darkness in men’s souls. You must offer him this keepsake.”
The veil of darkness was lifting. She didn’t know whether to weep or to laugh. She bloomed like crocuses bursting through the snow.
“How can I repay you, Godfather?”
He started with his usual response as to any favor, then recanted. He walked slowly over to Anastasia and kissed her gently on the lips. She kissed both his cheeks and hugged him.
“Arrivederci, Godfather.”

“You will let me stay with you tonight?,” Anastasia asked, as they got out of the taxi in front of Peggy’s house.
“No. I’ve put you through enough,” she said, as she looked up at the second floor window.
“I don’t mind. Really,” she insisted.
“Ok,” she smiled, welcoming the camaraderie.

Peggy unpacked and was admiring the new frost-shaded glass lamp that Anastasia bought at The Antique Shoppe as the two were preparing for their sojourn. Anastasia had the precious locket and bit her lip as she determined the best place to leave it.
“In the cabinet, Peggy?”
“Yes, darling…he always goes there first…we don’t want him suffering any more than we have to.”

Sleet pelted the window as they sat up under the covers in the dark. Candles were burning throughout the room and around two o’clock a chill swept through blowing a few of them out. Peggy reached over and turned the lamp on. A shadowed outline of a man appeared at the window, and within a few moments formed into as solid a figure as a living being. The girls drew the quilt up under their chins and moved closer to each other. He stopped at the curio cabinet and began inspecting its contents as before. Taking out the silver locket he examined it eagerly, then turned and smiled at Peggy. Opening the locket he took out one portrait and threw it to the ground and replaced it carefully with another. He closed the locket, kissed it and replaced it in the cabinet.

Turning once more he clasped his hands together, tilted his head and smiled, and bowed slowly and deeply at the girls and then vanished. The extinguished candles flared alive.

They both rushed over and took out the locket and looked inside. The new portrait was a younger version of the nighttime visitor.
“He’s just a boy!”, Anastasia exclaimed.
“He was awfully handsome,” Peggy replied, and she closed the locket and held it to close to her chest like a gift she never expected.
“Now the lovers are together again,” Anastasia said softly.

The morning was bright and so again were Peggy’s eyes. The two exchanged kisses and parted. Anastasia pulled her hat down on her head and walked down the red brick sidewalk. She turned the corner and it began to snow. She smiled and held out her right hand to let a silver dollar size snowflake land in her palm. She watched it melt and disappear like her visitor in the night.


Blogger willow said...

I loved this.

6/23/2009 9:54 AM  
Blogger phil said...

I'm glad, willow. Thank you!

I had fun writing it.

6/26/2009 10:05 PM  

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