(this is a follow-on for ‘The Dancing Girl’ post. That one ended suggesting the girl was a ghost. I then thought, there are so many tales like this I wondered how you could continue the story having come to that type of ending. Here is my attempt. It changes the story from the ‘ghost genre’ to something else and leaves a lot still to be explained. I’m not sure it works, although I quite like the first half of the writing)
Three days later I returned to the property. The keys turned slow in the locks, the doors eased open with reluctant agony. I stopped on the thresholds, breath held, ears peeled like when I used to smoke a Lucky out the bedroom window scared ma might get back early from the store.
My word echoed eerie around walls which seemed lent in, listening.
I went up the last few creaking stairs to the room where I’d encountered Rose, her, whoever, whatever, I had the other day.
Just a damned squatter. Maybe, Mr Diederich, maybe.
Real estate agent Diederich had phoned to say he’d sent a junior around to check the place out, no-one was there and no evidence was found of anyone living in the property. He’d asked the local cops to drift past in a black and white, see if any light shone from the dust-washed windows. The owners, a trust fund, were keen to sell, he reckoned they’d take an offer ten percent under the asking price.
Did I want to find Rose? If I didn’t, and never did, would that send the shivers up my spine every time I thought about the building?
My hand wrapped around the well patinated brass doorknob. I hesitated.
‘Rose? You there?’
My heart was thumping. Stupid jerk, I thought. It’s just a vacant house and a young woman playing games.
The door yowled open quiet. It hadn’t the first time I came, but then I’d swung it wide and strode in confident, assessing ceiling cracks and bouncy floorboards.
The room was bare, empty, nada around.
I breathed relief. Or was it disappointment.
Fine, it was a great property, perfect for renovation into five, six large apartments. Money could be made here. I did a circuit of the space, judging dimensions.
But my eyes floated more than once to the center where she’d danced. Was the dust disturbed there? A slow breeze oozed through a cracked window. That could explain an uneven spread. What was I, a PI?
A door stood on the far right, I guessed through to a store for the alcohol back when the place reverberated to saxophones and trumpets and fast paced feet. Off there, two more doors waited, closed. I moved to the nearest.
A voice drifted faint. From the furthest door.
A girl’s voice.
Run? Never come back. Tell Diederich to go stick his property where the Chicago wind probably emanated from? Or..?
I stepped forward. A floorboard acted as an alarm, squeak creaking on downward and upward pressure.
Closer. I caught words. Sung soft, a whisper, words for a lover’s ear.
‘Do you want to know a secret?’
I waited. Checked the door back into the large room. Just in case. In case of what? You never know, do you?
‘Hey, that you, big timer?’
A girl’s voice. Her voice.
My legs said get out, my thumping heart ached a beat out.
‘You got a crush on me, Mr Sanders? You can’t stay away?’
I hadn’t moved. Which way to go?
The far door opened, no creak, no cry of underused wood.
Rose leaned on the frame. No gold tassels wrapped her body, a blue dress this time, knee-length, dropped waistline, v-shaped neck, two strings of beads hanging flat over the chest, white Mary Jane’s on the smallest feet I’d ever seen. Whoever she was she liked the ‘20s look. And wore it well.
She ran a hand through her dark fringe, brushing hair over a matching blue headband. The look reminded me of someone, a photo I’d seen one wet afternoon in the city library. Ah, yeah, Louise Brooks. Rose had deep red on her bee-stung lips. A black and white photo would have you crying ‘snap’ with Louise.
‘What, what, what are you doing here, Rose?’
She hitched a drawn-in eyebrow, the edge of her mouth lifted. Confidence hung like mist around the girl. I was a nervous wreck.
‘What’s eating you, Mr Sanders? You nervous of little old me? I ain’t nothing but a hopper.’
‘I’m just surprised, to see you here. The building, it’s meant to be vacant, ready to be bought. Diederich said he’d checked it out, no-one was here, you weren’t here.’
My words ricocheted out. Why? Was it the memory of old man Diederich’s photo of Rose and her sister Clara? Or was the girl getting to me, so beautiful, so self-assured?
‘Pah, Diederich, ish kabibble. Joseph never even tried to find Clara, them Diederich’s, they’re all high hats and flat tires.’
Clara. I’d wondered what became of her, meant to google the name, forgot in the rush of work. I looked at Rose, saw that same mischievous stare I’d seen on my phone photograph of her.
‘Clara. What became of your sister?’
As I asked the question I realised the cleverness of my inquiry. Would this actress, this squatter, know the truth, or be able to lie fast? I could check later. For the first time since entering the building I felt a confidence of my own returning.
‘I like you, Mr Sanders, but it’s none of your beeswax, is it? You gotta beware chin music, never know the trouble it might bring. My sister was darb, that’s all you need to know.’
‘And you wouldn’t know, would you, Rose?’
I was headrushing now, breathing deep, sure I had this young woman on the ropes. My hand shot out.
‘Shake hands, Rose, shake hands.’
Flesh and blood can’t be, can’t be, a ghost. There, I’d it said to myself, the thought idling in my brain’s parking lot, afraid to be burning rubber into my mouth.
Rose’s eyes glinted beneath the heavy mascara, a tooth nicked her lower lip. She reached out, shook soft and warm.
See, she was real, tender to the touch, and no ethereal being haunting an old derelict dance hall.
‘Why, Mr Sanders, now we’re introduced you gonna offer to Middle Aisle me? Gonna buy me a manacle?’
I let go, glanced at my watch, realized I was late for meeting Dwight, my business partner, on the east side.
‘I’m buying the building, Rose, you’ll need to be out in a few weeks.’
‘Take care, Mr Sanders, don’t take any wooden nickels.’
She turned away, headed back into the room. My hand was on the door into the main building when words floated up the short hallway.
‘Do you want to know a secret, Do you promise not to say, whoa oh, oh…’
A mistake. I turned, ran to Rose’s door, pulled it open, saw her back to me as she stood over a bed, a suitcase draped with a yellow tasselled dress. I reached out to grasp her shoulder.
‘It’s ‘promise not to tell’, not ‘say’…’
And stumbled to the bare wooden floor, landing on my knees, a horrible emptiness in the pit of my stomach.
My hand had gone right through Rose’s body.
She looked down at me.
‘He’s here, Mr Sanders. You’ll have to come with me.’
‘Who? What? Rose, I just…’
Everything went black. Then white. Then the room returned into my vision. I was still kneeling, Rose’s fingers holding my wrist.
‘We gotta go, Mr Sanders, in case he gets lucky.’
‘Who? Lucky about what? Hell, Rose, what the…’
I held back on my language. Rose’s face had fear written in capital letters right across it.
‘The fire exit, Mr Sanders, it’s still safe, I’ve used it before.’
Rose pulled me into the hallway, the suitcase in her other hand, bundled us through an end door I’d missed and we clattered down iron stairs which I suspected dated to the original building. It was raining steadily. Strange. It’d been a sunny, clear day earlier and the forecast was dry.
‘This way, Mr Sanders, there’s an empty house two along.’
‘If you’re frightened of someone, Rose, we can take my car, it’s right outside the building.’
‘No, it’s not.’
Rose’s urgent steps and pull on my arm put a period on any further dialogue.
We dived into a porch of a one story house, a For Sale sign leaning lazy to one side.
I slapped my thoughts into order.
‘Enough. Who’re you running from? And why did my hand pass straight through you?’
My eyes were wide, anger and fright mixed like a stirred-crazy cocktail. In front of me was still a 1920s Flapper. It was bizarre.
Rose’s look had returned to the one I saw when she danced into my heart.
‘I’m a long way out of place, Mr Sanders. Many hundreds of years. You ain’t gonna believe that, are you? You might think it all hooey. But remember that blackness? Go back and try and find your car too. And the weather, kinda different, huh?’
‘You’re freaking me out, Rose. And why you singing a Beatles’ song when you tried to scare me with the ‘20s act?’
‘The 60s were kinda darb too. I liked it there.’
‘Are there men in white coats looking for you?’
Rose’s eyes narrowed.
‘I don’t get that reference. Your tone suggests I better not. I’ll get you back.’
Before I could say anything Rose grasped my wrist. Everything went black. Then white. We were back in the building, ground floor, by the rear door.
‘Your Jalopy’s out front. Go.’
My knees wobbled. I reached out, placed a hand against a brick wall warm from the sun.
‘I gotta go, Mr Sanders. If you want, I’ll meet you here tomorrow, around five in the afternoon.’
She pushed open the door. And disappeared. A voice drifted faint through the wood.
‘Do you want to know a secret…’