Do You Want To Know A Secret?

(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.

‘Rose?’

My word echoed eerie around walls which seemed lent in, listening.

‘Rose?’

Nothing.

‘Anyone here?’

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.

And stopped.

A voice drifted faint. From the furthest door.

A girl’s voice.

Holy crap.

I froze.

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?’

Then silence.

‘Rose?’

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.

‘Rose?’

‘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.’

‘What?’

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…’

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I was there

(written from a prompt about being a famous person)

I was there.

I was there at Omaha as the Americans came in onto the beach so very early on that June morning. The strong winds were playing havoc with the navigating of the last couple of hundred yards and many of the guys to our left hit the sand in the wrong places. Before we floundered up to our necks through the water to get to the beach, I counted at least ten landing craft swamped by the rough seas and in others I could see the soldiers having to bail out with their helmets just to keep themselves afloat. Uncharted sandbars brought numerous LCAs to a shuddering halt, leaving the trapped men stationary targets. Everywhere I was aware of troops vomiting from seasickness as the craft bunched up and bobbed around, queuing for their appointment with the shoreline.

But still we went in regardless: me with the 29th Infantry Division, untested in battle, along with part of the US Army Rangers, and the battle-hardened 1st Infantry Division, all unflinching in the face of both nature and the enemy.

I was there at Easy Red, one of the ten codenamed destinations, stumbling forward in amongst the heavy fire from the German artillery and automatic weapons which wiped out many a line of struggling men, the gun emplacements above the beach remaining undamaged by the earlier naval and air bombardment as shells and bombs dropped too far inland. As we crashed onward with knees doubled up, hidden under the sand lay the mines, leaving us a single footstep away from oblivion, and if we were lucky enough to miss those, the wooden stakes, barbed wire and metal tripods formed a crazy obstacle wall to hold up progress, giving the snipers up on the cliffs easy shooting practice.

By the time we made it to the shingle, having crawled three hundred yards ahead of the incoming tide, I reckoned half the guys were down. There we were, safe from the small arms fire but still with shells and mortars popping all around, leaderless packs of virgin soldiers cowering together. I gazed around, watching men beat the ground with frustration as they were unable to even return fire, their weapons needing to be cleaned before they could employ them again, sea water and sand having rendered most temporarily out of use.

Looking back down the beach, I could see the lines of tanks which never made it any further than the tide line, with more floating around some ten metres offshore, like toys in a child’s bath, hopelessly drowned by misinterpreted deep water. Things became even more confused when soldiers aiming for Dog White landed on top of us, creating a bottleneck of uniformed ducks for the hunters up on the cliff tops to pick off.

I was there. John Lazarus Long. In the midst of the bullets, the shrapnel, the shells, the screaming, the obscenity-laden charges up the wet, sucking sand. I was there. I actually saw it.

Just how any of the men made it up towards those high rocks astonished me. I guess it was a choice of stay on the beach and be mown down or at least have a small chance of survival by flinging yourself on towards  those natural rock fortresses. But there they were: the butcher, the baker, the schoolteacher, the hot dog seller, the clerk, the labourer, and no doubt somewhere, the candlestick maker, all launching themselves over that killing ground in the name of liberty, or more likely, their Mom, their sweetheart, their comrade.

Two hours after we first stumbled into the water I saw the troops start the assault of the cliffs, some inspired by a crazy courage, others more likely bullied by an inspirational leader. Heck, I was standing right next to Colonel George Taylor when he barked out the immortal words “Two kinds of people are staying on this beach, the dead and those who are going to die – now let’s get the hell out of here.” Those words sent a shiver down my spine, heaven knows what they did to the soldiers.

Suffice it to say the guys eventually got the work done although it was two further days before they linked up with the British at Gold Beach. It was wonderful to see them start to inch slowly inland but by then I’d achieved my objectives. It was time for me to move on back.

And what’s my part in all this? Why am I the famous person? Well, you see, John Lazarus Long is now a very famous person indeed. But my now is 2280. And I have just become the first man to successfully use the time travelling suit which took me back to those events so long ago. As I was the one risking everything, three earlier attempts having ended in fatal failure, I got to choose the time slot to aim for. There on that beach at Omaha I saw my distant direct relative fall in a hail of machine gun fire, at last no longer just another Missing In Action. And, strangely enough, I calculated around about the very same time, somewhere back in New York, his wife was about to go into labour.

As I stripped off the suit and everyone around me cheered and began downloading the memory streams I’d collected, I tasted the salt on my lips from the tears flowing down my cheeks. And I thought of the salt John Lincoln Long had probably tasted as he collapsed into that seawater on Omaha Beach.