The Dancing Ghost
The haunting began two months ago.
Marilynn, fully clothed, sits upright in bed, a loaded shotgun resting on the pillow beside her, the same pillow on which her husband’s head normally rests. She looks around the room, her gaze coming to the digital clock atop the dresser opposite her. Another hour and eight minutes to go. The ghost always shows up at eight minutes past midnight and only when she is alone in their house overnight.
Tonight marks the first night of her spouse, Tom’s one week business trip. “I’m prepared this time. You just wait and see, whoever you are,” Marilynn says, her voice crackling like the high-pitched whine of a microphone through dead stillness. “I will not allow a poltergeist to run me from my home. You hear me? My paid for home at that.”
The telephone next to the clock rings. Marilynn blenches. Can’t be Tom again, it’s way past his bedtime. She really doesn’t want to answer the damn shrill thing. She sucks in a breath and holds it, praying the phone will go dead. But thoughts of Tom taken ill and on his deathbed in a hospital hundreds of miles away from home propel her from bed to dresser. Bending over the handset display to read the caller’s identity and name, she realizes she’s left her glasses on the night table by the bed. “Darn it, can’t see a damn thing without my bifocals,” she mumbles, and picking up the receiver, shouts, “Hello?”
“Hello, Mum. It’s me. Thought I’d call and keep you company,” her daughter teases.
“Really, Gina? How are you supposed to keep me company when you’re at your house and I’m here at mine?”
Gina giggles, irritating her mother, whose eyes are steadily trained on the loaded shotgun. “Oh, don’t be so literal.”
“I just speak the English language the way it should be spoken, my girl.” Marilynn could kick herself for telling her daughter about the ghost. Each time Tom goes off on a business trip, Gina calls, but never offers to stay overnight.
“I can’t stand here blabbing on the phone with you, Gina. Got to have my shotgun in hand when that ghost shows up.”
“That’s crazy, Mum. Shotguns can’t kill what’s already dead.”
“I’m not woolly, my girl. Don’t you think I know that? The shotgun’s to blast my iPod the minute that damn song starts blaring.”
“That’s even crazier, Mum. Why destroy your iPod? Here’s what to do. Hang on to the receiver and walk the perimeter of the room while I chant a ghost removing spell Madame Athina, my psychic, swears by. She says ghosts are simply lost souls, needing to be directed to the Light.”
“Uh-huh. I tell you what, Gina. You jump in your car, pick up your Madame Whatever and the two of you rush on over here. Three chanting a ghost removing spell in person will shove lost souls into the Light a whole hell of a lot quicker than you chanting one over my telephone.”
“Hmm. Come to think of it, Mum,” Gina says, ignoring her mother’s crossness, “The ghost is bound to appear as I chant the spell and when it does you just shove that cordless phone smack into the bugger’s face.”
“Who sounds unhinged, now, huh? How am I supposed to shove a phone into a face I can’t see?”
Gina takes a sip of some liquid. No doubt wine, Marilynn muses, savoring the brief silence.
Gina croaks into the receiver. “What time is it? Madame Athina starts work at midnight. It seems spirits get active just about that time, remaining so into the wee hours. Otherwise, we’d drive over.” Gina sniggers. “Oops, sorry, Mum. I forgot you’re already well acquainted with the habits of spirits.”
“Goodnight, Gina.” Marilynn slams the handset down. All that psychic claptrap. Such a scatterbrained creature. Heavens! Where did Tom and I go wrong?
she wonders, resettling herself in bed, reaching for the shotgun and pulling it close beside her. Her hand rests near the trigger.
At exactly eight past twelve, the poltergeist strikes again. The same song blares from the iPod dock speakers. “Turn the music down,” Marilynn screams, aiming the shotgun at the dock. “I’m warning you if you don’t do as I say I’ll blow the iPod and speakers to smithereens.”
The volume of the music decreases. The pesky spirit begins moving around the room, banging into furniture.
“Why do you keep coming back here? What do you want?”
The loudness of the music inches up a notch.
“What’s with you and that song? And what the hell are you doing?” she demands, listening as the ghost bumps and thumps around her bedroom. “Are you deaf?”
“God, Marilynn,” she mumbles to herself, “you sound insane, talking to a phantom as if to a real-life person.”
The volume of the music inches up another notch.
“Ah, for Pete’s Sake, you spook, turn the sound down or I’ll blow the iPod into a million particles. I mean to do it,” she threatens halfheartedly, knowing she will never destroy her beloved iPod, the repository of some five hundred songs and big band sounds. And the memories.
The song ends and so do the ghost’s thumps and bumps.
Sighing defeatedly, she rests the shotgun across her lap, waiting for the song and the spirit’s clumsy steps to start up again. Steps? What made me think of…”Oh, my gosh.” She laughs loudly. “You’re dancing, aren’t you? Just...just my luck to be haunted by a dancing ghost.”
Dancing, she muses. She’d not before given any thought to the song’s lyrics, but sudden feelings of delight and regret unexpectedly take hold of her. I know...this...tune. She cradles her head in her hands, humming a few notes. “Of course,” she exclaims, looking across at the iPod. “My God, how could I have forgotten Somebody Stole My Gal
She closes her eyes, experiencing a memory from another time. A magnificent chandelier of French design. The dance floor of the Parker Hotel. She is in a lavender strapless gown, coordinating silk pumps, and white elbow-length gloves. Her chestnut hair is pulled back into a chignon and bangs swept to the side, held in place with pearl clips.
Her father beams. “How like your mother you are.”
Unaccustomed to any outward display of emotion from her father, she blushes. “Am I really, Daddy?”
He had held both her hands in his. “Yes, my darling girl. She’s smiling down from heaven this very moment, overjoyed to glimpse the daughter she never had the opportunity to hold blossom into such loveliness and grace.” Her father rarely spoke of her mother, whose full-length portrait forever graced the family room.
Feeling closer to her father than she had in a long time, she stood on her tiptoes and pecked his cheek. He reddened like a shy schoolboy.
“Every lad in this hall is queueing up to dance with you, but will you at least save one dance for your old pa?”
“Good evening, Doctor Pritchard, Sir.”
They had both turned to face quiet Kyle MacBride, dressed in full military uniform.
Her father said, “Well, was your old pa on the money or no?”
Marilynn flushed self-consciously.
Her father added, “Doing your bit, son, eh?”
“Yes, sir, Doctor.”
“Good lad.” Dr. Pritchard excused himself, rejoining the other chaperoning parents at the punch bowl.
Kyle said, “You look beautiful, Marilynn.”
“Thank you, Kyle.”
“May...may...I...I have the last dance?” He stammered.
She’d smiled sweetly. “Yes, Kyle.”
Of course, she’d been flattered to have Kyle ask her for the last dance, and feeling most cherished, she’d imagined that all the other girls’ envious eyes were on her.
Sadly, there never was to be a last dance with Kyle MacBride. Her father, a sought after obstetrician, was called to the hospital for an emergency delivery, and being a man who never would have left his adolescent daughter without supervision, he insisted she accompany him to the hospital.
The spirit bangs into the nightstand on her husband’s side of the bed, knocking a copy of Tolstoy’s War and Peace to the floor and suspending her reminiscence.
“Oh, for goodness sake,” Marilynn protests, moving herself to the edge of her husband’s side of the bed and reaching for the open book with her left hand. Before shutting it, she glances at the bottom of the page. The number forty-two in bold black ink stares back at her.
“Oh...dear...me.” She starts, realizing that the haunting by the dancing ghost began on the exact evening of the Cotillion, forty-two years ago. The song refreshes itself on the iPod. Marilynn has this instant crazy idea, and jumping off the bed, she calls out, “Oh, my God. Is it possible? Kyle? Kyle MacBride? Are you my dancing ghost?”
The volume of the music is up full blast.
She laughs delightedly. “Are you here for that missed last dance?”
A nebulous image appears before her, and astounded, but no longer exasperated, she holds out both arms, yearning for that long-ago evening.
“I’d be honored, Kyle MacBride, to dance with you.”
She and the ghost of Kyle MacBride dance round and round the room, present melding with past, until Kyle’s designated Big Band melody finally stops. Marilynn collapses on the bed, overwhelmed with such a deep sadness that she sobs herself to sleep.
Early the next morning she calls Tom. “Good morning, love. How was your flight?”
“Flight was excellent. Inflight meal was good. I caught up on some correspondence.”
“And you had a good night’s sleep?”
“Hotel bed isn’t as comfortable as ours.”
“Oh, stop moaning, you. Why not ask for one of those featherbeds?”
“Brilliant idea, honey. I’ll do just that.”
“Tom, you were good friends with the eldest MacBride boy.” She hesitates. “Whatever happened to his brother, Kyle?”
“Shot down in the war. Imprisoned in a German camp for a short time.”
“Did he die there?”
“No. Odd you should ask after Kyle, Marilynn. He died two months ago. Before dying, he told his brother he regretted only one thing in his life.” Tom laughs. “Can you imagine your only regret on your death bed was not having danced with a particular girl at Cotillion? That must’ve been some forty years ago.”
Marilynn holds her breath.
“Marilynn? Are you still there?”
“Yes, Tom. Where is Kyle MacBride buried? Do you know?”
“At Mount Auburn. Why?”
“Oh, I thought I’d pay him my respects and tell him he wasn’t such a clumsy dancer after all.”