Flash Fiction: Cinderella’s Ghost

Wisconsin Life on Wisconsin Public Radio hosted a flash fiction contest judged by Wisconsin author Patrick Rothfuss this fall. The requirements: a 600 word or less polished piece of ghost story fiction. I didn’t win so you won’t be hearing my story performed on the air by talented radio actors but you can see the winning entries here. It’s okay. I was just happy to be writing and competing. As you read the story below you can imagine a talented cast of radio actors performing my little piece of spine-tingling fun. This whole exercise has also given me a new idea for a novella which I count as a win. I hope you enjoy my piece of otherworldly fiction, comments and criticisms would be good. This time two of my photos rescued from my long-sleeping damaged hard drive formed the inspiration for this story; I hope you enjoy them. As always, thanks for joining me here at the pond, dear readers.

Inspiration:

Water spirit by E.A. Schneider

Cinderella’s Ghost

by E.A. Schneider

The other people at the hotel called the nightly visitor Cinderella’s ghost.  It was the hallmark of Chateau Wasser: “Enjoy a romantic getaway full of Old World charm and otherworldly wonder!” was written across the brochure, which depicted a watercolor sketch of a feminine shape rushing downstairs.  The gritty truth, of course, is that it’s a scam. Yeah, sure, once upon a time somebody living here saw a young woman rushing down the stairs in a ghostly way, cried “spirit,” and a local legend was born.  Me, I don’t buy it, but I have to sell it as part of my summer job.

By day, I bus tables at the house restaurant, the Gingerbread Haüs, but by night I flex my acting pecs by donning a pearlescent gray gown, pale cake foundation, and a silver gray wig. They cue the fog machine and the recessed stair lights, and then I go rushing down the front stairs to the drive as the bell in the tallest tower tolls twelve.  Underneath my look of alarm and embarrassment, I am laughing every step of the way.  I do a good job playing ghost; the guests line up to watch me run, and people keep coming back since I took the gig.  My boss keeps saying to me, “Claudia, you keep packing people in like this and I’ll give you a raise.” I’ll believe it when I see it, especially after last night.

See, last night I showed up late to my cue.  The Haüs was packed and my replacement was a no show.  This was bad — we had a full house to see the ghost show as part of some paranormal Pennsylvania bus tour.  Not the night to show up late.  When the bell tolled midnight, as I sprinted to the dressing room just off the main stairs, I saw her through the downstairs window: a woman all in silver grey dashing down the stairs, losing her left shoe on the final step and disappearing into the gloom beyond the lights and fog.  I thought it was one of the upstairs maids covering for me; she looked a little slender for the costume, but she’d done a great job.  The girl even looked alarmed, like she really was fleeing from something terrible.  I didn’t recognize her face, but then I didn’t know the housekeeping staff. What would I say to my boss? He’d just come downstairs from watching the show with the bus tour guide.

“Claudia! Fantastic job.  The tour guide says that some of the guests’ paranormal readings are off the charts.” A chill crept up my back as he laughed.  “Say, Claudia, how did you get changed so fast?”

“Sir, I’m sorry, I was late tonight.”

“What?”

“I think one of the upstairs maids must have covered for me.” Now he was turning gray, laughter fading from his face.

“Two. There are only two maids tonight and they watched the show with us upstairs.”  We blinked at each other as the implication sunk in. I turned and went into the dressing room, my boss at my heels. There, exactly where I had left them, lay my costume pieces and makeup. My boss went outside to look for the shoe, but he didn’t find it. Now I’m sitting here at my dressing table, looking at my pale reflection, and I have to wonder: if I go on tonight, will I be alone in the fog? -574 words

Inspiration: 

Caryatid in tears by E.A. Schneider. Photo taken in Allerton Park in Illinois.

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14 thoughts on “Flash Fiction: Cinderella’s Ghost

  1. I got a little chill there, at the end, so good job! I would suggest that, now that there are no word requirements for it, you expound on it. I like concise language, but a great ghost-story gets its power from atmosphere, and this story could use a little bit more of that.

    Also, don’t blink! 😉

    • Oh yay! I’m glad my story gave you a chill. I agree that the piece needs more of the atmosphere that I have created in my brain. Hopefully I’ll get to that as I build upon this story to craft my novella. My “Caryatid in tears,” does look very much like a Weeping Angel doesn’t it? The awesome thing is that I took this picture months before I even began watching Doctor Who in earnest much less met the the Weeping Angels. It is such an awesome, evocative statue that I knew it could be a good picture. I took almost 40 pictures of this statue and her twin. I suspect that “Cinderella’s Ghost,” won’t be the last story of mine that they inspire. Thanks for reading, Jubilare! 🙂

  2. Is your novella going to be based on the same idea? I’ve been reading lots of ghost stories over the last few months, trying to locate and pin down a certain feel that I need for my main WIP. It’s hard to find just the right voice, you know?
    It’s a lovely statue, and I love the water and lichen stains on it!

    • Yep! My plan is to continue the adventures of Claudia and the nightly visitor at her summer job. I figured if I have roughly two pages of notes about a <600 word story that is a sign I should just let my imagination keep exploring that idea. I've never really written horror or ghost story fiction before so I look forward to building upon this challenge. I've never been a big horror person but I really like suspense, I like mysteries, and I like spooky. I agree that it is essential to read what you hope to emulate to put yourself in that creative, critical mind space. For this new piece I plan to re-read some favorite short stories by Neil Gaimen, Kelly Link, and some of the original fairy tale texts I've got in mind. I advocate that if you're having problems nailing down the right voice that you try little pieces of flash fiction emulating specific voices you like as an exercise and see what you come up with; like the prose equivalent of trying on different hats. If nothing else you could churn out some fun blog content. 🙂

      I know, those stains just add so much character, I think they're fantastic. I think I'll also probably put together a sort of ambience slide show of my photos too for this soon-to-be WIP just as a mind space exercise; I anticipate including many of those crying caryatids. 😉

      • I hope I get to read it when you’re ready. 😉 I am on the same page as you when it comes to horror. I don’t like horror or slasher-type stuff, and zombies scare the hell out of me (check out my post on zombie’s vs. bunnies for more information), but I adore mystery, suspense and that strange and creepy feel that a good ghost-story can arouse.
        If you have any suggested reading for me, I’d love to hear it!
        Flash-fiction is a good idea, and I’ve been planing to try it, but October hit me like a Mac truck. November may not be much better, which is a shame because those are usually my most productive months, writing-wise. My muse loves Fall as much as I do.
        The problem with nailing down the voice, though, is that I have so little to emulate! I am still searching, but of the hundred-something stories and poems I have read through, maybe ten get anywhere close. It’s a specific ghost-story vibe and I can’t seem to describe it in words. I can more easily say what it’s not. It’s simpler and more wild than the vibe I get from most Victorian ghost-stories, older and more elemental than most modern ones. It likes the great outdoors more than old castles or houses, and it walks the line between creepy and sometimes frightening, and alluring and strangely comforting. Rrrrgh… so hard to pin down! Plus I am fighting against all of the other voices I’ve ever used, and habits are so hard to break.

      • Ahh from your lips to the ears of some publisher some day in the future…is there a wistful emoticon? 😉 Maybe to keep me honest (by honest I mean productive) I will post excerpts and/or progress reports as I move forward. We’ll see. It’s nice to know that you at least would be interested, Jubilare. 🙂

        Well when it comes to those mysterious spooky goosebump inducing authors I’m not sure if I have that many authors to recommend as I am still finding my way. Basically I can detail my own reading diet that I have self-prescribed for work on this new novella of mine. I am starting with Kelly Link’s book Magic for Beginners. It is a collection of short fantasy fiction and light horror. I adore this book; my paperback is well thumbed and bookmarked. Several of the stories within achieve that perfect ratio of spookiness, wonder, and magic which fascinates me. The two stories in it which fascinate me the most are “The Faery Handbag,” and “Stone Animals.” The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter is another fantastic collection. They are all splendid stories but “The Company of Wolves,” and the titular “Bloody Chamber,” are my favorites. I am a big fan of Neil Gaiman’s work, especially his short fiction and poetry. For my new W.I.P. expanding upon “Cinderella’s Ghost,” my main prose role-model is Neil Gaiman’s short story entitled “Snow, Glass, Apples,” which I first read in his collection called Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fiction and Illusions. This is hard to describe exactly but I’m not going to try to copy his prose so much as I hope to emulate what he achieved; I want to do for Cinderella what he did for Snow White: give everyone and their aunt nightmares about one of the oldest stories in humanity that we all think we know. I think I can emulate his basic structure and narrative effect using my own voice; at least that is the idea. Since I personally draw a lot of narrative and creative inspiration from original folklore I plan to re-read some work by the Grimms, Perrault, Anderson, and Lang for starters. Many of the old tales were meant to give all-age-audiences a bit of a chill and folklore is great at getting to the heart of story on an elemental level; re-reading it always reminds me of the importance of just getting to essentials. I think when it comes to elemental I can’t recommend the old tales highly enough. I would start with Maria Taters annotated editions of folklore and the SurlaLune webpage as great sources. Since my story has a definite mystery angle I will also probably re-skim Agatha Christie’s Mr. Quin stories, Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, and The Hound of the Baskervilles since all of those have certain elements of the otherworldly mixed up with the more down to Earth parts of a good whodunit. I hope all that helps! I will keep pondering for more ideas. 🙂

        Good luck with your work! I think any habit can be broken with perseverance and sheer stubbornness when faced with the failure that is inevitable during growth. You can do it, Jubilare! 🙂

  3. ::wistful:: ? 🙂
    Keeping up productivity is good. I’m afraid mine has fallen off a bit. It’s hard to keep on task without the help of other people (for me at least) but I also don’t want to post things I intend to try and publish online. Oh the dilemma!
    Thank you for all the suggestions! I am finding the closest to what I want in a mix between E. A. Poe and ghost stories from the Appalachian and Ozark mountains. How’s that for a bit of a brain bender?

    Thanks for the encouragement! Good luck with your new novella as well!

    • Ahhh productivity, that beautiful dream of all creative people…::wistful:: I agree that I don’t want to post things online that I hope to actually publish. Despite all the obvious roadblocks I still haven’t given up the dream of selling my stories and being a real professional writer someday. But I do think that it would be possible to do updates without giving anything away like word count progress and research updates. We’ll see though if I can pull it off. 🙂

      I like the idea of a cross of E.A.Poe and the ghost stories of the Appalachians & Ozarks! That sounds fantastic. I wish you luck, I hope I get to read your efforts someday too. 🙂

      • Alas, for productivity is an elusive dream for most of us! As for roadblocks, I wouldn’t worry. You are young, yet. If I can help, let me know. I know how to prod my friends with sticks from time to time and I love idea-bouncing. 😉

        I’m glad you think so! Maybe, with God’s mercy, I will find myself able to do the concept the justice it needs. *sighs* I doubt my ability, but thankfully, that isn’t all I am relying on.

        Friends who are interested will be allowed to read whether or not I ever publish, and I constantly need constructive criticism. If you ever want so see some, just ask. 🙂

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