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.
by E.A. Lawrence
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.”
“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