Boards creaked, dust sifted down, then a handbell tinkled.
Crap. “Coming!” I wiped my hands on my Levi’s and clomped upstairs.
A woman with long red hair and skin as pale as a winter moon stood at the counter. Her gauzy black dress could’ve just stepped off the Rumors album cover. She could’ve been Stevie Nicks’s twin except for the hair color. The hem of her heavy coat (also black) grazed the pointed toes of her high-heeled leather boots. Her battered hobo bag, a velvet patchwork affair, bulged in the middle. Something inside of it clinked as she shifted it from her shoulder to the mahogany countertop.
I’d left one of my comic books there when Aunt Laura banished me to the dungeon. If she saw it, there’d be hell to pay!
I slipped behind the counter and, while wrangling out of my damp sweatshirt, attempted concealment by offering cordiality. “May I help you?”
Her hand smacked the comic, fingers splaying across it like spider legs. “Ah! I see you like ghost stories. So, are you a believer… or not?” she asked in a tone that reminded me of the chimes on our back patio.
I shrugged. “They’re okay, I guess. Would you like a room, Miss?”
She didn’t answer right away, preferring to stare at the picture on the cover of an angry woman who had tongues of flame for hair. Finally, she said, “You know, some of these stories are true.” When she looked up, her amber eyes flashed.
“There’s no such thing as ghosts and witches. They make it up or even rip off older stories sometimes. You know, like folktales and stuff.”
“No such thing?”
As she leaned against the counter, her perfume wafted over me, evoking images of wood smoke curling from chimneys and piles of leaves in the twilight. Beneath this, though, was another odor, one that reminded me of kerosene and trash heaps at the dump on a burning day. Not wanting to look like a scaredy-cat, I leaned right back, matching her stare for stare.
“Bet I can make you a believer with just one story. A true story.”
She punctuated this by arching a delicate brow. Plucked, not penciled in like Laura’s.
I clambered on the high stool behind the counter, hoping she’d get to finish her story before Aunt Laura butted in. “Go for it!”
“Are you sure? Because this story’s not in any book.”
“So, it happened to you?” I was expecting to hear about a dead relative paying a visit or furniture moving by itself. Maybe even a bunch of dead relatives moving furniture, which would’ve been totally cool.
“This story writes itself in the space between two people… in the gaps created by disbelief.”
from “Skin Deep” (Night Shades 2022)