Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Ghost of the Golden Slipper" by Ellen Lynn

Supernatural people and mountain climbers both like silent places. And this day the mountain peaks were almost hidden by caps of silent clouds. Henry Gorcey and his family were not thinking of ghosts however as they drove up to the picturesque Inn in the famous mountain climbing resort of Ranee. Three hearts were throbbing with excitement and anticipation at the prospect of climbing to those seemingly impossible summits—Ellen, his wife, and the ten-year-old Susan—and Henry himself. There was a happy and warm welcome for them at the very entrance for the proprietor of the Half-Way House was Henry's long-time friend, Pete Milano. Together both men had climbed some of the most difficult mountains in the Alps and it had been six years since they had seen each other.

Early the next morning a small climbing party stood outside the Inn ready for the climb. It was another cloudy day, with a cold sun trying hard to penetrate the heavy mists. Every so often it succeeded in bursting through in a blaze of gold, only to be quickly subdued by the persistent cloak of fog. Susan was bobbing around impatiently to get started. Her mother had objected to her accompanying the party, but father had overridden the objections, happy that his child had acquired his zest for the exhilarating sport of mountain-climbing.

"She'll go as far as she can," he reassured Ellen. "Then one of the men will go back with her. Perhaps you, too?" Henry teased his wife.

At the top of the mountain—Henry gazed with pride at his daughter, Susan. She had made the top! Ellen and he exchanged happy glances. Susan's eyes were round as saucers as she watched the awesome splendor of the panorama stretched out below this great height. But a sudden chill overcast the gay mood of the party. Tragedy had struck a ghastly blow.

The period of rest was over and all were preparing to start on the downward climb.

"Henry, where's Susan?" Ellen's question was casual.

"Oh—she must have wandered off a bit—" the reply was just as casual.

But there was little area in which to wander and soon a bustle of panic pervaded the air. With the whole countryside spread out wide open to their eyes not a sign of young Susan could be detected by anyone. Hysterically—on the top of her lungs—the frantic mother yelled—"S-u-s-a-n! Yooooo.... Answer me—Susan!"

Then Henry added the full strength of his voice—and one by one the whole party joined in the yelling. But only their weird echoes answered back. No one could say how the distraught party reached the bottom—without Susan. Ellen had almost to be carried the whole way. Henry and the others frantically searched every inch of the way down. Susan had disappeared as though into thin air—with no outcry, no clue. It was night when the exhausted, heartbroken group reached the Inn. Peter Milano had become alarmed at the continued absence of the party and was about to organize a search when they straggled in. At once he knew something terrible had happened and was told the story of the strange disappearance of Susan.

Softly he spoke to his friend, Henry. "We'll get every person in this village to help us find Susan. Meanwhile, have no fear. She's old enough to protect herself till we reach her. We'll find her, be sure of that."

Throughout the night people holding flares were scouring the mountain side. It was at dawn that a boy came running and shouting—"A girl's hat—is this hers?" It was Susan's and had been found at the foot of the mountain! She had disappeared at the very top. Peter and Henry set out to climb up again—from the spot where the hat was found. They were gone twenty minutes when they both halted abruptly, ears cocked. There was a crackling of twigs—footsteps—and in front of their amazed eyes came Susan. Her clothes were torn, bedraggled, her face dirty—but she wore a happy smile and rushed joyfully into the arms of her father. As the elated group hurried downward, Susan told them that she had been getting the views at the summit of the mountain and had walked all around the edge to see the picture from every side when her foot slipped on a loose rock and before she could make an outcry she found herself falling, falling.

"Oh, daddy, I was frightened—my head felt dizzy—I wanted to cry," Susan was telling her tale. "And then as I was falling—a hand took hold of mine. It was a lady—she was smiling down at me and I stopped falling. She was beautiful. She took me into a cave and told me we'd better stay there overnight, and that she would get me home safely in the morning. We ate nuts and fruits for supper, daddy—and this morning she showed me a path that led down toward the Inn. She had beautiful golden hair. I asked her where she was going and ..."

During this tale, Henry and Peter exchanged glances of incredulity and then amusement. Henry whispered to Peter, "She must have struck her head and imagined the whole thing. I'll have a doctor look at her as soon as we get down."

"But, daddy—don't you believe about the lady?" Susan had overheard and was indignant. "Well, she gave me a slipper—a gold slipper—so that I wouldn't forget her ..."

"Yes, dear," her father patiently answered. "And did you drop the slipper?"

Susan groped in the large knapsack pocket of her jacket—and pulled out a lady's gold slipper!

They were now at the bottom and the crowds of searchers came rushing to meet them with shouts and cries. Susan was lifted to the shoulders of the happy people and Henry hurried to his wife. When he came downstairs he saw Peter preparing to start another climb. "But, Peter, are you mad? Why are you going up again?"

"I am going to look for Jeanine. The girl Susan described was my fiance. I want to ask Susan to show me the path to the cave—you won't mind will you?" Peter spoke with a quiet intensity.

"Susan was just imagining the whole thing, Peter," Henry insisted. "She must have found that old slipper and her confused mind built up an imaginative story." Henry saw that Peter was unconvinced. "What happened to Jeanine?" Henry asked.

"Jeanine and I were going to be married and we had a party here at the Inn. She wanted to be alone awhile. By the time the guests had left I noticed Jeanine was missing. She had disappeared. She was wearing golden slippers—like the one Susan brought back. I never stopped searching for her. No trace has ever been found. I—I've even looked for—for—her remains. Now—Susan has seen her! Let Susan lead me to the path! I must go!"

Henry had to say yes to his friend. There was a desperate look in his eyes.

"Susan should have rest, Peter," Henry said. "But we'll go to the start of the path then I'll have to take her back—you'll have to go on alone." He agreed.

Susan was delighted with her new importance. She led the way for her father and Peter, who followed in unusual silence. Only once he exclaimed—"I've never seen this path before! I've been over this ground hundreds of times but...." There was a narrow, winding path clearly marked. Henry began to feel the strangeness of the moment and the situation. What had his Susan stumbled into?

"We'll leave you here, Peter," Henry said. And he and Susan stood watching the hurrying figure of his friend, almost running along the upward path, until he disappeared behind a boulder.

Peter's last words were, "I'll be home tomorrow morning—and I'll bring Jeanine or whatever Susan saw."

Even Susan, young as she was, remained silent. Then she said—"Daddy, Mr. Milano is acting—sort of—strange. But I really did see the lady—and she was kind and beautiful. I showed you the golden slipper, daddy."

"Are you sure you didn't pick it up in the cave you went to?" her father asked.

"Of course, I'm sure, daddy," Susan insisted. "You wait and see—Mr. Milano will find his sweetheart and bring her back to the Inn. She'll tell you all about it."

There was a big party that night for Susan and a proud and tired little girl went to bed with the music still playing and coming through the slightly opened door of her room. Henry and Ellen tucked their daughter in tenderly and went into their own adjoining room. "Something's wrong," Ellen observed. "What is it, Henry? Are you worried about Peter?"

"Yes, dear, I am." Henry replied. "I thought he had gotten over his loss of Jeanine but this story of Susan's—and her finding that golden slipper—well, he isn't acting—normal."

"Why isn't he? Wouldn't you want to pursue any possible lead—even if it does sound fantastic?" Ellen argued. "He simply wants to eliminate every clue to her whereabouts. After he returns tomorrow he'll resume his normal life, you'll see."

Henry sat thinking a while, then—"Peter was amazed to find the path that Susan led us to. He knows the whole terrain as we know the street we live on. He had never before seen that path!"

Peter had not returned by noon the next day. Henry waited impatiently as the hours passed. By nightfall he started to gather a searching party to go after Peter.

"You're all tired, I know. We've just gotten over one search—for Susan—and now we're starting on another. But, frankly, I'm worried abuot Peter. If you think I'm foolish—well, I'll set out by myself in the morning." They all decided to go with him.

It was difficult for Henry to find the path again but, he did. There had been a stone slide which almost concealed it, and the men had to pull away rocks and debris in order to continue along the route. But, finally, a large cave near the top loomed in front of him. Henry called out—"Peter—Peter—" and the party hurried into the cave. It was empty. They went outside again, calling their friend. They scattered over a wide area, looking for footprints, or other clues, but there was no sign of the missing man.

The discouraged group gathered again in front of the cave. "It's no use," one said, "there's no sign of Peter."

"Let's search the cave more thoroughly," Henry urged. "We'll use all our flashlights. He may have been here and dropped something—after all he headed for the cave and must have gone in."

The men began a search of the cave. "My God!" one of them ejaculated. Everyone rushed toward him. He was holding up one of Peter's hiking shoes—his initials printed in the lining! Without a word they set to searching the cave again. A creaking sound broke the silence. Their bodies tense, the men turned as one man in the direction of the sound. A heavy door of rock seemed to be swinging open. Cautiously they made their way toward it—and looked inside. There on the ground was the dead body of Peter Milano and in his arms a—skeleton. And over one bony foot was—a lady's golden slipper!

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