Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Ghost of the Mist" by Ellen Lynn

Death is the Great Mystery, the fearful Unknown. People never cease wondering about the Hereafter. Where do our loved ones go? Do they ever return to this earth? There are endless tales of spirits who have come back from after death, legends of ghosts. People tremble at them; I don't. My story is a strange one—but I can never again be afraid of death.

When Jessica Stevens invited me to her party on Saturday night, I refused. My family had moved to North Bay only a short while before and this was the first party invitation I had received. She had asked me to bring an escort and there wasn't a boy in town I knew well enough to ask. Besides, I never cared for parties as a rule. Yet something kept urging me to go to Jessica's Saturday. Even my parents pressed me to call Jessica and ask if I could come alone. Dad bribed me to go, saying I could have his car that evening.

Everything seemed to conspire to alter my decision. On Friday afternoon, as I was coming out of Arnold's Store, I bumped into Jessica. "Oh, Dru," she exclaimed. "I thought you were going out of town with your family this weekend!" "Our plans were changed," I managed to say. "Well, then, you must come to my party," she informed me. "My brother, Jim, is coming in tomorrow and I need another girl. Say you'll come!" I agreed.

It was raining as I drove alone in my car to the Stevens house. The air was warm and I had a keyed-up sense of anticipation. Why had I not let Jessica's brother call for me? When she telephoned to arrange that he pick me up, I made an excuse. I really wanted to drive out, alone. There was something eerie in the misty rain. I continually looked around—I don't know why—as though looking for someone. When I arrived at the house and entered the room it was full of chattering, laughing girls and boys. I had an impulse to turn quickly away and run out of the house. Just then a young man came up to me. "I'm Jim Stevens," he said. "You must be the new girl—Dru—is that right?" "My name is Drucie Fleming," I answered. "Everyone calls me Dru." He walked with me to a chair and we sat down. He tried to make conversation, but I felt restless, distracted as though someone else was calling me, wanting me and so I could think of nothing to say in return. I'd answer a question and then we'd both fall silent. Eventually, I knew, he would try to escape—and he did. I felt restless sitting alone. I felt compelled to go out into the fresh air. Finally, I found Jessica, pleaded a bad headache and made my escape before she could answer.

The rain had stopped, but I had to grope my way through a thick mist to my car. I sat for a moment at the wheel and heaved a sigh. Why had I felt compelled to run away? Jim was a handsome fellow, very pleasant—why couldn't I be interested in him? It was good to be here, away from that thick atmosphere—so many strangers, all talking at once. I'd have to drive very slowly in this thick fog. Visions of the party floated through my mind—distorted shapes—grinning faces. Then suddenly, looming up in front of the car, I saw a dimly outlined figure, arms outstretched! I came to an abrupt stop to avoid running him down. A pale lamp light glowed on a man in some kind of a uniform. For a moment I thought—Was this a phantom, something out of my imagination? Then he moved over to my window, and I was strangely afraid. "Stop, stop—don't go on. There's a bridge down ahead. You'll have to detour!" he spoke softly but excitedly. "Oh—thank you!" I said. His worried expression relaxed. Even, white teeth gave charm to a boyish smile. He was wearing an army uniform. "Don't be afraid," he said. "I'm Stephen Lockridge. I live on White Shore Road. You seem confused. Shall I come in and guide you out of here?" His hand was on the door-knob. I leaned over and raised the lock. A blast of wind shot through as the door opened. He sat beside me and I could see he was strangely good-looking. His eyes looked directly into mine, though they seemed unusually brilliant. "You're not very talkative, are you? You're not afraid of me?" He asked both questions at once. I said, "No—I'm not—to both questions." We laughed.

"Please don't be afraid of me," he said, "but this is awful weather for so pretty a girl to be out alone. And to be stopped by a stranger must be frightening." I peered out the window. "I see I am lost," I said. He leaned close to me and gave me directions, advising that I drive in low gear—the fog was growing thicker and we were a long way from my house.

"Funny—my not being afraid," I said. "Usually I'm the most timid person in the world." "You could have been killed, if you hadn't stopped," he said. "But it's not your time yet." His voice was musically soft, comforting—yet what a strange remark. I replied, "Yes, I might have lost my life but for you." I turned to look into those shining eyes. They seemed to be looking through me and far away. He wasn't smiling now.

"I've just come from a party—I ran away!" I don't know what made me blurt out this confession. He answered, "Parties can be bores." "The truth is," I went on, "I'm afraid I was the bore." It didn't seem unnatural when he placed his hand over my fingers—"No girl as pretty as you could be a bore." I then said, "Somehow—now—I'm glad I left that party."

I didn't notice time, nor even where we were going. We drove and drove. He was mostly silent. At one time I had to stop the car to wait for a heavy mass of fog to thin out. It was like being in another world of grey mist. I was happy. I didn't want it to end. Then, without warning, we were in front of my house. I stopped the car. My free hand was clasped in his. He lifted my fingers and kissed them. His lips were cold. "This ring, Dru, is this your school ring? I must leave now, you know. Would you—would you let me wear it? This ride has been wonderful. Knowing you has been wonderful." I took off the ring and as I leaned over he held me in his arms and kissed me. Suddenly, I shivered. "Stephen, the dampness, you're so cold. I'll see you soon again. Meanwhile, take this ring. Yes, I want you to keep it." Then he stepped out of the car, and walked silently away, the mist enveloping him. His cap was left on the seat. He had forgotten it.

It took me a long time to warm up—but I tingled with happiness, slept all night and next morning rushed to the telephone book. There was a Lockridge on White Shore Road. I picked up the receiver and asked to speak to Stephen. I heard a gasp, and a woman's voice said she was Mrs. Lockridge. She asked who I was. "Dru Fleming," I answered. "Will you tell Stephen, please, that I have his cap. He left it in my car." Mrs. Lockridge asked me if I was sure it was Stephen Lockridge whom I meant. When I told her briefly the events of the previous evening, she still sounded puzzled—begged me to come over at once. I thought of Stephen's charming face, appealing smile. My heart was beating rapidly as I drove out to his home. It was Sunday and both his father and mother greeted me. They were tense, nervous.

"Miss Fleming—are you sure of what you told us over the 'phone?" Mrs. Lockridge began, as we were all seated. I showed them Stephen's hat. It was my turn to be puzzled by these questions. The father handed me an opened telegram. It said that the body of their son, Stephen Lockridge, who had been killed in action two months before, would arrive at North Bay on Saturday, the sixteenth—yesterday! I gasped.

"Oh—I'm sorry about your son," I cried. "But there is a mistake. The boy last night, out of the mist, is someone else!"

Mr. Lockridge held out the cap I had brought and showed me on the inner band the printed name: Stephen Lockridge. "But it cannot be—it cannot be," I protested. Then Mr. Lockridge said, "Will you come with us to see our son at the Chapel?" I nodded and we silently left the house. As we walked up the chapel steps I was clenching my hands so hard I later found little wounds where my nails had dug into the skin. With dread of what I might see, I approached the bier, Stephen's parents on each side of me.

I screamed. "It's he—look he's wearing—my ring!" I fell in a faint.

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