“Good MORNING! Wake up, baby! Come on! Rise and shine! The moon is up, and I’m ready to play!”
I squinted up at Ruth who was doing what she had done the previous two nights, and the night I first met her. Sticking her head down into the grave where I slept. I yawned and climbed out of the grave, rubbing my eyes as Ruth perched on the back of the tombstone. She had a cigarette (‘ciggy’ as she called them) held between two fingers and was blowing some very pale smoke.
“You’re bad at timing,” she stated simply.
“I guess my internal clock is a bit off,” I said with a smile. She blew some smoke at me then offered me one of her ghostly cigs. “No thanks. I don’t smoke.”
“I’m so glad I died when I did. I couldn’t bear to live in a world that thought ciggies were bad for one,” she sighed, more smoke drifting into the sky. “In my day, these were good for you. Fashionable. Cleared the lungs. Cured nerves. None of this… cancer stuff, or secondhand smoke.” She grinned at me. “Helps keep a gal thin. I certainly needed the help. I love chocolates. I became rather plump when I was young.” She laughed. “Younger than I am, really. Thankfully I started dropping the pounds when I got older instead of putting more on. What d’you reckon?” She got up and spun around, her dress swishing. “Do I look good?” Her eyes sparkled.
I smiled and shrugged. “Yes. You look very thin.” Too thin, I thought, but I knew from experience from living with three women that ‘too thin’ was a taboo phrase.
Ruth beamed at me. “Such a darling. You should take one.” She offered me another cig from the metal case she kept them in but I shook my head. “Ah well.” She flickered one down to the ground and stepped on it, crushing it out. It disappeared after a few seconds. She had a never-ending supply of them. “I’m so happy I at least died with my ciggy case with me,” she said, tucking it away. “Shame I died with the bindings on, though I suppose I’d rather have the bindings than not.” She wriggled her body. “They get so… tight.”
“Bindings?” I was still trailing behind whenever she spoke, unable to understand a lot of what she said.
“Yes. Bindings.” She leaned in close and put her hands against her very flat chest. “My bindings. Keeps ones chest down.”
“A… b-bra?” I shifted, feeling uncomfortable.
“No, bindings. I’m bound down flat as can be, though not flat enough. My bosom’s too bouncy for that,” she sighed. “So awful. Another reason I am glad I died when I did. I’ve seen your women running around with bosoms too big for their own good. Disgusting. Just like the old days. Giant bosoms and giant rear ends.” She smacked her hands against her bum. “Insanity, I tell you. My generation, now we rebelled against that. The old days, when our parents were from, that pinched and pulled and squashed a Jane up into an hourglass! I prefer a nice, long… slender frame. Don’t you agree?” She leaned back against a tombstone, stretching out her long, slender arms and legs.
“I think almost any woman is beautiful in her own right,” I said cautiously.
“Boring,” she sighed. “What did you like in women, when you were alive? What do you like now? Do you prefer the Victorian look of large bosoms and rear ends?”
“I, uh… uh…”
She floated down and came closer to me. “Did you die before you had a girl? Have you ever had a kiss?” She kept coming closer and I backed up, suddenly frightened. “You look like a rabbit now, all afraid. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you. But it’s a shame. Petting is a wonderful thing. Such fun. Maybe we’ll pet. Would you like that?”
“Stop terrifying the poor lad.” It was Thomas, coming over towards us with Enola close at hand. “Not everyone is as crazed as you, Ruth.”
“Crazed…? Oh Tommy, sweetie, I’m not crazed!” Ruth spread her arms out. “I’m… free. That’s what I’m all about. Freedom. Your generation is far too uptight about things, Tommy. All of you are. In my day… Ah, but now I am sounding like my fussy, fussy parents. No, not doing that. Chance, shall we play tag?”
“Yes, please!” I straightened up, grinning.”You can be it.”
“Very well, I’ll give you three seconds. One… two…”
I took off, laughing as I skimmed just above the water of the pond, and she began chasing me, both of us laughing. She eventually caught me and I began chasing her, flying all sorts of directions. The first night we played tag, she had tried leaving the graveyard but I refused. She insisted nobody could see us but I still refused, so now we kept our playtime within the boundaries of the cemetery, and inside the mausoleum.
It was so much fun though I wish there were more ghosts around our age to play, nobody else wanted to play. Anabelle watched us sometimes but the previous night I had talked to her about playing and she told me to leave her alone. So I did, though she continued to watch us. Enola told me she loved to see us like this, said it reminded her of her children and grandchildren. Some ghosts seemed annoyed at us flying around everywhere but most seemed amused.
“It’s been ages,” she told me near morning. “I’ve not felt young for so long. I almost forgot…” She tipped her head back, giggling. “You’re wonderful, Chance.”
I smiled. “You are too,” I said to my first real friend. “I’m very grateful you’re here.”
“If not, you’d be stuck with the old folks,” she laughed.
I shrugged, chuckling. “They’re not so bad. But not the type to play tag. Say, could you wake me up tomorrow night?”
“I’ve been waking you…”
“I know, but… I wanted to make sure.” I wondered what she’d say if she saw me talking to my family. How was I going to explain that? Perhaps I’d have to talk to them farther down the road, and indeed when I was awoken the next night I said something about taking a little stroll by myself then floated down the road, waiting for my aunts’ car. When I saw it, I stepped out from behind the trees and waved a bit. They went half a block before turning around and coming back.
“Anxious to leave, then?” Miracle asked, sticking her head out the window as Aunt Kaylee parked the car.
“No, just thought it’d be better if we chat away from the other ghosts,” I replied. “I don’t want them getting too suspicious.”
“Suspicious of what?” They all got out of the car, Aunt Emma holding Alyssa who held her arms out towards me, sleepily begging for me to hold her. I gladly took her and kissed her, grinning as she giggled.
“Oh, if they see me talking with the living they’ll want to know how come we can interact so well,” I answered, tickling Alyssa’s tummy.
“Does it matter when you’re coming back with us?” Miracle asked with a scoffing noise.
I kept my eyes on my cousin. “As I’m not going back… yes, it matters.”
I cautiously raised my chin. They were all staring at me in disbelief. “What? I asked with a frown now. “I like it there, and I have a friend. A good friend, she’s young like me. She’s only–well, she was only eighteen when she died. We’ve been playing tag and hide-and-seek and she’s teaching me slang from her era. Like, clam is money–a simoleon. And, um, cat’s pajamas.” I swung Alyssa up and she squealed, legs pumping through my arms. I swung her again and then pulled her close. “Ruth is my friend. I have a friend. And I’m loving talking to all the others. So… I’m not coming back.”
“You said you would.” Aunt Kaylee’s voice was low, a bit dark.
“I said I might, if I wanted,” I answered.
“Chance come ON! We’ve indulged in this stupid little game for a week,” Miracle growled.
“Stupid?” I gripped Alyssa’s body a bit tighter. “It’s not stupid to me. Having friends is not stupid to me. Having freedom is not–“
“I get it.” She folded her arms and looked at our aunts. “He promised though.”
“Chance…” Aunt Emma gave me a sad look. “I know it is important to have friends and freedom… but you can have that with us. Somehow we’ll make it work. None of us like you being here. It’s not a sleep away camp. It’s a graveyard. It’s been a week so… I think it’s time you came back with us. We’ll move. You can have freedom. And–and friends.”
“I have freedom and friends now.” I stared levelly at her. “Look, I’m tired of arguing this over and over and over and over! We’ve been over it. I’m done with it. You’ve agreed to this! I don’t care you agreed to this under the idea I’ll run back to you crying. I’m not going to fight about it. Nope. I’d rather be happy, and have you all be happy. Like Lissie here. Right?” I swung her again and she shrieked with joy.
I wasn’t sure if my sister could contain her temper, but she managed to and we all talked for quite a while. Then they left, agreeing to come back after three nights for a visit, not to convince me to come back. I waved and watched them leave, then returned to the graveyard to play tag with Ruth.
“What did you want to be, when you were alive?”
Ruth and I were on our backs, staring at the night sky. I had been in the graveyard for two full weeks now, well two weeks and one day. The last time I saw my family, none of them had begged me to come home. Things were progressing! Maybe next time Miracle might even manage a smile!
“What do you mean?” I toyed with a blade of grass, spinning it between my fingers.
“When you were alive, did you have plans for the future? You would have made a dazzling fly boy. I can see it, goggles and scarf, paving paths in the sky.” I saw her hand out of the corner of my eye, weaving through the air. “What did you look like alive? Hair color? Eye color? Hmm?”
“Um, I don’t know…”
“Aw, don’t remember?” She rolled onto her side and smile at me. I shrugged. “I had creamy white skin and black as sable hair, and the most amazing blue eyes you’d ever see. You would have thought me a real Sheba. Or… do you still think me a Sheba?”
“What’s a Sheba?”
She inched in closer to me, smiling. “Me. Doncha think?”
“Um, yes?” I offered.
She shrieked with giggling and then pulled me close, placing a kiss on my forehead. “Such a darling. What shall we do tonight?”
I sat up, smiling. “How about swimming? I really want to learn.”
“Oh, I don’t know how to do that.” She fiddled with one of the things in her hair. “I never had any desire to learn. When I was very young, a girl I knew drowned. She chased a hoop into a pond and died before anyone could fetch her. I’ve always had a dislike of surrounding myself in water.”
“I–I’m terribly sorry!” I felt very sad, thinking of the young girl dying. I wondered how close Ruth was to her. “Was she–“
But Ruth cut me off. “I know! We could–no, that requires multiples people playing. I did so love kick the can but we need more for that and all these fussy people would never do such a thing. I wish I had my pack of cards when I died.” She ran her hands down her body and sighed. “Shall we play tag some more?”
“I’d like that,” I agreed, though didn’t know if she really wanted to. She seemed very distracted by something but I wasn’t sure what, and besides she took off zooming so I followed after her, putting every effort into catching her.
I noticed as time went on that Ruth seemed more and more antsy. If I tried to ask her about it, she’d switch the subject completely or sometimes she laughed and told me I was being a silly boy. After a couple more weeks I finally discovered the problem. We were near the gates of the place, talking about our favorite foods (unfortunately since I didn’t have taste buds, I wasn’t as excited about food as she was) when we heard a car nearby driving and whoever was driving had the music pumping loudly. I ignored it, but saw how stiff and wide-eyed Ruth went. As soon as the music faded, her body slackened.
“I’m awfully tired,” she said after the music faded completely. She flicked her ciggy to the ground and crushed it under the toe of her shoe. “I’m going ahead to bed. See you tomorrow night, baby.”
I walked her to her grave and watched as she disappeared into the ground. I wandered around for a while, a bit confused but trying to distract myself by splashing in the pond. Finally I found Enola and asked her if she knew what was ailing my friend. Enola shrugged one shoulder and replied with, “Poor girl misses dancing.”
“Dancing…?” Now that threw me for a loop.
“Dancing,” Enola confirmed. “In her day, music was just… as part of her lifestyle as breathing. It’s part of why she died, too.” I just stared and Enola shook her head. “Her parents were very… strict. Ruth objected to the life her parents wanted for her. They disapproved of pretty much everything, from what I’ve been told by her. Th—” She stopped and became flustered. “I shouldn’t be telling you all this! I’m just gossiping now. You should ask her, though. I’m sure she’d tell you. But dancing. Yes. That is her problem. She misses dancing.”
The next night she never came out of her grave and I was very worried she’d stay in her grave for a while, but the night after that she gave me her usual wake up call. I happily left the grave I was staying in and beamed at her. She grinned back though there was something not quite right about the smile, like it wasn’t really real. “Hey baby!” she squealed. “Wanna play tag?”
“Sure,” I answered but as she positioned herself to zoom off I held up a hand. “But I wanted to talk to you first real quick, if that’s all right?”
I beamed even more. “Maybe sometime you could teach me to dance?”
She didn’t move for several seconds then reached for her silver ciggy case with a shaky hand. She fumble a moment then dropped the case. I bent down and picked it up for her. She didn’t take it back, she just looked at it. “D… dancing…” Her voice was very low and kinda rough. “Don’t razz me.”
“Razz?” That was one I hadn’t heard before.
Her fingers twitched a bit, jerking through the air. “No music,” she growled. “No music, Chance. No music, no dancing.”
“Y-you can dance without music, can’t you?”
She snatched her ciggy case from me, her face clouding up in an angry way I hadn’t seen before. “No. Music is–” She stopped and groaned. “Dancing is–Oh never mind! You wouldn’t understand anyway. Nobody does, this… this…” She looked down at her body, at her dress. “It always ends, doesn’t it? An era. The stuffy, terrible, awful Victorian and Edwardian periods faded and led to this. And this led to something that led to something that kept leading up to something through the years to what you are. And music… is not to me what it is to you. Dancing is not. And you just couldn’t understand!” She whirled around, her skirt swishing, and she dove into her grave.
I just blinked, trying to figure what on earth I said said wrong. I thought about ducking my head down into her grave to try and talk to her but I was very paranoid about that. I could accidentally put my head near somewhere I shouldn’t, like her… her… bound down lady parts. Nope, not going to risk that. So I went over to the pond and sat down, sticking my feet into the water as I tried to figure out what I could to for her. She was hurting so much. Locked up in her own cage. I hadn’t seen it before because she was always trying to keep busy but that less-than-a-minute of music had revealed something else about her.
I rubbed my nose, and decided to do something for her.
Whatever anger I had roused in her was gone the next night and we played as usual, though now I could see what I hadn’t before. The tightly drawn looks she sometimes got. The hollowness in her voice on occasion. The far-off dreamy look she’d have. I waited impatiently until when my family visited and when that night came, I waited down the road as usual. It was just Miracle tonight. She got out of the car and hugged tightly.
“Aunt Kaylee and Aunt Emma are busy,” she said, adjusting her glasses.
“Is Poppop still sick?” I asked, brow wrinkling a bit.
“Oh, no, he’s doing better now,” my sister assured me. “Up and running around and causing trouble with Grandpa like always. But Aunt Em’s schedule is heavier than usual, and Lissie’s been a pain. So I told them to get some extra sleep while I come here.”
“Isn’t it illegal for you to be out this late driving on your own?”
She giggled. “Isn’t it illegal to disturb graves?”
My jaw dropped then I lightly punched her shoulder. “You–that–I–okay fine, touche. You win that round. But I’m not disturbing them, I’m just… sleeping… in them. If the police want to arrest me then they’re free to try.”
Suddenly her smile was gone. “No… don’t joke about that. The police… they’d call in those… ghost people… who could potentially lock you up forever.”
I lightly smacked her arm with the back of my hand. “I know, sis. I’ll be safe.” I gave her a grin and she rolled her eyes. We chatted for a while, she told me a lot about school and her latest beau (ugh) and her fears about going to college. I tried to reassure her that everything was going to be fine and she had plenty of time to think about it. After we talked a bit longer I brought up the subject of her bringing me something.
“Wh-what?” Miracle’s eyebrows raised then she began smirking. “Missing the comforts of home, eh? There’s a better solution to that than me dragging stuff from home to the graveyard. You could–“
“No, it’s not for me,” I protested. “It’s for a friend.”
The next night, Miracle brought me what I asked and when she found out I wanted it for a girl she began teasing me endlessly about it. I protested, trying to convince her that we were just friends but Miracle left giggling, and I didn’t think she quite believed me. Oh well, I thought as I put the CD player behind a grave. I put in the batteries and popped in a CD. I hoped this was the right music. The case said ‘Best of 1920s’. I put the volume on nearly silent to make sure it worked. A few strands of music played and I shut it off with a grin then headed over towards Ruth.
She was sitting on top of a gravestone, smoking. She smiled at me when I came over. “Hey Ruth,” I said. “Come with me–and close your eyes.”
“Oooh, how mysterious,” she cooed, flicking her cig to the ground as she slithered to the ground. “Well, baby, eyes are closed. I am in your hands.” She shut her eyes and then offered out her hands. I took one, carefully guiding her over to where I left the CD player.
“Wait here,” I said, letting go. “Just listen.” I knelt down, turned the volume up and then hit play. I grinned, watching as her face went from a smile, to a look of shock. Her eyes snapped wide open. She stared at me in disbelief as the music drifted around us.
“Ch… Chance?” she whispered, body trembling.
“It’s right–isn’t it?” I asked, my body lifting as I stood on tiptoes.
I saw her body was shaking now, kind’ve jerking and twitching. “It’s–it’s… oh… Art Landry… Oh Chance!” Her hands flew to her mouth and a tear went down one cheek. “I don’t believe it! I can’t… I just can’t even… this is… this is… Oh this is the bee’s knees!” she squealed and then suddenly her limbs and arms were flying everywhere. I jumped back as it looked like she was having some sort of… convulsion. But the look on her face was one of pure joy. The music had lyrics and she began singing with it as soon as the lyric started. “Five foot two, eyes of blue, but oh what those five foot could do, has anybody seen my gal? Turned up nose, turned down hose, flapper, yessir, one of those, has anyone seen my gal?”
Her elbows and knees were everywhere as she sang and danced. Other ghosts came over to watch in surprise. Enola looked at me and I beamed back. “You did this for her, hmm?”
“Yep.” I beamed even more, so happy at the look on my friend’s face.
“Ah, young love,” Enola sighed and my eyes went even bigger than Ruth’s had a moment ago.
“N-no! No, it’s not like–“
“Oh Chance!” Ruth zoomed over, sounding a bit breathless.”This is the most wonderful thing anyone’s ever done for me, dead or alive!”
“I’m so glad you like it, Ruth,” I said, grinning again. “I wanted to make you happy.”
“You have. You have! Oh Chance, you–you–you!”
“I knew how much y–mmm!” My words were cut off as her hands grabbed either side of my face and she was kissing me quite hard on the lips. I automatically tried to pull away but she had a very firm hold of me. And she was kissing me. On the lips. Her lips. On my lips. A kiss. A kiss, an actual… kiss. And she kept kissing me. It lasted longer than I thought kisses were allowed to last. Then she was pulling away and dancing again, arms and legs flying.
I just stood there, mouth a bit open. Unable to move.