As the last chime of midnight faded away, the ghost appeared in the same spot as the night before. From where she sat, Ellie could see the flickering flames of the fireplace through the wraith’s phantasmal gown, but the phantom’s face, worn and etched with the years that had prevailed in it before her death, shown with an ethereal light that needed no additional illumination.
Which was good, because Ellie had turned off the bedroom lights just before 11:59 PM.
Meeting her gaze and peering intently, the ghost spoke with the same low-but-feminine voice that had sent shivers down Ellie’s spine the previous evening. “As I foretold, this is my second appearance to you, as part of the curse that befalls the unhallowed owner of Hellmaenn House. Know ye that—”
“You changed your hair. It looks nicer this way.” Ellie was not usually the sort who would interrupt an older woman — somewhat older woman, anyway — never mind a dead one, but the change in hairstyle was striking, and so, to Ellie, worth a mention. “The way you had it last night was just like the way you had it for your official portrait that’s hanging in the Hellmaenn Foundation, but this is better. More like your photo that they have of you at the Hellmaenn Art Center. It’s nice.”
The ghost looked flustered. She started to speak, stopped herself, started to speak again, and then gently reached up and touched her hair. The translucence made it hard to determine the color, but it had a silver quality about it as it flowed down to her shoulders. “Thank you.” Her voice now had a warm tone, much more like the video news clips that Ellie had found online. “They had me put my hair up for that silly painting, but I always liked it down. That’s how I have it most of — how I had it most of the time. And then I lost it all to chemo, of course.” She gently stroked her semi-transparent hair as if she had trouble believing it was there.
Ellie smiled reassuringly. “I’m sorry, I interrupted you. You were talking about the curse. Although, since we’re kind of at a pause point, just a quick question. So ghosts can change their hair?”
The ghost looked off in the distance for a few seconds, then laughed ruefully. “It’s such an easy question, right? I mean, for a ghost, right? But I wasn’t really… aware… of myself until last night, when I appeared here to you. It’s hard to describe. But I saw myself in your mirror last night — I like how you redecorated in here, by the way, I saw photos in the hospital of what my son had done to Hellmaenn House and only the anti-nausea drugs kept me from puking, George has no sense of style — and I remember thinking, ‘Why is my hair like that, I never liked it like that?’ And then I started thinking wait, how can I have hair at all? Anyway, that’s why I must have seemed distracted there at the end, last night. Sorry.”
Ellie waved her hands to signal no problem. “I thought you were going for dramatic effect. Really, you were great. Can you change clothes, too? I mean, the gown is wonderful, but when I Googled you to see if it was really you, the photos of you had you mostly in jeans. Nice jeans, sure, designer jeans, but jeans, nevertheless. You always looked really comfortable when you were at a party or gala or social thing or whatever. Can you dress however you want?”
The ghost looked down at herself. She twisted her hips to swish her gown back and forth, sending the outer parts of the dress soundlessly through a side table that appeared unaffected. “I… don’t know. I’m new to this ghost thing. It’s so strange. How long have I been dead?”
Ellie pulled out her phone and asked it, “How long has Lillian Hellmaenn been dead?” The phone replied, “Lillian Hellmaenn has been dead three years, four months, eleven days.” Ellie looked at the ghost—Lillian Hellmaenn—and added, “Not too long. I guess. Kind of depends?”
Lillian seemed at a loss. “It’s like, I wasn’t… totally there after I died. Like I only awoke because of the curse. It’s very hard to describe.”
“Then don’t worry about it! It’s fine.” Ellie looked like she had suddenly remembered something. “Oh shit, the curse, yes, you’re supposed to be warning me? Or something? Haunting me, I think you mentioned last night? As the unrightful heir or owner or— y’know, I was a little freaked out last night, I wasn’t paying attention like I should have. My bad. Hey, do you want to sit down? Or can you sit down? I feel like I’m being a bad hostess. And this used to be your house, after all.”
Lillian looked at the empty chair next to the fireplace. She passed her hand through the chair and looked at Ellie apologetically. “I don’t seem to be able to sit, but thank you, that’s very nice. Oh crap, yes, the curse, didn’t George tell you about that when he sold you the place? I know I told him about it while I was at the hospice. I wanted to be sure nobody got stuck with a ghost.” She laughed ironically. “Although I really thought it would be my grandfather, not me! He was the one who built the place and cursed it, after all.”
“Doesn’t seem fair, does it?” Ellie said sympathetically. “And yep, George told me, but I thought it was some weird negotiating tactic.”
“The boy’s an idiot. Always was. I bet he had to sell this place to pay off debts? Yeah, I figured. Idiot. Only decent thing he ever did was give me my wonderful grandchildren. Even that I give more credit to that brilliant woman he married, God rest her soul. There’s—” Lillian suddenly stared at Ellie. “Hey! Are you going dim? Or is that me?”
The ghost was getting harder and harder for Ellie to see. “Sorry, Ms. Hellmaenn, I think our time is up, or something. Same time tomorrow?”
“Don’t ask me, kid, I just work here!” She laughed. “Hey, call me Lillie! All my friends do! Did. Whatev—” And she was gone.
Ellie picked up the glass of scotch that had been sitting untouched next to her all this time. “Interesting.” She took a sip and pondered. “And weird.”
Again, the sound of the twelfth stroke was still hanging in the air as the ghost appeared. “This is my third appearance, part of the curse, yada yada. You know the drill. Anyway! You know to call me Lillie and you’ve probably Googled everything about me, but I don’t know anything about you—who the hell are you and how did you get my house?”
Ellie sized up the ghost’s new looks. She was in what could only be described as business attire, and her face looked twenty years younger, at least. Her hair was now darker with ginger undertones; it seemed much thicker, although about as long. “Sorry, Lillie, I guess I just figured you’d have been briefed if you were going to haunt me!” Ellie grinned. “I am Ellenor Bland, my friends call me Ellie, so please do. I bought your house because it was convenient to my new job and I’d been tipped it was to be had for a good price, if I didn’t mind sinking a few hundred kay into the place to bring it up to snuff — no offense! I am divorced, two daughters both grown and through college, I have one grandson who is adorable and brilliant and can say all his letters, thank you, and I have a granddaughter on the way, due in December. Any questions?”
Lillie stuck her hands in her pockets and gave Ellie a knowing smile. “Based on the part you left out, you want me to ask, so I’ll play along. So tell me, Ms. Ellie Bland, what do you do for a living?”
Ellie smiled back at her. “Why, so nice of you to ask, Ms. Lillie Hellmaenn! I am, and have been for several months now, the CEO of Hellmaenn Brands. I believe you are familiar with the position, seeing as you held it less than ten years ago?” Her smile took on a conspiratorial aspect. “And as long as we’re here chatting, if you don’t mind, I have a few questions about some of the C-suite and board members you might remember from back in the day…”
Lillie appeared on time, as usual. This time she was accompanied by what appeared to be a deck chair, in which she was lounging comfortably. “Hey, girl!” she greeted Ellie. “Welcome back! How was Toronto? I used to love that city!” Her casual tone matched the loose blouse and comfortable capris she was wearing; her red hair, which looked wind-tossed, needed some combing.
Ellie was wearing her robe, nursing a cup of herbal tea instead of her usual scotch. “It was great, Lillie, but I have to apologize, I am totally beat. Those Canadians kept us up half the night last night, celebrating, after we finally got the agreement worked out. Well, signed off, really, my team did all the work. Hey, you were absolutely correct, that kid Taylor was utterly wasted in Marketing. She is kicking ass in M&A. Girl’s gonna have my job in twenty years, just wait.”
Lillie tried to look sympathetic but failed. “Awwww, poor widdle girl, you can’t dwink all night like when you was fifty, awwwww!” She stood up; the spectral deck chair vanished behind her. “No worries, kiddo, see you tomorrow. You get a good night’s sleep now.” She dramatically cleared her throat and pitched her voice to a deep rumble. “This is my two hundred and forty-seventh appearance to you, as part of the curse that befalls the unhallowed owner of Hellmaenn House. Know ye that your nights shall be full of terror and dread while the curse persists.”
Ellie watched the ghost fade away to disembodied macabre laughter. As if from the distance, she thought she heard Lillie’s voice: “Oh, that just never gets old…”
So Terrye Turpin has a ghost story that raises the question: are ghosts stuck in the hairstyle and clothes that they died in? Or is it optional?
The Ghosts in Our Clothes
The ghosts of their former owners haunt the clothes in thrift shops. The dead linger, like the fading lilac scent of…
And in the course of thinking about this I came up with Lillie, new to the whole ghost thing and still figuring it out. And then Ellie, who bounced back from the initial haunting, because she’s the sort of person who deals with problem people on a regular basis, and just because this one is dead doesn’t mean they can’t work things out…