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Ghost Light
Chapter One,

Dana Purcell sat, arms crossed, and glared at the blonde woman across the room. Her face was screwed up in an expression of anger, frustration and utter helplessness. She was still wearing a peasant blouse, her hair mashed under a hair net to accommodate the dark black wig she'd been wearing up until fifteen minutes ago. Dana watched the way the other woman's hand opened and closed, making a fist tight enough to turn her knuckles white. She was pissed. Dana couldn't blame her.

There was a knock on the door and Dana turned away from the mirror. "What do you want?"

The man sighed. He ran a hand through his thinning blonde hair and leaned against the doorframe. "Dana, you have to understand. It was a business decision."

"Business," she repeated, spitting the word as if it were a curse. She stood up and pulled off the hair net. Her natural blonde hair spilled out around her head as she advanced on Colin. He jumped back to avoid a collision and followed her out of the green room. "You realize this theatre is the only place where some of those people can live out their dreams? And you took that away from them."

"They can still audition for..."

"Bit parts," Dana said.

Colin smiled and shrugged. "There are no small actors..."

"Just pinhead business managers."

Colin let the smile fall and sighed. "We couldn't afford to keep everyone on, Dana. We would've had to terminate contracts anyway. So we decided to cut a few more and..."

"Seven more," Dana said. She stopped at the dressing room door. "Seven more people turned away. 'We don't have a place for you this year.' God, Colin, did you *practice* that speech? Because it would've been hard to be any colder."

Colin rubbed his face. "It's a Hail Mary pass. We need the money. Having someone like Sofia Chambers in the cast, even for one show, could be the thing that turns this theatre around."

"You're not explaining anything to me," Dana said. "All you're doing is pointing out what I already know. You chose money over people, Colin. Nothing you say can make me forgive that. All right?"

Colin finally lost a bit of his composure. "Would you rather we have fired *you*?"

Dana turned and pushed the door open with her back. "If this is how you treat loyalty... yeah. I probably would've."

Colin held the door open with his foot, averting his gaze to keep from seeing anything. "Remember the flyers when you leave. We need to announce the auditions as soon as possible."

"Fresh meat," Dana said from within.

Colin rolled his eyes and said, "Just get them out to the local businesses all right?" He didn't wait for an answer. The dressing room door slammed shut and he stalked back to his office.

Dana pulled off her blouse and tossed it into the cubby hole. She stared at the other cubbies and sighed. Seven people let go, just to get one stinking actress. In all, thirteen people were no longer employed by the theatre. Thirteen people, all of whom had been with the Squire's Isle Players longer than she had. But because her paycheck was so piddling, the management had kept her on. It wasn't worth it to fire her. She slapped her palm against the wooden side of her cubby and relished the sting in her hand. Better to feel bad than not feel anything at all, that's what the song said.

She pulled her clothes off the hanger and began to dress. The flyers were going to take her all night, most likely. But she had a plan. All she had to do was get them displayed at local businesses. She didn't have to ensure they would be seen by a good majority of the island. She smiled and started listing the places she could visit.


Gretchen whipped the plastic bag open and placed the stuffed orca whale inside. She wrapped the ferry-decorated souvenir shot glasses in tissue-paper and placed them on top of the stuffed whale for that added bit of protection. She closed the bag and handed it across the counter to the customer. "Thank you for shopping with us. Enjoy your stay on the island."

The customer took the bag without comment and left the store. Gretchen folded her hands together and leaned forward to look through the glass of the front door. The store's name, Funky Junk, was written in big letters in the top half of the glass. It blocked most of the view, but she could still see tourists flocking up and down the street.

Funky Junk was getting its fair share of patrons, but the majority of people seemed drawn to the trendier stores that surrounded them. The store to the north had an entire menagerie of glass animals; whales, eagles, otters. Gretchen picked up one of the stuffed whales next to the cash register - $12, plus tax - and looked it in the face. The other stores were selling classy souvenirs, stuff you wouldn't mind showing off to your friends. Funky Junk seemed to be living up to its name.

"Am I interrupting?" a man asked.

Gretchen looked up from the whale and straightened her back. The man was carrying a guide book, a map of the island and two stuffed eagles. She put the whale back and said, "Sorry. Did you find everything you needed?"

"And then some," the man said. He smiled as she scanned the guide book. "I'm staying on the island for a couple of nights. Camping with some friends. But, ah, we don't really want to spend the entire time in the woods. What is there in the way of entertainment?"

"Um," Gretchen said. She glanced at the window and said, "The movie theater, of course. There's the whale museum, and the sculpture park just outside of town. You could go whale watching up in Sholeh Village..."

"Is that stuff terribly expensive?"

She shrugged. "Depends on how many friends you have." She bagged his purchases and told him the total. As he handed over the cash, she said, "Whale watching is usually worth the price, though."

"I'll keep that in mind. Going to be hard to keep track of everything, being a tourist and all."

"Well, you have the guide book."

He hoisted the bag and said, "That I do. Thank you, Gretchen."

"Thank you. Enjoy your time on the island."

He walked out, the bells over the door jingling quietly as they were disturbed. Gretchen stepped back and picked up her soda. The clock at the back of the store - a clock bearing the name Squire's Isle, also on sale for $19.95 - revealed she still had three hours left on her shift. She sighed and rubbed the back of her neck. She liked working here, liked the people, but sometimes it just got to her.

Barbara, her manager, finished stocking a Squire's Isle jigsaw puzzle - $9.99 for the 500 piece, $15.99 for 1,000 - and swayed her generous hips around the edge of the counter. She smirked and said, "Gretchen, when will you learn?"

Gretchen frowned around her straw.

"That man," she said. She tilted her head towards the door and put her plump hands on Gretchen's shoulders. "He was flirting with you, honey."

"What? No. He was being nice."

Barbara leaned in and put her cheek next to Gretchen's. She gave her voice a southern-belle accent and said, "Ah'm all alone on the ah-sland. If only there was some sweet little native who could show me around."

Gretchen rolled her eyes and sipped her drink.

Barbara released Gretchen and went to the curve of the counter. A tall rack of key chains stood facing the door. She pulled it closer and began to rearrange them. Countless shoppers had rifled through them and they were completely mismatched. As she began to fix them, she said, "Honestly, girl, I don't know what you're looking for. If I had half the men hitting on me that you did, I'd have snatched up the first one with all his hair and gotten off the island years ago."

Gretchen was saved from comment by the bells over the door. The woman let the door swing shut behind her and approached the counter as if on a mission. Her hair was long and blonde, tucked underneath a blue Squire's Knights baseball cap. She was wearing sunglasses, but pulled them off as she reached the counter. "Hi," she said. She held up the stack of papers in her hand. "Could I put one of these flyers up in your window?"

"Lost dog?" Barbara asked.

"No," the woman said. She peeled off the top page and held it out to Gretchen. Gretchen was still too stunned by the woman's beauty to take it. "Um..." The woman moved her hand and gave it to Barbara instead. "It's an open call for auditions. The Squire's Isle Players... lost a couple of regulars, so we're trying to fill their spaces before the next show."

Barbara nodded. "All right." She handed the sheet to Gretchen and said, "Go on and put it up in the window with the other announcements." She looked at Gretchen and nudged her. "Gretchen. You all right?"

"Yeah," Gretchen managed. She took the announcement and walked around the counter.

The woman thanked Barbara and went to the front door. As Gretchen picked up the roll of tape, the woman said, "Thank you, Gretchen."

"No-no problem," Gretchen managed.

Once the door was closed, Barbara laughed, "Good thing you're not like that with the male customers. They'd think there was something wrong with you and then they'd never flirt with you."

"Yeah," Gretchen said softly. She put the announcement against the glass and unrolled a bit of tape. "Good thing..."


Dana walked up the gravel driveway and hesitated before knocking on the solid white door. A local business was a local business, and she'd set out to waste as many flyers as she could. Still... this was pushing it. She decided that she couldn't focus entirely on tourist traps and the airport, so she raised a fist and knocked on the door.

A thin man with a bit of gray showing in his red beard opened the door. He was wearing a white dress shirt, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, a pair of bifocals perched on the edge of his nose. He glanced at her and then looked around behind her. "Are you with the Mercers?"

"No, Mr. Rausch...?" He nodded. "I'm with the Squire's Isle Players. I was wondering if you could hang one of these flyers in your front window."

"My..." He frowned and took the flyer. He read a few lines and then looked at her. "You know this is a funeral home, right?"

Dana smiled. "I do. Would you mind putting the flyer up in the front door?"

He shook his head. "I... suppose not..."

"Great! Thank you, Mr. Rausch. And if you think it would be insensitive, you could take it down before funerals."

Rausch raised an eyebrow and said, "Or I could just not put it up at all."

"If you want," she said.

Rausch scrutinized her for a moment and then said, "You're a strange young lady."

"Thank you, Mr. Rausch."

He smiled and stepped back into the building. Dana checked her watch and checked to see how many more flyers she had. Might as well put one or two in well-trafficked areas.


The end of the day was usually reserved for restocking. Gretchen was at the front of the store, placing wooden whistles carved like orca whales - $2.50 apiece - into a small bin. Her eyes kept returning to the paper hanging in the window. She invented a reason to get up close and tried to read the text backwards.

"The Squire's Isle Players Need You!

All ages, genders, nationalities welcome! Always wanted to be an actor?

Now is the time to make your dream come true! Open auditions will be held at the

Rose Theatre, 135 Spring Street, next Saturday, 11AM until

3PM. Come prepared with a monologue and headshot."


She looked up and saw Barbara behind the cash register. "I'm going back into the office to finish the order forms for tomorrow. Can you handle it out here?"


"You sure you're okay? You're looking a little..."

"I'm fine," Gretchen said. "Go on. I'll handle things out here."

Barbara waved her hand in thanks and waddled back to the main office. Gretchen abandoned the whistle bin and went back behind the counter. She leaned forward on her elbows and looked towards the front door. The sun was starting to set, the last ferry of the day was minutes away from leaving and the flow of shoppers had slowed to a trickle. She lowered her head and rubbed the back of her neck. It was the lull that happened at the end of every day, when they were lucky to get one customer, let alone an actual sale.

The door opened with its usual chime and she straightened her back. "Welcome to..." She froze. It was the blonde woman from earlier, the actress who'd asked them to put up the announcement. "Oh. Hi. Welcome back."

"Thanks," the woman said. "It's Gretchen, right?"

Gretchen nodded.

"I'm Dana Purcell. Thanks for putting the announcement up."

"Yeah, for what good it'll do. We mostly get tourists in here..."

Dana shrugged and looked at the flyer. If Gretchen didn't know any better, she'd have said Dana looked pleased. "The more people see it, the more people show up at auditions."

Gretchen frowned. "But... tourists won't be around long enough to audition, let alone be in a play."

"Probably," Dana said. She looked around and changed the subject. "Do you sell drinks here?"

"Drinks?" Gretchen asked.

"Orange juice, bottled water..."

"Oh," Gretchen said. "Um. Yeah." She pointed at a small refrigerator unit against the back wall. "Squire's Isle water bottles. They're two dollars, though..."

Dana walked over and retrieved one. She smiled at the illustration on the front. "People pay two bucks for water just because there's a drawing of a ferry on the front of it?"

Gretchen shrugged. "You know. Tourists." Dana started to pull money from her pocket, but Gretchen said, "No, go on. It's on the house."

"Won't you get in trouble?"

"Nah. It's two bucks." She smiled and said, "Good luck with the play."

Dana smiled and tilted her bottle in a toast. "Thank you. You gonna come down and audition?"

"Yes," Gretchen said without thinking.

"Great! Well, I guess I'll see you there. Thanks for the water."

Gretchen waved and waited until Dana was out of sight before she put her head down on the counter. "Brilliant, Gretch," she muttered. "Just brilliant."


Gretchen waited behind for Barbara to lock up, bid her good-bye and started to walk home. She was thinking about the woman, Dana. *Why did I tell her I'd audition? I haven't acted since high school. I wasn't even that good back then.* She sighed and debated what would be worse... going to the audition and humiliating herself in front of Dana or not going at all and let Dana think she was a flake.

"You just met her," Gretchen chided herself. She stuck her hands under her arms to fight the chill coming off the harbor. "What do you care what a total stranger thinks of you? A total... beautiful, blonde stranger." She only had to walk two blocks before the restaurants and shops transformed into her neighborhood.

She scanned the houses as she passed, a few of the windows open to reveal people coming home from work, watching TV, getting dinner ready... perfect portraits of perfect people. She sighed and lowered her head, hunching her shoulders against the wind and the sight of all the families. She had had enough of the human race for one day; she just prayed she'd be able to get past the two landmines she knew were waiting for her at home.

Sure enough, as she turned the corner, she spotted her next-door neighbor standing on the porch. She groaned, shoved her hands into her pockets and hoped the old widow could read body language.

Gretchen made it all the way to the driveway before Miss Lombardo called out, "Oh, Miss Cole! Miss Cole!"

Gretchen groaned and stopped in the middle of the driveway. Miss Lombardo was hurrying across her driveway, holding her robe up so that the hem wouldn't brush the ground. Gretchen stopped in the driveway and waited for Miss Lombardo to catch up. She was brandishing a handful of envelopes. "I got some of the Schroeder's mail by mistake. Would you mind giving it to them?"

"Sure," Gretchen said. She took the mail, but didn't try to move away; she knew Miss Lombardo too well to think that was the end of the conversation.

"People still stealing your newspaper?"

"I don't get it delivered. I'm not a subscriber."

"Ahh," the old woman said. She shook her head. "Made you cancel your subscription, did they? Rotten buggers..."

"No, I never had a--"

"I've been getting up at five," Miss Lombardo said. "Watching from my window. They've been sneaky so far, but I'll catch them. Mark my words."

Gretchen nodded and said, "I have to get inside, Miss Lombardo."

"Right, right. Well... just so you know I'm keeping an eye on your paper. You pay for that subscription, you should get it!"

Gretchen didn't bother to correct the woman again. She smiled and waved and walked up the driveway.

She lived in the tiny guesthouse behind the Schroeder's house. It was separated from the main house by a narrow garden. Her front yard was their back, and she hardly ever used it. The Schroeders were nice enough people, but sometimes they were *too* nice. They always asked about her day, sometimes stopping her when she was on her way inside. Slightly annoying when she was coming home after a long day, sheer torture when she was in a rush to get to the bathroom.

Fortunately, it seemed she had beat Mike and Nancy home. She left the lights off and the curtains drawn and went directly to the kitchen. She made herself a sandwich, carefully making sure the turkey and the Swiss cheese were perfectly aligned before she added the top piece of bread. She took out a knife and cut the sandwich diagonally. She swept the crumbs from the counter into the palm of her hand, dumped them in the trash and then sat down to eat the sandwich at the kitchen table.

She looked down at the sandwich, the meager results of all that work, and leaned forward. "You're a real catch, Gretch," she murmured as she took a bite. "Working in a tourist trap, no car, and it takes you a damned eternity to make a sandwich... who wouldn't want you?" She snapped off the corner of her sandwich, sagged in her chair and prayed the Schroeders didn't want to be civil today.


After her snack, when the sun had gone down and it was necessary to turn on a light, she clicked on a lamp next to the couch. She sat in the glow and folded the newspaper over her lap. She worked the cryptogram (an H.L. Mencken quote that the paper had used before) and flipped to the Arts section.

She found a small review for the latest play, 'Seasons Change.' The reviewer described it as a "bittersweet production, given this will be the last time many familiar faces will grace the stage of the Rose Theatre." There was no mention of Dana Purcell, but there was a fond farewell to several people she'd never heard of.

At the bottom of the review, the reporter gave a preview of upcoming shows. It seemed the next one up, the one Gretchen had found herself agreeing to audition for, was called 'The Sound of Your Voice.' The reporter called the play "an annual classic, despite the play's tragic history."

Gretchen thumbed around for any further information on the Rose Theatre or the plays, but she found nothing. She was about to put the paper away when she saw a blurb on the back of the Sports page. "Squire's Knights Leading Local Tourney." Her mind flashed to Dana's baseball cap and she folded the paper to read the article.

She skimmed past the play-by-play, ignoring names she didn't recognize until one jumped out at her. *"We're riding the wave," said shortstop Dana Purcell. "Living up to all those traditions like not changing our socks. I haven't changed my socks since April."*

Gretchen snickered and closed the paper, finally putting it aside. She pulled her legs up onto the couch and hugged her knees. "I don't need another crush," she told herself. "I don't need another crush." She recalled her last crush, the librarian who had come to town a few months back. Gretchen had checked out dozens of books she never intended to read, just to get a few moments with the woman.

It hadn't turned out well. Or, to be honest, it hadn't turned out anything. Gretchen had quickly become embarrassed of her infatuation and stopped going to the library all-together. It had been months since she'd read anything new.

Crushing over Dana Purcell would be different, she told herself. She was just some random woman from the island. She didn't work with her, she didn't see her every day. Until that afternoon, she had never seen her before. *What would it hurt?* she argued with herself. Just go up, tell her you're attracted to her and... See where it leads. The worst that could happen is she laughs in your face.*

She scoffed and ran her hands through her hair. That was the humiliating thing. She was twenty-eight years old and she was still mortified by the thought of someone laughing at her. She'd rather be lonely than face that. She'd rather be a recluse than risk taking a leap of faith.

With a sigh, she got up and went to the computer. She got online and started searching for monologues. She'd made a promise. She was going to take *this* chance, risk humiliation here and hopefully it would help her accept rejection in all its many forms.


The Blair Idyll Apartments were lit like a Christmas tree as Dana parked in the back lot. She went upstairs to her apartment, turned on a lamp and put her stuff down. She still had four flyers left, but she wasn't going to be bothered with them. Not tonight. She saw the red flashing light on the answering machine and pressed the button for her messages.

"Dana, it's me! Hunch!" said a cigarette-worn voice, the words almost lost in a thick Irish brogue. She smiled as he continued, "I just wanted to say congrats on sticking around. Also, my *condolences* on being forced to stick around. Gimme a call sometime, kid. We'll head over to Daoine Maite, lift a pint for old times' sake."

The machine beeped and a new voice said, "Purse-strap, pick up! Pick up...! Guess you're not home. Me, Lucy and a couple of other rejects are hopping the last ferry of the day. We're gonna tear Seattle *up.* Give us a call if you can make it. It wouldn't be a party without you!"

She checked her watch and saw the last ferry of the day had already left. Too bad; Seattle with Lucy and Laura would certainly have been a good way to end the day. She kicked off the shoes and dropped onto the couch as the messages continued to play. They were all from actors and actresses no longer employed by the Rose Theatre. She put an arm across her eyes and blotted her tears with the sleeve. "Sorry, guys," she said quietly. "I did what I could."

Continued in Chapter Two

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