Waking the Dead
It was unseasonably warm. Even though the month of October already was almost over, the cold had not yet affected life on the Plains.
Megan Sullivan stared at the screen of her tiny TV on the counter next to the cash register and she pulled a face when the weatherman predicted a change of weather.
“Too late,” she mumbled, eyeing the rows of costumes that lined her shop. She had not sold even half of what she needed to sell. It had been too warm and people simply were not yet interested in Halloween. Not today anyway. Maybe a good thunderstorm and some cooler temperatures would bring her some business.
“As if,” Megan sighed. She had inherited the store from her eccentric great-aunt, who had started the party and costume shop a few decades ago. In fact, it must have been longer than that, because Megan could remember visiting Aunt Marge when she was a toddler. The store, with its odd array of contents, had always intrigued her. Ever since she had been a teenager, she had helped out in the store as often as possible. Aunt Marge had never married and had eventually turned the store and the apartment above it over to her niece.
Megan smiled at the memory. One afternoon, after she had graduated from college, still not sure what she wanted to do with her life, her aunt had called her to the store. She then handed her a folder with some paperwork, a set of keys and a credit card. When Megan had looked at her wide-eyed, not knowing what her aunt’s intention was, Marge had laughed, hugged her niece and told the stunned young woman she was now the proud owner of a party store, because she, Marge, was going on a trip around the world. Shortly after those fateful words, she had left.
It had taken Megan a few days to get over the initial shock and confusion. But when her aunt had started to send her postcards from different places around the globe, it had finally begun to sink in that Aunt Marge had been deadly serious.
“I just hope I won’t ruin your business, Marge,” Megan mumbled. “I haven’t sold much yet this season.”
At than moment the door of the store opened, triggering a mechanism that imitated the sound of a hoot owl. The three women entering the store jumped in surprise and then started laughing.
“Oh, my goodness, look at all this stuff,” one of them exclaimed, fingering a ‘Davy Jones’ costume, giggling as she touched its rubbery mask.
“Gross!” woman number two replied, wrinkling her nose.
“It’s Halloween, doofus,” the third one added. “It’s supposed to be gross and repulsive.”
Megan smiled at the three who were slowly approaching her counter. She focused on the woman in the front, who was clearly leading the group.
“How may I help you, ladies?”
“We need some stuff,” the woman in the front answered, to delight of the other two.
“Stuff? Andy, you need to be a little more specific.”
Andy grinned and shot Megan an apologetic smile. Their eyes met and, with appreciation, Megan noticed Andy’s eyes were a clear, sparkling blue.
“Sorry,” Andy mouthed. “Alright, we, my sisters and I, are involuntary volunteers who have been assigned to organize a party. A Halloween one,” she added, while Megan nodded in understanding.
“Involuntary volunteers! Good one, Andy,” one of her sisters laughed. “Thanks to our brothers and dad!”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that, Kris,” Andy replied. “I think mom has something to do with it as well. Anyway,” Andy turned back to Megan who had followed the conversation with interest, “We need to put together a party. And we have two days.”
“For how many people?” Megan asked.
“At least...what do you think, Beth?”
“Thirty?” the remaining sister answered with a frown.
“Thirty,” Megan echoed. “Well, I do have...”
“It will be way more than thirty,” Andy interrupted her. “But we need at least thirty costumes.”
Megan stared at the woman in front of her, trying to determine if she was serious or not.
“She’s telling the truth,” Kris nodded, nudging her sister in the side. “Thirty costumes. Seventeen adults and thirteen children.”
“And in addition we need party supplies for...oh, at least a small army,” Beth added.
Three pairs of blue eyes stared at Megan with a mixture of anticipation, hope and trepidation.
“We’re truly desperate. Could you help us...please ?” Andy asked, capturing Megan’s brown eyes with her own. For a few seconds, the intensity of the stare made Megan lose her train of thought. The only thought she was aware of was how mesmerizing those eyes were that observed her so closely.
“Business...business.....costumes, Halloween...,” a little voice in the back of her mind yelled at her and mentally, Megan kicked herself.
“Yes, absolutely,” she finally answered, tearing her eyes away from the sky blue in front of her. “I’m pretty sure I have everything you need. Did you bring a list?”
“A list,” Andy drawled, casting a look at her sisters.
“A list?” Kris replied, nodding her head.
“No,” Beth answered. “That would have required thinking ahead and we were thrown off the deep end. This morning,” she added with a sigh.
Megan chuckled and reached underneath the counter to pull out a writing pad.
“Alright. Let’s start a list,” she suggested. “I have to admit, organizing a party like that with the time you have is going to be a challenge. But, it is doable.”
“Save our hides and we’ll adopt you,” Beth mumbled.
“Or let you marry into the family,” Kris added, which earned her a poke from Beth.
“Our brothers are all taken, sweetie,” she snorted. “I am sure none of their wives is willing to share.”
“Andy is single,” Kris chuckled. “Come on, sis, think modern.”
“Leave me out of this,” Andy mumbled, involuntarily feeling her cheeks turn pink. Leave it up to her sisters to embarrass her in front of a stranger. A cute stranger, but, nonetheless, a stranger. “You guys can’t be so desperate you want to marry me off to the first nice person who wants to help us.”
“Oh, yes, we are,” Kris and Beth immediately answered and both of them laughed.
Megan had noticed the glowing pink that had colored Andy’s cheeks and found it utterly charming. But she did not want to add to the other woman’s discomfort, so she looked at the other two sisters, her pen in hand, ready to write.
“Is there a theme?” she asked.
“A theme?” the both answered in unison, which made them giggle again.
“Yes, a theme. Some people like vampire parties, or pirate parties, graveyard, castle, animals,” Megan ticked off her fingers, trying to kick start the sisters’ thinking process.
“Oh,” Kris replied, casting a look at Beth and Andy. “I don’t think we have discussed any of that...yet.”
“I thought as much,” Megan chuckled. “But surely the three of you can come up with something.”
“Sure,” Beth drawled. “I have the imagination of an oak tree, Kris here has no imagination at all, but Andy makes up for that. What do you think about a theme, sunshine?”
“Who me?” Andy stammered, feeling like she had been caught staring at the dark-haired, brown eyes shop owner.
“Yes, you,” Kris laughed, having noticed the way her sister had been studying Megan.
“Well, I don’t think it should be too creepy, because of the kids,” Andy mused. “It should be fun and...entertaining.”
“A little creepy though,” Kris insisted. “The kids love the suspense of Halloween. Although I have to agree I don’t want to freak them out of their little minds.”
“How old are the children?” Megan asked, amused by the conversation.
“They range from thirteen months to twelve years old,” Beth answered. “So, what do we do? Disney? Pirates? A graveyard? No vampires,” she added determinedly.
“Why don’t we do a combination?” Andy asked. “We can have a ‘no theme, all is great’...theme.” She cast a questioning look at Megan, who smiled and gave her a thumbs up.
“Sure, that sounds great,” the shop owner agreed. “That way you can customize each and every individual’s wants and desires.”
“This is good,” Andy smiled back. “That way we only have to figure out a costume for each family member.”
“I love it!” Kris laughed. “I’ll finally get the chance to get back at Phil. We have to put him in the most uncomfortable costume.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t do that,” Megan answered seriously.
“You can’t?” Kris’ face fell.
“Didn’t you see the sign when you walked into the door?” Megan asked and Andy smiled when she noticed a twinkle in the dark-haired woman’s eyes. “All costumes comfortable. Guaranteed.”
Beth and Andy started laughing and Kris joined in with a chuckle.
“Okay, I don’t want to ruin the reputation of this esteemed establishment,” she said, waving a hand. “But let’s get him something embarrassing then.”
Beth and Kris walked to a row of costumes and Megan smiled at Andy.
“I don’t know who Phil is, but I’m feeling sorry for him already,” she said.
“Don’t be,” Andy laughed. “Phil is our eldest brother and he’s the biggest tease of the bunch. I’m sure my sisters will find something for him he would never have dreamed of selecting on his own. By the way, my name is Andy Parker,” she added with a shy smile.
“Megan Sullivan,” Megan answered, grabbing the hand that was extended to her. Andy’s grip was warm and firm and Megan wished she could hold on to it a little longer.
“Beth Anderson and Kris McNeal are two of my older sisters.”
“Two of your older sisters,” Megan repeated. “How many sisters do you have?”
“Four sisters and two brothers,” Andy smiled. “I’m the youngest of seven.”
“Somehow I am not surprised. The way they teased you about marrying you off.”
“Oh, that,” Andy sighed, suppressing another blush. “Yes, I get a lot of grief over that, but I can take it.” she added with a smile. “Do you have any siblings?”
“A brother,” Megan nodded. “No sisters.”
There was a brief silence in which both women smiled at each other, both eager to continue questioning the other, but Kris and Beth came walking back, each one carrying an armful of colorful items.
“We decided to dress up Phil like the Travelocity gnome,” Beth chuckled. “He’ll look so cute in a little red outfit and pointy hat!”
“Don’t forget the beard,” Kris added, holding up the item and making a face. “I so hope it will itch.”
“Phil is about six foot four,” Andy explained Megan with a laugh. “He’ll look absolutely, positively ridiculous.”
“Good,” Kris said, draping the costume across the counter. “That’s one out of the way.”
“Where will this party take place?” Megan asked, scribbling something on her pad.
“Ummm...we thought we could do it at the restaurant,” Andy answered. “Our parents own a restaurant and there is a big function room behind it that we could use.”
“Do you want to party in style?” Megan asked with a grin.
“Of course,” Beth nodded, curiously looking at the store owner.
“How would you like to use my place?”
“Your place?” Andy echoed with a frown.
“There is a huge room behind the store. It has two stories and an attic. My great aunt used to rent it out for parties. It’s excellent. It would be easy to get it all ready for Halloween, because a lot of stuff is already there.”
“Stuff like what?” Kris asked, liking the idea. Megan’s enthusiasm was contagious.
“A fog machine, stage, bar, lights and special effects. And, of course, the ghosts.”
“Ghosts?” Andy asked, a little hesitantly.
“Well, rumor says there are ghosts. It’s an old building and you know how stories go. I, myself, have never seen one.”
“How cool is that?” Kris laughed. “I love the idea! How much will it cost us to rent the place?”
“Nothing.” Megan immediately answered, aware of her quickly waning business sense. For a few brief seconds she wondered how much a certain pair of sparkling blue eyes had to do with her generous offer, but she rapidly shrugged that off. Who cared anyway?
“You want to have a big party,” Megan answered. “It looks like you’ll be renting a lot of my costumes, so, to make this a successful event for all of us, I’ll let you use the space for the night. If you want to, that is.”
“Heck, yes,” Beth answered and Kris nodded enthusiastically.
“That’s very generous of you,” Andy said. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Megan returned the smile, feeling like she had just won the lottery. She grabbed her writing pad again and looked at the three faces in front of her. “So, about costumes...who do you want to dress up next ?”
It took the sisters about an hour and a half to collect thirty different costumes. By then, closing time had approached and then passed. While the sisters had been making their selections, Megan had helped a few more customers who had wandered into the store. As she began to close up, she reflected happily on the way business had suddenly picked up.
“You’d better keep an eye on the TV or radio tonight,” one of the departing customers had warned her. “There is some severe weather on the way. Reports are that it may get pretty loud tonight. There’s even a chance for nighttime tornados.”
“Great, just what we need,” Megan had sighed. “Thanks for the warning though. I’ll make sure to turn on my weather radio.”
“Bad weather?” Kris asked, having heard part of the conversation.
“Apparently,” Megan answered. “We’ll see what happens. Do you still want to have a look at the backrooms?”
“We’d love to,” Andy answered, trying not to wonder why the thought of spending more time in Megan’s company was making her feel so happy.
“Follow me,” Megan smiled. “But let me lock up first.”
She locked the front door of the store and turned the ‘closed’ sign around and a few minutes later she was on her way to the back of the building, the three sisters in tow.
“It’s right in here,” she said, opening a door and gesturing for the trio to step inside. Megan flipped the light switch and immediately heard three different variations of ‘oh’.
“It’s great,” Kris was the first one to speak, walking into the hall, slowly turning around to have a better look.
“It’s huge,” Beth nodded, following Kris to the center of the room.
“It’s perfect,” Andy smiled, briefly touching Megan’s arm. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Megan answered. “Do you think your family and friends will all fit in here?”
“Oh, yeah.” Andy laughed. “Megan, you could have a marching band perform in here and you’d still have room left for a fire truck and a couple of elephants.”
Megan laughed and put a hand on Andy’s shoulder, giving it a quick, friendly squeeze.
“I’ve never heard a description like that, but I am glad it will be big enough.”
“It will be, believe me,” Andy nodded, looking around with sparkling eyes. “So, where are your ghosts supposed to be hiding?”
“Up there,” Megan pointed to a corner of the hall. It was not as illuminated as the rest of the hall, but Andy was still able to see the old fashioned winding staircase that apparently led to the attic.
“What kind of ghosts?”
“I’ve never seen one,” Megan asked. “But I’ve been told they are friendly and like a good party.”
“Has your great aunt ever seen them?”
“She said she did,” Megan answered with a laugh. “But then, Aunt Marge is a business woman and she’d say anything like that if it would attract customers.”
“And you wouldn’t?” Andy asked, casting a look at the woman who was standing next to her.
“I guess you’ll have to find out,” Megan winked.
“Can we have a look? Upstairs, I mean.” Kris eagerly asked, having overheard the conversation. “Not that I believe in ghosts, but still.”
Megan chuckled. She had heard that line more times than she could remember.
“Of course. Follow me,” she invited the women, heading for the staircase. With Megan in the lead, the other three women followed closely while they climbed the stairs to the dark attic.
“Do you use the attic at all?” Beth asked curiously, peering into the darkness.
“Not really,” Megan answered.
“Why not?” Andy asked. “It must be huge.”
“I don’t really know,” Megan shrugged, having reached the top of the stairs and flipping the light switch. “Maybe because my aunt never used it.”
“Oh, my gosh,” Beth and Kris breathed simultaneously as they entered the shadowy room.
“It’s enormous,” Andy whispered, looking around the attic with wide eyes. “And look at all that stuff.”
“It belongs to my aunt. I’ve never really felt inspired to go through it all,” Megan confessed, glancing towards the looming stacks of boxes, trunks and furniture. “I’ve meant to ask her about it, but even though she sends me a card every few weeks, she never leaves an address so I guess I’ll have to wait until she comes home.”
Beth nodded, adding “Just by glancing at the furniture, I can tell you there are a lot of antiques stored up here. And they seem to be in excellent condition.”
“Is it okay to have a look around?” Kris asked with shining blue eyes. She looked like a child who had discovered hidden treasure and Megan chuckled.
“Sure, go ahead.”
When Kris and Beth wandered over to a corner where they had spotted an old bookcase, Andy turned to Megan and shot her a questioning look.
“You are very trusting,” she said, glancing at the other woman with a pensive expression in her eyes. “How do you know we’re not thieves?”
“I guess I don’t know,” Megan smiled. “But the fact that you asked makes me believe you are not. Are you?” she added with feigned horror.
“No, we’re not,” Andy laughed, gently bumping Megan with her elbow. “I just wonder if you’re always this welcoming.”
“Not really,” Megan admitted. “Usually, I do have a healthy dose of skepticism in regards to the people’s best behavior.”
“What makes it different this time?”
Megan did not immediately answer, but took a few moments to study the blonde in front of her with soft brown eyes.
“Gut feeling,” she finally answered, not able to tear her eyes away from Andy’s. The longer she looked into those clear, blue depths, the more she realized she was falling. Unexpectedly, illogically, unreasonably, but falling just the same.
“And how do you know I am not an ax-wielding psycho?” she asked softly, her eyes still captured by Andy’s.
“Gut feeling,” the other woman whispered in reply, smiling when she noticed the twinkle in Megan’s eyes.
“Hey, you two, stop flirting with each other,” Kris’ voice suddenly shattered the silence. “I believe that...”
She never finished her sentence, because, all of a sudden, a loud, ear-shattering sound pierced the air. Beth yelped and all four women jumped, startled at first, but then wincing at the sound that was so high-pitched, it hurt their ears.
“What the heck is that?” Kris yelled, covering her ears with her hands.
Megan mumbled something the others could not understand and quickly walked to a little box that was mounted on the wall, opening its tiny door and pressing a button. The silence that followed was greeted with sighs of relief.
“Now, that scared me into another dimension,” Kris let out a shuddering breath, followed by a nervous chuckle.
“What was that?” Andy curiously asked.
“Weather alarm,” Megan answered. “My aunt had it installed years ago. The only thing she’s terrified of is thunderstorms. She did not like to be surprised by them. I had no idea it could be heard here as well.”
“Well, it can,” Andy chuckled. She took a deep breath and was grateful to feel her heart rate was slowing down. “That one is so loud, it could wake the dead.”
“Don’t say things like that,” Beth snapped nervously, looking over her shoulder towards a particularly dark corner. She moved a little closer to her sisters, which made her immediately feel better.
“What’s wrong, Elizabeth? Are you perhaps a little spooked?” Kris teased, as she playfully ruffled her sister’s short hair.
“I am,” Beth nodded. “And I am not too proud to admit it. I think I have seen enough of this attic for now.” She cast a look at Megan and smiled. “It would be great to go through all this stuff sometime later though.”
“I’ll see if I can get a hold of my aunt,” Megan replied, returning the smile. “If she gives me permission to go through it all, I’ll give you a call.”
“Great,” Kris sighed. “Beth and I love treasure hunts and antiquing.”
“And I would probably need some help to go through it all,” Megan admitted. “There’s so much stuff up here. I...”
The sound of a heavy object hitting the wooden floor, made her stop in mid-sentence and, tilting her head to one side, she listened intently.
“What was that?” Kris whispered, nervously looking over her shoulder.
“It sounded like something fell over,” Andy answered in a calm voice. “You two probably disturbed something back there, in that corner.”
“I didn’t touch a thing,” Beth replied with a shake of her head and Megan grinned.
“It must be the ghost then,” she stated, biting back a laugh when Beth stepped even closer to Kris and grabbed her sister’s arm.
“Oh, God, the ghost, I almost forgot about that,” Andy smiled. “You think we woke it up?”
“Do ghosts even sleep?” Kris asked with a nervous laugh.
“This one might have,” Megan nodded. “I bet the weather alarm woke it.”
“All right, that’s it. I am going back downstairs,” Beth announced, quickly heading for the staircase, closely followed by Kris, who was snickering and shaking her head.
“What a nice touch of Halloween,” Andy said, turning to Megan and shooting her an appreciative glance.
“Hey, I have absolutely nothing to do with that,” Megan defended herself and by the look in her eyes, Andy knew she spoke the truth.
“I believe you. But, still, it’s a nice setting for Halloween.”
“I’m glad you like it,” Megan smiled, gesturing Andy to follow her to the staircase.
“I really appreciate your helping us, Megan,” Andy said, putting her hand on the dark-haired woman’s arm and giving it a soft squeeze. “With your input I believe we will create great Halloween party for the family. I know we could not have done it without you and your ideas”
“I’m happy to help,” Megan answered, sounding a little shy. She was about to step away from Andy, but Andy’s hand was still on her arm and she swallowed hard, very aware of the warmth that simple touch spread through her body.
“Thank you,” Andy whispered and before Megan could reply, a pair of soft lips landed on her cheek, kissing her gently, before the hand on her arm disappeared and Andy started her descend down the dimly lit stairs.
With her heart hammering in her chest, Megan stood there for a long moment, staring at the stairs where she could see the blond crown of Andy’s head disappearing out of sight. With a smile of wonder, she touched her cheek and slowly started to follow the blonde, when, again, her ears picked up a soft sound, coming from the attic behind her. When she quickly turned around, she only saw the furniture, trunks and boxes. With a shrug of her shoulders she continued on her way down, but she could have sworn that, somewhere behind her, she heard a very soft, almost inaudible chuckle.
The three sisters must have told all their friends about Megan’s store, because the next day and on Halloween itself, there were a great many people visiting the shop, saying things like: “Beth told me this is a great place to shop,” or ‘Kris recommended you.” Megan was thrilled with the unexpected spike in business, even as she was very busy helping to prepare the party for Andy, Kris, Beth and their family.
A few hours before she would close her store and put the final touches to the hall, there were still last-minute shoppers running into the store, looking for party items and costumes. Megan hated to turn anyone away, so she patiently helped them all, but after the last one left, she was eager to lock the door, knowing there were still a few things she needed to do before the Parker family arrived.
Just as she turned the ‘open’ sign on the door to ‘closed’, a car stopped in front of the building. With a small sigh, Megan turned the key, knowing she would help this customer as well, but then her eyes fell on the woman exiting the car and her heart did a little jump.
As she got out of the car, Andy turned and noticed Megan standing at the front door and a bright smile lit up her face.
“Hi, Megan,” she called in greeting, as the dark-haired woman opened the door for her. “Are you closing up for the night?”
“I am,” Megan nodded. “There are a few more things I need to do, before your family arrives.” She paused and looked into the smiling eyes. “Hello, Andy,” she said softly.
“It’s nice to see you,” Andy said softly, putting her hands in the front pockets of her jeans, fighting the temptation to reach out and give Megan a hug and a kiss.
“It’s good to see you, too,” Megan answered, hesitating in her desire to wrap her arms around the other woman and pull her close.
“Ummm...are you early, or am I running late?” she asked slowly, smiling when Andy gave her a sunny laugh.
“I am early,” the blonde admitted. “I thought you might need a hand with finishing things. You’ve been such a good sport, with us dumping this party on you. I am sure you’ve been swamped all day, with last-minute shoppers and desperate party goers.”
“Actually, I have,” Megan nodded. “And yes, I could use your help. Thank you.”
“Good,” Andy replied, giving Megan a friendly pat on the back. “Just tell me what needs to be done.” The blonde followed Megan to the back of the store, into the large room that had been decorated for the Halloween party.
“Goodness,” she let out a breath. “You did a wonderful job, Megan. It looks great.”
“You think so?” Megan asked a little insecure. She had never really done anything like it before and as she had been decorating she had wondered if the Parker family would like what she had done with the place.
“Oh, yes,” Andy laughed, turning to Megan. She immediately noticed the look of relief on the other woman’s face and she stepped closer, putting a warm hand on Megan’s arm. “Were you worried about what we’d think?”
“Just a little,” Megan answered a little sheepishly. “I know you were all pretty desperate and grateful for my help, but still, I’d hate to mess up your family party, just because of my inexperience with dressing up the barn,” she explained.
“No need to be worried,” Andy said, gently squeezing Megan’s arm. “The place looks great! My family will be in Halloween heaven and I owe you big time. You saved our lives, or at least our rear ends.”
“No, you don’t owe me,” Megan immediately replied. “I offered to help, it’s not like you girls begged me.”
“I would have begged,” Andy said and they both laughed. “But still, I feel I owe you something,” Andy looked in to a pair of soulful brown eyes and took a deep breath. “So, I’d like to take you out for dinner sometime, just to show you my appreciation,” she quickly added, afraid to scare off the attractive brunette.
“ Just dinner? Or a date?” Megan dared and involuntarily she held her breath when she noticed the pink flush on Andy’s cheeks.
“Busted,” the blonde whispered, but then she straightened her shoulders and looked Megan straight in the eye. “Date,” she nodded, letting out a relieved sigh when the dark-haired woman’s eyes sparkled back at her.
“Does that mean you’ll take me to your parents’ restaurant?” Megan teased.
“Heck, no!” Andy exclaimed, chuckling when she noticed the twinkle in Megan’s eyes. “I’d only do that if I would want no privacy, a lot of harassment and tons of family advice.”
Smiling, they stared at each other for a long moment, not aware of the similar thoughts that were floating through their minds. They both felt incredibly at ease and recognized the strong pull of attraction to each other.
While still lost in thought and in each other’s eyes, all of a sudden the lights flickered. For a few seconds it looked like they would go out, but then the power stabilized, although the bright lights were dimmer, making the huge hall look smaller and more intimate, in spite of the garish Halloween decorations.
“What was that?” Andy asked in a whisper, reluctant to tear her eyes away from Megan’s.
“Power glitch,” Megan answered, still mesmerized by the clear blue of Andy’s eyes.
A loud sigh threaded through the quiet room and, startled, the two women looked at each other.
“What was that?” Andy asked again, this time her voice held a little more worry.
“Umm...the wind?” Megan tried, wondering if perhaps she had left a window open somewhere in back.
Once again the lights flickered, but this time half of them did not come back on and, to the women’s amazement the old-fashioned lanterns Megan had used to decorate the bar with, began to glow.
They stood there, frozen in shock, staring at the merrily dancing flames and subconsciously, they stepped closer to each other. Megan felt Andy’s hand creep into her own and, grateful for its warmth, she entwined their fingers, finding a little courage in the gentle pressure.
“Tell me you came up with a clever idea to have those candles light themselves,” Andy whispered, feeling a shiver run own her spine.
“I wish,” Megan answered softly. Only a part of her was frightened by what appeared to be happening, but another part of her was very intrigued.
“Is somebody there?” she called out, glad her voice was not quivering.
There was no answer, so she tried it again, this time a little louder.
“Is there anybody there?”
A sudden rush of chilled air ruffled their hair.
With a soft yelp, Andy stepped inside the circle of Megan’s arms, not caring what the other woman would think of it. But Megan closed her arms around the blonde and pulled her into her body, feeling comforted by her close presence.
Megan could feel her heart pound in her chest and she took a deep, steadying breath. Her brain was working rapidly trying to come up with a rational explanation for what appeared to be happening, but her ability to reason fell short. All she could think of were the stories her aunt had told her over the years - tales that had been amusing then, but were discarded by Megan as folk tales, told for the sole purpose of amusement and scary Halloween parties.
“Who is it?” Megan tried again. “We know you’re here, so you might as well show yourself now.”
Where’s the fun in that?
“Oh, my gosh, am I trying to talk sense into a ghost?” Megan sighed, barely audible.
“A ghost?” Andy echoed, equally soft. “Are you kidding me?”
“I’m afraid not,” Megan answered honestly, hoping Andy would not run away screaming. “I remember a few of my aunt’s stories and...well...I have to admit, while I never really believed her before...maybe there is something to them after all.”
Andy, who had pressed her cheek against Megan’s shoulder, peered up and when she saw the calm expression on her friend’s face, immediately felt better. If Megan wasn’t afraid, then why would she be?
“What was the story about?”
“Well,” Megan started slowly, trying to remember what her aunt had told her. “This building is very old and has always been a store. About a hundred years ago, two women lived here. They were the owners and the place was a country store. To the outside world they were sisters, but in truth they were lovers. They had been together since they were teenagers and had run away from home.” Megan cast a look at Andy’s face, smiling when she noticed the blonde was listening intently. “After a lot of adventures, they landed here and found jobs at the store. It was owned by an old couple, who, when they died, left the place to the girls. They managed it and expanded it, until they passed away.”
“When did that happen?” Andy asked curiously.
“According to Aunt Marge it was on Halloween,” Megan sighed.
“What happened? Did they...pass away on the same day? They weren’t...there wasn’t any foul play, was there?”
“Not that I know of,” Megan shrugged. “She never really told me. It’s weird though, when you think about it. It makes me think that something strange must have happened.”
Nothing spectacular, another rush of air and both women shivered.
“Do...do you mind telling us?” Andy tried, feeling a little silly talking to....well, air.
“It was stupid, really,” a second voice sounded, surrounding the two women and Megan and Andy felt like they were enveloped in a blanket of cool air.
“We had no idea....”
Feeling a little more at ease, Megan turned to where the sound came from and squinted her eyes, trying to see something in the semi-darkness.
“It was a cold night, with a lot of storms...”
“Halloween 1916...There was a party...”
“Right here, in this hall....there were a lot of people.”
“When the party died down”....there was a faint chuckle....”we sat in the cold kitchen, trying to get warm before going to bed.”
“We fell asleep, right there....”
“And never woke up....”
There was a brief silence and Andy looked up at Megan with a frown.
“Carbon monoxide,” Megan said slowly, while her eyes searched Andy’s. The blonde nodded and there was a sad expression on her face.
“That must have been it,” she sighed. “That is tragic.”
“It beats being run over by a horse and cart.”
“At least you can joke about it,” Andy mumbled.
“It was a long time ago and we went together...”
“Have you been here all the time? I mean, in this building?” Megan asked, remembering the sounds on the attic when she and the three sisters had climbed the stairs the other day.
“Then, how come I’ve never seen or heard you before?” Megan wanted to know, having spent a lot of time in the building, ever since she was a child.
“We never had a reason to show ourselves to you. Besides, your weather alarm is so loud, it woke us up.”
Andy chuckled, remembering how the alarm had started all of them and she gave Megan’s hand another squeeze.
“You’re right. That was loud,” she agreed. “But, is there a reason now? I mean, to...be here?”
“It’s Halloween and you’re having a party. We love parties!”
“Does Aunt Marge know about you?”
“Are you kidding? Of course she does. She was the first owner who didn’t run screaming when we appeared one day.”
“Knowing my aunt, she probably thought it was great,” Megan mumbled.
“And we want to help...”
“Help?” Megan repeated, wondering what that could mean.
“We can man the bar...provide entertainment...”
Megan’s eyes went wide and she cast a look at Andy, wondering how the other woman would respond to those words. But the blonde smiled and there was a look of eager anticipation on her face.
“Would your family mind?” Megan could not help asking, even though she already knew the answer.
“Are you kidding me? No,” Andy laughed. “They’d think it would be great!”
There was another shifting of air and all of a sudden two greenish lights hovered above the floor, rapidly increasing in size. A white fog mingled with the light, giving the whole scene an unearthly look. After a few seconds, the green disappeared, leaving the fog that slowly lifted. When it did, the outline of two women became visible and after a couple of minutes, after the fog had completely disappeared, two women stood in front of Megan and Andy, both sporting huge smiles.
“Sorry about the lack of speed. We haven’t done this in a while.”
“No problem,” Megan answered, wanting to pinch herself to see if she was dreaming or not, although, Andy’s firm grip on her hand told her otherwise.
Without letting go of Megan’s hand, Andy stepped a little closer and looked intently at the women, who stared back at her with a patient smile.
“You look like Megan,” she blurted out, pointing at one of the two and they both nodded.
“Gotta love DNA. Megan is the great-great-grand daughter of my sister Julia. By the way, my name is Victoria and this is Sarah.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Andy smiled, completely at ease with the two ghosts. “And thanks for offering to make our family party even better.”
“Yeah,” Megan added, transfixed by the ghostly appearance of one of her late, distant family members.
“Megan is as cute as you were, Vicky.”
“Thank you, love. I think she and Andy make a striking couple.”
“We’re not...,” both Megan and Andy started to reply, but then they looked at each other and the words died on their lips.
“Yes, you are, although you might not realize it. Mmm...what do you think, Vicky? Dimming the light and lighting the lanterns didn’t do it for them. We know they’re dying to kiss each other. Pun not intended.”
“You are?” Andy whispered.
“Are you?” Megan asked.
There was a long silence in which Megan and Andy stared at each other with a mixture of nervousness, excitement and hope.
“Yes,” they finally answered simultaneously, immediately moving closer. Without breaking eye-contact with Megan, Andy wrapped her arms around the dark-haired woman, who responded by pulling the blonde closer into the circle of her arms. Their faces moved closer and the two ghosts looked on impatiently. If they had not have been deceased already, they would have held their breath.
Finally, Megan’s lips met Andy’s and they both sighed with pleasure when their soft, tentative kiss turned into a more solid, prolonged one. Soft, tender kisses, turned into gentle, deeper ones and, for at least the moment, the two ghosts were completely forgotten.
“Ah, young love. Come on, Sarah, we have a party to liven up.”
“It’s great to be able to move around again. I’ve been feeling a little stiff lately.”
Victoria and Sarah walked in the direction of the bar, giving Megan and Andy, who were still lost in their kiss, a semblance of privacy.
“Do you think we should warn them about the family who is about to come crashing through the door?” Sarah asked, while turning on the fog machine with a flick of her wrist.
“Where’s the fun in that?” Victoria answered, starting the music and the spotlights. And they both chuckled.
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