The Dancing Ghosts

By, Stephen Halpert

Roger Williams to the Rescue

It was 1943. America was in the throes of the Second World War.

The monthly dance marathon at Frobel Halin in Providence was a charitable event intended to raise money for those who had been wounded.

It began amidst the usual excited anticipation. Twenty-five couples between the ages of thirty and fifty stretched and flexed on the dance floor before the recorded music began. The rules were simple: fifty minutes dancing; ten minutes rest. The last couple standing wins.

"Do you see the soldiers?" Vivian Wayland asked her husband Pete. She patted her permanent wave and tried her best at looking as fetching as Bette Davis. "Some of them look so sad like they know they’re not coming back."

"Don’t talk that way," Pete said. "They’re all we got standing between us and Hitler."

She frowned. "It’s not fair their entering.”

"Why not? I see no reason why a soldier and his woman shouldn’t have a chance to win some prize money."

"But they’re bigger and in better shape than the civilian men."

Pete gave her an odd look. "Last time we entered we placed second. That fifty we won took care of things for us for a while."

She frowned. "But then there weren’t soldiers competing. Just us everyday people."

"Let it be," Pete said. "It’s the couple over there that worries me. She looks like some sort of supernatural witch."

"There are some very good witches," Vivian said. "Bad comparison. But maybe more like a vampire.”

To me she looks like she came back from the dead."

"You’re put off by string beams.”

"I hope you’re glad I am. And that dress of hers could have once been a sack for potatoes.”

Vivian’s friend Gilda Crosby who worked at the Hall stopped before Pete and Vivian. "Did you hear about the statue of Roger Williams?"

Vivian shuttered. " Yes, did more people see it move?”

`Gilda nodded. Her voice lowered to a whisper. "It’s said he moved off his platform and stomped around Prospect Terrace, digging up the lawn and saying things in Latin no one understood."

"Don’t talk that way," Pete cautioned. "You don’t want them taking the two of you to the funny farm.”

"People all over the East Side are talking about it, and I wondered if you’ve heard anything?" She smiled at Vivian. "Good luck tonight.”

Someone blew a whistle. Then a 78rpm record began playing Glen Miller’s In the Mood. Like robots the entries took their positions and slowly shuffled their feet.

It was early and the regulars knew to take it slow. After all, these dance marathons lasted late into the early morning hours, and the key word was endurance.

"There she is." Vivian pointed to a gaunt feminine figure, her hair tied back, eyes heavily mascaraed. "Last time she and some boy outlasted us and took home the hundred."

Pete nodded. ""She’s so thrown together; nothing especially matches, her ruffles and wide slacks hide the rest of her."

Tonight, her partner was another young soldier. He looked gaunt, his eyes lowered, his bony fingers clutching her shoulder. They seemed to take turns leading, but Pete noticed she was mostly in charge.

"Who is she?" Pete asked. "I’ve seen her here, but she’s not from our crowd."

"Minx," Vivian said.

"Oh, come on, be charitable."

"You be charitable. She knocked us for the extra fifty because she didn’t really dance like we’re supposed to, just clung to him like she’s doing now. It’s not fair."

"Stop," Pete said. "She’s got a fire in her eyes. Her kind of fire causes trouble."

But Vivian was determined. "Maybe for you but not for me. I want a closer look." She guided Pete in their direction.

The woman and her partner paid no attention to any of the other couples on the floor. It was as though they were dancing in their own timelessness. When the bright strobe swept across the hall, they seemed momentarily invisible.

A bell announced the break. The women trailed one another to the lavatory as did the men in the opposite direction.

But that couple remained on the edge of the dance floor taking seats in the darkened shadows.

Back on the floor Vivian whispered to Pete that they hadn’t drunk any water. "Like last time," she said. "Don’t you think there’s something’s weird about them?"

"Probably." Pete rested his nose against her shoulder. He breathed in her sweet gardenia scent and began feeling aroused.

"Don’t get any funny ideas." Vivian frowned. "We’re here to win some money, not to get lost doing something else. Move your head or you’ll mess up my permanent."

As the evening progressed one by one couples dropped out. By midnight there were only three couples left standing. Vivian and a weary Pete, the Italian couple from Federal Hill, and the scant woman and her equally frightening young dance partner.

Vivian led Pete closer to the odd couple. "You two took it last month. How about giving us a chance tonight?”

Pete would have sworn the woman hissed like a feral cat. "Back off Viv, she means business."

"So do I," Vivian said, louder than necessary. Something about their presence intoxicated Vivian; anger masked her face.

"Who are you?" She demanded.

To reply the couple swirled round and round Pete and Vivian, faster and in a determined hypnotic swirl.

"I feel sick," Vivian finally said. "Oh my God I’m going to lose it.”

"Close your eyes." Pete held her and tried pulling away from them. He saw the woman’s red eyes, her oddly mottled white skin.

Then he heard a sickish laugh, and they vanished momentarily only to reappear on the other side of the now deserted hall.

The couple from Federal Hill left the floor. Vivian eyes widened. She rushed to the ladies’ room, sadly disqualifying them again from top prize money.

Outside Vivian and Pete walked slowly to their Packard, parked up the hill near the statue of Roger Williams on Prospect Terrace. Behind them and moving closer the ragtag couple who for the second time had won first prize.

"Don’t make a scene," Pete urged. "Just let’s get to the car."

But Vivian had other ideas. Intoxicated by stress and need for sleep, she whirled around and confronted the odd pair. "Who are you?" She cried.

The young soldier said nothing. The woman however hissed like an angry feral cat; her clawed fingers outstretched, she moved toward Vivian; Vivian screamed.

A loud rumbling sounded. Roger Williams stepped off his podium and advanced toward them. The odd woman shrieked. The statue clutched her and her partner and flung them over the fencing, onto the Benefit Street roof tops.

Vivian stared. "Did that really happen?" she said. "Or am I so exhausted I imagined it?"

Pete shook his head. "Like something out of Lovecraft," he said. "I guess we’ll find out next month if they come back or not."

About the author and his work…

A graduate of Emerson College, Stephen Halpert has been a published author since the 1970s. Most recently, his weekly column “American Scene,” which ran in The Grafton News from 1989 to 2022, featured humorous vignettes of his life with his wife, Tasha, and serial fiction. Since 2020, Halpert has authored a trilogy, The Loves of Gilberto, which he describes as, “a love story with a hint of murder.” In 2018, Halpert published his first collection of fictional tales, Abracadabra Moonshine and Other Stories, available on Amazon. His next writing venture is titled “Mona Lisa’s Eyebrows and other stories.” Contact Stephen to learn more.

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Patty L. Fletcher

Bridging the great chasm which separates the disAbled from the non-disAbled

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