Calico, a ghost story
First rehearsal! Nothing is as magical and exciting as sitting down with a new cast to crack open a play, beginning the process of script to stage. Margaret was a new resident Fellow with high hopes. She was cast in her first show at Hedgerow upon arrival, a small part in the fall mystery, and now determined to prove herself capable.
Margaret sat down at the long table in the Farmhouse Studio. As she looked around the room the fluttering feeling of butterflies filled her stomach. There were some seasoned actors sitting to her right and left. Familiar faces she’d only seen from an audience seat. Now she would be acting on stage with them. “Cool. Now breathe.”
The stage manager, a second-year resident, passed her a script. Writing her name on the cover, Margaret had a feeling someone was looking at her. She looked up to see a smiling face. The face belonged to an older man, quiet and friendly-looking with eyes that sparkled a light blue.
“Hi. I’m Frank.” Said the kind smile.
“Hello, I’m Margaret.” She said with a little hiccup of anxiety. “Ah, why are you so nervous! Breathe!” she thought to herself.
“Are you new here, too?” Frank’s smile grew wider.
“Yes, I’m the newest Fellow.”
“Ah, this is my first time acting here, too. Don’t be afraid.” Frank smiled again and opened his script as the director sat down and the first read through began.
Introductions were made around the table. Frank gave her a little wink when her turn came. The sparkling blue eyes were bright and safe. Everyone was friendly and welcomed her to the company with cheerful greetings. As the read through went late into the evening the light faded around the Farmhouse to create an atmosphere perfect for the mystery they were reading. Every so often, Margaret would look up to see Frank smiling at her. She was happy. People were friendly and the show was exciting. “Nothing to fear!” she happily thought.”
A few days later, Margaret sat in rehearsal, waiting for her scene when she felt watched. Looking up, she scanned the room. A few people met her glances at her but no one was facing her direction. Frank was intently focused on his scene partner. No smiles. Margaret shrugged it off and almost nearly forgot the moment until the next evening when the same feeling crept over her body. Someone was watching her.
She looked over at Frank who was waiting to enter for his scene. He turned and smiled. That same comforting smile he gave when they met. They had not spoken much since the first rehearsal. Most of the time, Frank was rehearsing his scenes, when he wasn’t he would sit on the side porch, looking out onto the lawn. “Don’t be afraid,” she quietly whispered to herself.
During a break, she stepped outside to get some cool autumn air. A shadowed moved across the floor as a voice softly spoke, “She’s watching you.”
Frank turned from the rocking chair he was sitting in at the other end of the long porch.
“What?!” said the startled Margaret.
“You see her too, don’t you?
“I don’t know what you mean”
“You’ve been staring at that window for the last five minutes. I was wondering when you would come out.”
“I-I. . .felt . . . something. I needed air,” she stammered as Frank looked at her with a bright intensity.
“She likes you.” He said with that same comforting smile.
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“There’s a girl watching you. She likes you.”
“Right there. On the lawn.” Frank pointed off into the dark lawn, the blades of grass glowing in the moonlight.
“I don’t see anyone,” said Margaret backing up a little toward the door.
“Hm. . . I can show you-tonight.”
Margaret was frightened. Frank was scaring her now.
“That’s ok” laughing nervously, she started to go inside.
“It’s alright if you don’t believe me. Not many people do.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I can see spirits,” he said.
“I don’t believe in that.”
“You don’t have to. But I can show you–if you like.”
“She’s been watching us for days. You’ve felt it too. Ever since our rehearsals started.”
“How do you know?”
“I told you. I can see.”
“Why did you think I could see her.”
“Just wondered. You’ve been looking uneasy ever since she appeared the other night.”
“I don’t like this.” Margaret was closer to the door but something held her in place. Curiosity. Fear. It didn’t matter. She couldn’t leave just yet.
“Would you like to know more?”
“I-I’m not sure.”
“I can’t see her well. Not really, but I know it’s a girl. A small girl.” Frank was thoughtful as he spoke. “Is there a graveyard nearby?”
“By the church.”
“No, closer. On this property.”
“I couldn’t say.” Margaret tried to stay calm but inside she was screaming, “Why oh, why can’t you leave! Just open the door!”
“Calico,” said Frank.
“She’s wearing a calico dress,” Frank explained.
Curiosity bit Margaret. Maybe it was Frank’s calm demeanor or the quiet rhythmic rocking of his chair that lulled her into a hypnosis, but now she was curious. She wanted to see this child, too. “Breathe.”
“How? How can I see her?” Margaret was not going to be afraid.
“I’ll need a few items.”
“Can you gather, a white table cloth, a loaf of bread, and candles–as many as you can find.”
“Alright, I can find those things.”
“And one more person.”
“Should we really tell people?”
“I need one more. Has to be an odd number.”
“Alright, I’ll ask one of the other Fellows. What time?”
“Let’s say 11, after rehearsal tomorrow.”
Margaret woke up earlier than normal the next morning to gather a white table cloth, bread, and all the candles she could find before anyone asked her what she was doing. This had to be a secret. She didn’t want anyone laughing at the new girl for believing in ghosts. Except Sarah, she asked the older resident to join them. “Sarah seemed up for an adventure, and she readily agreed. She didn’t think Margaret was foolish. “Besides, ghosts could be real. Spirits. Whatever.” Margaret attempted to quiet her thoughts, racing in anticipation for the night’s events, while she went about her daily tasks.
The next evening, a full moon shone through the the Rose Valley trees onto the wide lawn next to the house. Margaret nervously waited for everyone to leave after rehearsal. When all but Frank and Sarah were left, she brought down the table cloth, loaf of bread, and box of candles.
The three of them moved a small table into the middle of the room one which they laid the tablecloth and loaf of bread. Margaret and Sarah placed candles around the room and on the table, while Frank went around lighting them.
Once all the candles were lit, they turned off the electricity in the room. The flickering candles cast shadows that danced on the old wooden floor of the old farmhouse.
“Let’s begin,” said Frank as he motioned to the chairs around the table as he broke the bread in the center of the table. Crumbs fell to the floor.
Margaret and Sarah sat down with quick glances at each other. “Don’t be afraid,” whispered Margaret to Sarah.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. I promise. Now clasp hands.” Frank’s voice took on a commanding tone which put them at ease. He was in control.
The three held hands around the table as Frank began.
“Is anyone there?” said Frank in a calm even whisper that began his series of questions.
“I saw you last night. Do you like this house?”
Candle flames flickered.
“Have you lived here before?”
The air rustled around them. The flames flickered faster.
“What do you want?”
Margaret had the feeling. They were being watched.
Franks voice grew a little louder, “We’re actors. We want to know why you’ve been watching us.”
Tap. A noise hit a window pane that made both Margaret and Sarah jump.
Frank grasped their hands harder, “If you’re there, tap again.”
“Maybe she’s–,” Sarah started to speak.
“Quiet.” Frank ordered.
The atmosphere grew heavier. The flames flickered around the room threatening to expand. Watching.
“Thank you. We can feel you’re here.”Frank softened his voice, “Will you come out?”
Tap. Tap. Tap.
“We mean you no harm.”
“Join us. Please”
The hair on the back of Margaret’s neck tingled with excitement. She felt the gaze strongly now, as if over her shoulder, but she dared not look behind her.”
“Give us a sign. Tap again.” Frank’s voice took on an ethereal quality. Neither soft nor harsh. His eyes were bright.
Tap. Tap. Tap. The fast tapping came from the window along the side of the house. It started out slow but soon the noise was quick and sharp. The candles about the room seemed to flicker faster as the shadows now danced in time with the rhythm of the tapping.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Faster and faster, the noise hit the glass until it sounded like all the windows were rattling from the sound.
“What do you want?” He was whispering with an immediacy to his voice that frightened both women.
“She’s trying to get in. She cannot get in.” Franks blue eyes blazed brilliantly behind the burning candles.
All heads turned to see a small porcelain face pressed up against the window. Her shining bright blue eyes laughing as she tapped on the glass. Her faded calico dress catching the light from the moon.
Margaret gave a great gasp as Sarah jumped from her seat while Frank held tightly to both their hands.
“Don’t let go until I say, he hurriedly ordered.”
The girl tapped on the glass faster than before.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
“Tell us what you want!” called Frank.
“To play.” whispered the air. “Come play with me.” The calico dress whipped around her as the spirit vanished onto the lawn as quickly as she appeared.
Letting go of the women, Frank commanded, “Blow out the candles! Now!”
Margaret and Sarah raced around the room extinguishing each candle.
“Turn on the light.”
The light came on, filling the room with an even brightness and normality, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Silence. The women slowly gathered the items and moved the table while Frank stayed seated for a moment that seemed like ages to Margaret.
“It’s time to leave. I expect you’re both tired.” Frank was calm, but his blue eyes held less brilliance. He was worn out.
“What’s going to happen to her?” Margaret asked.
“Nothing. She’ll go on. Same as before,” Frank said straining from the fatigue as he walked toward the door.
Frank smiled and turning to go whispered to Margaret, “Don’t be afraid, kiddo. She’s not angry. Only playful. Be her friend.”
Margaret smiled back with a little nod to Frank. Both women said, “Goodbye” to Frank and “Goodnight” to each other as the parted ways in the hall.
“I wouldn’t worry, Babe.” said Sarah with a hearty laugh. “There are probably more ghosts in these rooms than there are outside,” with another chuckle, Sarah closed her bedroom door.
As Margaret turned off her bedroom light and climbed under her comforter the moonlight filled her room with a brilliant blue glow. Drifting off to sleep she heard a tap that started her awake.
Tap. . . tap. . . tap.
“Oh!” Margaret jolted up out of bed only to see a small branch was hitting her window propelled by the wind as it rustled between the strong tree limbs. Relieved, Margaret settled back into bed, closed her eyes, and fell to sleep.
In the yard below, a little slip of a girl in a faded calico dress, tangled blonde hair flowing down her small frame, dance barefoot through the yard with a thin stick in her hand. Her eyes shone a bright pale blue as she ran laughing and giggling in the autumn grass.