Enjoy this last excerpt from my newest release, Restless Spirits, coming in 5 days from Vinspire Publishing! Click here to pre-order!
“Yeah, that’s great. So, what do you know about Burning Man?”
“That lawless hippie orgy out there in Nevada?” asked Ed. “My daughter wanted to run off to that with her good-for-nothing friends the year before I died. I told her if she went not to bother coming back home.”
“Uh…yeah. Not that. I’m talking about a walking burn victim. Or at least the ghost of one. I ran smack into him in the mystery hall. Hey, did you guys know this house has a third floor?”
Lilly and Ed both looked at me, then at each other.
“You guys have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
Ed waved me off grumpily and headed back to his milk crate. Lilly faced me and smiled sweetly. “I remember it’s really hard in the beginning. Your mind can play tricks on you—”
“You mean in, what, seventy-five years in this house, you’ve never seen this giant walking blister?”
I could tell by her face that she wanted to tell me yes, but she shook her head no instead.
I sighed, deflated. Great. I wasn’t just a ghost. Apparently, I was a crazy ghost. “Figures,” I muttered. “Anyway, I guess it’s not really important. So what are you guys up to? I thought I heard music earlier.”
“Oh! That was me!” Lilly’s smile could light up a room. She picked up her skirt and hurried over to a battered old suitcase propped open in a dusty corner. “Look what I found! It belonged to Ed’s grandpa.” She reached in and plucked at an old ukulele. “It only has two strings, but I can play simple songs.” With that she started to pluck out Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
“My granddad had that old thing in the war.”
“Which war?” I asked.
“Spanish American. He used to talk about driving the Cuban girls wild with that thing, teaching ‘em how to hula dance.”
“I wish I knew how to hula dance,” said Lilly dreamily, plucking absently at the strings.
“I can teach you,” I told her. Not that I ever learned how to hula, but I’ve seen it enough times on television that I ought to be able to perform a close approximation.
“Can you really?”
“Sure! Come here.” I pointed at a spot beside me. “Now just do what I do,” I said as she joined me. “Shake your hips…and sway your arms like this…” I started humming Aloha ‘Oe and doing the best imitation I could of the hula girls I’d seen on that Hawaii episode of The Brady Bunch when I was kid. If it was good enough when I was eight, it was good enough now.
Lilly copied my movements and took up the humming until she broke into giggles. I laughed, too, my fright from before melting under her infectious joy.
“You ask me, you girls are far too happy to be dead,” Ed grumped, but that only made us laugh harder.
“Fine,” I told him. “We’ll leave you to your fortress of poutitude. Come on, Lilly. There’s more room to dance downstairs.” We were still giggling when we arrived in the empty dining room. “Ed can really stand to lighten up.”
“I know,” said Lilly, still working out her hula moves. “He’s always so serious. All of the adults are. Except you. And sometimes Joe.” She improvised a little twirl. “My mama takes the cake, though. She most certainly would not approve of our dancing.” She gave her hips a rebellious shake and then asked, “Would you like me to teach you the Charleston?”
“Sure, why not?”
The moves she showed me looked a little more complicated than my made up hula, but after a few tries, I started to get the hang of it. Soon, we were kicking up our heels like Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. I liked to think I was Donna.
“Are there any other dances you can show me?” she asked once I’d mastered the Charleston.
“Uh…well, there’s this.” I broke into the cabbage patch, singing something from Janet Jackson’s ‘eighties oeuvre as I busted my move. If the look on Lilly’s face wasn’t enough to start me laughing all over again, the juxtaposition of her 1930s Catholic schoolgirl look with such a cheesy, anachronistic dance move set me rolling. Lilly faltered and looked uncertain, but I managed to rein in my laughter long enough to assure her, “It’s not you, sweetie. It’s just a really stupid dance move.”
She stopped. She seemed to think about it a minute, then asked, “Can you show me how to dance like a Fly Girl?”
“Like a…a what?”
“A Fly Girl,” she said, then started gyrating with a certain amount of rhythm while singing the theme song to In Living Color.
“Sorry, but I was more of a slam dancer when that was big, and trust me, you don’t want to learn slam dancing. Kinda pointless when you’re incorporeal anyway. How do you know about Fly Girls?”
“I used to watch them on TV before Ed died and his children took all of his furniture away.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Ed was checking out the Fly Girls, huh? I wonder if JLo was his favorite. That old scamp.”
“He didn’t watch it. He usually wasn’t home when it was on.”
“You mean you turned it on yourself?”
She nodded, and sighed. “I used to love to watch television. I tried to do it when people weren’t home so I wouldn’t frighten them. When I first learned how to turn it on and change channels, I got carried away and scared Miss Martha half to death. She slept with all of her lights on that night. She moved away soon after that.” She looked up at the ceiling. “Ed was more understanding, though. He left the TV on for me at night, sometimes.” She gave a little shrug and went back to practicing her hula. “Right now, I’d just be happy if someone left a radio here.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Then we could find an oldies station and I could teach you how to do the twist.” I twisted my hips back and forth to show her.
“That looks a lot like your hula,” she said.
“More like hula hoop,” I said. “Same principle.” She started to twist with me, and I did a ridiculous Chubby Checker imitation, and she started laughing again. I laughed too until I saw Joe standing in the doorway, watching us. “Meep! How long have you been there?”
“Don’t stop on my account,” he said. “That’s some mighty fine dancing you ladies are doing.”
I rolled my eyes, but Lilly went up to Joe and held out a hand. “Dance with me, Joe!”
“Never been much of a dancer,” he said, but as Lilly’s face fell, he stepped forward. “Guess I can give it a go. My ma made me learn how to waltz. Let’s see if I remember.” He held out his arms. Lilly positioned herself so that they were almost touching, and they started to move like that, awkwardly at first as Joe tried to remember the steps. Lilly giggled and looked almost as if this moment made up for her horrible, untimely death.
I smiled for her, but suddenly, I felt like a fifth wheel. I decided to slip out quietly and let them do their thing. I made it as far as the doorway when Lilly spun away from Joe. “Ron, wait! Joe, can you teach Ron to waltz?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I don’t want to stop you guys’s fun—”
“Well, I don’t know that I’m really good enough to teach anyone—”
We stopped as we realized we were both making excuses.
“Don’t be silly, Joe,” said Lilly, “you’re a wonderful dancer! Ron, try it. It almost makes you feel alive.”
Joe and I looked at each other, and we both gave a resigned shrug. I went over to him and moved into his embrace, so to speak, and kept my gaze fixed on our feet as we started to move them in a basic square pattern. It was awkward and uncomfortable and, well, weird. Our hands hovered close to each other’s bodies without actually touching, except for when I stumbled. I felt a strange and not entirely unpleasant tingle whenever my essence bumped up against his. “So, this is waltzing,” I said lamely.
“Not quite,” he said. “It might go better if you lift your head up and look at me.”
“But then I can’t see what your feet are doing.”
“Just…trust me,” he said, and I looked up and found his steel-gray eyes looking at me with such intensity that I flashed back to the burned monstrosity I had seen in the mystery hall. I shuddered as a chill went through me, but it was quickly displaced by the warm twinkle in his eye that set it apart from those pain-filled nightmare eyes. Not to mention the way they crinkled at the corners like George Clooney’s. “Something wrong?” he asked.
“No. I…I’ve just never waltzed before.”
“Well, you’re waltzing now,” he said, and I realized that I was moving in sync with him. My eyes widened with the realization, and the corner of his mouth quirked up into an amused smirk.
“I guess I am,” I said, and Lilly began to hum. I lowered my gaze, but I didn’t pull away from him. I let him lead me around the dining room as long as he pleased.
There were some aspects of this afterlife that I could definitely get used to.
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