Like Real People Do: A Short Story
It had been one of those strange October days, when the sun hung low and limp in the ice blue sky.
As the day turned to night, the icy feeling drifted south to the ground, rendering frozen the golden leaves underfoot, the sharp air catching in the lungs of those unfortunate enough to have to venture out after dark.
Rebecca was one of those lucky enough to find themselves in front of a warm fire with good company on the night of October 31, but as she sat on the window seat idly glancing over the slick tiled rooftops and up to the starry skies above, she couldn't help but wish she was one of those with somewhere more exciting to go.
How often had she stared from that high window, over the centre of the town, wondering about the lives of those who dwelled below?
Cassie had sneaked up behind her and grabbed her by the shoulders, asking what on earth she was thinking about in this 'dream world of hers'.
“Just somewhere else,” replied Rebecca, lightly placing her hand on Cassie’s, turning her head to look at her delicate features.
Cassie quickly let go and moved across the room, almost skipping, so light was her gait.
Rebecca's eyes followed Cassie and she wondered how Cassie did it, how she could light up any room, whereas she only ever seemed to bring in gloom.
Fed up of the dark cloud surrounding her, Rebecca shuffled her skirt and made her way to bed, handing out short kisses goodnight as she left the room.
She called for Sarah to help her undress, an event that she looked forward to each and every night, tonight no exception, despite the distinct chill.
Finally feeling unburdened by her corset, she let out a deep sigh, feeling the silk of her nightdress running down her body, she felt lighter still as she climbed into bed.
Rebecca sat up against her pillows and eyed Sarah carefully as the maid attended to her fire, as she seemed to be making some kind of strange pattern in the ashes.
“What are you doing?!” Rebecca asked, sitting up to to get a better view., pulling her blanket up with her to avoid the cold. It seemed Sarah was drawing strange circles and star patterns in the ashes on the hearth, which Rebecca guessed was keeping her amused. She just wanted to be alone, though and wished Sarah would just leave.
“I’m sorry miss, it’s just it’s All Hallows' Eve, my mother always taught us this as a charm to keep us safe from evil spirits coming down the chimney.”
Rebecca stayed silent for a second, in wonder at the strange superstition that Sarah was practising, before asking: “Isn’t there a better use for your magic? Don’t you have a spell that can make my future love arrive down the chimney?!”
Sarah cautiously laughed, before saying: “I don’t think I do miss, but if you like I can place a spell to let you dream of him tonight? My mother taught us a spell so we can dream of our future love. Maybe if I draw it in the ashes then put some under your pillow you might dream of him tonight?”
“I don’t see what harm it could do!” Rebecca replied, chuckling to herself, knowing her one true love was already waiting downstairs, and would most certainly not be her future betrothed.
Sarah collected the dust in a handkerchief, and Rebecca tucked it under her pillow, a wry smile on her face, wondering exactly what would happen in her dreams.
Rebecca woke in the middle of the night, woozy at first, the blackness only permeated by sliver shafts of moonlight peeking through the drapes. “Well, so much for the dream spell,” she thought disappointedly, before stretching and rolling over onto her side.
Having had no one visit her in her dreams, Rebecca decided to think of Cassie while awake instead. The tooth that caught on her top lip when she smiled, the way she laughed at her jokes, the way she grabbed her hand and pulled her along through town, gleeful and carefree and with the ease of someone who has no secrets to hide. Nothing to weigh them down, deep inside.
Just as she was drifting off again, Rebecca was brought back to consciousness with a strange rustling noise that appeared to be coming from the chimney.
Worried it was a bird that was stuck down the flue, she gently peeped through the drapes and tried to make out the shapes in the darkness.
Peering into the black room Rebecca could see a dark figure crouched on the ground, who at first glance she thought was Sarah. “Sarah? What are you doing down there? You trying to scare me to death?” She rasped.
Silently and stealthily the figure rose and soon Rebecca could see exactly who she was. She just had no idea who she was.
Rebecca felt her heart beat faster and her stomach tighten but she didn’t know what to say. She felt like her breath had been taken away, unsure whether this strange dark figure had come to harm her.
The stranger slowly got up and opened the curtains in wonder, the moonlight illuminating her face. Rebecca didn't know why she did it, but she decided to get up and creep closer, feeling the cold night catch in her chest, and got a better look as the woman peered out of the window.
Her hair was deep, deep black, while her skin was almost translucent it was so pale. But it wasn’t powdery as was the fashion, but instead it was dewy and glowing. Her thick, spidery lashes framed her coal black eyes, and though her cheekbones, nose and chin were sharp they weren’t unkind.
“Is she a ghost? Am I dreaming?” Rebecca asked herself, before finally deciding to find out some answers.
“Who are you? What are you doing in my bedroom?” Rebecca whispered.
Almost snapping out of a trance, the beguiling girl who’d turned up on her hearth grabbed Rebecca’s hand and smiled. “Come on,” she said enticingly. “Let’s go explore!”
Rebecca hardly had time to think, just grasping onto her night robe before the girl was heading out the door.
Though Rebecca always made each floorboard creak as she made her way up and down the staircase each day, the girl daintily floated down each step.
As they reached the front door, still hand in hand, Rebecca suddenly paused - hesitating- and asked again: “Who are you? What are you doing? Do you even have a name?”
“Ssshhhhh!” Replied the girl, whispering hoarsely, her dark eyes wide open. “You’ll wake everyone up! We don't want that, do we?”
Rebecca just about managed to fasten her robe as she fled after the girl down the street, but she was barefoot and the pavement was freezing. A low fog was beginning to settle on the streets, and each lamp was dimmed in the mist. Though Rebecca’s breath billowed out like smoke from a chimney, the girl's breath left no mark on the evening.
The pavement was slick underfoot as the fallen leaves were coated in dew and the moon illuminated the damp slabs in a silvery trickle, winding its way through the town.
Rebecca could only just make out the girl an arm's reach away from her but she could see she had a deep plum dress, in a crinkly, crushed silk, and a long, dark, disheveled braid hung loose from the nape of her neck.
“Thank God the streets are empty,” thought Rebecca, wondering what mischief might come her way had someone spotted her running through the streets in her nightgown.
The pair ran a for few minutes, which felt like an eternity for a worried Rebecca, past the smart new houses with their railings and lawns, down to the cheaper terraced houses with their solid brick exteriors and small windows and doors.
Eventually they came to the centre of town, running fast through the large open market place, when Rebecca spotted one buildings with the lights still on. She seemed to remember it was an inn, and knew as a gentlewoman she would not be allowed within.
“Hang on!” Rebecca said, struggling to catch her breath. “I’m not allowed in there! Someone will see me and I’m not even dressed!” All her marriage prospects would disappear if news of this strange event got round. A relief for her perhaps, Rebecca thought, though not for her family...
But all the girl did was press her finger against her lips once more, sliding her back against the door, then beckon Rebecca inside.
As the girl opened the door, Rebecca saw a narrow staircase to the side, and to the other side a smokey bar room, where she could hear a rowdy laughter, roars and brays, the odd cackle, too.
But despite her curiosity Rebeca couldn’t stop to take anything in. The girl ushered her up the stairs, smiling, then together they crept across the narrow landing, the girl finally settling on the final door.
Gently but firmly grasping the handle, the door came loose within the girl’s grip, and Rebecca tentatively followed her inside. “This must be where she is staying,” thought Rebecca, “But I can’t work out why on earth she has brought me here?”
One solitary oil lamp lit the room, and in the semi darkness Rebecca could make out the four posts of the bed and the deep red drapes that hung from each corner.
In her final moment of beckoning, the girl climbed onto the bed and coaxed Rebecca in too, drawing each curtain, until it was nearly pitch black.
Rebecca has decided by now that the girl must be some sort of sorceress or spectre, but she was powerless to fight. The girl ran the tip of her finger up Rebecca’s bare leg, up her stomach and over her breast, before placing her lips gently upon Rebecca's neck and stroking the top of her spine. Rebecca felt tingles all over her body, and felt unable to move a muscle.
“What are we going to do now?” Rebecca rasped, with what she could catch of her breath.
“We should just kiss,” replied the girl, “Like real people do.”