The Girl In White

A tall man walked briskly down a worn concrete path through a grey park. The weather had taken a nasty turn towards winter lately with harsh winds that stripped the trees of their last brown leaves. The city around the park was silent, awaiting the snows which would soon fall and cover it with a crisp white shroud. The silence enveloping the park was smothering, barely pushing back by the soft tapping of his shoes on the pavement.

Suddenly, behind him he thought he heard a sound, a voice rather. He paused, listening, before walking on. Joseph. He whirled in mid-step; there it was again saying his name. There was no one there, but the hairs on his neck prickled rather uneasily. A chilled breeze ruffled the stillness and slowly he turned around to again proceed on his way. That was the first time he saw her.

Out of the corner of his eye he spotted a pale form, but he was unable to make out any details, for when he looked again he saw only an empty park bench looking out onto a pond. He blinked, for the pond was barely frosted over on the top, so even a small bird might break through the surface, and yet someone stood out there. The pale figure seemed to be a young woman, shimmering with a sort of misty radiance, however her back was to him. Once more he blinked, and she was gone.

I've seen a ghost, he thought wildly, but he was not one to believe in tales such as this. His practical mind wouldn't allow it. Shaken, he shoved the experience to the back of his mind, avoiding it cautiously. If I ignore it, maybe it'll just go away, he thought stubbornly. He knew he was being ignorant, so instead of arguing with himself he thrust his hands in his pockets and with hunched shoulders continued on his way.

Joe kept to himself mostly, and he liked it that way. However, he would never say he was alone for he considered himself to be a fairly popular man. Normally, he stayed at the office late with a telephone in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other and wrote some report or another about the stock market. Nevertheless on the days when he didn't work long into the night he tended to meet one of his friends at a café or some quiet place where a polite conversation ensued and then they'd go their separate ways. Such is the way many friendships were, weren't they? He thought. It wouldn't be practical to put colleagues before work; how would one ever get a thing done?

On the same dreary day when Joe had first seen the ghostly figure he had made plans to have a cup of coffee with his friend Barbara. They had known each other since their third year at a top college in New York state and met once in a while just to chat. When Joe emerged from the park, slightly shaken but still maintaining his composure, she stood waiting by the door. Barbara looked chilled; her short, dyed-blonde hair windswept, and she had pulled her burgundy scarf over her mouth and nose. He waved to her as he crossed the street, and opened the door for her as he reached the café, the incident in the park momentarily forgotten.

"It's so good to see you again," said Barbara politely once they were seated inside and she had removed her heavy coat. Joe sat in the chair across from her, his elbows resting on the small circular table in front of him.

"Yes, it's always pleasant to meet up like this. How have you been? Work going well?" He twiddled his thumbs; starting the conversation with work was always a safe way to go. Barbara smiled slightly.

"Work is great. We've gotten some excellent clients recently. And I'm wonderful. In fact, I'm um, engaged." Her thin-lipped mouth spread, leaving her with an almost dreamy look on her face. This comment took him by surprise. He never imagined Barbara as the marrying type, but maybe he was just wasn't warm to change.

"Congratulations. Good luck with that." He hastily glanced at his wristwatch, wondering when he could get back to his laptop waiting at home. The noticeable pauses between bits of conversation were a bit unsettling.

Barbara recovered from her brief bout of dreaminess, and asked, "So, are you still seeing Jane what's-her-name?" Barbara seemed to be scraping the bottom of the pail for subjects to discuss and coming up with few; her face showed her discomfort.

"No. We broke it off, I would say about three months ago. I couldn't get a thing done with that kind of distraction. There's been no one new either." Another uneasy silence followed, during which the thought he had pushed aside earlier began to creep through the back of his mind. Before he knew what he was saying the words burst from his mouth.

"Do you believe in ghosts?" He quickly shut his mouth and called himself a dolt for asking such an naive question. Barbara gave him an odd look and spoke as if she was slightly uncomfortable.

"Not particularly, why would you ask?"

"Oh, no reason really." He knew he sounded stupid and somehow he couldn't bear the thought of others degrading him. Joe nervously peered at his watch again and made an excuse to depart.

"It's getting late and I've got some business I need to attend to. Lovely seeing you again. Until next time, Barbara." Hastily, Joe payed for his untouched cappuccino and stepped outside, leaving Barbara bewildered and watching his retreating back as he walked through the door.

Outside, an icy blast of winter air struck his face and he swore, pulling his coat tighter around him.

Later he vaguely regretted leaving Barbara in such a rush, but he forgot his guilt soon enough after several important meetings and phone calls. Several uneventful days followed that one, quietly lulling him into a false sense of security. Joe told himself in a no-nonsense voice that he was simply a bit stressed, and he began to believe himself so completely that he was convinced nothing had ever happened; the notion of him even thinking of ghosts was laughable.

Nearly a week after he had left Barbara at the café, he was walking home from yet another late night at the office. Few people roamed the street this night, leaving the block nearly deserted. The air was still, as if holding its breath in wait for some unknown spectacle that had not yet occurred. Joe however, remained blissfully ignorant of the subtly unusual changes of the city around him. Then, as if on cue, the temperature dropped sharply by several degrees and Joe's breath became vapor in the air. A thin frost seemed to cover the concrete surrounding him and a heavy dread weighed on his chest.

Suddenly there came a flicker of motion somewhere to his left, then to his right. He looked about, breathing rapidly, panicking as if he were the prey of an unknown creature lurking in the shadows. A firm, icy grip clenched his shoulder and he looked behind him, but no one was there. A breeze swept up the street, stealing the chill stillness from the air and leaving Joe behind, paranoid of the concrete jungle around him.

"Stop twirlin', Mr. Ballerina, or you're goin' to make me dizzy." The ragged voice of an old man sitting on a stoop across the street caused him to snap his head sharply in that direction and stand up straight. The old man seemed to be unfazed by the odd happenings that had just occurred and was chewing on a toothpick nonchalantly.

"Did you notice... didn't you see . . . " Joe gestured at the empty street with a dumb look on his face, causing the old man to wheeze with amusement.

"Look here son, I've been a sittin' here watching you twitch like a rabbit for a good five minutes. Maybe you best be gettin' yourself home." He chuckled and got up, hobbling off into an unlit alleyway to leave Joe puzzling over his words.

The next weeks of Joe's life were one long anxious car wreck. It seemed that no matter where he would go, no matter what he did to distract himself, that figure followed him. He never saw her in full; no, it was always a whisper in his ear, or an icy touch on the arm, or a flicker of white out of the corner of his eye. The first few nights, when insomnia had not thwarted his attempts at rest, his dreams were haunted with the image of her face. He knew the details of it so well now. He knew how her blue-white skin radiated cold, how her milky eyes were eerily blank and how her long silvery hair was tossed around her shoulders as if it hadn't been smoothed in years. In his dreams she did not flee his gaze, but as it fell upon her, her icy lips moved, beckon him to some unknown destination.

The people he had once considered his comrades shuffled anxiously around his desk, not wanting to ask what the matter was. He knew he was unkempt and had lost most of his composition, but refused to give up work. It was the one solid thing he had left to hold on to.

On one of the nights Joe couldn't shut his eyes for fear of seeing the girl in white whispering his name silently, he walked to the coffee shop near the park where he had first seen her ghostly figure. Something about the old park brought an enigmatic comfort, although consciously he knew not why, being nearby seemed more peaceful then the backdrop of his normal life.

In the café he watched the young woman behind the counter. She was refilling his coffee cup, but she put the pot down and looked up at him, something flickered in her eyes. The reflection of the girl; quickly Joe turned around, but she wasn't there. She was never there when he looked twice. Slowly he turned back, the woman was still watching him, one hand on her hip. Maybe he would have recognized something familiar about her, but his mind was somewhere else.

"You're alright?" she asked him, as if uncertain. Joe almost said yes, he should have, but something in her eyes stopped him and he said, "No, I'm, I'm not. Can I tell you something that I never want repeated?"

The woman put an elbow on the counter top and rested her chin on her palm, propping her head up and leaning closer to fill the space between them where some ominous figure could overhear the dark conversation.

"That's what I'm here for, keeping secrets." She answered, half smiling at him, half frowning. Joe looked down at the counter top, noticing the brownish swirling patterns in the stone. He sighed, if he had started it, he may as well finish.

"There's a girl who's been... following me. It's like I can't get her out of my conscious. I see her out of the corner of my eye when I'm awake, and I dream of her when I sleep, when I used to sleep. But I've never seen her before, anywhere. I-I'm going mad, it's like, she's... haunting me." He paused, the woman was watching him, her smile gone and replaced with a puzzled frown.

Another customer waved her over, and she picked up the pot and left, leaving him staring at the wall. Then it happened, the girl appeared before his eyes and he saw her entire form. She wore what looked like a white gown, making her even paler than before, if possible. Her lips moved silently as they had in dreams past and she reached out a milky white hand. Everything around them was gone, lost to his conscious, he only saw the girl in white.

Her hand came closer, and he did not move. Her fingertips touched his forehead, and they were ice; cold, burning ice. But their burn was only cold for a second, before his senses faded away and he was only a pair of eyes, watching a scene play out before him.

A crow swooped low over a familiar dry, grey park. The girl in white was walking through the field, but she was not dressed in white, but a faded red dress that looked like a picture out of a history book. Joe watched as she put her arm up and the crow landed. A man approached behind her, and put his hand on her shoulder, she turned and met the man's eyes. Joe watched as suddenly the girl fell; dead before she hit the ground. The murderer turned his face upwards to the spot where Joe was watching, and for a moment, Joe saw his own face staring back at him before the scene faded into darkness. He was awoken, lying on the ground of the coffee shop, the girl who had been behind the counter beside him, coffee pot in hand. He looked into her eyes, and found himself looking into the face of the girl in white.

That was the last thing he could remember before his vision went black.

When he came to, there were blinding lights flashing, deafening sirens blaring and angry voices shouting all around him. He could feel the cold, hard tile beneath his face and his arms being pinned behind his back by some merciless policeman. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted a stretcher carrying a limp, lifeless body. Blood pooled on the coffee shop floor around him, but he was not bleeding. Turning his head, suddenly he knew what had happened and cried out in anguish. On the floor not a yard away, was the young woman's coffee pot, shattered into a hundred pieces.