For those who don’t know…
I am Paul White, a multi-genre author of fiction, non-fiction, and semi-fiction.
Many of my short stories are available under the ‘Electric Eclectic’ brand, some are eBooks, others paperback collections, while a growing number are those wonderful Pocketbook Paperbacks that are increasingly popular because of their size, as they really do fit into your pocket. Perfect for reading while commuting or away on vacation.
You can find my books on Amazon and many other bookstores. All are shown on my website
Now, on with the story.
This one is titled ‘Free Spirit’, enjoy.
When I walked into the apartment, I knew this project was going to be fraught with difficulties.
Firstly, the place has been unoccupied for some time; a musty dampness prevailed its entirety. I sensed this staleness was not simply neglect but an ethereal odour of others’ lives, of previous tenants.
Secondly, there were many pieces of furniture still in situ; old, dusty brocade curtains hanging at the windows, personal effects, a small trinket box sitting on the dark wooden sideboard, a silver-backed hand mirror laid on the dresser, and a time-worn leather-bound book on a side table, near the musty, torn chintz-covered armchair, all emitting a staleness of abandonment.
Before I could start the repairs and redecoration, I would have to clear all this old junk from the building. That would involve putting in some extra hours, late nights I had not planned. I was sure the extra effort would be worth it in the end because it is not often one can find such a large home for such a low rent in a neighbourhood of this stature.
On Friday, after work, I hurried to the apartment, eager to begin the clear-out and clean-up.
Once achieved, I could start on the repairs. Tearing off the old wallpaper, ripping up the musty carpets, filling the holes where pictures once hung, all that sort of stuff.
Then I would be in the position to begin to decorate what was to be my new home, my first home.
Fresh paint, light colours on the walls, modern, sleek, designer-style furniture, new light fittings, and mirrors. I like mirrors, they lighten even the dullest corners. I wanted the place to be what I can only describe as understated urban chich.
I was excited.
Tonight, I would be alone. My friends, the ones who offered to help, were all out on the town, or so they said. I don’t blame them for not being here today, after all, it was a Friday night.
Tomorrow, I had promises, commitments from them. I would have a small troop of workers grafting away all day in return for cold beer and snacks, oh, and pizza at the end of the day.
But tonight, it was just me.
My first task was to wrestle the largest items of furniture into a group by the lounge door, so my team of workers could easily carry them out to the skip, which was due by eight o’clock in the morning.
I was surprised by the weight of the old furniture. I’m uncertain if it was Mahogany or Oak, but it took all my effort to ‘waltz’ it across the room. No wonder the previous occupiers had left it where it stood.
By the time I had shifted all the pieces, I was sweating from the effort.
Opening the window did not cool me down. The air was too heavy and humid, and too weak to do more than slightly move those heavy curtains.
It was now midnight, but before I finished for the day, I wanted all the drapes removed, the litter from the floors swept and binned. I wanted this room ready for paper stripping, and carpet removal.
By the end of the weekend, I would be happy if this room and the hallway were ready for my creative attention. If I could get at least one of the two bedrooms stripped too, well, that would be a bonus.
Right now, my stomach was grumbling. I needed to eat. Anyway, it was time to take a break. A stroll to the all-night cafe on the corner, where I could grab a coke, a sandwich, a pork pie, or toasted sandwich. It would do me the world of good to eat something.
Once in the café, I decided I would be wasting time if I stayed to eat, so I carried my refreshments back to the apartment.
Wearily lowering myself into the tatty chintz armchair, I froze. Looking around the room in disbelief. The coke slipped from my grasp, spilling over the threadbare carpet.
The furniture, and I mean all the furniture I spent the last few hours moving into a group close to the doorway, was now back in its original position.
It was as if I had not moved a single item.
The window was closed, the curtains still, the lingering scent of neglect somehow stronger than before.
There was something more.
I could hear a faint melody floating into the room. Trumpets, brass. Smooth music. Perhaps a nineteen-forties swing band?
I shook my head, trying to gather my thoughts. This was not possible.
I moved the furniture. Placed it by the door.
I was trying to convince myself I had not, purely for my sanity.
The music was playing softly.
Surely it was coming from another apartment. Yet it sounded far closer, emanating from somewhere in this apartment.
Maybe I was overtired. Whatever; I needed to get a grip on myself.
I followed the sound, walking slowly along the hallway until I was outside the room where the music was coming from.
Someone was playing a joke on me. My friends have seen me leave, deciding it would be funny to mess with my head.
Angrily I snatched open the door, ready to yell at whoever was doing this, whoever found it funny to try and scare me.
The volume from the gramophone blasted out a crackling version of Chattanooga Choo Choo as I stepped into the room.
I halted, standing stock still.
I could not comprehend what I was seeing. This room was perfect. A nineteen-forties parlour. No damp, no faded wallpaper, no rotting furniture.
It was bright, new, perfect.
“Come in, David,” she said, “sit yourself down. I have been waiting for you.”
To my right, I saw a handsome-looking woman. She was wearing a flowing evening gown, long white gloves, and a pearl necklace.
In front of me, a well-ordered room, brightly lit and warm. Behind me, a cold dank hallway, the discoloured wallpaper peeling from the walls.
This was surreal.
“Don’t be shy,” she said, “come, sit, enjoy some champagne.”
She was holding out a wide-rimmed coupe glass at arm’s length. Hesitantly, feeling I had little option, I took the glass from her hand.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Oh, you young people, you are always in such a hurry,” she replied, smiling, and lifting her glass towards mine.
We touched glasses. Automatically I said, “Cheers.”
She smiled at me again, replying with a “Chin, chin.” She sipped her champagne without wetting her dark red lips.
I sat, bolt upright, in a small chair, and as nervous as hell. She lay back, relaxing on a chaise lounge opposite my chair.
If I were dreaming, this was far too real.
The woman spoke. “So, you want to move into my home, to come and live with me. Do you, David?” Her eyes were firmly focused on mine.
“There must be some confusion,” I said, “I have just bought this apartment, it’s mine.”
“Oh no, David,” she answered, shaking her head, “It will never be yours, it belongs to me, and forever will.”
“I don’t understand,” I replied.
She nodded understandingly, reaching out, placing a gloved hand on my knee, patting me like a reassuring aunt.
“My husband built this building back in the early 1930s. I have lived here ever since the day it was completed. I shall never leave. Now, I like you, David. You are a fine young man, so I am willing to let you stay if you wish to share my home with me?” She left the sentence hanging.
I sat motionlessly, my mouth ajar. I did not know what to say.
“Well, David” she prompted, “what have you to say?”
“This place, it’s a mess, all old and rotting. I need to clean it up, do repairs, redecorate, get new furniture… except this room, your room, its lovely, I mean it’s really nice.” I knew I was gabbling, the words tumbling from my mouth faster than I could think.
“Oh, David.” She said, “don’t worry about that for now, just tell me if you will be happy sharing my home.”
“But when people come, my friends, family. How do I explain this room, or you?” I asked.
She smiled like an understanding aunt looking at a child. Patting my knee again she said, “No one will know, David. No one except you.”
“But this room, when people look around, they’ll…”
She interrupted me. “More Champagne. You look pale, you’re shaking. A good drink will settle your nerves.” She continued, “Think, David. This apartment, how many rooms are there? Don’t answer, but this room is not one of them, is it?”
I was mentally counting, walking through the apartment. She was right, this room was not one of them. This room did not exist.
My mind was in a whirl. “I, I, I don’t know. The furniture, I moved it. I put it by the door, now it is all back where it was. Then I heard the music and… and, I followed the sound. It led me to this room.”
Her laughter filled the room, “Oh my dear boy,” she said, “I have thrown you into a right tizzy, haven’t I?”
I gulped the last of my champagne.
“I have something stronger if you prefer?” she said, “a whisky, perhaps. I know what you men are like.”
I was nodding. It was an almost unconscious action as my mind was whirring. Random pieces of thoughts flew through my mind.
“Do not fear. You may decorate the apartment as you wish. I will not stop you, David. That is, if you want to live here? Now, before you worry too much, I don’t leave this room, well, only when the need arises, and I am sure I‘ll have no reason to venture out while you’re here.”
“I would like to live here but, who are you?”
“Oh, my. I have been remiss, haven’t I? How rude of me for not introducing myself. My name is Evelyn, Evelyn Keyes-Johnson.” She held her hand towards me. “So, David, are we friends. Shall you be sharing my home?”
I took her hand and shook it, although slight, Evelyn had a firm grip.
“I would like to stay, and I would be happy sharing with you,” I said, although I had not totally convinced myself. “I do have a question though.”
“Ask away, young man.”
“Are you a ghost?”
Her laughter filled the room with lightness. She smiled a wide, bright grin.
“As I died many years ago some people may call me that,” she said, “but I prefer to consider myself a free spirit.”