As often happened, when the world felt a little festive, Lena felt more alone than usual. She was an outsider to the laughter and teasing that marked off the hours among the rest of the staff. Oh, she smiled, and she even spoke a few times, but it was always with a sense that she didn’t belong.
She never had quite fit.
Her required break was punctuated by a mug of the best hot chocolate in the world—the menu even said so—and a thin slice of apple pie.
It was a risky move. Apple pie always made her think about Gran. Lena closed her eyes against the warmth of cinnamon, cooled by the gentle kiss of vanilla from the ice cream Luisa made in the big machine in the back. There was nothing fancy about it—no frills at all.
But it was perfect.
Lena put her fork down after one bite. A second one, she thought, could never be as good as that first taste.
It was starting to get late. Fewer customers came through the door, despite the well-lit sign saying that they’d be open all night for Halloween.
“It’s starting to really come down out there,” a man told her, as she handed him and his wife their menus.
“Oh,” she said, surprised. “I didn’t even realize that it was snowing.”
“If it was raining, I’d say it was raining cats and dogs,” the woman said with a laugh. “I don’t know what you say for that kind of snow.”
“Falling like goose down,” Lena heard her own voice say. The words startled her. She couldn’t remember having heard them before, and yet, she had a feeling that they were just right.
“Charming,” the woman said, widening her eyes. “What a lovely image.”
Obviously the woman had never met geese, Lena thought wryly. In her limited experience, they were rarely lovely.
She did take the time, though, to stand at the door and watch the snow fall. It really was coming down, in great, fluffy flakes.
Lena laughed softly. It really did look like feathers falling out of the sky.
“Look at that,” Martin said, turned in his seat to watch the snow come down. “That’s a real treat for Halloween—or is Old Mother Nature playing some tricks on us all?” He laughed. “Weather like this always gets the ghosts thumping around, doesn’t it, Luisa?” He turned his head towards where she stood, silent for once.
“You hush,” she said.
“Don’t pretend that you’ve never seen him,” Martin teased. “You and I both know that you did. You can’t deny it.”
“Saw who?” Lena asked, despite the frisson of goosebumps crawling spider-like up her back.
Martin blinked at her in surprise. “I keep forgetting that you didn’t grow up around these parts.”
“Stuff and nonsense,” Luisa huffed. “Lena doesn’t want to listen to your ghost stories.”
“We do.” The woman and her husband looked to Martin with eager expression. “It’s the perfect weather for a ghost story. Is it a local ghost?”
“He lives about half a block down, that way,” Martin waved his hand absently. “But, you can see him walking down the street, sometimes at night. Especially when it has been snowing. You know he’s a ghost because he’s dressed in stockings and breeches—and a three-cornered hat—you know, the kind men wore in the early eighteenth century.”
“So, a ghost unrelated to the witch trials?” The woman sounded almost disappointed.
Martin laughed. “Everything around here ends up pointing to the witch trials, one way or another. Some people say that this man had an ancestor that had been cursed by one of the witches. Others say that he was descended from a witch. One this is very sure, though—he was terribly unlucky in love.”
The woman made a sighing sound. Lena made a face to herself. She’d never understood what was romantic about tragedy. Despite herself, she wanted to listen to this story. Ignoring, of course, the fact that Martin had waved his hand in the direction of her own, historical monument of a house.
“This used to be the outskirts of town,” Martin said, warming to his story. His face was lit up with excitement that, for once, he had an audience that wanted to hear what he had to say. “Our ghost was a prosperous man in these parts, and known to be a quiet gentleman. He kept to himself, so of course there were gossips who said that he was surly and thought too well of himself. That he was too proud to marry a local girl.”
How could Martin possibly know such a thing? Lena wondered, but she gave in to the magic of the story-telling.
“The stories agree that he was a handsome man. You thought he was handsome, when you saw him, didn’t you, Luisa?”
The chef made a huffing sound, but made no move to go back to the kitchen.
“So, he was handsome and wealthy, and could have married any girl in these parts just for the asking, but he never seemed interested in any of them. Not until a girl showed up at his door, shivering with the cold on a night just like this.” Martin knew he had his listeners hooked now. He spoke softly, forcing them to lean closer and hold their breaths to be able to hear. “No one knew anything about her. Not who her people were, not where she had come from. It was love at first sight, they say. He built up his house as a kind of shrine to her, and to their love. They married and gossip said that they were expecting their first child. But, it wasn’t to last.”
Lena heard the woman at the table sigh again, this time regretfully. “What happened?”
“The girl disappeared,” Martin said. “The records don’t say how or why—they didn’t in those days, you know. But, the legend that my grandfather learned from his grandfather, and passed down to me, was that she ran away from him. No one ever saw her again.”
Gasps of sympathetic horror filled the room.
“He didn’t live long after she vanished,” Martin continued, ignoring the shocked faces surrounding his casual mention of murder. “It might have been an accident, but again it might have not. He was killed in a fall off of that big, proud stallion of his, while he was out searching for his lost love. That’s why he still walks to this day. They say that he’s looking for her still… unable to rest until he finds her again.”
Lena rubbed her icy fingers together. The chill had nothing to do with the snow outside and everything to do with the ghost story Martin was reciting.
“What was her name?” The woman asked, her hands clasped together. “What was his name?”
“His name was Edward Pryce,” Martin said. “As for the girl… the only name we have for her is ‘Mellie’.”