Ghostoria: Vintage Romantic Tales of Fright
Before we get to June & Violet’s Jitterbug stories, check out this excerpt from my short ghost story collection!
1. Roadside Passenger
The knock at my window made me jump and drop my cigarette. I didn’t know which to attend to first, the cigarette, which might burn a hole in the pink custom upholstery, or the pale figure who loomed at my window. As I bent down to retrieve the cigarette, I hit the automatic window switch with my other hand. Cool night air flooded the car.
I took a long drag of my cigarette, exhaling simultaneously through my mouth and nose, not very lady-like, but it felt good. The figure gave a curt cough and smiled. She had the look of an abused puppy mixed with a drowned rat, dark brown eyes that would look sad even if she were happy, which she clearly wasn’t. Her face was tear-streaked and there were red patches around her nose.
“Excuse me, hi, can you help me? I’m lost.”
The night had started out completely normal. It had been a little too chilly to have the top down, so I had the window vent open and a fresh breeze blew at my face. I pressed the preset buttons looking for a good song, tired of the same ones over and over. No luck, I caught the middle of Dodie Steven’s Pink Shoelaces, again, bobbed my head anyway, and checked my lipstick. It had taken me weeks to find a color that matched my car and looked good on me.
I pushed in the cigarette lighter, reached for my pack of Chesterfields and tried to shake one out, but it was stuck. My eyes left the road for a second. When I looked up, what appeared to be a pale figure ran across the middle of the road. I swerved, hit the brakes, and skidded to a halt halfway on the shoulder, and thankfully, not quite into the ditch.
The rearview showed no signs of the specter I’d seen. Sometimes the dark old roads made me a little punchy. I hadn’t seen anything but night for miles, then that flutter of light clothing like gossamer wings, and the knock on the window.
Dodie ended her song, I turned down Andy Williams and knew the night was about to get strange.
I took another drag and tried to keep myself from yelling at the figure who seemed to appear out of nowhere at my window.
“You almost made me run my car into a ditch. What were you thinking, and what in God’s name were you doing in the middle of the road, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere?”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It’s a long story.” She hiccupped and stared at me with her dark eyes. Her eyes were the same color as Frank’s.
“Okay,” I said. “Get in.”
NOW Available in Kindle edition and Paperback!
|Click Above to
Buy Now for Kindle!
|Click Above to
Buy Now in Paperback!
The Girl in the Jitterbug Dress
1990s — June
1. She Walk Right In (the Big Six) 1990s
The girl’s red hair flamed like the tip of a freshly lit match, a whirl of blue, green, and black, fluttered around her bare legs. She spun clockwise, in old-timey shoes stamping out tiny rotations. Her bone-thin partner sported a loose fitting button-down shirt. The fabric moved with his body. His elbow pointed up, as he expertly twirled her, switching hands not missing a beat. He brought his arm down and stepped side, side, and back. His black and white shoes tapped out the beat. He twirled her again and wrapped back to back. Her feet left the ground as she arced through the air braced by his strong horizontal back and landed effortlessly in front of him. They resumed their footwork, miraculous, like magic, or the closest thing to real magic June had ever seen.
June watched, envious. I want to be the girl in the Jitterbug dress.
The band behind them thumped loudly. The female bass player, an incarnation of a cat, drove the solid rhythm. The men were 1950s hot with sideburns, slicked back hair, plaid shirts, rolled up jeans, with black combs poking out of their back pockets.
What would my mom and dad think about me being in a bar, drinking a beer? She was nearly eighteen but years away from the legal drinking age. They hadn’t carded her and Ed had bought the beers. What the hell, I’m graduating a semester early—one foot in high school and the other in college. Not a complete goody, but she knew what she wanted. And right now, she wanted to dance like them. Desire burned through her, bright and new.
“What? Dancing or playing in a band? I’d like to learn to play something. The bass looks cool.”
“Dancing.” She scowled. “I’m gonna talk to her.”
“Really? You’re gonna walk up to a stranger and say: teach me how to dance?” He smiled his pretty, sexy smile, and she thought again about kissing him.
“You could go talk to the guy. Look, they’re taking a break.”
“No thanks. But, I’ll ask my friend Jay. I don’t want to get up in front of everyone. I’m really not that outgoing, I’m the shy artist type, remember.” He laughed. “Anyway, look. It was a short break. They’re dancing again.”
And drank a coke.
With each twirl and stomp, June’s swing fever rose. The dancer girl finally headed to the ladies room. June stood.
“What’re you gonna to do? Accost her in the bathroom?”
“Yup, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
June raced toward the ladies room. Her heart pounded. Anticipation curled in her stomach. She didn’t know why she was so nervous. Then the memory of watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in old black and white movies with Julian almost stopped her. The pain was sharp and usually triggered an episode. She wouldn’t let it. She’d learn how to dance for both of them.
The Girl in the Jitterbug Dress
1940s — Violet
2. Swinging on a Star (Bing Crosby) 1940s
Violet’s sewing machine droned as she labored over Mr. Miller’s cuffs. Sunlight streamed through the large plate-glass windows warming her employer Mrs. Peplinski, known affectionately as Mrs. Peppy. The old seamstress’s outdated dark clothing gave her a Victorian look. A proud forehead and floury smooth cheeks contrasted the deep creases of her eyes and her stern puppet grin. Silver hair waved in matching arches of steel wool, gracefully pulled back into a French knot. Keen gray eyes twinkled when she spoke.
Behind Mrs. Peppy and Violet, a curtain opened into the back room where they cut, measured, and fitted. Violet’s eyes repeatedly flicked up to the clock, an audible sigh escaping with every look.
Mrs. Peppy frowned at her. Her thick Polish accent strained Violet’s ears.
“Violet, it’s almost time to close up. Why don’t you go home and get yourself ready for that dance tonight?” She shook her head and muttered, “By byc młodym znowu.”
“What was that?”
“Eh, old Polish saying, to be so young again.”
Violet blushed, embarrassed, but mostly nervous about the night’s possibilities. She counted herself lucky to have found such a good job when she’d had to quit school to take care of her dad. It beat the factory, but wasn’t what she’d pictured for herself. She loved to read and had received high marks, might’ve even gotten a scholarship. Still, it wasn’t bad and Mrs. Peppy always let her go early to meet friends at the malt shop.
She hung up Mr. Miller’s suit coat and pants to finish tomorrow, but then remembered it was Saturday. They were closed on Sunday. Violet had spied Mrs. Peppy in the shop after Mass and her heart ached for the old dear.
Mr. and Mrs. Peplinski had come from the old country at the turn of the century and started their tailoring business, shop downstairs, apartment upstairs. They’d had no children and Mr. Peplinski had died of the Spanish flu. Mrs. Peppy offered to let Violet come live with her, but Violet couldn’t leave her Pop and she could never replace Mr. Peplinski. Even though, Violet had seen happy photographs of the couple, she couldn’t picture Mrs. Peppy young and in love.
After last night’s dance, Violet couldn’t stop thinking about love, real love, different from the infatuations she’d had on boys from school. She wanted to believe in it. She wanted to believe in something, again. Whenever she thought about his hand in hers, his smile, that dance, she tingled all over.
She’d danced with dozens of boys at school, the malt shop, and dance halls, but never felt anything like dancing with the US Navy sailor. Love at first sight was silly. Preposterous. Ridiculous. She was a practical girl and didn’t really believe in love. Besides, she’d only had one dance with him. One dance.
How could I tell that much about a fella from ONE dance?
* * *
At the end of the night, the band beat a swinging version of Chick Webb’s Who ya Hunchin. A man walked toward her, looking quite the man compared to the boys she’d been dancing with all night. Crisp white uniform, dark gleaming hair, smiling light eyes, his sailor jumper fitted tightly across his chest and arms, accentuating his toned body.
She’d just finished dancing with Johnny O’Shea, his hand still on her back after walking her off the dance floor, when her eyes were caught by the sailor striding toward her. An involuntary shudder rolled through her body and although Johnny was saying something, she couldn’t hear a word of it.
Everything around her moved in slow motion except the steady progress of the beautiful man walking up to her, taking her hand, and asking her if he could have the next dance. Johnny’s body went rigid as his hand slipped away. He mumbled a protest, but Violet was already gliding onto the dance floor with the mysterious sailor.
As soon as they leaned forward in unison, everything sped up again. The drum beat sent hot rhythms coursing through her blood. He wasn’t close, yet she felt a heat between them, and something else, a strange connection she’d never felt before. He kept his lead nice and tight. She gave herself over to his will.
She found herself whipping her head to catch his eye with every spin. They hit the music as if they’d choreographed their dance. She planted her foot, arms held behind, chest forward, rubber-banded into a straight-legged Boogie-drop. Her bottom inches from the floor, but she knew there was no way he was going to drop her.
Somehow she knew she could trust him.
Tam Francis is a writer, blogger, swing dance teacher, avid vintage collector, and seamstress. She shares her love of this genre through her novels, blog, and short stories. She enjoys hearing from you, sharing ideas, forging friendships, and exchanging guest blogs. For all the Girl in the Jitterbug Dress news, give-aways, events, and excitement, make sure to join her list and like her FB page! Join my list ~ Facebook page