This story is by Norma Archibald and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The Woman in the Pale Gown
Where am I? Who am I? It had been so long since anyone had called her name, and longer still since she had spoken. She stood on a grassy hill, looking at the dark woods in front of her, and began moving smoothly forward, gliding across space and time. Driven by a compulsion she could not control, The Woman in the Pale Gown felt an obsession to do something, a calling from beyond her grave. Overlaid with lace, her white gown was as translucent as her skin, with a single gold ribbon trailing from the empire waist of her alluring shroud. The harvest moon followed her, as she moved past the gate of London’s Hightower Cemetery.
I don’t want to haunt you, she thought, as she passed by the wrought-iron gate and under the crest above his doorway. I’m not an evil spirit. She said a prayer and asked the powers that be to grant her permission to send a haunting thought instead. A thought that would drive someone to obsession until they acted on it.
There he is, she thought, watching a young man, sitting with his quill ready, a candle burning, stacks and stacks of books and papers in an untidy room. She moved closer and leaned down near his ear, whispering, then stood back. William sat up straight, looked around the room, his eyes narrowing, then focused on the paper before him, and suddenly murmured…. “Three witches… and a skull.”
The Woman in the Pale Gown disappeared, her first task complete.
A door was in the distance, shimmering with light. She looked toward it, feeling a yearning for the timeless promise behind that door. It led to somewhere good. Could she go through it? She did not know. Turning toward another house, she wandered past time and space again. A bell tolled a solemn knell as she turned toward a quaint farmhouse. She somehow knew she was no longer in London. A square wooden sign swung slightly off a tall pole, with the family name Alcott was painted in pretty cursive letters. Before she could approach the young woman sitting at a shelf desk inside the Orchard House on Lexington Way, another apparition caught her attention. He was under a tall tree, silent, comfortably leaning on a sturdy sword, and watching her. His black wings brushed the edge of the dead leaves beneath him, and his armor reflected the glimmer of midnight stars. An aged owl in the twisted branches above heralded the dark angel’s presence with a spooky
“Whoo! Whoo are you?”
The angel’s piercing gaze silenced the nocturnal bird, the he looked back at the focus of his attention.
With a shiver, the woman in the pale dress turned away and continued to carry out her spellbinding task. She entered the silent abode where Luisa still sat at her desk, contemplating her life. Our bewitching ghost whispered again. Hearing the supernatural thought in her mind, Luisa gathered images of black clouds, haunting shadows and lost loves rising from the mist and lost words came into being as the young girl penned anew.
Moving outside, the graceful ghost looked for the ancient door. She thought perhaps the path glowed brighter, calling her toward it. But I am cast out, no longer mourned. She couldn’t remember why. The dark angel continued to stand guard, always watching. She watched back and thought she felt an icy wind move her way. Disturbed, she paused. Yet her soul still hoped, and she finally moved on.
Where would fate take me next? Who can I send a haunting thought to, a belief that will possess them forever? Lingering a moment at another destination, the Woman in the Pale Gown drew near to a young man sitting in a wooden chair by a cold fireplace, which displayed a large black mantel. He seems tortured enough, thought our specter, as she watched him raise a half-filled glass to hasten his inebriation. Still, she leaned down to whisper in his ear, and Poe looked past his glass at the Raven Mantel, newly preoccupied. She heard the scratching of his pen as she disappeared, leaving no memory of her visitation behind.
The dark angel was closer now. He stood in front of her, blocking her way. He was menacing, but not aggressive. No expression revealed anything on his handsome visage. The great dark wings blocked any possibility of going forward. The Woman in the Pale Gown stood still as time, uncertain but undeterred.
This is no mortal, she knew. But neither am I. The door of promise awaits, and I see the path is brighter toward it. Behind the black night, it revealed the way to go.
Envisioning herself on the brighter path, her small feet suddenly stood upon it. The icy stare now was on her back. A quick cat ran across the way, glaring at her with its reflective eyes. A dark bat winged its way across the moon. She knew what night this was. The signs were clear. But no spell would hold her to live an eternal existence. I may be cursed, but I’m not damned. Otherwise, the dark angel would already have her in his unearthly grasp.
The last home was her favorite one to frequent. A young man with dark curls and lace cuffs sat in an ornate chair, a slanted desk holding a blank sheet of paper. A lamp illuminated his work as he gazed at a silver chalice on the shelf above.The Woman in the Pale Gown loved this man, like a sister would, because his heart was so good. Despite a hard life, he was able to rise above it and continue to inspire others toward better things. She reached out to touch his shoulder before bending down with a whispering spell. Startled, she saw her hand, which, no longer translucent, was a soft pink. Looking at the silver chalice, she thought she saw her reflection. If I am no longer invisible… she pondered this new revelation.
The dark angel had drawn near, and she turned toward him, a question in her grey eyes. The moment seemed forever motionless, as she witnessed him transforming from darkness to light. Instead of the metallic armor and black wings, she saw gold garments and pure white feathers, one of which dropped to her petite feet. Her gown was sheer gauze now, and the golden ribbon around her bodice, silk. As she marveled at these changes, the angel spoke:
“I am the Guardian of the Door. It was necessary to test your resolve, to see if you would face your fear and walk past it, for only those who truly desire life and love, earthly or eternal, can enter the light beyond the door. When you willed yourself to go past me and fought against your darker destiny, unseen forces came to your aid. You may come with me now, and we will enter in to your new abode.”
The Woman in the Pale Gown saw the Guardian’s face for the first time. It was noble and true. She knew she could a request a last task.
“Let me whisper in Charles’ ear before we go.”
The golden Guardian assented, and as she turned to the young man, still contemplating a blank sheet, the beautiful wraith sent him her last ethereal message before leaving the confines of Earth.
Charles picked up his quill and wrote, “Marley is dead.”
Satisfied that her lasting legacy would be the inspiration of spirits that helped contribute to kindness and compassion on earth, the Lady in White took her leave, relieved of her obligations to haunt others, and allowed the golden Guardian to escort her toward the door, through which they passed into soulful immortality.