The Blue Ghost
by Taija Morgan
Click here to listen to this story on the Kaidankai podcast.
Marjorie Liddell had never seen a ghost, but she wanted to more than anything in the world. She hoped the lady sitting across from her could help. She tried to sit patiently, but her heart thrummed beneath the starchy white fabric of her dress.
A stout lady with flowing grey locks placed three tarot cards on the table in front of her.
Marjorie wiped her clammy palms on her skirt beneath the tablecloth. The warm, sugary scents of popcorn and candyfloss from the bustling fair beyond the tent flaps permeated every surface. Her gaze lifted to the woman’s light-grey eyes, so like Marjorie’s father’s, and that had to mean something, didn’t it? Surely, it was a sign.
“This is your first time,” Madame Josephine stated. Not a question, but a comment. Already, this fortune teller could read her. The woman’s spindly fingers touched an amulet that adorned her collarbone, a golden pendant shaped like an eye. Her red lips pursed. “And your last.”
Marjorie leaned forward. “My last?”
The woman waved a bejewelled hand. “We start with the cards.”
“But I only—”
“The cards,” the woman said. “Your future. Every young lady wants to know her future.”
Marjorie looked away. Her short nails dug crescent moons into her palms as she clutched her hands in her lap. This wasn’t what she came here for. She could think of nothing more irrelevant than the future.
“Go ahead, dearie. Flip the cards.”
Marjorie’s long fingers brushed across the tabletop, then stilled. “Myself?”
The woman nodded. Charlatan, Marjorie’s father would have called her. He’d be so ashamed to see his only daughter huddled here in this dark tent, surrounded by guttering candles and shiny occult statues. His staunch Catholic upbringing would never have allowed it. But what choice did she have?
Marjorie reached for the first card and flipped it over. It was upside down. XVIIII inscribed the top, while the bottom said Le Soleil. Two figures stood beneath a blazing sun.
She remembered her own surprise upon seeing the open casket, the slack face within usually so expressive. How dark he’d gotten, she’d thought at the time. She’d expected him to be pale in death, the way she’d seen others. But his skin had held the red-brown tinge of sunburn, and she’d imagined the sun beating down upon his back, his uniform soaked through with sweat as he crawled through the dirt. The artillery fire would have been deafening. And how had his face been burned so? Maybe only after hours of lying on his back in the field, bleeding out into the parched earth in his final moments, skin sizzling under the open sky. Marjorie shivered, chilled.
“The Sun card, reversed.” Madame Josephine sighed. “Much sadness has enveloped you in your young life. So true of many during the war.” She reached out and patted the back of Marjorie’s hand. “Your future shows darkness.”
Marjorie pulled back, her azure eyes wide. “Darkness?”
Madame Josephine didn’t elaborate. “Next.”
Taking a breath, Marjorie flipped the second thick, worn card. Its surface was grimy at the edges from a thousand other fingers touching their futures. This, too, she viewed upside down. XXI, Le Monde. A small figure stood in an oval. An angel, an eagle, a bull, and a lion filled the four corners.
“The World. Also in reverse,” Madame Josephine said.
Yes, Marjorie thought, the world. A hungry place with sharp teeth. Cold and insatiable. It was the world that took her father from her. It took, and took, and always demanded more. For God, for country. For the mercurial will of those who controlled it. But she would forgive it all for just one more moment with him, to know that this world wasn’t all there was.
Marjorie glanced up, meeting the woman’s cloudy grey eyes. She wondered for a moment if she were blind—if she couldn’t see the cards at all, but rather could see them. And if so, what else could the woman see?
Madame Josephine frowned, the action pulling her sagging jowls. “In reverse, it speaks of incompletion. Unfinished business. A lack of closure.”
Marjorie gasped. “Yes. Yes, that’s exactly it. No closure. That’s why I—”
“This reading pertains to your future, dearie. It is what you can expect, not what you are already familiar with.”
Sitting back in the uncomfortable wooden chair, Marjorie twisted a long curl of black hair between her fingers. Her mouth was dry, an earthy flavour lingering at the back of her throat. “Are you saying I’ll never have closure?”
“The next card, dearie. The last card.”
With a huff, Marjorie flipped it over. Like the other two, it faced away from her. X, La Roue De Fortune. A wheel surrounded by winged creatures.
Madame Josephine sucked air between her teeth. “The Wheel of Fortune in reverse. Bad luck, dearie.” She pulled the cards back, shuffling them into her deck.
Bad luck? What did that even mean? It didn’t seem fair. Three bad draws after she’d paid good money for this vague and disheartening insight. “I didn’t come to see my future.”
“No. You came to see your past. But there is no going back. The past is gone.”
Marjorie blinked back tears. “That’s not true. He can’t be gone. My father—”
“He died in the war.”
“Yes!” Marjorie straightened, looking around the dim tent. The shadows seemed to writhe with the possibility of life—life after death. Was he here with them now? Could he see her? Was he trying to speak?
“Everyone has lost family in the war. Every young lady who comes in here. Fathers, brothers, sons, husbands, beaus. They’re gone. There’s no justice or solace to it, they’re simply gone.”
She choked, her throat tightening. “But you see them, don’t you? You can still see them, so they’re not gone, they’re—”
“The only ghosts I see are the people sitting at my table.”
Marjorie’s vision blurred. She swiped at her cheeks and bit down on her trembling lower lip. “But I paid you…”
“I’m sorry to say not every customer leaves satisfied. I wish I could give you peace, but your cards are clear.”
She sniffled, cheeks heating. She should never have come here. Crying in front of some stranger, like a child. Foolish girl. “That’s it?”
The woman stared at her for a long moment. “My dear child, I’m afraid some very bad omens surround you. Your aura is the most peculiar shade of blue. Bright. Unstable. Normally this would suggest creativity, self-expression. But yours…” Madame Josephine shook her head. “The only comfort I can offer is that the end is near for you, and fate will guide your path to the other side of your woes.”
Sputtering, Marjorie rose from her chair. Her fists clenched at her sides. Her tongue wanted to unleash something sharp and cutting, but her throat was too tight for words to pass.
Madame Josephine slid Marjorie’s coins across the table. “Take them. And good luck.”
Had she just been rejected by a fortune teller? Marjorie’s mind spun as she slid her money into her pocketbook and stormed out of the dark tent.
The bright sun blinded her. People shoved past. Children laughed. Music played from the centre square.
A warm hand landed on her shoulder. Marjorie blinked until her vision cleared.
“There you are. I was looking everywhere.” Her friend, Angela, stood beside her in a pink dress, the matching ribbon holding her blonde hair back in a short ponytail. Angela frowned. “Are you all right?”
Rubbing at her wet cheeks, Marjorie muttered, “I’m fine. Forget it.”
Tilting her head to one side, Angela looped her arm through Marjorie’s and pulled her along. “I was thinking we could go to the dancehall tonight.”
“I don’t feel like it.”
Angela pouted. “You heard the rumours, didn’t you?”
Marjorie stopped. “Rumours?”
“About the dancehall. Supposedly, it’s haunted,” Angela said, whispering the word haunted as if it were a dirty secret, though her eyes were bright. “Come on, Marj, it’ll be a gas.”
Haunted. The fist around Marjorie’s heart loosened its hold. “All right. Let’s go dancing.”
The dancehall vibrated with activity.
Upon the stage, a local band played Sinatra’s latest hit Five Minutes More. Behind them, an old mural was painted with wall—dancers, hand-in-hand as they wheeled around a blue-and-green earth.
Couples twirled across the dancefloor. The ladies wore beautiful hats and large bows pinned in their hair. The simple utility dresses Marjorie had grown so used to were still common among the crowd—padded shoulders, nipped-in waistlines, and hems falling just below the knee in a range of colours and patterns—but they were beginning to give way to a new wave of fashion as the world tried to forget all it had lost.
Most of the men wore boxy suits in tweed, but some retained their uniforms even though the war had ended. The many empty, pinned sleeves and crutches attested that the war would never truly be over. Some chose to stay on with the military, either through dedication or because they no longer had anywhere else to call home.
Marjorie’s own utility dress was a light blue, simple but clean. Her long black hair hung in curls. If she were honest, she didn’t want to be here. There were too many happy people laughing and chatting and pretending everything would be better now. But there was a possibility, however slim, that she might see something tonight. Something to confirm, once and for all, that life continued beyond the veil of death.
“Our cousin Virginia swears she saw it in the ladies’ room only last week, and she’s been sick ever since.” Angela slid a new glass of punch in front of Marjorie as she dropped into a chair. The small, round table was cluttered with empty glasses. “A bright-blue figure. They call it The Blue Ghost.”
“A blue ghost?” Angela’s older brother, Leo, laughed at Marjorie’s side. “That doesn’t sound very scary.”
“It is!” Angela argued. “They say it’s a bad omen if you see it.”
“Who says?” Leo asked over the loud saxophones and trumpets.
Angela shrugged. “Everybody.”
Leo slid his gaze over to Marjorie and rolled his eyes conspiratorially. From the dancefloor, two figures emerged and headed toward their table. Marjorie recognised one as Leo’s friend from the war, Ferdinand. The other was an American boy still in uniform. An eagle crest marked him as a volunteer with the Eagle Squadron of the Royal Air Force, someone who would have joined the fight even before his own country committed to the war efforts.
The American smiled at her with bright eyes as he and Ferdinand took their seats. “Arnold,” he introduced himself, reaching out to shake her hand. “Pleasure to meet you, miss.”
It was at times like these she felt as if she could see the future herself. A warm hand in hers on the dancefloor, those icy-blue eyes staring into her own with a whole life laid out before them. But something always pulled her back into herself, and the illusion would fade. The fortune teller had been a disappointment today, but she’d seen Marjorie for what she truly was—a ghost sitting at her table. Ghosts had no future.
Marjorie shook the boy’s hand without making eye contact.
“Apparently, a girl died here, back in the twenties,” Angela said, continuing their conversation without missing a beat. “And now she haunts the place, still wearing a flapper dress with pearls. If you see her, something bad is about to happen.”
Leo scowled. “Don’t say things like that, Angie. It’s not true. Virginia just caught a bug.”
“It is true!”
“I believe it,” Ferdinand said, earning a grin from Angela. “I met a psychic once. She knew I was a Taurus even before I said anything. She said I’d survive the war.” He spread his hands wide. “And here I am. The wheel of fortune is always spinning through our lives.”
A hushed murmur rolled over the table.
“Marj saw a fortune teller at the fair today,” Angela declared. “Didn’t you?”
All eyes turned to Marjorie. She felt her face heat. “Ang,” she scolded.
“Tell us!” Angela said, rocking forward in her chair.
Arnold raised an eyebrow. “What did the fortune teller say?”
Images of tarot cards flashed through her mind—worn, the colours faded, foxing around the edges. The Sun, The World, The Wheel of Fortune, a bright future flipped upside down into darkness, incompletion, and bad luck. Her stomach sank.
Marjorie slid her chair back and stood. “Excuse me.”
Angela grabbed her arm. “Marj, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up. You aren’t using the lav, are you?” Her eyes were wide. Angela would usually accompany her everywhere, but she looked genuinely afraid to do so now and she certainly didn’t offer.
Marjorie shook her friend off and chuckled. “I’ll only be a minute.”
She could sense Angela’s frown on her back as she exited the dancefloor, leaving her friends behind. She followed the signs that led her down a narrow hallway. The din of the music halved as the doors closed, leaving only the tinny echo of voices and instruments.
The fortune teller may not have seen her father, but Marjorie wasn’t willing to give up that easily. She had to know. If the lingering spirit of a woman who died more than twenty years ago could still be in this dancehall, then why couldn’t Marjorie’s father still be around? If strangers could see a dead woman, why couldn’t she see her own father?
The hallway was dimly lit. Her low black heels clicked on the off-white tiles. A few women tucked by her on their way back to the dancefloor, giggling, whispering.
As Marjorie stepped in front of the door to the ladies’ room, the power flickered out. The dim hallway fell into complete darkness. Something banged on the other side of the door.
Her breath caught in her chest. The music silenced, but she could still hear a muted chatter of surprised voices.
Marjorie shivered, regretting leaving her sweater behind. Her first instinct, in the dark, was to duck and cover, listening for the whine of bombs rocketing through the sky like falling stars.
She tucked into the wide doorway, pressing her back to the thick, lacquered wood. Her heart harboured a hair-trigger as she prepared for the ear-splitting wail of an air raid siren.
Moments passed, but it didn’t come.
The war was over. There was nothing to be afraid of anymore. It was just a blackout. Marjorie took a deep breath and stood.
Beneath the muffled voices coming from the dancefloor, she heard something else. She cocked her head, listening in the darkness, listening to the darkness. Water. It was the sound of rushing water.
She pressed her palm against the door and eased it open. The sound was louder now and as she took a step forward into the space, her shoes splashed at the edge of a puddle.
A leak, or a broken pipe. Moonlight streamed in through a small window in the far corner. Just enough for her to see that she was ruining her good shoes.
Stomach fluttering, she eyed the stalls. Shadows squirmed in every corner. The stakes seemed higher with the lights out; her craving to see a ghost suddenly more foolish. Just as she was about to turn back, a spark in the mirror caught her eye—bright and blue.
Marjorie gasped. She was here—The Blue Ghost.
Shivering, Marjorie stepped forward.
The lights flickered back on and Marjorie’s vision filled with a bright flash. Her muscles snapped tight and rigid. The air froze in her chest. She fell to the floor.
Marjorie’s eyes blinked open. She pulled herself up, smoothing down her dress. Her mind stumbled in fits and starts as she glanced around the room.
The power had gone out. It had come back on. She was in the ladies’ room at the dancehall. Maybe she slipped in the water.
Marjorie glanced down at the floor. There was no longer a pool of water there. The black tiles beneath her were clean and dry. She could have sworn they’d been white moments ago. Had she hit her head?
Her fingers explored her hairline. No blood. Nothing hurt. How long had she been on the floor? It couldn’t have been terribly long—the night was still dark beyond the small window. She stood over the sink, taking in her pale complexion in the mirror.
Marjorie’s head snapped toward the door as the phantom sensation of a cold blade slid between her ribs. Her chest drew tight. She was alone. But that voice, she’d know it anywhere.
Her eyes welled. “Dad?”
He’d sounded far away. She rushed to the door and slipped out into the hall. Empty.
Swallowing, she called out for him as she walked down the hallway. The walls looked different than they had before, as if they’d gained a fresh coat of paint. Knowing her friends would be worried about her after the blackout, she headed toward the dancefloor, still listening for her father’s voice.
Bodies pressed through the doors to the dancefloor before Marjorie could open them, men and women tumbling out in a mess of bright, colourful outfits. The men wore beards, their hair shaggy and long. The women’s skirts were indecently short, hair long and wild. They walked by her through the hall. A costume party? Her mind spun.
“Angie?” she called, stepping into the dancehall.
The music had returned. A new, fast beat. It was a song she wasn’t familiar with—a man on stage announced it as My Generation. The crowd clapped and hooted uproariously.
This was the wrong room, she realised distantly. Except her table was where she’d left it, the long bar still stretching across one side of the space, the mural of the wheeling dancers and the earth were still on the wall, the windows and exits were all in the right places. But the colours were all wrong, the floor was shinier. Even the air itself was thick with an odd scent.
Her friends were gone. In their place sat a group of young people in the same strange costumes.
Marjorie walked up to them. “Have you seen my friends? They were sitting here before—”
Speaking amongst themselves, ignoring her, one of the women said, “It’s true, Greg. Some girl died here in the forties. Electrocuted in the toilets. They say she still haunts the place.”
Marjorie stepped back from the table, her heart hammering.
A man walked through her to reach his seat. Marjorie felt her whole body shift, slide, and snap back into place. She gasped.
The man shivered, turning up his collar. “Chilly in here.”
Marjorie ran out of the dancehall.
Her hands trembled, fingers tingling. Tears blurred her vision as she dashed through the front door of the building toward the cool night air—only to find herself standing once more in the ladies’ room.
Shaking her head, she tried again to leave, only to find herself back where she started.
Trembling, Marjorie gazed down at herself. She looked the same, felt the same. But something was wrong. This place was so different. And something was preventing her from leaving. Was this some horrible nightmare?
A girl came in wearing a short, shapeless leopard-print dress and heavy eye makeup. She walked past Marjorie and powdered her face in the mirror.
Marjorie reached out, touching the girl’s arm. “Please, you have to help me, I don’t understand what’s—”
The girl shivered violently. Her pink powder case clattered into the sink. Marjorie’s hand fell away as the girl grabbed her stomach and leaned over.
The door swung as another woman entered in similar attire. “Hey, groovy chick—whoa, Cassidy, are you okay?” She patted the girl’s back.
Cassidy shook her head, still hunched. “I don’t feel so well. I think I…I think I saw something in the mirror.”
Neither of the women paid Marjorie any attention.
“These mirrors?” Cassidy’s friend said. Her rose-painted lips drooped in a frown. “You know this place is haunted, right? Maybe you saw a ghost. It’s bad luck to see a ghost here.”
Cassidy grabbed onto her friend. “Don’t freak me out. Let’s just cut out early.”
The two turned to leave.
The doors swung softly closed behind them, leaving Marjorie alone, breathing hard.
She sank to the floor, leaning against the wall. They couldn’t see her. Something happened when she touched the girl. She’d hurt her. How was that even possible?
Marjorie knew the answer, but she didn’t want to admit it. If she was the ghost haunting this place, she’d have to be dead. And if she were dead, then where was her father?
She’d heard the soft cadence of his voice when she awoke, she knew it, but where was he? If this was death, they’d be together.
She wrapped her arms around her knees, rocking.
And The Blue Ghost…for a moment before the flash, Marjorie could have sworn she caught a glimpse of it in here. Her eyes welled. But if this were the afterlife, where had The Blue Ghost gone? Unless…she had taken its place.
Days and years seemed to pass, but the darkness beyond the window never changed. The sun never rose.
After her latest failed attempt to leave, Marjorie paced around the cursed room. This wasn’t fair. Her fists clenched at her sides. To be trapped here, to be alone. It wasn’t fair.
She huffed out a puff of air, but her lungs burned and she could hardly breathe through her tight throat. She dug her short nails into her palms.
If this is death, where is he?
Marjorie sobbed. She didn’t deserve this fate. Trapped in a darkened ladies’ room in an endless night. An unresolved past behind her and no future before her. She leaned over, clutching her aching chest.
A metallic whining echoed through the wall behind her, followed by a bang. A spray of water pooled on the floor beneath her feet. Marjorie stared as the pool expanded, the burst pipe clanking. She wiped at her damp cheeks.
This wasn’t the evidence of an afterlife she’d longed for. She wondered if death was the same for everyone—a cage. If her father was still on a battlefield somewhere, wandering.
There had to be a way out. She couldn’t stand it anymore. The four walls of her prison seemed to constrict, pressing in on her, crushing her.
The lights flickered, then extinguished, leaving the room in shadows.
“Margie?” a voice whispered.
Marjorie’s head whipped side to side, seeking out her father’s voice. Nothing stirred in the darkened corners. “Dad? Where are you?” She choked on a sob.
“How?” she shouted, voice echoing off the tiles.
The door swung open and Marjorie saw a bright light. For a moment, she thought it was the bright light, the one she should be going toward but could never find. Then she realised it wasn’t a light at all. It was a girl.
The girl shuffled in with her hands out in the darkness. She stepped in the puddle, glanced down, and mumbled, “Oh man. I just got these shoes.” Her fingers sought out the cool porcelain sink. She turned it on and washed her hands, sighing.
Marjorie stepped closer. A strange, soft blue glow seemed to emanate from the girl. An aura, Marjorie realised. Just as the fortune teller had described her own aura so long ago.
Electricity vibrated in the air between them. An invisible pull drew Marjorie closer still.
The girl blindly turned off the tap. A set of dog tags hung around her neck, dipping into the V of her blue dress. A small silver bracelet decorated with winged cherubs dangled from her wrist.
She didn’t seem to see Marjorie. But Marjorie saw her more clearly than she’d seen anyone before.
The girl dried her hands, her shoes still touching the edge of the growing puddle.
It was clear to Marjorie now. There would always be a blue ghost in this dancehall. But it didn’t have to be the same one.
The role of The Blue Ghost must always be filled. Marjorie had been some other girl’s replacement after more than twenty years of wandering. And this girl…she would be Marjorie’s.
This was her way out.
Marjorie reached out to touch her. Her eyes fell again to the dog tags around her neck. She hesitated.
What had this girl lost already? Marjorie’s chest tightened. She knew that pain, that loss, the unending agony of claws tearing and shredding her ribcage from the inside. Was it her fate to be condemned here like Marjorie was?
“Margie,” her father’s voice whispered from far away.
The girl tossed her dark hair back and moved toward the door. Maybe it was fate, after all. Marjorie had been here so long…and the wheel of fortune always turns eventually.
Marjorie’s hand landed on the girl’s shoulder. She twisted around with a gasp just as the lights flickered on and a blue jolt swept up her body.
The girl crumpled to the floor in a heap.
Marjorie closed her eyes.
When she opened them, she was in a field. The sun had risen and it fell warm against her skin, blanketing Marjorie’s previously cold world in life. Her heart swelled as a man in uniform walked toward her.
“Margie. I’ve waited so long to see you again.”
Taija Morgan is a horror, thriller, and suspense author with short stories and non-fiction articles published in various anthologies and magazines, including the Prairie Gothic anthology (2020) and Prairie Witch anthology (2022) from Prairie Soul Press, Tales to Terrify’s horror podcast (2022), Penitent’s Gold (The Seventh Terrace, 2022), and many others. She has degrees in psychology and sociology that contribute realism and insight to her dark, twisted fiction. Taija was the editor of Crime Writers of Canada’s 40th Anniversary anthology Cold Canadian Crime (2022). She is represented by Oli Munson with A.M. Heath. Find her at www.TaijaMorgan.com or www.linktr.ee/TaijaMorgan.
Linda Gould hosts the Kaidankai, a weekly blog and podcast of fiction read out loud that explores the entire world of ghosts and the supernatural. The stories are touching, scary, gruesome, funny, and heartwarming. New episodes every Wednesday.