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That night spent in the community center next to the graveyard was the longest one he could remember. Laying on a threadbare couch with moonlight falling through the window, all he could think of was how suddenly the idea of being alone was unbearable. How had he done it for so long before today? When sleep finally did come to him, it was uneasy, filled with nightmares and dreams of lonely years.
In the morning, the sunlight brought pain. He woke up gasping for air, his muscles contracting painfully. This had become a ritual, something that had been growing in severity with each passing day. He laid still, counting the rapid beats of his heart as it began to slow.
He moved each limb cautiously, stretching and massaging away the pain until it was no more than a lingering dull ache. Sitting up stiffly, he reached into his pack, grabbing a can of tuna and a knife. He ate numbly, tossing the can aside when he was finished. Steeling himself, he looked out the window. From his vantage point, the cemetery was no more than a thick wooded forest. For a moment, he sat and watched the tree tops as they moved with the wind. There was just enough time to entertain the thought that the events of the day before had been a dream before the laughter came to him, nearly the same way it had the day before. The only difference was that this time, it was a man laughing. The voice was a rich tenor, filled with joy. It made him vault off the couch, ignoring his aches and pains. He ran down the stairs, out the door and through the broken fence. As he moved through the cemetery, uncertainty slowed his steps. Reaching the clearing of the statues, he stopped just out of sight. Peeking out from behind a tree, he took in the scene before him. He had been right about the laughter being a man’s. The man in question stood before him facing the mystery girl who had named him yesterday.
The man was tall, distinguished looking in a dress shirt and pants, dark suspenders crossing his back. He was young, probably in his early thirties. As Elijah watched, the man laughed again, gesturing to the mystery girl. “Come now.” he said. The girl stepped up to him, taking his hand and placing the other on his waist. She grinned at him, looking as if she was just barely containing her laughter.
“Daniel, how will you feel when I start stepping on your feet? Is this dance so important to you that you’ll sacrifice those perfectly shined shoes?”
Daniel began to move, his steps graceful and sure as he led her through the dance. “My dear, the thought of one successful waltz is worth the sacrifice of a thousand pairs of shoes.”
She laughed, losing her focus and stomping on his foot. He held it together, faltering only a step or two before guiding her back into place. “A shame you don’t have a thousand toes.” she said, biting her lip in concentration.
“One always knows the risks when attempting to teach the waltz.” he said smoothly. They moved together successfully for a few more beats. “So, where is this last man you called on me for?” asked Daniel.
“He’s standing behind a tree over there gathering his courage.” she said. She was looking down at her feet now. Daniel lifted her chin, reminding her to look at him as they danced.
“A shame he’s only going to get to see our initial attempts to conquer this beautiful dance.” said Daniel.
Elijah rolled his eyes. It would be silly to pretend he was unseen now. He stepped out from behind the tree as the two broke apart, both regarding him with knowing smiles.
“By all means,” he said. “Don’t stop on my account.”
Daniel’s grin widened. “As tempting as it would be to continue, the lady has other plans. My name is Daniel Gerard, Pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
When Elijah only nodded, the girl cut in. “His name is Elijah.” she said to Daniel. “Although he still isn’t used to it.”
He gave her an irritated look but focused on Daniel. “So you’re a ghost too, I suppose?”
“Ghost, spirit, apparition…whatever suits you.” said Daniel with a shrug.
“When were you alive?” he asked. The girl had refused to tell him her name, much less anything else, so with Daniel his curiosity was getting the better of him.
“I died on April 2, 1879, after 77 years of life.” Answered Daniel. “Does the year mean anything to you?”
“I don’t know what year we would be in at this moment. But I’ve read about the centuries before timekeeping ended. I’m familiar with the era.” He said. “Why are you here?”
Daniel glanced at the girl, who nodded at him to continue. “I’m here to tell you a story.”
Elijah rolled his eyes again, unable to suppress the heavy sigh as confusion and frustration made their way to the forefront of his mind. He leveled his gaze on the girl whose name he still didn’t know. “What game are you playing with me, mystery girl? What is all this talk of stories and ghosts? Is this the ghost of Christmas past? Why do I care about any of this?”
She waited in silence, happy to let him finish his rant, before glancing at Daniel. “That was rude of him, wasn’t it?” asked Daniel.
She smiled at him, then looked at Elijah before saying, “Yes Daniel, it was. He knows no better. He’s only a child.”
“I’ll show you rude.” muttered Elijah.
“You’ve made an understandable mistake.” She said. “You seem to think that all of this is about you. You’ve read too many books, Elijah.”
“You said that the last story was mine, how can it not be about me?” he asked.
“Everything in time, Elijah. Right now, you might just be a little too selfish to understand. For now, you will let Daniel tell you his story.” said the girl, her tone indicating he had little choice in the matter.
He sighed again, this time resigned to his fate. “So, what?” He asked Daniel. “Are we going to build a fire and roast marshmallows while you tell ghost stories?”
Daniel approached Elijah, putting a hand on his shoulder. His other hand came up to cup the side of Elijah’s face, his thumb pressing against his temple. “The ghost of Christmas past had more flare than that, friend.”
To be continued!