THE CONTINENTAL DRESS COMPANY GHOST ; An Invisible Woman story
The elevator opened with a crisp ding that echoed down the long narrow corridor. There was no one in the car, just the flickering lights and burnished metal walls.
Magazines on tables set against the walls flipped open. Pages fluttered as if blown by the wind.
The jaunty tune of The Andrews Sisters’ hit, “Rum and Coca Cola” drifted on empty air, as if hummed by an unseen presence.
Inside the reception room of what was once the Continental Dress Company—Model Division, now the J.J. Benson Lingerie Studio, the secretary was gossiping with a female fashion reporter.
“It’s true! The building is haunted!” the peroxide blonde secretary asserted between smacks of her chewing gum. “Some ghost flounced around through the dressing room and the showroom. Over a dozen people saw it! Poor Mr. Growly had a coronary, then went completely bonkers. He kept asking the thin air, ‘How am I doing?’ with every decision until J.J. bought out the company and had him retired to Florida somewhere.”
Mary Lou Carroll, a reporter for the Kanesville Clarion Bee raised one eyebrow skeptically.
“Really?” she asked.
The secretary just shrugged.
Carroll was visiting the city to report on the modelling career of Kanesville’s own Molly Herkimer, who was briefly known as the “Cinderella Killer” after falsely confessing to a murder—committed with a shoe. The young woman basked in her brief moment of fame and then used her notoriety to secure a modelling job in the city.
“I’ve heard the rumors, but you’re telling me all that actually happened?” Mary Lou continued.
Her reporter’s instincts had her notepad out and pen at the ready. Not the story she was here on assignment to follow, but something that just might add some spice to the evening edition.
The secretary stared at the small town reporter with bored eyes.
She popped a bubblegum bubble and shrugged.
“I don’t believe it!”
At that moment the door swung open, then gently closed. There was no one there.
Humming trailed through the room along with a strong whiff of perfume, vanilla and strawberries.
The door that led to the offices and the dressing room opened and closed.
The secretary looked up at Mary Lou, who was staring at the door with wide eyed amazement.
“You were saying?”
After her initial shock, Mary Lou raced to open the door and followed the humming down the hall toward the dressing room.
“Hey!” Shouted the perturbed secretary. “You can’t go back there without an appointment! What’s wrong with you?”
Something unseen, smelling of vanilla, strawberries and baby powder slipped through the half open door to the models’ dressing room. Several young women were in various stages of dress, mostly just wearing flimsy lacey undergarments and negligees. None of them even looked up as the presence passed among them. They were hurriedly preparing for a presentation in the showroom for a handful of high-powered buyers for department store chains.
Abruptly the time clock on the wall, a tall rectangular metal box with a tiny glass clock set inside it, ticked off the quarter hour with a loud click.
A low growl answered the mechanical sound.
“You again!” hissed a voice out of nowhere.
Time cards began to fly out of their slots, ripping to pieces in midair. The tattered shreds rained down like confetti, cardstock snow, falling on the lacy underwear which was strewn across benches or draped over chairs.
A broom flew out of a corner janitor’s closet, snapped in half, floating in the air. Half of it fell with a clatter to the floor. The other half lunged viciously at the time clock and began to bash at it in a fierce tempo. Gears and metallic pieces along with broken glass tinkled across the floor.
The half open door flew wide.
The secretary and Mary Lou peeked in.
The broom handle flew at them, and they beat a hasty retreat.
The unseen presence slipped between the milling models who’d been hurriedly changing outfits between strolls across a small stage, but were now petrified in mid change. One girl was pushed out of the way and fell on a chair with a tiny shriek of terror.
The girl who had been sitting next to her was crying softly, trying to cover it with her hands.
“What’s the matter, sweetie?” asked a sympathetic voice, with just a hint of an alcoholic slur.
Molly Herkimer, the notorious “Cinderella Killer” was sobbing her eyes out.
“I just can’t do this.” She whispered. “I just can’t. I thought I could, and the pay was great, but I just don’t think I can do it.”
“Do what, sweetie?” the voice coaxed.
“I can’t stand going out there, half naked, to be ogled at. And they told me to be ‘extra nice’ to the ‘special buyers’, should the opportunity arise. I’m just a small town girl. I wasn’t raised to be this. I don’t care how much it pays!”
A sympathetic hand patted her shoulder.
“You just stay right here, dearie. I’ll go out and give them something to ogle at!”
Molly turned and looked up, to smile at the friendly voice, but there was no one there.
The curtain to the showroom pulled slightly open.
On the other side, purchasing agents and fashion critics were seated in plush chairs, watching a fashion show for J.J. Benson’s newest lingerie line. They looked bored and sour, sipping from champagne glasses and snacking absently from trays of hors d’oeurves.
“Bored are we?” asked a whispery voice from nowhere. “Well, I can fix that!”
The curtain fell back into place with a swish.
There were screams and startled shouts coming from the dressing room behind the curtains to the side of the stage. A half-clad model raced out from behind the curtain and jiggle-ran across the stage to escape through the opposite side, into the purchasing office.
“Well!” drolled a plump fashion critic. “That livens things up a bit!”
He popped another tasty morsel in his mouth and leaned forward to watch what happened next.
A strange figure pranced out from behind the curtain, a well filled out nightie ensemble, without a head. Or hands. Or legs. The wispy negligee glided across the stage, then flounced and capered a ghostly jitterbug.
“Oh no. Not again!” gasped Mrs. Bates, the matron who coached the models and ran the shows for the new owners, a holdover from the old Continental Dress Company days.
The audience was stunned.
Squinting dowagers and grinning merchants and bored fashion critics all sat stock still in their cushioned seats, glasses wavering in hand, hors d’oeurves halfway to their mouths. There was a moment of silence. Then shrieks and screams and terrified shouts rang out. Champagne and treats flew everywhere.
There was a mass dash for the exit, which turned into a jumbled tangle at the doors. Stuffy clerks, pale faced dowagers, and no longer bored fashion critics fell over one another in a mad scramble to pull open the doors. They literally climbed over one another and tugged, heedless to the fact that the doors swung inward and could not open with such a mound of thrashing flesh pressed against them.
One of the waiters, hired by the catering agency, rushed the stage and tackled the strange floating nightie.
There was a feminine shout as they crashed to the stage.
“Why, it’s just a dame!” shouted the man. “I’ve got her!”
Suddenly part of his ear split away from his head in a spray of blood.
“She bit my ear off!” screamed the man as blood poured between the fingers clutching his injured ear.
He snarled angrily and slapped something unseen with a backhand.
There was another feminine shout and a burst of very unladylike language.
Suddenly the shouted and covered his eyes with both hands.
“She’s gouging my eyes out!” he screamed, letting go of the nightie and stumbling to his feet.
There was a dull thump, audible even over the general babble of panicked chaos.
He exhaled in a long, pained hoot. Hands flew from his eyes to his crotch. He tried to inhale, but only made thin gasping sounds. Then he fell heavily on his side, moaning.
“Serves you right, ya’ big ape!” shouted a female voice.
The nightie fluttered upright, then raced back toward the dressing room.
There was another chorus of screams from the half-dressed models and several fled out onto the stage. Where they stood, hands over their mouths, staring in horror at some Thing beyond the curtains.
The rumpled nightie pealed itself off of a curvy, unseen torso. Then it flew into the face of the shrillest screaming model. Molly Herkimer, the dreaded “Cinderella Killer” of Kanesville, fainted dead away.
Mary Lou Carroll had worked up the courage to edge into the dressing room, lured by the sounds of screams and shouts from the showroom beyond. Something soft ran into her as she stood in the doorway. She was shoved unceremoniously to the side to fall sprawling on the floor.
“One side, Sister!” snarls a voice from thin air.
In the reception room, the secretary could hear the patter patter of bare feet running down the hall toward her. She was already on the phone to the police, reporting the disturbances. The door burst open, something leaned across her desk, knocking various papers and knickknacks aside. The handpiece was snatched from her hand while she watched wide eyed.
“She’ll call you back.” Said a woman’s voice with mocking sweetness.
Then the handpiece was slammed back down on the cradle, making the whole phone ring like a bell.
The secretary screamed and fainted dead away.
“There’s a lot of that going around.” Observed the unseen woman’s voice dryly.
The door to the hallway swung open and was left swinging on its hinges.
Halfway down the hallway, the transparent shell of a hand and part of an arm faded into view.
“Oh, damn!” moaned the female voice.
Down in the lobby, a wrinkle-faced security guard sat at his desk, feet propped up, reading a well-worn, dog-eared copy of Spicy Crime magazine and drinking a cup of very Irish coffee.
Jeanie fled panting through the tangled brush, mindless of her nakedness. Behind her the hands of Machine-Gun MacKay grasped for her vulnerable flesh…
At that very moment the elevator door dinged open and the transparent figure of a very naked young woman came stumbling out. It looked like pink flesh painted on glass. The transparent woman paused for a moment, looking straight at the security guard, who, very carefully, sat down his cup of quite Irish coffee. She grinned wickedly, winked, then blew a kiss.
Then she darted through the revolving outer door, which spun like a roulette wheel in her wake.
The security guard blinked. Rubbed his eyes. Then added a bit more Irish to his coffee and went back to reading about the perils of Jeanie as she fled Machine-Gun MacKay.
A rapidly coalescing form of a naked woman slipped through the back door of GINO’S bar. She made her way hastily, head weaving about checking for possible witnesses, down a back hall to the Women’s room. Ducking inside, she hurried to the far stall where she found her carefully folded clothes just where she left them.
She gave a sigh of relief and quickly got dressed.
Kitty Caroll joined her friends at the bar.
“Well, look who finally came back!” laughed her best friend, Sonny Rogers. “I thought we were going to have to send a rescue expedition out to find ya’!”
Sonny’s voice slurred. She’d been drinking steadily during the entire time of Kitty’s absence.
She and Sonny, back when Sonny had still been Jean--before adopting her new stage name, had both been fired by Mr. Growly at the old Continental Dress Company, where they’d worked as models. So had the other three girls with them. Sonny had just recently hit it big, hooking up with a big time playboy, whom Kitty suspected of being a mobster, and scoring a singing contract. They were having a girls’ night out to celebrate.
“Here ya’ go, sister, have a little drinkie! You’re way behind us and need ta catch up!”
Sonny tried to pour her a drink, but Kitty winced and declined.
She ordered a coffee instead, a quite ordinary coffee without the faintest hint of Irishness.
“No thanks. I’m trying to cut down. I can be a bit of a mean drunk.” She said ruefully, rubbing a darkening bruise on her cheek.