Excerpt for Underground Spirit by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Underground Spirit © 2018 by Foxglove Lee


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system.


This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events or locales is entirely coincidental.


Cover design © 2018 Foxglove Lee

First Edition May 2018



Underground Spirit


Queer Ghost Stories


By Foxglove Lee



Chapter One


Whitney’s stomach growled as she approached reception.

Too bad there was only one way in and one way out of the law firm where she worked. Back when she was a student lawyer, she’d served time in a much larger firm. There, lawyers could slip out the back unnoticed. Here, she had to contend with Norma’s nosiness. Almost made Whitney wish she’d brought lunch from home. Except that she was a truly hopeless cook. Couldn’t even make a sandwich without setting the curtains on fire.

If she wanted a bite from the food court in the underground, she would have to pass by Norma. No other option.

So she got out her phone and pretended to be engaged in a highly lawyeristic conversation.

“That’s right,” she said loudly as she tromped past Norma’s desk. “I’ll be sure to fax that signature to you ASAP.”

“Whitney!” Norma said in a stage whisper.

“Yes, I’ll get right on that.” Whitney went on with her fake conversation. “The client will be informed post-haste.”

Norma stood from her chair, waving both arms over her head. “Whitney!”

Whitney pressed the elevator call button. “Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention.”

“Whitney, hang up!” Norma pleaded, speaking at full voice now. “Don’t go down! It’s important!”

Important? Could be a genuine client call. That would certainly be more important than a fake one.

“Okay,” Whitney said to no one. “Thanks for calling. Talk to you later. Bye-bye.”

Norma continued to wave her over.

The elevator opened and Whitney almost got in.

“Whitney,” Norma pressed. “Get over here. This is serious.”

Tucking her phone in her purse, Whitney returned to the receptionist’s desk and asked, “What’s going on, Norma?”

“That!” Norma said, pointing to the television mounted in the corner. It was tuned into the 24-hour news channel, but the partners didn’t like the idea of newsy noise pollution, so the volume was on mute and closed captions raced across the screen.

Whitney should have known better. Norma was cutting into her lunch break, wanting to chat about some stupid thing on the news. Why oh why hadn’t she boarded that elevator?

“Well?” Norma asked. “What do you make of that, eh?”

Whitney hadn’t made anything of it yet. Her stomach twisted into a knot of hunger. But when she looked at the television, there was a familiar scene behind the broadcaster. She recognized his surroundings. She passed by there twice a day, getting to and from the subway.

“Is that…?” Whitney mumbled.

“It’s right downstairs!” Norma told her. “Girl, you won’t believe me when I tell you. You know the escalator between the atrium level and underground?”

“Of course.”

“Lady on there wearing a long scarf, scarf somehow gets caught in the escalator, starts strangling her, she can’t get it off, drags her down into the mechanism…”

Whitney was suddenly thankful she had no food in her stomach. “The lady… this lady… is she okay?”

Whitney knew the answer to that question even before Norma said, “She’s dead.”

“Good Lord.” Whitney took a seat in the waiting area and stared at the TV. On the news channel, she could see the familiar escalator blocked off and forensic investigators scurrying around to collect evidence. They’d obviously removed the body already, but Norma’s description painted a graphic image in her mind. “Oh, that poor, poor woman. You would think… you would think there’d be fail-safes in place.”

“They’re looking into all that,” Norma said. “Seeing if maybe the escalator hadn’t been serviced in too long, all that sort of stuff.”

Whitney breathed in through her nose, out through her mouth. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so nauseated. She wasn’t good with blood, even the thought of blood. This was really too much.

“Maybe I won’t go downstairs after all,” Whitney said meekly.

Norma seemed to understand, because she said, “I’ve got a box of soda crackers stashed in the kitchen. Why don’t you go munch on those, eh? Settle your belly for now.”

“Thanks,” Whitney replied, offering Norma a gracious smile. Maybe the receptionist wasn’t so bad after all.


Chapter Two


At the end of the workday, Whitney packed up her things. She was bringing work home, as always. Tonight she felt especially weak from lack of food, but every time she thought about eating, her mind switched over to the image of this complete stranger with her head caved in, scalp chewed up, hair matted with blood.

Oh Lord, what an awful image.

She couldn’t switch it off, couldn’t get it out of her mind. She wasn’t even sure where this picture had come from. The news broadcast hadn’t included a picture of the victim, or even a name. They couldn’t do that until next of kin had been contacted. All they released was that she was a young woman in her twenties. Maybe that was enough for Whitney to feel close to her.

“Wait up!” Norma called as Whitney strode toward the elevators. “I’ll ride down with you.”

Whitney had been so distracted she hadn’t even attempted to avoid the woman. “Thanks for the crackers,” she said. “They really helped.”

“Crackers are good to have on hand,” Norma replied, grabbing her bag and rushing toward Whitney.

Here was a woman clearly used to people running away from her. But she could really move when she wanted to. She waved goodnight to Akhifa, the assistant who took over at reception after Norma was done for the day, and joined Whitney by the elevators.

“The other good thing about crackers,” Norma went on, “is that they’re cheap. I bet you ate, what, twenty crackers at the most? How much do you think that would cost, twenty crackers?”

“I… really never stopped to think about it.”

Whitney couldn’t help noticing Akhifa rolling her eyes at the reception desk.

“Couldn’t be more than fifty cents,” Norma continued. “Fifty cents, seventy five at the most?”

Digging into her coat pocket, Whitney pulled out a pile of coins. “Here, let me cover the cost.”

Norma’s lashes fluttered, like payback was the farthest thing from her mind. “Don’t be silly, Whitney. It’s only a few cents.”

“I insist,” Whitney said, handing over the change.

“Well, then…”

The elevator couldn’t have come soon enough. It was pretty packed, and Whitney just hoped Norma wouldn’t say anything uncouth in front of all these people. When the door closed, she observed herself in the mirrored panel: a tall black woman with strong features and a sleek ponytail that went all the way down to her waist. She was rocking this look, although it was hard to look bad next to a dowdy woman like Norma.

Whitney used to feel extremely self-conscious around short people, because she thought they made her seem extra-tall and thus easier to read. Then one day she spotted a woman on the subway who was so tall she actually had to duck to board the train. This lady was a blonde bombshell if ever there was one. You wouldn’t look at her and think she looked mannish. You looked at her and just thought: Wow, that woman could be a model.

That was a turning point, for Whitney. After that, she didn’t feel so self-conscious about her height. Funny how you can learn to embrace something about yourself in a split second. Hardly seems possible, but it happened to her.

Atrium level was the end of the line for this elevator.

“You’re taking the subway?” Norma asked.

Whitney offered a subtle nod. At least she was going north while Norma would be headed east. The idea of riding the rails together made Whitney itchy from the inside out.

To get to the subway, Norma led Whitney down a hallway that would take them to the escalator where today’s tragedy took place.

Tugging gently on Norma’s jacket, Whitney said, “I think I’ll walk outside.”

“Outside? But it’s raining!”

“It’s only a block and a half.”

“No, no, your mascara will run.” Norma clutched Whitney’s wrist like a hawk wrapping its talons around a mouse. “Stay inside. We’ll walk together.”

Whitney should have refused. Should have. But didn’t.

The air felt heavy as they approached the escalator of death. Hard to breathe. Whitney’s stomach turned the same way it had at lunchtime.

As they made their way through the long corridor lined with shops, foot traffic suddenly came to a halt.

“What’s this all about?” Norma asked grumpily.

“There must be too many people trying to get to the subway all at once.”

A very handsome man in a very nice suit turned to tell them, “Both of the escalators—up and down—are out of service after… oh, I’m guessing you heard about the accident this morning?”

“Yes,” Norma said. “Poor girl. It’s a real tragedy.”

Whitney was starting to feel faint. All this thick, hot air. All these people in an enclosed space. She focused on the stranger’s sheer handsomeness. Hopefully that would keep visions of the poor girl’s shredded scalp from her mind.

“Everyone’s being diverted to the staircase,” the man went on. “That accounts for the hold-up.”

Norma harrumphed. “If I miss the start of Murder She Wrote, I won’t be happy.”

The man offered a wary chuckle, and then turned away. Whitney stared at the back of his head. Thick brown hair. Beautiful hair. No signs of a bald spot. What a man.

Anything to keep her mind off the scene that kept replaying in her mind. Lord, why did she have to obsess like this? Obsess over the gory death of a woman she didn’t even know?

She couldn’t remember another time when a news item had captured her mind in this way. She felt haunted, anxious, sick to her stomach. Weak.

When it was finally their turn to trudge slowly down the stairs, Whitney got her first look at the escalator that had taken someone’s life. It was the same escalator she rode daily, and yet now it seemed menacing, like it really wanted to kill someone. And it had killed someone. Would it kill again?

There were still forensic people at the base, and mechanic types too. They’d put up a tent-like thing to block out lollygaggers, but you could see everything from the stairs. Blood? Maybe. Probably. Traces, at least. Whitney wasn’t quite sure what she was seeing with her eyes, and what her mind was projecting onto the scene.

Norma remained uncharacteristically silent as they descended the staircase. But the same could be said for everyone. All these people knew that a girl had lost her life here today. The least they could do was offer her soul a moment of silence.

Every so often, people aren’t terrible. Even in the city.

As Whitney approached the base of the staircase, a strange sort of dizziness overtook her. She reached for the railing, but she was nowhere near it. Her hand whacked the handsome man’s butt by mistake.

He turned around, not angrily, just curiously.

When their eyes met, she said, “I’m sorry. I’m not…”

“You’re not well,” he said, completing her thought.

He turned fully around and helped her toward the railing. Something to hold on to. That’s what she needed. She groped for anything and got his arm. She wasn’t mad about that. She could feel his warmth right through his posh suit jacket. Thank goodness he was there.

They were so close to the bottom few stairs, and yet Whitney had to stop when she got to the rail. If the commuters behind her were upset that she’d halted traffic in their lane, they didn’t say anything about it. Not that she’d be able to hear them if they did. Her ears were ringing something fierce.

The handsome man’s eyes widened with concern. Norma stood beside her, gently stroking her back. She felt a million miles away as she gazed over the side of the staircase, toward the out-of-service escalators.

There at the base, a figure caught her eye. Among the workers rushing about, one form stood still. She wore a floor-length dress and a long knitted scarf. Her hair was long too, and dark. And matted with blood.

Her skin was blue.

Whitney found her gaze drawn back to that bloodied hair. She didn’t want to look, but she couldn’t stop herself. Who would possibly want to see a dead girl with a chewed-up scalp?

Not Whitney.

When the dead girl reached out to her, as though asking for help, Whitney couldn’t handle the sight.

She fainted dead away.


Chapter Three


Darkness all around.

Whitney was conscious of being conscious, a state that’s incredibly hard to describe. She was flat on her back. Where? On the ground? On a stretcher? She felt people all around her, hands on her skin. Checking her vital signs. Paramedics? She could only hope so.

A distant yet familiar voice cut through the white noise that filled her ears: Norma telling the paramedics, “She’s one ‘a those transgenders, if it makes any difference.”

“Thank you,” said a compassionate yet professional voice.

“I’m not saying that in a judge-y way,” Norma went on. “Not judge-y at all. Only, I don’t know if there’s something special you got to do with transgenders. Medically.”

Good Lord, that woman! She couldn’t keep herself from budding in.

“Whitney’s a sweet young lady,” Norma continued. “But she doesn’t eat nearly enough. I’m always saying so. And today all she had for lunch was a handful of crackers. I’m not surprised she fainted, not surprised in the least. Probably got some’ to do with blood sugar.”

Letting out a weakened sigh, Whitney forced her lids to flutter. Her eyes weren’t quite open when a man’s buttery voice said, “I think she’s waking up!”

When her eyes managed to focus, the first thing she saw was a turquoise flash. A hand in a glove. A paramedic’s hand. Young black man. Very young. Not that she was anywhere near ancient, but this paramedic looked all of thirteen.

“Where am I?” she muttered, feeling a bench beneath her.

“You’re in the underground.”

Whitney caught a flash of raven hair at her side and nearly screamed.

But it wasn’t a ghost. Not this time. Just another paramedic, a woman with golden skin and shiny black hair. Shouldn’t she wear it up? Seemed dangerous, a paramedic running around with free-flowing hair.

The thirteen-year-old paramedic told her, “You fainted on the stairs. Luckily, your friends were able to get you here, into the underground, and lay you down on this bench.”

“My friends?” Whitney asked. Norma, sure. She’d heard Norma’s voice.

And then, against the bright white lighting of the underground pathway, she caught sight of a smart blue suit, a stylish striped tie, pink lips, a chiselled jaw, great hair.

The handsome man had helped her to safety.

The handsome man had heard everything Norma said to the paramedics.

Whitney groaned, and the handsome man gently asked, “Are you okay? Is there anything I can get you?” He sought permission from the paramedics. “Is there anything I can get her? Fruit juice, maybe?”

In all her life, Whitney had never been so embarrassed. Well, okay, sure she had. But not recently. Not within the last week or so. Imagine fainting in front of a man as handsome as that. And then he sticks around to call the paramedics!

They asked a few medical questions and wanted to get her to the hospital for observation, but, sitting up, she said, “There’s nothing wrong with me. Norma’s right: I didn’t eat enough today. Then all those people, it’s so stuffy in here, and the sight of blood always makes me woozy.”

“The sight of blood?” asked the paramedic with the shiny black locks. “Are you bleeding?”

“No, no.” Whitney covered her face with her hands. She could feel the heat of humiliation blazing from her skin. “It was all in my mind. I looked at the escalator and I imagined that girl, the one who died.”

She made the mistake of picturing it again, and her head lurched forward.

The handsome man swept in, taking a seat beside her on the bench. Her face bashed his shoulder. “Sorry,” she said. “I just imagined it again, the way she died. Where you two there? Did you see it?”

Both paramedics exchanged a brief glance, and then shook their heads solemnly.

When Whitney assured them she didn’t need to be hospitalized, Norma offered to escort her home on the subway—or by cab, if Whitney covered the fare. She was the lawyer, after all. A mere receptionist couldn’t be expected to pay for a taxi.

“I’ll be fine,” Whitney assured everyone. She told Norma to get going before she missed her beloved Murder She Wrote rerun.

Waving a dismissive hand, Norma said, “Oh, honey, that ship has sailed.”

The handsome man cut in to say, “I don’t mean to be forward, but it sounds like we need to get your blood sugar up. Would it be alright if I were to buy you dinner?”

Norma’s brow went up, whether from jealousy or suspicion Whitney couldn’t say.

“That way I could keep an eye on you,” the handsome man went on. “I’ll make sure you get home safely. And if you faint again, I’ll just hit redial.”

“So it was you who called 911?” Whitney asked, feeling a blush consume her.

“Well, me and probably about fifty other people. There were plenty of onlookers when you took your tumble.”

“I took a tumble?”

“You don’t remember?” he asked, with a glint in his eye and a boyish smirk on his lips.

Whitney shook her head, a hand on each cheek, trying to cool her hot skin with her eternally cold hands. “Good Lord, how embarrassing.”

“Well, we caught you before you fell right down,” Norma cut in. “You didn’t hit your head or anything.”

“Oh. Good.” Whitney had already forgotten Norma was still hanging around. When nobody said anything for a moment, the older woman got the point. She said she’d see Whitney tomorrow and “call if you need anything,” knowing full well Whitney didn’t have her number.

But that was okay. She didn’t need Norma. She had the handsome man… who probably had a name, come to think of it.

Once Norma had joined the cluster of commuters in the underground path, Whitney extended her hand. “I’m Whitney, by the way.”

Shaking her hand, the handsome man said, “I’m Bruce. I work in the gold tower.”

“Ahh, so you’re in banking?”

He nodded. “And you’re a lawyer, I hear.”

“That I am.”

They were still shaking. She didn’t want to let go. His hand was strong and soft, his shake slightly firmer than hers. She couldn’t stop smiling. It was ridiculous. If she didn’t stop soon, he was going to think she belonged in a looney bin.

“So,” he said, withdrawing his hand from hers. “Dinner?”

“Where were you thinking?”

“What do you feel like?”

She watched the throngs of people going by. Anyone who glanced in their direction right now would think they were a couple for sure. They were definitely giving off that vibe.

“Protein?” she asked, like she wasn’t sure of the answer. “What’s the best thing to eat after you’ve fainted?”

“A steak?” he asked, like he wasn’t sure either. “Or… do you eat meat?”

“Yes, I do,” she said. “Oh, do you?”

“Yes, I was just…”

“Oh good.”

“Checking.”

“Good.” She couldn’t stop smiling. She tried, but she couldn’t. “Just give me a minute, if that’s okay. I mean, you can go if you don’t want to wait. I just need another minute to regain my strength.”

She didn’t expect him to get up and walk away without even saying goodbye.

Fortunately, he didn’t go far. She followed him with her eyes, to the fancy juice place a couple stores down. He returned with a large cup, a purple straw sticking out the top.

“I hope you like orange,” he said. “Help get your strength up.”

“Thank you so much. How thoughtful of you.” She unzipped her purse. “How much?”

Rolling his eyes, he said, “My treat, silly.”

She didn’t even argue, just thanked him again and took hold of the cup. It was the best juice she’d ever tasted, but she was pretty sure the company accounted for a certain amount of that sweetness, the kind you can feel in your cheeks. The kind that feels so good it hurts.


Chapter Four


When Whitney recovered her strength, at least to some degree, Handsome Bruce escorted her to the steakhouse the partners from her firm went to any time they were celebrating a big victory. She was too junior to be invited to their shindigs, and when she got a load of the menu prices, she balked.

“I don’t think I can afford a side salad in this place,” she told him.

“Good,” he replied. “Because they don’t serve side salads here. It’s potatoes or nothin’, sister!”

She laughed because his expression was so comical.

“But really,” he went on. “Don’t worry about money. It’s on me.”

“Oh, I couldn’t…”

“You could and you can and you will,” he said with a smile.

She smiled too, and looked at her menu… then sneaked a peek at him. He was still smiling. Just gazing at her with a generous grin. Oh, he was cute! A friendly banker. Who’d have imagined?

“Student loans,” she blurted.

He cocked his head. “What’s that?”

“What’s a student loan?”

“No, I know what a student loan is. I just wasn’t sure I heard you right.”

“I’m still paying back student loans,” she clarified. “I racked up a lot of debt, putting myself through law school.”

He nodded, poking at everything on the table: water glass, silverware folded up in a cloth napkin, the breadbasket they hadn’t started in on. He pushed that in Whitney’s direction, and she took a roll, buttered it.

“You didn’t have… family support?” he asked, softly, like he knew this was a loaded question.

“I wouldn’t have had their financial support anyway,” she told him. “They’re not that kind of family. I was really hoping for scholarships.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t get them,” Bruce said.

“No kidding. Black trans lady, here. You’d think everyone would jump at the chance to give me free money.”

Bruce blushed, honest to goodness blushed, before saying, “That’s not what I meant. Just that you seem so intelligent. Highly, highly intelligent.”

“Lots of students are highly, highly intelligent,” Whitney reasoned. “And many were more highly, highly intelligent than me. So I took out student loans. Them’s the breaks.”

“And now you’re a lawyer. All’s well that ends well, I guess. Bet your parents are proud.”

The waiter hit them up for orders just then. Perfect timing.

Whitney thought it best not to drink alcohol after fainting, so Bruce opted not to either. What a perfect gentleman.

“I might slip off to the ladies’ room,” she whispered to Bruce once the waiter had walked away. That giant orange juice was catching up with her.

“Give me your phone,” he said, holding out his hand.

She cocked a brow, then slipped her phone from her purse. “What are you up to?”

“I’m going to put my number in your phone.

Laughing, she said, “I’m not going to pull a Holly Golightly, if that’s what you’re afraid of.”

He laughed too, and said, “That’s the farthest thing from my mind. I’m only giving you my number so that, if you feel weak, you can call me and I’ll come help.”

“In the ladies’ room?” she asked, with dubious amusement.

“There’s nothing I might see in a ladies’ room that I haven’t already seen in a co-ed dorm.”

It was Whitney’s turn to blush, this time. She didn’t quite know why. Just being around this man made her feel all bubbly and weird.

She glanced around, then asked, “Do you know where the restrooms are, in this place?”

He pointed her in the right direction, and chuckled, “You might want to use your phone as a flashlight. That hallway takes mood lighting to the next level.”

“Good advice,” she said, smiling so hard her cheeks hurt.

He was right about the hallway. The walls were painted a very dark shade of burgundy. There were sconces very high up, almost at the ceiling, but they barely gave off any light at all.

The restrooms were at the end of the hallway: men’s room on the left, ladies’ on the right. In the middle stood some kind of statue. Whitney couldn’t quite make it out through the darkness. A human figure, like one of those Greek statues, except those were usually white, weren’t they? This one wasn’t. It was dark. Very dark.

As Whitney approached, the statue moved. She jumped, clutching her phone to her chest. Obviously this was a living person in the hallway, not a statue at all.

She apologized to the figure, laughing cautiously at her own mistake. “Sorry, I thought you weren’t real.”

The figure didn’t say a word.

Whitney didn’t quite know what to do. This person was somewhat blocking her path to the ladies’ room. “I’m just trying to get in… get in there… if I could just squeeze by you.”

She hadn’t even stepped close enough to see this person clearly. Truth be clear, she found herself intimidated by this person, even though the figure was shorter and smaller than Whitney herself. It was just such a strange thing to do, block someone’s entry to the restroom, and stand there silently when spoken to.

Bruce’s advice about using her phone as a flashlight came to mind. That man was full of good ideas. She pressed a button so it would light up, and shone that light down the hallway to get a better look at what was in front of her.

Oh Lord! Oh no! It can’t be!

But it was. It was her. The girl who’d been crushed by the escalator.

Whitney saw her plain as day. She wasn’t fuzzy, the way you’d expect a ghost to look. The outline of her body was sharp. Same long frock Whitney had seen in the underground. Same knitted scarf hanging down all the way to her feet. Same blue skin, same shredded scalp, matted and bloodied hair.

Eyes. Dark eyes. If eyes were the windows to the soul, why couldn’t Whitney see what this girl was all about? Why are you following me? What do you want? She had so many questions she couldn’t ask, because she couldn’t move, couldn’t speak.

Take a picture! Take a picture! Take a picture! It’s proof!

Her hands trembled around her phone, and she prayed she wouldn’t drop it. She just kept tapping at the screen, hoping to get a photo taken, but her hands were shaking too much. Her whole body was shaking. She was tapping all the wrong icons.

The door to the ladies’ room opened, shining soft yellow light into the dark hallway. Whitney had never felt fear like this in all her life. She expected a monster from the depths of hell to emerge from the restroom, but it was just an old white lady. She gave Whitney an odd look as she passed by, but Whitney was more concerned about capturing the figure between the two restrooms.

Except that it wasn’t there anymore.

It was gone.

The restroom door closed, leaving the hallway again in darkness.

The lady who’d left the restroom was gone now, too.

And still, a disquieting sensation haunted Whitney. She felt on high alert, like something was about to happen. Something that would scare her half to death.

“Hello?” asked a disembodied voice. “Whitney? Is that you?”


Chapter Five


Whitney looked down at her phone. In all that tapping of icons, she’d somehow managed to phone Bruce. She didn’t mean to.

“Bruce,” she said. “I’m sorry. I called you by accident.”

“You don’t sound so good. Are you dizzy again? Did you faint?”

“No, nothing like that,” she told him, but he must have run from the table to the back hallway, because he was by her side in seconds.

Grasping her shoulders, he said, “Whitney, you’re trembling. What’s wrong? What happened?”

“Nothing,” she replied. She wouldn’t look him in the eye. “I need to… go.” She pointed to the ladies’ room, then slipped away from him to enter inside. He wouldn’t follow her. Or maybe he would. Hard to say. They’d only just met.

When she emerged from the restroom, Bruce was standing just where she’d left him.

“I’m very concerned about you.”

“Don’t be.”

She tried to act strong and confident as she strode to the table, but she felt weak as a kitten. Not dizzy, not like before. More… tired. Exhausted, in fact.

Their meals came and they ate in virtual silence. She wouldn’t look him in the eye. She couldn’t. He cared so much and he was so concerned. He didn’t want anything bad to happen to her. She knew that in her heart.

Why was she freezing him out?

Because he’d think she was crazy if she told him the truth.

Bruce covered the bill, as promised, and surprised her by saying, “Allow me to ride the subway with you. I just need to get you home safe. Is that okay?”

She nodded, still without looking him in the eye.

The underground pathway had emptied out while they were eating dinner. Hardly anyone hanging around at this hour.

“Where do you live?” he asked as he walked her to the subway.

When she told him her station, he said, “That’s where I’m going, too! How about that? We live in the same neighbourhood.”

“But you probably live in one of those big houses on the ravine. I live in a low-rise apartment near the station.”

“You’ll live in a big house one day,” he said encouragingly. “Successful lawyer like you. Once those student loans are paid back, you’ll take off like a star in the sky.”

In a way, she wished she hadn’t disclosed so much personal information to a man she’d only just met.

The subway wasn’t too crowded. Whitney sat among a cluster of empty seats. Bruce could have sat across the aisle, or on an angle to her, but he chose the seat right beside hers.

When he sat down, his suit touched hers. As their fabrics mingled, she felt such warmth coming off his body that she was tempted to put her head on his shoulder. But what would he make of that? She’d barely said a word to him throughout dinner. She couldn’t suddenly cuddle up next to him like that had never happened.

“Thanks for the steak,” she said, staring at the bag in her lap. “It was delicious. I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”

He chuckled, and she did too.

His hand was sitting right there on his lap. Close enough to touch. She took a chance and reached for it, wrapped her fingers around his. “I’m sorry for acting so… weird.”

“It’s okay,” he assured her. “You’ve obviously had a rough day: fainting, paramedics, and here’s this guy you don’t even know.”

“No, it’s not that,” she pleaded.

But she was interrupted in that moment by a homeless man asking for change. Bruce had to break free from their handhold in order to reach into his pocket. He handed the guy quite a few coins. Whitney was impressed. But she avoided eye contact until the homeless man went away, and then it was time to get up. Their stop was next.

You could see Whitney’s building from the station. She pointed it out as they stepped outside. The rain had stopped, leaving the roads to glisten against the streetlights. She liked the smell in the air, spring on the cusp of summer. It was such a lovely scent.

“I can walk you home,” he said. “But I don’t have to if you’d rather I didn’t.”

They were standing too close to the subway entrance. They moved so other people could get by.

Whitney said, “Well… where do you live?”

“Just down that way,” he said, pointing in the direction that led to the residential streets. “Eight-minute walk to the subway.”

“Mine’s two minutes,” she said. “I got you beat.”

He smiled, chuckled, looked down at his shoes. Nice shoes. Banker shoes.

“How about this,” Whitney suggested. “I walk you home, then you walk me home.”

“And then I walk myself home?”

“Unless you’re afraid of the dark,” she said with a smile.

“Sounds like a plan,” he said, hooking his arm around hers in such a comical way she didn’t even notice, at first, that they were touching.

Together, they walked toward Bruce’s neck of the woods. The houses on his street were big. Some of them gated. Everyone around here probably had a gardener. Maybe she would too, one day, although she didn’t know how she’d feel about that. She didn’t feel like she was the kind of person who needed a big house or a gardener.

Whitney pointed out houses she liked as they passed by, pointed out interesting features and gorgeous gardens. The rains had made everything pop, and the grasses glowed an extraordinary shade of green.

“There’s mine,” Bruce said as another house came into view.

It wasn’t big at all, not compared to the others. A two-storey brick pre-war build, the kind with leaded glass windows and narrow front rooms.

“You know what they say,” he went on. “Buy the smallest house on the nicest street. That’s what I did. Anyone else would have demolished the place and built much bigger, but I like my little house.”

“I like it too,” she agreed, and she meant it, too. She loved that his house was smaller than the others on the block. She’d have been intimidated by a huge mansion. “Your garden is beautiful. Don’t tell me you planted this yourself.”

“I could, but I’d be lying.”

She was sort of disappointed. “You have a gardener?”

“In a manner of speaking.” Blushing, he said, “My mom planted my garden.”

Whitney laughed despite herself, then asked, “She doesn’t live with you?”

“No, no. She just loves gardening, and now that she’s retired, one garden isn’t enough. She planted mine, my sister’s, she volunteers at a community garden. She just loves getting her hands dirty.”

“Awww,” Whitney cooed. “That’s so cute. I want to meet your mom!”

Bruce made a face, then laughed. “I’m just kidding. She’s great. Do you want to come in, get the grand tour?”

Did she ever! But that wasn’t the plan. She politely declined, and Bruce led her in a northerly direction. They’d circled south to get to his place. Obviously he wanted to extend their time together by taking the long way back to hers. She didn’t hate him for it.

As they walked around faintly familiar residential streets, she felt strangely close to him, considering they’d only just met. She’d been so rude at the steakhouse. She had to tell him why. He wouldn’t think she was crazy. He wouldn’t.

She stopped in front of a small parkette, just one bench, a couple trees and a planting bed.

He stopped too, and looked down at her feet, at her shoes. “Oh! Sorry, I’m an idiot, making you walk in those.”

“No, it’s not that.” She wasn’t thinking about practical matters. “I just wanted to explain my behaviour at the restaurant.”

“You don’t have to—”

“I do, because I was rude to you and you didn’t deserve it.”

He quieted, giving her space to talk.

Staring at his suit jacket, she said, “The girl who died on the escalator.”

“You knew her?” he said with a gasp.

Whitney shook her head. “No, nothing like that. But I saw her. In the underground. That’s why I fainted. I saw her ghost.”

When Bruce didn’t respond, she took a chance and looked him plain in the face. His eyes were wide with alarm, glistening with fear. His mouth gaped.

“And then again at the restaurant,” Whitney went on. “When I went to use the ladies’ room, she was there in that dark hallway. I saw her standing between the men’s and ladies’, thought she was a statue at first. And then I thought she was a person. She looked so real.”

“No wonder you were quiet after that,” Bruce said. “Gotta admit, I’m glad it wasn’t something to do with me.”

“It wasn’t,” she assured him, grabbing his hand for emphasis. She quickly pulled back. She didn’t want him getting the wrong idea. And then she felt fidgety, so she pulled her phone from her purse. “I was trying to take a picture of her when I accidentally called you, but I don’t think it worked. My hands were trembling too much.”

“Mine would be too,” he said supportively.

She opened the photos on her phone and blanched when she saw what she’d captured. “I didn’t think I’d managed… I really didn’t think…”

“Christ Almighty,” Bruce muttered. He inched that much closer to Whitney to get a better look, and the warmth coming off his body fried her brain. “It’s there, right? This dark shape centre frame?”

Whitney nodded. The whole picture was dark, because the hallway had been, but within that darkness stood a greater darkness. A shape. A form. The young woman Whitney had witnessed. She’d snapped a picture of this girl.

“I was so afraid you’d think I was crazy,” Whitney admitted.

“How could I possibly? Look what you’ve captured. This is incredible!”

Whitney didn’t know where to go from here. Was this ghost showing herself only to Whitney? Or to other people too? Would she keep showing up, keep following Whitney around?

Would the ghost girl follow her home?

Lord, she hoped not.


Chapter Six


The next morning, Whitney woke up thinking of Bruce. She brushed her teeth, got dressed, did her makeup thinking of Bruce. She walked to the subway thinking of Bruce.

He hadn’t kissed her when he dropped her home, but she knew he’d wanted to. She’d wanted to invite him up for a cup of coffee, except that she didn’t keep coffee in the house, so that would have been a pretty flimsy excuse.

When she got to the subway station, a chipper young man in a green apron handed her a free paper. The news of the world brought the unsavoury aspects of yesterday streaming to mind. She fully expected to see the escalator death on the front page, but that slot was devoted to American politics, as so often happened these days.

She didn’t open her paper until she’d squeezed herself into the subway car along with goodness-knows how many other office workers. She tried not to feel self-conscious about towering over the middle-aged woman beside her, but lady seemed oblivious to her surroundings, immersed in something she was reading on her phone.

When Whitney flipped to page two, she gasped. Audibly. Loud enough for the oblivious woman to glance up at her.

“Ohhh,” the woman said in a hushed tone. The subway was always strangely quiet in the mornings, like a crate transporting zombies to their places of business. Pointing to the article, the oblivious woman said, “Wasn’t that awful? So scary. You never think you’re in danger just riding an escalator.”

“Her name was Calpurnia,” Whitney said, scanning the article.

“What a pretty name,” the stranger said. “One of those ones you don’t hear every day.”

“Pretty girl,” Whitney went on, because the article featured a picture of the deceased. Not as she’d appeared to Whitney, of course. The commuting public could only handle so much gore with their morning coffees and breakfast bagels.

The photo featured Calpurnia in a cap and gown, one silver ring through her lip, another through her eyebrow. Was this a high school graduation photo, or had she completed post-secondary education? The article didn’t specify.

“She was only twenty-two,” Whitney’s subway neighbour pointed out. “So young.” The woman suddenly seemed angry, and said, “What a stupid way to die.”

Whitney wasn’t entirely sure how to respond.

Quite a few passengers off-loaded at the next stop, and as they did so, Whitney looked up from her paper. The last thing she expected to see was Calpurnia’s ghost, and yet there she was standing between a young man in a suit and an ageless woman facing the other direction. You don’t expect to see a ghost under glaring subway lights, which makes the appearance all that more shocking.

Whitney screamed.

She didn’t mean to. The last thing she wanted was to call attention to herself while a new batch of passengers loaded onto the car. But it was just so shocking, seeing the poor girl in her death state. The ghost had longer hair than the girl in the photo, but same features minus the piercings.

The apparition only lasted for a moment, but the damage was done. She’d screamed on the subway. You don’t scream on the subway. People get scared. They avoid you like the plague, and most people did just that.

But the oblivious woman looked concerned in the extreme, to the point where she clutched Whitney’s suit jacket and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I saw her,” Whitney blurted. “Right there. Her ghost.”

The oblivious woman didn’t react the way Bruce had last night. She looked saddened by this proclamation, but saddened in a way Whitney interpreted as, “Oh darn, so you’re crazy after all.”

The oblivious lady didn’t go anywhere—that would have been rude, and anyway the subway was packed again with a new batch of commuters—but she didn’t make any more small talk for the rest of the ride.

Meanwhile, Whitney spent the trip staring at that no-longer-empty space where Calpuria’s ghost had appeared. Maybe she was crazy. Or at least seeing things, or dreaming. What were the chances a ghost girl would show herself on a rush hour subway? Some people characterized this commute as a living hell. It would be really sad if ghosts were subjected to it too.

When Whitney arrived at the office, Norma said, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”

Whitney couldn’t come up with a witty remark.

The receptionist hissed, “Give your cheeks a pinch! You’ve got a visitor!”

A shuffle in the waiting area drew Whitney’s gaze in that direction. She half expected the ghost girl to extend a hand, say, “It’s great to finally meet you. I’m looking to sue the escalator company,” and then Whitney would have to explain that she wasn’t a litigator, that she mainly worked in corporate mergers, and anyway, what would a ghost do with her settlement money? Was she hoping to buy a house in the nice part of Heaven?

But it wasn’t Calpurnia waiting to greet her with a coffee cup in hand. “You mentioned you’re trying to cut down on caffeine,” Bruce said with a coy smile. “There’s a place downstairs that does this killer hot chocolate. I hope it’s not too early in the morning.”

“It’s never too early for chocolate,” Whitney replied.

She didn’t need to pinch her cheeks. She could feel them blazing.

Norma was obviously eating this up, but Whitney didn’t give the woman the satisfaction. Taking her hot chocolate from him, she said, “Come on into my office.”

She led him into the firm without so much as glancing in Norma’s direction.

“I can’t stay long,” Bruce warned her as they rounded a corner. “I really just wanted to drop that off and see how you’re doing.”

The assistants poked their heads up over the tops of their cubicles like prairie dogs as Whitney led Bruce into her tiny office and closed the door. He gave a bit of a laugh and said, “This place reminds me of my first apartment.”

Kind of insulting, but she’d let it slide because this hot chocolate was the most delicious thing she’d ever put in her mouth. She sat on the corner of her desk and told him, “I saw her again.”

The amusement fell from his face as he cautiously asked, “Who?”

“Calpurnia,” Whitney said. “That’s her name. I was reading about her in the free paper. I look up and there she is. Right there on the subway.”

Moving closer, Bruce asked, “Did anyone else see her?”

Whitney shook her head. “I don’t think so. No one else screamed.”

“You screamed?”

“Yeah.” She sighed. “It was really embarrassing.”

He took the take-out cup from her hand and set his beside hers on her desk. Then he wrapped both arms around her in a compassionate embrace. Because she was sitting and he was standing, their hug was a touch more triangular than she’d have liked, but she reminded herself he was trying to console her, not seduce her. Not this early in the morning.

She could have lived in his embrace. He was so warm, so generous of spirit. He didn’t even mind that her powder had rubbed off on his suave suit jacket.

“Why does she keep showing herself to me?” Whitney asked. “Why me? I’m not a psychic. I’ve never seen a ghost in my entire life, not until now. I didn’t even think I believed in ghosts.”

“She must have some kind of message she’s trying to get across,” Bruce reasoned. “Calpurnia, that’s her name?”

Whitney nodded and reached for her hot chocolate. Lord Almighty, that was good stuff.

“I think we need to go to her funeral,” Bruce said.

Whitney locked onto the word “we” more than the word “funeral.” She would go anywhere with Bruce, anywhere he wanted. Even the funeral of a girl she’d never met—in life, that is.

In death… well, that was another story.


Chapter Seven


“I always feel so awkward at things like this,” Whitney whispered to Bruce, “when I don’t know anyone.”

“You know me,” he reassured her.

Arm in arm, they entered the room in the funeral home devoted to Calpurnia’s visitation. A strange sensation came over her. Nothing ghost-related this time. She just had this vision of herself in a white dress, walking down the aisle arm in arm with her future husband. Yes, they would walk in together. There was only so far tradition could take you. Whitney would gladly don the gown, but she wanted to walk down that aisle side by side.

Strange thought to have in a funeral parlour. Would make more sense in a church. But this place did have some lovely stained glass along one wall. The evening sun shone through, casting rainbows across the neutral space, really brightening up the place. It would probably be even more beautiful for the funeral tomorrow morning, but as it turned out, Bruce and Whitney were both too busy at work to escape for a stranger’s funeral.

So they’d have to carry out their recon work at the visitation. Probably better this way. Lots of people milling about, talking in hushed tones. If they split up, they could eavesdrop on twice as many conversations, but Whitney didn’t want to let go of Bruce, and he didn’t seem to want to let go of her either.

Closed casket. Unsurprising. Whitney would have been mortified if she’d had to confront the physical body of the girl who’d been haunting her.

“Pretty girl,” Bruce said as they perused the photos in frames on top of the casket.

Whitney wouldn’t say “pretty” was le mot juste, but she wasn’t about to say so at the girl’s visitation. No reason to sound uncharitable. She simply nodded as she took in Calpurnia’s school photos, pictures with friends.

“Finally!” said a voice to Whitney’s right. “Someone who knew the real Cal!”

Whitney looked around to see who this young woman was referring to, and she was confused when she realized the girl was looking straight at her.

“I’m Danine,” she said, as though Whitney should know what that meant. “You look confused. Didn’t Cal mention me?”

“I… I…” Whitney wasn’t sure how to answer. “I’m afraid I never met Calpurnia.”

“Cal.”

“Cal,” Whitney repeated.

Some lady was muttering something Whitney couldn’t quite make out. Danine made the sort of face that would have been accompanied by steam shooting out of her ears, had she been a cartoon character. Danine grabbed her hand and dragged her away from the casket, over toward the wall where there were no eavesdroppers present.

Aside from Bruce.

“Who’s he?” Danine asked sourly.

Loaded question! “Bruce,” Whitney said. “He’s my… we’re friends. Good friends.”

Danine seemed to catch her drift, but that didn’t make him any more welcome in their grouping. “Whatever,” she said. “As long as he’s not here to enforce oppressive patriarchal structures.”

“I’m just here to pay my respects,” Bruce interjected.

Whitney could tell by the way Danine looked at him that she didn’t have much time for men. “Were you and Calpurnia… was she your girlfriend?”

“Not she,” Danine replied, seeming at the end of her rope. “Cal.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Cal was genderqueer. I figured that’s how you knew each other, from one of those trans orgs. Volunteer work or support groups, something like that.”

Whitney felt a little as though she’d been hit with a frying pan. She should be used to being read by now, but she wasn’t. She was really starting to think she passed perfectly well. It was jarring, when some stranger came right out and acknowledged it like that.

“I didn’t know Cal at all. The law firm where I work is right near the elevator where…” Whitney couldn’t finish that thought. “Bruce and I were very touched by her passing. We just wanted to pay our respects, that’s all.”

“Not her,” Danine said, sounding increasingly aggravated. “Cal didn’t ascribe to binary gender, didn’t use pronouns. Just went by Cal.”

Bruce was quick off the draw. “Sorry for the mistake. We didn’t know. None of the news reports made that distinction.”

“Well they wouldn’t, would they?” Danine shot back. “Anyway, Cal’s parents didn’t get it. They didn’t get Cal. I did. Friends did. But prim and proper Mummy and Daddykins won’t acknowledge that their darling daughter is anything but. To them, Cal’s a girl, plain and simple. They don’t even want me here. I tried to tell the funeral director Cal wouldn’t want to be referred to with feminine pronouns, but he’s all like… who are you? Not family? Well, I have to do what the family wants.”

“It’s hard for some people to understand,” Whitney put forth.

Before Danine could respond, Bruce asked, “How long were you together?”

“Coming up on three months,” Danine said proudly. She seemed to be warming to him. “And I know what you’re thinking: that’s not a long time. But I knew Cal better than anyone.”

“Are you genderqueer too?” Whitney asked.

“No!”

Whitney looked to Bruce, not sure what she’d done to elicit such a loud reaction. People were looking. This was so embarrassing.

“I’m sorry,” Whitney said. “It’s only that, the day Cal died, she—sorry, not she—Cal had on this long dress. And long hair. All very feminine-looking.”

“So what?” Danine asked. “You can be genderqueer and dress femme. You can be genderqueer and dress masc. You can dress however you want.”

“I’m sorry,” Whitney replied. “I don’t know much about these things.”

Danine’s brow furrowed. “Aren’t you trans?”

“Yes,” Whitney replied in a whisper.

The girl looked like she was about to launch into a tirade, but instead she asked, “Wait, did you say you work in a law firm?”

“Yes, I’m a lawyer.”

“Good! You should sue all these news places that keep referring to Cal as a she, girl, woman. Someone needs to set the record straight, and it can’t be me. Cal’s family won’t even let me speak at the funeral.”

“That’s awful,” Bruce commiserated.

“Well, they say it’s because we’d only been dating for three months, but it’s really because they don’t want their darling daughter’s memory tarnished by some raging queer.”

“They said that?” Whitney asked.

“They didn’t have to,” Danine said. “It’s obvious what they think of me.”


Chapter Eight


Whitney and Bruce didn’t stay long at the visitation. Partly because she was afraid the ghost of Cal would appear to her and she’d wind up causing a scene in front of other mourners. But mostly because they couldn’t seem to shake Danine, and Whitney found the girl more than mildly obnoxious.

“I don’t want to go home just yet,” Bruce said as they stepped off the subway.

Taking his hand, Whitney said, “I do.”

She led him across the street and then into the coffee shop on the corner.

“Pick a cake, any cake!” she said, indicating the showcase of desserts for two.

Bruce couldn’t decide between chocolate and cheesecake, so they bought both—and a tea latte each. With their treats in hand, they made their way to Whitney’s place.

“Welcome to my humble abode,” she said, trying to cover up how nervous she felt about having him over for the first time. “It’s not much to look at, but it suits me fine.”

Setting his coffee cup on the table alongside the cake box, Bruce said, “I like it.”

Whitney looked around the room as though she were seeing it for the first time: kitchen right in the middle—if you weren’t careful, you could open the front door and walk right into the table—and then the bed on the left, a little seating area on the right. The hallway heading to the bathroom doubled as a walk-in closet. Not a lot of space, but Whitney couldn’t complain.

She plated the cakes so they could share while sipping their lattes. There was something inexorably romantic about splitting dessert. Splitting two desserts, doubly so.

“I know I should get it,” Whitney admitted, reflecting on their conversation with Danine. “I just don’t.”

“What don’t you get?” Bruce asked, taking another forkful of creamy cheesecake topped with fresh berries.

“Non-binary gender. I guess a lot of people would say the same of me, they don’t get how you can identify with a gender that your parents say isn’t yours. But to me it makes sense, being a woman. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Do I sound old? Behind the times? Locked into a world where there are only two genders?”

Bruce smiled gently. “Am I right in assuming you respect other people’s right to identify outside male or female?”

“Of course.”

“You just can’t imagine feeling that way yourself?”

“Exactly.”

“Well, that’s okay,” Bruce said consolingly. “I don’t know what it feels like to be a woman, but I wouldn’t begrudge anyone the right to identify that way.”

Whitney’s heart fluttered. Could have been the caffeine. Could have been love. “How are you so good?” she asked. “Do you have a trans sister or something?”

“I have a transistor radio,” he said with a wink. When she didn’t react, he went on with, “Come on, my corny jokes at least deserve a pity laugh.”

“It’s not that,” she told him. “I was just thinking about Cal. It bugs me that I don’t understand her. Not her. Gah! See? It bugs me that I keep misgendering this girl. Not girl! This is driving me crazy, Bruce.”

Silly as it sounds, Whitney’s heartstrings went zing when she spoke his name. They really did. It was a physical sensation. Electric. Excitement. For a moment, she forgot what they were talking about.

“Give it time,” Bruce said, setting his hand on hers. “Everything takes time.”

Not falling for this handsome man seated across from her.

That took no time at all.

“Does that mean I’m stuck with a ghost following me around? I don’t know what she wants from me—what Cal wants from me. How do I figure it out?”

Bruce sighed, then scooped up another forkful of cake. “Ghosts usually have unfinished business, right? That’s why they stick around?”

Whitney shrugged. She wasn’t exactly an expert. But, wow, this delicious chocolate cake was certainly helping soothe her soul.

“My guess is that Cal’s trying to communicate a message to you.”

“Why me? Why not Danine? Why not her parents? Not her. For crying out loud, how are you supposed to talk about someone without using pronouns?”

“Maybe you’re a… sensitive,” Bruce suggested.

“Sensitive meaning psychic?”

Bruce lifted his coffee cup to his superb pink lips and simply held it there. He didn’t drink until after he’d said, “Anything’s possible.”

“But I’ve never seen a ghost before. Why this one? Why now?”

“Maybe Cal saw you in the crowd and, you know, latched on to you. Out of all those commuters, no one else saw the apparition you did. Could be that Cal thought of you as a comrade-in-arms because you’ve both been on a gender journey.”

Whitney cocked her brow. “Are you sure you don’t have a trans sister?”

“Do you want to hear the radio joke again?” Bruce chuckled.

Whitney tried to wean herself off the chocolate cake by taking a forkful of the cheesecake. God in Heaven, that was glorious. Why didn’t she buy cakes more often? Or was it the company that made them taste that much better?

“Thing is,” she began. “How do we know if Danine was even telling the truth? She was the only person at that visitation saying Cal was genderqueer. Everyone else took Cal for a run-of-the-mill young woman. Why should we trust one voice over the crowd?”

“If you were the one who died, God forbid,” Bruce said, “would you want your family writing your obituary?”

Whitney took that question like a punch to the gut, but she didn’t let on. Just said, “I see your point. The question remains: why me? What’s the message and what am I supposed to do?”

Bruce moved his chair so close to hers their knees touched. She thought he was reaching for her shoulder, but he touched her neck instead, right behind her ear, traced his finger all the way down to her collarbone. Slowly.

Her pulse raced. She couldn’t look away. There was such tenderness in his eyes. She couldn’t resist him. She didn’t want to. When he leaned in for a kiss, she leaned in just as desperately.

And when their lips met, she knew he’d stay the night.



Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Download this book for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-43 show above.)