An icy draft blew through the stuffy and crowded bar as the door flew open. Snowflakes tumbled onto the floor and the patrons hushed to a pregnant silence, waiting for someone to appear. After a few moments of nothing, they returned to their lively conversations, shrugging off the occurrence as the door dragged itself shut.
“Guess the ghost wanted in, Bill!” A man shouted and raised his glass.
Bill acknowledged the customer with a polite smile and resumed his work. However, he kept a wary eye on the doorway; he couldn’t shake the feeling that the door opening by itself was an omen.
Bill’s Tavern was a small bar in the old part of town; its main entrance opened to a dark backstreet. A buzzing neon sign lit the way, while the dim bulb of the streetlamp flickered in and out of the existence. Most of the patrons had frequented his bar for years, and though fresh faces were always welcome, they seldom appeared.
Business dwindled as Bill’s foreboding increased. It was odd that no one had entered the place since that incident. Instead, people had trickled out, though the night was still young.
Gallows Alley was one of the oldest streets in town, and the empty lot across from Bill’s had once been the courthouse and jail, though it burned down decades ago.
The old folks said gibbets once lined the alleyway, though Bill suspected it was all baloney. Tongues wagged about strange occurrences in Gallows Alley, footsteps in the mist, long-dead criminals stalking the darkness. Hogwash, Bill always scoffed; he’d experienced nothing.
Still, the door bursting open like that?
Time passed, and only Freddy, the local lush, remained.
Bill stole a glance at Freddy, who sat on the stool with hunched shoulders like he wanted to dive into his drink, and wondered whether to call him a cab. Bill frowned when he noticed Freddy’s drink remained untouched. He racked his memory and realized he’d only served Freddy that one drink throughout the evening. Freddy had waltzed in minutes before the door put on its creepy show.
“Freddy,” Bill said, “you okay? You haven’t touched your drink.”
Freddy glanced up from his glass and gazed at Bill through faraway eyes. It took his mind a moment to focus on Bill.
“Yeah, Bill, I just…” He hesitated, then took a breath, “I just been thinking about Miriam.”
“Yeah, did I ever tell you ‘bout her?”
Bill shook his head.
“She was my sister, and she vanished oh, sixty years ago. She was years older than me; I was only a boy. She disappeared the eve of her wedding. Snuck out in the night, took some belongings, but left her wedding dress. We never heard from her again.”
Bill sought his brain for something to say besides, “oh,” but drew a blank.
He’d known Freddy for years, but Freddy never talked of his childhood, nor had that soulful look in his eyes.
“What brought this on, Freddy?” Bill asked.
“Oh, nothing,” Freddy sighed, “but when that door flew open I swear I caught a whiff of her perfume.”
“Could’ve been anyone’s perfume,” Bill said, his cautious eye on the door.
“Nah, she disappeared decades ago and I doubt anyone would wear such an old-fashioned fragrance.”
Bill shrugged, “Vintage?”
Freddy shook his head with a half smile on his lips.
“When I was a boy, sometimes I’d stay home alone (no one thought twice about that back then) and I recall many times I heard Miriam arrive. I’d hear the key in the door, then the rustle of her coat as she hung it in the closet. Her perfume wafted up the stairs as her dainty footsteps clacked on the steps. I’d wait for her to burst into my room and, tickling me, say hello.”
“So many times I’d wait and wait, but nothing. I’d go downstairs and find the house empty. I’d shrug my shoulders and shuffle back to my room. Later, I’d hear her arrive all over again, but for real this time. Miriam had her own little routine, and her perfume always preceded her. If I had a dime for every time… Well, it only happened with Miriam.”
Bill gazed at Freddy’s earnest face and tried to suppress the chill that crept up his spine.
“I’ve experienced nothing like that since she left, Bill,” he paused, “until tonight. That incident with the door was the preamble to her arrival.”
Freddy locked eyes with Bill, “Miriam is coming.”