GREEN LIGHT, OR: THE GATSBY HOUSE
A Small-Town Ghost Story
"WHAT'S SO SCARY about having a Halloween party at the Gatsby mansion?"
"Haven't you heard? Every Halloween night, a green light in the attic appears, and if you go up there…"
"What happens? You die? Yeah, right. It's not true, and it's not really a mansion. It's just an old house."
"Would an old house have a castle thing? Hey, Daisy, what's that thing called - the pointy one on castles?"
"A turret." I roll my eyes and look at the three kids sitting near me at the lunch table. First there's Jordan, my best friend, who was named after Michael Jordan even though she's a girl. Then there are Nick and Tom, two actual boys who don't mind hanging out with us. Nick is smarter than Tom, but even so, he's the one who's really into ghost stories. He says that the Gatsby house is haunted, but I'm not quite sure. The Gatsbys are my cousins, and the only other members of my family who live in town besides Mom, Dad and me. Their names are Scott and Zelda, and their dog Fitzgerald. He's a black Scottish terrier, and so adorable! As for Nick? I think he's cute, too, although I tell him, "I can't believe you don't remember that."
"Hey, it was a while back since we studied the medieval period! Also, Daisy, can you back me up here?"
"You mean about the green light? I've never seen it, so I really can't. Come on, Nick. The real reason that my cousins don't want anybody coming to their house on Halloween is that they don't like kids much."
"Phfft!" Jordan smirks and elbows Nick in the ribs. "With idiots like you around, who would like them?"
Nick frowns, and Tom glares at us. "Hey, Jordan, cut it out. We only let you two girls hang around with us because you're halfway decent," Tom mutters under his breath. "We don't have to, you know."
"I know," Jordan says prissily, holding her nose in the air, "and we only let you hang around with us for the same reason! Come on, Daisy. Let's get away from these boys and enjoy more civilized company."
"Wait a minute…" I've just remembered something. "The Gatsbys are always out of town on Halloween."
"You're kidding me, right?" That's Nick, his eyes a-gleam. "Their house is completely empty on that night?"
"You betcha! They go up to Vermont to see the fall foliage, and it's gorgeous around that time of year. Plus, they don't have to deal with a bunch of trick-or-treaters. They say I'm okay, but…" I trail off. "I'm their cousin, and that's why I'm the only kid they like. Sorry, you guys, but we aren't barging in their house for a secret Halloween party. Somebody else watches Fitzgerald, their dog, and I'm afraid we'll get in trouble."
"Are they always there?" asks Tom. "I mean, whoever feeds him."
"And takes him outside, and the answer's no. Still, how will it look if four unsupervised kids walk up to the Gatsby mansion - it's a mansion in my book - and go in? The neighbors will think we're all burglars!"
"Not if they recognize you," says Nick. "Plus, if any of them see us, you can always say you're taking us to meet the dog. After all, you like him, don't you?" I nod. "It's settled, then. We're going there on Halloween!"
"I don't know…"
"Are you chicken?" This time Jordan elbows me in the ribs, and then giggles loudly. "I think it'll be fun!"
"As long as we only stay there for a little while, and not until midnight. That's final, okay?"
"You heard the lady," Nick says with a grin. "Not until midnight. By the way, what are you all going to be?" We run down the list of our Halloween costumes, and he goes first: "I'm going to be a newspaperman."
"What kind of lame costume is that?" asks Tom.
"Shut up, jerk! I've got the cap for it, and my dad has some suspenders. Extra! Extra! Read all about it!"
"If you want to be a paperboy, you can just see Mr. Flanagan at the grocery store and sign up." Our local grocery store has a weekly flyer called the Penny Pincher Post, and the fresh food there beats Walmart's by a mile. "As for me," Tom brags, "I'm going to be Iron Man. I've got the mask and the suit already."
"Good for you, but I don't know what I'm going to be for Halloween," I tell him. Then I get a sudden idea: here we are going to the Gatsbys' house for a secret party, and they have all sorts of 1920's stuff: "Wait a second! I'll be a flapper, one of those girls from the '20's who wore all the long beads and had short hair." The more I talk about this idea, the better it sounds, although Jordan looks confused. Then she sulks.
"Hmph. I'm going to be a witch."
"That's because you are one!" Guess whose elbow meets Tom's ribs, and hard? "Oww! Jordan!"
"That'll teach you," she snaps back, and then we go dump our cafeteria trays and rinse them.
One week later, it's Halloween night, and we're all out trick-or-treating. Each of us has collected a ton of candy, and we practically run down the street toward my cousins' house so we can sneak in and eat it! Hopefully they'll have some pop, too, and hopefully Fitzgerald won't come around begging. That's kind of a lost cause, because he eats everything. Dogs aren't supposed to have chocolate, or they get sick, though.
"See? What did I tell you?" Tom points up at the Gatsby mansion. "No stupid green light up in the attic."
"Maybe it comes on later," says Nick, shrugging. "Come on. Let's get inside before somebody sees us."
The Gatsbys always keep a spare key hidden within this fake rock that they use as a doorstop, which I discovered when I locked myself out one summer. They'd gone to a long movie, and I'd been in the backyard running through the sprinkler with Fitzgerald. The trouble was, neither of us could get back in because Fitzgerald doesn't have a doggie door. Their own door is too heavy, and made of dark wood with etched glass. It took three hours for Cousin Scott and his wife Zelda to get back, and that was when they showed me the secret key. I have trouble finding it in the dark now, but I do, and all of us enter quietly.
Yap! Yap! Yap! Yap! Yap! Fitzgerald isn't quiet, though, and he jumps all over me and licks my face! He does the same to Jordan, Nick and Tom, although Tom doesn't like it. "I hate dogs," he grumbles and shoves Fitzy away, which makes him whimper. After I make both of them apologize and "shake", we head into the living room and flop on the couch. It's TV time, and there are all sorts of great Halloween shows on! We watch It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and the first half of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when all of a sudden Fitzgerald comes bolting down the stairs, whimpering nervously.
"What's wrong, boy? Huh? What scared you?" He jumps in my arms, and he's shaking like a leaf.
Uh-oh…We stare at each other and then rush upstairs as fast as we can: The attic! Green light! Sure enough, there's an eerie emerald luminescence coming from the attic when Nick climbs up the ladder to it and pushes open the trapdoor a little. "Uh - guys?" he asks. "You go first. Daisy? How about you go?"
I shake my head rapidly. When I finally manage to get the words out, all I can say is, "I'm going last!"
"You're such a wimp," Tom says with a smirk. "It's just some dumb old lamp that the dumb dog turned on by mistake. Dogs are smart. They can do that." Not realizing the contradiction in what he just said, Tom pushes the trapdoor open all the way, flooding the space above us with green light. "Whoa…" He finishes climbing the rest of the way up the ladder and enters the attic, shutting the trapdoor behind him. Jordan, Nick and I wait for almost an eternity as he's up there, and none of us hear a single sound. Not even Fitzgerald makes any noise, but he might have even gone down to the basement where he likes to hide. When Tom finally emerges, his eyes are as big as flying saucers. "You won't believe what I just saw…"
After another eternity, Nick almost falls off the ladder as he shakes Tom's shoulders hard. "Well?!"
"Toys," Tom answers, mesmerized. "All the toys I always wanted and never got. Dirt bikes! Autographed baseballs! Leather gloves! An ATV, for crying out loud! That's a four-wheeler, and my parents say they'll die before they'll ever let me get one! You've got to see it," he says, grabbing Nick's shoulders in return. You don't have to tell Nick twice, because he goes scrambling up the ladder to the attic and slamming the trapdoor behind him. Just like it took Tom, it takes Nick forever to come out of the attic and talk to us.
"What's up there?" asks a skeptical Jordan once she sees that Nick has the same expression Tom did.
"I didn't see any toys," Nick says slowly, "but what I did see was a printing press - an old-fashioned, honest-to-goodness printing press from the Roaring Twenties! I swear it's up there, and I would have tried to print something on it if I would have had any paper…" This is absolutely astounding, but before I can venture up into the attic myself, bathed in that mysterious green light, Jordan beats me to it. She's always beating me to things - the lunch line, the swings, and all that jazz - so it comes as no surprise that I have to wait two eternities for her long chestnut-brown hair to come swinging down. Her body soon follows.
"Daisy," she says emphatically. Her eyes are bulging out of her head. "These two weirdo boys are liars. There are no toys or printing presses up there. There are only dresses - beautiful, beautiful dresses! I'm wearing one right now!" I blink and look, but Jordan's wearing nothing except her undershirt and under-shorts. I'm kind of shocked that she likes dresses, because she hardly ever has one on, but this time - ?
"Uh, Jordan," I stammer, trying to be tactful. "You just might want to put your old costume back on."
When she sees what she's presently wearing, Jordan screams so loudly that all of us nearly tumble down the ladder! She runs back up to the attic and comes down re-dressed as a witch. All she says is, "The dresses are there. If I'm lying, I'm dying. The green light is real, and what's more, I can't turn it off!"
This I've got to see. My friends make way for me as I climb up into the attic, and lay eyes upon…nothing.
The room is absolutely empty, except for a glowing green glass lamp on the windowsill, and a big antique looking-glass on the opposite wall. There are no toys, printing presses, or dresses - only me, the mirror, and the eerie green light. "Hello?" I try calling out, but get no answer. I spin around, slowly. Still nothing. I close my eyes and hear a man's voice whisper my name. I freeze. He whispers it again, ever so gently. When I finally open my eyes again, I see a man in the mirror beside my reflection, in dapper 1920's garb.
"Daisy," the man in the mirror says a third time, but when I look beside my real body, there is no one there.
"Uh…" My mouth has gone dry as cotton. "I don't think I'm the Daisy you want - sir - but, who are you?"
"Gatsby," he whispers. "Jay Gatsby." Tears are pouring down the mirror-man's cheeks. "I love you."
"You do?" He nods. "Is that why you turn the green light on every Halloween? You're waiting for me?" The man nods again, and puts his hands on my shoulders. However, when I look again, no one is touching me. "Are you a ghost?" He shrugs and smiles sadly: You could say that. "Did you put all the toys in here for Tom? What about the dresses for Jordan, and the printing press for Nick?" His eyes glance over toward the green light, and I take a second look at the lamp itself. It's actually a lantern, like they have on docks for ships. I dart over to it and try to turn it off, but just like Jordan said, I can't. It blazes brightly.
I slap my hands over my eyes. No ghosts. I take my hands away and look in the mirror. There he is!
After a great long while, even longer than it took Jordan, Nick and Tom to find their treasures, I blink tears out of my own eyes: "I get it. The green light shows you all the things you've ever wanted the most, but could never get. Tom can't have a four-wheeler. Nick can't have a printing press from the Jazz Age. Jordan never wears dresses, and that's because the pretty ones she wants are too expensive! Right?" A wink from the mirror-man, Mister Gatsby, tells me everything I need to know. "What about me? Why can't I see anything I want in this attic? There are plenty of things I'd like to have, but know I'll never receive."
"You've always wished to know if folks like me exist," murmurs Gatsby. "That's what you want right now."
"But none of the other things that my friends wanted were actually real. That means you're not real…"
The mirror-man quirks an eyebrow at me and smiles as if to say, Really? Then he says: "Come home."
I bite my lower lip as I realize what he means. If he's a ghost, then - "I can't! I'm only ten, and I have a lot of life ahead of me. I promise, if it means so much to you, that when I'm an old lady and lose-" I can't say it - "…lose all my marbles, as I probably am right now, then I'll come and see you in there. Out there. Up there." I'm stuttering like I did when I was three! "I'll come to where you are, on a dock across the water."
Gatsby stands there with head bowed, his face a portrait of infinite sorrow, and then he smiles up at me.
"Thank you," the mirror-man says at last, and waves goodbye as he fades from the looking glass. Slowly but surely, the green light in the lantern begins to dim, and winks out at last as I climb down from the attic.
Everyone's waiting for me as I ever-so-quietly close the trapdoor. My friends stare with eyes that have grown even more huge since they themselves ventured into that magical place, that netherworld where nothing lies except the wisps of sweet imagination. "The green light's busted," is all I tell them. "Our eyes were playing tricks on us, and the cool stuff isn't there. We just ate way too much Halloween candy." Thus disappointed, all of us head home, and none of us dares to speak a word. Did we all go crazy when we were in the Gatsby House? I don't think so, because life goes on as usual after that. However, in my dreams, I see my new friend's face and cannot resist the pull of that green light, no matter how hard I try.