“The Gray Lady”
William M. O’Brien, Jr.
“I have, too, seen the Gray Lady.” Shelly Markham stood her ground, hands on hips.
“You little knucklehead. You haven’t seen a damned thing.” Big brother Jonathan laughed. “You’re lying again.”
“You couldn’t lie straight in bed,” Shelly countered. She got into her big brother’s face. “You and your love life. What a joke.”
Jonathan guffawed, turned and headed on up Mulberry Street.
Shelly turned to her friend Jenny standing behind her. “I have seen the Gray Lady very recently. That big dog turd doesn’t believe me but you do, don’t you, Jenny.”
“Sure, I believe you Shel.” Jenny stepped up next to her friend. “But a whole lot of people have said they have seen her and I wonder how many of them are lying.”
The legend of the Gray Lady had always been a big deal in Middleburg, Missouri. In fact, a movie had been made about it back in the Sixties and a national plaque had been placed on the house on Poindexter Street where the story of the Gray Lady and her lover had come to a climax. The Gray Lady’s gruesome death by shotgun had always been a big deal in the bars and street corners of the Blackworth District, but her appearance in this area was cause of alarm as well as shock, as no one knew who was lying and whose report was legit.
But Shelly Markham was dead sure she had seen the spirit in the alley behind Poindexter Street. But since it was dark and the apparition was faraway down the alley, she really wasn’t sure. But she wasn’t going to admit that.
Her brother was the worst castigator of her testimony.
“I’ve got an idea to teach that turd a lesson,” Shelly told Jenny Lister on the way to school on Monday morning. “Maybe he needs to see the Gray Lady to get his ass kicked.”
“What’s on your mind, Shel?”
“I’m going down to old man Sherman’s antique store and get some clothes that match those supposedly worn by the Gray Lady. He has tons of old clothes on those racks in the back of the store. Everything is there. I wouldn’t be surprised to find some actual clothes the woman wore. He’s got everything.”
“And you’re going to dress up in these clothes?” Jenny asked, wide-eyed.
“Yes. And I’ve got some theater make-up, too. I’m going to paint myself like a dead person would look.”
“And you’re going to be down there where the Gray Lady supposedly is?” Jenny still couldn’t believe what Shelly was up to. “How are you going to get him down there?”
“He is so vain, Jenny, he and his beered-up, asshole friends.” Shelly laughed. “If I tell him where to look down there, he’ll go, just to make me seem like I’m full of shit.”
“When you go down to old man Sherman’s I want to go with you.”
“Sure. We’ll have a lot of fun down there.” Shelly stated to walk toward her house, with Jenny following along. “After Halloween would be the best time to do it. You know there is always somebody trick or treatin’ dressed as the Gray Lady. ”
“Why don’t you trick or treat as the Gray Lady.”
“No.No. No.” Shelly stopped and turned to her friend. “That would spoil all the fun.
Close by Poindexter Street was John Sherman’s antique store, a large collection of everything from valuable antiques to junky clothes and gadgets. At the back of the store were five racks full of clothes from all ages, from costumes to uniforms to dress clothes dating back to the nineteenth century.
Since Jenny had had a last-minute emergency, Shelly had gone to Sherman’s antique store alone. Digging through a rack supposedly devoted to the time of the Gray Lady, she found a black evening dress that was torn, a gray nightgown and a red party dress, both faded, two full lengths slips, and, in costumes, an old shawl that was also faded and torn. The clothes could be modified and sewed up, but something besides cheap makeup would be needed for the face. With these cheap purchases, Shelly made her way home, hoping no one would be there.
“I got a black dress that I can rub gray paint all over,” Shelly blurted into the phone at Jenny. “And some other stuff I can use, too.”
“You better not let him get close to you,” Jenny replied.
“I know. But I’m going to convince him I am the real thing. There is no way he is going to recognize that it is me.
Instead of face paint, Shelly had an old cat mask that had turned a sickly beige over the years. Instead of face paint, which really would be unconvincing, she would use the mask. She cut the ears off it and with its two slots for eyes, framed by a thick, ruffled wig, it became two dead eyes.
Two days later. Halloween found Shelly looking for the Gray Lady among the trick or treaters. She passed out candy while her brother lay on the bed upstairs and drank beer.
There were more trick or treaters than usual but none of them dressed up as the Gray Lady. Shelly found this odd as at least one person had gone forth as the Gray Lady in the past. One Halloween there were no less than five Gray Ladies trick or treating on Shelly’s Mulberry Street.
“Well, did you find any spooky Gray ladies at our door,” Jonathan laughed at the top of the stairs.
“Nope, not tonight.” Shelly put the huge candy bowl under her arm and headed for the kitchen. “Nobody around here can touch the Gray Lady for pure frightfulness, anyway.”
Jonathan followed his sister to the kitchen. “And I suppose you could,” he laughed, coming through the kitchen door.
“I could probably do a pretty good job of it,” Shelly retrieved sandwich meat and bread from the fridge.
“And you’re probably going to get your ass kicked if you drink up any more of Dad’s Heinekens.”
“I drank the ones I bought for myself earlier,” Jonathan replied in an indignant voice. “If it’s any of your damn business.”
Shelly retreated to the dinette to eat her sandwich while Jonathan opened another beer at the kitchen counter.
She had just begun to eat when she looked up to the window across from the dinette table. Just outside on the side of the garage was a shadow of something so fantastic she couldn’t believe her eyes. A human form without a head, but it was moving.
Fascinated, Shelley stared at it, until it moved away so quickly, she could believe it.
She rose and raced to the window. “What the hell…”
Jonathan came to the door and laughed. “Now, what do you think you’re doing?”
“I saw something out here. A shadow.”
“You saw your ugly face reflected in the glass.”
“Bullshit.” Shelly turned back to the window. “There was a shadow, a big shadow on the side of the garage.”
“A shadow of what?”
“A person. But it didn’t seem to have a head.”
“You don’t seem to have your shit straight tonight.” Jonathan took a big swig of beer and sat in the opposite chair at the dinette.
“Well, you can believe what you want, asshole.” Shelly, now in a huff, plopped down in a chair opposite to her brother. “I’m just telling you what I saw.”
“You saw a tree or something against the house.”
“That’s really intelligent. There’s no trees anywhere near there.”
Later parents came home, and the siblings went to bed, Shelly apprehensive about what she had seen earlier. There was nothing that could have come into the yard to make the image she had seen as far as she could see. And her brother had not seen it.
She lay under the covers and shivered until, at last, she fell asleep shortly after midnight.
“I saw something last night I couldn’t believe,” Shelly informed Jenny on the way to school the next day.
“A giant shadow on the wall of the garage next door. I don’t know where the hell it came from.”
“It had to come from somewhere, Shel.”
“I know. I know. That’s what so spooky about it.”
After school the next day, Shelly, alone in the house, took out her costume and placed it across her bed.
She had modified the mask to look like a human face, a dead one. Everything else was ready for her to become the Gray Lady. Now all she needed to do was set her brother up.
In the back of her mind was the shadow she had seen. Had it really been there? Or could it have been her brother playing a nasty trick on her. This was a possibility.
I think Jonathan’s trying to play some crappy ass mind games with me,” she informed Jenny, while they walked the three blocks to their school.
“You mean the shadow you saw.” Jenny stopped at the corner and shifted her books to her other arm.
“Yes. It’s the only explanation,” Shelly remarked quickly. “He’s probably trying to pull some sorry shit with me, but I’m going to one-up him. To do it I’m going to need your help.”
“You and I are going down to Poindexter Street to six hundred block alley. There we’re going to set up an appearance of the Gray Lady.”
“God, Shel. That’s the exact location where she got it.”
“Yeah, I know. We’re going to move a few things around and set up our little appearance, if you want to call it that.”
Jenny put her hand to her chin and turned away. “But how are you going to get him down there?”
“I’m going to go back home a little later and tell him I saw the Gray Lady down in that alley.” Shelly paused a bit and looked around. “I’ll tell him you and I got curious and went down there to check out something we heard around school.”
“Yeah, we heard something at school.” Now Jenny became agitated. “About another sighting.”
“Yes. Another sighting from someone at school.” Shelly stopped to think a minute. “Someone went down there after dark one night and saw her in that alley. From a distance.”
“Then, they told their friends about it, via computer, and later they got together a little group and went down there.”
“Wait a minute. Wait a minute.” Shelly grabbed Jenny’s jacket at the lapel. “You’re real good friends with Jerry Tilsman, aren’t you.”
“Yeah. He wants to go out with me.”
“He and Jonathan are sometime drinking buddies. Make him a deal.”
“Yeah. Tell him you’ll go out with him if he does this favor for us.” Shelly laughed. “He and Jon aren’t really that close but he loves Jerry’s knowledge of football.”
“He’s on our team.”
“I know. That’s another reason he likes him. And if he sips a few with brother Jon, Coach Schwarz will never find out about it.”
“Oh wow, contrivances, contrivances.” Suddenly, Jenny became serious. “Hey, wait a minute. Jerry’s not going to be available until after the end of the season.”
“I know. I know. That’s just two weeks away.” Shelly lowered her voice. “In the meantime, we get some kids together and cook up something about a sighting down on Poindexter Street. Then you can connect with Jerry and tell him about the sightings and you, of course, will tell him that I would be highly interested in this info.”
“I see,” Jenny replied softly. “And then Jerry connects with your brother and together they go down to Poindexter Street, hopefully after swallowing a few.”
“And we will be waiting for them.” Shelly could barely contain her excitement. “I’m going to have such a look that it’s going to scare the crap out of those guys.”
“If you show yourself from a distance they’ll want to get closer.”
“Not to me they won’t.” Now Shelly broke out in laughter. “When they see me, they’re liable to fill their pants up.”
“That bad, huh.”
“You’re not going to believe it when you see it.” Shelly looked all around. “I’m literally going to look like a walking dead person.”
Later in the week, Shelly and Jenny rounded up friends from school and told them about sightings down on Poindexter Street and the alley behind the houses. They used old man Sherman as a source and many of them made their way to his antique store to ask about the Gray Lady and sightings, some near his store.
Of course, he told them that he not only knew the lady involved but had seen her ghost on some occasions. Then, they spread the rumor that he had seen the specter lately not far from his store.
Rumors about the Gray Lady were buzzing around school and soon Jonathan Markham got wind of them.
“I understand some of your lamebrained friends are laying some bullshit around school,” he informed his little sister while collapsed in a family room chair.
“Yeah, some kids said they saw something down there past old man Sherman’s Halloween night.” Shelly was as composed as she could possibly be.
Jonathan laughed out loud. “Saw something? Saw each other’s asses.” He laughed again. “Do we have the Gray Lady again?”
“They didn’t say, but I suspect it.” Shelly smiled at him. “If several of them saw something, one of them has got to be telling the truth. But that’s something that dumbasses like you refuse to understand.” She squared herself and crossed her arms over her chest.
She turned and headed upstairs to her room. There, she withdrew her costume from a chest at the foot of her bed. After looking over her shoulder, she put the parts together on the bed. “Yes,” she whispered.
“Yes,” that’s the Gray Lady.” She carefully folded the items together with the mask on top and returned them to her trunk.
She was sitting on her bed when the rain began. Hearing the drops splatter against the window by the bed, she rose, walked over and pulled the curtains apart.
Down below in the old garden across the yard stood a figure that Shelly could barely make out through the rain. There was, however, something familiar about it.
Suddenly the figure turned and walked behind the tool shed at the fence. There it apparently vanished.
“What the hell is that,” Shelly whispered to herself. “Is that Jenny,” she said to herself. But Jenny couldn’t have gotten into the back yard as both gates were locked. And the only other entrance was the back door of the house.
Whatever it was vanished, leaving Shelly believing that what she was seeing was not there. She lay back on her bed and closed her eyes but five minutes later her brother appeared at the door.
“You need to tell your knot headed friends that the Gray Lady doesn’t exist.”
“You need to kiss my ass!” Shelly sat up in her bed. “You know the Gray Lady exists because too many people have seen her.”
“Too many people, huh,” Jonathan replied. “Your idiot friends and old man Sherman, who’s dizzy as hell.”
Shelly threw both legs over to the side of the bed and sat up. “One of these days you’re going to see her and when you do I hope you fill your pants with both functions.”
That night, late, Shelly phoned Jenny and asked a favor of her.
“Yes..Yes.. Call him and tell him to spread the word around that he has seen the Gray Lady.’ Shelly looked down the hall from the phone table in case anyone was around. “You and he are big buddies, Jen. Surely he’ll do this little favor for you.”
“I don’t know, Jen. Jerry’s a question mark because the season…”
“Go on, do it. He’ll do it,” Shelly urged. “Just this one little thing.”
“All right, I’ll do it. I’ll see him right after first period.”
“Good girl! I’ll get with you right after school.”
Now everything was set up. The word was going around that certain people had seen the Gray Lady around Halloween or shortly thereafter.
Shelly was ecstatic. Part two of her plan would begin in a couple of days, when everyone was looking over their shoulder for the Gray Lady. Then it would be time to call out brother Jon.
The next day, at school, Jerry Tilson mentioned to brother Jon that he thought he caught a glimpse of the Gray Lady when running a late errand for his parents after football practice.
Of course, Jon scoffed at the report and then planned to head off sister Shelly when he got home. But later Jon offered to accompany Jerry down to Poindexter Street where he said he had seen the Gray Lady to prove that all these sightings were foolishness.
Of course, Jerry agreed.
When Shelly heard the news, she was ecstatic.
“Now I’ve got him where I want him,” she exclaimed to Jenny after school. “All we have to do is have
Jerry set a time and we’ll be down there waiting for them.”
Shelly planned to appear to her brother and Jerry from a distance as most of the reported sightings were from a distance. And from a distance, Shelly believed, she was very convincing.
“So, you and Jerry are going down to Poindexter Street after the last football game, huh.” Shelly addressed her brother across the dinner table before they were joined by their parents.
“Where did you hear that?”
“Bullshit. He’s got better sense than that.”
Shelly stood, put both hands on the table and leaned forward. “No, he’s as curious about the Gray Lady as everyone else is, besides you, and instead of tanking up and getting shitfaced with you, he was going to get you to go down there with him.”
This scenario was interrupted by the arrival of both parents from upstairs at the dinner table. However, Shelly, silently, made faces at her brother across the table.
A week later, the football season ended with a huge party and bonfire and plans by Jerry Tilson to take a walk just after dark down to Poindexter Street. He told Jonathan that he agreed with him about the Gray Lady sightings, but he wanted to see for himself. And he did not want to go alone.
Jonathan agreed to go with him, citing a want to prove everyone, including his sister, false.” I think what they’re seeing is each other screwing around down there,” Jon remarked to Jerry after he agreed to go with him.
The next day, Jonathan informed his sister that he and his buddy Jerry were going to take a walk down to Poindexter Street in order to “Lay to rest all this bullshit about the Gray Lady.”
“Fine,” Shelly answered, barely able to contain her own excitement. “I’m going to spend the evening watching TV.”
The plan was set. Shelly would be stretched out in front of the downstairs TV when Jon and Jerry left just after dark. After about thirty minutes, Shelly would don her disguise and meet Jenny in the alley behind her house and head for the area of Poindexter Street. They would take alleys and shortcuts to get to the area of the alley where the Gray Lady met her demise. There, they would wait for the two boys, who were probably looking all around for some appearance of the often-seen ghost.
Everything went according to plan and nine o’clock found Shelly and Jenny squatting, in the dark, down together behind Mr. Sherman’s antique store.
“Oh, my god, you look so great,” Jenny laughingly informed her friend.
“It’s going to look even more great from a small distance,” Shelly replied, after stifling a belly laugh. “Come on. We can go down Belknap Street. It runs into Poindexter but we will duck into that alley before it gets there. Keep an eye out for those two; if they do appear on Belknap we can make our appearance to them there.”
As quietly as possible, the two girls made their way down the alley from Sherman’s Antiques to Belknap Street and then headed down toward Poindexter Street and the fatal alley.
The two boys, who had taken time out from their search to pick up two beers at Last Stop Icehouse one block west of Poindexter, were headed toward the fatal alley themselves.
“One more look for this shit and then we’ll head for home,” Jon exclaimed over his shoulder as the two boy stopped under a weak street light at Poindexter.
“I don’t see anything down that street there.” Jerry pointed down the street.
“I don’t either,” John retorted and took a swig of beer. “You talk about a crappy-ass wild goose chase.”
In the meantime, the girls had arrived at the fatal alley behind Poindexter Street. Quickly, they turned into the alley and headed toward the Gray Lady’s house, four houses from the corner.
Lights from garages and other houses partially lit the alley but it was still dark enough to allow the girls to hide behind an old carriage house behind the huge main house. Both structures were deserted, hence completely dark.
When Shelly saw the two boys appear at the entrance to the alley, she stepped out just enough for part of her to show. She waited a minute, and then stepped back under cover.
Jerry saw her. “Hey Jon. I just saw something down there by those two garbage cans.” He pointed down the alley.
“Naw, there’s nothing down there.” Jon chuckled. “You saw a cat or something.”
“No, really. I saw something down there by that old garage.”
“All right, let’s go see.” Jon turned and started down the alley, Jerry behind him.
Jenny, hidden across the alley from Shelly but able to see up the alley, signaled her to show herself.
Shelly stepped into the alley about seventy feet from the two boys and then moved back again.
“There’s something there,” Jerry whispered, loud enough for Jon to hear.
“Yeah, I saw it.” Jon quickened the pace followed by Jerry.
Shelly stepped into view again.
“What the hell…” Jerry slowed the pace.
But Jon picked it up. “Oh shit! That’s
my goofy little sister!” He hollered loud enough for all to hear.
Shelly moved quickly back again.
“Give it up, dumbass.” Jon laughed again. “We’re on to you.”
Shelly moved into the alley followed by Jenny. Both faced the boys, Shelly with her hands on her hips.
But another figure moved into the alley behind them. A tall, willowy figure, barely becoming visible in the hazy light provided by houses across the alley, moved up between the girls.
But the boys saw it before the girls did.
The figure became visible to where its upper body was clearly visible, visible enough to where the boys could see that its head was missing from the nose up.
“Holy shit!” Jon and Jerry halted ten feet from the girls.
The girls, now feeling freezing cold, turned.
“Oh, my God,” Shelly uttered and she and Jenny broke into a run.
The boys, as well, turned and headed up the alley.
They stopped at the end of the alley to look back.
“I was freezing my ass off back there,” Jenny, breathless, uttered, to no one in particular.
“That goes with this shit,” Shelly replied
“I cannot…cannot believe this,” Jon kicked a rock across the street and then looked back down the alley.
“You wanted to see the Gray Lady, turd ball.” Shelly, now in control, put her hands on her hips again.
“Well look at you, wearing that shit.” Jon addressed his little sister head on.
“Hey, I’m for getting the hell out of here,” Jerry, again looking down the alley, exclaimed.
“Me, too,” Jenny replied, also glancing down the alley.
They started back toward Poindexter Street, but Shelly suddenly felt the freezing cold again.
Stopping while the others continued up the street, she wanted to say something but couldn’t open her mouth. She felt a strong force moving into her.
This time she wanted to scream but couldn’t. The force knocked her to the ground and began again to move into her.
Her companions, now feeling her absence, turned.
Jenny screamed while the two boys hurried back to the girl now laying on the ground and struggling with all limbs, trying to avoid what was moving into her.
“What in the name of God…” Jon hollered and reached down to grab his sister’s arms which were flailing in the air.
Jerry grabbed her legs, trying to hold them still while Jenny joined them in trying to hold the frantic girl still.
Suddenly a force erupted from her, knocking the three of them back away from the girl, who was now apparently unconscious.
Jenny saw it first and screamed as loud as she could.
A figure, now fully visible, stood above the girl, its mouth grinning, its head, missing from the bridge of the nose up, moving slowly around as if eyes, long gone, were scrutinizing the three on the ground.
“Ohhh Shit!” Jon cried, and turned over and tried to get up, but he tripped and fell into Jenny who lay on her stomach both hands covering her head.
As suddenly as the figure had appeared, it disappeared, leaving the three still on the ground and Shelly still unconscious nearby
Jon fully recovered this time and crawled over to his sister followed by the other two.
“Oh, God. Thank God, she’s still breathing.” Jon put his hands on his sister’s back. Slowly, he turned her over.
Meanwhile, the other two had crawled up to him.
Shelly opened her eyes and tried to rise, but she only rose up on one elbow.
“God, what…what happened.” She looked from Jon to Jenny.
“You almost got possessed, baby,” Jenny declared. “God, that thing was horrible.”
“That was the Gray Lady.” Jon let out a big breath. “We saw it.”
“Damn, she got her head blown away with a shotgun.” Jerry now stood up. “I wonder where she went.”
“I don’t give a shit where she went; I want out of here.” Now Jon stood up but Jenny reached over and put her arm around Shelly’s shoulders.
“I think you’re going to need some help.”
“No…No… I’m okay, now.” Shelly turned over and rose on one knee. “Yeah, Jerry, that’s how she died. Blown away by a shotgun.”
Now the four of them, Jenny and Jon helping Shelly along made their way up the street past Poindexter Street and then on toward home.
But if any one of them had turned around, he or she would have seen the phantom figure that had almost possessed one of them, standing at the end of the alley, as if it still had eyes to watch.