Fiction Friday: Short Prose | The Spook In The Speakeasy Off Hollywood Boulevard
It's finally October, and I wanted to try to lean into the spooky season, despite the temperatures still being too high for proper Fall weather. I want to enjoy the fall so badly, I want to savor it, but that is so hard when you still have to wear shorts and tank tops.
Even as Halloween is creeping up, I'm trying to surround myself with the spooky things that make me feel like fall is here, like ghost stories and pumpkin chai lattes.
I tried my hand at writing a ghost story of my own, especially when it's not something I'm well practiced in doing. Leaning into fall, the spooky season, and Halloween, though, let me believe that it's really here, just for a little bit. The Halloween-y ambient sounds I listened to while writing it definitely helped, too.
They say Halloween is when the veil between the living and the dead drops, when the boundaries keeping our worlds separate finally thin enough for those dear departed souls to make a visit to the land of the living.
So of course, if you were a ghost wouldn’t you want to throw a Halloween party? Especially in a place like old Hollywood.
The hills are full of dark old houses, dark old buildings that have long been left alone through the years, left to the souls who still wander the halls in a ghostly rerun of their former lives. There’s one, an old Victorian house, that looks so out of place one block from Hollywood Boulevard. It looks out of place in California, really, but just a wrong turn away from the tourist bustle of the busy boulevard makes it stand out.
The house has since been turned into a bar, secret hallways and doors from its speakeasy history being used to its advantage, a little piece of a past long destroyed by the rest of the city. Rumors, played up by the owners, that it was once used by Mickey Cohen and his gang, mobsters used every room in the house to hide illegal booze. And of course, every year they have a Halloween party, too. The stories of strange experiences, cold drafts that aren’t beers, whispers and footsteps with no person behind them, have always been written down as imagination, the atmosphere of the bar getting to the employees and the patrons… but wouldn’t it be the perfect place for an otherworldly get together?
After all, if you’re dead, wouldn’t you want to have a party?
No one knows the stories of the spirits that show up at the Vacancy, although in a city of storytellers like Los Angeles, creative histories are easily found. Girls left behind by gangsters and soldiers, long forgotten artists from the early days of film, long forgotten crew members too. And maybe it’s even just the drinks, when you’re dancing alone, making you think there’s someone there with you in a costume from a different time.
I got invited once, by a friend. She was new to the city, wanted to explore all the spots, and had snagged us invitations to this party, somehow. Our names were on a list and we were let in - a chance for me to finally use the flapper dress I’d gotten at a shop in Burbank. We were guided to a room, a woman laying on a chaise lounge, told us the history of the house - with a spooky slant for the Halloween festivities, and directed us through a secret door that opened as she finished speaking, spiral stairs leading into darkness. Theatrics that could only come from being in Hollywood. We went in, clutching each other’s arms excitedly.
Golden, moody, and dark, filled with chatter and people in all sorts of costumes. We got drinks, and wandered the house wide eyed. Even though the day earlier had been warm, warmer than one would expect Halloween to be, there was a chill even with all the people in the house.
Somewhere along the way, we got separated. She saw someone she knew, I saw someone I knew. Maybe I drank too much, but it was a party and I had nowhere to be in the morning for once. Though my friend and I texted to make sure we were each okay, I didn’t see her for a long time.
The house opened up to a large patio out back, with the back porch of the house filled with people draped on the railings, and hovering near the bar set up outside. It was my favorite part of the house, with old iron lanterns and a garden on the edges. The sky, starless and inky, was open above me and I knew I had to sit, bring the cool air into my lungs. That’s when she sat next to me, another girl in a 20’s costume, with a sequined headband, blue and gold beaded dress.
“What’s got you out here, lookin’ like a canceled stamp?” She said through a sigh, taking a sip of a drink from the coupe glass in her fingers. An owl hooted distantly as I turned to her. Her costume was impeccable - I had to bite my tongue to stop from drunk girl gushing at her about how lovely she was.
“Just taking a break, getting some air, you know how it is,” I told her, lifting my own glass to her and taking a sip, although finding the drink nearly gone.
“Mm,” she hummed, looking across the crowd of people in the patio. The music changed, a jazz sound with a modern remix, and the stranger smiled at me. “Do you wanna dance?”
I didn’t even have a chance to get a word out before she got up and I felt as if I had to follow her, goosebumps on my arms from the chill that had settled in, the marine layer starting to hang low above us. She somehow found some space, started stepping and shimmying, a bright grin on her face as I tried to mimic her steps. She reached out as if to take my hands, to help guide me, but thought better of it, and went to bump my hip instead, just barely missing.
“Don’t you know how to Charleston?” She asked through laughter, and I shook my head, laughing at myself as I tried to dance as she did. She guided me through the steps, still laughing as I stumbled through them. We spun and shook, beads on our dresses swishing to the beats of the songs even as they changed - shifting from jazz to pop and hip hop. I couldn’t say how long we stayed and danced, giggling as if there weren’t anyone else in the world. Even as the night grew chillier, the moon sitting high in the sky, the lights starting to become brighter as the party signaled its end, I didn’t want to stop. Didn’t want to leave her.
“I didn’t even get your name,” I finally said, breathlessly, after being bumped by someone trying to leave. “Can I get your number or your Instagram or something? Maybe we can hang out.”
“Ginny,” she said, before pausing, as if to add something else she wasn't sure of. She looked confused and I opened my mouth to say ask what was wrong before someone touched my shoulder, coaxing me to turn around. The girlfriend I had come with stood behind me, a dreamy but tired smile on her face.
“I’m ready to bounce, are you?” She asked and I shook my head, turning back towards Ginny, but she was gone, not even her coupe glass left behind. I looked around, turning this way and that, to try and spot her but she’d vanished.
“Yeah, I just…” I trailed off, rationalizing - this woman probably had better places to be, other people to be with, and needed to make a quick escape. Sometimes that’s what happened, when you danced with a stranger. They were interested in the moment, nothing else. My friend led me out, making sure we both had our things, that our tabs were settled - I ordered a ride back to the Valley, she walked back to her car (“I didn’t drink nearly as much as you,” she laughed at me after we hugged).
I felt a hand on my arm through the whole Lyft ride home, and heard the swish of a beaded dress as I closed my eyes in bed.