The Green Lady

They say every tenth year she will appear

Here in the vale she courts with terror and fear

Evening Light – she arrives at evening light

Greenest emerald eyes a man will ever see

Raspy voice yet light like wind through leaves

Evening Light – she arrives at evening light

Evening Light – she arrives at evening light

Never stray from home when all grows pale

Last reaches of autumn’s light on winter’s tail

All believe the spirit walks her anniversary night

Dawn break will reveal those whose lives she took by fright

Yes, they say every tenth year she will appear

– a Sleepy Vale children’s rhyme.

 

James Kingsley felt a cool breeze ruffle through his light blond hair. His weary dark eyes glanced up from a stack of recently returned books; it was with a mild curiosity that he noted the wooden front doors were locked securely, as were all the windows. His gaze lingered on the floor as twilight crept through the stained glass arches casting reds, blues, yellows, and greens onto the mahogany entryway of Sleepy Vale’s oldest library.

Thinking that his imagination had gotten the best of him, James went back to the computer screen and reached for another book to check-in. He told Clemens, the library’s security guard, to go home early for the evening. Now, James wondered idly if Clemens had forgotten to lock a window somewhere. Within a few minutes he’d processed half the stack, but there it was again. Another cold breeze flickered across his cheeks. He shivered and nearly jumped out of his chair when he’d looked away from the screen again.

There stood a woman with the palest ivory complexion, jet-black hair, and the greenest eyes he’d ever seen on another living being. She wore a cream silk blouse and a moss colored wool skirt. She seemed very prim.

“Sorry Miss,” James said quietly, “but the library’s been closed for an hour.”

“Oh, I think I may have been lost somewhere in the reference section when it closed.” She smiled politely. “I’m sorry, I tend to zone out when I’m on the hunt for a book. You know what I mean?”

James laughed uneasily and nodded. His pulse, which had skyrocketed only moments before, slowly resumed a normal pace, but it was not easy for James to settle his nerves, because he found the stranger very attractive.

She looked at him with those wide sparkling emerald eyes of hers. And with a tinge of regret, James felt he could lose himself in them if they had met under different circumstances. But it was after closing, and eventually he would have to tell her to leave.

“Yeah. I get that way too when I have free time to explore the series of caves we call our reference section.” He sat up straighter and boasted. “And did you know it’s one of the, oldest in the state and that we have the largest collection of first print editions?”

“Precisely why I come back every time.” She giggled and tucked a lock of glossy black hair behind her ear. “That’s what I was looking for actually. A first print edition.”

James thought her eyes were ever so radiant as she animatedly told him of her quest to find an old collection of fairy tales.

“I’m sorry, but, I…” James trailed as his weight shifted in the creaky wooden chair, “But I didn’t catch your name, Miss…?”

Her ruby lips formed a little “O” as her eyes went wide with surprise. “I’m so sorry, James, here I’ve practically startled you to death and I never introduced myself!”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say you got me going quite like that.” Even as he lied, James could feel a rash of warmth spread across his face and neck.

“Well, I had a book on reserve, even though I know I can’t check it out, maybe you wouldn’t mind looking up my name.” She smiled sheepishly. “I mean I just want to know it’s here when I come back tomorrow, since I couldn’t find it in the back, maybe someone already pulled it for me. It’s like knocking out two birds one stone, what do you say?”

James looked her over as he weighed her request against library policy. He wondered briefly if she was single.

“I suppose for a lady who managed to stay past closing hours, I could do this one favor.” James reluctantly broke eye contact with her as he focused his attention on the computer screen. “Name?”

“Helena T. Grady.” Her voice was raspy and light. “I reserved a book on folklore. The Pentamerone. Have you heard of it?”

“I have not.” James confessed.

He chanced a look in her direction and saw that she no longer stood in front of the circulation desk. He searched about and found her sitting atop the desk. She was now a good eight feet away from him at the other end.

“Did you find the book?” she asked. Her piercing gaze went straight through him as if she were expecting the book to materialize on the counter.

James swallowed, “No. When did you request it?”

She sighed and slumped down a little, she seemed clearly put out that he had been of no help to her. “The computer doesn’t say when I put it on hold?”

“About that,” James looked back at the screen. “I can’t find you in our system.”

When he looked for her again, she was gone.

“Helena?”

“Over here.” Her raspy voice teased at him, but it seemed further away somehow.

“Where?” James stood up from his seat, not sure what to expect.

“Behind you.” She giggled. Her breath ghosted over the shell of his ear.

He nearly jumped, but kept himself rooted to the floor and facing forward.

“I don’t think that’s very funny,” James said breathily, a hint of flirtation in his voice.

He heard her chuckle softly. “I’m sorry, but it was just too tempting.”

He felt her hands graze his hair and run down the length of his back.

Just as he turned around to stop her from venturing further than the small of his back, she was gone.

“I’m sorry, James, but it seems I’m too quick for you.”

He turned in the direction of her voice. There she stood in front of the circulation desk again, standing primly just as she had when he first laid eyes on her.

“Apparently, you are too quick for me.” James adjusted his collar. He didn’t think he wa sin the mood for her antics, unless she had things besides teasing him on her mind. And, on top of that, he did have to finish his work. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave now.”

“Did I do something to upset you?” Her green eyes shimmered slightly and when she blinked, those feathery dark lashes of hers seemed to glisten with dewy tears. James felt a slight pang of guilt.

Maybe I’m being too mean. He thought.

“I just thought I was being funny because it was so late at night and empty libraries can seem sort of creepy…” Helena said, “…I didn’t realize I scared you so much.”

James sighed. Maybe he was mad because she had managed to greatly unnerve him, or turn him on, and really she was so small she posed no threat to him. He glanced at the windows. It was very dark outside.

“I must be tired, but is time for you to leave, Miss Grady.” He returned to his duties and started stacking books in a cart.

“Look at me James.”  Her voice was apologetic. “Do you forgive me?”

He would not vocally encourage her to stay longer by engaging in more pointless conversation.

“I am sorry I scared you so much that you’re angry with me now.” Her voice was girlish.

Every instinct he possessed told him not cater her whims, because something weird was afoot, but she did have the loveliest green eyes, the fairest skin, the reddest lips, and the darkest hair – no!

He knew no good would come from indulging this strange woman.

“Please do not make me escort you out.” James said. He went back to his computer screen and sat down again. “I did you a favor. If you would kindly return it by seeing yourself out, I would appreciate it.”

When he looked up again she was gone. He hadn’t heard her leave. “Come out of hiding or I will have to call security to come get you!”

James cursed himself. His pride would not let him call Clemens to find this interloper and remove her from the library. For over an hour James scoured the place venturing everywhere but the basement, a felt a curious aversion for the reference section and would not descend the steps. When he returned to the circulation desk he was startled to find her sitting atop the counter, legs crossed and arms folded, looking expectantly at him.

“I asked you to forgive me, James.”  She pouted. Those green eyes burned angrily now.

“And I asked you to leave, Miss Grady.”

She hopped off the desk and glided towards him. He felt his flesh prickle uncomfortably now. Her hand gently touched his arm. Still he looked past her to the counter where the stack of return books sat rearranged. It appeared she organized them by color of their bindings, while he’d been trying to hunt her down.

“I will if you only look me in the eyes and tell me why you can’t find my name or my book.” She said. “I really just want to find it and then I’ll go, I promise.”

He could feel her gaze searching his face.

James sighed. “You are too persistent, Miss Grady.”

He met her eyes, which seemed to glow like two eerie emeralds.

She smiled at him. It was an inviting sort smile James thought.

“I know.” Her teeth were pearly white. He didn’t know anyone with such perfectly white teeth.

“I should be forcing you out of here right now.” James sighed. “Or at the very least I should have called security to come find you. Do you know the kind of time I’ve wasted tonight?”

“You don’t have to be so mad. I said I was sorry.” She said brushing his hair from his forehead. “Why don’t you help me find the book?”

James did not want to help her find the book. He wanted to close up shop and go home. “Can’t you just come back tomorrow?”

She bit her bottom lip and looked at him hesitantly. “I could, but I was hoping you’d help me find it. We have such a nice thing going here even if I am kind of being silly by scaring you.”

James could have sworn her cheeks flushed.

“I like you, James. I got the impression that you liked me too.” Her eyes looked away from him as she sighed.

He swallowed thickly. “I do.” He cleared his throat and she looked back at him with renewed hope.

“I do like you, Miss Grady.” It was then he was struck by an odd detail. His brows knit together. “Wait, how did you my name?”

Helena’s hands flew to her mouth. She tried unsuccessfully to stifle a chuckle. Mirth glittered in her eyes as James wondered what the hell was so funny about his question.

He did not flinch when she put her hands on his shirt. He was determined not to take his eyes off her again, for she proved herself to be as silent and stealthy as a ninja.

“Look!” She grinned.

He glanced down to see his nametag in her hands.

“Oh.” James felt quite stupid then.

“What do you say, will you help me find the book? We can put it on the cart and I promise I will come back in the morning to read it.”

It seemed like a reasonable request. And he did like her, strange as she was.

“Alright, just don’t take off again or I am calling security. I mean it.”

“Cross my heart and hope to die.” Helena said a little too cheerfully. “Alright James Kingsley, you lead the way!”

He wasn’t sure about going into the basement, but with her by his side it felt less lonesome. And there was the possibility she might want to do more than find a book and this greatly diminished his concerns about her odd behavior. She was clearly interested in him. James reasoned that it would be ridiculous to be scared if they were the reason for things going bump in the night, and it been months since he’d been with an attractive woman who seemed even remotely interested in him.

Together they descended the stairs into the expansive reference section. He reached for the light at the bottom of the staircase, but it discovered the switch did not work. He turned around to go back up stairs for a flashlight, but discovered Helena to be missing yet again.

“This is not funny. I thought we had an understanding!” James shouted.

“I’m in the stacks. I didn’t run off, you just didn’t see me pass you.” She called out to him from within the pitch-black room.

“How the hell can you see in there?”

James saw a beam of light flash at him.

“With this silly.”

The light trailed off into the dark. It was clear Helena would not wait for him to catch up to her. James did not want to follow, but he knew he had no choice. He just couldn’t leave her down in the stacks all night. And her flirtatious tone had said what words had not, which was that she expected him to come after her.

“Fine, slow down so I can catch up. You never told me the lights were out down here.”

The light stopped a few feet ahead of him, but rounded the corner as soon as he got closer.

“Just a little further.” Helena called to him. “It was supposed to be in this section, but maybe it’s located on a shelf I can’t reach. You know there isn’t a ladder or step stool down here.”

James followed the bouncing light as Helena told him of her fruitless hours long search. After a few minutes of following her, the light stopped a few yards ahead of him.

“Here is where it supposed to be.” She seemed annoyed. “But I cannot find it here or on any of the nearby shelves either.”

James could see her outline only faintly.

“I’m almost there. Stay put.”

It was then the light went out.

“I thought we said no more jokes.”

“We did, James, we did.”

Her raspy voice was now devoid of the warmth and humor he’d been used to hearing. There was nothing flirtatious about it’s evil tone.

Blindly James thrust his hands out and felt rows upon rows of book spines.

“Turn the light on right now, Helena!” His voice echoed through the dark.

The light flashed in front of him and there stood the woman who had thwarted every attempt to carry out his job.

He noticed that she was extraordinarily pale. Her brilliant green eyes were milky, her glossy black hair had turned ghostly white, and those once rosy cheeks were now sunken. And when she smiled at him now, the thin white skin of cracked lips stretched across stained black teeth.

 

Illustration by Jon Foster.

 

“Oh, James.” She cackled and cackled. “Dear, sweet, stupid, James.”

His pulse, which had quickened out of anger, now sped out of control as cold fear raced through his veins. He panted as he took steps backward. He wanted to run, but without a flashlight he wouldn’t know which direction to turn. So he stood there trying to comprehend what the hell was happening.

“What’s the matter, James?”

He looked at her with abject horror as she steadily approached. As she drew closer he could see her flesh mottled with bruises. Even more disturbing, he found, was that she carried nothing in her hands whatsoever. All the light had been coming from under her blouse.

Her withered hands came to her chest as she undid a button. “Curious?”

He really didn’t want to know. He backed into a wall of books and felt his shirt dampen with cold sweat. He inched away from her.

“I’ll show you.”

“What about your book, isn’t that what you came for?”

James tried to stall. How many turns had he made, four or five? He wondered if he could outrun her.

“No,” she said as she unbuttoned her blouse further. “No, I came for you.”

“You don’t even know me.”

It was then James stumbled backwards. He had been inching further and further away from her, but he had not expected to reach the end of the stacks so soon. He yelped despite himself as he hit the ground. The fall had hurt his back.

“Fucking hell!” A shooting pain raced down his spine. He was sure he hit the corner of a something because the base of his spine throbbed dully.

The light went out again.

He shifted onto his hands and knees. The pain had mostly subsided. He awkwardly stood up to run; only in the inky blackness he couldn’t distinguish any shapes.

“James, be a dear and turn on my light.” Her disembodied voice hissed before she wickedly cackled again

Books flew around him; a few hit him solidly before falling to the floor. He tried to duck, but soon the stacks rumbled as more and more books flew off their shelves.

“Turn on your own goddamn light!” He shouted angrily into the void. He was fed up with her games, dead or not; he would not let himself be pushed around by her anymore.

“If you insist.” It was a whispered sigh.

Suddenly the lights in the basement flickered on and the hum of the electric current was the only sound to be heard besides James’s labored breathing. Under the garish fluorescent lights, he saw that there were no books on the floor and everything seemed in order.

He looked around frantically. The dead woman was nowhere to be found.

Every fiber of his being screamed at him to run, but he knew that’s what she’d want. He walked steadily to the entrance of the basement determined to get out of this mess somehow unharmed.

Keep calm – James thought – and don’t fucking panic like the schoolgirl you’ve been acting like this entire time. She’s probably feeding off your fear.  Maybe she can only manifest herself if you are scared. Don’t be scared. Don’t be a pussy. It’s just a ghost.

Ghosts don’t have any real power. He took a deliberate step towards the staircase.

Because they don’t have a body and they just mess with your mind. He climbed the steps. She has no power over you, because she doesn’t control your mind.

And if you don’t believe in ghosts they can’t trick you. At the top of the staircase, James reached for the doorknob to push the door open so that he could cross the threshold and return to the main lobby. He sighed as he took another confident step. And if they can’t trick you they can’t hurt you.

Without warning the light went out as the door slammed shut, sealing James in the basement. He would have screamed, but ropes of black hair laced themselves around his throat, chest, arms, and legs.

Cackling laughter and green light flooded the room. The last thing James heard was a resounding snap and then everything grew cold. He couldn’t shiver. He couldn’t move.

In the morning all that could be found of James Kingsley was a plastic nametag lying on the floor near the circulation desk. Clemens didn’t know what to make of the situation until he saw the name on the computer screen.

Helen T. Grady.

Over the three decades Clemens worked at the library, he’d seen these letters arranged in other ways. He knew who she was. She was the same malignant blight that had haunted his library for all the years he’d lived in Sleepy Vale; she was The Green Lady.

The security guard sighed and looked around, no one else had arrived yet. He quickly deleted the name from the computer’s search box and walked to his office. There would be an investigation into what had happened to James Kingsley, but as always it would amount to nothing. It would be the same as all the others, no trace of him would ever be found. Clemens sighed and added the nametag to drawer that held two others. As always he had warned them about not working late, and that they should go home before night fall. But they never listened.

 

 

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