Dancer’s Ghosts

Apprehension slithered down Dave’s spine when Dancer shuffled through the main entrance of the Gallery.  He watched the middle-aged Walker execute the odd, box-step-rave-moves that had earned him his street name while his dark, sunken eyes peered closely at each photo he passed, bending his painfully slender frame up and down to view all of them, not just the ones at eye-level.  Dancer’s thick, well worn, brown canvas jacket whispered against itself as he moved and for a second Dave was thankful that it wasn’t one of those thin, slicker types that skritched loudly from just breathing.  Dancer’s head was encased in what looked like at least three knitted hats, a brown one on top covered what looked like a red one over the top of a very thin looking hunter orange hat with a stiff, short bill.  Dave  had a match to the orange one tossed in the trunk of his Honda.  Pretty much everyone who lived this far north had one of those hats.  When he had broke down and bought his from the Quick-Stop gas station by the highway he had laughed about it all the way home because it had felt like he was conforming.  Right that minute though he wrestled a little with having common ground with the worn out man who was dancing his way through his photo shop in eighty degree heat dressed for winter weather.

This was not the first time one of the Walkers had entered The Gallery.  Normally they just stepped inside and tried to chat with him for a few minutes, trying to cool off from the summer heat or warm up from the winter chill.  Dave didn’t begrudge them the comfort.  In a big city these Walkers would be living under viaducts and in alleys or homeless shelters.  Here they had roofs over their heads, a few dollars in their pockets and the freedom to walk back and forth through town as much as they wanted without being harassed by law enforcement.  Trying to remain calm Dave forced himself to stay seated and just watch as Dancer inspected every last photograph.

The man hadn’t looked at him yet or made any sort of greeting or gesture to indicate acknowledgement of Dave’s presence, he just danced slowly along the walls, his hands flowing in fairly graceful movements around his chest and waist as if he were free dancing with glow sticks laced through his fingers.  As he travelled closer to the register Dave became aware of the oily sheen on Dancer’s face, the slept-on look of his week’s worth of whiskers, and the general smell of neglect that hovered around him.  In an uncharacteristic moment of self-consciousness he looked down at his own clothing, faded jeans on their third day and a black t-shirt with the red logo of his favorite OHL team cracking away into antiquity on the front, and wondered how he smelled?  A glance at his reflection in the nearest photo confirmed what he knew, his brown hair was a bit spiky and he needed a shave.  He raised a hand to scratch nervously at his neck stubble.

All dancing stopped as Dancer abruptly focused on a photograph.  Moving to a mere inch away from the frame he breathed slowly onto the photo, his breath clouding against the glass in small puffs.  Dave tightened his jaw as Dancer raised a hand rose and pointed a grubby finger directly at the photo, almost touching it but not quite.

“You shouldn’t photograph ghosts.”

Dave blinked dumbly for a second.  If he had to guess he would have estimated Dancer to be in his late fifties at least.  The man was darkened and lined from near constant exposure to the elements.  That his voice was so clear and, well, young sounding, was a genuine surprise.

“They don’t like it.”

Every photograph on the wall was a piece of Dave’s life.  He had taken them all, sometimes hiking for miles with his equipment to reach a specific spot in weather didn’t always cooperate.  The photo shivering beneath Dancer’s finger was a light house about an hour and a half drive north from here.  It was pretty famous in it’s own right as all ships entering or leaving Lake Superior had to pass it.  Dancer stood frozen, all his attention focused on the photograph.

“I’m sorry?”  Dave had intended this to be a question.  Whatever Dancer was implying had passed right over his head.  He had never been a true believer of ghost stories and campfire tales.

“You should be.”  The hovering finger began to swirl slowly at first then faster as it built momentum, sending tremors back through the slim arm which then joined the movement.  In less than a minute Dancer was back in full motion, box-stepping his way toward the door.  “Ghosts have a right to privacy.”  He shuffled out the door and moved north along the sidewalk.

Goosebumps erupted over Dave’s arms and neck.  He stood still for several moments trying to make sense of Dancer’s words.  This area was full of stories about ghosts and he knew the lighthouse had a history.  Quite frankly he could understand how those stories got started, especially when the fog rolled in on stormy nights.  The photograph though?  A shiver ran through him as he stepped from behind the register and moved toward it, telling himself he was just checking for fingerprints on the glass.  He may have actually believed himself had he bothered to bring long a rag.