Another great Flash Fiction Ghost Story semifinalist! This comes to us from Stuart Mammel in Madison, WI.
He’d been soaked to the skin by morning rains on his way from the hostel to the station, and lost a new companion in his rush; but he’d made the train. And now he sat with only his heavy backpack, tired, damp, and alone, on the steps overlooking a massive, crowded plaza in this ancient city by the sea. Traveling by himself had been a poor choice. He felt utterly invisible as the throngs of tourists rushed past him. There’s not one who’d notice if I vanished from the earth, he thought. Despair and self-pity overcame him. What should’ve mattered most was this new adventure; but since he’d arrived, the notion that he’d become a kind of ghost now gnawed at him bitterly.
Along the edge of the plaza were many open air cafes, and soon he noticed a pair of elderly women occupying a table at one nearby, staring kindly in his direction. He looked over his shoulder; but looking back again, he noticed the younger of the two gently shaking her head, rising from the table, and walking towards him.
“Are you all alone, poor darling? Yes, of course you are. You look so forlorn! Why don’t you come over and join my sister and me for a pot of tea? That will improve your spirits, won’t it?” This gesture was so unexpectedly generous, it took an effort for him to restrain tears. He shouldered his pack, and sheepishly followed his new benefactor.
In a few steps they arrived at the table. He quickly let go of all reticence and sank into a proffered chair. A waiter was called over, and a cup of steaming tea set before him. He drank it quickly, greedily; it was comforting and rejuvenating. After a moment of enjoying this solace, he studied his newfound friends.
They were both trim and neat, but old-fashioned in their dress. He guessed the first was in her mid-sixties, and her sister slightly older. They possessed a charming, lively energy; and as they shared pleasantries with him, he found them a intriguing, if eccentric, pair. He’d have fallen completely for them if it hadn’t been for the dolls. There was an extra chair at the table holding within it a cluster of odd, withered-looking dolls.
“Ah, I see you’ve noticed our children!”, the elder sister said. “Yes, all sad ragamuffins, I’m afraid! But don’t be too hard on them. You must understand; they’re lost souls. And we take in every stray we meet. We’re collectors, you see; and they’d have no one, if it wasn’t for us.” He smiled politely at this, thought it a little bizarre, and took another long sip from his cup.
This strange meeting and the tea were just what he needed. He felt his spirit lifting. Indeed, a euphoria swept over him, and he heard himself laugh loudly, peculiarly. The sisters grinned at one another.
The teacup was empty now, and he felt suddenly dizzy. Hoping to reorient himself, he looked about the table. He saw then a doll’s mouth move. It uttered the quiet and unmistakable word: “HELP!”
He became rigid and covered in sweat. The sisters had stopped speaking, and stared intently, hungrily, at him. “Don’t fight the tea, little lamb! No one will notice but us now anyway. Oh, we’re going to take such good care of you! You’ll never be alone again. Isn’t that lovely?” He heard himself laughing, uncontrollably now, as the table rose up and the sisters grew huge above him.