This story comes from a place much closer to home than my previous one and is one that has always captured my imagination. I’m not usually one for ghost stories, but there’s something special about the ghosts in your back yard. Below is a short story about the Ghost Bride that resides in the Banff Springs Hotel. Cover image courtesy of: https://www.avenuecalgary.com/city-life/the-ghosts-of-fairmont-banff-springs/ all other photographs were taken by yours truly.
Wispy clouds shroud the peak of Mount Rundle, creating a veil over the mountain’s cliff face. The scene is framed beautifully in the large, arched picture windows of the ballroom. Snow dusts the stonework and sparkles like diamonds in the noon day sun. White clouds, white snow, white dress.
I can hear the guests settling and the important players getting into position. Today has been orchestrated down to the last dust mote and we all move about like clockwork dancers. Standing still in front of the frosted glass, I allow my mind to go blank as my maid of honor adjusts a seam here, settles a pleat there. Last to donn is the veil.
She has been nattering away to me for the past twenty minutes, but I tuned her out after the third time she mentioned the correct pace at which to walk down the aisle.
“Not too fast, savor the moment, dear, but not too slow, we don’t want Aunt Daphne falling asleep”
Sage piece of advice, although one only requiring a single mention.
Breathe in, breathe out.
If only this second, this day, this feeling could last forever.
I shut my eyes as though to capture the moment; to place it in a snow globe where the only thing to change is the way the little snowflakes fall. The window of the castle becomes the glass dome and I see myself, now tiny and static, in the hands of a little girl. My white dress shines through the little window as she shakes the scene again and again. Snowflakes drift around the turrets and land peacefully in the grounds. She could place me on her nightstand and I would look out of the castle window forever. But already I can feel the seconds ticking by. Sand in an unforgiving hourglass. My traitorous heart counting down life’s beats.
The veil is lifted and settles around my shoulders. I glimpse my reflection in the glass. A pale, ghostly reflection of the girl I will never be again. The sheer, delicate fabric floats down over my face. Now the mountain and I have something in common.
Such a simple garment, an ephemeral piece of fabric. Yet it marks a divide. The next time it is lifted, I shall have a different name. A different identity. Wife. No longer a Miss but a Ms. Somehow I expected the veil to be heavier because of this, but it is as light as gossamer. It floats about me like Rundle’s cloud.
Finally, and all too soon, I am ready. The women in my orbit now step into formation. In single file, they pass beneath the crystal chandelier- did they not pause to look up even once?– to the top of the marble staircase.
Candlelight flickers and casts warm shadows on the wall as the ladies descend. For a moment, I am convinced the cheery light belongs to tiny fairies lining the edge of the smooth marble steps. Members of the Seelie Court awaiting their Queen to descend and marry their King.
I take a few more steps to the top of the staircase and feel a snag. My train, much longer than I had requested, caught for a moment on an uneven section of floor. A tug and it is free, another moment comes and goes too quickly.
One step, then another.
I see my father waiting for me at the base of the stairs. His face, aglow with candlelight and pride, shines like a lighthouse on a dark night. He will guide me to the harbour of my husband. Husband. How strange that word sounds in my ears now. I suppose soon it will sound as common as a sigh.
Left foot, right foot.
I feel the fabric of my gown slide down each step just a moment behind my footfalls. A pure white shadow keeping pace. The music floats towards me from the room below, and I feel the strings reverberate in my heart.
Suddenly, the light from the candles is all too much. I can feel their heat intensify. Their warm glow becomes an oppressive inferno. All at once the moments speed up and rush past me out of control.
My father’s face contorts in horror. He races to reach me, but is running through molasses. My bridesmaids turn and shriek, but can do nothing more than stare. Their eyes wide, flames reflected within. I have become a being of light. Pain licks up my limbs. My train, a phoenix’s tail.
I claw at the dress to rip myself free. Charred lace and silk comes off in my hands, but still I am bound within this nightmare chrysalis. The steps beneath my feet rearrange and disappear from where I had left them. I feel myself teeter, my arms flail for purchase as I stumble blindly into the void. The veil ignites next and my vision becomes a kaleidoscope of searing, flickering light.
Then I am falling, tumbling, crashing to the cold marble below. A fallen star snuffed out. I don’t recall landing. I don’t recall who extinguished the fire. I don’t even recall if I concluded my life’s story with a final word, or where exactly my last breath fell. But I do remember, all at once, the pain stopped. My breath stopped. Everything just… stopped.
Now, my dress shines the purest white. Forever perfect, untouched by the ravages of time. My train never catches on uneven sections of floor. I have the leisure to look up and admire the crystal chandelier for as long as I wish. For time is all I have. I peer out of my snow globe and watch the snowflakes fall in different patterns around me; watch the people scurry to and fro in different patterns around me; watch the sun rise and set and the moon follow suit around me. My moment is frozen, now and forever. On the edge of Miss and Ms. My veil is ever-unlifted. As unchanging as the mountain my window overlooks; something else we have in common.
I’ve watched a century’s worth of brides become wives within these walls. Some even descend my staircase. There is a handrail now, and most will avoid using open flames. I expect I’ll be here to watch a century’s more walk down the aisle. The least I can do is smooth their trains and settle their veils; I try not to take it personally when they shudder at my touch. Since the flames, I’ve not been able to warm myself. If I’m feeling bold, I will walk beside them a ways. I see their brows furrow and some turn sharply if I hover too near. I don’t mean to unnerve them on their special day, but a bit of unease might make them cautious. Accidents happen. And I know I would have liked someone beside me at the end. I never walk them to their groom. I do not even stay to watch as he turns to greet her. For that is their journey to make, not mine.
Pictures taken by me on November 11, 2020 during one of many visits to the Banff Springs Hotel