It was the conclusion that many people had reached. The facts were all there, if you knew where to look. There was the photos of Hanson that appeared last month's "Teen Beat" and "16". Taylor had his back to the camera in all the photos, except one. In that one, Taylor appeared waaaayyy in the background, shoes off and dressed all in white, a dove flying from his hand. Did you know that if you play their new song, "Ever Lonely" backwards, you can almost make out Zac saying "Tay's no more?" Then, there was all the postings on the internet, reporting that Tay had died. He was killed while driving the tour bus on the first day he got his license, or the one about how he ate cookies sent to him by a fan, never knowing that they contained honey. Any true fan knows that Taylor was allergic to honey, at least that's what one person wrote.
Most people ignored the rumors at first, believing that they were created by Hanson haters or cranks, but there were so many of them. Maybe they were true. Perhaps Taylor had died, and the record label wanted to find a way to break it to the fans or the media was giving the Hansons some private time to mourn before breaking the news. Yep, the facts were there, Taylor Hanson was dead.
"Being dead, sucks!" Taylor yelled at the top of his lungs.
"Taylor, come on. Calm down. It's only until tonight!" Isaac answered. "This'll be the best promotion yet! I'm glad that we thought of it! Zac, are you ready for the concert tonight? There's going to be tons of press here for the big announcement."
"Yeah, yeah yeah. Why don't you calm down, Ike!" Zac answered. "I'm with Taylor. It's Halloween, and we're stuck performing in some haunted house!"
The van swerved and Zac rolled from his seat into Ike. Isaac didn't flinch, his mind was on the concert tonight.
"At least you two get to go out and stuff," Taylor said, "When Pepsi came to us with this 'Where's Hanson Now' contest I didn't know that it would mean making some people think I had died. The whole thing weirds me out!"
"Boys, boys, no quarreling." Mr. Kimball said as he turned from the front passenger seat, "This is a perfectly good promotion. Worked back in the '60's with the Beatles and it's working splendidly for you three as well. Why, it's got all the young girls talking. Everyone is wondering if something horrible has happened to you, Taylor. And, tonight is the big finale. Everyone has been collecting and saving their Pepsi bottle caps to get clues on where to find Hanson. The first 500 who guessed that you were in a haunted house here in Maine, won tickets to see you perform tonight. After we drop you off there, Taylor, your brothers and I will attend a press conference to announce the winners. A Halloween concert in a real honest to goodness haunted house. It will be unique!"
"Ok, Kimball, if you say so," said Zac. "Hey, Tay, have fun waiting for us in the haunted house, all alone. It's creepy! Bet it will feel like eyes are staring at you. Taylor, I vant to suck your bloooood. Ewwwww!"
At least Ike was excited. Halloween means trick or treating to little kids, but to guys like him, it meant parties. There were going to be lots of girls here tonight, and a party after they finished playing. At this year's party he and his brothers were the guests of honor. Ike was extra careful to look his best. That's what Ike thought about. His first priority was the band, his second was girls.
Taylor on the other hand, wasn't too thrilled. It was bad enough traveling from town to town, sleeping in a different hotel room every night. Now, he had to pretend to be dead. He hadn't been out in public for three weeks. It was all part of a publicity scheme Ike and the managers dreamed up. Ike knew that fans would freak if Taylor was thought to be dead so, they've been dropping all sorts of clues. The entertainment news reporters had been speculating on it for days now. Tonight, not only would all the press be here, but Taylor would make his appearance, quieting down all the upset fans.
Still, Taylor was going stir crazy.
The van pulled up to a stop in front of a house. The house sat on top of a hill, overlooking the city like a giant vulture on a cliff, poised and waiting. The path to the front was partially obscured by large trees, blocking out most of the cool October sun.
"And, here we are. Out you go, Taylor," said Mr. Kimball. "Gaffers and grips have been here all morning setting up for you, but they should be quite finished by now. The band equipment and stage is ready and we shall return from the press conference in roughly one hour.
As the van pulled away, Zac leaned out of the window and yelled, "Tay, don't let the ghosts get you. Dare you to do a 'Bloody Mary' in there."
Maybe he really was just bored, or it was the allure of being in what everyone was calling a "real haunted house" but Taylor decided to test out the spirits by taking up Zac's dare.
You know how it is when you are surrounded by people and yet you feel completely alone? That's how Taylor felt. He'd been trapped inside for three weeks, while outside life went on. People came and went, Ike had his soundchecks and rehearsals. Zac had a friend in from out of town, but Taylor had nothing. He felt like a ghost himself.
Taylor opened the iron gate, it swung easily on its hinges, demonstrating that the crew must have been here earlier. Perhaps all of this was just set dressing after all. He adjusted his sweater, to warm him after a sudden chill, tugging it closer to his tight shirt and started up the long driveway to the house. The trees kept most of the light out, giving the walk a dark, ominous look. A bird flew past him, and he jumped. "Oh stop it," he told his imagination. It's just a house for cryin' out loud."
Just a house. yes, that was true enough. But how strange that he would choose the phrase "for crying out loud," Crying was one of many strange sounds rumored to come from the mansion.
"What am I doing? Talk about acting stupid, here I am doing some spastic dance in broad daylight like an idiot!" Blushing from embarrassment, he glanced around to see if someone was watching him. Thankfully, he was alone.
"It is haunted you know"
Taylor jumped again about three feet, and turned to see a girl of about 16 years old. She wore a Catholic school uniform, her long reddish brown hair framed her white face.
"Jesus, you scared me! Who are you?"
"My name is Gloria. I ummm, know people who own this house. The real question is who are you? More importantly, why aren't you dead?"
"Long story," said Taylor.
"You know, playing dead isn't a good idea. All any spirit wants is to be alive, to feel again, to taste or to smell life. You're lucky some jealous ghost doesn't want to get revenge on a boy who wants to play dead."
"It wasn't my idea."
Taylor explained to Gloria, or Glo as she asked Taylor to call her, the whole story right up until the part where Zac dared him to try to summon up a ghost by staring into the mirror and calling out, "Bloody Mary"
"You don't mind if I stay, do you?" Glo asked. "You can't imagine how much it upset me to hear that you had died. I thought I had missed my chance. Knowing that you are ok makes things much better for me."
"No, I don't mind," said Taylor, "I could use the company." Taylor was really sort of glad to see someone, and Glo was awfully cute. He pointed to the girl's Catholic school dress. "Nice outfit by the way."
"Thanks, I like it. Everyone wears it at my school. The navy blue jumper dresses over white blouses and sky blue bow ties, with knee socks and saddle shoes, marching two by two into school in the morning. People say, 'bet you hate it, all that Catholic school stuff, all that regimentation, all that praying, those uniforms.' Yeah sure, all of it except the uniforms, I secretly loved the uniforms even while I pretended to hate them. When you flock kids in identical uniforms, you couldn't tell who was who. Cookie cutter world."
"It sounds nice to me. I've never been to a real school before. My brothers and I are home schooled. You can't get away with much that way. I bet it's nice to be around so many other kids your own age."
They pair walked up the front steps. Taylor produced a key, but Glo had already opened the door.
"Told you, I know people who used to live here."
Glo was amazed at the work that had gone into the old place. A stage had been set up in the large conservatory. There was only minimal power in the house now. Still, the sun showed through the slats in the windows. Most of the actual dirt and cobwebs had been cleared away, and replaced by synthetic Hollywood dirt and cobwebs. The house still sort of spooked Taylor.
"So, what should we do until all the other people arrive? Don't you have a dare to perform, Taylor? There's a mirror right over there under that black drape."
Taylor honestly didn't want to, even though he knew most of this house was just set design. "You're imagining things," he thought to himself slowly, "You've been acting like a weird all day, you know. You pride yourself on being practical, and here you are scaring yourself silly by believing all those dumb stories. Glo will never like you if you act like some scaredy cat."
"Man, this house is spooky" he said. Taylor walked to the end of the hall. A black drape hung on the wall covered something close to the size of a painting, but it was in fact a mirror. The "Bloody Mary" mirror Zac and now Glo had dared him to look into. He lit the candles on the table in front of it.
"Zac thinks that I'm too chicken to do this?" Taylor found himself reaching for the black drape even while fearing what might be behind it. A quick flick of his wrist and the drape dropped to the floor. He became even more nervous.
Taylor gazed into the mirror for a minute. He sprinkled it with water, from the waterbottle in his bag, and quietly said "Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary."
Nothing. Even in a haunted house he was bored! Taylor gazed into it for a minute, then noticed that another set of eyes were looking back at him. It was a little girl, about 8 years old, with a jump rope. Oh, and he could see through her....SEE THROUGH HER?!
He could hear the girl's far away voice singing as she jumped rope, "Taylor, Taylor, see you later, don't forget the red hot peppers."
Taylor screamed when he saw that...thing. Still screaming, he whirled around - to find nothing there. Nothing was behind him except the empty hallway. His scream faded to a feeble whimper. Slowly, not daring to breathe, he glanced back at the mirror. The empty reverse of the hallway reflected back, party obscured by his own terror-stricken face.
"Glo, did you see that?"
"Yeah, I did Taylor. Do it again."
"Are you crazy?! No way!"
"Come on, ghosts aren't as scary as you think. I think it's actually kind of sad. Most of the happier spirits move on. They don't just hang around. Only the ones with some sort of unfinished business stay. I mean, really, would you hang around a place where you can't eat, can't sleep, can't do much of anything except want for some unfulfilled desire to come true?"
"Why me? Why us? There were workers here before, why is it that we can see it?" asked Taylor.
"Us? I think she's appearing for you. I think that spirits prefer to operate when young children or teenagers are present. We have less expectations from reality. Plus, they appear to artistic people more often. You're the songwriter. Maybe it's all that "being dead" play acting that has brought you closer to the other side. Come on, try it again. Maybe we can help that one pass over."
It was the way that Glo said it that made him do it. She actually seemed to feel sorry for the ghost, and it didn't really seem to want to hurt him. Taylor threw a bit more water on the mirror and again said, "Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary."
The little girl appeared again. She started jumping with her jump rope and singing, "Taylor, Taylor, see you later. Don't forget the red hot peppers."
Taylor turned and backed away a step. Glo was right beside him Taylor took Glo's hand, either from nervousness or because of a need to protect his new friend. Even he wasn't sure which.
"You, you know my name?" he asked.
The spirit kept on jumping.
"What's wrong, honey? Why are you here?" Glo asked.
"I....I fell down in the street jumping rope. Mom told me to always look both ways, but I didn't. There was a car..... Now Mom's gonna be mad." The little girl let go of her jump rope and started to sobbing. She dropped to the floor. "I can't let her see me like this. Look at my knee."
Taylor backed away when he saw the little girl's leg. A huge, bloody wound appeared. Glo released his hand and stepped forward. Taylor called to her, and grabbed at her, but Glo couldn't be held back. She knelt to comfort the girl.
"It's ok. Here, I'll help you clean up," said Glo as she removed the blue silk tie from her neck and started wiping at the ghost's knee. The blood shimmered and faded away.
Taylor was touched by Glo's compassion for the...monstrosity. Glo hugged the girl, unaffected by her present state. She just knelt there in the middle of the room and sang.
"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are gray. You'll never know, dear, how much I love you. Oh please don't take my sunshine away."
It was just some dumb song but Taylor had never heard anything like that before. She didn't just have a voice, she HAD a voice, she had THE VOICE. In two seconds, he had forgotten what a strange thing it was for her to be singing to a dead girl. He was just glad she'd done it, that he could hear it. After she finished, he was going to make some weak joke, except when she was through he couldn't say a word.
"There, there, honey. Don't cry," Glo said, "I am sure that you Mother just wants to see you no matter if your knee is cut. I'll let you have my tie. See how nice it looks on your knee. She won't notice it at all."
Glo helped the little girl to stand, then stepped away. The tiny smiling ghost faded away.
"Gloria, that was amazing! I've never seen anything like that! And, your voice is incredible."
Glo turned to look into Taylor's eyes. She saw the love there that she had wanted to see for so long. Gloria began crying, but her tears didn't fall. They shimmered and rose to float around her.
"Taylor Hanson, I love you." she said. "There, that was my unfinished business." With that, Gloria started to fade just a bit.
"Glo, what's going on? What's wrong?"
"Taylor, I.... I died. When I was alive, I was your biggest fan. I watched you on TV. I listened to your songs. I read all of your interviews, but it went beyond t hat. I tried to understand you as a person, not just as some teen idol. I wanted to figure out how you felt, what made you happy, everything. I knew that if I ever got the chance, I could make you like me. I died wanting to tell you how much I loved you."
Each time Glo said those words, she faded a little more. The tears floated and pooled around her head, the light refracting through them.
"Gloria, I.... I love you too. You have an amazing voice, and you showed such compassion even when I was freaking out. Don't go, please. You say that you know so much about me, and I just want to learn more about you."
Glo's answered, "I have to go, Taylor. They're calling me. But, we'll see each other again. I promise. Just don't rush to join me. Don't joke around about being dead. Taste the foods that I will never get to taste, see the places that I won't get to see, feel the sun on your face, and keep singing those songs that I love to hear. You can tell me all about it when we're together again."
"Gloria, please I love you."
"I lov... No, I can't say it again. I'm almost gone. Let's just say that I'll see you later, ok? Don't forget the red hot peppers. I'll keep your part of the cloud warm for you. I love you."
With that, she was gone.
Darkness. Taylor didn't know how long he stood there just staring at section of the floor where Glo once was. It was as if he thought that if he stared at it long enough he could will her to come back to him.
Ike and the others joined him and, much later they heard the sounds of 500 screaming fans, but Taylor only wanted for one. He went through the motions up on stage in front of the crowd.
"Taylor, shape up. Earth to Taylor! Come on, we're dying up here," Ike said under his breath.
Taylor remembered Glo's request that he keep singing the songs that she loved to hear. He told Ike the song that he wanted to play. Although Ike protested that it was not part of the playlist tonight, Taylor was insistent.
"I would like to dedicate this song to Gloria. One fan who tried to understand me. Although the flesh is gone, I'll feel you beside me for all time," said Taylor.
"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You'll never know dear, how much I love you. Oh, please don't take my sunshine away."