The Phantom Dancer
A True-life Paranormal Experience
This is based on a true account of what happened to me in late 1993. The names and places have been changed, but the events are real.
When I was still a student at art college, I was a member of a group that would find temporary jobs for students. It was December, and I was informed that there was work available in the quaint and picturesque town of Franschhoek in the Western Cape Province of South Africa.
Originally called ‘le Coin Français” (meaning ‘the French Corner’), Franschhoek was one of the first areas in South Africa to be settled by the French Huguenots, who were forced to flee France after King Louis XIV had outlawed Protestantism in 1685. These French settlers landed in the Cape of Good Hope, as it was called then, in 1688. Originally the area was inhabited by the Khoisan people, a race that is currently all but non-existent, except for those who are a mix of Khoisan and European descent, either French or Dutch.
The brief background being given, I will continue to tell the story: While I was working on the La Cotte farm - my job being to pick and sort yellow-cling peaches that had recently ripened in the orchards - I stayed in an old boarding house close to the town. The building itself was very old, still bearing signs of it having been built in the traditional Cape-Dutch style. In fact it used to be the home of the original owner’s brother, but was later used as a boarding house. It had been rebuilt twice, first in the mid 1930s, and again in the early 1950s. This fact will be seen to be significant later.
My room was somewhat more spacious than the others in the boarding house, and had a large wardrobe against the wall to the left of the bed. If I lay down, the door to the passage was in front of me, and a window with wooden shutters was on my right. Next to my room was the communal bathroom. The floor to my room was made of wood with a carpet that covered only the area around the bed and small table that was situated next to it. The view from the window was spectacular indeed, spanning the whole of the Franschhoek valley, while behind the house were the Franschhoek Mountains.
One night I had just gone to bed, and was in that state between sleep and wakefulness, when I was certain I saw a figure appearing right in front of me at the foot of the bed. It was of a young woman and she was dressed in a nightgown. Now, before I continue, one of the alterations made to the building in the 50s was that it was divided in two, so that the female tenants lived in one half and the males in the other, so the fact that this figure was female was the first thing that startled me. Secondly, she could not have entered the room through the door, as it was closed at the time and would creak quite loudly if anyone tried to open it.
As I watched, the figure performed a number of graceful pirouettes in front of me before seemingly disappearing again. Startled, I switched on the bedside light and went to check to see if there was anyone there. There was no-one, but the next morning I was sure I could see scuff marks on the floor where she would have been standing.
That night the same apparition appeared, and the whole sequence repeated itself. Strangely enough, I felt no fear, only an odd feeling of sadness, almost as if I pitied the young woman for some reason. Perhaps it was because I had not quite come to terms with the notion that this occurrence was not entirely natural.
The third night, it happened again, only this time there were a number of marked difference in the events: Firstly I was able to ascertain the direct from which the figure had emerged, and this was the first thing that puzzled me, because she seemed to come from the direction of my wardrobe instead of from the doorway. The second was that, instead of just disappearing like before, the phantom dancer appeared to fall to the floor as if in a faint. Once again this was further proved when, instead of there being distinctive foot marks on the polished wood the next morning, there was a larger somewhat blurred patch, as if someone had lain there.
Curious, I told the owner of the establishment about what I had experienced, and all she could say was that I was not the first person to have seen the dancer. Ms Du Toit then suggested: “Maybe it would be better if you asked one of the members of the previous owner’s family. Their surname was Duvenage. Old mevrou Duvenage lives in the ouetehuis at the far end of town. Maybe she will be able to help you.”
So I followed her advice, and went to see Ms Duvenage. She reminded me a lot of the picture on the Ouma rusks box. She wore her hair - which was almost white - in a tight bun at the back of her head and spectacles with round metal rims. She smiled warmly when I greeted her.
“Good afternoon young man.” She replied. “Sit - I’ll make us a cup of tea.”
I sat in a small wicker chair while the old lady busied herself preparing some tea for us. Once she had finished, I helped her carry the tray to where we were sitting. While she poured the tea into the cups, I came straight to the point and told her my tale. Halfway through, when I got to the second sighting of the phantom dancer, she looked up at me, a strange look in her eyes. Once I had finished, she nodded, and then related to me the following story:
In the early days, the room that I was staying in was more like a small flat than a boarding room, and the bathroom that was now communal used to be accessible to the tenant in that room via a door that was situated behind the wardrobe. This had been closed off when the boarding house was divided into the two wings. She said that, if one looked carefully enough behind the cupboard, one would be able to just make out the outline of the doorway.
In the mid 1950s, when missus Duvenage’s father was still the manager of the boarding house, a ballet dancer came to live in the flat. She was in her late 20s, and it was discovered that she had recently received the tragic news that she had lung cancer, which had become so serious that she was forced to give up her career as a dancer with CAPAC, the Cape Performing Arts Council. Dancing remained her passion, however, and she loved nothing more than to perform in front of a small crowd that gathered in one of the restaurants in the evenings. Alas, after a while, even that became too strenuous for her. Soon her performances were reduced to brief moments when she would dance for a short time in her room alone.
Then, having persisted with her routine for three nights in a row, the young dancer eventually collapsed to the floor, never to dance again. In those last three appearances, the regimen was the same: She would make her entrance from the bathroom, and then pirouette in the centre of the room before retiring to bed. Alas, on the last night, she did not even make it to her bed. Luckily someone heard her fall, and rushed to her room, only to find her lying motionless on the floor in the middle of her room. Before a doctor could come and attend to her, Miss Odette Simmons had already breathed her last.
Her body was taken back to Cape Town, and she was buried in the Eikendal cemetery near Gordons Bay, where her family lived. Many of the residents from the boarding house went to her funeral to pay their last respects.
“So that explains quite a few things.” I stated once the old lady had finished the tale, “Like why I saw her come from the side of the room where the wardrobe is now, as well as why I only witnessed the whole event for the last three days. But one thing still puzzles me: Why did I see her now at all?”
“Well now,” came the reply, “that is very interesting. You see, Miss Simmons died on the 23rd of December 1958. She was here for two and half years before she passed away.”
Then it dawned on me! Today was the 24th of December!
The paranormal is no less real than the physical world. Like so many aspects of our reality, it is often scoffed at and ridiculed by those who do not want to believe that it exists, merely because it does not fit in their neat model for what is real or what is fake.
About the Creator
I was born in Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe) and currently live in South Africa. From an early age, I seemed to have a knack for poetry. I have written a number of stories, poems, and several novels, ranging from fantasy to non fiction.
That’s so sad about the dancer and yet that had to have been a chilling experience to see her performance from beyond the grave