There was a line of six photographs laid out on the table. Each one showed the front of Oliver’s house, dimly lit by a post-sunset sky and streetlight on the far side of a tree. The position of the camera was the same in all, as was the colour of the sky, suggesting without need to refer to the timestamps in the lower right corners of each that each was taken in quick succession.
Oliver gave them a cursory glance, then looked across the table at the young couple who had brought them. If not for the current circumstance, he thought he would think well of them, because they seemed pleasant enough. They were polite, well-spoken, and their visible tattoos were interesting rather than shocking. The letter they had left in his mailbox was, some modern failures of punctuation aside, entirely unthreatening. He realized only now it had been a mistake to even respond to it.
“It appears that this investigation of yours is already underway,” he said, with a coolness that seemed to strike home. Both his visitors blushed, and he almost forgave them.
“We thought…” said Will, the taller of the two, before having to clear his throat. He was all in black, from hair to shoes, and Oliver marked him as a goth, although either non-confrontational or under-committed. “We thought, since we were dropping off the letter, we’d…”
“Take advantage of being here.” Oliver said the first two words with careful emphasis, drawing another blush. “I’m sorry, but I really do think you’re wasting your time here.”
“Mr. Whitlaw, please.” Aurora was much less thematic. Oliver couldn’t decide if she was affecting professional dress or if she had simply come directly from some kind of higher-end retail job. “We just want to look into the stories about your house.”
“Those stories are outdated,” he said. “I have lived here almost thirty years, and never run into anything upsetting.”
“But…” Will pointed to the odd-one-out of the six shots, fourth in the series. In one of the dark upstairs windows, there was a slim pale figure, face as white as the torso. The head had no features but for a pair of great dark eyes, which seemed to be melting down toward the neck. “That’s definitely something.”
“A reflection from something on the other side of the street, maybe?” Oliver shrugged.
“But then why is it only in that one shot,” Aurora asked. “Look at the timestamps– there’s only a tenth of a second between the shots.”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged again. “Perhaps it’s something in your camera, rather than my house.”
That made them look at each other. Before either had a chance to get their feet back under them, he pressed on. “Look, you said in your letter you wanted to do an interview. Let’s go through your questions, and I’m sure you’ll be satisfied that your time will be better spent looking for hauntings in a livelier place.”
An hour later, Aurora and Will were stepping through the front door, thanking Oliver for his time. He bid them a polite good evening, while inwardly shouting and don’t come back! When they were off the porch, he turned out the light in the foyer, then stood and watched them, concealed by the sheer across the little window in the door and the glare of the porch light. They crossed to a small car, and drove away moments after climbing in. No more pictures taken.
Oliver went upstairs, shaking his head. He had heard the stories about the house from the neighbours when he and Ellen had moved in. Those stories had become cross-fence jokes during barbecue season, and had dropped entirely after the car accident. Perhaps, with the intrepid Aurora and Will seen off, their questions about cold spots and unexpected noises all answered in the negative, he would hear no more about those long-ago spectral tales.
He paused at the front bedroom, the one he and Ellen had always called the spare. He took a deep breath, partially because he was getting old and stairs were not getting easier, and partially because he hadn’t remembered to sigh with relief when his visitors drove off. He tapped at the door, then opened it just a crack.
“They’re gone,” he said. “I won’t be having them back.”
From somewhere in the darkness of the spare room, an echo of his sigh drifted.
“Inktober 2019 – Ghost” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.