Tonight seemed the perfect night to talk to spirits, if Horatio believed the movies. It was just after midnight, and purple-blue fog obscured the full moon and cast a ghostly glow over the land and trees. Hooting owls echoed their chants from the woods on both sides of the narrow cobblestone drive where Horatio stood. The wet began to seep into his five-thousand dollar Don Adriano jacket. He stifled a shiver and continued down the lane. Finally, he reached the end of the road and stood before the black iron gate emblazoned with the rampant lion of the Dane family crest.
Frank’s severe voice drifted out from the guardhouse, barely louder than the hooting owls. “Who’s there?”
“A friend,” Horatio warbled elongated haunting notes back into the darkness.
“Is that you, Rato?” Frank wasn’t laughing. No surprise there, really.
Horatio stepped up to the camera and smiled. “Just his ghost—“
“You’re late.” Frank snapped.
After a moment he iron gates rattled and the door to the guardhouse popped open.
Horatio sauntered through the gate and into the small guardhouse. “Quiet watch tonight?”
Horatio took off his wet jacket, rolled it into a ball, and tossed it on the floor in the corner. Smiling, he wiped the moisture from his glasses with his shirt. “So you haven’t seen the thing again?”
“Well, that makes sense.” Horatio scoffed as he put his glasses back on. “There’s no such thing as ghosts. I bet you’re just not getting enough sleep.” He picked a half-finished airline bottle of vanilla vodka off the desk and raised an eyebrow. “Or else you’re drunk on baby liquor.”
“I’ve seen it every day this week.” Frank snapped, ripping the bottle away from Horatio and drinking the contents.
“It’s only Wednesday.”
“Just wait. It’ll show. I guarantee it.”
Chuckling, Horatio shook his head.
A heavy quiet as thick as the fog outside followed. Frank squinted, staring through both.
“You got any more?”
“Huh?” Frank turned his scowl to Horatio.
Horatio signed « alcohol ».
Frank raised an eyebrow.
“Booze, my friend. You really should learn some sign. The basics at least.”
Frank shook his head and opened a file cabinet. He pulled out another tiny bottle. “Since Ham’s been gone, it really hasn’t come up.” He tossed the bottle to Horatio.
“You know he just got back into town this afternoon.”
“I think maybe you’re going crazy, Frank. Too much sorority girl liquor.”
Horatio settled into the wooden chair at the back of the guardhouse and drank the vodka in a single shot. The vanilla vodka warmth settled into his stomach. He leaned back with a smile and a sigh.
“You know, Bernie saw it, too. Last week when he covered my shift. He said he saw a bright green light in the west.”
“I went to Arden with Bernie since middle school. He used to say he couldn’t join the lacrosse team because he was too busy playing polo. The guy couldn’t join cause he was on a scholarship. He’s F.O.S. You shouldn’t indulge—“
“Shut up.” Frank urged in an even more severe tone than Horatio thought was possible. “Get over here.”
Begrudgingly, Horatio roused himself from the surprisingly comfortable wooden chair and walked to the observation window.
“Oh my god, Frank! Look! It’s fog! And more fog! Wow!”
Frank danced into his coat and tossed on his scarf. “Come on.” He pushed past Horatio and went out the door.
“Dude, for real. This is getting silly.”
“Why did you even come out here, Rato? Huh? If you don’t want to see him? If you don’t believe, you could have stayed home.” He didn’t even look at Horatio as he jogged out the door.
“Fine. Show me.” Horatio followed Frank outside. He immediately regretted leaving his jacket on the gatehouse floor.
“Stop here, Rato.” Frank stopped Horatio about ten feet from the gate and took off his scarf. “I don’t think we should get too close.”
He handed the scarf to Horatio.
“Thanks.” He wrapped it around his ears and neck and looked out into the cloud-covered night. “What am I supposed to be looking at, Frank?”
“Ten o’clock. To the west. Toward the family plots.”
Horatio squinted in that direction. It was just fog. Swirling yellow and green glowing fog about fifty feet away.
“Fog, Frank. Seriously.”
The owls fell silent.
Yellow and green?
Horatio rubbed the moisture off his glasses with Frank’s scarf and refocused.
Yes. It was yellow and green.
From the cloudy swirl emerged a vaguely man-shaped figure.
“Very funny, Frank.” Horatio chuckled.
Frank said nothing.
“Bernie! Welcome to the party! Frank’s got lady booze!” Horatio shouted. “How are you doing that glowing thing?”
Bernie didn’t answer.
Horatio turned to Frank. “How’s he doing that?”
Frank gawked, unblinking as Bernie steadily slid closer to the gate.
Frank was a terrible actor. Commitment to a prank was not something Frank was particularly known for. In fact, Horatio couldn’t remember a time where Frank had ever even made a joke. Unless maybe his whole existence was some elaborate farce.
The obscured person stood maybe twenty feet away now.
The clouds parted.
This glowing, green, gliding figure came into focus. It was too imposing to be short and scrawny Bernie. It must have been over six feet tall with shoulders half as wide. Its tuxedo tails faded to mist behind him.
“Holy f— fog.” Horatio exhaled a puff of curling vapour as he took a step toward the gate. “Who are you?”
The figure stopped its advance.
Despite Frank’s scarf, Horatio’s ears burned in the cold. The hair on Horatio’s bare arms stood on end.
“I command you—,” half-mocking fear cracked Horatio’s voice. “For real. Say something!”
Yellow-green light flashed in a hundred branching lightning bolts. Then steadily the figure in the distance became smaller and dimmer until it looked more like a dying firefly than a man.
The owls simultaneously took up their songs again, and the clouds dissipated. He and Frank stood alone under a full moon and a starry sky.
“He won’t talk to me either, Rato.”
Horatio pretended to listen to the owls for a moment as he searched for his voice. “It looked like Mr. Danes.”
“But Mr. Danes is dead.”
Frank nodded again and walked back into the gatehouse.
“Will it be back?” Horatio asked, unable to move.
“Not tonight.” Frank called back from inside the tiny building.
“What—“ Horatio cleared his throat. “What does it want?”
“If I knew, I would have taken care of it myself. He won’t talk to any of us. Not me, not Bernie, not Mark.”
“You think it’ll talk to Ham?”
“That’s actually why I asked you to come. We don’t really know Hamilton well enough to ask him.” Horatio’s jacket smacked him in the side of the head and landed on the ground at his feet.
He turned and glared at Frank, who stood expressionless in the doorway. He picked up his jacket and shook it out. It was buttoned up before he realised he was no longer cold. “You mean, you don’t like talking to the deaf guy.”
Frank didn’t say anything, but Horatio saw shame in his eyes.
“No worries, Frankie.” Horatio snarled. “Are you on duty tomorrow?”
“I’ll bring him by.”
“Don’t be late. And bring your own—“ Frank paused and fumbled with his hands until he signed « deaf school ».
Horatio’s chuckle got lost somewhere between his heart and his head.
« Alcohol » Horatio showed the correct sign with a sigh and a shake of his head. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe you shouldn’t bother with it.”
Neither of them spoke for a moment. Horatio studied the spot where the ghost of Mr. Danes had stood only a few minutes ago. He shuddered.
“You gonna let me out?”
The gates buzzed and rattled open. Horatio strode forward down the driveway, giving the spirit’s area a wide clearance. He walked down the lane to his waiting car, all the while wondering if he would sleep tonight.