Hamilton leaned against the wall in the corner of the grand ballroom and watched Elsinore’s elite spin around each other in a flurry of silk skirts and coat tails. Masked faces hid silent laughter and smiling eyes.
Every Friday night, the Danes family held a party fit for royalty. Usually they assigned some kind of theme. Last week was a wedding reception. The week before that, a wake. This week, a masked ball. What a disgrace.
Hamilton didn’t wear a mask. What was the point? His own smile was hidden somewhere behind the stone wall around his soul. He finished his glass of wine in a single shot.
Blessedly, Ophélie returned with two full glasses of red. She handed one to Hamilton and held her own in front of herself.
With one hand, she spelled «C H E E R S.» Her hand bounced around as her handshapes changed, but she no longer had to stop and think in between letters. Her signing was getting much better.
In the French fashion, Hamilton looked her in the eyes and tapped his glass against hers. Her miles-deep brown eyes smiled back. He took a sip, and laughed. She had brought him the good stuff this time. Some of Klaus’s personal stock. Fruity with a hint of vanilla. Delicious. He fought the urge to down it in one giant swig. This wasn’t the time to get drunk.
«Dance?» Ophélie smiled at him as her two fingers swayed back and forth over her glass of wine.
Hamilton didn’t respond. A flash of light touched Ophélie’s face. Green flecks in her brown eyes glowed under the pink and green eyeshadow. Her beauty paralysed him, but Hamilton wished he could see her true face. He wished she didn’t feel the need to wear a mask too.
She had her hair covered tonight. Hamilton had only seen her in a headscarf a few times. Usually during holidays. He wasn’t aware of any such celebrations tonight.
He liked her scarf. It was green with silver woven in. She had it pinned with a brooch that dripped diamonds down the side of her head. She looked royal.
«Dance? Signed wrong?» Her fist with extended thumb and pinky tapped her chin twice.
«No. I’m just distracted.» Hamilton shook his head.
«Why?» Narrowing her eyes and clenching her jaw, she placed her glass of wine on the table to her left. «Why be distracted when I’m with you?»
«You’re beautiful. » Hamilton smiled. «Your eyes. When the light hits them just right, little bits of green glow like stars.»
«Stars aren’t green.»
«Yours are.» He shrugged.
She smirked. The diamonds on her brooch jiggled with a dismissive shake of her head. «F L A T T E R Y will get you nowhere.»
Pride swelled in Hamilton’s chest. Her signing was improving. Just a week ago, her hands moved as if to reinvent the wheel between each word. Now she had some fluidity.
«Flattery.» He showed her the sign. «Can get me anything I want. This is not flattery. It’s truth.»
«This is H Y P E R B O L E. And it won’t get you me.»
« Tell me. How do I get you? »
Strange. She had always seemed to like his compliments.
«You can’t make me any more P R O M I S E S.»
Hamilton brought his finger from his lips down to an open hand on top of his other fist. «Promise. What do you mean?»
«You said you’d always love me. You promised we’d be together even when you leave.»
What? Why was she bringing this up now?
«Actually, I think I’m going to stay a while. My mother needs me right now.»
Ophélie’s scowl became a smile briefly before turning back down again.«But my dad is old fashioned. I don’t think he approves.»
Of course Ophélie’s odd behaviour had to do with her father. Hamilton nodded. «He doesn’t like me because I’m a Christian?»
«Don’t be racist. He doesn’t like us together because you’re his boss’s son.»
She cocked her head to the side in an unasked question.
«I was his boss’s son. I’m just the useless step-son now.»
Her eyes narrowed and her crimson lips curled up in a grin. Her hands and mouth moved in the dim flickering light. « You’re right. I guess that means it’s all good. »
She rested her hands on his shoulders and pulled herself into him. Her breath was warm against his neck. She smelled like roses.
Hamilton drank his wine and set the glass down on the table next to Ophélie’s. They swayed together to the buzzing rhythm in the wooden floor. He didn’t know how long they danced. It was probably only a few minutes, but Hamilton felt light by the time the vibrations in the floor went calm.
Ophélie pulled away from the embrace. Cool air chilled the rose-scented void. Her eyes wide, her signs faltered in their speed. «I have to leave.»
«It’s almost midnight.» She pointed to the massive sunburst clock hanging on the wall behind the stage.
Midnight. He looked at his watch. She was right. Horatio was waiting for him at the guardhouse.
«Stay here tonight.» He invited her with a smile. After midnight was far too late for her to go to her house across town.
She shook her head and looked down at her feet.
Hamilton’s eyes popped open wide as he waved his hands in front of him. «Not like that! I mean in one of the guest rooms. Sometimes I forget you’re a proper young lady.»
Ophélie threw her head back in an uproarious laugh. Hamilton laughed too.
After a moment of breathless laughter, she replied, «I really shouldn’t.»
She chewed on her lip. «Laurence left tonight. I need to go home. I don’t know if dad is ok. I B E T he didn’t even eat dinner.»
«Bet. You don’t need to justify yourself. It’s fine.» Hamilton signed a little slowly to Ophélie so she could understand. Her signing comprehension wasn’t great yet. But she really was trying. Her pink and green-cloaked eyes watched his hands closely, hardly blinking. «Go check on Old Paulard.»
«You know I don’t like it when you call him that.»
«Sorry.» He truly was. Making fun of Old Paulard had been one of his favourite pastimes, but he loved spending time with Ophélie even better. If he never had another jab at the old man, it would be fine. As long as it meant he could finally love Ophélie.
«It’s fine.» Her forgiving smile was blessedly genuine. But there was a shifting in her eyes that hinted at something hidden. «I’ll call you.»
«Maybe send me a smoke signal instead.» He winked. What wasn’t she telling him?
Her pearl teeth sparkled with her laugh. «I really do need to go now.»
«Go on then. I love you.»
«See you later.»
She smiled and scurried away.
She didn’t say it back. She always said it back. Why was she acting different tonight with talk of breaking promises and approval? It was a problem for another time.
Midnight. Klaus, in an ivory tuxedo with a full-face mask, flourished his cape as he walked onto the stage and stood in front of the microphone. Hamilton seized this opportunity to slip out of the ballroom.
He rushed through the wide wooden double doors and into the grand atrium of his family’s home. The gaudy crystal chandelier overhead was a sickening reminder of his station. Step-son. This should be his ugly chandelier. Although the mansion had belonged to the Danes family for generations, Hamilton had spent a surprisingly small amount of time there. His dormitory at the deaf school had been the nicest and the largest on campus. It had cold tile floors and bare white concrete walls. But it had been cozy. This expansive mansion was full of antique gilded furnishings and warm-toned rugs and curtains. This palace was home to parties and where everyone of status was welcomed. For Hamilton, it had never felt like home. Those dime-a-dozen lamps had shone their yellow glow on the hands and faces of true friends. What had this chandelier ever done for him? But it was his birthright. He didn’t know what to think about that.
Leaving the atrium behind, he slipped out of the front door and into the chilly autumn night. With his hands in his pockets, he walked the half mile to the front gate of the property.
He was going to see a ghost. His father’s ghost.
Horatio was already waiting for Hamilton when he arrived at the guard house, lounging against the white concrete wall. He tried to lounge anyway. His face was right. His usual smile had been usurped by a clenched jaw.
Hamilton stood in front of his friend. Horatio nodded his salutation.
«Cold. Wow!» Hamilton’s hands stiffly moved like an old person’s.
«I told you.» Horatio replied with a gloved hand and grinding teeth.
Putting his hands back into his pockets, Hamilton leaned against the guardhouse and looked out beyond the iron gate. Not wanting to expose his already chilled fingers again to the burning cold, he mouthed to Horatio “Time?”
«Just after midnight. Clock tower just rang.»
Unable to resist the joke, Hamilton braved the chill to point to his ear and shake his head. «I didn’t hear it.»
Horatio forced a chuckle. «We should see him any minute.»
Hamilton looked around, squinting into the misty darkness. The fresh autumn air stung his face, but smelled like bittersweet memories.
The warmth of the guardhouse called to him. He looked to Horatio and then nodded to the guardhouse.
Horatio shook his head. «Frank is inside.»
Sighing through a snarl, Hamilton leaned against the cold concrete wall.
Horatio’s toe began to tap rhythmically.
With his elbow, Hamilton nudged him and motioned to his friend’s foot. Then he looked at him with lowered, questioning brows.
«The band is playing again. Swing. My favourite. Good distraction.» A brief smile flashed on his face, but didn’t stay. He shrugged, but still kept time with the music.
He tried to resist, but Hamilton squeezed his fists in his pockets along with the silent rhythm.
«It’s not all that great, really.» Hamilton shrugged.
«What do you mean?»
«It’s just a lot of fancy rich people getting drunk and hooking up.»
«You don’t like that?»
«Never have. Every weekend that I came home from school, I had to go to those parties. It’s hard to see people you admire turn into monsters.»
«That’s why I don’t admire anybody.» Horatio rolled his eyes.
«If it’s after midnight, it’s time for my uncle Klaus to finish the bottle of Andronicus.»
«Andronicus? I’ve never had it.»
«Ninety-nine percent of the world’s population never will. But my uncle drinks it from the bottle.»
«Crass.» Horatio scowled.
«I should love these celebrations. My father started throwing them when he met my mother. Without these parties, I wouldn’t even be here.»
Horatio sputtered a laugh. It was genuine and contagious.
Hamilton replied through his own laughter, «True-biz. I was conceived at one of these parties.»
Thoughts of his shattered family hit him like a cannonball. Hamilton’s laughter faded as quickly as it had come. Joy was so fleeting. «But lately, these parties just make the Danes look bad.»
A questioning eyebrow rose on Horatio’s face.
«People say we waste our wealth. Like how a person can seem totally normal until you find out they’re disabled. Suddenly they’re sent off to boarding school and everyone looks at me like I’m helpless. People say “Wow. He’d be so great if he wasn’t deaf.”»
Horatio’s laughter disappeared. «You talking about parties still?»
White pearlescent fog began to roll in from the other side of the gate.
«I just mean—» How to explain? Hamilton took a breath. The cold cloudy mist burned his lungs. With a cough, he continued. «Somebody can be the most perfect person, but if there’s one thing wrong, suddenly they are lesser. My father built an ethical company. We feed the hungry. We give to the homeless. We donate to research. But none of that matters because we are–»
Horatio bolted off the wall and stood upright. He slapped Hamilton’s shoulder to the rhythm of a hummingbird’s wings while his wide-eyed head stared at something in the distance. His other hand chopped the air in front of Hamilton’s face. «Shut up.»
«What?» Hamilton signed as Horatio moved to stand in front of the gate.
With a scowl, Hamilton followed.
Thick mist began to pour in through the gate’s wrought iron bars. He could hardly see them three feet in front of him.
He waved the mist away from his face and turned to his companion.
Pointing through the fog with his two fingers, Horatio signed, «Look over there.»
Hamilton turned his gaze to the indicated direction. White fog morphed gradually to an illuminated yellow and green swirl. He gasped.
Closing his mouth and clenching his jaw, Hamilton nodded and signed «Green.»
Not a question. A statement of fact. An expressed comment on visual stimulus.
The hair on the back of his neck stood on end.
«Same as last night.» Horatio nodded. His focus darted around. He chewed on his lip. His foot still tapped, and his hands had begun to shake.
Hamilton felt like he was trying to swallow a tennis ball. The freezing mist made his skin tingle and prickle. He put a comforting hand on Horatio’s shoulder. The physical connection was for his own comfort as much as it was for Horatio’s.
The dim green light in the distance intensified. As if riding the fog’s current, it moved closer. With each step nearer to the gate, it grew stronger and brighter.
After a moment, the spirit’s shape began to emerge. A tall and muscular man cloaked in roiling neon clouds like a watercolour painting. It moved closer still. It was only about six feet away from Hamilton when the clouds in front of its face parted.
It had his father’s face.
Using the first sign he ever learned, Hamilton crossed himself in prayer.
His father’s spirit stood motionless now before the gate.
«Good?» Hamilton questioned the spirit. «Evil?»
From the corner of his eye, he saw Horatio back away from the ghost.
Hamilton stepped toward it.
The ghost waved a hand, beckoning Hamilton forward. He took another step.
A hand grabbed his shoulder from behind. He shook off Horatio’s grip and approached until only the gate separated him from his father.
Misty tears floated down from the ghost’s glowing empty eye sockets as it stared at Hamilton.
Clouds swirled, parted, and recombined as his supernatural fingers moved. «My son.»
Hamilton nodded to the spirit. «Yes. It’s me.»
He reached up to touch the face of his late father. His hand passed through it, disturbing his mist and distorting his aspect for a second or two.
«Come in, father!»
The spirit shook his head. «Can’t. Iron. You come with me.»
Hamilton nodded to his father eagerly. He turned to Horatio and with sharp movements, commanded, «Open the gate.»
Wide-eyed Horatio appeared in the doorway of the guardhouse with lightning speed. He shook his head. «Don’t!»
«He wants me to follow.»
Hands in tight fists, Horatio pursed his lips and shook his head again.
He couldn’t lose him again. He would follow this spirit to the gates of hell if he could see his father one more time. He had to know what was so important that it could keep a pious soul from rest.
Hamilton ran toward the gatehouse. Horatio stood firm in front of him, stopping his way.
«What?» Hamilton demanded «What could happen? My life? Worthless. My soul? Immortal. Same as his. What’s possible? What could he do to me?»
His eyes again going wide in shock, Horatio repeated, «Worthless?»
Hamilton sidestepped Horatio. He had to open the gate. He had to follow his father.
Planting himself in the doorway, Horatio glared at Hamilton. «Okay. Stop.» His eyes narrowed and his staccato signs chastised Hamilton like darts. «Maybe you don’t value your own life. I value it.»
Hamilton ground his teeth and readied his fists. He said nothing.
«And what if he possesses you and you go crazy?» Horatio continued.
With no small amount of force, he shouldered past his friend and into the guardhouse.
From the far wall, Frank watched Hamilton and Horatio scuffle.
«Open the gate.» Hamilton commanded as his vision began to blur with frustrated tears.
Once more, Horatio fought his way between Hamilton and the button to open the gate.
«Ham.» Horatio laid a gentle hand on Hamilton’s chest and signed with the other. «Just stop and think for a minute. You said yourself you don’t know if this thing is good or evil.»
The tears were more than frustration now. He didn’t care if the spirit was good or evil. It was his father.
«This thing? My father.» With his thumbs, Hamilton wiped the corners of his eyes. He wasn’t afraid. «If something happens, it’s fine. My fate. Let me go. Open the gate.»
Hamilton took Horatio’s hand that still rested on his chest. «Please.»
Horatio looked at Hamilton for a moment, studying him. Hamilton tried to project sincerity from his eyes.
Horatio squeezed Hamilton’s hand and turned to Frank. Hamilton didn’t know what he said, but Frank pressed the button to open the gate.
The ground vibrated as it opened.
Hamilton rushed out of the guardhouse and into the swirling mist. The green-glowing spirit hadn’t moved from his spot despite the open gate.
He looked back to Horatio. He stayed inside the guardhouse and signed with a heavy expression. «Something R O T T E N here.»
«You won’t try to stop me again?» Hamilton glowered at his friend.
Horario sighed and shook his head.
Hamilton nodded and turned back to his father. Frigid fog filled his lungs. The green apparition fuzzed and blurred on the other side of Hamilton’s unshed tears. He swallowed another tennis ball and stepped into the churning green mist.