A small moth fluttered about Bobby’s lamp. Surrounded by many unpacked boxes from the recent move, his essentials were in place. His homework covered the westward expansion.
The moth persisted. Bobby doubted it came in his stuff. ‘This house is old,’ he thought. ‘Generations ago, pioneer moths traveled across the land, seeking gold dust. They’re now home in this Victorian dump we moved to.’
The ancient house, perfect for Halloween, had not been decorated. There hadn’t even been time to explore it.
The moth persisted. Bobby slapped at it to no effect. It flew erratically toward his bedroom door and returned.
It appeared as if it paused to look over its shoulder, to see if he followed. Bobby knew moths had no shoulders and doubted the moth cared. Yet it seemed to beckon.
Again, the moth circled and exited. Bobby made chase. The moth meandered the hallway and down the stairs. Reaching the foyer, it made a hard right into the kitchen.
Bobby raced to keep up.
He entered the kitchen and stopped short at the sight of a strange man sitting at the table. He appeared to be waiting. The only light came from the window and lit the man from behind, giving him a faint halo.
Bobby reached for the light switch and the man spoke. “Please don’t.” Bobby froze. “The moon will do.”
Though not wearing a jacket, the man was clothed in business formal, with suspenders, an old-fashioned bow-tie, and a vest. Golden cufflinks gleamed. His dark hair and mustache were neatly combed. He appeared translucent in the moonlight, like a daguerreotype Bobby once saw.
He turned his head to call to his parents but the man said, “Please don’t yell. Let’s get acquainted first.” Bobby stared. “Sit. I won’t hurt you.”
Never looking away, he found the closest chair.
The man said, “I’m Edwin Fortescue. I own this house.” Bobby blinked. “Or, at least, I’m the original owner.”
“But… You mean…?”
“Tea?” He poured from a porcelain pot Bobby hadn’t noticed. Edwin sounded like a butler in an old movie. He nudged the saucer and cup toward Bobby.
“I’m not being clear, I know. There is so much to tell. You will understand, in time.” Bobby felt at once calm but weird. “Is it just you three? Your parents and you?”
“This house has been through so much. Yet a hundred years is such a short season.”
Edwin gestured with his cup and drank. Bobby raised his cup, feeling its heat in both hands and sipped. The aromatic steam felt dreamlike on his face.
“The house fell to disrepair for... years. The last owners restored it… Clumsily.” He rolled his eyes. “I hope your family will rectify that.”
“I think so.”
“You can’t imagine what it’s like when people don’t keep their promises.”
“You can see how important it is. I gave everything to this house.”
Bobby looked at his tea cup.
“I mean, people come and go. They neglect and things slide.” Edwin leaned, staring. “It went abandoned for years, slowly sinking, you know? It’s maddening to finally get the place swept clean and ordered, only to watch seven more demons enter and make a sty of it. You’re not demons, are you?”
“I found initials carved on the banister, for God’s sake!”
The light turned on. Bobby turned to see his mother in the doorway.
“Bobby? What are you doing in the dark?”
“Mom! I…” He gestured toward Edwin, but saw he sat alone. No tea settings. No Edwin. “…I, uh …just thinking.”
She sensed more to the story. “It’s late. I thought you were asleep until I heard you.”
“Uhm, maybe sleep-walking?” He walked passed her. “Good-night.” She sniffed the air and scanned the room. Nothing amiss, she shut the light and followed him up.
The next morning, Bobby entered the kitchen to hear his mother say, “Grant, our son has an imaginary friend.”
“He’s not imaginary, Mom.”
Grant asked, “Why were you down here so late?”
Bobby tried to make sense of it. “A man, Edwin, visited. He talked about the house.”
“His. He said it is, or was… a hundred years ago.” His parents glanced at each other. “He gave me tea.”
“Tea? There weren’t any dishes when I came in, Bobby.”
“I know. Weird, huh? But I tasted it. It smelled good.”
“Anyway, you shouldn’t accept things from strangers.” Amy had mixed emotions. She turned to Grant. “Are we haunted?”
“I didn’t want to say it, Amy. Not a typical real estate disclosure, I’m sure. I’ll check on the first owner...”
“And I thought they met our price because it needs work…”
“Maybe they didn’t know. We don’t know.” Grant’s mind raced. “Bobby, find the candles and the Ouija board? This place is chaos.”
“On it.” He ran upstairs.
Grant touched Amy. “If this is a ghost, he sounds benign.”
“Oh, I hope so. Maybe we can be friends.”
Amy continued the gargantuan task of unpacking from the move. Bobby gathered items necessary for a séance. He knew his parent’s monthly routine.
Grant confirmed Edwin Fortescue owned the house when first built at the turn of the last century.
After dinner, Grant and Bobby oriented the kitchen table with a compass. They centered the Ouija board and placed special candles at each corner. Amy lit incense and draped the chairs with black cloth.
Bobby didn’t know what flavor tea Edwin served him. Amy bought Earl Gray. She hoped her mother’s antique tea set would be acceptable to their ghost. She set cups and saucers for four.
When finished, they dimmed the lights and sat around the table. Each placed their left hand on the planchette. Amy smiled at Grant and Bobby. Her eyes glistened in anticipation. Grant spoke some solemn Latin phrases and they waited.
After a long silence, Amy said, “Maybe we should ask the board a question?”
“Don’t bother.” They turned to see Edwin sitting at the table looking exactly as he did last night. “All that paraphernalia gets so tedious, don’t you think?”
Grant almost fell backward in his chair. Amy’s eyes grew wider than Bobby had ever seen.
“Hi, Edwin. These are my folks.” He laughed. “See? I told you he was real.”
They nodded to each other. Handshakes felt wrong, somehow.
“Welcome. I won’t waste your time. Bobby assured me you plan to restore my house to its former glory.”
“That’s the plan.”
“The urgent issue I wish to discuss, is this barbaric holiday you celebrate here, in the states.”
“Halloween? That’s tonight.”
“Each year hooligans wreak chaos on this fine house. This is my house. My wife and I settled here on emigrating from Great Britain.” He paused for a moment in her memory. Then, with heightened energy, “The graffiti must stop. It’s not for traipsing through for some grotesque, vaudevillian, childish entertainment.”
“Of course! We don’t condone…”
“This Halloween, as you call it… With its ubiquitous, decrepit headstones engraved with R.I.P. Yet no one actually leaves us in peace.”
“I just want to be let alone. Is that too much to ask? To give it a rest?”
No one spoke for what felt an eternity.
Amy said, “Of course we respect your privacy, Edwin. Oh, the tea. Do you like Earl Gray? A scone?”
“That would be perfect. Thank you.”
Amy served Edwin first. He sipped and smiled. The rant had passed. Bobby grabbed a scone.
“You would have loved Louisa,” he said. “She died of a broken heart soon after our arrival. Up in your room, Bobby.
Amy and Grant looked at Bobby, unsure where this would lead.
“Home-sickness, the doctors decided. She initially fell ill on the hellish voyage. Followed by that interminable, dusty train ride… My God! The dust! I ran out of kerchiefs! She never recovered.”
“We’re so sorry, Edwin.”
“My transplanted little orchid couldn’t adapt to the desert. I thought my magnificent house would cheer her. I loved stepping out on my porch every morning. Gazing over the sky-line. I caught the street car at the corner. It felt like heaven.”
“That must have been so…”
“I loved it. The perfect climate. Excellent business. Finance, you know. This grand house… If it ever got torn down, what would become of me?”
Grant said, “Well…”
Amy asked, “Couldn’t you and Louisa have returned to England?”
“My work kept me here. And, of course, my house. I thought she’d mend. I mean, we were in paradise.” He seemed to flicker in the candle light. “When I realized how dire things had become, I feared another dreadful journey would...”
They stared at the table. Edwin blew his nose.
“Then she abandoned me. All alone in my house.”
The doorbell rang.
Grant stood. “Trick-or-treaters. I’ll take care of it.”
Grant opened the oak door to reveal a little girl on the porch, dressed as a pink ballerina. Her mother stood on the walk. The girl offered her basket of candy and said, “Trick or treat!”
Behind Grant, the foyer burst into flames. The girl stood aghast. She stepped back. Her mouth opened wide and then became a delighted smile. Her mother moved to protect her. But she stopped and applauded.
Seeing reflected orange light, Grant turned to the conflagration. He slammed the door and the flames disappeared. The inferno became a foyer again. Edwin smiled at him. It had been an illusion.
Grant said, “Edwin, what ordinarily repels, on Halloween, only attracts.”
He shook his head. “For the life of me, I will never comprehend this.”
“Death is meaningless to them. Kids think it’s all a trick. Hollywood…”
Edwin balked, “Oh, don’t get me started on ‘the movies’…”
Later, a solitary candle, its steady flame reflecting no face, floated from window to window. From floor to floor, inside the old house.
Costumed children gathered at a distance to watch and point. Traffic slowed. No one dared knock the door.
The candle hovered in those windows until the dawn.