You can read and comment on The Melody Man on Ao3
This is not a scary fic! It’s more of an eerie romantic mystery.
“The Melody Man” is a ragtime piece by Charles Gillen, 1910. When I made this draft, I linked to a Youtube recording of the song, but it’s since been taken down and I can’t find another recording anywhere. Sorry! The best I can do is a recording of The Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin played on an organ
Andrew’s first impression of Marigold House was pleasant, and slightly intimidating.
The mansion was three stories of red brick set on a wide lawn, the grass browning now with the colder weather. Andrew was glad he was not there to join the janitorial crew. Twenty-one rooms, the website had said, full of historic furniture, art, and even a giant pipe organ built into the wall. It would be quite a task to keep it clean, even without people living there anymore.
When Andrew heard later that the place was haunted, he was not surprised, but not because the house felt clammy or dark. On the contrary, the inside of Marigold House was bright and orderly, expansive and open, even with its antique clutter. The place felt loved. Andrew told himself that ghost rumors surely came naturally to any house built in 1884. He didn’t believe a word of it. Not at first.
Andrew had his audition, such as it was, in the great hall, a large room just past the massive front door. The walls held family portraits and a mural of fantastical creatures galloping across the clouds. Andrew was allowed to step over the velvet rope onto the burgundy rug, though he didn’t dare try to sit on any of the furniture.
The audition was far shorter than he’d expected, and consisted of him swearing to the house’s manager— a woman named Emily— that although he was not a drama or history major at the local university, he could memorize lines, would always show up on time, and, as a last minute aside, he could probably play the organ whose keyboard sat along the wall beside them.
“George played the organ as well!” Emily exclaimed. That would be George Carter, born 1890, the man Andrew was going to impersonate for holiday tours at Marigold House, evenings and weekends, from Thanksgiving til just past Christmas.
The actor they’d had playing George last year had graduated and moved on, but crucially, that man was a friend of Andrew’s and had recommended him for the job. Actually, though, Andrew was pretty sure that the organ thing was what got him hired. When he sat on the polished bench to demonstrate with a bit of Rachmaninoff, Emily clapped her hands and said it had been far too long since she’d heard the pipes sing just for her.
Emily would play a part in the tours as well: George Carter’s sister, Elizabeth. “The role is a natural for me,” Emily said, pointing to a photograph hanging on the wall. George and Elizabeth read the marker, and damn if Emily wasn’t the spitting image of her ancestor Elizabeth, dark brown hair and lighter eyes, with a small, pointed nose, and an angular chin.
“This house has been in my family since it was built,” Emily explained. “I don’t know if I really intended to take over management, but it seems the place chose me. So! Let me give you the tour.”
They walked through the house as Emily spoke, past windows with uneven glass, up wide staircases and down narrow hallways. The rooms were full of heavy furniture on graceful legs, busy patterned wallpaper, vast rugs, and artistically shot landscape photographs.
“Marigold House was built in 1884,” Emily said. “Various branches lived here for the next hundred years, until the house was donated to a historic trust. The family you and I will be portraying is the first one to occupy the house: that of Sinclair Carter and his wife, Mamie. They had two children: Emily and George, who were two years apart. George was born in the house itself, actually.
“Our holiday tour imagines the house at Christmas, 1910. The parents had moved to a neighboring town, and Emily and George shared the home. Emily was here until 1925, when she passed away at the age of 35. George had passed earlier, at only twenty-one, of pneumonia. 1910 was his last Christmas.
“But at the 1910 holiday, there was no trouble on the horizon. The siblings threw a gorgeous Christmas celebration for their friends and neighbors, with a feast and an organ recital. We might have you replicate that,” Emily said, smiling. “If I recall it was some traditional Christmas music, and some fun stuff— ragtime, mostly.”
“Sure, I can probably—” Andrew broke off as someone rounded the corner. He hadn’t realized anyone else was here, and was definitely not prepared to be confronted with a distractingly handsome man. He was tall and blond, with light blue eyes and runner’s calves visible beneath his shorts.
And now handsome man and Emily were talking and Andrew had not heard a word of it. But he shook the hand the man put out.
“Chris,” the man said. “Thought I heard the organ. Was that you?”
“Uh, yeah,” Andrew managed.
“So you’re George.”
A smile crept across Chris’s lovely face. “George Carter. Your role?”
“Oh! Right. George. Yes.”
Chris was looking him up and down quite openly, and Andrew was sure he was blushing. “I don’t think you’ll need much adjustment,” Chris said.
The smile was broader now. “For the costume? I do the costumes, like Emily just said.”
Right, the part Andrew had not been able to hear over the sound of how gorgeous this man was. “Oh,” he managed. “Sure. I’m about the same size as the last guy.”
Chris’s smile broadened, just a bit. “Lucky me.”
On the night of the one and only rehearsal, Andrew found the house half-decorated for Christmas, with an unadorned tree in the great hall and greenery woven along the stair railings.
Chris moved in and out of the rooms as Andrew and Emily practiced, his arms full of candles and what must have been empty boxes wrapped in fancy bows, seeing what great stacks of them he could carry in his arms. Or perhaps he really was that strong. He looked it.
Chris caught up with them at the end of rehearsal. Though it was freezing outside, Chris was still in shorts and athletic shoes. Andrew was wearing a sweater and boots.
“Up for a fitting?” Chris asked. He waved a hand at Emily. “I won’t bother with you. You never change.”
“I cannot be improved upon,” Emily said.
“Very true. Andrew, let’s get your measurements.”
Chris led him into a small room that hadn’t been restored to its historical appearance, and functioned as an employee work room. Chris rummaged through a drawer and came up with a measuring tape.
Andrew tried very hard to breathe normally as Chris stretched the tape along his arms, then around his chest, then lower to his waist. When he went lower still, around his hips, Andrew imagined himself standing in a cold shower listening to a lecture on stock prices.
And then Chris went down on one knee to measure the length of Andrew’s legs.
Andrew’s mouth opened quite without his permission, seeking distraction anywhere. “So, been doing this long?”
“This is my third year helping out on the holiday tours. I just graduated and it’s a good bit of extra income.”
“What was your major?”
“Business. But I’m handy with a sewing machine.” Chris stood up and brushed his blond hair away from his eyes. “I think the waist-up stuff will probably fit you just fine, actually— shirt, jacket, vest, all that. But you’re ah— a little more filled out in the trousers than your predecessor. I’ll have to let them out.”
Andrew so feared making any sort of response to that comment that he ordered himself not to talk.
Chris didn’t seem to notice, just making notes on a pad of paper. He picked up a dress bag. “Go ahead and put the shirt on and we’ll go from there.”
The costume was a navy blue suit with a matching vest, a white shirt, and blue tie. Andrew’s hands shook so hard he nearly couldn’t take the shirt off its hanger, let alone remove his own sweater. But Chris didn’t remark on it, or make any comments about Andrew being briefly half-naked. He was quite professional, in fact, adjusting and measuring, and by the end of it, Andrew had relaxed a little.
“I’ll let the pants out and you can try them before opening night,” Chris said.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Andrew said. “Thought I might wear my jeans. You know, update the part a bit.”
Chris looked him up and down again, half in a turn of the century suit and half in modern college wear. “Well, it’s— quite the ensemble, I’ll give you that. Emily won’t approve, though.”
Andrew took the costume back off and pulled his sweater over his head. His hair was probably a complete mess, but Chris wasn’t looking, he was arranging the clothes back in their plastic sheeting. “Sometimes I imagine the family that first lived here walking into this room,” Chris said. “More than a hundred years later. What would they marvel at the most?”
You, Andrew thought, with complete honesty. Fortunately he didn’t say that. He looked around at the mini-fridge and microwave, the cans of soda and plastic silverware. “Phones in our pockets?” he guessed. “Or maybe just that our lives are full of so many people that we need phones.”
“Is this you asking for my number?” Chris said. He was looking right at Andrew now.
“Oh, god,” Andrew said. “Uh— no, I swear. Sorry. I—”
“Cause I was going to give it to you.”
Chris looked far too amused, and far too handsome. “I noticed you were making a valiant effort not to hit on me. But it’s really not necessary.”
Andrew tried to say something other than Oh and failed. “Oh,” he said. He fussed with his sweater, which did not need fussing with. “Um— maybe that’s what the family would find most surprising? The two of us. Discussing such things.”
“Ah,” Chris said. “No, not the way I heard it. Apparently George was a ‘confirmed bachelor.’”
“He was gay?”
“That’s what Emily says. I guess she’d know.” Chris put out a hand. “Give me your phone. I’ll put my number in. You know, just for costume-related emergencies among us bachelors,” he said with a wink.
They parted then, Chris in the middle of a very busy night. When Andrew was leaving, he heard Chris come up behind him. “Miss me already?” Andrew asked, as he turned.
But the great hall was empty.
Andrew didn’t look a whole lot like George Carter, but the tour groups didn’t seem to mind, especially with Emily being a dead ringer for Elizabeth.
Emily’s costume was a burgundy gown with a draped bodice and lace trim. She’d done her hair in some elaborate updo, and it suited her very well.
The tour wove through the house as it told the story of Christmas, 1910. The candles ran on batteries, but the other decorations were all historical: golden angels and bells, satin ribbons, glass bulbs, bowls of fruit. It was easy to get lost in the atmosphere, and every time Andrew mounted the stairs in his period suit, he felt a little more like George Carter, standing in his own house, greeting holiday guests.
When they took the visitors through the kitchen, Emily told them about the Christmas feast. By the front windows, Andrew talked about the greenhouse they could see on the lawn. In the study, Emily showed the green vase that had been a Christmas gift in 1909 from one branch of the family to this one. Andrew showed off the children’s nursery, which was set up as if younger cousins were expected for the holiday, with its own miniature tree covered in silver stars.
What was most interesting to Andrew was the bit Emily did after the official performance was over, when she stepped back into her role as manager of the museum to explain more of the history of the house and answer questions. The level of detail that she knew about the Carter family was stunning.
“If the rug in the great hall hadn’t been replaced,” Emily confided, “you’d still be able to see the spot where Elizabeth spilled wine. Though she always blamed George for startling her,” she said, with a pointed look at Andrew.
“Terribly sorry,” he said, with a courteous bow.
“Finally an apology, after all these years!” Emily exclaimed, and the tour group laughed.
Andrew’s favorite thing, though, was playing the organ. He’d practiced on it a couple of times, but it felt different wearing the costume, performing for a group who saw him as George. Emily had rounded up some period music, and Andrew played selections of Joy to the World, Silent Night, and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. But he finished it up with The Melody Man, a ragtime piece from 1910. Andrew had done internet research on how to play ragtime on an organ, and it was a bit of a wild ride, but Emily swore that Andrew had played that exact piece at Christmas, 1910, and she looked thrilled to hear it.
The only time that opening night went a bit off the rails was on the third and final tour. Emily had told Andrew to keep a head count as they went through the performances, because sometimes curious folks were tempted to stray from the group and wander through the house unsupervised.
It was near the end of the tour. Emily was leading the group down the stairs, talking about the stained glass windows they were passing, and as Andrew brought up the rear, he did a quick count of the guests. There were supposed to be 14 people in the group.
There were 15.
The stairwell was well-lit, but it curved, which gradually drew people out of view. Andrew assumed he must have miscounted. He hurried down, the last one to reach the floor, and started the count over, lifting a finger to point at the back of people’s heads.
Emly was talking about where the live Christmas tree had been purchased in 1910. Andrew counted 15 people again.
Maybe Chris had come in? Maybe Andrew had miscounted the first time and there had always been 15? Andrew pushed gently through the crowd and then turned so that he could see everyone’s faces.
The visitors were watching Emily as she explained about the Carters’ speciality boozy punch. There was no one who looked unfamiliar, and no Chris. At a loss, Andrew counted once more.
There were 14 people.
According to Emily and Chris, there was a tradition of a small party after opening night. Emily produced some rum, which she said was the main ‘punch’ in the Carters’ punch, and they gathered in the modernized break room to drink it.
Andrew mentioned the extra person. Emily and Chris exchanged a look.
“Andrew,” Emily said, “I’m going to tell you a ghost story.”
“Also an opening night tradition,” Chris said. He had finally given up wearing shorts, but now he had on a t-shirt that revealed muscular arms. Andrew tried valiantly not to find Chris more interesting than a haunted house.
“George had a secret,” Emily announced, leaning forward like she was sharing gossip about a friend. “His parents didn’t know. The rest of the family didn’t know. Only Elizabeth. She put it in a diary, which was really quite reckless of her, but very useful to us today.”
“You mean that he was gay?” Andrew asked.
“Oh, not just that. George was in love.” Emily was smiling fondly now. “In 1908, at the age of 18, George began a correspondence with a friend of a friend in New York City. This man, John, was a photographer. He took many of the landscape photographs that hang in the house. He would send them to George in the mail. George showed off the pictures, but the letters that came with them— those he kept to himself. In fact, no one has ever found them. But Elizabeth mentions seeing them, and remarked that they were quite racy.”
“Did she disapprove?” Andrew asked.
“Oh, not at all. John made George happy. Elizabeth had never seen him so happy. Of course, things weren’t perfect. Not only were they both men, but John was of a lower social class than George. But they didn’t care about that. Even though George and John had never met in person, they were in love. So George and Elizabeth invited John to come live with them in Marigold House.” Emily gestured with her glass of rum. “The outside world would think John was George’s valet, but inside the house— this beautiful house— they would be able to live as a married couple.
“But it never happened. John was due to arrive on a train on Dec 29, 1910. Just after the fancy Christmas they celebrated. But the train derailed ten miles outside of town.”
Emily’s face had lost some of its color. “When they got the news, George was distraught. He went to the site to help find survivors. He stayed a long time out there in the cold. And— there weren’t survivors. John had been killed. Between the cold and the broken heart, George came down with pneumonia. Elizabeth tended him, but he died in February, just after his twenty-first birthday.”
“God,” Andrew said. He looked at his rum morosely. “That’s awful.”
“But he was back tonight,” Emily said. “You counted him in the last tour group.”
Andrew studied her a moment, trying to decide if she was joking. “Really?”
“I’m sure of it.”
“Well, how do you know it wasn’t Elizabeth in the group?”
Emily waved a hand. “Oh, Elizabeth’s always in the house. She’s very active. It’s George who’s more shy. Heartbroken, I think. But if he came out tonight, then we might have a chance to coax him into being a stronger presence. I think Elizabeth would very much appreciate that. And I know just the way to do it.”
“Um,” Andrew said. He couldn’t think what to follow it with.
“The letters,” Emily said, clapping her hands with excitement. “George hid those love letters somewhere in this house, and I have never been able to find them. But we’re going to try again tonight. Now, you two can go search the lower level, and I’ll take the top.”
Andrew didn’t really want to point out the flaw in that logic, but he did. “Couldn’t we cover more ground if we all three split up?”
Emily’s face colored faintly. “Actually, I think you two ought to stay together. I think you might be the ones waking George up. Because you’re, ah—”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Chris muttered. He flushed pink too.
“Let me— let me—” Andrew decided he’d had plenty of rum and pushed his glass away. “Are you saying that you think two men dating has summoned a gay ghost?”
“Well— intrigued him, at least,” Emily said. “Given him energy, maybe? George always was a romantic. And true love—”
“Fucking hell, we’ve had two dates,” Chris protested. But he got to his feet and headed for the door, holding out a hand to Andrew.
Andrew hadn’t been in the basement before. It was a bit of a maze, and looked like it was mostly used for storage. The rooms hadn’t been restored down here, so the wallpaper was quite faded, and the floors slightly warped. At least someone had been keeping it clean.
Chris put his hands on his hips, gazing at a crowd of old tables and chairs. “I don’t know where to start.” He glanced at Andrew. “I suppose it depends on what we’re actually doing down here.”
Andrew looked at him in confusion. “I thought we were looking for letters.”
Chris was smiling now. “Yeah, but Emily also said that we should, ah, bring the ghost out more—”
“Is this your idea of a come-on?”
“I admit I haven’t used it before. Does it work?”
Kissing Chris— which Andrew had done a total of two times before this— was different from the (relatively rare) kissing Andrew had done with other men. It really wasn’t because Chris was by far the best looking person Andrew had been allowed to kiss, but more what he did. Chris kissed like Andrew was worthy of great attention and care. He put his hands up to cradle Andrew’s face and kissed slowly, like he didn’t want to miss anything.
It was quite intoxicating, even without the half glass of rum Andrew had drunk.
“I suppose,” Chris mumbled against Andrew’s mouth, “that we should also look for the letters—”
Andrew chased his mouth, pulling Chris more firmly against him. Andrew was slender compared to Chris’s well-built body, but about an inch taller. “They won’t be here,” Andrew insisted. “Emily said she looked everywhere. They’ve— mmm— got to have a better hiding place than this.”
“Agreed,” Chris said, tilting Andrew’s face so that he could deepen the kiss.
Andrew wasn’t sure how many blissful moments he spent in the basement, trading gradually more passionate kisses with a gorgeous man in his arms, but they broke apart when they heard music.
“That’s the organ,” Chris said. Down here, the sound caused a vibration they could feel beneath their feet.
“The Melody Man,” Andrew said. “I didn’t know Emily could play too.”
Chris had a funny look on his face. “She can’t.
The final performance did not go as well as opening night.
The first tour group had to deal with flickering overhead lights and loud rattling from the house’s heating system. By the second group, Andrew could swear that the staircases had gotten steeper, and also possibly longer. Emily stopped smiling so much during her storytelling, looking like her costume had become itchy or her stomach upset.
At the end of that second tour, Andrew drew Emily aside. “Something feels off.”
It was Chris who answered, coming up to them with bottles of water. “It’s December 29. You know— train crash day.”
“George gets upset,” Emily said. Her face was pale beneath her makeup. “It’s worse this year because he’s stronger.”
Andrew had decided, somewhere over the past few weeks, that he was going to play along with the whole ghost thing. He still wasn’t completely sure whether Emily and Chris truly believed it themselves. They seemed like smart people, and yes, weird things had happened— were happening— in the house, but Andrew wasn’t certain that the default answer should be ghost. But he and Chris had talked so much and so easily about other things, their lives and families, hopes and dreams, plans for the future, and Andrew didn’t really want to make a big deal of whether Chris believed in the paranormal.
For Andrew, dealing with the supposed ghost of George Carter had become part of the job of playing him, and Andrew enjoyed the job very much. After all, he’d met a man that he thought he could actually fall in love with, and the haunting stuff was really pretty harmless. George was not a frightening or even mischievous presence, and even now, there was nothing threatening in the atmosphere of the place. The house just felt— sad.
Fuck, maybe Andrew was starting to believe it himself. “I feel bad for George,” he said.
Emily looked so melancholy that Andrew wanted to give her a hug. “Let’s just get through the last group, and then we can have a toast to George and John.”
Andrew did try. On the last tour, he smiled brightly and spoke of happy things. But when he attempted to give his third concert of the night, his final recital, the organ was silent. Andrew pressed on the keys, adjusted the pedals, and finally resorted to a plea. “George,” he whispered, “There’s just one performance left. Let me play it, will you?”
“Ooh,” one of the guests said, sounding startled. “Bit of a cold draft through here.”
Andrew had a sinking feeling, but he put his hands to the keys one last time. To his surprise, the organ played. It was quieter than usual, and there was a bit of a chill, but Andrew’s fingers knew the pieces well by now, and managed to bring them off one last time.
The guests were ushered out, and the house locked. But when Chris went to turn on the security lights, the power failed. The heater clanked off, and the house immediately felt cold and clammy.
Andrew could have sworn he heard a rumbling in the distance and he walked up to the window. He could see a faint reflection of himself and Emily, dressed for 1910, in the glow of the battery candles. “Thunder snow,” Andrew said, with a nervous laugh. “That’s pretty rare. I didn’t even know it was supposed to snow tonight.”
Chris came into the room with his hands full of battery candles. “Looks like this is not the night for a wrap party, folks. We should probably just head out.”
“Or we could have a seance,” Emily said. She sounded grave and determined.
Andrew froze with a candle in each hand, one tea light and one taper. He had not imagined that talk of the haunting would get this far. “Um,” he said, eloquently.
“George has never been this strong before,” Emily said, as flickering shadows crossed her face. “But he’s so sad, and with the tours over for the season— he could fade away again. We can’t let him go.”
Outside, the wind picked up, and it really was snowing now, white curtains on the wrong side of the windows.
“I don’t know,” Chris said. “I mean, on the one hand, this is not good driving weather. But on the other, there’s no heat in this house.”
“Half an hour,” Emily said. “Please? I think the best chance for a seance would be with you two here.”
In the interest of job security for next year, Andrew tried for a lighthearted smile. “Sure. Why not?”
They set up at a table in the great hall, and Emily did something Andrew never thought he’d see— she gathered up blankets from the bedrooms upstairs, seemingly with no thought to how old and fragile they were. So Andrew and Chris huddled around the table in antique bedspreads.
“Do we need a ouija board?” Andrew asked.
“Hope not,” Emily said. “We don’t have one.” She pulled a fourth chair up to the table, and left it empty. “You two join hands,” Emily instructed, as she laid her hand on the table by the empty chair, palm up.
The windows rattled in the wind. Emily closed her eyes. “George,” she said softly. “I know how lonely you are. Hiding away won’t help it. You have friends here. Elizabeth’s here, and I know she misses you. Even your beloved organ is still here—”
There was a sound, a sharp banging. Chris’s hand tightened around Andrew’s. Andrew kept his eyes on the empty chair beside Emily.
There was another banging sound, even louder.
“That came from inside this room,” Chris said. “Where, Emily? Fireplace?”
“Bookcase?” she asked, rising from her chair. They followed her to the shelf, which sat near the cold fireplace. “He wants us to see something. Maybe we can look behind it?”
“This shelf has not been moved in a hundred years,” Chris said, disapprovingly. “Not the type of thing to attempt in the middle of the night with no lights—”
“It’s the letters,” Andrew said suddenly. “The—” he laid a hand on the shelf. “It’s not been moved, you said. So no one’s looked behind it for the letters, have they?”
“Oh, my god,” Emily whispered.
It took some doing. They cleared a space around the shelf, in case it fell over, and removed all the books. Then with three of them pushing, the shelf gave a loud groan and shifted a couple of inches away from the wall.
“Let me have a candle,” Andrew said, and Chris passed him one. He knelt down in the dust and wood flakes that were settling onto the floor and peered behind the shelf.
“I can see something,” Andrew said.
At that moment, the lights came on. The snow was reduced to sound, with the room reflected in the windows, making them blind to the storm outside.
It was a packet of letters, tied with brown string. They carried them to the table reverently, and Emily slid open the top envelope. It was dated Dec 5, 1910.
My dearest G—
I know you must have wanted a speedy response to your last letter, but I’m sorry, I couldn’t rush this. I spent days pondering what you said, thinking of my past, and our future. Before you I never would have expected to read words so beautiful directed at myself, but I think if you had not said them then I might have died of wanting.
I love you, too, G—. We’ve never kissed, we’ve never touched. I know you from a photograph, where you aren’t even smiling. But I love you. I love your dour face and your awful penmanship and your wonderful words. After I hear you play your organ, I’m sure I’ll never want to listen to anything else again.
I will come to you, as you have asked, and I will come to stay. I don’t have much to give, so I give you the rest of my life.
My darling, I cannot wait to see you. I will come by train, Dec 29.
Emily had tears in her eyes. “If only John were here in this house, I know George would appear,” she said. “They could live so happily here with Elizabeth, in this beautiful place. But John died ten miles away.”
“So a ghost has to stay where they died?” Andrew asked.
“You stay— you stay with what you know. An object or a place. And John doesn’t know this place. But this letter— I know he’d keep his promise to come here if he could.”
“You know what we should do,” Chris spoke up, “is try the train crash exhibit at the history museum. You never know, John could be attached to something there.”
Emily looked confused. “The what?”
“How are you an expert on the history of this house and you’ve never been to the town museum?” Chris asked.
“I’m very busy here,” Emily said. “But you two— you should go. Now.”
“It’s one a.m.,” Andrew pointed out. “And snow—” It was then that they all noticed the silence outside. “Okay, well, the storm’s blown over, at least.”
“My cousin runs the museum,” Chris said. “I’ll call her. I can’t stand a story with an unhappy ending.”
“This is true,” Andrew confided. “He wouldn’t watch City of Angels with me.”
Chris had his phone to his ear. “There is no point in having your heart ripped out by a mov— Oh, hi, Maggie. Did I wake you? Oh, good. Listen, how would you like a gift certificate for two for the Brown Bottle restaurant and I’ll watch your kids for free? Yeah, thought you would. I need a favor.”
“Do you think it’s weird,” Andrew said in the car, “that Emily knows so much random detail about the house and family and the 1910 Christmas? And do you think it’s weird that she nev—”
Chris interrupted him. “There are a lot of things about Emily Carter that I do not think about.”
“Huh,” Andrew said.
They met Maggie, who looked just as athletic as Chris, at the museum. It had been a parish hall at one point, so it was just a couple of large rooms, a small kitchen, and a bathroom. The train crash exhibit was near the front. There was a huge photograph of mangled train cars on a snowy field, with people crowded around.
“That was taken during rescue efforts,” Maggie said. She put her finger on a figure in black, who had been moving when the photograph was taken, so his arms were blurry. “Our best guess is that this is George Carter. It’s hard to tell, but apparently the man was ridiculously tall, and if you compare his size to the people nearby— he’s got to be like six-four.”
“Yeah, Emily says he had to duck in the hallways sometimes,” Andrew said. It was hard to stand there and look at the photo, a man on the worst day of his life.
“There were no survivors, and so some of the belongings were left at the depot. Eventually local folks took them home, and we’ve reassembled some of them here.” Maggie pointed at the displays. “So we’ve got suitcases, clothing, Christmas presents, a camera—”
“Camera,” Andrew and Chris said together.
“Right here,” Maggie said. “We don’t know who it belonged to.”
“We might,” Chris said. “Maggie, I need another favor.”
In exchange for the surrender of the camera, Maggie negotiated a ride back to the house with them. “I’ve never seen a ghost,” she said. “You’re sure they’re friendly, right?”
“Just wait til you see the letters,” Chris said.
Emily opened the door of the house for them. It seemed fitting, with her still in her period costume, greeting them as someone might have done over a hundred years ago.
Chris set the camera on the table beside the letters. It seemed everyone was holding their breath. There was no snow, no wind. No flickering lights or noises from inside the house.
After a moment, Emily turned her head abruptly and hurried back to the door. She swung it open, they all stared at a misty figure that seemed to stand there.
“Oh, shit,” Chris whispered. Andrew grabbed his hand, and Maggie grabbed his other one.
The mist moved into the great hall, and seemed to put up an arm and take its hat off. Then it just hovered there.
“Come on, George,” Emily whispered.
The house was still silent. But there was something new— a warmth that didn’t seem to come from the heater.
A very tall figure stepped into the great hall from the corridor. He was gray and slightly misty himself, but it was clearly George Carter, same as the photos on the wall. He stared at the other presence with desperation on his face.
The other figure seemed to speak, though it sounded like a staticky recording. “Got…day right…year wrong…George…”
George hurried the few steps that separated them and put his arms around the misty presence, which rapidly became less misty. The two men stood there, looking more solid by the moment. Then George extended an arm to Emily, who came eagerly into their embrace. “Oh, God, I missed you,” she whispered. “There’s so much to tell!”
The three of them walked across the great hall and disappeared together.
“I fucking knew it,” Chris said. “All right, beers at my place, folks.” He squeezed Andrew’s hand. “Anyway, I think it’s time you met some of my family.”
“Wait, he’s your boyfriend?” Maggie exclaimed.
“If you’re brave enough,” Chris said to Andrew.
“I’m brave enough for ghosts,” Andrew said. He put an arm around Chris as they left the house. Inside, they heard the organ start to play, a piece that Andrew noticed would take four hands.