Word Count 1,693
“Have you ever seen a ghost, Scott?”
Scott Lancer looked up from the newspaper he was reading and stared at his younger brother. Johnny sat on the floor by the fireplace, his back against the ottoman. The firelight gave his face a pensive look. “A ghost?”
Johnny kept his eyes down and nodded. “Yeah. Have you?”
Something was weighing on Johnny, Scott was sure.” No, I can’t say that I have.” Scott thought for a moment and added, “Exactly.”
Johnny looked up at him, their blue eyes connecting. Johnny had a haunted look to him. “Not exactly? So, you’ve seen … something?”
Scott folded his edition of the Sacramento Bee and sat it on the table in front of the long sofa, He leaned over, resting his elbows on his knees, and coming closer to his brother. “Well, Boston, as you know, is very old. Grandfather’s house was built before the Revolutionary War. There were times, growing up, that I would … feel … something.”
“Feel what?” Johnny pressed.
“A cold. Not just a draft or even the cold of the outside weather. No, it was like certain places in the house would suddenly be like ice. You could see your breath and feel icy shards on your skin and then all would go back to normal. And sometimes, in my room late at night, I would see … or I would think I would see … a lady by the window. During the day I was positive it was just the curtains, but at night sometimes it seemed so real that it was a lady.”
“What’d she look like?”
“She was in white. A long dress … curtains,” Scott added with a wink.
“She won’t wearing no curtains. Go on.”
“She had long blonde hair and she would look at my bed and then out the window toward the harbor. She always seemed … sad.”
“So, you have seen a ghost.”
Scott shook his head, stood, and walked to the drink cart. He poured himself a shot of Murdoch’s best “rare old Glenlivet” imported all the way from Scotland. He looked at the glass and added another shot to make it a double, poured his brother the same and handed Johnny the glass. He took a swallow and allowed it to slide warmly down his throat as he worked out his words. “I don’t know, Johnny. I never thought it was real. Just a dream. Sometimes a waking dream and, as I said, during the day I was convinced it was just the curtains fluttering in the wind.”
“But … the windows were closed.” He shrugged his shoulders. “At times I thought, wished, that perhaps it was my mother watching over me. I was never scared, whatever it was.”
Murdoch was listening from the doorway leading into the great room from the kitchen. “I believe in ghosts,” he interjected with his deep baritone voice. He walked in and sat on the sofa. “Scott, I wouldn’t mind a glass of my own Scotch.”
“Certainly, Sir,” Scott replied. He walked back to the sideboard and poured his father a double and then, for good measure, topped his own glass. He moved to do the same to his brother but noticed that Johnny was just nursing his drink. “Tell us, Sir, why do you believe in ghosts?”
Johnny looked up from his glass toward his father. “Yeah, Murdoch, what’d you see?”
Murdoch took a sip and looked over at his sons. “Well, son, you see, if Boston is old, you must understand that Scotland is ancient. There’s more to those Highland hills than men will ever know. Kelpies, fairies, the bean neigh, and of course ghosts. I have seen more than one in my time. Ah lads, I remember going home from school one fine winters day with me’ brothers,” his Scottish brogue slowly creeping back in his voice as he told his tale. “The days were short and darkness came early. It was cold and we could see our breath as it puffed out before us. We were walking by the bank of the Abhainn Nis.” Murdoch smiled softly at his sons when he used his native Gaelic. “That is the River Ness. The tales she could tell if that riverbank could talk.”
“What’d ya see, Murdoch?” Johnny nudged softly.
“King Duncan himself.”
“King Duncan? The one Macbeth killed?” Scott asked.
“Aye, the very same. There he was, his kilt all bloody, a dirk in his hand, and walked toward us with what looked like unseeing eyes. My brothers and I heard a piper playing before we saw the long dead king. We moved behind a tree as we watched him approach. He was like the fog and yet apart from it. And while he seemed to have no eyes, he stopped when he was near us and turned in our direction. He pointed his dirk at us and said “Death comes for the men of Moray.” Murdoch finished his whisky in one swallow and looked at his sons. “I’ll tell you, lads, me brothers and I ran all the way home, howling and screaming that the devil had come to claim his own!”
Johnny looked up into his father’s face. “Are you joshin’ us Murdoch?”
“No, Johnny, my boy, it truly happened.” Murdoch smiled at his boy.
Johnny lowered his head and stared into the untouched amber liquid swirling in his glass. “I’ve seen a ghost,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
Scott looked to his father who only shrugged. He turned his attention back to the youngest Lancer. A morose sort of melancholy seemed to radiate from the boy. “Go on,” Scott prompted.
Johnny sighed, sat the glass on the hearth and turned toward the fire. He did not want to face his family.
“Truth, I’ve seen more than one. All the men I’ve killed, they haunt my dreams. Fill my nightmares. I don’t always sleep well big brother. It’s just … since I’ve been … home … she haunts me.”
“She?” Murdoch asked, hesitant to dare and follow up.
“She ain’t never come to me before I came here. She’s not just in my dreams either, I see her everywhere.”
When his son turned around to face them, Murdoch saw the pain etched in his young face and he knew without his boy saying a word. “Maria?”
“Yeah.” Johnny dropped his eyes and sighed again. “I think … do ya’ think … she’s mad at me? For coming home?”
“Oh, Johnny,” Murdoch said softly. He moved to the brown leather chair by the fireplace and sat down, his back creaking in protest. Ignoring the pull in his back, Murdoch Lancer reached out to grip his youngest son’s shoulder. “I don’t think that Maria is angry at you …”
The crash of a glass as it fell from the drink tray and collided with the Saltillo tile floor reverberated in the room. Johnny jumped and turned, his right hand going to his hip where his gun normally would be.
“See! It’s Mama! She’s mad!”
Murdoch stood and took his son by the arm. “Johnny, no.”
Scott was staring at the shards of glass on the red tiles. “I must … I must have left a glass to close to the edge of the tray.”
Johnny was shaking his head. Murdoch looked him in the eye. “Scott’s right. It was just a coincidence.”
Johnny looked into his father’s eyes, then looked down. He wrapped his arms around himself and softly replied, “Yeah, sure.”
“Son, Maria is not angry at you! You just need,” Murdoch didn’t finish the sentence when his ship crashed to the floor.
“She’s angry with somebody,” Johnny whispered.
Scott moved to stand shoulder to shoulder with his younger brother. “Johnny.”
“She wants me to leave, Scott.” Johnny’s hand was rubbing his upper arm as he tried to make himself as small as he could.
“Well, that is not going to happen!” Scott declared.
The four brass candle sticks on the credenza beside the butler’s pantry flew off toward the Lancer brothers hitting them both in their backs.
“Maria! That’s enough!” Murdoch bellowed.
A vicious wind blew through the room, stinging their skin and sweeping knickknacks into the floor. Murdoch turned toward his boys, closing his eyes from the flying debris. Then the wind suddenly stopped. Spinning around, Murdoch found himself faced to face with his dead wife.
“Maria,” he whispered.
She stood before him, dressed in white. Her long, black hair, a tangled mess, blood flowing from a wound on her head above her left eye seemed to make red tear tracks down her cheek. Her almond eyes were hard, her face frozen in anger and pain.
Murdoch Lancer’s heart broke. “Oh Maria, oh my darling.”
“Mama,” Johnny whispered as he felt Scott draped his arm around his shoulder. His mind replaying her death. “I’m sorry, Mama.”
Murdoch seemed oblivious to his sons behind him. “Sweet Maria don’t be angry. Johnny’s home where he belongs. Be happy about that.” The wind was starting back, books started falling from the bookcase behind the table. Yet, husband and wife stayed staring at each other, and Murdoch knew what she needed. “I forgive you, Maria. I forgive you, and I still love you.”
The wind stilled.
Johnny moved to stand beside his father. “Me too, Mama. I forgive you. I love you always.”
Her apparition flickered like a flame. In and out, in and out, until she seemed solid. She wasn’t the wraith they had been looking at. She was beautiful. Her long black hair crowning her face, cascading over her shoulders. Her face unmarred by injury. Her eyes full of love. “Gracias, mi amor. Gracias, mi hijo.”
Murdoch’s eyes filled with tears. She was as beautiful as the day they married. “Mi corazón, te amo.”
“Te amo!” Maria replied as she faded out of sight, the slight scent of jasmine lingering in her wake.
Johnny dropped to his knees, his head down. Scott followed him, his arm around his brother. “She wasn’t mad, Johnny.”
“No. Guess you’ve seen a ghost, Scott.”
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