“Do you need to have the article attached?” Julian complained, leaning over Alison’s shoulder. “Won’t the photo be enough?”
“It gives Mike some context,” Alison said, trying not to grin. Julian was probably the only one who didn’t really need an introduction. But it was sort of funny, and Julian was sort of annoying enough still that it wouldn’t hurt him to be taken down a peg or two whenever he saw the Ghost Board.
“I think this is a lovely idea,” Kitty said, from her seat at Alison’s right shoulder. “And it’s nice that Michael wants to get to know us.”
Alison didn’t hear what Julian muttered under his breath as he left the room; she didn’t really care, and she was focused on colouring her drawing of Robin to pay him much attention anyway.
“It is a good idea,” Pat said, peering over Alison’s other shoulder. “Funny to read about myself in the past tense though.”
“If you just want the photo, Pat, I’ll cut off the article.”
He chuckled, and when she glanced up at him, he was smiling that wry little smile he got sometimes.
“It’s alright. It helps Mike, like you said. And you’d never hear the end of it from Julian if you did.”
“Well, if you change your mind, just ask.”
The Ghost Board had actually been Mike’s idea, and Alison felt a bit guilty that she hadn’t thought of it before, which was why she’d started straight away and not procrastinated, which she definitely would have done if she’d thought of it herself.
Finding pictures of Pat and Julian had been easy of course, and there were a fair few of Fanny scattered around the place, if you knew where to look – which Fanny did. The miniature of Kitty had been a nice surprise and it had in fact been Fanny who knew about that one too. In a rare moment of feeling helpful, she had led Alison straight to it, tucked into the back of one of the books in the library.
“Oh, I remember when this was painted,” Kitty had said, virtually vibrating with excitement as Alison took it from the book and held it for her to look at. “I wasn’t very good at staying still. That’s why it’s only a miniature!”
Kitty was looking at it again as Alison finished off the Robin drawing and moved onto Mary. Kitty sighed, resting her chin in her hands.
“Oh, nothing. It is just quite strange to see myself after such a long time. I think I’d forgotten what I look like.”
“Three hundred years is a long time,” Alison agreed. “But I think you look lovely. In the painting, and now.”
Kitty giggled, and the smile came back easily to her face. It was much better when she smiled.
“Where did you find the photograph of the Captain?” Kitty asked, standing up to peer at the faded black and white picture.
Alison was about to reply that Humphrey had a weirdly encyclopaedic knowledge of the house, for someone who didn’t get about much, when there was the sound of a cough from the doorway.
“What photograph are you talking about, Katherine?” the Captain asked, voice clipped. Alison glanced at the time. Five minutes until Hitler, the Nazis and the Final Solution on the History Channel. He was like clockwork.
“This one,” Kitty gestured, and the Captain marched over to look as Alison got up to go and change the channel.
The ghosts couldn’t exactly gasp, not in the usual way, but the Captain made a strange noise that almost sounded like one when he looked at the picture. Alison turned to look at him, but she was a bit late. She only caught the twitch of an eye before the front was back in place.
“Let’s go then,” Alison said. Kitty was looking at the Captain too, and she didn’t follow them from the kitchen. Instead, Alison saw her lean over to examine the photo some more.
After she’d kicked Robin off the TV chair, he followed her back down to the kitchen, asking questions about black holes. She’d been letting him watch way too many science shows if he thought that she could possibly answer those.
“Did the Captain seem a bit funny to you?” she asked Kitty, ignoring Robin’s whining. “I mean, more off than usual.”
“Yes. And I think I know why. Robin, look at this, will you?”
Easily distracted, Robin peered at the photo. Kitty was pointing at a man who wasn’t the Captain.
“Oh yeah. That him,” Robin grunted. “Where Julian? He know about black holes.”
“I don’t think-”
He was out through the wall before Alison could tell him that Julian probably knew bugger all about black holes, and if he didn’t know then he’d make up some rubbish. Still, it got Robin out of her hair. And she could always find him a YouTube video to watch to correct Julian’s teachings.
“Who is that man, Kitty? He looks nice.”
He had a good face, handsome and twinkly in an old timey kind of way.
“I can’t remember his name,” Kitty said. “He wasn’t here for very long. But I think that he and the Captain were very good friends.”
“Oh yeah?” Alison said lightly. She immediately wished Robin had stayed, or Humphrey was nearby; they’d be able to define what ‘very good friends’ actually meant.
“Yes. They were always together. The Captain was dreadfully sad when he left.”
“I see,” Alison said, thoughtfully twisting the lid of the yellow felt tip. “Maybe the photo just surprised him then.”
“Yes, I expect so.”
She finished off the Ghost Board that evening, and put it on the inside of the cupboard door. Not that they had many visitors to the kitchen, but she didn’t want to cause anyone any distress. Not even Julian.
A few months later, when the Captain literally begged her to leave something buried in the garden, she thought back to that photo. And, that night, after the film had ended, she waited for everyone to drift off and went down to the kitchen.
She just had a feeling.
And she was right.
In the darkness, a shadowy figure was standing, examining the Ghost Board.
“Hi Captain,” she said quietly. “I’m going to turn on the light.”
He made one of his usual noises, but it wasn’t a no, so she flipped it on. He was stood to attention, his stick twisting in his hands. He didn’t look at her, but he also didn’t try to leave.
“Is your second in command in the photo?” she asked, thinking back to the conversation in the garden. “Lieutenant…?”
“Havers. Lieutenant Havers. Uh, yes. He is. Third from the left in the back row.”
The man that Kitty and Robin had pointed out.
“He has a nice face,” she said carefully, because talking to him was like playing Buckaroo. One wrong move, and it would all come tumbling down.
There was a pause, and then he nodded.
“Er. Yes. He – Havers- The lieutenant was a - nice man. Er – good with people. I am sure you would have liked him a great deal more than you like me.”
“Who said I didn’t like you?” she asked, moving to stand at his side. He still didn’t move. That was a win.
“Well – yes. No need for flattery.”
Alison wished that she could look at his face, but that would probably be too far. He’d already said too much.
“I expect it was a surprise, to see yourself and him after such a long time,” she said instead. “Kitty said she’d forgotten what she looked like.”
“Quite,” he murmured. “Very strange.”
Alison crossed her arms and peered at the image. She knew it well by now, the faces of all of the men there. And he had known them all. They were his men.
The Captain was so dreadfully sad when he left.
“Where did he go? You said he left.”
You said he leftyou.
“Oh. Er- North Africa. Wanted to be close to the action. He was young enough to be of use out there.”
He sounded so wistful that Alison couldn’t help herself. She turned to look at him; from the side, she could see his moustache twitching, a dangerous sheen in his eye that she definitely didn’t like the look of. Looking at him had been a terrible idea.
“Do you want me to take the photo down?”
“No. It can stay. Well, good night Alison.”
He dodged around her and half ran from the room, a little hop and a skip towards the door.
She didn’t expect him to stop, but he did.
“What was his name? Your lieutenant?”
He stiffened, his shoulders up around his ears. And then he turned. His voice was like nothing she’d ever heard from him.
“William,” he said softly. “His name was William.”