ickey headed downstairs in search of coffee. His head ached and his eyes felt heavy. After all the excitement of the night before, he had found it difficult to get back to sleep and when he did he had dreamed about battlefields and death again. He hoped McCall was going to be reasonable this morning. The last thing he needed was a prolonged argument.
The dining room was empty, but there were cooking noises and delicious smells coming from the kitchen. Unconsciously checking that his automatic was secure in the back of his waistband, Mickey went through the adjoining doors. He was very surprised to see both Scott and James sitting at the large kitchen table, each looking at sections of the newspaper while Robert bustled around with pots and pans on the stove.
Robert turned, "Morning, Mickey. Since the staff is out, Iím doing the honors. I hope scrambled is okay. The coffee will be ready in just a minute."
"Great, I could use some coffee. Everything smells great. And scrambledís fine, thanks McCall. Just make sure you dish out plenty of sausages and bacon to go with it." Smiling, he looked over at Scott, who usually could out eat even him, but the young McCall looked like crap. "How you feeling this morning, kid?"
Without lifting his eyes from his paper he replied, "Iím goddamn thirty years old, not a kid, and Iím feeling okay." Scott raised his head and looked at James. "Iím sorry that Iím sounding so rude, but Iíve about had it with these two," He looked back and forth between Robert and Mickey. " And Iím telling you both that I wonít take it anymore."
"Scott, please," Robert started to speak.
"No!" Scott shook his head. "Youíre both doing some sort of number on me. Mickey breaking down my damn door last night, telling James some cock-and -bull story about a ghost in my room," his voice was bitter as he glared at Robert, "And you still sitting by my bed in the morning as if I were an infant. Iím telling you that if you continue to try and coddle me and make me into a sick child Ė I have my passport and plenty in travelersí checks Ė so help me Iíll leave this house." Scottís voice had become weak again, but his meaning was clear. "And I promise you dad, that itíll be a cold day in hell before you see me again!"
Mickeyís temper flared at Scottís outburst and he was about to say a lot more when he caught Robertís small headshake. McCall didnít want him to respond. Mickey shrugged, and sat down at the table.
To hell with it. He was too damn tired this morning to care.
James had lowered his newspaper as Scott spoke. After a moment he cleared his throat. "I feel I must apologize to you all again that the staff isnít here." Mickey realized that James was making a valiant attempt to change the subject and it occurred to him that he must have had years of practice disarming bad tempered rants if he had lived with a character like Archie.
"You see," James continued, "as of late, the staff takes today and this evening off Ė the ominous reputation of the house at this holiday, you know Ė and itís so hard to get good people nowadays that I have to let them have their own way. Theyíll be back tomorrow morning, but for now we have to fend for ourselves, thatís why Robert is cooking breakfast."
Mickey smiled at the elderly man. James was an okay kind of guy. "Hey I donít mind. McCallís a good cook."
Robert chose that moment to bring a pan full of sausages and bacon over from the stove. "Help yourselves to those, the eggs will be ready in just a moment."
A large pot of coffee and a pot of tea were placed on the table with the eggs and they all dug in. All except Scott. He seemed to be conscious that the others were watching him and so he put food on his plate and pushed it around some, but he didnít eat much more than a few bites.
Breakfast was nearly over when a car horn sounded outside the house. James put his napkin down and said, "Thereís my car. I hope you donít mind if I abandon you all for a while. I called early this morning and scheduled a meeting with my solicitor in Ipswich. I want to get all the paperwork organized to make you and Scott legal members of the family again, Robert. Itís very important to me, and after what happened in the library, more than ever,"
Before Mickey could question that last sentence, Scott spoke up, "With all the shouting and yelling last night Iím still tired. I think Iíll go back to bed for an hour or so."
Without waiting for any comments, he headed out of the kitchen.
Mickey and James looked toward Robert, who simply started to clear the table. "Are you certain youíre up to it James?" he asked, "I mean after having your sleep disturbed by the ruckus last night? Iím a bit tired myself."
James stood up with the air of a man with a mission and picked up his cane. "Iíll be fine nephew, donít worry about me." He turned to leave, "Iíll just collect my briefcase from my study and Iíll be off. Donít expect me until late afternoon. I usually stop by the club when Iím in Ipswich and Iíll luncheon there." He waved a small good bye, and walked out.
Mickey picked the rest of the dishes up off the table and brought it to the sink as Robert rinsed them off. He decided not to mention Scott. If McCall wanted to talk about his son, heíd have to bring it up himself.
"Whatís on the agenda today, McCall?" he asked as they finished the clean up and left the kitchen.
"I tell you what Mickey, Iíll quietly pop upstairs and make sure Scott is settled, then we can make a try at tidying up the library. Poor old James and Rogers canít move the furniture back between them. We can go over plans for the day then."
He caught Robertís eyes with his and held them for a moment. "Okay. I think we need to talk too."
With a small hesitant nod, Robert headed for the stairs and Mickey went to the library.
When he entered the room, he decided that the chaos looked even worse in the morning light. The place was strewn with books and overturned furniture. Starting at one side of the room he began to straighten chairs and when Robert joined him, between them, they hefted a big solid oak bookshelf back into place.
Mickey tried to think of a way to bring up the apparition of the night before. He knew his partner well enough to know that if he approached the topic in the wrong way, Robert would reject his theory right from the get-go.
Robertís considerable powers of logical deduction, seeing all sides of reality, was what made him a great operative, but his logical mind had little room for imagination. Mickey knew that to get Robert to listen to what he saw in the room, theyíd have to argue about it until Robert actually would permit himself to believe Mickeyís radical idea. This was what usually happened during the few missions where Mickeyís talent to see outside the norm came in handy.
They worked together, setting the library right, in silence, and had just set the large desk down with a thud when Mickey noticed that a small panel near the wainscoting was half on the floor, cock-eyed. He pointed it out to Robert, "Whatís that?" As he got closer he saw that it covered a hiding place in the wall. Mickey bent to look inside and spied a small black leather-bound diary. He reached in and picked it up. The name on the cover in gold lettering said, "Eleanor".
Knowing somehow that the diary was important, Mickey waved Robert over and opened the book carefully; the pages were stiff and yellowed with age but the ink was still clear. "This is Eleanorís diary," he told Robert. Then Mickey decided to go for broke, "You know, I did see her ghost in Scottís room last night."
Robert gave a half smile, "Come on, Mickey, donít be ridiculous," he said, his voice strained, "There are no such things as ghosts."
Mickey snorted, "Donít forget I was there when you took those slugs in Angola. You were a dead man."
Robert nodded slowly, the lines on his face appearing to deepen. He was silent awhile, "I know, but really, I canít admit that there are such things. Come on Mickey. Thereís no logic to it."
"Then you can believe me, McCall," Mickey said, "Iím telling you what I saw, and I donít lie. Especially to you."
His friend remained silent for a long moment. Then he sighed, "I suppose there has to be some explanation for everything that has happened since we arrived. But . . . I canít . . . " Robert looked down at the diary, "I think we ought to read this and see if it tells us exactly what is going on here."
Robert sat down and started reading with Mickey leaning over his shoulder. They read the last lines of the diary.
"I wait for death, but pray that I shall have the strength to put this diary into the hiding place in Grandfatherís study. I hope that somehow it defiles his days the way my life has been tainted.
Grandfather rants at me over and over that I am ruined and cursed.
He says my only love, my brave American, Steven, deserted me when he heard that I was carrying his child.
Then, my baby, who I was determined should be called Madison, for his fatherís family, died after only an hour of life. I never was permitted to see or hold him.
Grandfather tells me I am being punished for my sins, and I am resigned to my fate. I shall have no more to life but my regrets. I shall end my life here, in my bedroom, on this bed, the place where the greatest joys, and the greatest of sadness of my life occurred.
Life holds nothing for me now.
I welcome death."
"Jesus," Mickey whispered.
Robert closed the book and wiped at an eye. "If ever there was a reason to hauntÖ" he sighed.
They both sat still for a moment.
"Perhaps it might be prudent if I get Scott out of that room, just in case Eleanor is, or might be Ė," Robert stood up, "I canít think why sheíd want to harm my son, but if Ė"
"Robert, donít," Mickey stopped him. "Scott meant what he said at breakfast. If you push him to change rooms now because youíre afraid for him, heíll make good on his threat. Itíll be years before heíll speak to you. Heís stubborn, for some reason. Must get it from his mom."
"But if heís in danger, Iíd rather have him alive somewhere, not speaking to me, rather than have himÖ"
"Look, he just might be feeling sick because of Trisha and everything. We donít know if Eleanor is hurting him. We just donít know. But we do know that Scott will leave right now if you tell him that a ghost might want to harm him and youíre worried."
Robert nodded in agreement. Mickey watched his mind work for a moment. "Maybe Iíll just let him have his nap, and in an hour or so, weíll take him to town for lunch. He knows that no one is here to cook for us. It will make sense."
"Good idea." Suddenly something occurred to Mickey. "Ya know," he couldnít help but say his thoughts out loud, "Doesnít it strike you as a little convenient for Grandpa Archie that the pilot deserted Eleanor and that the baby died?"
Robert frowned. "Now that you mention it, yes. And from what we know about my illustrious ancestor, a little plying of bad business seems right up his alley."
"Maybe he paid the flyboy to abandon Eleanor?" Mickey suggested.
"Possible. The War was going badly at the time and the causalities amongst American pilots stationed in England were high. The young man might have decided to take the money for his people back home when there was no guarantee that he would see tomorrow."
Mickey kept his voice soft, "I think we should try and find a way to help her ghost to rest."
Robert was subdued. "I agree. At the very least, Scott and I would get to learn more about our family, and on the off chance that there really is a ghost," he smiled, "it couldnít hurt to see if we could help her."
"Equalize the odds for a ghost?" Mickey grinned at his friend.
"Why not?" Robert shrugged. "Look, since I donít want to leave Scott alone here today, Iíll comb through Eleanorís diary and see if I can get any important information from it. And you go to the pub and Ė "
"Her girlfriend!" Mickey interrupted, "The woman we met at the pub yesterday. What was her name?" He reached back into his memory. "SyrilÖ "
"Sybil Markham," Robert corrected. "She hinted at something but didnít go into details."
"But Eleanorís best friend would have known about it. Thereís no way Eleanor didnít tell her. I bet Sybil knows loads more than she said yesterday."
"Then thatís your first stop Mickey. Look through the phone book and find her home. If sheís not there, go to the pub. That other old gent Ė "
"Arthur Sykes, yeah, I agree. Another source of information to cultivate. Iíll get right on it," Mickey grinned, "You know, I bet I could get one of the computer whizzes at the Company to do a quick search of World War II archives and get some info on the pilot boyfriend, Steven Madison. If heís still around, we could have a nice talk with him and clear up some of this nastiness. Maybe if he asked Eleanor to forgive him Ė?"
"Worth a try Mickey. Go on, get to work and make that phone call and then get to interviewing the townís folk. Iíve a bit of difficult reading to do."
t felt as if he were fighting to concentrate when Robert looked up and glanced at the clock. His first thought was to become annoyed at his son. "Damn it. It's almost six and the boy hasn't been out of bed all day!" he said out loud to the empty library.
Then he realized that Eleanor's diary had fallen and lay at his feet. He didnít remember when it had tumbled to the floor.
He picked up the book and a wave of lethargy washed through him as he felt the warm leather in his hands. That poor young girl had been through hell in her short life and sadly, he only could think of his father mentioning her once or twice. He sat for a while, thinking about that.
Abruptly, Robert remembered that he had planned to get Scott out of his room hours ago. His head was throbbing and he felt foggy. He shook himself out of the torpor. How in the world he had lost most of the afternoon? He had started reading Eleanorís diary and somehow he could hardly recall anything about the missing hours. All he could remember was that he had read and finished the sad book.
It dawned on him that something strange was definitely going on. His first thought was for his sonís safety.
Robert got up and made his way out of the still cluttered and chaotic library. With his heart racing, he sprinted up the staircase, went down the corridor and knocked on Scott's bedroom door. He could just make out the sounds of furtive whispering drifting from the room, but it wasn't clear. A chill passed through him. What if Mickey really did see something last night? Then he dismissed that thought. He knocked harder and finally heard his son's muffled voice call out, "Come in."
The room was almost completely dark; the heavy curtains were drawn over the windows. The air in the room was warm and stuffy. Robert reached to turn on the light.
"No!" Scott whimpered, "No lights. Let me sleep."
"What the hell do you mean, no lights?" Robert demanded as he snapped on the nearest lamp. "Damned if I'm going to stand here in the dark Ė" He turned to look toward his son and he stopped speaking, his breath caught in his throat. Scott looked like death warmed over.
Naked, wrapped in wrinkled sheets, death-white, Scott grimaced, "Turn off the light," he hissed, "I want to go back to sleep, to my dreams, to myÖ" Scottís voice faded out, his face went slack.
Robert moved quickly to his sonís side. "Scott," he tried to make his voice gentle, the boy was obviously quite ill, "You don't look well at all."
"I'm fine," Scott said. He shut his eyes tightly and his voice dripped disdain, "If you'd leave me alone for a damn minute, I'll be fine. Just shut the light off and let me go back to sleep. Get the hell out."
Robert stared at the pallid skin and sweat soaked sheets and chose to ignore his son's curses. "Are you sensitive to light? I mean, does it hurt your eyes badly?" Light sensitivity was a symptom of meningitis. Robert was well acquainted with that illness, and the idea that Scott had it swirled through his mind, tightening his gut with fear. "Tell me boy, does the light hurt your eyes?"
Scott turned away. "Yeah, sure, whatever. Just get out," he groaned and covered his face with the blanket.
Robert stood for a moment, thinking about his sonís pale skin and gray tinged eye sockets and then left, making sure to leave the door slightly ajar. He strode purposefully down the stairs to James' study. He didnít know if his uncle had returned home, so he knocked and without waiting, walked right in.
James, seated at his desk, looked up, his eyebrows raised in surprised, "Yes Robert, may I help you?"
"I'm terribly sorry, James, but it looks as if Scott's worse. I need to call Dr. Evans and I know you have his number in the address book here. Do you have it easily available?"
With some difficulty James stood up and shuffled across the room to Robert's side. "If young Scott is bad off, just go and bundle him up and get him into the car. I'll contact the clinic and also put in a call to Dr. Evans and inform them that the boy is ill and that you are transporting him there, post haste. Leave it all to me."
Robert felt a sense of gratitude wash through him and he touched James's frail shoulder. "Thank you." He then turned and ran back up the stairs.
Robert got to his son's room, put his hand on the doorknob and pushed to get in. His body thumped against a locked door.
What the bloody Ė? He knew he had left it open.
He turned the knob again and pushed harder, but he door wouldn't budge. Frustration bordered on anger as he knocked on the door. "Scott, let me in, we're going to get you to the doctor, immediately!"
"No," Scott's voice sounded very far away.
Now Robert's anger was sparked. If the boy thought that he could get his own way in this situation where he health was so evidently involved, then he had another think coming. One locked door wasn't enough to keep Robert McCall out.
"Scott," he called out, "open this door. Now!"
No answer, but Robert could once again sense strange whisperings floating through the door. A cold shiver ran up his spine but he shook it off.
"Right!" Robert bellowed, "Have it your way!" He stepped back a foot or two and studied the old ornate door lock. Mickey had kicked it in last night and it didn't look terribly sturdy. One good try should release the mechanism. Standing sideways, he inhaled, then let his foot fly up to hit the door's weak spot.
Strangely enough, before his foot hit the door, an equal force kicked back at him pushing him almost off balance.
Robert righted himself and looked closely at the door. It looked as though it hadn't been touched. He lifted his hands to test the wood. As his fingers made contact with the door, an electrical shock passed through him. The jolt lifted him off his feet and propelled him across the landing. He crashed against one of the large cabinets that decorated the corridor and slid down to the floor.
Heart beating erratically, Robert realized that the ornate cabinet he had landed against seemed to be vibrating violently. He managed to overcome his surprise and was already back on his feet when, hardly believing what he saw, the massive cabinet hopped and then, missile-like, flew across corridor toward him. He just was able to raise his arms to protect his head when it slammed into him, crushing him to the ground under its weight.
The pressure on his chest was overwhelming. He pushed at the large piece of furniture but it didn't budge. He couldnít breathe and as much as he struggled, the cabinet wouldn't move an inch.
"Scott!" Robert managed to squeeze out, "help me!"
Desperate to get the weight off his chest, Robert was only slightly aware of other noises echoing off the walls and coming at him from all directions. Everything was starting to go dark and he began to hear a loud pounding noise surround him. He wasn't sure if it was the beat of his own heart sounding in his head, or if it came from the house itself.
He heard Mickey bellow his name just before he felt the cabinet start to move off his chest. Robert drew in a deep breath as the large piece of furniture toppled to the side.
"McCall!" Mickey's face appeared hovering over him, "Are you all right?"
Robert coughed, took a few more breaths and was reassured that his lungs were working and that his ribs were intact. "Yes, Mickey. Thank God you showed up." He noticed that his comrade looked confused. "I don't know what happened. The cabinet just flew at me as I was trying to get to Ė" Suddenly he remembered what he had been trying to do. His heart jumped. "Scott! I couldn't get into Scott's room. I checked on him and he looked half dead."
With Mickey's support he scrambled to his feet. "I was going to take him to hospital, but I couldn't get past the door."
He felt a wave of dizziness engulf him as the floor of the house seemed to shake. Thatís when he realized that Mickey was looking around frantically, as family portraits and porcelain started to move around on their own, some crashing to the floor.
"What the hell is going on here?" Mickey said.
Robert was already making his way back to Scottís room. Picking up a chair that sat nearby, he smashed it against the door. It splintered and a large crack appeared in the wood.
"Mickey, help me get to him!" he called over the increasing din as more furniture and pictures began to shimmy and fall over, smashing onto the floor.
"Stand back!" Mickey shouted as he picked up an ornate, marble table and swung it against the door.
Robert saw the crack widen. Tucking his head under the crook of his arm, he drove his body against the remaining wood of the door. Breaking through, he stumbled into the room with Mickey coming up noisily behind him. He felt an icy chill in the air. "Scott!" he called out but found himself stopping short as he looked toward the bed.
Glowing in the scant light that came through the broken portal, Robert saw the shimmering specter of a woman sitting on the bed, cradling Scott in her arms.
No! Robertís mind reeled for a moment, refusing to comprehend what he was seeing. His heart skipped as he heard Mickey gasp behind him.
The ghost glared at them and opened her mouth. "Leave us alone," the woman screeched like a banshee, as she flickered in and out of sight, "Youíve kept us apart. Now weíll be together forever. Now heís mine!"
"Itís her!" Mickey shouted pointing to the now glowing portrait on the wall, "I told you, itís Eleanor, look!"
Looking back and forth from the portrait to the transparent glowing spirit behind his son, the truth finally hit Robert. It was indeed the phantom of his long dead aunt.
The ghost of Eleanor was now keening so loudly and with such anger that Robert felt his hair rise on the back of his neck. She was shining like a beacon in the dim room as she drew a limp Scott tighter to her spectral body.
"Why do you torture us?" she screamed, "My love, my Steven has returned to me. Why does the world always want to tear us apart?" Her voice had grown shrill with fury.
Robert only saw his son lying limp and still against the apparitionís bosom. "Scott!" he shouted and rushed to grab his child away from the woman who held him so tightly. But suddenly he was stopped; he had run up against something like a shield of hot air that wouldnít permit him to move further into the room. No matter how hard Robert tried to claw his way through it, he couldnít get to Scott.
From the corner of his eye, he saw that Mickey was also fighting an unseen force to get closer to the unbelievable tableau of the shining ghost and the still living being on the bed.
"Leave him alone!" Robert shouted to the phantom. With ultimate horror he saw that Scottís body was becoming transparent. He couldnít think of anything else to say. "Leave him alone!" he repeated.
She screamed at Robert. "Heís mine, we love each other. Weíve found each other again and you have no right to separate us again, Grandfather!"
Robert was flabbergasted. What did she say?
"McCall!" Mickey shouted, "she thinks youíre Archie. She thinks that Scott is Steve. Her lover, Steve."
"No!" Robert clawed at the invisible force field that stopped him from reaching his son. "Heís not Steve Madison."
The face of the woman melted and reformed into that of an angry ghoul. "No Grandfather youíre lying, like youíve always lied. Steven is here, back with me, back in my bed where we created our child. And here he will stay Ė with me Ė forever!"
At that, Scottís body faded to become almost insubstantial.
"No! No!" Robertís chest was tight with fear. "Iím not Archibald." He screamed in desperation, "For the love of God, Eleanor, look at me," he pleaded, "Iím your brother Williamís son, and the man in your arms is his grandson, your own grandnephew! Look at him!"
Her face, again looking like Eleanorís portrait, began to reflect confusion. "I donít believe you," she cried, her voice full of despair.
The room began to shake even more violently. "McCall, weíve got to get out of here," Mickey shouted, "Something real badís about to happen. I think the house is going to collapse!"
Robert redoubled his effort to get through the shield keeping him from Scott. As he struggled he saw Eleanor caress his sonís face. Silently, Scottís body blanked out of sight.
"Scott!" Robert felt all the blood drain from his face. He pushed all his emotions through his voice, desperate to get to his son. "Scott," he called out to the place on the bed that had just held his childís form, "Donít leave me, donít you dare!"
The ghost of Eleanor gasped as Scott became clearly visible again. He opened his eyes and focused on his father, "Dad?"
Robert couldnít stop himself as tears welled up in his eyes, "Please stay with me," he cried out, fighting to get through to his son. Then, using all of his courage, he forced himself to stand still. He let his words to carry all of his heartís feelings. "Scott. I love you boy."
Weak, Scott smiled at Robert. "I love you too Dad," his voice was barely audible above the increasing noise of the shuddering house. "I love you more than anyone else on earth." Scott lifted his hand, his fingers reaching for Robert, "I always have."
Eleanor screamed. But this time her wail was that of horror and sadness. "Itís true?"
Within a heartbeat, Robert found himself through the force field, holding his son in his arms.
"Itís true?" Eleanorís phantom had backed away from the men on the bed. "Not Steven? Not my love?" She began to wail again, so loudly that Robert felt the vibration palpably press against his skin. "No, itís a lie," she wept loudly, "Youíd do anything to stop me from being happy, Grandfather. Anything! And I hate you Grandfather, I hate you!"
Mickey had already gotten to the bed and was pulling on Robertís arm. "McCall! The house, I can smell smoke! Come on, grab him. Letís go!"
Suddenly the room rocked violently and another voice boomed at them from all directions. "How Dare you speak to me like that Eleanor! And how dare you bring this common trash into my house Ė again!"
As Robert tried to pull Scott onto his feet, the electric lights went out. The only illumination in the room came from the glowing spirit and the irregular brightness of fires burning elsewhere in the house.
"McCall!" He felt Mickeyís hands tighten on his shoulders, pulling hard. "Come on, this way!"
"No," Eleanor screamed, the anguish in her voice filled Robertís head. "Donít leave me Steven!" She looked at Robert, "Damn you grandfather!"
A cold wind began to blow as the booming voice rumble through the room. "Miserable child, to speak to me that way," it bellowed, "Thatís not your American, you stupid thing. Your filthy lover deserted you long ago. Whore! Didnít you learn your lesson?"
Eleanor extended her arms to Scott. "No, please. Donít leave me alone again, please." Her cry had turned pitiful.
Robert was still trying to wrap Scott in a blanket and get him off the heaving, rocking bed when he saw a large semi-transparent glowing figure appear in front of the bedroom door, blocking it. Eleanorís ghost also saw it and cringed against a wall.
"Jesus!" He heard Mickey gasp, "It looks like Archibald. McCall, look! Itís your great-grandfather!"
The large, angry apparition, the man whose visage adorned all the portraits in the house, surged closer to Eleanor. "Fallen slut. Yet again you try to bring shame upon the good McCall name! Again, you choose a lover from lowborn scum! Of course heís leaving you. Heíll run away like the other one."
"Oh no," Eleanorís ghost floated to the floor, the picture of misery, "Iím sorry. Iím sorry," the sound of her words started to fade, covered by the escalating noises of the quaking house.
Robert had just gotten Scott on his unsteady feet when he heard Mickey speak from behind him. "Sorry McCall, I canít stand here and let anyone browbeat a woman. Even a dead one."
"Hey Archie!" Mickey called out to the apparition, "Do your ghost thing buddy, but donít lie. Steve Madison didnít abandon Eleanor, and you know it. You used your cronies to get him transferred."
Eleanorís pale face looked up. "What? What did you say?"
"Lies, filthy lies," Archibald McCall roared as advanced towards Mickey and Robert, "Canít you hear, stupid girl? They are filthy Americans. I told you, you canít trust any of them. Lies Ė " Plaster was now falling off the walls and the smell of burning was getting stronger.
"My God, itís true!" Eleanor said as her body lifted to hover over the bed and study the living beings there. "This is Williamís son! This isnít Steven! And you!" she turned to Archibaldís ghost, "Grandfather, you lied when you said Steven used me as his whore and then abandoned me? You lied?"
"All true!" The diminutive figure of James had appeared at the entrance of the room and his high-pitched voice screeched into the air. Robert and Mickey were holding Scott up, trying to get towards the exit. But no matter how they struggled, the door seemed to remain a long way away.
Jamesís frail voice rang out, "All true! Oh Ellie, Ellie." His face was half in darkness and half lit by the glowing forms of his deceased family. Tears were coursing down his wrinkled face, he was out of breath and his clothing was dirty and disheveled. "Itís all true, my sweet, poor sister. Have you been here in this closed-up wing of the house all this time? Itís true!" James gasped for breath, "Grandfather told Steven that you realized your duty to you family and never wanted to see him again. Then he made sure Steven was transferred to the 381st Bomb Group at Ridgewell. Before I found out the truth, Steven was killed in a raid on Schweinfurt so I never told you. He died on the 17th of August, 1943. He never knew that you were carrying his child. He didnít desert you, my sweet Ellie. Grandfather drove him away!"
"My God!" Eleanor screamed. "Oh my God!"
"Be quiet!" the ghost of Archibald turned on James, "You worthless deviant! I let you keep my name and live in this house even after I found out about your sickening practices and this is how you thank me? You bring Williamís half-breed spawn into my house and now you spread lies about me! Do you want your sister to find out all about your perverted lifestyle?"
As the room began to dip dangerously downward, Robert looked out of the windows to see if they could get out that way. But, two stories up, there was no way any of them would survive that fall.
James stood shaking, his small body rocking with the tremors going through the house, "What do I care for your good name and aims at exalted respectability, Grandfather? My family is all dead. You left me nothing." James seemed to rally his strength, "You cast out my brother. Your way prevailed and Ellie and her child died. When my son departed this life, I was left alone. Because of you, I was left without any family."
Through the maelstrom of the room, Robert inched toward the listing doorway with Scott leaning heavily on his arm. Mickey went ahead of them, throwing aside the pieces of furniture and wood that kept falling to hinder their exit.
"Wait a second," Mickey shouted suddenly, "the babyís not dead!" The surprise of those words nearly made Robert let Scott slide to the ground, "I found that out today. I spoke to the midwife you brought in Archie! She kept the secret all these years, but I scared her and told her I was an investigator for the United States Government and knew about the American father, so she told me the truth. Since she also performed abortions, Archie thought sheíd kill Eleanorís baby for him, but she didnít, you old bastard!"
"My child lived?" Eleanor screeched.
"Eleanor kept her pregnancy a secret for too long. The midwife wouldnít do such a late abortion. She stayed on as Ellieís midwife and took the baby after it was born."
"Lies!" Archibald bellowed.
Mickey stepped closer to the large phantom and faced it down. "She gave the baby to a couple she knew, never letting on to you, you sick prick, that he lived." He turned to the other ghost, "She was afraid the bastard would send someone after the child to kill it. Your son is living in London, heís married with three kids and a couple of grandkids!"
"Liar!" Archie boomed, "How dare you interfere!" Robert watched in amazement as Mickey was suddenly lifted off the floor and hurled upward to the ceiling. His body stayed there for a moment and then fell back onto the floor.
"Mickey!" Robert shouted, he was torn between leaving his son and going to his friend, until he saw Mickey begin to get back to his feet.
"No!" Jamesí voice joined the clamor. "The baby didnít die?" James choked out the words, clutched at his chest and sank to the floor. "Grandfather! What have you done?"
"James!" Robert shouted.
"Get out, McCall! Iíve got him!" He heard Mickeyís voice over the crashing of timber and walls as the house started to shake itself to pieces.
"My God My God My God!" Eleanorís ghost shrieked over and over. "You ruined my life, you took all my reasons to live away. You stole my baby and my betrothed because of your need to make the McCall name respectable. You left me so that I didnít want to live! Monster!"
"How dare you speak to me that way!" Archibald Ďs form began to grow even larger and towered in the room. "This is my house. I will not permit any of you to remain to take my money, name or home. Worthless baggage, less than scum from the gutter, the lot of you."
"I cursed myself every day since Steven left." Eleanorís ghost started to expand and fill the room. "I thought my baby died because I had sinned so horrifically!" She shrieked at Archibald, "I buried myself in this room, refusing to go to my final rest so that I could suffer for eternity for my sins, and all along, I was tied to this cursed house because of your lies."
Robert called to Mickey, "Weíve got to get away from this room. Go down the stairs and out of the Hall. Iíll meet you outside. Hurry!"
"Cursed? My name and home cursed?" Archibald swung toward Eleanor, "I worked my fingers to the bone to scratch my way up from the slums. Out of the force of my will I made the McCall name something to be admired and proud of, and now!" He pounded his fist upon the wall and the echo of the blows reverberated over the Hall, bringing down even more of the mansion, creating louder explosions. "I wash my hands of you all, of this whole family. I don't care if this lineage vanishes from the face of the earth!"
With that, the fires surrounding them jumped higher and thick gray smoke began to pour into the room.
"No one of this McCall family will ever see the light of a new day," Archibald roared.
"I wonít permit that, Grandfather!" Eleanor howled back, "I wonít permit that!" Robert watched in horror as Eleanor flung a shimmering ball of fire in his direction. In the microsecond it took for Robert to deduce what was going to happen, he registered Eleanorís face. It had a smile on it, a smile that clicked a circuit in Robertís mind. He suddenly realized that it was the same as his fatherís smile.
Trying not to permit his nerves to shatter, Robert had just enough time to throw his body over Scott, mumbling a prayer as heat and debris rained down on them. When he lifted his head, relief washed over him as he saw that a wall had buckled outward, creating an escape route into the outer corridor.
"Mickey, here! Follow me!" Robert saw that Mickey was already swinging James onto his shoulder in the firemanís lift. Robert heaved Scott through the rubble into the relatively clearer air of the corridor.
As he scrambled away from the wall, he heard Archibald and Eleanor fighting amongst the deteriorating ruin of the room. "You stupid girl, you donít have the will to stand-up to me and win!" Archibald ranted.
Robert felt his lungs begin to burn with the acrid smoke as he propped a coughing and semi-conscious Scott against a wall.
"McCall, need help?" Mickey, close behind him, had his shirt pushed up over his mouth and was carrying a silent James draped over his shoulder.
"Iíll fight to save whatís left of my family!" Eleanorís voice could barely be heard over the rush of air and rubble that clamored throughout the house.
"No, Mickey, go on ahead and check the stairs as an exit." Robert managed to bark as he repositioned the blanket that had been wrapped around Scott. He covered his sonís head and as much of his naked torso as he could, "Iíll be right behind you." Robert coughed and he hefted Scott over his own shoulder and followed Mickey to the main staircase.
"Keep to the right!" Mickey shouted over the noise and flames when he got to the landing. "Itís a good solid staircase!" He gave a thumbs up and started down.
As Robert watched him descend the steps, disappearing into the smoke, he began to feel Scottís dead-weight bear down on him. His back and shoulder felt as if they would collapse and shooting pains went through his knees with every step down. His lungs began to tighten up and burn with each inhalation. He wrapped a corner of the blanket over his mouth and doubled his grasp on his son.
How many times had he carried his child in his arms? And now heíd do it once again Ė to save his life.
After what seemed like the long descent into hell, Robert finally came to the last step and felt the marble floor of the main hall beneath his feet. He wiped soot from his eyes with the blanket and saw Mickey struggling with the front doors.
"Come on, get them opened," his voice came out as a squawk.
Mickey was already letting Jamesís body slide off his shoulder onto the floor. "I canít get them open!" Mickey shouted through the noise and heated air. He gripped the handles of the wooden portals and bellowed in frustration as they refused to budge.
Feeling as if every moment would be his last, Robert looked to the large stained-glass windows on either side of the entrance. "Break them!" he pointed. He moved to where James was lying and deposited Scott next to him, covering them both with the blanket.
Mickey grabbed a smoldering chair and hurled it against the glass. It bounced off the window, not damaging it at all.
Robert went to Mickeyís aid and hardly felt the flesh on his hands burn as they both took the sides of a flaming table and, straining with the effort, heaved it hard at the window.
It also bounced away, leaving the glass untouched.
Robert and Mickey stared at each other in disbelief. "Itís the same force-field as upstairs," Mickey shouted. "The ghosts wonít let us get out."
Within a split second, Robert took one last look at James. He looked at his brave and courageous colleague who was once again fighting at his side. Mickey stood there swathed in smoke and soot, his charred hands dangling, blackened and bloody at his sides.
Then he looked at Scott, the person he loved with all his heart, lying crumpled on the floor.
Robert knew what he had to do.