cCall shouted to be heard above the cracking of timber and the roar of the flames, "I need to talk to them. Eleanor listened to me before. She gave us a way out upstairs, she must care for the family."
Mickey knew instantly what was on his mind. "Archie wonít let her. You heard him. He wants us all dead."
Robert looked over at Scott and smiled, "Donít you see? I have to try. Itís our only hope."
Not sure that he was ready, even now, to allow McCall to make this sort of sacrifice, he called out, "Wait! McCall!" and watched as Robert moved across the hall and began climbing into the inferno that was now the second floor of the house. "Theyíre not going to listen! Stop! You stupid bastardÖ"
He wasnít sure his frantic words had been heard until his friend turned for an instant and raised one hand. Whether it was a salute or a farewell Mickey didnít know. Theyíd been through so much together Ė it couldnít end like this.
Knowing that McCall had just gone to his death, Mickey slumped against the front door. His chest hurt and it took him a few moments to realize that it was not overwhelming grief that was causing the dark spots in front of his eyes, but lack of oxygen.
He slid down until he was flat on the floor, making sure that James and Scottís faces were also down low, cheeks resting on the ground. The cleaner air cleared his thoughts and for a moment Mickey was seized with the idea that he should follow Robert up the flaming staircase. He changed his mind almost at once, McCall trusted him to look after his family and get them to safety.
Ignoring the pain in his burned hands and with what little strength he had left, Mickey got to his knees and began to pound on the heavy oak door with a broken chair leg. He didnít know what else to do.
Finally he had to stop. It was too hard to breathe, his lungs were on fire and once more there were dark edges to his vision. Laying his face next to the marble floor he took some shallow breaths. It didnít help much. His head was spinning and he felt weaker than he could ever remember.
They were going to suffocate very soon unless a miracle happened.
Lying there, Mickey slowly realized that there was a pure white light cutting through the flames at the top of the blazing staircase. At first he thought he was hallucinating but then the light grew even brighter and Archibald and Eleanor flew towards him.
Jesus! Now what?
Struggling against the lack of air, he somehow managed to crawl over to Scott and James. He placed as much of his body as he could over the unconscious men trying to protect them. There wasnít anything more that he could do.
He looked over his shoulder. The two ghosts were fighting. First one and then the other seemed to have the upper hand. The phrase "immortal combat " sprang into Mickeyís mind and he couldnít believe that he could still make jokes at a time like this. Walls disintegrated as they touched them and huge timbers fell, shattering the marble of the floor, sending shards flying in all directions. Light-headed, struggling for each breath, Mickey decided that maybe it would be better to be crushed by falling masonry than to suffocate.
The ghosts separated for a moment and Archie looked at Mickey with disdain. He railed at Eleanor, "Ha! Did you see that pathetic display upstairs? The half-breed begged me to release them. Itís too late. My family has betrayed me for the last time. Theyíre all going to die. I will kill anyone who dares go against me."
Eleanor looked in their direction for a moment and Mickey was sure he could see pity in her eyes. "No, grandfather. Youíre wrong. I canít let that happen. They must live."
She gestured and a ball of fire rushed from her hands. As Archie howled in rage, the great oak doors flew off their hinges and Mickey was suddenly gulping in great lungfuls of cold, fresh air. As the renewed oxygen supply helped adrenaline to pour into his veins, Mickey saw that the flames were leaping upwards even higher. With strength he didnít know he possessed, he grabbed James with one arm and Scott with the other and dragged them out of the fiery tomb Brantford Hall had become.
Outside, lungs complaining and muscles about to give up, Mickey managed to drag the two McCallís a safe distance from the blazing house. Finally, at the end of his strength and coughing violently, he collapsed beside them on the grass.
Looking back at the Hall, seeing the way the flames were leaping up through the roof and the way the fire was spreading, he still couldnít stop himself from trying his damnedest to go back. He was determined to find Robert. With a burst of resolve he managed to stumble back to the doorway.
"Robert!" He heard himself scream before he was driven to his knees by a hacking cough. He tried to crawl into the house but the intense heat and smoke drove him back down the walkway. He heard an almighty crash sound from within the house and parts of the staircase blew out of the entrance, showering him with sparks and sending flames shooting higher.
"McCall!" His voice strangled with smoke and tears, he shouted again, knowing it was useless and that his friend would never hear him.
As the house toppled, falling in on itself, an unearthly scream pierced the night. Mickey recognized Archieís voice, becoming weaker as the house burned even hotter.
Mickey felt it in his gut that the destruction of Brantford Hall meant the end for Archibald McCallís evil spirit. The evil bastard was tied in death to the place that he had sacrificed so much for. Without regret, Mickey wished him damnation and hoped he would burn in hell for eternity.
Using the last of his strength Mickey staggered away. He reached Scott and James and covered them both with the scorched blanket.
With a moan he buried his head in his palms and welcomed the agony that seared from his burned hands. The pain seemed to match his anguish. He never thought that he would see this day. How was he going to tell Scott? Or Control? With tears spilling down his cheeks he brought his head up and sat unmoving, waiting for the fire department to arrive.
His eyes were hurting from the glare and the sootís irritation but he couldnít bring himself to look away from the flames. After all, he was looking at Robert McCallís funeral pyre.
Once again he noticed the bright light against the flames but, as it grew larger, spreading a white light into the night as it approached him, he recognized the figure at its center as Eleanor. Mickey saw that she was carrying something cradled in her arms.
As she drew nearer he saw that it was Robert. She must have somehow protected his body from being consumed by the flames.
She put her burden down carefully. Suddenly Robert coughed and Mickeyís spirits soared! He was unconscious and covered in soot but McCall was still very much alive!
Eleanorís translucent face beamed at Robert lovingly. "Heís a very brave man." She looked at Mickey, "He was willing to die so that you would all live."
Mickey stared at the ghost, hardly believing what he saw inches from his face. He could actually see through her! Finally he found he could speak. "I know. Heís spent his life looking out for people. You can be proud of your nephew." Giving Eleanor a tired half-smile, he didnít know how to really voice his appreciation. "Thanks for bringing him back."
"And thank you for telling me about my son. It means I can go on now, that I donít have to spend the rest of eternity mourning and regretting my life."
Eleanor then rose a foot or so to float above the ground. She swooped over and settled down upon Scottís prone form. Her light dimmed for a moment as the young man began to cough and, on his own power, turned on his side. She touched James and Robert once again and then stopped in front of Mickey.
Eleanor looked straight into his eyes, "Will you tell my son that I love him?"
Pinned by her intense stare, there was only one way he could respond, only one way he wanted to respond. "I will Ė we all will, I swear it."
The sirens were closer now and automatically Mickey looked away, seeing the fire vehicles and blue flashing lights in the driveway. When he looked back Eleanor was gone.
7th November 1996
obert turned the car onto the main driveway leading to Brantford Hall. The four men in the car who had been chatting amicably, all fell into silence as they got their first glimpse of the ruins of the once large and stately house. A week had passed since the night of the fire and only today had they felt ready to go back to take a look.
Keeping well back from the still disintegrating remains, Robert parked the car. He released the lock for the trunk and Scott exited the car first to remove the wheelchair and set it up for James. The eldest McCall was still recuperating but was on the way to what Dr. Evans promised would be a full recovery. Mickey fumbled clumsily with the door for a moment, his burned and blistered hands were still covered with medicated gauze, but in a moment he was also outside, looking at the charred shell of the mansion.
Scott opened the passenger door and gently lifted James into the wheelchair. Robert got out of the car and passed a thick blanket to his son to tuck round his uncleís legs.
The day was sunny but quite cold, and Robert slipped his sunglasses on and adjusted his gloves before closing the car door and joining the other men as they took in the view of the ruins.
Robert glanced over as Scott knelt down to talk with James and felt a burst of pride. Because of his youth and because he'd had the least exposure to the smoke, his health had rallied faster than any of the others and Scott had been the first of them to be released from the hospital.
Immediately and very competently, he somehow found and rented a lovely house for them all to share. Scott also arranged for Rogers, his wife and one maid to be comfortably roomed in a cottage nearby to work for them. He had also contracted a full-time nurse for James.
They were all aware that their reaction to the smoke could have been worse. Luckily the Hall was very old and contained almost none of the modern plastics and chemicals that might have made the smoke even deadlier.
His eyes misted as he watched a thoughtful and self-assured Scott attend to James Ė and because he hated to rely on anyone for help, a slightly out-of-sorts Mickey Ė with grace and patience.
"If you donít mind dear boy," James spoke to Scott, "Iíd like to take a spin around the old place, just to see it all once more before the demolition experts start. It was my home for my whole life and," he sniffed, "my sonís home as well. If you donít mind, that is?"
Scott took the handles of the wheelchair right away. "Of course, Uncle James. Once around the old homestead, coming up."
James looked up over his shoulder to beam at the tall young man. "I canít tell you how I appreciate the kindness youíve shown me," James looked to Robert and Mickey too, "that youíve all shown me." He fumbled to get to the pocket of his coat and took out a handkerchief to dab at his nose.
Scott patted James on the shoulder. "Heck, thatís what familyís for," he said as he began to wheel the chair down the driveway.
Scottís words warmed Robert as he began to walk. In a moment, he realized that Mickey was at his side.
"I guess Scottís finally found a relative who doesnít remind him of his childhood resentments," Mickey said, "so he can shower him with affection."
"Ah," Robert studied the ground as they walked, "you heard our little discussion this morning?"
"Yep, I wouldíve had to be deaf to miss it. Look McCall, as much as I donít want to get in-between you two in an argument, I think Scottís right to want to go back to the States with me next week."
Anger snapped in Robertís chest. "But, heís permitting that woman to pull his strings. She leaves one message on his machine and heís off and running to her. He jumps the moment she snaps her fingers, even though she still refuses to get back together with him! And after the way she treated him Ė"
"Stop McCall. ĎThat womaní is Trisha, the mother of his child. And if sheís letting him go to birthing classes with her, and he wants to do it, then heís got every right to go. And youíve got every reason to back him up in this decision."
Robert shook his head, "I donít agree, to just drop his life Ė,"
"To be involved with his kid is exactly what he wants for his life!" Mickey almost shouted, but then brought his voice back down to a conversational tone, "You once told me that your father felt he had something to prove to his family, to himself, and to his son. You admitted it made him a damn good soldier and a damn bad father."
Robert remained silent but walked faster to let off some of the irritation he felt welling up.
Mickey kept pace with him. "We know that generations of McCall men looked to their profession and not to their family for fulfillment. You followed in those footsteps. Well, Scottís determined not to continue with that family tradition. His child is going to be the most important thing to him. And truthfully," Mickey stopped walking. "Iíd think youíd admire him for it."
Robert stopped in his tracks when the truth of Mickeyís words struck home. He took a deep breath of cold air. It still held the incinerated odor of the past that had been reduced to ashes with Brantford Hall.
"How the devil have you become so smart, Kostmayer?" he said, finally
Mickey stepped next to him. "I hang around with a remarkable man. I guess it rubs off."
"Ah, yes," he smiled, "I supposeÖ"
"Robert!" James called out in his shaky, high-pitched voice. Scott was wheeling him over to their location. Robert noted that they were near the east wing of Brantford Hall, the place where they all almost lost their lives.
"Robert!" James called out again.
"Yes, Uncle?" Robert called back in a cheerful voice.
Jamesís face brightened as he did every time he was called uncle; he had become quite energetic and loquacious these past days surrounded by the two McCalls, Mickey and the charming full-time nurse and physical therapist. "Iíve quite changed my mind about rebuilding the hall again!"
Robert chuckled, "Have you then?"
"Scott and I have been talking, and he reminded me that perhaps such a large house might not be a good idea now-a-days, cost of heating and all." He parked the wheelchair in front of the group.
James went on, hardly stopping to breathe as he spoke. "When I first invited you to Suffolk, I had planned on giving you the east wing of the hall to call your own. But well, we saw what came of that. But now I am thinking that perhaps we should build a few cottages, so that any members of the family can visit and have their own place to stay. It might be practical now that weíve found Eleanorís son, and his family Ė oh Robert," he finally took a deep breath and his wrinkled face shone, looking for all the world like a child asking about Christmas. "Will all of Eleanorís descendants be at the solicitorís meeting on Friday?"
"Eleanorís son, Winston, will be there and he said heís bringing his eldest son, whoís also a teacher. Afterwards we are going Winstonís home to meet all of them there." Robert said.
A bright light seemed to shine from James, "So we are a large family now? I still can hardly believe it. These few years after Henry and my grandchildren passed have been so lonely for me and now," he grabbed Scott's hand, "so many people to call family. I get to meet all the people who were lost to me. Itís quite overwhelming."
Robert stared at his uncle and, even though the sun was strong, he realized that a light was glowing around James. Robert took off his sunglasses to get a better look. It began to grow brighter than the daylight. And soon the radiance began to surround them all.
Robert looked at the others and saw they all were aware of it.
"Spooky," Mickey whispered.
"Feels familiar. Like Iím being hugged," Scott said.
"Yes," James agreed, " Embraced quite tenderly, I might add."
The light surrounding them began to shimmer with golden sparks, and a soft breeze surrounded them with a shower of autumn leaves.
A voice inside Robertís head suddenly whispered. "Thank you."
"Did anyone else hear that?" Mickey asked as he wiggled a finger in his ear.
"Eleanor!" James cried out, his head turning from side to side, looking around them, "Ellie, I heard you."
"Thank you," the voice whispered again inside his head, "Iím reunited with my Steven. I am at peace. Thanks to you."
Robert felt a whisper of warmth caress his lips and cheek for a moment. He touched his face and saw that the others were doing the same.
"Tell my child that I love him and always have," the voice whispered.
"Yes I will," Scott said dreamily.
"Ellie," Jamesís eyes were spilling quiet tears, "will you ever forgive me for not doing more to help you?"
"You could not have done any more than you did. I love you James," the voice said, "and we shall be together again."
The voice in Robertís head started to fade as the shimmering light surrounding them began to diminish. At the last moment, he was just able to hear Eleanorís voice say, "Bless you. All my love and thank you."
They all remained quiet for a few minutes. Robert felt a wonderful sense of contentment and peace surround the group.
"Perhaps one large house," James mused out of nowhere," Only around twenty rooms or so, and cottages for any family who might want one!" He rubbed his hands together, "yes, Iím used to staff and a good size house. Perhaps I will build a swimming pool and tennis courts. Grandfather forbid those as being too common, but now, as he has been sent on his way with his horrid hall, I shall do as we all like! What do you all say?" He looked around him.
"Sounds great Uncle James," Scott patted his shoulder.
It took a lot to force it out, but Robert faced his son. "Scott, since Iím staying with James until the week of Thanksgiving, why donít you take my flat in New York and ask Trisha if she would like to use your apartment until she finds a place to stay? Then, when I bring James to the city for the holiday, we can all be together."
Scott frowned at Robert. "You mean youíll agree to welcome Trisha, even though she wonít go back to living with me?"
"Iíll welcome my grandson and his mother," Robert said, hoping heíd mean what he said about Trisha before too long. He knew he would always welcome his grandson.
James smiled, "Iíve been going to New York in December ever since Henry and his family died, to forget about Christmas. To think you were also there all this time," James sighed, "This year I'll go to New York City for your Thanksgiving and shall return here to share the holiday with all my newfound family." He looked up at Mickey, "You can make it back for Christmas, wonít you my dear boy?"
Mickey grinned, "Wouldnít miss it for the world."
"Iím hungry," Scott declared, "what do you say we make a stop at the pub for a drink and something to eat?"
"Iím game," Mickey said, nudging Scott with his elbow "Nice to see that lifeís back to normal."
"I think Iíll try steak and kidney pie," Scott said, "It sounds interesting."
Mickey shuddered dramatically. "Iím not touching anything that used to strain Ė"
"Stop! Mickey please!" Robert insisted as Scott set James into the car.
"Iíve had worse than that McCall, and you were there to share it with me!" Mickey laughed out loud and he climbed in the backseat as Scott packed the wheelchair in the trunk.
Hearing the other three men laughing after Scott got into the car, Robert took one last look at what was left of the sorrow filled place that had haunted much of his childhood and almost ended his life.
As he got into the car and started the engine, he realized that the people he cared about most in the world surrounded him. Then he knew that once and for all, those unhappy McCall family ghosts had been put to rest Ė forever.