The hollow thump of running on the stairs would have disturbed Arabella if she hadn’t previously decided to ignore Johnny’s outbursts. She kept her eyes deliberately on her book and continued reading until the door to the parlor crashed open.
Johnny came streaming in and stood in front of her awash in brilliant, pulsating light. “We have company again!”
“Do we indeed?” Arabella didn’t look up. “You’d better calm down or they’ll see you.”
Rupert rose from his chair and went over to peer out the window. “There seems to be more of them this time.”
Arabella sighed. “Don’t move the curtain, my love. It will only encourage them.”
“Very true, my dear, very true,” Rupert said apologetically. “I beg your pardon.”
Johnny looked out the window also. “Far out, man! They’ve got movie cameras.”
“I believe it’s the same group as the last time. They’re wearing the same shirts. N.E.S.S.: New England Spirit Seekers.”
Arabella gave the air a delicate sniff. “They have a medium with them. How droll.” She turned the page of her book.
“Far-freakin-out,” Johnny exclaimed. “Let’s push Hank out onto the landing and see what happens. He’s looking really bad today.”
They all turned to look at the spirit in the corner. Arabella lifted her lorgnette in that direction. Hank hovered, gray and semi-transparent even to their eyes, trapped in a haze of equally colorless miasma. His mouth hung open in a perpetually silent scream below the gaping hole of his nasal cavity. Only his agonized eyes seemed alive.
“Oh, no, let’s not,” Rupert said. He regarded Hank with embarrassed compassion. “A gentleman doesn’t want to be seen like that. His suit is in tatters.”
“His suit?” Johnny laughed. “Man, his skin is falling off. He doesn’t care about his clothes. Do you, Hank?”
Hank slowly turned to stare at Johnny. His lipless mouth worked silently.
Arabella closed the book and set her eyepiece on top of it. “I was reading Henry James. It’s one of the few pleasures Hank can still enjoy and you constantly interrupt us.”
“He’ll like this better,” Johnny assured her. “Are you ready, Hank? I’m going to hide behind you and moan real loud. Try to wave your arms or something. This is gonna be groovy, man.” He positioned himself behind the floating mass that was part-Hank, part-vapor and pushed it towards the door.
“Really, I must protest — ” Arabella began.
Rupert touched his wife’s arm. “Don’t upset yourself, my dear.”
“Just look at him,” she responded, gesturing at the light beaming in from the landing. “He’s all worked up into a glow. He’s making himself far too visible. One of these days, someone will return with a priest and Johnny will be the next one who finds himself forced through the portal. You would expect him to have better sense.”
“He’s young.” Rupert patted her hand gently.
“Oooooooooooo!” They could hear Johnny out on the landing. “OooooooooOOOOOOoooooo! Oooooooo — ” There was a pause, and then: “Uh, oh.”
The sound of living voices filtered up to the parlor, united in a chant.
“There,” Arabella said staunchly, “didn’t I tell you?”
There was another moan from Johnny; this time it was genuine. “I don’t want to cross over, man!”
The light from the landing flashed brilliantly just once before going dark.
Rupert brought his wife’s hand to his lips as she let out a long sigh. “No one can say you didn’t warn him, my dear.”
She motioned toward the door with her free hand. “Darling, would you please — ”
“Yes, of course.” Rupert went out onto the landing and returned, pushing Hank in front of him. He stationed the spirit in the far corner of the parlor once again.
Arabella picked up her lorgnette and opened the book. “Now,” she said, “where were we?”
Rupert went back to his chair to listen while Hank looked on with agonized eyes.
Deborah Winter-Blood is a writer, dog mom and displaced California Valley Girl. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications over the past 30 years. She’s recently completed her second novel.