Of time now far past
Might some memory remain
“Someone inside opened the door. Or it blew open again,” Rick says.
“There’s no wind.”
“Then someone heard us drive up and opened it.”
When it comes to the unexplained, Meghan knows there’s no point arguing with Rick. Not that she believes in ghosts. But still. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio….”
“And they all have a logical explanation. Come on, let’s go in.”
As they walk toward the house, one of the students appears in the doorway. “Did you guys open the door?” he asks.
“No, didn’t you?” Meghan says with a sidelong look at Rick.
“Damn thing’s going off on its own again,” Don says as they climb the steps. “The carpenter came by earlier and said nothing’s wrong. Shows what he knows.”
“He knows more than you,” a woman’s voice calls from the living room. “The door works fine.”
Meghan sheds her coat and sees the house’s owner, Emily Rushford. Mrs. Rushford might be nearing ninety, but she’s still active, both mentally and physically. Her clear blue stare unsettles Meghan. It’s as if the woman can see through her.
“Meghan understands now, don’t you, dear.”
“Understands what?” Rick asks.
“The gray lady. She led you here through the fog.”
“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” Rick says.
“Bad weather brings her out,” Mrs. Rushford continues, as if she hadn’t heard him. “Come sit down, you two, while someone fetches some drinks.”
Meghan and Rick join the group in the living room, sitting on the floor since the other seats are taken, while Don grabs a round of beers. Mrs. Rushford sips her sherry.
“Who’s the gray lady?” Meghan asks.
“The daughter of the man who built this house back in 1802, Anne Sprigg. It was an ordinary back then, offering lodging and food to travelers. On foggy days like this, she would stay by the end of the road, waiting to guide anyone who might need a place to stay.”
“All day?” Meghan asks. “What a boring job.”
“Undoubtedly,” Mrs. Rushford says. “But one that needed doing.”
“Why stick around to keep doing that?” Rick asks. “Didn’t she have a real life after she married?”
“Oh, but she never did. As in many families back then, she was the daughter that stayed home to take care of the parents and didn’t marry. Some would, after the parents passed, but not all. Her father left her the ordinary when he died, and she ran it until she died some years later.”
“Still,” Don says, “Why spend eternity out in the cold and fog? Seems a waste of an afterlife to me.”
Mrs. Rushford looks at him over her glasses, reminding Meghan of an old school marm in a Hollywood western.
“Atonement, perhaps, for causing the death of her niece.”
The audience’s eyes go wide, except for Rick’s. “And how did that happen?” he asks.
“The girl was responsible for Anne’s old job, standing by the road in bad weather. One afternoon, a winter storm blew in, much like the one we just had, only worse. Her orders were to stay at her post until dusk. The poor girl was near frozen through when she reached the house that evening. She died a few days later, probably of exposure or pneumonia.”
Meghan reaches for a tissue, ready to blame the blazing fire if someone comments on her watery eyes. The room is silent as Mrs. Rushford takes another sip of sherry and continues the tale.
“Anne was devastated and died just two weeks later, of grief everyone said. Her nephew took over the ordinary afterward. And it wasn’t long before his servants and travelers began telling tales of a misty apparition leading them all back to the house when the weather was bad. Some said it was Anne looking for her niece. Others said she couldn’t leave her life’s work behind—no matter how boring later generations might find it.”
Meghan’s cheeks redden.
Mrs. Rushford rises from her chair. “Well, it’s late, and I should get home and leave you to your dinner. You can show me more of what you’ve found tomorrow.”
“I’ll drive you,” Don offers.
The group rises to see Mrs. Rushford to the door—which swings open as she and Don approach it. “Why, thank you, Anne,” she says as she walks through.
Rick takes hold of the door and shuts it firmly, making sure the deadbolt is secure. “You know, old houses need a lot of work,” he says to Meghan. “Let’s buy a new one.”
Meghan shivers as a cool breeze passes between them. “No arguments here.”
To this day, Rick swears the old field house wasn’t haunted and there’s no such thing as ghosts. Meghan doesn’t argue. Still, every now and again, she wishes they could stay in old B&Bs or inns when they’re traveling. But Rick says they’re too noisy and uncomfortable….