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Kindred Spirits

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It was the day before the wedding, and the surface of the kitchen table Alison was sat around was buried completely beneath a mound of hot pink paper ball decorations; a mountain of flat pre-assembled ones on one side of her and an even more perilously unstable mountain of completed ones on the other, rising above her head. Somehow, she’d been enlisted to put them all together and hadn’t gotten her protests in fast enough before she’d been abandoned to it. She was honestly starting to believe she might go blind from the glare of the fluorescent paper, and she’d gotten more papercuts in the last hour than she believed she’d ever had in her entire life before then. Her skin was sticky with glue.

The decoration she’d been working on came unstuck in her hands just as Lieutenant Havers wandered in, and she seized the opportunity for distraction immediately, dropping the paper to her meagre clearing of workspace before her. Or she tried to drop it. The glue kept it stuck to her hands even as she tried to shake it off and she sighed dejectedly. Havers looked on with a slight grimace as she finally freed herself.    

“Having a better morning than me?!” she asked, moving just enough as she said it to topple the pile of completed little spheres from their perches, and she flinched as they tumbled into her lap. She met Havers’ commiserating look and couldn’t help but smile at his chuckle even as she sat up to her neck in hot pink tissue paper.

“Please tell me you’re having a better morning than me.”

“That television truly is marvellous,” he said in answer, jabbing his thumb behind him, “I keep thinking how splendid it would have been to have during the war - especially when it was too cold to venture out for cricket! And it often got bally cold,” he finished, his eyes ever so slightly vague. Remembering.

Alison shifted to sit up – she did try to go slowly at first, but it didn’t matter. The decorations cascaded to the floor regardless – and sat forward to look at him considerately.

“You finding it alright being back here? I know you didn’t have much of a choice to be stuck with us all,” she said kindly, laughing.

“No, no, it’s – nice, actually.”

He looked around, moving to trail his fingers across the table top and not noticing as they slipped through the wood. “You know,” he said, “I missed the place actually. Truthfully I never really wanted to leave…” he was still looking away, a slightly distant quality to his voice as he spoke, “but war was everywhere. I saw so many others go and felt I had to do the same.”

Remembering the Captain’s daily cry on his run Alison echoed, “for King and Country?”

Havers turned to her in surprise at her understanding. “Yes. Exactly.”

After a moment’s pause Havers looked as if he wanted to say something, his mouth slightly parted and brows slightly creased together as he thought through his words. Alison waited.   

“Everyone else,” he began carefully, “they died here.”

It was half question, half statement, and Alison confirmed it with a nod.

“That’s why they cannot leave the grounds,” he said in the same tone, and again Alison nodded.

“Yeah.”

Havers mirrored her nod in confirmation, and then asked a real kind of question. “And is that…usual?”

Alison thought back upon the other ghosts that she’d encountered outside of Button House, unable to follow her home. How it made her heart clench sometimes to go, knowing she’d been the first person they’d spoken to since they had died. She swallowed.

“Yeah.”   

“I understood that to be the case.” He noticed his idle fingers slipping in and out of the table and moved them away. “So, then, I – I don’t understand, why I am not in Africa?”

It was a statement that sounded like a question. Soft. Confused.

“Please don’t misunderstand Alison, I am so very glad that I am not. It’s crossed my mind to be thankful – more than once – that I am here with um…” he looked off again, and then took a deep breath before meeting her eyes “…so many fellow ghosts for company,” he finished in a slightly different tone of voice. “If I’m to be candid, I may have been in Africa, but I felt like I belonged here,” Again he looked away, as if he couldn’t not help it, as if his head was being moved by another presence in that direction, “like I’d left most of myself, here.”

Alison froze. Her jolt caused the unmade pile of decorations to slip to the floor.

Shed forgotten. A new ghost; a wedding. It’d slipped her mind.

She’d been trying to find something to say, thinking of the day Havers had arrived -

And with Havers’ last sentence she suddenly remembered what she had found that morning.

She remembered the letter she’d carefully put away.

She remembered the Captain’s reaction when she’d showed it to him.

Her fingers tightened on the edge of the table and she stared up wide eyed at Havers, still looking away, as somebody entered the kitchen. They walked right through Havers and he shuddered as they deposited yet another box of pink paper honeycomb decorations on the table. Alison didn’t even flinch at the thud of it.

Havers recovered from his distaste and shook himself, stepping away from the table. “Sorry, I’m holding you up.”

“No,” said Alison, and it was strangled. “Actually I have to go, er, check something,” she said as she stood. She needed to be sure she was right.

Hardly had she blurted her goodbye before she was speed walking from the kitchen.

Because she had an idea who that letter was addressed to. And that maybe it had not slipped beneath the floorboards at all, but had been placed there.   

She heard Pat’s voice and steered herself toward it, hoping hard that the Captain was still following all the bustling workpeople and giving orders they couldn’t hear.

Pat seemed to be giving some sort of talk to everyone else.  

“- No no no that’s the genius of it you see! With an electric carving knife you can go the Big Freezer in the garage and instead of defrosting a whole beef joint you can just cut it in half first/-”

He was interrupted by his own affronted noise of discontent as Alison replaced him at the front of the room without preamble. Julian rolled his eyes and sighed. “What now! ‘Cos I see you’ve been doing oh so spectacularly at sorting out -”

“Operation Matchmaker,” Pat jumped in. Julian scowled but Alison cut off whatever he’d opened his mouth to say.

“Guys,” she said urgently, and hushed, “I’ve never asked because I didn’t want to breach his privacy but this is actually, genuinely, really, important right now so…what’s the Captain’s name?!”

They blinked at her.

“Y’what?” said Pat.

“Just his first name. I just really need to doubly be certain about something.”  

They continued to blink at her.

“Why the hell d’you think we know?!” said Julian, throwing up his hands. 

“Okay maybe not you Julian but most of you would’ve been here during the war, you must of heard it at some point.”

If anything, the silence grew more profound.  

“Guys? Anyone?”

There were a few quiet umms and errs under their breath, a muffled drone Alison couldn’t figure out the source of, but nothing more. Mary offered a shrug.

Alison’s mouth dropped. “How can none of you know?!”

In slight desperation she turned to Thomas, and actually tried batting her lashes a little. “What about you Thomas?!” 

From his perch on the edge of the armrest he looked flustered but also genuinely surprised. “Well I  don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention.” With a lift of his chin he looked off dramatically, “I was reconciling with my new existence away from the mortal coil I had before dwelled.”

Pat frowned. “Thomas you’d died one hundred and twenty years ago.”

“TOO SOON,” Thomas snapped.

Alison ignored them. “Kitty?”

Kitty was fidgeting; fiddling with her hair and avoiding her eye. "Wellllll” she said, “it was actually rather boring, having all those soldiers here, and all in brown! Or green! No lovely red uniforms at all, and they did rather a lot of talking, so I didn’t really pay much attention.” She smiled.   

Alison made a last-ditch attempt. “Lady B?!”  

Fanny cleared her throat, made a plethora of faces, and she too begun fiddling with her hair. “…you see Alison they were moving my furniture all over and digging up my lovely garden…”

Abruptly Robin realised the muffled drone they could hear was coming from beneath the sofa, and he rolled out Humphrey’s head from where he’d gotten stuck.

"Finally,/” huffed Humphrey.

Alison stood in disbelief. “Are you telling me none of you know?!”

All at once they began making clamouring excuses, drowning out Humphrey’s raised voice as he tried to interject.

“Guys. I remember. It’s -”

Thomas shushed him. “Be quiet Humphrey, we’re trying to think here man!”

“But! -”

“Hush! I’ve almost got it…"

"Alison!”

Alison jumped. The Captain came striding toward her sternly, sweeping his swagger stick toward the kitchen, “why are you not putting those together!”

Alison floundered, but to her relief the Captain didn’t give her time to answer, continuing irately. “You’re miles behind schedule already!” he caught sight of more people moving around with wedding supplies and promptly continued off behind them, calling out over his shoulder. “Hop back to it Alison! Right away! They’re going to need that table.”

Alison was trying to work out the best course of action, making stuttering half-formed noises after the Captain, when she heard an almighty crash from outside and a few muffled curses.

“…Sorry, love,” came a shouted voice, “where was it you wanted these birdcages again?!”

Alison put her hands in her hair, looked toward where the Captain had gone, made a very stressed noise, and ran off toward the sound of another birdcage being dropped.