"The man went into the house. There was a bang. What was that? he asked."
Candy sighed, and tried for the umpteenth time to shut out the monotonous drone of Jonathan's reading. They usually did their homework together in the living-room, but tonight for some reason his reading out loud distracted her tremendously.
Or... 'some reason'? She was well aware what the reason was, and it wasn't really Jonathan's fault. Or anyone's fault for that matter. It was just...
"He turned on his flash... flashlight. There was the door. Slowly he opened it. It creaked."
Candy pushed her fingers in her ears and tried to focus on her notebook again. Seven lines she had written so far. Seven! And she was supposed to fill two pages at least! What was she ever going to write about?
And she couldn't ask Mum – that'd be like writing Mum's story instead of her own. Besides, she didn't want to make her cry. But what if you didn't remember all that much yourself? How could anyone write an essay about a father who died when they were four years old?
She could still hear Jonathan's shrill voice droning on about the man in the haunted house. It was impossible to escape – just like the Captain's gaze from his perch above the fireplace.
Another sigh, and as Jonathan just turned the page of his reader, she jumped right in. "Mum, can I please go up to the attic to do my homework? I can't concentrate here."
Her mother gave her a slightly worried look. "Do you need some help?"
"No, no." Not this time. "I just need some peace and quiet, that's all. And I can't have it here, with Jonathan practising his reading."
"Alright then, dear. But you better put on a cardigan; it's awfully chilly up there." She hesitated. "Are you sure you don't want to sit in the kitchen instead? It's a lot warmer there, and I'm sure you won't hear Jonathan anymore with both doors closed."
Candy just shook her head, gathered up her notebook, her pencil and eraser, and a moment later they heard her trudging up the stairs.
"Maybe I should read more quietly," Jonathan suggested with a tinge of guilt.
But his mother hugged him. "No, Jonathan, you're doing just fine. But of course the further you get in school, the more difficult your assignments become. And if it's something you really need to think about, it can be hard to concentrate in a room where other people are talking. Candy will be alright."
Meanwhile, Candy had reached the attic and pushed open the creaking door. It was dark in there, and a little eerie – the only light coming in was the sliver of moon visible outside the window. But she knew where the lamp was, and once it was lit, the spooky attic was bathed in a warm light.
Cautiously she sought her way through the labyrinth of assorted junk here to the empty desk in the centre of the room. Unlike everything else up here, the desk was immaculate – not a speck of dust anywhere on its surface. She had long suspected that Mum kept it that way to humour Jonathan in his fantasies about Captain Gregg. Or maybe Jonathan even kept it so neat himself – who knows? After all, miracles do happen.
She put down her notebook and writing gear, placed the lamp at the corner of the table and sat down in the ornate chair with a sigh. Right. Now she had all the peace and quiet she could possibly wish for. Let's see if she could recall anything else about her father to put in this blasted essay.
She rested her chin in her hands and read through the measly few lines she had gotten so far.
My father's name is Robert Edward Muir. He was born on March 17th, 1935 in Philadelphia, as the son of Ralph and Marjorie Muir. He had two younger brothers, named Michael and Andrew. He worked at the city council. He married my Mum in 1959. They got me in 1960, and my brother Jonathan in 1962. He died in a car accident in 1964.
Another sigh. What else was there to say? She wasn't even sure she remembered him herself – it could very well be that all she 'remembered' were the pictures and what Mum and Grandpa and Grandma had told her.
She picked up the scruffy, old-fashioned quill that lay to the side and twirled it slowly between her fingers. What she did remember was that Mummy had always gotten very sad when she talked about Daddy after he died, and often started crying. And she hadn't wanted Mummy to cry, so she had simply resolved never to ask about him again. He was dead, he was gone, and he would never come back – that much she had understood even as a four-year-old. Jonathan had been too small to understand, but she was the oldest, so it had been her earnest, self-appointed task to make sure Mummy wouldn't have to cry any more than strictly necessary.
And thus she had never broached the subject of Daddy again unless Mum brought it up herself. Which she didn't do all that often either. Maybe because she didn't want to make Jonathan and her cry either.
But the result was that she – Candace Muir – at the age of nine could barely fill half a page in her notebook about her father.
She threw down the old quill. "Blasted essay..." It was a good word for expressing something you felt particularly angry about: blast! She'd picked it up from Jonathan, who claimed he had learned it from his imaginary ghost-friend Captain Gregg. Of course he...
Suddenly she froze in her seat. What if...? Couldn't she...? Why not, really? Mrs. Henderson wanted her to write a proper essay, right? Two to four pages as usual, she had said. And since there was no way she was going to fill even one page about her real father, why not...?
And with a satisfied smirk she rested her chin in her hand to work out the details. Problem solved!
They had just started on their homework the following evening when the phone rang, and a moment later Martha's head appeared around the door of the living-room to say it was for Mrs. Muir. So Mrs. Muir went into the hall and picked up the phone. "Hello? This is Mrs. Muir speaking."
"Mrs. Muir, it's Mrs. Henderson, Candy's class teacher."
"Oh, hello, Mrs. Henderson. What can I do for you?" She glanced back towards the living-room. Apparently Candy was engrossed in her maths.
"Mrs. Muir, did you happen to read the essay Candy wrote for her homework yesterday?"
Mrs. Muir frowned a little. "No, I did not. I recall she did seem to have trouble getting started, but she said she didn't need any help. In the end she went off to the attic to work in peace and quiet, as she said, but when she came down again she happily told me she got it done." As an afterthought she added, "Candy is very conscientious about her homework, as I'm sure you have noticed. That's why I usually don't check up on her work – to foster her sense of responsibility. Unless she asks me to, that is."
On the other end of the line, Mrs. Henderson cleared her throat. "Well, this is one essay I think you should read, Mrs. Muir. Could you perhaps drop off your children a little early tomorrow morning, and come and see me in the classroom before school starts?"
"Yes, of course." She hesitated. "Would you like me to ask her about it right now?"
"No," came the reply. "No, I think you'd better read this first. Good evening, Mrs. Muir. I'll see you at school first thing tomorrow morning."
"Yes. Good evening." Slowly she put down the phone, with worry and curiosity battling for dominance in her mind. What on earth could Candy have written in that essay to cause such a reaction?
It had been awfully difficult to curb her curiosity and not ask her daughter about the offending essay. But here they were at school, it was barely ten to eight, and Candy and Jonathan gave her a hug goodbye and ran off to play with the other early arrivals in the playground.
And Mrs. Muir got out of the car, and quickly made her way to the main entrance. She felt oddly guilty without knowing what for, and wondered briefly if this was what it was like when you'd been summoned to the police station to bail your children out of jail for joyriding or shoplifting or something like that. Well, hopefully she'd never have the opportunity to make the comparison.
But there was Candy's classroom, with Mrs. Henderson at her desk.
She knocked, and at the teacher's, "Come in!" she entered the classroom and said, "You wanted to see me, Mrs. Henderson?"
"Ah, Mrs. Muir, yes. Well, I think you'd better read your daughter's essay yourself, before I say anything." She handed her the red notebook Mrs. Muir immediately recognized as Candy's.
So she took it, and leaning against one of the desks in the front row she looked at the title on the page that lay open in her hand.
My Dad? Was that what they'd had to write their essay about the other day? No wonder Candy had found it difficult!
But she forced herself to read on. After all, the school had all the records, so no doubt Mrs. Henderson was aware that Candy's father had been dead for several years. So what else could it be that had the teacher so worried?
With a frown she started reading her daughter's neat handwriting, and already at the first line she felt her jaw beginning to drop.
My father's name is Daniel Edward Muir. He is a very nice man, with blue eyes and lightbrown curly hair and a beard. He is a seacaptain, and that is why he is hardly ever home with us. He has been all over the world with his ship: in Africa and Japan and China and Russia and Europe and France and Australia and Canada and Brazil and Argentina and even to the Southpole. He brings stuff for people from one port to another.
There are ten people on his ship, and he is the boss. The ship is called Cacajo 2. Cacajo means CArolyn (my Mum's name) CAndy JOnathan. He says he feels like we are with him when his ship bears our names. The 2 is because it is his second ship. The first ship that was simply called Cacajo got in a very bad storm in the Pacific one day, and it sank. My Dad and most of the sailors managed to get to a deserted island, where they had to live off coconuts and berries. But they didn't know that some berries were poisonous, so they got very sick. But the native people of the island found them and cured them with special herbs. Everyone thought my father and the sailors were dead, but a few years later a Japanese ship came to the island and my father and his men were allowed to come on board and go back to Japan with them. And from Japan they came back home again. Of course we were very happy!
The house we live in now was built by my father's great-great-great-grandfather on his mother's side. It is called Gull Cottage and there are a lot of things that people used to have on ships a long time ago, like a telescope and a compass. Most of these things were my great-great-great-grandfather's, for he was a seacaptain, too. But my father likes these old things, and he always brings home lots of them when he comes to visit us. We store most of them in the attic, and my brother and I can play there as much as we want. We both like the big telescope best. It lets you look at faraway things as if they are right in front of you. My brother wants to follow the family tradition and become a seacaptain, too, when he grows up. My father has already taught him knots and how to shoot the sun. That helps you to find out where you are. He can also tell the time by the stars, but I think it's easier to look at the clock.
My father has lots of adventures when he is out at sea. He has even fought with pirates once! When he comes home my brother and I are always allowed to stay up very late so we won't miss out on any of his stories. But because he is away most of the time, we don't really miss him when he is at sea. It is normal when he is away, and special when he is home. Then it is almost like Christmas because he always brings us presents. I hope he comes home again soon.
Slowly, Mrs. Muir lowered the notebook. Her thoughts were such a jumble that she barely registered that Mrs. Henderson was addressing her again. "Pardon?"
"I said," Mrs. Henderson repeated. "It seems obvious to me that Candy sorely misses a father figure in her life. So badly even, that she has resorted to making one up."
"Yes," Mrs. Muir replied distractedly. What on earth had Candy been thinking? Why hadn't she simply written about Bob?
"I didn't want to make a scene in class about it," Mrs. Henderson continued. "It's not always easy to predict how sensitive a child is about a dead parent after several years." She hesitated. "Her father is dead though, isn't he?"
Mrs. Muir merely nodded. Oh Bob, how could she deny you like that? She was always such a Daddy's girl, and now...?
"I suggest, Mrs. Muir, that you have a serious talk with your daughter about this. And if I may be so bold, I'd certainly recommend seeking professional help for her. The trauma of losing a parent can manifest itself in many ways – even years later. This really should not be taken lightly, Mrs. Muir."
"No. No, of course not." Mrs. Muir had to physically force herself back to the present. "I will talk to her tonight, I promise. Can I... Is it okay if I take this notebook with me now?"
"Of course. Goodbye, Mrs. Muir. And thank you for dropping by."
Almost as in a daze, Mrs. Muir left the classroom and the building, and how she found her way back to the car she had no idea. But there she sat, with the incriminating notebook open on the steering wheel, with the hateful title, "My Dad", jumping out at her – glaringly, jeeringly, tauntingly. Oh Candy, how could you?
Tears stung behind her eyes. Bob... oh Bob, dammit, why did you have to die? Why couldn't you stay around and at least help me raise our kids – your kids? Your son whom I suspect doesn't even remember you at all. Your daughter who now denies your very existence...? What am I to do – what am I even to say to her?
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. It was no use, and she knew it. Bob was gone and she had to deal with raising the kids all by herself, as she had for the past five years. Darn it, why couldn't he be the one haunting Gull Cottage instead of...?
Her thoughts came to an abrupt halt. For Bob may not be there with helpful (or unhelpful) advice, but Captain Gregg was available. At least as a soundboard. And although his views may be somewhat old-fashioned, he had shown often enough that he really cared about her children. Even about Candy, to whom he still hadn't shown himself.
Or... had he? That story of Candy's did bear a remarkable semblance to the kind of things the Captain tended to tell Jonathan about. So had he perhaps shown himself to her now, too? Then why hadn't she said anything? And why hadn't he said anything?
She put the offending notebook aside and started the car. Until Candy came home from school, it seemed there was only one person who might be able to shed some light on this drama. And she was determined to get to the bottom of it, even if she had to... to... well, whatever one did to make a ghost talk!
Martha came out of the kitchen just as she came in the door. "Ah, Mrs. Muir. Would you fancy a fresh cup of coffee? I've just put the kettle on."
She shook her head, determined to speak to the Captain as soon as possible. "No, thank you, Martha. I've got a lot of work to catch up on. Can you please answer the phone for me and hold people off at the door?"
"Of course," Martha promised. But she already said it to Mrs. Muir's back as she quickly went up the stairs.
"Captain," Mrs. Muir called half-loud as she had closed the door of her room behind her. "Captain, I need to talk to you."
Instantly he appeared in the easy chair by the bookshelves. "Well, madam, what seems to be the problem?"
"Captain." She took a few firm steps in his direction. "Have you shown yourself to Candy without informing me?"
A twinge of sadness crossed his face. "No, madam. I'm afraid your daughter still doesn't seem ready to handle the idea of living with a ghost."
"Then how do you explain this?" She thrust the red notebook at him, opened on the page titled, "My Dad".
He quickly scanned through it, a clear twitch of amusement on his face. "An excellent composition if I may say so. Well worded, clear structure. She might very well follow in your footsteps one day, Mrs. Muir. Although..." He pulled at his earlobe. "The tale is a bit over the top of course."
"Over the top?" Mrs. Muir exclaimed. "She pretty much calls you her father, and yet you claim she's never seen you!"
"I assure you, madam, she has not." The Captain watched her pace back and forth. "Could she perhaps have embellished the things she's heard about me from Jonathan?"
"Perhaps, yes. But why would she do such a thing? What's wrong with writing about her own father – her real father?"
Tears were now evident in her voice, and a tissue magically appeared in her hand. And as she daubed her eyes with it, he observed quietly, "That's what this is really about, isn't it – that she seems to imply in this story that I'm her father, instead of your late husband."
Mrs. Muir stared at him for a second, and suddenly she sank down in the chair opposite his. "You're right of course. It hurts me, even though I know all too well that Candy had only just turned four at the time. How can anyone expect her to really remember her father?" She sighed. "But I still don't understand. I know for certain that she knows about her father, even if she may not really remember him. So what makes her suddenly deny that? Wishful thinking? But why would she want you for a father if she's never even met you?" She shook her head. "Her teacher thought that it might simply be a case of her missing a father figure in her life." A joyless laugh. "So maybe you should show yourself to her. As an alternative to psychiatric therapy."
He nodded. "I would be honoured to take on such a role in her life," he said in deep earnest. "But I suggest we wait and see what she has to say for herself about this composition when she comes home. It's no use trying to think of a solution as long as we don't know the facts."
Relieved that the burden was not on her shoulders alone anymore, Mrs. Muir smiled. "Thank you, Captain."
It was Mrs. Coburn's turn this week to bring the children home from school, and already twenty minutes before they could reasonably be expected, Mrs. Muir found herself pacing the living-room, reading and rereading Candy's latest composition.
But suddenly she started as she found the Captain blocking her way.
"I found this in the attic," he said, and handed her a sheet of notebookpaper that had clearly been crumpled up.
"My Dad", it said at the top, and Mrs. Muir read,
My father's name is Robert Edward Muir. He was born on March 17th, 1935 in Philadelphia as the son of Ralph and Marjorie Muir. He had two younger brothers, named Michael and Andrew. He worked at the city council. He married my Mum in 1959. They got me in 1960, and my brother Jonathan in 1962. He died in a car accident in 1964.
"This at least proves she hasn't forgotten him yet," was all the Captain said before he disappeared again.
Mrs. Muir pressed the crumpled paper to her chest, and felt tears flooding her eyes. No. Apparently Candy hadn't forgotten him yet. That was something to be grateful for under the circumstances. But then why did she deny her own father? Why had she thrown away this honest text about Bob, and resorted to that... that... nonsense about a seacaptain? Why, Candy? Why?
But there was the sound of a car door slamming, announcing the arrival of the children.
Mrs. Muir quickly composed herself. Crossing over to the kitchen, she wiped away her tears and called with an almost steady voice, "Martha? Martha, I have something important to discuss with Candy. Can you please keep Jonathan away from the living-room until we're done?"
"Sure," was all Martha got out before the front door opened and the two young Muirs came running in.
"Hi Mum, hi Martha!"
"Hello kids, how was school today?"
"Fine," came the standard reply in unison.
And a nervous Mrs. Muir gathered up her courage. "Candy, can I talk to you for a moment?"
Candy gave her a look of surprise, but obediently she followed her mother into the living-room and sat down with her on the couch.
"Candy," her mother began, trying to hide her anguish the best she could. "Candy, Mrs. Henderson has shown me the essay you have written this week – about your Dad." She produced the red notebook, and instantly, Candy's cheeks turned a bright shade of crimson.
"Candy?" her mother probed.
"You weren't supposed to see that," the girl grunted, her eyes fixed on the floor.
"Candy, why did you make up this story about a seacaptain instead of writing about your own Dad?"
The girl looked up. "Are you mad at me?"
Mrs. Muir was taken aback for a moment. "Mad at you?"
Another shrug. "For telling such a big lie." She looked away again.
Her mother shook her head. "I was a little mad – at first," she admitted. "But mostly I was terribly sad and disappointed. I didn't understand. I thought you had forgotten all about your Dad." She reached behind her. "Until we found this."
Candy glanced at the crumpled paper and sighed. "I didn't mean to make you sad, Mum – I really didn't. That's why I did it in the first place."
Her mother looked rather puzzled. "Maybe this makes more sense if we start from the beginning instead of at the end. It seems to me you started writing your essay about your Dad, but then you changed your mind and wrote about this captain instead. Is that correct?"
The girl nodded.
"What made you decide to do that?"
Candy sighed, and still kept her eyes on the floor. "I tried writing about Dad – I really tried, Mum. But it didn't work. I just didn't know what to write."
Her mother hugged her close. "Then why didn't you come and ask me? I could tell you lots of things about your father."
The girl shook her head. "I didn't want to make you cry. And besides, then it would have been your story, not mine."
Mrs. Muir had a sad smile. "Sweetheart, you're always welcome to ask me about your father – even if it does make me cry occasionally. The last thing I want is for you to forget about your father." A painful grimace. "It's bad enough that Jonathan doesn't remember him at all – he wasn't even two years old yet at the time. I wouldn't want you to forget the little you may remember as well."
Candy looked up. "See? You're already crying," she said quietly.
Her mother forced a grin through her tears. "Yes, but that's just because I feel so bad for talking so little about your father that his daughter couldn't even write a decent essay about him."
Candy returned the grin. "Well, I did write a decent essay, I think. The kind Mrs. Henderson expects from us. It just wasn't really about my father."
"Which brings us right back to the heart of the issue." Mrs. Muir wiped away a stray tear. "I understand why you didn't want to ask me, although I still think you should have. But what on earth made you decide to write that fancy tale about having a seacaptain for a father?"
A hint of colour rose to Candy's cheeks again as she studiously avoided her mother's eyes. "Well... you see, we had to write at least two pages. And I didn't recall enough about Dad to fill even one page, so I was going to have to make up things in any case." She hesitated. "But it felt awful having to make up things about my own Dad. I don't know – somehow it was easier to make up a whole new Dad than telling lies about my real Dad." She shyly glanced up at her mother. "Does that sound weird?"
"No." Her mother stroked back the girl's blonde hair. "No, it doesn't sound weird, honey. It just shows that you still do love your father, even if you don't remember much about him."
"I suppose so, yes." Candy pulled up her knees to her chest, and nodded toward the painting above the fireplace. "So I decided to borrow Jonathan's ghost-captain, and write about him instead. At least there's enough to tell about a seacaptain to fill a few pages, and with such a job it'd make sense that he wasn't home very often. And with the way Jonathan is always going on about him, I figured I could make the story sound genuine enough to give Mrs. Henderson the idea that I knew what I was talking about."
Her mother smiled at that. "I understand. So it was merely a practical way to deal with a difficult homework assignment, right?"
Candy nodded. "So you're not mad?"
"No, I'm not mad, dear. Although..." Her mother's eyes flitted to the curtain that closed off the alcove.
Candy followed her gaze, but there was nothing there. "Although what?" she prompted.
Her mother jerked as if she was torn from a private reverie. "What? Oh! Hm. I mean... Candy, do you think you would like to have a father figure in your life again?"
The girl gave her a puzzled look – but suddenly her eyes narrowed and she asked, "Are you thinking of marrying another man?"
"No – goodness, no!" Her mother's laugh sounded rather nervous to Candy's ears. "Believe me, there's no one suitable around here that I would even consider marrying." Again she looked over to the curtain, but then she continued in a more calm voice, "I just meant it hypothetically: having a friend – a grown-up male friend – who can do those real father-things with you and Jonathan. That doesn't necessarily mean I need to marry him." She paused. "Would you like that – having sort of a surrogate father?"
Candy mulled that over for a moment. "I don't know," she said slowly. "I don't really remember what it's like to have a father. But it might be nice to try. Most kids I know love doing things with their father, so..."
Once again her mother looked over to the curtain, and even nodded at it. Odd... But then she turned back to her daughter. "Candy, there is someone who would love to take on the role of surrogate father for you."
Candy raised her eyebrows. "Who? Do I know him?" A sudden grimace. "Not Mr. Gregg, I hope?"
Her mother laughed a little, and took her hands in hers. "No, not Mr. Gregg. Though his name is Gregg, too. It's..." A deep breath. "It's Jonathan's ghost."
Candy stared at her in utter incomprehension, before she let her eyes wander off to the portrait above the fireplace. "Him? But he's dead!"
"Yes, he is." She closed her eyes for a moment. This sure wasn't easy... "He is dead, but his spirit still lives here in Gull Cottage."
"You don't believe in ghosts," Candy reproached in return. "You've always said so. Ghosts are just figments of people's imagination."
Her mother nodded. "That's what I used to believe, yes. But sometimes, the facts force you to alter your beliefs. And there is simply no denying that Captain Gregg's spirit still lives in this house."
"How do you know?" the practical Candy demanded. "Have you seen him?"
Her mother nodded. "Many times. Practically every day since we moved in here. All I need to do is call him, and usually he appears instantly. Jonathan sees him, too, and so does Scruffy."
"Scruffy, too?" the girl reacted surprised.
"Yes, Scruffy, too. And remember all those tales of Jonathan's about everything he does with the Captain?"
Candy nodded, and her mother squeezed her hands encouragingly.
"Those stories are true, Candy. Captain Gregg really is like a surrogate father for him. And he'd very much like to be the same for you – but only if you want him to. And I confess he's become... well, quite a good friend for me, too."
"He is?" Candy frowned. "Then how come I've never seen him?"
"Based on your reactions to Jonathan's stories, the Captain was afraid that you'd be frightened of him. He's a good man, Candy – he really doesn't want to scare you."
"Hm," Candy harrumphed as she slid off the couch. "Well, if Jonathan isn't afraid of him, then I'm not afraid of him either. After all, I'm two years older!" And with that, she marched right out of the room – only to turn back right away to ask where she might find the Captain.
Another glance at the curtain – what the heck did she see there? – and her mother replied, "Why don't you try the attic? That's where most of his stuff is stored."
Candy turned on her heel, and the two grown-ups in the living-room listened to her stomping up the stairs in angry defiance of that stupid ghost who didn't even give her a chance to show that she was no more afraid of him than her baby brother. Just because she was a girl no doubt!
"Please, Captain," Mrs. Muir pleaded as the determined footsteps continued up the stairs to the attic. "Be gentle with her."
"No need to worry, madam. Of course I will." And instantly the Captain disappeared from his spot in front of the alcove curtains.
Cautiously, Candy inched the creaking door of the attic room open. A broad beam of daylight shone in through the window, so things didn't look half as eerie has they had two days ago, when she had come up here to write her essay in peace and quiet.
But back then she hadn't known – or rather: not believed – that there was a ghost living in Gull Cottage...
But if what Mum said was true, she was determined to wipe out the shameful fact that she had been badly outdone by her little brother in this matter. So she stuck out her chin, muttered once more that if Jonathan wasn't afraid of a ghost, then she wasn't afraid either, and with a deep breath she stepped into the room and closed the door behind her. There – that would show the blasted ghost that she wasn't afraid of him!
But nothing happened. Here she stood, tense as a spring for her first private meeting with a real live ghost – and nothing happened?
Her eyes wandered over all the wonderful old junk strewn about. How many times had she and Jonathan played up here – apparently with the Captain's personal belongings? And there was the large desk – spic and span as ever – where she had written her essay. So maybe he kept it so neat and clean himself?
Now where was that blasted ghost? He wasn't afraid of her, was he? Perhaps she should call him? Mummy had said something like that he appeared whenever she called him. Well, better get it over with then. "Captain Gregg?" Awfully shrill it sounded, but it was now or never. She pushed away her latent fear and yelled at the top of her lungs, "Captain Gregg! I dare you to show yourself to me! I'm not afraid of a silly ghost!"
She jumped at least a foot high as all of a sudden a man was sitting in the ornate chair at the desk. Already she turned to run from the room – when she remembered Jonathan, and that she had vowed not to be scared...
Slowly, warily, she turned back to face the man. The curly lightbrown hair, the beard, the blue eyes, the dark jacket... He sure looked just like the guy in the painting. Only his cap was missing.
For an unconscious amount of time she just stood there, staring at him, taking him in. And he looked back at her, with his best friendly uncle look.
At last, Candy found her power of speech again. "A... are you for real?"
The man at the desk nodded. "Yes, Candy, I am for real. Not alive, but definitely for real."
"How do you know my name?" the girl breathed.
"From your mother. And from Jonathan."
"Oh." Yes, that made sense. She ventured a step closer – after all, he didn't look very scary. Normal even. Like a man you could meet out in the street. "Are you really a ghost? You don't look like one."
He chuckled. "You mean with a sheet over my head? No – those are only the childish pranks of Halloween. I'm still the same man I always was – only not alive anymore."
Candy returned the smile in a rather wobbly manner, and whispered in awe, "So the people in Schooner Bay were right – Gull Cottage really is haunted!"
But the Captain shrugged it away. "If that's what you want to call a man residing in his own lawful home..."
"But they say you scared lots of tenants away," Candy insisted hesitantly.
"And so I did." The Captain took up his pipe and checked if there was any tobacco left in it.
It looked so homey that she ventured yet another step closer. "Why? And how come you didn't chase us away?"
He grumbled a bit. "I tried to at first, as you might recall. Don't you remember your first night here?"
Candy nodded. "Coming and going, all night long."
"Exactly." He sat up and put down his pipe. "But unlike those other nitwits that Claymore imposed upon me over the years, I found to my own surprise that I didn't want you to leave."
Furtively, he glanced around. "Can you keep a secret? A real secret?"
The girl nodded eagerly. "Cross my heart and hope to... Oh. I'm sorry."
He smiled his crooked little smile. "That's okay. I've gotten used to it by now."
"But what is this secret?" Candy pressed him. "I promise I won't tell anyone."
He beckoned her a little closer still. "When I first set eyes upon your mother, something happened to me that I had never experienced before – I fell in love."
Candy's eyes beamed. "With my Mum? Oh, how romantic! Does she know – have you told her? No – of course not, otherwise you wouldn't be telling me this in secret. But..." She faltered. "How can you fall in love when you're... well... dead?"
He shrugged a little. "I don't know – it just happened. I still have ordinary human feelings, you know." He sighed. "But believe me, having been a confirmed bachelor all my life – and I mean both before and after my passing – I was truly astounded to find how much having a wife and a family enriches one's existence."
Candy's eyes bulged. "Wife? You mean you're married to my Mum?"
A quiet laugh grumbled up from his throat. "No, my dear, there's no need to worry about that. Although I would certainly have asked for your mother's hand in marriage had she been born in my time – or I in hers. Unfortunately, that was not meant to be."
Candy let go of her breath with obvious relief. "No. I suppose it gets complicated with the paperwork if you want to marry a ghost."
"Exactly." Another quiet laugh, but he sobered right away. "No. Instead I've settled for the next-best thing: to protect and take care of your mother to the best of my limited supernatural abilities, and to experience the joys of fatherhood by pretending to be Jonathan's surrogate father." His face softened. "And I would dearly like to pretend to be your surrogate father, too, Candy. That is, if you would allow me to. I would be truly honoured to have a fine young lady like you for a daughter."
Candy couldn't help but grant him her warmest smile. "That'd be neat. Thanks," she said quietly.
He returned the smile in full. "I should be the one thanking you instead," he insisted. "But let us not quarrel about that. In the meantime, is there anything in particular you've been longing to do with a father?"
Candy's face turned thoughtful. "I remember," she said slowly. "How my Dad used to throw me high up in the air and then catch me again..." Her voice trailed off as she noticed the Captain's pained expression.
"I'm sorry, Candy, but that is not the kind of thing I'm able to do. I'm not solid like a real person, remember? I'm just a ghost. I can't touch you."
The girl studied him – almost as if she suddenly remembered she'd been talking to a ghost for the past ten minutes, he thought.
"You look solid enough to me," she remarked gravely. But before he could make a reply, she shrugged it off and pitched another idea. "So can you play ball with us then? Or tell me about all these things you have in the attic here? Or teach me all that stuff you've been teaching Jonathan, like shooting the sun?"
His smile returned. "That I can do, yes."
"Or..." Candy leaned over the desk and picked up the scruffy quill she'd been playing with before. "Can you teach me how to write with this? That'd be really neat!"
His smile broadened. "I can even help you to make your own, if you like – a new one instead of this old thing. But it might not be a bad idea to practise with the old one first." He vacated the chair and went in search of some paper, leaving Candy to twirl the old quill between her fingers and tickling her cheeks with it.
"Captain Gregg?" she began as he returned with a few sheets of paper and invited her to sit down at the desk.
"I think I'm going to like having you for a father. Even if it's only a surrogate one."
He looked down at the blonde girl as she eagerly reached for the inkpot to try out the old quill. "And I'm delighted, too, to finally have you for a daughter, Candy Muir," he replied quietly. And he smiled with a tinge of sadness. "Even if it's only make-believe."