Nate stepped forward when he recognised the face, and for a moment Robin looked scared. Then he looked around him and saw that there were only four ghosts left to absolve, and some of the tension drained from him. He still looked wary, and then looked to see why Nate had moved. He swore when he, too, saw the face.
“Billy,” said Nate, his voice sorrowful. “What brings you here, Billy?” He reached out a hand but his fingers touched nothing. In return, the ghost lunged at him, clawing at his neck with hands that were wizened and bent out of shape, and then trying ineffectually to tear Nate’s throat out with ghostly teeth. The savagery of the attach was lost on Nate, who couldn’t see it or feel it while the ghost was close; but to Robin it was horrible to see a man he’d respected turned into an animal like this.
“Nate,” he said, putting his flesh-and-blood hand on Nate’s shoulder. “Stay back.”
“It’s Billy,” said Nate, but he stepped back until his back was against the door of the hold again, and resumed his position. He said nothing, but when Billy’s ghost dissolved into a haze of sparkles that faded like the stars at dawn, there was a sound that might have been the sniff of a man tearing up.
Ten minutes later and the ghosts were all saved, and the two men were stood back out on the deck again. Nate turned the wheel, and let out some sail to catch the night-winds, and the boat creaked as she began to move again. When the course was sure, Nate locked the wheel in place, and looked at Robin.
“That was Billy,” he said.
Billy Lemanc had grown up with Nate’s daughter and to a lesser extent, Robin. Robin had been about five years older than him, so they’d played together as children a little, but Nate daughter Alice, who was only two years older than him, had known him better. He’d been a good child for the most part, no more naughty that any other child in the village, and better still than some. Then a year and a half ago he’d left to hunt for treasure in the hills behind the village, and not come back. Before he left though, in Nate’s house, in front of Alice and Robin, Billy had declared his undying love for Alice and broken down in tears.
“I saw him too,” said Robin. He didn’t know what to think of Billy’s ghost, and wished that Nate could have seen the ghost’s hunger for the flesh of the living the way he had. Nate didn’t seem careful enough around the ghosts.
“So he’s dead then,” said Nate. His voice was flat and controlled.
“Looks like it,” said Robin. “He’d been gone long enough, you know.”
“There was talk of looking for him, a while back.”
“And I offered to go along,” said Robin. “I pushed for that, Nate. You were there, you heard me talk.”
“Aye, and we didn’t did we? And now I’ve seen his ghost, and I wonder if maybe he was still alive when we were going to go looking.”
“Might not be,” said Robin. “His ghost is only out here because his body’s come back to the sea. He could have been stuck up in those hills for months before the body got washed down.”
“Doesn’t seem right, really,” said Nate. “Feels unfinished, somehow.”
Robin shivered. “I know what you mean,” he said quietly. “Like that was somehow a warning.”
“Like that wasn’t the last we’ll see of him,” said Nate.
The boat creaked, and Nate unlocked the wheel to adjust their course. Land was coming into sight once more.