“Can I help you?” the ghost whispered.
It drifted behind the dust-covered reference desk, an insubstantial wisp with a hint of long hair wrapped in an untidy bun and the barest glimpse of wire-rimmed spectacles. I tried not to stare. It had been decades since anyone had required corrective lenses. And, well, she was dead. She wasn’t supposed to exist at all.
I cleared my throat. The sound echoed in the library’s cavernous skeleton. “I’m, uh, looking for a book.”
These days, Grant Buglass of the Cumbrian Constabulary dislikes going to the coast. The mere sight of the ocean waves is enough to trigger deep, clammy discomfort in him, and the feelings only become worse on days when the Irish Sea is wreathed in impenetrable mist. If only he hadn’t taken up the case of Edward Smith, and if only he hadn’t read that damned man’s diary.
If only he had never seen the light in the fog.
He had been called to the beach near St. Bee’s head just a scant three weeks ago, a simple report of someone having drowned being his call to action. Grim things, drownings; he had never liked the way they left a body looking, and even though they were rare enough the waters near that coastline could be unpredictable and violent when the weather had a mind to whip them up. Wincing as the cold autumn air struck his head and neck, the policeman gritted his teeth and strode out into the icy world outside, making his way up the valley roads from the comfortable yet small station in Whitehaven up to the shelterless heights of St. Bees, the village from which the cliff head gathered its name. It didn’t take him long to reach the beach, nor to discover the body. The locals had done their best to keep what few tourists were around away from it, and as he approached one of them ran to meet him, a sturdy woman of fifty who’d lived in the area her entire life.
“A tolt ‘im, ‘divn’t you go out thar,’ burree nivar did listen. ‘Ere, ‘e left this wi’ me, figger ew’d want it afore this ‘ole thing’s dun.”
Officer Buglass gathered very quickly that the man wasn’t from around here, that he was some stranger who’d been in the area for a few days with a mind to investigate some manner of event at the beach. The journal which the old lass handed him was of fairly good nick, and clearly the property of someone who had a bit of spare cash about him. It was soon time to get the dead man back to somewhere they could keep him until the coroner sent for him, however, and without much ceremony the constable and his men carted the body off. It was only back at the station that the note in the drowned man’s hand was found. For his part, Grant didn’t much like spending time around the body—some strange trick of rigor mortis had blasted the corpses’ last facial expression into one that resembled inhuman terror—and so it wasn’t him but his shift-mate who found the thing. Settling down to review the journal for clues as to what had led the body in the room to his left to the unfortunate end that had found it, Buglass began to take in the man’s work and understand just what it was that had brought him out here, so far away from home.