"And at Arreton Manor, they say you can see the ghost of a little girl who was pushed out of a top floor window to her death. She wanders the grounds in a blue dress, crying pitifully for her mama." Baz paused in his recital, and the bleached blonde in the high-heeled shoes shivered theatrically. Will managed not to roll his eyes at how bloody obvious she was being as Baz took off his jacket and draped it round her shoulders. She shuffled in a bit closer until their thighs were touching.
Will's jaw tightened, and he opened another can of beer. Baz had been telling ghost stories all night, his female audience hanging on his every word. Will was starting to wonder why Baz had bothered with this "research trip" for the ghost book he was supposed to be writing--he seemed to know all the stories backwards already.
"So are there any scary ghosts around here?" Whatever-her-name-was asked in breathless, little-girl tones, pulling Baz's jacket more tightly around her and snuggling up to him even closer. Tarty as a bloody pie shop, she was. Although possibly Will was a bit biased. He caught sight of the white stilettos she'd kicked off by the fire. Nope, not that biased, as it happened.
"Oh, yes," Baz murmured, his tone low and mysterious. "Just a little way further along the cliffs from here, there's an old Napoleonic fort. The guns never fired a shot in anger, but just over a hundred years ago, one of them exploded, killing four men. It's said the soldiers' ghosts still patrol the fort, waiting for the French invasion that never came."
Will froze as a warm hand slithered softly onto his thigh. What's-her-face's friend, Karen, was smiling up at him in the firelight. Will panicked, trying to think of some way of letting her know tactfully that he really wasn't interested. He opened his mouth--and belched profusely.
It might not have been intentional, but it certainly did the trick. Karen grimaced and drew away from him.
"Fish, you tosser!" Baz slung his arm round Tarty-knickers and gave her a squeeze. "Sorry, ladies. Just can't take him anywhere!"
They all laughed, and Will stood up. "Going for a walk." He resisted the urge to add, "And I might be some time."
"Watch out for ghosts!" a shrill voice called after him as he headed for the path to the beach.
"And don't disturb us when you get back!" Baz yelled.
The long, sloping path led gently down to the beach from one end of the campsite, along a sort of mini-chine where the cliffs had fallen away. Will made his way toward it, meandering round tents, his path lit by the flickering fires and portable barbeques of other campers. The air was thick with the smell of smoke and burnt meat. Here and there, camping lanterns glowed brightly, no two with the same colour light. Come to think of it, Will had one of those back in the tent. He probably should have brought it along--after all, Baz wasn't likely to need it with what he had planned for the rest of the night. No bloody way was Will going back for it now, though.
The moon was high and full, and as his eyes adjusted, Will found that the beach wasn't as dark as he'd feared. He could tell where the water was, anyway, which was the main thing. Trainers were a bugger to get dry once you'd soaked them. A fresh breeze blew in off the sea, clearing his nostrils of the campsite fug.
Will picked his way along the beach a little unsteadily. Funny how you always seemed drunker standing up. Not that he was drunk, really. Just a bit...blurred around the edges. But blurred was good. Stopped him thinking too hard about Baz and that slapper, anyway. Will sighed. He wasn't being fair. She was probably a really nice girl if you got to know her. Which Will fervently hoped he wouldn't have to.
As he walked on, Will came to a fence. Not much of one, and it was falling down a bit in places. Was it really a fence, anyway, or just a breakwater? Will hesitated--but what harm could it do if he just climbed over and went for a wander? It wasn't like there'd be anyone around this time of night to catch him at it. During one of his ghost stories, Baz had mentioned there was a tunnel right through the cliffs round here somewhere, with steps leading up to it from the beach, and Will fancied having a look.
He swung his leg over the fence, trying not to put any more of his weight on the rotten wood than he had to, and managed to get to the other side without causing criminal damage. Feeling like a kid sneaking sweets from the pick'n'mix, he carried on down the beach, staying close to the cliff face so he wouldn't miss the steps if they were there.
It was too nice a night to stare at the cliffs all the time, though. Will cast his gaze around, admiring the way the moonlight glinted off the water. Funny how the sea always seemed so much more peaceful when it was dark--Will was willing to bet that was when most maritime disasters happened too, with people lulled into a false sense of security by the gentle tumble of the waves.
When he'd been a kid on holiday on the island, his mum had sometimes taken him to the beach in the evening. With most of the other tourists gone, it'd been a great time for a swim. The water was still relatively warm from the heat of the day, and the setting sun cast a soft glow over them. He'd never swum when it was completely dark, though. Will wondered what it'd be like. Probably a bit disorientating, although not so bad when the moon was full, like tonight. Dangerous, though. What if the moon went behind a cloud and you couldn't tell which way the shore was anymore?
Will stopped dead as he spotted something unexpected. There was someone in the water--was there? Or was he just seeing things? Whoever it was, he was ghostly pale. And naked. Will looked down at his own arms. The moonlight was playing its usual tricks with colours, but his arms looked real in a way that the figure in the water's...didn't. Even his hair was bright white--and as Will's gaze dropped unstoppably to the figure's crotch, he could see no darker patch there. The man--boy?--was slender, almost elfin. He was walking out into the water, arms spread wide as if to welcome the sea's embrace.
He was beautiful. Impossibly perfect, from his too-pale hair to his lean, sculpted legs, now knee-deep in the water. Could he possibly be real? Or--Will's heart gave a jump--could one of Baz's stories possibly be true? Could there really be such things as ghosts?
Will took an involuntary pace forward--and stifled a curse as his foot slipped and he sat down heavily on the shingle. Scrambling to his feet as quietly as he could, Will realised his caution was too late. The figure had disappeared. For a moment, Will thought of going down to the water's edge to try to find it--but then a cloud drifted over the moon, and left him in absolute blackness. Shivering, Will turned back the way he'd come.