I found myself, after sunset, on the dark side of an old Spanish fort — between the water and the ghosts — armed with only a Nikon and a slight sliver of moonlight.
I’ve been to St. Augustine a number of times already, so there was no need to join another ghost tour. I’d seen my share of cemeteries and widow’s walks. This time, I went places I hadn’t already seen — even if it was impossible to avoid the white road and its traps — I mean, tourist shops. I’ll even admit to buying some magic and a small block of fudge.
But I also had lunch at the bottom of the largest indoor swimming pool. In the world, nation, or its own time, I couldn’t say. I walked through a museum filled with oddities and sculpture, a couple of pianos older than me, and a collection of toasters. I stayed in a bed and breakfast that probably was haunted, and spent time in its parlor reading an old Time Life book about Van Gogh that seemed to ignore the fact that he painted Starry Night.
For the record, I wasn’t offered an opportunity to either accept or refuse a slice of French Toast, but I was led to believe Sunday’s breakfast would have been phenomenal.
So there I was, after dinner and after wine, beyond the reach of any pool of light, in the self-proclaimed most haunted city in the entire galaxy, balanced on a narrow stone wall separating the old Spanish fort from its invaders. Battles had been fought here. Canon balls battered those walls. People died, soldiers and civilians alike, over the course of hundreds of years. The remnants of some might have been restless. Angry. Hungry.
I didn’t realize it then, or I might’ve felt some thin trace of fear sneak into my veins. Instead, I was there with a woman, a beautiful woman, and a camera. We’d already dined and wined, then walked along the water as the sun set. Indigo settled in the sky for a brief moment at the very farthest corner from anywhere else — no part of St. Augustine could be seen but the fort beside us — and then, quite suddenly, it was full night.
As I said, I wasn’t thinking of ghosts. We kept walking, balanced on the wall, until a path eventually led us back toward town.
The path led us to the gate, and we stopped briefly at one of the cemeteries. Lanterns led the ghost tours around us. A horse clopped past with a carriage.
The bed and breakfast waited for us without concern.
The next day’s adventures led up hundreds of steps to the top of a lighthouse crowded with gawkers and at least one basketball player afraid of heights. We also found the saddest ever gray horse on a carousel — which I believed was sick but not dying. Also, I gained a deeper appreciation for Picasso’s matadors — but I suppose that’s a story for another day.
Now, some days later, I’m forced to wonder what it means that, when not looking for ghosts in a haunted city, I didn’t find any.