- This short story was first published in Calverton’s ‘Village Gazette’ in March 2019. Any resemblance to persons alive, dead (or undead) is entirely coincidental. Obviously.
‘I’M NOT asking for much,’ complained Gary. ‘I just want to terrify people. I want to see gut-wrenching dread in their eyes. Pure, undiluted, cardiac-inducing fear.’
Richard studied the figure sitting opposite him with weary indifference. In fairness, Richard held himself to high ethical standards. His professional integrity would never allow him to contravene the code of practice in ordinary circumstances, but it was obvious here that no amount of counselling from any seasoned psychologist could help with a case as hopeless as Gary’s. Placating him would just prolong the inevitable. Gary needed some home truths, and he needed them now.
‘I have something to say, Gary,’ said Richard.
He paused, realising just how much his temple was throbbing.
‘Just a moment, Gary. Would you mind?’ he mumbled.
‘By all means,’ replied Gary.
Richard carefully removed his own head from his shoulders and placed it neatly on the couch next to him. The relief was instant. Richard didn’t know how he’d ever managed to walk around each day with his head permanently attached. Doing that just gave you migraines. He recalled the severe headache he’d had on the day he’d ceased to be employed as an advisor to Queen Elizabeth the First, the same day he’d also ceased breathing. Lizzie could be very unforgiving when the inner circle let her down, the mardy cow.
Gary watched Richard enviously from behind the silly-looking white sheet he wore over his head.
Just look at him, thought Gary. He’s a proper ghost. Genuinely, effortlessly, frightening. By comparison, I’m …
‘The world’s worst ghost,’ said Richard. ‘That’s you, that is, Gary. You need to know that you’re terrible. Not ‘terrifying’ terrible, heavens no. You’re about as terrifying as your average fluffy hamster. I mean ‘complete and total pants’ terrible. But we need to deal with it, Gary, so there can be healing. As ghosts come, Gary, there are brilliant and amazing ghosts, and there are utterly rubbish ghosts. Rubbish ghosts like you, Gary. You’re an embarrassment to the afterlife.’
There was a stunned silence as Gary tried, and failed, to process this. Richard had never spoken to him this way before. The words had been calculated, cutting, hurtful.
His views finally out in the open, Richard sighed with relief. It was rare, as a counsellor, for him to find his own words therapeutic. He wondered if he should start paying himself by the hour.
Oh no! Gary had started blustering again. More denial. Richard could feel his hackles rising.
‘But I can do it, Richard,’ Gary retorted. ‘All I need is a different costume …’
‘For pity’s sake, Gary!’ Richard snapped, jerking so violently he almost knocked his bonce into a dustbin. ‘We know that’s not possible! When a dead person becomes a ghost, they’re destined to always wear the clothes they died in. You were killed by a moving tractor, while running across the road, pretending to be a ghost. You were wearing that sheet over your head at the time, so now you’re spending eternity as a real ghost who looks like a pretend ghost. These are the facts, Gary.’
Gary wasn’t going down without a fight.
‘But that’s not fair!’ he gibbered. ‘Maybe I can do other things to make me scarier, like wail a bit, or rattle some chains. I’m already brilliant at climbing into the back of taxis at night-times. They proper brick it when they see me. The drivers are that scared, they won’t drive down Georges Lane after dark. All because of me.’
Richard’s head raised a quizzical eyebrow, then threw a sideways glance at Richard’s hand as it quickly scribbled down three words on a parchment.
Transferable. Behaviour. Traits.
‘George’s Lane, you say?’ enquired Richard, suspiciously. ‘George’s Lane in Calverton, Nottinghamshire?’
There was something about Gary’s story that didn’t ring true. The figure in the white sheet shifted uncomfortably in his chair, sensing the game was up.
‘Er. Yes, that’s the one,’ murmured Gary.
‘It’s just that I’ve heard, Gary,’ continued Richard, ‘that the taxi cab hauntings are the work of a restless spirit called The White Lady. They are emphatically not the work of the figure known colloquially by the residents of the village as The Prat In The Sheet.’
‘I don’t know what you mean,’ sulked Gary, avoiding Richard’s gaze.
‘I’m saying, Gary, that you have just taken the credit for something that all the available evidence clearly shows … somebody else did.’
Gary stared at Richard, annoyed that he’d been rumbled. Richard carried on. The new plan was in full swing now.
‘Could I show you these, Gary? I’d welcome your views.’
Gary studied the two photographs Richard had passed to him.
‘Who are these people?’ Gary asked, warily.
‘Were you buried or cremated?’ enquired Richard. ‘Just before we go any further.’
‘Buried. As far as I’m aware.’
‘Mm. Good,’ pondered Richard. ‘I mean, it’s not a straightforward ritual, Gary. We’d probably need a goat, a banana and some Morris dancers. But we should be able to reanimate you. You’d be a zombie and not a ghost, obviously, but then you would be rid of the sheet.’
‘I’m listening,’ said Gary. This actually sounded rather promising.
‘I have to say it worked rather splendidly with these two,’ said Richard. ‘Person in the first photo’s a former Chancellor of Balliol College, Oxford. Died at the turn of the nineteenth century. He’s never really shaken off those stuffy old Victorian values, has our Jacob.’
‘Oh,’ said Gary, still none-the-wiser.
‘As for the second photo, that’s Theresa. Hanged in Salem in 1693 on suspicion of witchcraft. These days she’s wishing they’d given her job to Boris.’
‘Who’s Boris?’ asked Gary.
‘The point I’m trying to make, Gary, is that you’d be ideally suited.’
‘Suited? To what, for goodness sake?’ cried Gary. He was quite beyond confused now.
‘Several ghosts have made the transition,’ Richard went on. ‘They walk freely, in plain sight, among the living every day. Gary, before you decide, let me ask you three simple questions. Do you have a soul?’
‘No. I’m a ghost.’
‘Do you have any real grip on reality?’
‘Are you keen on hardship and suffering?’
‘Only other people’s.’
‘Then bingo!’ declared Richard. ‘There’s a future for you in British politics.’
Richard didn’t need to wait long for this penny to drop.
‘Oh! Oh … get in!’ howled Gary, excitedly, jumping to his feet and punching the air in triumph. Of course! How had he not seen this all along?
‘Where … where do I start?’ Gary ventured, barely able to contain himself. ‘A job in the cabinet, perhaps?’
‘Not straight away,’ said Richard, with a wink. ‘But if you’re passing off other people’s successes as your own, let’s start you off as a Parliamentary candidate for the Tories.’
copyright (c) carterbloke 2019
The following photo (with effects added) used under Creative Commons licence.
- Jacob Rees Mogg c/o Duncan Hull