Sixteen can be a difficult age. For Naboth Scarhill things had escalated from being somewhat difficult to becoming annoyingly complicated when he discovered that he was dead. It was not the business of not being alive that concerned him particularly. To begin with he had tried to look on the bright side. At least there was no more work to do, his days and nights unhindered by the niggly little inconveniences that bother the rest of us, smug in the knowledge that our mortal coils are as yet unshuffled. There was no one to berate him for leaving his clothes on the bedroom floor, or neglecting to put the toilet seat down, or forgetting to wash behind his ears, all things that the average sixteen-year old boy might be forgiven for not doing. He found that there was no great joy to be had, even if he decided to revel in this new-found freedom. It would have meant nothing, for Naboth was now a ghost, an apparition as insubstantial as the grey mist that lingered sullenly over the island of Hopeless, Maine.
Being murdered is not at all pleasant. There is more to it than simply having one’s life taken away; there is the sense of being targeted and knowing that someone, somewhere has gone to the trouble of singling you out for a particularly unpleasant method of extermination. It is, indeed, a dreadful thing. More dreadful still, however, is when your violent death has been brought about by a case of mistaken identity. Can you imagine it? Oh, the injustice of it all, especially when you are, or, more correctly, were, just sixteen with the exciting promise of life sitting before you like a map, waiting to be unfolded. This left the shade that was Naboth raging and howling through the night, intent on revenge but having no idea how to exact it.
He had learned from Marigold Burleigh – whom, regular readers may have gathered, had been possessed by the recently returned Trickster – that his death had been caused by a vicious thought form, conjured by Durosimi O’Stoat. In the dim chaos of its mind the thought form only knew that it was to kill the Night-Soil Man, a post that Naboth had held for just one day. You can see why he was not best pleased. Now the angry spirit of Naboth Scarhill desired nothing more than vengeance, and to see Durosimi suffer horribly. The drawback to this plan was that, while Naboth had both a voice and ghostly presence, he had no power to inflict physical harm upon anyone. When he burst into Durosimi’s home and tried to frighten the sorcerer, the only reaction was scorn.
“You cannot frighten me, you deluded fool,” scoffed Durosimi, derisively. “I have consorted with dæmons, ghouls and foul creatures of the pit, each more hideous than you can imagine. Do you think some stunted phantom muck-shoveller is likely to concern me? Now clear off, go and haunt one of your vile cess-pools. That’s all you’re good for!”
To say that Naboth was taken aback by this response would be an understatement. It had always been his understanding that almost everyone is frightened by ghosts, and even those who aren’t would not be so dismissive of an obviously angry spirit. He needed to go away and think of what to do.
It was a few nights later when he next appeared in Durosimi’s parlour, screeching, wailing and banging his bucket lid up and down.
“Go away, little man,” said Durosimi languidly. “Did you not hear me the first time? I am not scared one iota by you.”
“Fair enough,” replied Naboth, between wails. “But I ain’t going nowhere. I’m going to haunt you every night. You’ll get no rest from me…Oooooooooooooooh.”
And so, for night after night, over the next two weeks, Naboth made Durosimi’s life a misery, until, out of the blue, the sorcerer said,
“Alright, I give up. I apologise for killing you. Now please go away.”
“No chance,” said Naboth, “you’re stuck with me. Dusk until dawn for the rest of your days… oooooooooooweeeeeeeeeee.”
A few more nights passed by in this way, until it seemed that Durosimi had really had enough. Clapping his hands over his ears he ran like someone possessed, out into the darkness.
“I cannot stand this anymore,” he wailed, “I’ve got get away from this awful noise before it drives me mad.”
Delighted, Naboth chased after him, through the trees and out into the folds of the Gydynaps, banging his bucket lid for all he was worth and screeching like a banshee. This was more like it!
Durosimi ran frantically into a dark, yawning cavern etched into the side of the hill. Enjoying his new-found power, Naboth followed.
“Enough, I beg you stop,” cried Durosimi, holding out his hands, as if in supplication.
“Never!” laughed Naboth, “I’ll never give you any peace… ooooooooaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrggggghhhh”
‘His wailings are becoming ridiculously theatrical,’ mused Durosimi to himself, then, quite unexpectedly, washed the cavern in a ghastly green light, and smiled unpleasantly at Naboth.
“This is one I made earlier,” he said, sprinkling a handful of salt on to the floor, and completing the circle into which the spectral Night-Soil Man had drifted.
“Try and get out, by all means, but I can assure you that you won’t, not as long as the salt circle is unbroken. This is something that every ghost should know. Oh, and by the way, just in case that bony mutt, Drury, comes looking for you, I’m going to block up the entrance when I leave. Goodnight dear boy. Enjoy Eternity.”
And with that Durosimi was gone and the cavern was plunged once more into darkness, save for the faint luminesce that hung about Naboth, eerily reflecting on the ring of salt that encircled him.
In the distance he heard the tumble of rocks, rigged earlier that day to block the cavern’s mouth.
Philomena Bucket laid a basket on the doorstep of The House at Poo Corner. As usual she had brought Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, his supper of starry-grabby pie and two bottles of Old Colonel, courtesy of The Squid and Teapot. Rhys would always consume this half-way through his round, often giving a scrap or two to Drury, whose attempts at eating always ended with the chewed food dropping through his skeletal frame on to the ground, later to be enjoyed once more, but this time by the crows.
Tonight Philomena discovered that Rhys had left her a letter. Intrigued, she picked it up to peruse later, in flickering candlelight, back in her room at The Squid and Teapot.
“My Dear Philly, I hope you are well. I am just letting you know that the troubled spirit of poor Naboth seems to have disappeared. I have not seen him for some time now. I think, maybe, he has come to terms with his dreadful fate and has found some peace at last… “
There were some loving words following this, but these are for Rhys and Philomena’s eyes only.
The barmaid read the note once more. Had Naboth really found peace? The old magic that resided deep within Philomena stirred restlessly.
Something was definitely wrong.