Party Politics

By Martin Pearson

“So, who have you invited so far?”

“Invited?” Philomena Bucket’s face was a picture of innocence.

If she had been shocked by being whisked away to some liminal place, as a whim of the ghost of Granny Bucket, Philomena did not show it. Over the years she had ceased to be surprised by any stunt that Granny pulled. She was, however, a little taken aback that her elderly, and long-dead, relative had got wind of the impending celebrations.

“To my surprise deathday party. Don’t pretend you’re not planning one,” said Granny. “I heard you plotting with that Middlestreet fellow. Now, who have you invited?”

Philomena knew that there was no point in trying to hide the details any longer.

“Well, I have asked Miss Calder…” began Philomena

“Miss Calder?” interrupted Granny. “I hardly know the woman. Why are you asking her?”

“If you would allow me to finish,” said Philomena archly, “I have asked Miss Calder to talk to the other ghosts on the island and find out who would like to come.”

“And I don’t get a say in anything?” snapped Granny

“It is supposed to be a surprise party!” exclaimed Philomena, exasperated. “Anyway,” she added, keen to change the subject, “I don’t recognise this place. Where exactly is it that you have brought me?”

You, like Philomena, will recall that she had been wandering up the Gydynap Hills in an effort to clear her head. She had no idea that Granny’s wraith was following her until she found herself suddenly standing next to a babbling stream, deep within a sun-dappled hazel wood. It was quite beautiful and certainly bore no resemblance to anywhere on the island of Hopeless, Maine.

“We’re safe within a memory I have of the Old Country,” said Granny, nostalgically. “I used to do a spot of courting here, as a girl.”

This was news to Philomena.

“And who was the lucky man, may I ask?” she said.

“Ah, Indeed you may. ‘Twas a young rascal called Willie Yeats. That was long before your time, though” confided Granny. “You wouldn’t know him.”

“Hmm… the name’s familiar,” said Philomena, uncertainly.

“But back to this party business…” Granny was like a lurcher with a rabbit. “Who do you intend to ask?”

“The maiden ladies of the Mild Hunt…”

“Them old biddies? With their yappy dogs and fartin’ mules? I don’t think so!” said Granny, emphatically.

“Very well. How about Lady Margaret D’Avening and Father Ignatius Stamage?”

“That sanctimonious pair, haunting the lavvy in The Squid and Teapot?” Granny was aghast at the suggestion. “They’re devout Catholics, the two of them. They won’t want to be hob-nobbing with a load of witches, that’s for sure.”

“A load of witches?”

Philomena had echoed the words with a certain amount of unease.

“Well, the ghosts of witches, anyway.  They are my friends and relations,” said Granny. “And it’s my deathday, after all.”

“How many, exactly, are we talking about?”

“Not sure yet,” said Granny. “I’ll let you know.”

As she spoke these final words, Granny began to gradually fade away, and with her went the stream and the hazel wood. Suddenly it was dark, and the familiar shapes of the Gydynap rocks were outlined against the misty skyline.

Drury was confused. He had spent hours searching for Philomena, following her trail high into the Gydynaps, only for it to disappear in a most unexpected manner. When it abruptly returned, in a dizzying burst of fragrance and accompanied by the lady herself, he was overjoyed. The osseous hound wagged his bony old tail in obvious pleasure. He had been seriously concerned when one of his two favourite people in all of the world had vanished, apparently into thin air.

“Come on Drury,” said Philomena, not even slightly surprised to find her old friend waiting for her. “I’ve got to get back and see how Rhys is faring. I must have been gone for hours.”

For the last few days, Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man had been struck down with influenza. Philomena, armed only with a clothes-peg to keep the smell at bay, had taken it upon herself to administer to him.  Her humanitarian mission had to be put on hold for a while longer, however, when a lean figure emerged from the darkness.

Drury growled menacingly.

“You can call your dog off, Miss Bucket. I mean you no harm.”

Philomena recognised the voice of Durosimi O’Stoat immediately.

“I hear,” he drawled, “that you intend commemorating your grandmother’s deathday, next week.”

“I don’t know who might have told you that,” said Philomena defiantly, trying to hide the tremble in her voice. “But yes, you heard correctly. As a matter of fact I do.”

“With the island’s ghosts in attendance, if my information is correct,” said Durosimi. “Young lady, that is not a good idea and I suggest you abandon it now.”

“And why would that be, Mister O’Stoat?”

“It would not be … politic” he said, struggling to find a suitably apposite adjective. “The spirits of this island have come from different times, different cultures, different mind-sets. You would be creating a potentially explosive situation. In dealing with these opposing energies, I fear you would be unleashing forces far beyond your comprehension.”    

“Well you needn’t be worrying on that score,” said Philomena, her face reddening with rage, “because the island’s ghosts don’t seem to be invited anymore.”

“How so?” Durosimi was suddenly interested.

Philomena felt suddenly bold. Who was Durosimi to tell her who could come to Granny’s party?

“Granny is most insistent,” she said quietly, “that it will be a knees-up for just witches, and ghostly witches at that; friends and relations, some from different times, but every one of them with the same mind. So, there is no chance that I might be unleashing any opposing energies, whatever that means.”

“No, indeed,” said Durosimi. He paused for a moment, as if processing the information.

“I believe,” he said carefully, “that your grandmother is under the impression that she and I – and obviously you and I – share a common ancestor.  In view of this I would very much like an invitation, being family, and all that. May I rely on you to ask her, please?”

“I can ask,” said Philomena, having a fair idea what Granny’s reply would be.

Durosimi smiled chillingly and disappeared into the night.

“I wish I’d never thought of any of this,” muttered Philomena.

Drury wagged his tail again. He could smell trouble in the air. Drury liked trouble. Trouble was fun.

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