Tag Archives: ghosts

The Ungrateful Dead

By Martin Pearson

Art by Cliff Cumber

“It is quite past a joke,” declared Lady Margaret D’Avening, haughtily. “I have been putting up with the indignity for the best part of a hundred years, and I cannot stand it anymore!”

“I can talk to Mr Middlestreet,” said Philomena Bucket, “But, to be honest, I am by no means sure what can be done.”

Lady Margaret scowled, popped her head beneath her arm and disappeared into the wall.

“I do feel for her,” said Father Ignatius Stamage. “It is difficult enough for me, but at least I don’t have to haunt the privy all the time. I can go wherever you choose to put my hat.”

It was true. It was Father Stamage’s lot to haunt his beloved black, battered Capello Romano, so wherever that particular item of apparel was placed, became home to the ghostly Jesuit. Lady Margaret, on the other hand, was forever doomed to haunt the wall of the flushing privy of The Squid and Teapot, which had once been part of her bed-chamber. This was obviously a lot less portable than a hat and, after nearly a century, was causing her a certain amount of distress.

“If she doesn’t want to be in the privy, she could always haunt the other side of the wall,” said Bartholomew Middlestreet. “There’s only a cobbled path out there, but she could wander around a bit.”

“I suggested that,” said Philomena, “but she said that no one ever uses the path, so she would get lonely. She likes some company.”

“But not necessarily the company of people using the privy,” said Bartholomew. “I can understand that, I suppose. Couldn’t we put Father Stamage’s hat out there?”

“It would blow into the sea,” replied Philomena. “Besides, he enjoys the atmosphere of being in the bar of The Squid. He really wouldn’t want to be outside.”

“I’ll have a look in Sebastian Lypiatt’s old journal. It’s a mine of information for anyone interested in the history of The Squid,” said Bartholomew. “He was the one who built the privy, after all. There might be a clue in there as to what can be done.”

Following a period of neglect and mismanagement of the inn by one Tobias Thrupp, a shipwrecked English sailor, Sebastian Lypiatt, took charge and became the saviour of The Squid and Teapot, making it the welcoming hostelry that it is today. According to an entry in his journal, Sebastian, and his son, Isaac, had salvaged a quantity of dressed stone blocks, and also a fully functioning flushing lavatory, from the wreckage of a merchant steamer, the ‘Daneway’. Sebastian had written that the ship’s log revealed that her captain had ‘liberated’ the stones from the port of Newhaven, Connecticut (the full story of how they came to be there can be found in the tales ‘The Jacobean Manor House’ and ‘The Headless Lady’).  

There was little in Sebastian’s journal that was not already known, but he made a reference to the Hopeless Annual Rock Race. Although interest in the race had waned in recent years, it had, traditionally, been held on the day preceding the first full moon following the vernal equinox. This sounds unnecessarily complicated, but the logic of the race’s founder, Reverend Crackstone, was that those islanders who could never remember when Easter was likely to fall in any given year, could use this event as a reminder (for as you probably know, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following this particular moon). It appears that one year, in order to give Lady Margaret a change of scenery, one of the stones of the privy was prised out and moved to a different part of the island. Unfortunately, someone decided that the smooth, dressed stone would be perfect for the rock-race and, to cut a long story short, it ended up in the shadow of Chapel Rock, famously haunted by the Mad Parson, Obadiah Hyde. By pure coincidence, during the English Civil War, Hyde had been the puritan cleric responsible for beheading Lady Margaret. She had, unfortunately, ticked the boxes of almost everything that he despised; she was an adulteress, a Royalist and a Catholic. Good enough reasons, in Hyde’s mind, to be killed on the spot. To put it mildly, neither ghost was thrilled to discover that they were sharing the same island and Lady Margaret was swiftly returned to the comfort of the privy, where she has been ever since.

“In those days,” observed Bartholomew, “she feared that she was fading away, so only manifested when there was a full moon. Now she is bolder, and comes out whenever she feels like it.”

“I think that’s Miss Calder’s fault,” said Philomena, “filling her head with ideas that ghosts should be free to haunt whenever they want, and not being bound to phases of the moon and suchlike. That’s why she’s getting fed-up with people going in and out of the privy all the time. When it was for just for the full moon, it was bearable; people made a point of avoiding the place.”

“Well, we can’t make the privy out of bounds to customers, just because it upsets the resident ghost,” said Bartholomew, reasonably. “What if we prise a block out, like they did in the old days? We could put it somewhere else on the island.”

“We can ask her,” said Philomena, doubtfully.

“That sounds marvellous,” said Lady Margaret, when she heard the suggestion. “And Father Stamage… my dear Ignatius… you’ll join me, won’t you?”

Stamage paused for a second before he spoke.

“But I like it here, Lady Margaret. I don’t really want to be anywhere else. Besides, while I’m in the inn, Bartholomew can keep an eye on my hat and make sure no one moves it.”

“But I’ll be lonely without you,” she wailed. “Pleeeeaasse come with me.”

“No, I’m sorry,” said Father Stamage firmly. “As I said, I’m very happy where I am. I’m not moving.”

“You can always go and live up into the attics,” suggested Philomena, but Lady Margaret shook her head. This involved holding it in front of her with both hands and wobbling it about.

They toyed with taking a block from the privy to the Orphanage, but when asked, Miss Calder expressed the opinion that the appearance of a headless lady wandering the corridors would frighten some of the children. Knowing what the orphanage children are like, this, quite honestly, is unlikely. I can only think that the appearance of Lady Margaret, headless or no and wearing only the diaphanous nightgown that she was slaughtered in, would not be in the best interests of some of the more impressionable boys.

When she found that no one had any real solution to her problem, Lady Margaret stamped a ghostly foot, went into a sulk and disappeared into the wall, vowing that she had no intention of coming out again, ever.

“She’ll get over it,” said Philomena, philosophically.

“If Sebastian had not bothered to salvage those blocks, the steamer would have sunk and she would have had nothing to haunt but cephalopods and fishes,” said Bartholomew. “He gave her a home! Why can’t she be grateful for that, at least?”

“Don’t be too hard on her, she’s very young,” broke in Father Stamage.

While the others had been talking, Stamage had allowed himself to fade unobtrusively into the coat stand, where his hat was hanging. They had quite forgotten that he was there.

“No she’s not young, she was killed hundreds of years ago,” protested Bartholomew.

“That’s as may be, but she told me that she was forced into an early – and ultimately unhappy – marriage, and was no more than a girl of nineteen, at the time of her death,” said the ghostly priest, manifesting fully before them. “That was an awfully young age for her to lose her life, whatever her sins were. The tragedy is, she will always be nineteen.”

The others were silent for a while as they mentally digested this thought.

“Just give her time,” added Father Stamage, disappearing once more into the coat stand. “She’ll get over it.”

“I hope so,” said Philomena. “I really hope so.”

Happy Deathday, Granny Bucket

By Martin Pearson

Philomena Bucket stood on the summit of the Gydynap Hills, watching, with some trepidation, the eerie mist that snaked up through the darkness.

“I’m glad that they are meeting here, and not in The Squid,” she thought to herself. “Even by Hopeless standards, this is beyond weird.”

It was late evening on the seventh day of February, the anniversary of Granny Bucket’s death. A few weeks previously Philomena had rashly suggested that there should be some sort of event to mark the occasion.

“After all,” she had reasoned, “everybody has a birthday, and they also have a deathday.”

If, like Granny Bucket, the departed are able to enjoy a full and active afterlife, happily haunting all and sundry, then Philomena could see no reason why there should not be a party, of some description, to celebrate their special day.  What Philomena had failed to take into account was Granny insisting that she should have a veto regarding the guest list, and then summarily rejecting all of her granddaughter’s suggestions.

As the mist drew closer, Philomena could see wispy forms gradually taking shape within it. These were Granny’s party guests, the ghosts of her witch-brood ancestors; generation upon generation of Bucket women. Some were from such a distant past that they were almost invisible.

Philomena had no idea how the Bucket surname had originated.  Given the mysterious nature of that ancient Irish clan, I like to believe that it derives from the old Gaelic word “púca”, for a shape-shifting spirit. The truth, however, is probably far more prosaic. Whatever its root, the name has been carried proudly for hundreds – possibly thousands – of years by countless female Buckets, regardless of their marital state. And here they all were, shades gathered upon a dark hilltop, honouring Granny Bucket. Philomena gazed fondly at her grandmother, and as she did so, the scene changed. She was in a tiny, badly-lit room where an old woman lay in a truckle bed. Her face was almost as white as the pillow upon which she lay. It was Granny. These were her final moments of life. Philomena was only a child at the time, but she could remember this vividly.  The vision faded and once more it was night-time on the Gydynaps. Philomena’s gaze fell upon another party guest. Although a wraith, this one looked to be little more than a girl. Suddenly, alarmingly, she was ablaze, her hair a fiery halo, her mouth opened in a soundless scream. Shaken, Philomena turned away abruptly, only for her eyes to fall upon another ghost, who, an instant later, appeared to be hanging from gallows, her eyes bulging and her legs kicking helplessly. Horrified, Philomena knew at once that she was witnessing the deathday of these women. Wherever she looked, she was assailed by visions of violent death. Few had been as lucky as Granny, to die in bed surrounded by a loving family. 

There was another watcher on those hills. For reasons known only to himself, Durosimi O’Stoat had asked for an invitation to Granny’s party.

“After all,” he had said, “I am family.”

It was true, to a degree. Somewhere in that melee of ghosts drifted a common ancestor, a forebear who marked the exact time when two magically powerful families – the Buckets and the O’Stoats – had found each other.

When no invitation had been forthcoming, Durosimi decided to turn up anyway.

By now the phantom witches had started chanting. This was obviously what passed as fun in witchy circles, Philomena decided. Not so much a party as a gathering. A meet.

“Merry meet and merry part, and merry meet again,” intoned Philomena aloud, somewhat surprising herself, for she had no idea where the words had come from.

It was almost as if this was a signal. Led by Granny, the witches drifted towards her and, surrounded, she felt herself lifted, as if by nothing more substantial than clouds. She floated, unafraid and deliriously happy, in the night-air, for what felt like an age.

Durosimi watched with fascination. While no stranger to the world of the supernatural, this was something completely new to him. In fact, so mesmerised was he that he had almost forgotten the reason for his gate-crashing the party. Then the weight of the little black bottle that he carried drew him sharply from his reverie.

The ghostly throng surrounding Philomena seemed to be unaware of Durosimi’s presence. It was only when he held the bottle aloft that one of the witches turned towards him, as if in answer to a summons. She drifted through the night until her shimmering form was within his arms’ length.

Durosimi smiled, coldly. The spell had worked. And then he froze. The witch standing before him looked exactly like Philomena Bucket.

“Melusine?” he asked, incredulous.

It was Doctor John Dee who had given him the idea. The sixteenth-century alchemist had visited Hopeless some time before and had revealed that Melusine O’Stoat, burned for heresy and witchcraft in Elizabethan times, was not only Durosimi’s ancestor, but Philomena’s as well. She had been a wonder-child, the product of the union of two magically powerful dynasties. The O’Stoats would not allow her to revert to her maiden name, however, and that had been her undoing. It was dangerous being an O’Stoat in those days.

Granny’s party had been the perfect opportunity for Durosimi to summon the spirit of Melusine, and trap her. The black bottle looked innocuous enough, but Durosimi had soaked it in enough magic to capture a dozen of her kind. But he did not want a dozen; only Melusine. How he would extract the power and knowledge that he craved, he had yet to work out.  

Philomena opened her eyes. She was lying on the damp grass of the Gydynaps.

“Happy deathday, Granny Bucket,” she called, but no one replied.

The phantom witches had gone. Even Granny.

Philomena shivered, pulled her shawl tightly around her shoulders, and made her way down the hill.

“Well, that’s over,” she thought to herself, with a certain amount of relief. “Thank goodness that nothing untoward happened.”

Durosimi gazed at the nondescript bottle sitting on his desk.

He smiled to himself. Who said that you couldn’t put a djinn back into a bottle?

But now that he had her, how was he going to control her? 

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.

A Matter of Life and Death

There are those who will tell you that anyone could be a Night-Soil Man, if they were desperate enough for work. What could be easier than wandering around, emptying cess-pools and outdoor privies? The answer is, of course, that most people would not last one night in the role. A Night-Soil Man lives a life of enforced isolation and celibacy, not only doing a job which would make others physically sick, but regularly being beset by challenges which most could not even begin to imagine.  Although the noisome stench, which permeates his skin and clothing, keeps most creatures, (including other humans) at bay, confronting the often hideous denizens of Hopeless, Maine, needs an iron nerve and a strong stomach.  Even when these qualities are present, without great physical strength, a Night-Soil Man would never be able to complete his tasks or, indeed, stay alive for any length of time.

Miss Calder, the ghostly administrator of the Pallid Rock Orphanage, shimmered faintly in the darkness. She had long entertained certain feelings for Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, and, while aware that such love must be unrequited, watched appreciatively as his burly physique bore the limp body of Marigold Burleigh down the hill, carrying her as if she were as light as a feather. Marigold had collapsed in his arms just minutes earlier, her last words apparently accusing Philomena Bucket of trying to kill her. It was hard to believe, but the truth was that Philomena had been acting really strangely, lately.  Rhys could not worry about that, right now, however. He had to get Marigold some help, though he was quite unable to tell if the pretty young nurse was still alive; usually his all-pervading reek would have been as good as smelling-salts to bring someone back to consciousness, but Marigold was showing no signs of life.

Miss Calder subdued her unearthly glow as Rhys drew near, preferring to stay unseen for now.  She saw him gently place Marigold on the ground in front of Doc Willoughby’s surgery, bang on the door, then hastily retreat a few yards downwind.

The Doc, wrapped in a dressing gown, opened the door cautiously and peered down at Marigold’s prone form. He wrinkled his nose in disgust.

“Doc Willoughby, sorry I know it’s late, but I didn’t know where else to take her…” Rhys called.

Doc looked across the street, registering the presence of the Night-Soil Man for the first time.

“Get her off my doorstep,” he growled, “The woman’s obviously dead, can’t you see? There’s nothing I can do. Now go away, and take that god-awful stink with you.”

Before Rhys could say a word, the curmudgeonly physician went back inside, slamming the door behind him.

With a heavy heart, he lifted Marigold once more. He had no idea what to do now.

“Rhys… what has happened?”

He turned in surprise at the voice; he was relieved to see Miss Calder gliding towards him.

“I’m not at all sure,” he replied, not wishing to divulge details of Marigold’s accusation until he was certain of the facts. “And I don’t know where to take her body.”

“She’s still alive, Rhys” said Miss Calder, who knew about death better than most. “The Doc was wrong. She just needs looking after.”

“Can you…?” the question died On Rhys’ lips as he realised that, however capable Miss Calder appeared, she remained a ghost; non-corporeal and quite without substance.

Miss Calder shrugged sadly, then an idea occurred to her.

“Get her to The Squid and Teapot,” she said, “Ariadne and Philomena will know what to do.”

Rhys was about to say that Philomena was probably not the best person to be around Marigold at the moment, but thought better of it. He could not believe that the barmaid harboured the girl any ill-feelings, but if there was going to be a problem taking her to The Squid he would worry about it when he arrived there.

“Good idea,” he said. “Will you come with me? They won’t want me being too close when they take her in. You know… the smell…”

Being a wraith, Miss Calder was impervious to the Night-Soil Man’s effluvium. She smiled. Of course she was always very happy to accompany Rhys anywhere. In her excitement, however, she allowed her face to become skull-like for a moment or two. Rhys blanched but said nothing. He didn’t think that he could ever get used to that.

Ariadne Middlestreet opened the door of the inn. It was well past closing time but she and her husband, Bartholomew, always had chores to do once the patrons had left. Tonight had been especially busy, she told them. When Philomena arrived back at The Squid she had not stopped to help clear up, but gone straight upstairs, saying nothing to anyone.

“She has worried me lately,” confided Ariadne to Miss Calder, after Rhys had left. “She has been acting strangely ever since Rhys told her that he had to go back to night-soil work and they couldn’t be married. Anyway, we can’t worry about that now. I’ll get Bartholomew to carry Marigold in and we’ll put her in one of the guest-rooms.”

Philomena Bucket had indeed gone straight upstairs, upon returning to The Squid and Teapot. It was not to her bedroom that she went, however, but to the attics. She had discovered, a year or so earlier, that what appeared to be a sea-chest, squatting in the corner of one of the rooms was, in reality, a cunning skeuomorphic construction, disguising the entrance to a secret passage that would take her down to ground level, then delve deep into the earth, to the Underland, far beneath the surface of the island. It was not clear to her exactly why she needed to get to the Underland, only that it was crucial that she did so. Taking the key from the chain around her neck, where she hung it for safe-keeping, Philomena unlocked the lid and peered down into the gloom. With practised ease she tucked her skirt into the waistband of her inherited industrial-strength Victorian underwear, climbed into the chest and began the vertiginous descent of the vertical ladder, beginning the journey that would take her to the base of the building, then on to whatever mystery awaited her.

To be continued…  

What Every Ghost Should Know

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.

The Vengeful Spirit

Many of you will be aware that some of the characters who have appeared in these Tales of The Squid and Teapot have, in a short time after arriving on the island, become ghosts. The teacher, Marjorie Toadsmoor and Father Ignatius Stamage immediately spring to mind, both having been killed in unfortunate circumstances. Obadiah Hyde, the Mad Parson was probably pushed off Chapel Rock by a disgruntled parishioner. By coincidence, he had been the self-appointed executioner of Lady Margaret D’Avening, The Headless White Lady who haunts the flushing privy of the inn. She had been dead for centuries when she came to Hopeless, transported in a pile of dressed stones that once comprised part of her stately home, in England. Each of these have one thing in common; they are bound to some solid object and are only able to wander from the immediate area if the artefact which they are haunting is moved.

Other ghosts are more mobile, but doomed to follow a set path. Think of The Little Drummer Boy, or Lars Pedersen, The Eggless Norseman of Creepy Hollow, who has spent a millennium searching for his missing eggs. Then there is Clarissa Cockadilly, who will dance you to death, then throw you into the swamp at the end of the notorious, and to be avoided, Forty Second street. It is not just the land that has its spectral wanderers. The foggy skies of Hopeless are home, of course, to the maiden ladies of The Mild Hunt, who, with their irritating yapping spaniels and flatulent mules, are apparently damned to spend eternity plodding through the heavens, searching for some irretrievably lost pamphlets.

Finally, we have a third and more select group; these are the vocational ghosts, phantoms for whom the call of duty is greater than the demands of death. These people had no intention of letting something as trivial as mortality get in the way of their busy schedule. The prime example of this variety is Miss Calder, who is more than able to administer the daily running of The Pallid Rock Orphanage, despite being dead. I guess we can also include Philomena Bucket’s beloved granny here, whose spirit has migrated to the island solely to protect her grand-daughter. Perhaps less obviously, this group contains the wraiths of the various Night-Soil Men. Here we have an unbroken line stretching back to the arrival of the Founding Families, and the first to bear the lidded-bucket, the introverted Killigrew O’Stoat. Despite their lowly calling there is an almost mythical stature attached to these men (they have always been men) and, though unseen, their spirits continue to wander the island, watching over the ever-unfolding generations of their calling.

Naboth Scarhill had every right to feel aggrieved. At the tender age of sixteen years he had been deprived of life, cruelly slaughtered by a vicious thought-form, a creature brought into existence by a person, or persons, unbeknownst to him. Reduced now to no more than a protoplasmic mass that had taken on his earthly shape, he raged impotently against the unfairness of it all, vowing to take revenge on his killer.

“Don’t do it, Naboth.”

The voice was little more than a whisper through the bare, stunted trees.

Naboth looked about but saw no one. He was surprised to feel a tremor of fear pass through him. That made no sense. He was a ghost, dammit! He was supposed to do the frightening.

“I will be avenged,” he cried defiantly, but somewhat shakily, into the night.

The whispering became louder. There seemed to be many voices now. Then he saw them.

Almost indistinguishable from the mist, glimmering in the late evening air were dozens of Night-Soil Men, clustering all around him.

“Welcome Brother Naboth,” the voices said. “Take your place with us. Do not seek revenge, it will not return you to life.”

“Maybe not,” said Naboth defiantly, “but it will make me happier.”

One of the Night-Soil Men stepped out of the throng.

“I was once Elmer Bussage,” he said softly. “Like you, I was ripped to pieces and desperately craved for revenge. Then one day I discovered that the creature who had killed me had been cast down into the bottomless sinkhole at the end of my garden. I thought it would make me happy, but I felt nothing. Not relief, not pleasure. Nothing. Accept your lot, Naboth, and join your brethren.”

But Naboth’s ghost was angry beyond reasoning. He drifted through them like smoke and allowed himself to go wherever the night took him, while the wraiths of his predecessors looked on in despair.

A long time had passed since Trickster was last on Hopeless. Some of you might remember that he was previously seen in the shape of a white hare. When he first possessed her, it had not occurred to Trickster that, although he was fearless and immortal, the hare was not. When irate spoonwalkers attacked, he tried to escape but found himself trapped within the hare’s body, careering madly through the foggy night in a headlong flight towards the rocky cliffs and restless ocean. It had taken some considerable time for him to extricate himself from the watery clutches of the Atlantic and discover another suitable host. No one can say that Trickster is not persistent, for here he was again, back on this strange little island that so suited his needs. Having assumed the form of a beautiful young woman, he had quickly and easily insinuated himself into what passes as society on Hopeless, using his charm to gain a foothold into the lives of those whom he believed might be useful. One such was Durosimi O’Stoat. Trickster knew all about his plotting to kill the Night-Soil Man, and was amused by the way in which Durosimi’s plans had backfired badly when Naboth died instead of Rhys Cranham. This was such an easy place to cause mischief.

“You can see me?” said Naboth, astonished. “And you’re not scared?”

“Of course not,” the girl replied, “I’ve seen loads of spooks. You’re better looking than most, as well.”

Naboth, although a ghost, had not yet shed enough of his mortal instincts to be anything less than a red-blooded sixteen-year old. The young lady standing before him was certainly alluring, and he wanted to impress her.

“Well, I shouldn’t be dead yet,” he confessed, “and I’m looking for revenge. Once I find out who did it, the person responsible for killing me is really going to pay. Big time”

“Oh, that was Durosimi O’Stoat” said the girl airily. “But it won’t be easy getting to him.”

Naboth said nothing. He had no idea how she knew, but she was right. Durosimi would be difficult to hurt.

Trickster wandered into the night, happy that things had gone so smoothly. All that was needed now, after letting Durosimi know that he was to be the victim of a vengeful spirit, was to stand back and watch the fun.

A Semblance of Normality

“It’s probably all for the best,” said Philomena Bucket, philosophically. “I don’t think I’m the marrying type, really.”
She was coming to terms with the fact that, on what was supposed to be the morning of their wedding, Rhys Cranham had felt compelled to return to his occupation as Night-Soil Man. Some strange things had been happening in Philomena’s life lately, and she was determined to return to some semblance of normality, or as normal as one could expect things to be on the island of Hopeless, Maine.
“Anyway,” she added, “I’m still young. Well, fairly young, I suppose, and there’s plenty of time…”
She crossed her fingers as she said this. It was never wise to tempt Providence on this dangerously capricious island.
“What do you reckon?” she quizzed her companion.
Despite having hollow eye-sockets, Drury looked up at Philomena lovingly. He had spent the last two days chasing spoonwalkers who, confusingly, had disappeared the moment he caught them. It had been a good game but he was grateful that Philomena had rescued him. Neither were aware that the spoonwalker thought-forms had been created by Durosimi O’Stoat, in an attempt to keep Drury safely out of the way, while a doppelganger of the osseous hound was ripping up Naboth Scarhill, the new Night-Soil Man.
Since bringing Drury back from the Gydynap Hills, Philomena had made a point of writing to Rhys, saying that she understood his decision, and maybe they could look at marriage again in a year or two, at such times as he had trained a new apprentice. She had added a postscript, to the effect that Drury was totally innocent of killing Naboth, having been otherwise occupied when Rhys thought that he had seen him carrying the boy’s arm away.

Sitting in his cottage, commonly known as The House at Poo Corner, Rhys read the letter with no small amount of sorrow. He had so wanted to be free of the back-breaking toil and noxious reek that was a Night-Soil Man’s lot. Now the chances of a better future seemed to have been taken away forever. He had lost two apprentices in recent years; Gruffyd Davies had fallen into the ocean and had been turned into a Selkie, and Naboth had been ripped to shreds by something that, apparently, was not Drury. What were the chances of another promising young lad wanting to take on the role? A loveless, friendless existence followed by the likelihood of an early death was hardly the best job-description to attract willing staff. Rhys sighed, and put the letter on the table. He would have a word with Miss Calder, at the Pallid Rock Orphanage, in a day or two. Maybe she could suggest a likely candidate.

Miss Calder was in unusually high spirits. She had been dead for some time now but this did not interfere with her duties as administrator, responsible for the efficient running of the orphanage. Her ghostly form could frequently be seen flitting hither and thither, organising the orphans and reminding Reverend Davies of various items in his diary which he had chosen to overlook.
Naboth’s misfortune had recently come to her attention and she was expecting a visit from Rhys sometime soon, knowing that he would be looking for another apprentice. Being non-corporeal, Miss Calder had no problem in conversing with the Night-Soil Man, his overpowering stench having no effect on her whatsoever. Indeed, it would be a pleasure, for, in truth, the ghostly administrator was inclined to feel somewhat fonder of Rhys than maybe she should. Although a good friend to Philomena, she was secretly pleased that their wedding had been called-off. Miss Calder had long harboured the vague hope that some form of inter-dimensional union with the Night-Soil Man might one day be possible, although such things were unheard of, even on Hopeless. Before anything of that nature could occur, of course, she would have to learn to control her unfortunate habit of allowing her features to become terrifyingly skeletal whenever she became stressed or over-excited.

The wraith of Obadiah Hyde, The Mad Parson of Chapel Rock, peered down from the ruined chapel with curiosity. A few nights earlier he had watched, with some amusement, as the strange creature, the one that was definitely not Drury, savaged the youngster. In time-honoured fashion, the last remains of the Night-Soil Man would be dropped down the mysterious sinkhole that lay at the end of the garden in Poo Corner. Sadly, by the time islanders came to gather up what was left of Naboth, there was not a lot to be found, with ravens and other assorted carnivores having quickly taken the opportunity of an easy meal. None of these events bothered Obadiah, but the thing that had caught his spectral eye this evening certainly did. He watched with annoyance as a protoplasmic stew gathered at the foot of the rock, writhing and broiling in the moonlight. Obadiah knew only too well what was happening, and he did not like it one little bit. He growled and harrumphed to himself as, little by little, the protoplasm melded itself into the glimmering shape of Naboth Scarhill, complete with lidded-bucket. The newly-formed ghost stood, a little wobbly at first, staring around him, not immediately registering what had happened. Taking the advantage, the Mad Parson swooped from his rock and screamed in Naboth’s face. The boy looked back, impassively.
“You don’t scare me anymore, you old fraud,” he said. “I’m as dead as you are,” and with that, Naboth hit him over the head with his bucket-lid.
Chastened, Hyde scurried back to his ruin.
“This means war,” he thought to himself. “There can only be one ghost haunting Chapel Rock, and it is not going to be that little weasel.”
Not for the first time in his afterlife, Obadiah Hyde was wrong. Naboth had no intention of hanging around Chapel Rock with nothing better to do than scaring passers-by and annoying the Mad Parson. His was vengeful spirit. He had every intention of finding out who was responsible for his grisly death and, quite literally, giving them Hell.

Out of Time

Readers may recall that Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, had found himself mysteriously deposited in a Hopeless that he did not recognise. He discovered, in a poorly furnished version of his cottage, the dead body of another Night-Soil Man, guarded by the skeletal hound, Drury. Initially relieved to find that his old friend was there, Rhys changed his mind when it became obvious that not only did Drury not recognise him, but that the dog decided to literally launch an attack, hurling himself in Rhys’ direction. Had Drury been in receipt of hot breath, or indeed, any variety of breath, it is certain that Rhys would have felt the benefit of it on his exposed throat.
Those who have followed the deeds, and misdeeds, of Drury, will not be surprised to learn that, while he makes an exemplary guard-dog, his killer-instinct is pretty much non-existent. If he were human, the idiom ‘all mouth and no trousers’ would immediately spring to mind, which, for Rhys Cranham, was fortunate. Having leapt on to the Night-Soil Man and knocked him to the ground, Drury was at a loss as to what to do next, other than amble back to the corner of the room and look at Rhys with a baleful eye-socket.
From his horizontal position, wheels and small cogs began to whirr and click in Rhys’ mind. The missing privy at The Squid and Teapot, the disappearance of his cobbled pathway and the fact that Drury did not recognise him, all pointed to his having been transported back to an earlier date in the island’s history. While this realisation would have reduced many of us to gibbering wrecks, Rhys was not particularly fazed. After all, he had lived on Hopeless for all of his life. The occasional strange occurrence was to be expected, and could often be viewed as a welcome diversion from the monotony of day to day living.
The immediate priority for the Night-Soil Man was to get Drury on-side, before he dealt with the problem of disposing of the corpse slumped in the chair.
Suddenly inspiration struck. He burst into song and the parlour was filled with the notes of a surprisingly pleasing baritone voice.

“In Dublin’s fair city,
Where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone…”

Drury looked up with interest.

“… As she wheeled her wheelbarrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o.”

By now Drury was on his feet and wagging his tail. There was definitely something about this song that appealed to him.
Rhys launched confidently, and with no small amount of gusto, into the chorus, knowing full-well what effect the song would have on the dog. In his own time, Drury had become instantly enamoured with a version of ‘Molly Malone’, played on a wax-cylinder. While the Irish tenor on the phonograph did a decent enough job, Rhys felt sure that his own effort was vastly superior.
The old magic of ‘Molly Malone’ was working. Drury was wagging not only his tail, but his rear end as well, excited by the singing. It was almost as if he was able to remember the future, which, in view of this taking place on Hopeless, Maine, was by no means outside the realm of possibility.
After a half-a-dozen rousing choruses of ‘alive, alive-o’, Rhys felt that enough was enough. He was definitely in Drury’s good books by now and the osseous hound was sitting happily at his feet. Rhys looked at him fondly, and said,
“Drury, old friend, there’s something we have to do.”
The dog cocked his head to one side, listening intently.
“You’ve been around Night-Soil Men for most of your life… and… um… more,”
Drury had never accepted the fact that he was no longer alive, in the literal sense, so Rhys was being careful. He looked across the room at the corpse in the armchair.
“I don’t know what his name was, or why he died, but there is something important that must be done.”
To Rhys’ surprise Drury rattled to his feet and trotted out through the door, only to return a minute or so later, dragging a bedsheet. There was a clothes peg attached to one corner.
“Up to your old tricks, I see,” muttered Rhys, then he realised what the dog intended him to do.

Rhys spread the sheet on the floor of the cottage and manoeuvred the body of the Night-Soil Man on to it. It took but a few minutes for Rhys to wrap him up and, with some difficulty, hoist him on to his shoulder. Drury watched impassively as he made his way outside, bearing his burden.

The job of a Night-Soil Man is difficult and dangerous, and few enjoy a normal life-span. It has long been their practice to take on an apprentice who, hopefully, will have learned his trade before his master finally succumbs to whatever fate awaits him. When that time comes, the apprentice is expected to dispose of his master’s corpse by dropping him into the bottomless sink-hole that lies at the end of his garden. Although this sounds harsh, it ensures that the body will not be ravaged by any of the denizens who stalk the island, or swim in the wild ocean beyond. When the time came, Rhys, his body racked with sobs, had sent his predecessor, Shenandoah Nailsworthy, into the mysterious depths of the sinkhole. It was not a task he had expected to have to repeat, but now, here he was, doing it for a stranger, who, apparently had no apprentice.
“I never knew you my friend, but for some reason your spirit came to find me,” he said, recalling the ghost who had led him there.
With as much reverence as possible, Rhys let the body, still wrapped in its sheet, slip soundlessly into the sink-hole,
“The Night-Soil Man is dead. Long live the Night-Soil Man.”

Rhys walked sadly back to the cottage with Drury at his heels.
“I guess it’s up to me now to be the new Night-Soil man,” he said aloud, then added,
“I wonder what year this is?”
If Drury knew, he was not saying.

The Man in Grey

Since being relocated to The Squid and Teapot, via his hat, the ghost of Father Ignatius Stamage had been a model of discretion. Any who were not aware of his presence would regard the fleeting shadow, which they might catch out of the corner of their eye, as no more than a trick of the light. It was an arrangement that suited all concerned.
Bartholomew Middlestreet, the inn’s landlord, smiled wryly to himself as he contemplated how his old friend, the late lamented actor/manager, Sir Fromebridge Whitminster, might have conducted himself, had he been haunting the place; he had not been renowned for his discretion. Bartholomew imagined that the ghost of Sir Fromebridge would be no less louche or raffish than he had been in life. It was a pity that the old boy had been taken from them by the sea monster, aboo-dom-k’n; he had certainly added some colour to Hopeless.
It was while entertaining these thoughts that it occurred to Bartholomew that there were some odds and ends of Sir Fromebridge’s property stored away in one of the attics. Could his wraith be invoked to haunt his favourite scarf? Would he be able to, after so many years? More to the point, should The Squid be host to any more ghosts?
Not wishing to make this decision on his own, Bartholomew decided to ask the opinion of his wife, Ariadne, who generally had the last word in most matters.
“Shouldn’t you ask him if he wants to haunt The Squid?” she enquired.
“And how do we do that?” asked Bartholomew, perplexed.
Philomena Bucket, who could not help but overhear the conversation, volunteered, with some hesitancy,
“Well, I’ll have a go. I have a little bit of experience in those matters. I used to help me old granny when she did her séances back in Dublin. She was always convinced that I had ‘The Sight’, but I’m not so sure.”
“You will never stop surprising me,” said Ariadne, warming to the possibility of attending a séance. “What do we need to make it happen?”
“Not much,” replied Philomena. “Just an open mind, I suppose.”

The following night, after the inn had closed, Bartholomew, Ariadne, Philomena and Norbert Gannicox sat holding hands in candlelight around a circular table; in its centre sat coiled an extremely long and colourful scarf.
If the others had expected to see Philomena displaying the histrionics generally associated with conjuring the spirits of the dead, they were disappointed.
She asked, in calm and unhurried tones,
“Are you with us, Sir Fromebridge Whitminster?”
There was a minute of silence, then the sound of something being knocked over.
“Blast!” said a disembodied voice, “Who put that there.”
“Is that you, Sir Fromebridge?” asked Philomnena, hardly daring to believe that she had succeeded so easily.
“Yes, yes, hold on a mo, m’dear, I’ll soon be with you.”
The room grew suddenly colder. Then, close to Philomena’s shoulder, a form started to materialise. The apparition before them was not sporting the expected floppy fedora, scarf and greatcoat, but was instead clad, from head to foot, in an immaculate grey costume. He wore a tricorn hat, a powdered wig, a long riding cloak and riding boots.
“It’s not him,” hissed Bartholomew.
“Oh, I can assure you it is indeed I, Bartholomew dear boy. How good it is to see you again.”
In the dim light it was difficult to see the ghost’s features, but the voice was unmistakably that of Fromebridge Whitminster.
The ghost made a deep, theatrical bow.
“Now, what may I do for you, dear friends?”
“Um… we wondered if you’d fancy haunting The Squid and Teapot?” blurted Philomena.
The ghost made another bow, even more theatrical this time.
“My dear young lady, I would be delighted to… especially with such charming company as your good self and Mrs Middlestreet. Unfortunately, however, it is beyond my power. I am somewhat otherwise engaged. I have to honour what one might call a Faustian Pact.”
Sir Fromebridge went on to tell them that he had once made a bargain, with some mysterious Mephistophelean entity, to guarantee a further twenty years of life.
“You see,” he said, “when that sea monster took me, it was my time. My extra twenty years were up. The beast was just an instrument of destiny.”
Ariadne looked aghast.
“But what do you have to do in return?” she asked worriedly.
“Oh, nothing too arduous, I can assure you. I have taken over the role of ‘The Man in Grey’, resident spook at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, one of my old stamping grounds, as it happens. The other chap, my predecessor, had been haunting the upper circle for years and was overdue for a break. It’s not all bad; at least I get to see a few plays… although, these days some of the language can be appalling…”
“Yes,” said Bartholomew, “But don’t you get any time off?”
“Sorry, dear chap, I’m booked there for the next century or so, evening performances and matinées. Still, mustn’t grumble, and the get-up is pretty natty, what?”
They all had to agree that the eighteenth century look did, indeed, suit Sir Fromebridge.
“Anyway, must dash,” he said as his apparition gradually faded. “Lovely to see you all, and if you’re ever in London, do drop in.”
Those last words were so faint as to be almost inaudible, but it was an emotional moment, even for Philomena, who had never met the man in the flesh.

“Well, that’s that, I suppose,” said Norbert.
“It’s a pity, “ said Bartholomew, “but I guess we’ve enough ghosts without inviting any more in.”
“He seemed like a nice fellah, though,” said Philomena.
“He was,” agreed Norbert. “One of the best, though inclined to be accident-prone.”
“Maybe we could name something in his honour.” said Bartholomew. “How about that little cobbled street by the shore, where he met his end? We could call it Sir Fromebridge Whitminster Lane.”
“That’s a bit of a mouthful,” said Ariadne. “How about just calling it ‘Drury Lane’?”
In the corner of the room a pile of bones rattled to its feet, shook itself and wagged its bony tail.
Drury definitely approved of the idea.

Author’s note: The Man in Grey has been seen on many occasions in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. He always sits in the same seat in the Upper Circle, on the end of the fourth row. Afterwards he strides along the walkway behind the seats, then, upon reaching a particular spot by the Royal Box, fades away.
His presence at a matinée performance or a rehearsal is generally considered to be a good omen.

A Hopeless Afterlife

To say that the manner of his death had come as a bit of a shock to Father Ignatius Stamage would be an understatement. He had always been led to believe that ghosts were no more than harmless disembodied spirits, loitering in purgatory. He certainly did not expect Obadiah Hyde, the phantom Mad Parson of Chapel Rock, to crush his skull with a lump of stone. In fact, the whole business of death had turned out to be something of a disappointment. Following his unfortunate demise, Father Stamage had waited patiently for the expected triumphant ascent into the celestial realms. A month went by and nothing happened. Whatever could be causing such a delay? He didn’t think that heaven would be subject to bureaucratic slip-ups, but something was definitely not right.

Obadiah Hyde, meanwhile, had gone into a sulk, resentful of having to share his space with another ghost; worse still, one with no apparent fear of his ranting and raving. To add insult to injury, the rival ghost was that of a Catholic priest, a breed whose very existence was anathema to the old puritan. In protest, and much to the relief of Father Stamage, the Mad Parson disappeared huffily into the chapel ruins and refused to come out.

The priest watched impassively as a small band of men wrapped his remains up in an old sheet and carried them down the hill. He was not particularly sorry to see his corpse go. The passage of time, not to mention the attention of the ravens who lived in the ruins of the old chapel, had done nothing to improve its look. Even Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, had paled visibly when he discovered the body. Only old Drury, the skeletal hound, seemed to be unaffected by the sight, wagging his tail, giving the cadaver a thorough sniff-over and raising a hind leg to mark the spot (which, of course, he didn’t, but you cannot blame him for trying).

In the days that followed the discovery of the corpse, Drury became a frequent visitor to Chapel Rock. Despite himself, Father Stamage grew quite fond of him. The days when he believed Drury to be a demon from the lowest depths of Hell were long past, and now the priest recognised him for what he was; no more than a lovable old rogue who refused to acknowledge that he was dead. Briefly, Stamage wished that he had done the same thing, but on reflection realised that a skeletal priest wandering around might not be as warmly regarded as a mischievous dog.

There was only one cottage on the Night-Soil Man’s round that necessitated his walking past Chapel Rock. The output of its residents was such that Rhys only needed to visit every few weeks, and so a month or more passed, following the discovery of the body, before they needed his services again.
Rhys was surprised to see Drury, snuffling among the rocks, wagging his tail and generally acting as though he was there with a friend. Thinking that it might be Philomena Bucket out on one of her ill-advised adventures, he wandered over to where the dog was standing. It took him a moment to see the darkly-clad apparition of the priest flickering silently amid the rocks. Rhys had no fear of ghosts, except Obadiah Hyde, who scared everyone. Indeed, he enjoyed the company of those who chose to speak to him, for the existence of a Night-Soil man is a lonely one, on account of the constant nauseous reek that surrounds him. Happily, ghosts have no problem with such human concerns.
Father Stamage too was glad of someone to talk to, for although Drury was a pleasant companion, his conversation was limited to a series of barks, woofs and yaps.
As if there was nothing remotely strange about a man and a ghost chatting amiably, it was not long before the pair became friends and the priest told Rhys of the chase to retrieve his hat from Drury, and the fatal encounter with Obadiah Hyde.
The Night-Soil Man made a point of visiting whenever he could. It was pleasant to be able to go to Chapel Rock and not be terrorized by the Mad Parson, who still refused to come out while Father Stamage was haunting the place. Rhys, however, soon realised that his ghostly friend was far from happy.
“I became a priest to serve a community,” Stamage had told him. “In life I wanted nothing more than to be among people.”
Rhys pondered these words, and recalled that Marjorie Toadsmoor had expressed very much the same thing, needing to be among the living. Rhys wondered if he could help, as he had with Miss Toadsmoor, transporting her to the orphanage in a Marjorie-sized granite monolith.
“Where would you choose to be?” he asked. “Back at the orphanage?”
“I think not,” said the priest, sadly. “My brief sojourn there was not a particularly happy one. I’m dead Rhys and I want to be surrounded by good cheer, something to remind me of life.”
“I know the very place,” said the Night-Soil Man, “but how I can get a big lump of rock there for you to haunt might be a problem. It’s a shame that you have no possessions left; that often works. I’ve known of ghosts who have managed to reside in something as small as their pocket watch.”
Just then, as if on cue, Drury appeared with a shapeless and much-weathered piece of felt in his mouth.
“My hat!” exclaimed the priest. “I wondered where it had gone.”
He regarded Rhys with eerie green light in his eyes.
“Do you think… “ he began,
“There’s only one way to find out,” replied Rhys.

Philomena Bucket found the hat hanging on the front door of The Squid and Teapot, with an explanatory note attached to it, penned in the familiar scrawl of Rhys Cranham. Much as Philomena disapproved of clergymen of any persuasion, she could not bear to think of anyone sharing eternity with Obadiah Hyde.
Bartholomew Middlestreet, the landlord of the inn, placed the remains of Father Stamage’s hat safely in a box, and stored it in one of the attic rooms.
“As long as he doesn’t drive away my customers, I’m happy for him to haunt The Squid,” he said generously. “He’ll be able to keep Lady Margaret company. She’s got a few hundred years of confessions to offload, so that should keep them occupied for a while.”
Lady Margaret had once revealed to Philomena some of the more salacious details of her short, but somewhat scandalous, life. The barmaid grinned to herself. She hoped that Stamage didn’t blush too easily.