Yep - I've finally got around to posting a new story, illness had temporarily curtailed my writing as pneumonia and sitting in front of a computer keyboard do not mix well. I'm now well down the road to recovery so the muse is biting once again. I started this story about 3 years ago but it's been one of those things I couldn't quite get right. I'm not sure this will be the final version but, for now - read on - but - be aware that you might be offended by some of the language. If that is a possibility you might want to give the story a miss.
There is something odd, even weird about this house I've just moved into. I've seen, and experienced somethings here that I've experienced no where else in my ramblings and travels and I've lived in some pretty bloody odd environments. I haven't taken up drugs, or the booze and I don't think anything has happened to make me go from slightly nutty to full bozo. My health is about normal, no sudden deterioration and I've been subjected to no sudden trauma or other event likely to cause me to start seeing things. The place is about one hundred and ten years old and if the present landlord can be believed there's been some odd characters living here from time to time. The house has an interesting, even intriguing history. It's been a Sanitarium, a Hospice, a Private Mental Institution, a home for pregnant single mothers and even a Military Hospital. Right now it's one of those old rambling and sadly deteriorated buildings that's been hacked around to provide flats for the less financially able. The Landlord of course is raking in a fortune by neglecting maintenance and milking a disadvantaged clientele of every penny he can squeeze out of them.
The first apparition I encountered was the one I immediately christened Old Jack, I walked into my bedroom and he was just sitting there, as if suspended in mid air. He was playing cards with two other misty figures, all of them dressed in what I perceived to be military uniforms from around the World War One era. Old Jack nodded to me in a friendly manner and went on playing cards. I bolted from the room as if pursued by the Devil himself. I ran into the communal sitting room and came face to face with George who has the flat next to mine. He saw the look on my face and just said "Arrrh, you've seen them have ya?" George even managed a disinterested grin. "It's the card players isn't it?"
"How did you know?" I stammered." Have you seen them too?"
"Of course I have." George said. "So has every one else in this shit hole." He laughed. "Don't worry, they won't bite ya, an' you ain't seen the others yet."
"Others?" I yelped. "There are more of them?"
"Yeah." George replied. "The place is full of 'em but don't let it worry ya."
"But...." I began to protest.
"But nothin'." George said. "You're the new kid on the block and those of us who've been here for a while know what's goes on and we don't worry about it . You better sit down an' listen though, or we're all goin' to be in trouble."
"OK." I said, somewhat subdued "I guess you better fill me in."
"We call the three card players the Diggers. The Three you just saw. They always sit around and play poker in the bedroom and sometimes you see them in Bob's kitchen cookin' up some stuff in a saucepan. They don't cause us any trouble, an' they're quite friendly, sometimes they even leave us stuff."
"Leave stuff ?" I queried. "What sort of stuff?"
"Well." George said. "They sometimes leave food in Bob's kitchen, you know, stews and sometimes a pot of tea. It ain't Bob, he swears he comes home sometimes if he's workin' late and the tuckers already on the stove. None of us do it for him an' there's usually enough for all six flats. Good bloody tucker too, they done a rabbit stew one time and it was bloody delicious."
"Oh KKKK." I said, still not quite sure if he was having me on. "You said the place is full of them, you said I hadn't seen the others yet."
"The others." George said carefully. "Well yeah, there are others but a couple of them are a bit different, not so friendly some of them."
"Oh." I said feeling the hairs on the back of my neck begin to stir. "What do you mean by not so friendly?"
"Well." George explained. "I suppose Tony the Landlord has told you the place has an interesting history, it's been a few different things in it's day."
"Yes, he did tell me. A Sanitarium, a Hospice and a few other things as well."
George looked at me with a bemused expression and repeated my words. "A few other things. Did you know that there's supposed to be at lease a hundred people who have died here over the life of the building?"
"Over a hundred?" I exploded.
"Yeah." George said. "And we think that most of them are still here. For some reason they don't seem to be able to move on. P'haps I better get the other blokes in here, we can all tell you what we've seen, and what's happened to us."
George got up and went to call the other tenants while I sat and waited. I was beginning to wonder what sort of nut house I'd moved into if they all believed in ghosts and spirits or what ever. Then I reminded myself I'd seen the apparitions of three men myself. To have seen the ghosts of three men apparently floating in mid air while they played a game of cards was not the sort of thing to admit to your Probation Officer. I'd just got out of prison but neither the Landlord nor the other tenants needed to know that. In short order George came back with the four of the six tenants. Bob was still apparently at work. George continued to do the talking after introducing me to the other men and the one woman, young Tess, from the back flat. Each contributed as the story went along. They all had their own visitors, George explained to me, and the others nodded agreement. Ray at the front has the one called Maisie, Fred has Mary, Tess has Marge, George has Old Arthur and Bob has the Diggers.
"But they sometimes use your bedroom as well as well." He said. For some reason they all started to look a little uncomfortable.
"There are others here as well." He told me. "Screaming Jenny, The Young Fella, Stinky and the Blob to name a few."
"Hold on." I said. "Just how many of these ghosts are you saying are here?"
"Errr, about two dozen....... or so." George said. Now the other tenants were all looking decidedly uncomfortable.
"Two dozen?" I yelled. "Two dozen bloody ghosts in the place. Is this a bloody nut house? Are you all nuts?"
They all began trying to talk at once, but in whispers, mostly advising me to calm down, to be quiet and not to say anything about nut houses, madhouses or the like. In fact they all looked a little worried by now. I began to feel a little worried myself.
"OK." I asked. "Whats going on here, whats the matter?"
"We don't want you to get the wrong one." Tess said in a quiet voice. "If you carry on you could get one of the bad ones, that's what happened to Barry. He had your flat before you."
"Bad ones?" I asked, not comprehending.
"Well." George said. "Some of our guests, that's what we all call them, are a little bit eccentric, an' every now and then some new tenant brings in a bad one, then we all have troubles."
"Now hold on." I objected. "I've never seen a ghost in my life before this, and I'm certainly not bringing one with me."
"No, we didn't mean that." George said. "When a new tenant moves in it usually takes a week or so before one of the guests attaches itself to them. If you are a trouble maker you could end up with the Young Fella or even Stinky. On the other hand if you're a bit rowdy you could get Screaming Jenny. If you insult them then things could get rough an' you might get one of the really bad ones, we haven't even given them names." George said cautiously. "But if you get a bad one like Barry did, then we all cop it."
"You'd better tell me about it." I said. I was getting to feel very uncomfortable and something inside me was screaming for me to pack up and leave. I knew that wasn't very logical thinking and I still had big reservations about the ghost stories I was being told. It all seemed so unlikely and although I had seen the spirits in my bedroom with my own eyes I was still trying to rationalise it away as something else. Perhaps the other tenants had slipped a drug into my drink, perhaps they had used some sort of hologram or something, perhaps they wanted me to break my lease so they could get a friend in instead of me, perhaps I was being set up. Setup for what I asked myself? No immediate answer came to mind. Perhaps the Landlord was setting us all up. Perhaps he wanted to get us all out, to break our leases, to get new higher paying tenants. That didn't make sense either, but then again ghosts were not exactly my choice of the truth, especially ghosts that might not be as benign as the Diggers. I felt paranoia beginning it's ugly advance in my thinking and suddenly realised George was speaking again.
"I'm sorry." I said to hide my inattention. "It's all a bit hard to take in. Could you start that bit again?"
"Well." George said. "I was saying how you need to be pretty careful till one of the guests decides to choose you. The longer they take to decide the more likely you are to get one of the eccentric ones. Unless of course you do something completely wrong. Then one of the really bad guests will grab you straight away."
"What do you mean by more eccentric and really bad?" I asked. That sounded like something I wanted clearly defined for me in this crazy house with crazy tenants and perhaps crazy ghosts. It was all starting to get a bit far fetched in my opinion. They seemed to be skirting around several issues and although I was supposed to hear all of their stories George was the only one who'd done any talking yet. I looked around at the other tenants sitting there but none seemed anxious or ready to take the chair from George. I resigned myself to listen.
"Each of our guests is a little on the eccentric side." George continued. "And each of them has their own very distinctive pattern of behavior. For the most part we have learnt to live with it and the reward is cheap rent and a quiet life, even if the old place is a bit run down."
George paused and looked around at the other tenants who indicated they were comfortable with him continuing on.
"For example Maisie, who's with Ray, likes to climb into bed with him. Only problem is that Maisie is dead cold." George said this with a deadpan face and no hint of irony.
"And Mary, she's with Fred there." George indicated Fred with a wave of his hand. "Likes to rearrange Fred's shirt and sock drawer as well as his food cupboard. It drives Fred nuts sometimes because for some reason Mary always puts the salt in with his socks." Fred just grinned and nodded his head.
"Then we got Marge. She's appointed herself Tess's Mother figure and gives Tess a hard time if she wants to entertain a gentleman friend at home. I've seen more than one would be suitor getting out Tess's door in a hurry. Do you think she'll ever approve of one lass?" George asked the young woman who shook her head sadly. "No, I don't think she will either. She's intent on you being a spinster, that's for sure.
George looked at me intently. "I got Old Arthur, he's probably the oldest of all our guests; by the way he dresses I reckon he must have been among the first to die here. Arthur likes to argue but I can't hear him so so he pulls books out of my library, slams them on the table and opens them to an appropriate page. I gotta find the text he intends for me to read and if I can't find it he throws cups against the wall and stuff like that."
I was about to to query George on this but I saw Ray raise a warning finger to his lips in a shushing manner so kept my mouth shut. Just as well I did because I felt the temperature in the room drop suddenly by a goodly amount and Fred pointed wordlessly into a far corner of the room. I turned slowly and noticed what looked like a number of ghostly outlines lurking there. I picked Old Arthur easily because he seemed the most clearly defined of the group. An old man, probably in his late seventies or early eighties dressed in what appeared to be the style of clothing worn by gentlemen in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Arthur looked a little peeved I thought. I reckoned I could recognise most of the others too. Maisie would be the woman dressed in what looked to be clothing that was fashionable in the early twentieth century. Mary would be the woman dressed as what appeared to be a maid, or cook or something similar. Marge just had to be the rather severe woman, possibly in her early forties, who looked for all the world like a spinster school teacher or perhaps the equally spinsterish Housekeeper of a large household. The three soldiers who George called the Diggers were no where to be seen. I suddenly felt the need to sit very still and very quiet.
"Don't move." George cautioned as if reading my thoughts. The apparitions were moving towards me and the only parts of me that wanted to move were my bladder and my bowels. I don't know how but I knew I was being inspected and the thought struck me that this could be a very important inspection. Never, since the time I first faced the Regimental Sergeant Major, have I wanted to pass an inspection so desperately. I felt something brushing around me, lightly but with dreadful coldness and once, just once, I felt myself touched in a very intimate part of my anatomy. I jumped and I swear I heard a suppressed giggle when this happened. Some of the touches were light, smooth, gentle as if a from a woman and other touches more harsh and abrupt, one even seemed to straighten the tie I was not wearing and rough hands did mess with my hair. The inspection continued on and I began to sense other presences, not as clearly defined or even not defined at all. The other tenants were motionless, apparently observing me and my reactions intently. I felt I was beginning to sweat with the scrutiny but the sweat dried or didn't even appear with the now intense cold. I began to shiver instead, partly with cold, partly with fear.
Then it happened. A sudden blast of intense heat and the apparitions around me seemed to flee. I heard a deep booming laugh, more a maniacal screech, and a voice that sounded as if it originated in the depths of some deep, dark place. In a fearful daze I noticed the other tenants also reacting, Tess screaming, Ray and Ted both showing fear and George trying to draw something from an inside pocket of his of his coat. Someone, either Ted or Ray shouted something that sounded like like "... it have him." I didn't get the first bit but I'm sure that in some way it was a reference to me. Everything was descending in chaos, George was shouting something. I couldn't understand him but for some reason I thought it sounded like Latin. The booming disembodied voice seemed to be threatening everybody and everything. I vaguely remember something about a claim, penance, retribution, a sacrifice and a whole lot of words I did not understand in some language other than English. I saw Tess cowering in a corner, Fred being flung across the room to crash against a wall and Ray down on his knees blubbering and thrashing about. George was in the centre of the room and had succeeded in getting what ever it was out of his coat. I saw him hold something that flashed silver high above his head before he too was flung across the room and apparently consumed by flames. Things were right out of control.
I lost it. "What the fuck is this?" I yelled, not really caring anymore, "What the fuck is happening in this fucking mad house, you're all as mad as a fucking meat axe." You could have heard a pin drop. The noise stopped, the cold stopped, the flames disappeared. The apparitions disappeared, the thing that had attacked George disappeared in a flash of light. I looked around, every one was sitting in their seats watching me. I was standing in the middle of the room and suddenly realised i was about to start yelling again. I shut my mouth, then it opened again as if of it's own volition. "What ...?" I began to say. George smiled, they all smiled. I blinked and shook my head. I was sure that the last time I saw Fred he was flying across the room and being smashed into a wall. Ray was on his knees and blubbering and George was .... Now they were all sitting calmly as before and looking as if nothing had happened. I must have looked very confused.
"You better sit down." George said.
"Yeah." I replied "I think I'd better. What the bloody hell just happened?"
"That's what we were going to ask you." Tess said softly. "What did you see?"
"Well." I started to say, but then I wasn't sure what to say. The doubts came flooding back. Had I seen ghosts? Had they attacked the other tenants? Was I being drugged or hypnotised or something. Was this all some sort of setup? I didn't know what to to think and I didn't want to get suckered in by a bunch of weirdo's I didn't really know yet. What was their motive? Was there a motive? Had I been on the bottle and this was a bad dream? Was I hallucinating? I just didn't know and I felt an urge to get to hell out of there and clear my head. My confusion must have showed.
"Right now you're feeling pretty weird and mixed up aren't you?" George said in the understatement of the year.
"Yeah." I admitted. "I guess I am and I don't know what to think."
"Well." George said quietly "If you found out the real truth do you think you could handle it?"
"I dunno." I said truthfully. "It depends if it's any weirder than what I think I just saw."
"What do you think you just saw?" They all asked at once. Almost as if they spoke in one voice. So I told them.
"Is that how you think ghosts really are?" George asked. "All that fire and cold and scary stuff?"
"I don't know." I said. "I've never seen a ghost before. If that's what I really saw." I added doubtfully.
"Maybe ghosts are just like ordinary people, but dead." Tess suggested.
"Ordinary people?" I retorted after a moments thought. "I've met some that I have no desire to meet again, living or dead."
George grinned and the others nodded agreement. "That's the point." Tess said. "Ordinary people can be good or bad, living or dead."
"OK, I can accept that." I said. "Provided that I can accept that what I think I saw were ghosts."
"What do you think you just experienced if it wasn't ghosts?" George asked.
In for a penny, in for a pound I thought. If they wanted me to accept their "real truth" about ghosts then they will have to accept my real truth about other possibilities. They needed to accept that I could think of several other and, at least to me, logical and viable alternatives to their ghost stories. I went on the offensive, sure in my own mind that I could confront them and get to the bottom of it all. The possibility of ghosts was receding in my reasoning with every passing moment.
"There are several other possibilities." I said trying to sound positive and in control. "How do I know that you aren't all behind all this, that it's not some scheme to con me. You could have drugged me and I've been hallucinating, or you might have set this all up. I don't know any of you well."
George just looked at me and said nothing. He didn't need to and I suddenly realised I was yelling again. I guess I was quite emotional about the whole thing.
"Do you think that's what we have done?" Tess asked with infuriating calmness.
"And if you think we have, then have you thought what we would, or could gain from it?" Fred asked equally calmly.
"Errr no." I had to admit some what lamely. "But there must be a reason." I added desperately. "I just don't know what you want or hope to gain."
George continued to to look at me calmly and without comment. I realised my logic was based on a primal fear and my inbuilt prejudice. In fact, being honest with myself, I had to admit that my supposed logic and reasoning was pretty shaky right from the start. But I still couldn't admit to my fear, or that my desperate attempts to rationalise what had happened were mainly based on fear. The revelations of what I had seen, or thought I'd seen, had rocked me to my foundations and I was trying desperately to convince myself that there was a rational and logical explanation to what seemed to be an experience I could not assimilate or accept.
Ray, who tended to be a slightly aloof sort of person, finally decided to add to the conversation. In my short time at the house I'd noticed Ray didn't have a lot to say, but when he did speak it was usually worth listening to.
"Perhaps." He said. "You need to apply some of that logic of yours to to the situation and take it one step at a time."
"OK." I replied, waiting to see what he would come up with. "Lets do that." Even to my own ears my reply sounded childishly arrogant and also some what hollow.
"Point one." He said. "By your own admission you have seen apparitions in this house yourself. Can you offer any reasonable explanation for them, other than they were, or are, ghosts?"
"Point one! - Ha, that's bullshit." I exploded as my temper began to control me again, I began to shout. "They could be lots of things, they could be all sorts of technical things," I began to splutter. "They could be some sort of trick like spiritualists and magicians use, or, or, holograms or stuff like that." Even as I said it I realised how hollow and childish it sounded.
"A hologram? Really." Ray replied in his calm unruffled way. "Where's the projection equipment for a hologram, it requires some pretty sophisticated equipment, and it's bulky, and expensive."
I knew he had me there but the calm manner of his quiet, measured reply enraged me all the more and the red veil that had got me into so much trouble in the past descended yet again. I lunged at him with a raised fist as George and Fred grabbed at me. I was amazed at their speed and agility. For two older men they exhibited surprising strength, I'm a big strong bloke and they held me firmly down even though I struggled to get up.
Ray stood over me as the other two pinned me. "Point three." Ray said in his quiet voice which now seemed to have a distinctive commanding ring to it. "We've all been here a lot longer than you and we've tried to explain the situation. Do you think we'd take the time to tell you all about this if we'd been trying to deceive you? Wouldn't it be easier for us to just let you drive yourself out if we wanted you to go?
"Fuck you all," I snarled. "When I get up we'll see who's who around here."
"Yes, when you get up." Tess chimed in. "How are you going to manage that?"
"You can't hold me down for ever." I threatened.
"More threats?" Ray challenged. "That has been your stock in trade all your life hasn't it? Threats, bullying, assault, you get a thrill out of hurting people don't you? That's why you went to jail."
The rage had control of me and I missed wondering how he knew that; I'd told no one, not even the Landlord. "That's none of your fucking business. I was setup." I yelled.
"Really?" Ray accused. "And if they ever find Sandra's body it was someone else who killed her and buried the body too?"
The accusation seemed to burn itself into my brain along with the lead brick that suddenly hit the pit of my stomach.
"How ..... ?" I nearly choked on the rising fear. No one knew I'd killed my girlfriend of the time and buried her body. It was impossible , I'd gotten away clear and ...."
"We've been here a long time." George said as he stepped back and released me.
"A very long time." Ted added as he also stepped back.
"And we know many things." Tess added.
I struggled to my feet and spun around, still ready to fight.
"Hullo Trevor." a soft voice greeted me, I knew that voice. "Do you still love me?" The voice continued. Fear overwhelmed me as the temperature in the room began to drop and everything around me began to gain a wispy, ghostly appearance. Ray seemed to be fading, and George, and Fred, and Tess. The last face I saw as they advanced towards me and grasped at me and dragged me down to I know not where was that of my late, lovely girlfriend.