Kane Thelwell looked around nervously and slid into the church hall. It should be safe enough. All he had to do was keep his head down and no-one would look at him twice. He was just so desperate to get out of his small room and at least be around living people, even if he didn’t feel comfortable speaking to them, that he risked this trip to the church coffee morning.
It was standard stuff. Three old ladies were serving tea and coffee from a huge, overcleaned urn in one corner, together with a selection of bacon butties, sausage sarnies and toast. Another table had a selection of home made cakes. Kane looked over them and decided to buy one later. In his experience, competition between the ladies meant that the cake stall was always worth a visit. There was a sad selection of battered paperback books that had probably been trundled out every Monday for years, and a rail of ‘nearly new’ kids’ clothes.
The best thing about this was that the church hall was new. It was so new that you could hardly find it on the internet. It was a brand new, purpose built complex with a church, a church hall, a selection of meeting rooms and a large and extremely modern kitchen area. This was not a haunted building. It hadn’t had time. Besides, it had been blessed, so it had to be ghost free, right?
Kane couldn’t remember when it had started. He had always been faintly aware of ghosts, even when he was a child. There had always been the faint whisper on the edge of his hearing, the faint flicker on the edge of his field of vision and the sensation of not being alone. It was only as he got older, however, that the ghosts had started talking to him. As a young teenager in foster care, he had been glad of a sympathetic conversation and the old railwayman who had died forty years before in the bedroom now allotted to Kane had been a good listener with some sound advice. Kane had missed Eddie when his placement ended there. Then there had been Millie. She hadn’t been very helpful when it came to sorting out survival in a hostile household, and she hadn’t always listened, but she had some good stories and some great advice about how to talk to girls, which had been a real help to a fourteen year old.
The placement after that hadn’t been so much fun, and the elderly schoolteacher who had died in that room five years before was not sympathetic. He was, however, surprisingly tolerant when it came to helping Kane with his homework. Kane’s school attendance had been erratic at best even before he got into the system, but Mr Kettering had stood behind Kane as Kane scrolled through teaching sites on the council issued laptop and then patiently talked through the work Kane had missed. Kane had been almost sorry when the acerbic Mr Kettering finally passed over, comforted by the knowledge that he had got one more troubled boy through his exams.
His next placement had been a halfway house. There was no question of him going to college, despite his good grades, but the converted Victorian townhouse had been okay, and with the three ghostly parlour maids, the spirit of the old lady who had been the matriarch of a large family and the shades half a dozen kids and teenagers, there had never been a dull moment.
But that’s when it turned. One of the other, living, members of the facility had overheard Kane’s half of a long conversation with Mary, the maid from 1908, and had reported him to the resident social worker. When blood tests showed Kane to be drug free, a few further observations and careful questions led to Kane being held for psychiatric evaluation. That had been six months ago, and while Kane had illicitly stopped taking his medication, he was aware of being monitored in that same halfway house. Now he was careful.
Kane smiled nervously at the old lady as she poured him his tea, picked up his sausage sarnie and found a seat in the corner. As a defence he pulled out his battered phone and put in the headphones. There was nothing to listen to. Kane hadn’t been able to afford to pay for any phone calls for months. But if anyone saw him talking, perhaps they could assume he was having a conversation.
The sandwich was perfect – the sausages were crispy and brown sauce oozed from the soft, white roll as he bit into it. Then Kane’s heart sank. He could see ghosts. He could see their faint outlines as they wandered around the hall and inspected the latest information on the notice board. He started to bolt down his sandwich. He had to get out of here before the ghosts realised that he could see them. He drained the last of his tea, but he was too late. The ghost of an elderly lady caught his eye.
Kane’s heart sank as she grabbed her companion’s insubstantial arm and tugged the elderly gentleman towards Kane. He looked towards the door but it was too late.
“Hello, dear, I’m Margaret and this is Herbert. Herbert was the first minister on this site.”
Kane positioned his phone so he looked like he was making a call. “I thought this site was new.”
Herbert shook his head. “They rebuilt on the same site. I was completely against it, of course. I always said that there were issues with the traffic when the new supermarket was built.”
“Nobody listens to us, of course.” Margaret said sadly. “And now all we can do is listen to the endless rumble. It affected the foundations of the old building.”
Kane looked out of the window and onto the busy street. He could see the ghosts’ point. Traffic was edging along in a jam just before the turn off to the massive supermarket. “It’s progress.” He said quietly.
“We noticed the cracks in the cellar in the old building before anyone else.” Herbert sighed. “They never listened to us, and by the time the committee had spotted them, it was too late.”
“The old building had its problems, of course.” Margaret said. “They had a lot of trouble with the heating.” She looked wistfully out of the window. “Everything is working well, but there is so much traffic.”
“If there was only a way to escape this.” Herbert followed Margaret’s gaze. “Some way of leaving this endless rumble.”
“Is there a way?” Kane asked.
Margaret leaned forward, sinking slightly into the table. “You can see us. Perhaps you can find a way to get us some peace. That’s all we want.”
“If we could just find a way to silence the endless rumble.” Herbert said. He looked around the bustling church hall. “It is all so different from my day.”
Kane looked at Herbert who was wearing a frock coat and stiff collar and then glanced over to the young mums in leggings. “Time change.” He managed.
“And not for the better, young man.” Margaret said. “Surely you are willing to help us?”
Kane drew a breath to answer and then froze as a stern and elderly minister stalked over towards his table. Kane shrank back into his chair, miserably aware that a skinny youngster apparently talking to himself was never going to get a warm welcome.
The minister leaned down on the table and, to Kane’s utter shock, spoke directly to Margaret. “Are you causing trouble again?” He looked over at Herbert. “You both know better than that. This poor lad came in for a drink and a sandwich. He did not come in to be harassed by two ghosts barely better than poltergeists.”
Herbert pursed his lips. “I beg your pardon!”
“Which story were you telling? The tale where you just needed a picture of your descendants? Or the one where you needed to see pictures of the town.” The minister looked between the two ghosts. “Don’t tell me you were trying the traffic one again. You are on your last warning.”
“You are no fun.” Margaret pulled herself upright, drifting slightly above the ground. “It’s not like we meant any harm.”
“You never do.” The minister snapped. “But I’m still having to counsel those you contact.” He shook his head. “I think you need to leave this young man alone. And I am warning you, one more episode like this and I’m banishing you back to the churchyard.”
Kane watched the two affronted ghosts drift away through the nearest wall and then turned to the minister in surprise. “You can see them?”
“Most of us here can,” The minister smiled sympathetically. “But we’re an unusual bunch.” He hesitated. “I can talk you through some techniques to avoid the supernatural, if you like, or learn more about it.”
“I would really like to learn more about it.” Kane said without thinking. He paused. “I’d like to be able to ignore them as well, at least, the annoying ones.”
“I’m Charles Easton, the minister here.” Charles held out his hand. “If you’re free on Wednesday, I’m in my office all afternoon. We can have a chat.”
Kane automatically shook the minister’s hand. “I’m Kane Thelwell.” He said. “Pleased to meet you.” He took a breath. “I’ll be back on Wednesday.”
“Excellent,” Charles said briskly. “Excuse me, I need to speak to Mr Matthews.” And he was gone.
Kane took the last mouthful of his tea and stood up slowly. He couldn’t wait to tell the ghosts back home about this.