The ghost of Mr Caswell polished his spectral glasses. “I am at a loss,” he said.
Kane tried to look sympathetic. He turned to the new owners of the house. “The problem is, Mr Caswell is troubled, and until he puts his mind at rest, he can’t leave. He’s looking for something.”
“This is definitely the last time I buy a house and contents,” James said.
Verity looked around the well ordered but very full living room. Bookcases lined the walls and every surface was covered with knickknacks. “What has he lost?”
Kane winced. “That’s the biggest problem. Mr Caswell can’t remember.”
James closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. “Let me get this straight – we have a ghost that can’t rest until it’s found something, but can’t remember what it lost? That’s ridiculous!”
“I am not an ‘it’!” Mr Caswell said indignantly. “And it could happen to anyone at my time of life. Or not.”
Kane looked at the tall, thin spectre in front of him and nodded before turning to James. “He’s a ‘he’. That is, Mr Caswell doesn’t like being called it.”
Mr Caswell dropped down into a chair where he sunk below the surface of the seat for a moment before drifting slightly higher to rest on top of the cushion. “It’s very depressing. I just don’t know where to start.”
James frowned. “I’m sorry. I really am sorry. But look at it from our point of view. We bought the only house we could afford that was near my work, with the contents, and now we have this…” He struggled for words.
“It’s an opportunity to really turn the house out!” Verity said brightly, forcing a smile. “Can the ghost remember whether it was big or small?”
Mr Caswell shook his head. “I just know that I forgot something.”
Kane shook his head, then turned back to the ghost. “Mr Caswell, can you remember when you last had whatever it was?”
Mr Caswell frowned. “I think it was after I retired,” he said. “But before I fell ill. That would make it after 2003, but before 2018.”
James’ face was set as Kane repeated the information. “So, around a fifteen year gap, with a margin for error.”
The living room lightbulb popped. Kane and Mr Caswell jumped, but James and Verity were unmoved. “I’ll get the steps,” Verity said, dashing out.
James pulled out a tray of lightbulbs from the kitchen. “It’s costing us a fortune in lightbulbs,” he said. “We’ve had the wiring checked, but apparently it’s fine.” He glared at Kane. “As far as we can tell, it’s the ghost. Whenever the ghost is in here, a lightbulb goes, and we need them at this time of year. We are drowning in broken lightbulbs!”
“Why don’t we start in the kitchen?” Verity said, before James could get carried away any further. “There’s not much there.”
The kitchen was bleak. The cooker was older than Kane, although cleaned within an inch of its life. The fridge was new, but small. “They made me get a new one for my medicines,” Mr Caswell said. “And at least they left it propped open when they unplugged it.”
Verity inspected inside. “This is quite a good fridge.” She looked a little embarrassed. “I feel little like a grave robber.”
“It was included in the price,” James said, his voice carefully controlled.
“I’m very glad that they have it,” Mr Caswell said. “And I’m sure that they’ll make better use of the house than I did, especially over the last forty years or so.” He sighed, hovering next to the sink. “I wish I could help them more. And I’ll answer any questions they have.”
“Mr Caswell is happy to answer any questions,” Kane said, looking between the couple. “And that has to be a help. I mean, he can tell you what all the switches are for and everything.”
“The manuals to the boiler, the cooker, the fridge, the washing machine, the microwave and the kettle are in the second drawer on the right,” Mr Caswell said. “The cold tap sticks, and I was planning on getting a plumber out. I got a bit too frail to sort it myself. I thought a little WD 40 might help. You can find a tin of that in the cupboard on the left, top shelf.”
Kane relayed the information. “Mr Caswell is very well meaning,” he said.
Verity sat down on a kitchen chair and for a moment her face crumpled. “We are broke. Being able to use these things would make things so much easier. We’ve been sleeping in the car for the last week. We couldn’t afford both rent and mortgage, and we just about covered this house.”
James put a gentle hand on her shoulder and looked at James. “It’s been a tough few years.” There was another pop as the lightbulb in the kitchen went. James visibly sagged.
“Dearie me!” Mr Caswell looked flustered. “I can’t have a nice young couple upset like this!” He shook his ghostly head. “I watch the television and listen to the radio – or I did – and I know how hard it is these days. Why, I bought this house for £3,000 back in 1967. When I saw the price that was charged after I died, I could hardly believe it. And the house needs a lot doing to it.” He pulled himself together, floating an inch above the floor for a moment before settling. “First things first, forget the lightbulb. In the cupboard under the stairs, top shelf, you can find a torch, or flashlight I suppose you would call it, spare batteries, candles and a spirit lamp.” The ghost frowned. “I think that the methylated spirit may have gone, but the chemist at the end of the road used to sell it, and it wasn’t too expensive.”
Kane passed on the message and followed James as he went along the hall to the cupboard. “Mr Caswell could be quite useful,” Kane said.
James looked at him carefully. “You may be used to ghosts, but we are not.” He pulled out the torch and batteries and checked along the shelf. “Everything is exactly where he said it would be.” He turned back to Kane. “This house is the most organised I’ve ever seen. Talk about a place for everything and everything in its place. It’s incredible.”
“I liked order,” Mr Caswell said. “I couldn’t keep it as clean as I liked over the last few years, and the carers sometimes cut a few corners, but I’m still quite pleased.” He looked at Kane. “I never blamed the carers, you know. They did their best.”
Verity joined them at the cupboard. “I hope I can keep up this standard.” The hall lightbulb popped.
Mr Caswell sighed. “No-one could,” he said. “I drove so many away.”
“Hang on,” Verity said. “Look at how ordered this house is. And Mr Caswell remembered exactly where the manuals and candles were. Whatever is missing is really unusual, because I bet he never lost anything. Everything in its place. Whatever is missing must be something important.”
“It usually is something important that makes people ghosts,” James said.
Kane didn’t comment. His experience of ghosts did not give him a great deal of respect for them. “Why don’t we sit down somewhere comfortable, in the living room, perhaps, and talk things through. If it’s a repressed memory, perhaps we can work through it.”
“What an excellent idea!” Mr Caswell said. “I never had much time for such things in the past, but after what Verity said, well, it makes a great deal of sense.”
“We are going to do talking therapy with a ghost?” James said, but after reading Verity’s expression, he nodded. “But not a séance.”
“I should hope not,” huffed Mr Caswell. “There was never anything like that here when I was alive.”
They trudged into the living room. The winter afternoon light was already fading and James set up candles, aided by Mr Caswell’s advice, while Verity switched on the electric fire and drew the curtains. “It’s very snug,” she said.
Kane looked around. It was dated, but it was snug. He sat at the edge of an armchair and turned to Verity. “Where do you suggest we start?”
“I have a basic certificate in counselling,” Verity said. “It’s not much, but it may be a help. Where is Mr Caswell?”
Kane indicated the armchair opposite him. “He looks a little nervous.”
“I am nervous,” said Mr Caswell as he watched Verity and James take up their position on the sofa. “But this state of affairs simply will not do.”
Kane looked at Verity. “I’ll pass on what he says, and I’ll do the best I can. I suppose it isn’t like a proper counselling thing.”
Verity shrugged. “The course didn’t cover counselling the dead, so it’s all new territory for me.” She thought for a moment. “Mr Caswell, why did you buy this house?”
“I was looking for somewhere after my mother died,” Mr Caswell said. “For so many years there was just me and my mother. My father died in the war, you see, and I was the only child. She took in lodgers and worked at a solicitor’s office. I suppose that’s where I got to like things to be nicely set out. I think it makes life a lot easier. She put me through a good school, as well, you know. There were plenty of times when we had to watch the pennies, but I never went without and when she passed she left me a nice little nest egg. Of course, I’d been saving my own money, from my job in the bank, and it made sense to get somewhere. We had been living in a rented flat, but I thought that it was time to invest in bricks and mortar.”
“Did you miss your mum?” Verity asked, through Kane.
“I suppose I did,” Mr Caswell frowned. “Of course, I was busy chasing promotion at work, and with buying this, I kept myself busy.” He watched Kane patiently relay this. “I had a lot to do, at first. I heard about the house going for sale through the bank. It had been repossessed. Well, you didn’t see so much of it in those days, not like in later years, but I saw the ones that came up.”
James nodded as Kane translated. “We saw some repossessions, and they all needed a lot doing to them.” He grimaced. “And someone always outbid us on them anyway.”
“Of course, it all had to be redecorated, and I did a good job, if I say so myself,” Mr Caswell said. “I had to start from scratch with the garden and take it back to the topsoil. You wouldn’t think to look at me now, but I was quite energetic in those days. I put down turf, laid out flowerbeds and planted those trees outside.” He nodded to James. “You need to keep up with the treatment for codling moths on the apple trees. I used to get the bands from the hardware store on the High Street. It’s gone now, of course, but I’m sure that you’ll be able to find the bands somewhere.”
Kane passed on the information to James. “Mr Caswell seems to have a way of doing everything.”
James frowned. “It could get irritating if he kept telling us when to mow the lawn or if we’ve missed a bit of dust.” He paused. “But having this sort of information is like gold. I’ve never lived anywhere with a garden before.”
“I’ve got a couple of folders in the bookcase nearest the door, bottom shelf. They have all the information about how much wallpaper you need per room and how much paint, and when the boiler was last serviced.” Mr Caswell said. “And I kept a separate address book for the tradesmen I used. I did a lot myself, but not so much as I got older.”
“This isn’t finding what you lost,” Verity reminded Mr Caswell.
“I suppose not,” Mr Caswell said gloomily.
“But let’s go back to the house. It’s quite big, isn’t it?” Verity said. “Did that make it a good investment?”
“Well, with the baby on the way and everything, I thought we would need the room.” Mr Caswell said. “I used the small bedroom at the front. I thought it would be a little snugger, and there was plenty of light.” He paused. “I forgot I had a child.”
Kane stared at him. “How?” He turned to James and Verity. “Mr Caswell has a child.”
The ghost hunched over and there was a suspicion of moisture on the faded cheek. “I worked really hard,” he said. “You see, Judith, my wife, wasn’t ordered like me. In fact, she was the opposite. We should never have married. But of course we didn’t realise. I mean, you didn’t live together before marriage in those days, so we didn’t realise. We had a lot of arguments.”
“I see,” Kane said.
“Judith was a successful woman in her own right, you know, and there weren’t many women solicitors in those days.” He hesitated. “Her family always thought that she could have done better than me.”
Kane quietly repeated this to Verity. She nodded. “It must have been hard.”
“Judith just left one day,” Mr Caswell said. “And she wouldn’t let me see Jeanette. That was my daughter’s name.” His eyes looked into the past, unfocused and filled with pain. “I wanted Margaret, after my mother, but we ended up with that as a middle name.” He shook his head. “It was very different then. I tried, you know. And I sent money. Judith said that she banked it for Jeanette, but my daughter never contacted me.” The ghost stood and started pacing. “I sent Christmas and birthday cards, but they moved and the cards were returned to sender. I think that’s when I gave in.” Mr Caswell stood in front of the tiny electric fire. “I couldn’t do it anymore. So I pretended that I didn’t have a family. I worked really hard at it. I just wrote a letter every Christmas and birthday, filed it in its proper place, and then didn’t mention anything about it for the rest of the year. I never saw either of them again. Jeanette’s birthday was last week. I think it was the first time I didn’t write her a card or letter in fifty years.”
“That’s what you forgot,” Kane said.
“And there’s nothing more I can do,” Mr Caswell said. “I just have to accept it and keep going.” He blew his nose with a ghostly handkerchief.
Verity listened to Kane’s explanation. “Where are the letters?” she asked.
“Second bookshelf to the left in the study, fourth shelf down. There are three files,” Mr Caswell said, slowly losing his colour.
“He’s going,” Kane said quickly.
“Mr Caswell, I’m going to find your daughter and get those letters to her,” Verity said quickly. “I’ll do everything I can.”
The fading shape of Mr Caswell smiled. “That would be a great kindness, and I would feel so much better. And don’t forget to keep the shed door closed if the wind is in the East, or the windowpane at the back will fall out.” Then he was gone.
“He’s passed over now,” Kane said. “There shouldn’t be any more problems.”
Verity looked around. “I think the first thing I’m going to do is track down his daughter,” she said. “It seems only fair.”
James stood up and dusted down his jeans. “And I am going to change some lightbulbs.” He paused. “But I’ll check first to see what brand he used. There has to be a record of it somewhere.”
Welcome to the fifth day of the October Frights Blog Hop! I hope you enjoyed my contribution and will look out for another story tomorrow.
And why not dip in to the giveaway of great stories at Story Origin? You can find them here. It’s a selection of free stories from some of the people taking part in the October Frights Blog Hop and you may find a new favourite author. Just in case, there is an associated Book Fair here, where you are always welcome.
And speaking of authors, here they are!