Kane sat in his car in the carpark outside the retirement home and leaned his head on the steering wheel. He had spent a lot of his life listening to ghosts. Some of them had been extremely helpful, some had been awkward or difficult, but all of them were human. Kane pushed himself upright. Well, there had been a cat or two and the Labrador that had been too devoted to go over the rainbow bridge, but on the whole Kane had been able to speak to the spirits. Well, he’d mainly listened, but it was something he could understand.
These days he took a fee for listening to ghosts and passing on messages about wills and missing jewellery and even the gossip of what happened at Great Aunt Edna’s wedding, and he was making a steady income. One of his small but steady sources of income was his monthly appointment at a restaurant to pass messages and orders from the spirit of the dead chef to the living and frustrated owner. He didn’t network with other mediums. He didn’t do the readings and shows that seemed to be so popular. Instead he kept his head down, picked up jobs from word of mouth and quietly got on with listening. That didn’t mean that he didn’t hear snatches of gossip and rumours, though, and he knew enough of those genuine mediums and spiritualists to have an idea of the other spirits that were out there. The shade in the hotel lobby had scared him. It had been so broken and filled with suffering that it broke his heart, but he had felt helpless to know what to do. Now, with that and the information from Mr Smedworth, he couldn’t put it off anymore. He needed to get some training. There was only one person he really trusted to tell the truth, and at least he was still alive.
Reverend Charles Easton looked frailer than ever when he opened his door to Kane. “Come in, Kane. It’s good to see you,” he said as he shuffled back into his room. The complex had been designed for retired ministers and priests and it showed. The room was bright with a large window overlooking the gardens and a multitude of bird feeders. A desk was next to the window covered with purposeful stacks of papers and notebooks next to an elderly laptop. Two comfortable chairs were placed either side of a small electric heater with a convenient coffee table between them. A door next to the window was slightly ajar and there was a glimpse of an unkempt bed and nightstand stacked with books. Apart from a small kitchenette in the far corner, the rest of the room was filled to the brim with books. Bookcases were built in from floor to ceiling and lined every available inch of wall. Some shelves groaned under old fashioned encyclopaedias and dictionaries. A small case in the corner held what looked to be antique books with faded and worn spines and a tower of Bible commentaries was stacked against it. From experience, Kane knew that there was a wealth of information about all matters of theology and philosophy on the bookcases, sometimes stacked two deep on the shelves and liberally interspersed with well read copies of Asimov, Stephen King, Dick Francis and Terry Pratchett.
“I’m sorry to interrupt you,” Kane said. He managed a small smile. “I know that you’re supposed to be retired, but I’m sure that you’re busy.”
“I’d rather wear out than rust out,” Mr Easton said briskly. “Take a seat, my son. Would you like tea? The staff encourage us to make our own tea and coffee to keep us active.” He caught Kane’s eye. “And it’s absolutely no trouble.”
Kane took a seat and watched Mr Easton bustle around. “I found something that wasn’t quite a ghost,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Mr Easton glanced over at him. “What happened?”
“I think I helped whatever it was over,” Kane said. He took the mug of tea from Mr Easton and leaned back in the seat. “I’ll start from the beginning.”
Mr Easton listened carefully to Kane’s account, stopping him now and then to ask a question when Kane became muddled, but keeping his attention fixed. “I’ve seen this coming,” he said as Kane finally finished his account. “You have an extraordinary talent, but you have no direction. What you saw was a shade.” Mr Easton shook his head. “I’ve been working for years trying to classify and categorise all the different types of spirit that you can find, but I’m sure that I’ve only scratched the surface. A shade is a remnant, a ragged piece of soul left at the scene of a tragedy. From my experience, it’s something left behind when the rest of the spirit passed over. Pushing the shade through the veil was one of the better ways of dealing with it.” Mr Easton hesitated. “Although you should perhaps consider faith.”
Kane shifted uncomfortably. His past experience with religion hadn’t been brilliant. “You mean, pray?”
“The thing to remember is that faith isn’t a vending machine,” Mr Easton said. “It’s not a case of ‘insert prayer and wish falls out’. It’s much more complex.” He waved a hand towards the bookshelves. “There are dozens and dozens of books in here that could go into the matter, and that’s just in my little study.” He took a sip of his tea and looked thoughtful. “Over the years I’ve seen some very odd things, and all sorts of faiths have used prayer, not just the Church of England.” He shrugged. “I can’t make you into a priest, Kane, but I can perhaps give you a little guidance.”
“I’d be grateful,” Kane said.
Mr Easton tapped his fingers thoughtfully against his mug. “I’ve been working on a definitive guide to spirits, and I’ve made quite a few notes over the years. I’ll email you with what I have. I have to warn you that it’s in a rough state and needs a lot more organisation.” He looked closely at Kane. “But why don’t you tell me what the current problem is?”
Kane carefully set down his mug on the coaster on the table. “I’ve been talking with the ghost of Mr Smedworth, the former manager there. He seems a little formal and he isn’t keen on the idea of ghost weekends and stuff, but he’s willing to help out if it will save Mrs Roberts. According to Mr Smedworth, there are a few of them that are willing to help out, and a few more ghosts that aren’t comfortable taking part but won’t interfere. But there’s a problem.”
“I’m sure that your personal trainer would tell you that there’s no such thing as problems. She’d say that there were only opportunities,” Mr Easton said with a twinkle in his eye. “But you and I both know that there are always problems. What is it? A ghost that won’t co-operate?”
Kane shook his head. “Not quite,” he said. “I’d have a chance of talking with an ordinary ghost, but Mr Smedworth thinks that this is something beyond that. He says that she’s the White Lady of Tipstone Manor and she’s not very friendly.”
Mr Easton looked at Kane thoughtfully. “Is that exactly how he described her?” he asked.
Kane grimaced. “He didn’t like to use bad language, otherwise I think I would have heard a lot more, but he said that she was more like a curse than a ghost.”
Mr Easton nodded. “If it’s a true White Lady then, yes, it’s generally more like a curse,” he said. He frowned. “And they are not open to reason. Perhaps I should come with you.”
“No!” Kane said quickly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to shout, but I can think of at least three ghosts and two living people who would skin me if I put you in any sort of risky situation. And it’s quite a drive from here. I know that two hours’ drive isn’t really far but the roads are awful and it’ll be dark when we get back there. The kitchens are only running a skeleton staff and you wouldn’t be looked after.”
Mr Easton frowned and then shrugged. “I suppose you’re right,” he said. “But I get so frustrated when I’m stuck in here.”
“I’ll call you as often as I can,” Kane promised. “And I’ll let you know when I talk to the White Lady.”
“Perhaps you could just ignore her,” Mr Easton said. “After all, if she just gives a fright then the ratings of the hotel should go up. Or you could be careful about booking people in near where she walks.”
Kane hunched miserably in his chair. “The castle has had a lot of work done, and the last stage is getting the plumbing upgraded to allow the oldest rooms to be fitted with ensuite bathrooms. The plumbers are supposed to be coming next week. The trouble is, they’ll be working where she haunts and Mr Smedworth says that she drove out at least a dozen staff that he can remember. Do you know how hard it is to get decent plumbers? Mrs Roberts can’t risk it. Mitch can’t see the problem as he thinks that he’d just ignore her but…” Kane looked helplessly at Mr Easton. “Mitch doesn’t understand ghosts. And they can’t ignore getting the rooms fitted as it’ll make a big difference to what they can charge and the money that the hotel can make.”
“That is a problem,” Mr Easton said. “I never had to deal directly with a White Lady myself, but I heard a lot of stories. The nearest I came to something like that was almost a disaster.” He frowned. “You’ve got a long journey to get back. I suggest that I charm the canteen into making you a substantial sandwich while I try and find some useful ideas in my notes and books. Once you’ve gone, I’ll send all my research so far and I’ll highlight all the things that may be relevant and paste them into a separate document. That’s the least I can do.” He stood carefully, wincing at the pain in his joints. “Take someone with you and get them to call me when you encounter this White Lady. I’ll stay on the line and send what advice I can.” He shivered. “And if nothing else, I’ll pray for you.”