“Are you sure about this, Mr Easton?” Kane
said, looking down the dark steps. “And he won’t listen to you?”
Mr Easton shook his head. “It’s not that
he won’t listen to me, it’s just that he thinks I shouldn’t be doing what he
called ‘mechanical operations’ as I am a ‘man of the cloth’. I don’t think that
dying has helped him become a calmer person.”
“He wasn’t calm when he was alive.” Vic
said. “He was a terror. You had to grow a thick skin around him.”
Kane looked at the old man hunched next to
him. “And you knew him when you were an apprentice?”
“Yep, sixty years ago, give or take. He
was a bugger then and he’s a bugger now and there’s no way I’d go down that
Kane looked down into the dark cellar.
“How bad can it be?”
“If we don’t it fixed soon, there will be
structural issues.” Mr Easton said.
Vic nodded. “He could hear the start of
it, went down to find the leak and hit his head on the doorframe and died.”
“I think it is a classic case of a spirit
unable to rest until something has been put right.” Mr Easton said.
“It would have been put right years ago if
he’d let someone get to it.” Vic said. “But he would never trust another man’s
work. He wasn’t that good himself, though.” A tea cup flew off the draining
board and smashed into the wall next to Vic’s head. “He had rubbish aim as
well.” Vic said. “And I’m waiting outside in the car.”
Kane took off shoes and socks, then picked
up Vic’s heavy metal toolbox, handed Mr Easton the lamp, and made his way
gingerly down the stairs.
The cellar was cramped, with paint flaking
from the walls and water flowing over the stone floor. Mr Gomersal was sitting
on one edge, a translucent half smoked cigarette stuck behind his ghostly ear.
He looked over the tool kit.
“At least it isn’t all this new rubbish.”
He said, looking at Mr Easton. “This the lad?”
“It is.” Mr Easton said, “No-one else will
“When I was a lad people took work where
they could take it, and none of this complaining.” Mr Gomersal said. “Right,
lad, you do as I say and we’ll be fine. I’ve worked out what the problem i. Now
get a wrench, not that one you idiot, that one. That’s it, now pick it up, it
won’t bite you.”
“Yessir.” Kane picked up the wrench and
looked at the oozing pipe.
“Can you see where the bolt is? No, not
that one, you idiot, the one behind it. Bring the light closer so you can see
what’s in front of your face. Yes! Give the lad a cough drop, he’s found it!”
As Kane struggled with the rusted pipes, he decided that being ankle deep in cold, dirty water was not the worst part of it.
Kane stood at the back with the rest of
the foster kids. He wore a faded black sweatshirt over his darkest jeans, but it
was too cold and wet to manage without a jacket and its pale grey stood out against
the funereal black of the people at the front. The family looked very proper, all
in black with the men in tailored suits and the women wearing hats. He shifted
a little in the cold of the church as he listened to the people at the front.
It didn’t seem like the funeral of the woman he knew. They talked about her hard work taking on troubled youngsters that had been rejected by everyone else. They talked about her retiring to the flat and her membership of the local lawn bowls association. They talked about how sad it was that she had never met the right man but devoting her time to the rejected souls had filled the void when she wasn’t working as a very respectable accountant. Kane exchanged glances with the other foster kids. They were equally bewildered. This was not the woman they knew. The woman they knew had been warm and spontaneous and could out-swear as sailor, with a different girlfriend every month. She had fought for these kids, yelled at them, cried with them and celebrated every success. Not all those who came into her home were successes. Not all had survived the legacy of the care system. Some had fallen by the wayside and lost touch, but most had kept contact over the years. The older ones had done their best to contact everyone who had passed through Auntie Brenda’s welcoming door, and though some couldn’t be reached and some couldn’t make it, forty three of her foster kids were there, with ages from over forty to eighteen. They huddled together in their best clothes, silently mourning as they fumbled with unfamiliar service books and old fashioned hymns.
The priest pronounced the blessing and her elder sister followed the coffin in its stately procession out of the church, avoiding the accusing eyes of the foster children. Everyone knew Auntie Brenda wanted to be cremated. Everyone knew that she had wanted loud colours and louder music at the crematorium. She had wanted to be played out to ‘Goodness Gracious, Great Balls of Fire!’ And she would have thrown a fit at seeing the kids she loved pushed to the back.
The kids followed the family, leaving a discreet gap. Kane had been one of the last ones she had taken in, before she became too sick to look after others. He glanced around him. The foster kids, the ones she had sheltered, were all pale and tense. Many were quietly crying or fighting back emotion. It had been safe to cry at Auntie Brenda’s home. It had been safe to get a kind word and a reassuring squeeze of the hand. He had known her for such a brief time and her overflowing love had wrapped around him like the best kind of blanket, warm and soft and the perfect size. When he had left, others had called in to help her out, to make sure she had food and warmth and a listening ear, just as she had done for them.
In the sadness, Kane felt anger. Auntie Brenda’s relations hadn’t been there when she was going through chemo, when the shakes hit her, when the nights got cold and dark. They didn’t sit and read to her or share the soaps with her. It had been the kids that her sister had dismissed as broken that had paid back the unstinting love that had been such a lifeline to them. Now they had taken Auntie Brenda’s funeral and made it into something alien and distant.
Kane discreetly hefted his backpack. The kids had not been invited to the small reception afterwards, but that was okay. They would not have gone anyway. Instead they had muddled together a room in a pub owned by one of Auntie Brenda’s less reputable friends and organised some food between them. They had made sure they had a loud copy of ‘Great Balls of Fire’ cued up on their iPad, along with all of the rest of Auntie Brenda’s favourite music. After some discussion, they gave Kane instructions and the contents of the backpack, and he would linger after and pay the final respects on behalf of them. They had worked it out.
After the final blessing and Auntie Brenda’s sister had thrown a small, sanitised shovel of earth onto the coffin, shielding it from the kids, the family slowly dispersed along the gravel paths of the churchyard. The kids nodded to each other. The younger ones headed towards the car park, knowing that they would be watched like hawks ‘because you never know what that sort could get up to’. One of the older ones started asking the vicar questions while another two or three started lingering around the older headstones, catching the eye of the churchwarden. Kane was unobserved.
He crouched down next to the grave. “I miss you, Auntie Brenda,” he said. He swallowed and opened the backpack. “We’re all sorry about the funeral, but we’re doing our best.” He pulled out a few bottles. “It’s okay, Ellis bought the drinks, so it’s legal. We didn’t do anything to get into trouble.” He glanced quickly around and tipped a bottle of the best supermarket rum into the grave. “We all know you like a rum and pep when it’s cold.” He tipped a bottle of peppermint cordial after the rum, quickly hiding the bottles in his backpack. “And it’s November. We remembered. Rum and pep between September and March, and gin and elderflower between March and September. And I promise to take the bottles to the recycling.” He glances around again. “We talked about this a lot,” he said quietly. “But we worked it out together in the end.” He pulled out a plastic bag and emptied the cheap selection into the grave. “We got you the chocolates you always asked us to buy you for Christmas, the ones you liked, but we didn’t want to put plastic in the grave, so we left the box at home. We even left you the coffee creams.” His voice cracked a little at the end.
The shade of Auntie Brenda patted his shoulder. “You did okay, you and the rest. I appreciate it.” She grinned her familiar, careless grin as she popped the echo of a coffee cream into her mouth. The ghost had regained her hair and it was back to her favourite bright pink, spiked defiantly high. “And did you ever hear such rubbish?” She watched Kane stand up and nod to the other kids who drifted away from their targets towards their cars. “She called me an accountant! I worked in a betting shop all my life and I was bloody good at it.” She threw back her head and laughed the throaty, rich laugh that Kane loved. “She would have looked like she had a lemon stuck in her dentures if anyone had said that. Come on, I know you lot. You’ll have got a party sorted out. Let’s get going.”
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 at them. 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.
As it’s Spooky October, I’m revisiting the stories of Kane, the reluctant ghost whisperer. Throughout October I’ll be posting one of his stories every day, with some new stories during October Frights, which are on the 10th to the 15th of October. This story was first posted on 28th March 2019 and I hope you enjoy this reminder of past adventures.
Louise leant back in her chair. The café was almost empty and there was no-one near, but she still kept her voice low. “So you say that my dead brother sent you.” She looked the slim, hunched figure up and down. “You don’t look like the sort of person he would know.”
Kane nodded. “If he was alive, we would probably never have even spoken,” he said. “But, well…” He tried to gather his thoughts. “I can see ghosts,” he said.
“Really?” Louise said politely.
Kane was used to this. “Your brother said not to bother with giving you details about your childhood or anything like that. He said you were very cynical and had learned to distrust people.”
“That’s a good cold read,” Louise said. “What do you want?”
“I don’t want anything,” Kane said. “Ben helped me out with something, and so I promised that I would help him out. He pointed me in the right direction and I asked the necessary questions and got some good answers. He’s worried about you,” Kane said. “Or he was. When we found what he was looking for, he passed over.”
“That’s convenient,” Louise said, her eyes boring into his.
Kane nodded. “Ben said that there were a few problems with the business, that your stepmother was making claims that were difficult to challenge,” he said.
“She feels that she is entitled to more than she had after my father died,” Louise said. “She keeps talking about being a grieving widow.” She smiled thinly. “She’s making no secret of that. It’s not hard information to find out.”
Kane nodded. “Ben and I talked to a few people that your solicitor would have trouble reaching,” he said. “But together we found some things that may help you.” He carefully placed the bag on the table and pulled out the documents. “These are letters that your father wrote to a solicitor that your stepmother intercepted. They show that he never had any intention of leaving anything to her.”
“But she claims she should have a share because she is his widow,” Louise said bitterly. “And half the family think we should pay something out because they were married, even if Dad didn’t leave anything to them.”
“This is the record of her marriage to her first husband,” Kane said. “This is the supporting evidence of the marriage. And this is the sworn statement of her first husband, or rather, her husband, showing that he is not only still alive but also that they never divorced. Your stepmother is entitled to nothing. She was never legally married to your father.”
Louise stared at the papers for a long time. “How can I repay you,” she asked as she ran light fingers over the documents.
Kane shook his head. “Ben helped me out, so I said that I would help him out.” He drained his cup of tea. “You should find all that you need in there,” he said, standing and shrugging on his jacket. “It was nice meeting you.”
Kane stepped out of the café and into the sunshine. He wasn’t usually proud of his strange gift, but today was different. Today he was glad of it.
“I thought that you were some sort of ghost whisperer,” Mrs Carter snapped as she flicked back her carefully styled blonde hair.
“Calm down, dear,” Mr Carter sighed. “Let the young man work.”
“I’m not really a ghost whisperer,” Kane said, looking nervously between the two. “But I can see ghosts and they usually tell me what’s going on. I can’t see any ghosts here.”
“See! You are a fraud!” Mrs Carter said, tapping her elegant fingernails on the bedside table. “I’m going to complain about you to your manager.”
“I haven’t got a manager,” Kane said helplessly.
Mrs Carter stared at him through narrowed eyes. “Liar.”
“Now, my dear,” Mr Carter said. “You know what happened in the supermarket.”
“That was a simple mistake that anyone could make,” Mrs Carter said. “But that tapping in the walls – explain that!”
“What tapping?” Kane asked, bewildered.
“If you shut up and listen, you’d know!” Mrs Carter said.
“Now, my dear,” Mr Carter said. “Give the young man a chance.”
Mrs Carter folded her arms and glared at Kane, who flinched. Mr Carter shook his head. “Why don’t we go downstairs and let the young man have some room,” he suggested.
“And let him loot the place!” Mrs Carter exclaimed. “Look what happened to your sister Beryl.”
“I’ll wait on the landing,” Mr Carter said. “I’ll hear if anything goes on. Why don’t you go downstairs and make us all a nice cup of tea. We’ll all feel better for a nice cup of tea.” He watched Mrs Carter leave, waiting until her dainty tread reached the bottom of the stairs before turning to Kane. “My wife is a little highly strung,” he said. “We don’t often come into the spare bedroom, but when she does, she swears that she hears a tapping. I suggested getting a plumber, but she won’t have it. She’s read too many vampire stories.”
Kane looked around the non-descript bedroom. “I can’t get ghosts to do anything,” he said. “But I can usually see if any are around. It’s not getting them to talk, it’s getting them to shut up. But I haven’t seen any around here.” He frowned. “There is a noise, over here.”
Mr Carter followed him over to the corner. “It sounds like a drip to me,” he said.
Kane nodded. “It sounds like a drip to me as well. Do you have any damp patches downstairs?”
“This is over the garage,” Mr Carter said. “I don’t think we’d notice as the garage is quite dark and damp.”
Kane jumped as a ghostly figure appeared next to him. “Um, hello. Are you haunting this place?”
Mr Carter shivered. “I can’t see anything but I can feel it! How do you deal with this?”
“I’m used to it, I suppose,” Kane said. He turned back to the ghost. “It sounds like a drip.”
The ghost nodded. “It is,” he said. “I’ve been here for a while, but I like to keep myself to myself. I never liked to make a fuss. And it’s not been too bad, but that drip has been driving me crazy.”
“Who is it?” Mr Carter hissed. “Is it a headless knight?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Kane said.
The ghost sniffed. “I’m Algernon Carstairs and I was a very respectable clerk at the bank. I got as high as Assistant Manager at the High Street branch. That was a few years ago, now. What year is it?”
“Are you stuck?” Kane asked.
Algernon nodded. “I’ve been here since 1937 and I just can’t seem to get over,” he said. “There was no manual or instructions. Can you help?”
“I think so,” Kane said cautiously.
“But first I’ll show you where that drip is coming from,” Algernon said. “I’ve been going out of my mind. I like my peace and quiet, you see. If you can get me over to the other side, it will the least I can do.” He beckoned Kane. “The drip is making a noise as it’s landing on a pool of water behind the skirting board in here, but the actual leak is up in the attic.”
Kane passed the information on to Mr Carter. “Is it easy to get to the attic?” he asked.
“We have those fancy stairs,” Mr Carter said, glancing around nervously. “The cold goes right to your bones.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Algernon said. “It’s one of the reasons I try and avoid people.”
Kane passed on the apology and followed Mr Carter as he let down the complicated folding ladder from the hatch into the attic space. “We should both go up and check,” he said. “But I don’t mind going first.”
“There aren’t any, well, ghost things are there?” Mr Carter asked.
“The cheek!” Algernon exclaimed. “I was very respectable and passed in my sleep, thank you so much!”
Kane passed that on. “There may be quite a bit of dust, though,” he said.
Mr Carter shook his head. “We had it all insulated and boarded out. My wife comes up regularly.”
Algernon nodded. “That woman is a demon for keeping the house clean,” he said. “I don’t know where she gets the energy.”
Kane started up the ladder. “The ghost says that your wife was very passionate about cleaning,” he said.
“The light switch is on your left,” Mr Carter said. “Yes, my wife is very passionate about a lot of things.”
Up in the attic, it was very clear where the water was coming from. As they watched, another drip formed from the dented pipe and fell on the stained boards underneath it. “Eventually it runs down a pipe and then starts dripping when it bends for the radiator,” Algernon said. “But it’s causing problems there, too. You’ll need to get it seen to straight away.”
Mr Carter stared. “It’s where they took out the old cold water tank. I thought that it had all been too easy. No house repair goes without a problem.”
Algernon cleared his ghostly throat. “I feel a little awkward about this, but Mr Carter seems a decent chap, and before I go I think I should do the right thing. It’s Mrs Carter.”
“What do you mean, about Mrs Carter?” Kane asked. Mr Carter paused at the top of the ladder and turned slowly to look at Kane.
Algernon cleared his throat again. “Well, as she didn’t know I was there, she wasn’t discreet – and I want you to know that I never stayed around. I’m not that sort of ghost. I mean, I have standards. But when Mr Carter talks about her being passionate about things, well, she’s pretty passionate about the young man two doors down. She pays him handsomely as well.”
It took all of Kane’s courage to pass the message on to Mr Carter. “I’m very sorry,” Kane said.
Mr Carter froze for a moment. Then he slowly reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. “I think that this is the amount agreed for the consultation,” he said, handing over a handful of notes. “And this is for passing on valuable information,” he added, pressing a substantially bigger wad of notes into Kane’s hand. “If you could please pass on my thanks to Algernon and then see yourself out, I would be grateful. You have to help him to the other side, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Kane said, “But it doesn’t usually take long.”
“Take as long as you need,” Mr Carter said. “I’ve got a lot to discuss with my wife.”
Kane and Algernon watched Mr Carter carefully make his way down the ladder then Algernon turned to Kane. “I feel a bit of a cad, but I can’t help but feel that I’ve done that man a favour. Now, while I would love to see that woman get her just desserts, it’s time for me to move on. Where do we start?”
Kane sat hunched over at the table. He had never liked the idea of seances. “I’m sorry, but I really don’t know what to do,” he said helplessly. “Normally the ghost is in front of me and ready to talk.” In his experience, getting a ghost to talk wasn’t the problem. The problem he had was getting them to shut up in the first place.
“But Joan said that you were very good,” Sandra said helplessly.
Kane managed an apologetic smile. “Nancy was very close to her all the time,” he said. “I didn’t need to look.”
“Well, here are mother’s ashes,” Sandra said, placing the urn in the centre of the table. She looked around the family huddled around. “And I’ve lit some candles. Why don’t we hold hands and see if anyone is there?”
“There’s no need for that!” a ghost behind Sandra said sharply. “I don’t approve of candles in the house. They make dust.”
Kane looked at her nervously, then turned to Sandra. “A ghost has just said that there is no need to light candles and that they make dust. Is that your mother?”
Sandra’s eyes went wide. “Yes, that sounds like her. Ask her if her name is Pearl?”
“Honestly, you would think she would know better,” Pearl sighed. “You never give a tarot reader or medium any clues. It makes it harder for you to swindle them.” She glared at Kane. “I know your sort. But yes, I’m her mother and you can tell her from me that she’s being ridiculous. The will was with the solicitor, the money was in the red handbag and Tony took the dog. What more does she want?”
“Is she at peace?” Sandra asked.
Kane wondered how he could tactfully pass on Pearl’s opinions. “Um, I think your mother doesn’t know why you are asking anything. Did you find the will?”
Sandra nodded. “We got in touch with the solicitor. She’d hidden a load of money in her red handbag, but we found that pretty quickly, and we knew that she always wanted Tony to have the dog. And we sold the bungalow, just like she said in the will and everything was split.” She fought back tears. “The funeral was lovely.”
“I know,” Pearl said smugly. “And much better than my sister-in-law’s memorial. Mind you, her family was always a bit peculiar.”
“Your mother said that she thought the funeral was fine,” Kane said. “What is it that you need to know?”
Sandra swallowed. “I miss my mum,” she said, her voice breaking slightly. “And the thing I always remember are the flowers in the garden.”
“I always loved my garden,” Pearl said softly, reaching out helplessly towards her daughter.
“I got a lot of the flowers planted in my garden now,” Sandra said. “I’ve got the same peace roses and asters. I’ve kept up to the wallflowers and alyssum, but there’s one plant I can’t find.”
“You have to be tough, when you have seven kids,” Pearl said. “I had to keep them in order. But I let them enjoy the garden. That was something a little different.”
“Mum could be a bit fierce,” Sandra said, with breath-taking understatement. “But when we were out in the garden, she’d tell us stories and show us stuff. She’d make the snapdragons pop for us and save the seeds so that we could see the faces in the seed pods.”
“Snapdragon, or antirrhinum,” Pearl said. “The seed pods look like little skulls – very spooky for kids. I grew sunflowers as well. I used to have all the kids, and the grandkids and great grandkids after them, plant sunflower seeds and we’d measure them and the one who got the tallest flower would get a little chocolate bar. And come Halloween we’d carve the pumpkins I’d grown and we’d save the seed…” Pearl trailed off.
“My happiest memory is of my mum in a garden,” Sandra said. “She grew one plant, and I could never remember its name. I always called it, ‘fairy silver’ and mum used to talk about the elves and the moon. I can’t find that plant anywhere. It’s the only one I can’t find, but it’s the one that always seemed the most magical. I need to know what it was.”
The ghost of Pearl swallowed. “I didn’t realise, I didn’t know how much it meant,” she said. “I would have told her.” For a moment she shut her eyes and a trace of a phantom tear slid down her face. “It’s honesty, or moonflower, fancy name lunaria. You can get the seeds on the internet. It’s quite common. I got the variety with purple flowers.”
Kane relayed the information to Sandra. “I don’t know much about gardens, but it sounds pretty,” he said.
Sandra nodded. “It really is,” she said. “And it will always be full of stories for me.”
Pearl blinked back tears as she faded. “As long as she remembers to tell those stories to her kids,” she said. “And her grandkids.”
“She’s gone,” Kane said.
Sandra shook her head. “Not while I’ve got a garden,” she said. “And I can share her stories.”
“I’m so sorry to involve you,” Adele said. “But I was finding it…” She trailed off and looked unseeingly past Kane and through the window behind him. “I’m hoping that it will be nothing and I can pull myself together.”
Kane managed a reassuring smile. “It’s okay. Sometimes it can be noises in the pipes, or mice. I’ve been called out to all sorts of places, and it isn’t always ghosts.”
Adele relaxed a little. “You were recommended by someone from my aunts’ church,” she said. “He said that you were more sensible than the usual ‘ghostbuster’ and I didn’t need to worry.” She hesitated. “But you will tell me if you see anything? Even if it’s not what you think that I want to hear?”
Kane nodded. “It’s always easier to deal with the truth,” he said. “Why don’t you tell me a little about the background?”
Adele ushered him into the immaculate, if old fashioned, kitchen. “I was brought up by my aunts,” she said. “It’s sort of complicated. My father was their half-brother, and twenty years younger than them, after his father’s second marriage. And he was quite old when I was born…” Again she trailed off, staring into space. She forced herself back into the present and flashed a brief smile at Kane. “I was two when my parents died and my aunts were in their late fifties. Neither of them had married but had lived here since they inherited from their parents.” She glanced around. “It was all that they had ever known.” She paused again.
“It must have been a challenge for everyone,” Kane said quietly into the silence.
“I suppose so,” Adele said. “I think that they did their best, but it was…” She looked down at the cup of tea she was clutching. “They didn’t approve of modern clothing, or music, or make up or anything. I mean, they grew up in the sixties, but it was like they were Victorian. But they did their best. And they really encouraged me at school. They didn’t understand computers, but they still bought me top of the range kit with all the extras.” Adele paused again. “They understood some things, though. I was always allowed privacy. That was more than many of my friends had. After I was about nine or ten, they said that my room was mine alone. They wouldn’t go in there. And they didn’t. I suppose it’s because they insisted on keeping their own space. They were always fair.” Adele swallowed. “I was never allowed in the attic. They said it was their space, just like my room was my space. Even after they passed, a few months ago, I didn’t want to go up. And that’s where the noises come from.”
“Are you worried that their spirits may be there?” Kane asked. “I’m sorry to ask, but how did they die?”
“Covid,” Adele said. “They were both elderly, it was the start of the pandemic before any of the vaccines, and they were already frail. They never had a chance.” She swallowed again. “I really miss them, even though we had been arguing. They weren’t sure about my boyfriend.”
“What does he think?” Kane asked.
Adele managed another smile. “He dumped me when I wouldn’t sell the house. The aunts were right about him. Sometimes I really miss them.” She looked up at Kane. “I’m sorry to be so maudlin. I suppose that you’re used to it.” She looked a little closer at the slight young man sitting opposite her. “How did you start with this? Mr Eastham said that you had a lot of experience.”
Kane smiled. “I’ve always been able to see ghosts. I just got into the way of helping people out. I can’t make ghosts do what I want,” he added, “but sometimes they listen to me. I usually pass on messages so that they can rest.”
“I’m sure that the relatives are grateful,” Adele said.
Kane thought for a moment. “It depends,” he said, trying to be tactful. “You meet all sorts, but it has its rewards.” He set his cup down and stood up. “I’d like to see the room, please.”
The stairs from the hall to the bedrooms were wide and sweeping but the stairs up to the attic room were cramped and twisted. Kane followed Adele as she forced herself up the final flight, her back straight and determined as she pushed open the solid wood door and walked forward. “Come in,” she said. “This is where the noises are coming from.”
Kane stepped past her and looked around. It was a snug room, a little dusty now, but you could see the good order shining through. There was a table in the centre of the room with two dusty glasses still on them. Two wing backed chairs were placed either side with cushions placed to support an elderly back. Footstools to help creaky knees were placed neatly to the side. There was an old-fashioned radio sat on top of a huge mahogany bookcase and small lap blankets and shawls folded on a rack in the corner. Kane braced himself as he saw the two ghosts of elderly ladies sitting upright and prim in the faded chairs. “Good morning,” he said politely.
“He can see us, Elsie.” The taller of the two ghosts stood and nodded. “Good morning, young man. I’m very glad to see you.”
“Do you know, Mildred, I thought that we would be here forever.” Elsie stood next to her sister and smoothed down her insubstantial skirt before turning to Kane. “I hope you wiped your feet before coming up here.”
“Yes, miss,” Kane looked nervously between the two ghosts. “And Adele showed me where to wash my hands.”
Mildred snorted. “That is as maybe. Well, now that you’re finally here, we have a message before we can get away.”
“It was all very difficult at the end,” Elsie added. “We weren’t allowed visitors. I was quite upset.”
“We both were,” Mildred added. She looked at Adele. “You had better say something to her. The child looks like she has swallowed a fishbone.”
Kane turned to Adele. “I can see two elderly ladies.”
Adele nodded. “I can see by your expression that it’s them. Are they telling you off?”
“Not yet,” Kane said cautiously.
“Don’t be smart!” Mildred snapped. “Seeing us doesn’t make you clever. And don’t slouch!”
Kane found himself straightening up. “No, miss.”
Elsie drifted over to the bookcase. “We have had a long discussion about this,” she said. “And we have agreed that there are two main messages. The first is that we want Adele to know that we are proud of her.”
Mildred nodded. “We may not have always showed it.” She pursed her lips. “We always felt that there was too much silly emotion around. We didn’t feel the need to go around expressing ourselves. That’s for the youngsters. We kept ourselves busy.”
Elsie nodded in agreement. “So you should tell Adele that we are both proud of her. She may not feel that. She always lacked confidence, you know, though we did our best. But if she looks in the bookcase, she may find some reassurance.”
Mildred drifted next to her. “And she should make more time with the young man from next door but two,” she added. “We always stressed that she should look for a young man in a profession and not a trade…”
“The washing could be dreadful if you married into a trade,” Elsie interrupted. “But it’s not so bad now with the new washing machines.”
Mildred gave her sister a sharp look before continuing. “He may only be a plumber, but he has a kind heart which is more than that other good-for-nothing has.” She sniffed hard and glared at Kane. “He wanted her to sell the house so that he could get the money, you know. We heard him on the phone.”
“And then poor Adele would be left without anything,” Elsie added. “Because men of that sort never stay around.”
“Pay attention, young man!” Mildred floated over to Kane. “Tell Adele about the young man next door but two and the bookcase. And that we are very proud of her.” She looked over to her sister. “Well, that’s that. Now we can go and find father.”
Kane watched the ghosts of the elderly ladies fade away before relaxing and turning to Adele. She was looking through the bookcase, looking pale. She looked up at Kane. “They kept everything.”
“They said that they were proud of you, and that you should pay attention to the young man next door but two,” Kane said. “Are you alright?”
“They kept everything.” Adele pulled out a folder. “Every school letter, every piece of art, every report. And they put notes.”
Kane looked over Adele’s shoulder. Attached to the school report was a sheet of paper covered with copperplate notes. “They really didn’t like your maths teacher, did they?”
Adele stared at the paper. “I know that I always got good marks after the first parents’ evening and he never said a single word to me in class after that.” She looked closer. “I always wanted them to be proud of me. Why didn’t they tell me?” She handed the folder to Kane and pulled out another. “And these are all the school photos. They put notes next to them about how well I was doing in the science classes, and how they were impressed by my essays. They even planned out how to buy the right books for me, as a reward.” Her voice broke. “I feel like I’ve finally got there. I’ve finally made it.”
“They also mentioned the man next door but two,” Kane said.
Adele managed a smile through the tears. “We’re going for a coffee tomorrow. They’re probably right about him too.”
“I can feel her here,” Joan said. “It’s like she’s breathing down my neck.”
Kane was blessed, if you could call it that, with the ability to see ghosts. As he sat sipping tea in Joan’s knickknack crammed living room, he could clearly see the ghost of Nancy leaning in close to Joan. “She’s there,” he said. “A lady about the same age as you. She’s wearing a blue hat.”
“She always wore blue,” Joan sniffed. “She said it suited everyone. Mind you, it was a close call a few times.”
Nancy caught Kane’s eye. “Well she thought she could wear yellow and she really couldn’t.” The ghost shuddered at the memory.
“I can’t keep going on with this sense of someone peering over my shoulder,” Joan continued. “It’s worse than when she was alive. Tell her to go towards the light, or whatever it is.”
Kane winced. “I’m not very good at that bit.” He looked at Nancy. “Do you miss Joan?”
Nancy sniffed. “We were close, that’s true. But I can’t rest. She owes me £2.34. I can’t seem to get away from that. I’m owed £2.34 and until I get it, I can’t leave.”
Kane turned to Joan. “Nancy says that you owe her some money.”
“I do not!” Joan said indignantly. “I’ve always paid up. We reckoned up after every trip and meeting. We’d settle up who paid for what and where and make sure that we were all square. I could never sleep if I owed money.”
“It’s £2.34,” Nancy insisted.
Joan carried on, unaware. “I have never been in debt – not a penny under or a day late. How dare she!”
“It’s the money from the bingo,” Nancy said. “Just because I died that day didn’t mean that she could get away with keeping my share. And it’s £2.34.”
Kane turned to Joan in confusion. “She said that you owe her from the bingo.”
Joan frowned, then looked at Kane. “It was the day she died. And I was so upset, I forgot.” The colour had left her face. “We went to the Community Centre for bingo. We paid the same for our tickets, took it in turns to buy the tea at the interval and bought our own raffle tickets. The only thing was, we split whatever we won, exactly half.”
Kane tried to work it out. “To be honest, I’m more used to ghosts that can’t rest because they owe money, not the other way around. So, you won a prize of £4.68, that you would normally split. But you never had the chance.”
Joan shook her head. “It was a box of chocolates. They weren’t allowed to give cash prizes because it was for charity.”
“It wasn’t proper gambling,” Nancy added. “So it would be something like a bottle of wine or a candle.”
“They asked for donations,” Joan explained, “And the profits went to a good cause.”
“Everyone took turns,” Nancy said. “And asked that we give a rough value.”
“We all took turns,” Joan said. “Nancy and I used to go halves on a decent prize. You were supposed to give an idea of what it cost so that they could rank the prizes.” She sighed. “We always got something nice, with it being a good cause. Mrs Holloway, down the road, she only gave things like a packet of mints. Well, she couldn’t manage more with her being on a pension and all the trouble her husband is having.”
“We never blamed her,” Nancy added to an unhearing Joan. “You give what you can.”
“And I won the box of chocolates,” Joan said. “I was going to go home and check the price, so I could give the right money to Nancy. It was donated by Mrs Cadwallader, and she sometimes, well, she gets carried away.”
“Joan was always a lot more tactfully than me,” Nancy said. “That Mrs Cadwallader was all fur coat and no knickers. She’d talk about her expensive perfume like she wasn’t seen buying it from the market.”
Kane looked back at Joan. “Nancy said that Mrs Cadwallader sometimes exaggerated.”
Joan put her tea down with care. “I would be ashamed to behave like that. She put it as a £10 prize but got it as part of a sale in the big supermarket at the other side of town. It cost £4.68. And the chocolates were stale!”
“I’d be mortified,” Nancy added.
“But with what happened to Nancy as we left the Community Centre, I didn’t think to hand over any money,” Joan said.
“I got hit by a car,” Nancy told Kane. “I never felt a thing.”
“How do I pay the £2.34?” Joan asked. “I mean, Nancy’s dead.”
“Could you perhaps bury it in the grave?” Kane asked.
Joan shook her head. “She was cremated and her ashes scattered.”
“I can’t go until it’s settled,” Nancy said.
“And what is she going to do with the money if she’s dead?” Joan asked. “I don’t suppose there’s much bingo there.”
“What would you do if you hadn’t had a chance to pay her back?” Kane asked.
“Oh, I’d pay for the tea next time we were out,” Joan said. Her face fell. “I haven’t felt like going out much, now that she’s gone.”
“We went everywhere together,” Nancy said to Kane. “We were inseparable from when we met at school. We even married brothers.”
Kane nodded to Joan. “Perhaps that’s it,” he said. “Why don’t you go out and have a last cup of tea on her?”
Nancy and Joan both frowned, then shook their heads. “A cup of tea is £1.80 in the usual place,” Joan said. “That would be 54p off.”
“That’s too much,” Nancy said. “How about a nice hot chocolate? You have one for you and one for me.”
Kane turned to Joan. “Nancy suggests a hot chocolate, at £2.35 and that you have one for you and one for her and then you’ll be straight.”
“It will still be 1p out,” Joan said. “But I can put a penny into the collection at church – separately, of course.”
“Of course,” Nancy said. She started to fade. “That would be perfect, and we would be settled up.”
Kane watched the ghost disappear and then turned to Joan. “She’s gone.”
Joan held herself upright with only a slight gleam in her eye suggesting how near she was to tears. “I’ll go tomorrow and have two hot chocolates and save a penny for church,” she said firmly. “And I’ll have a word with her nephew. She kept a close eye on him, and I know that she would be grateful if I kept up the good work.”
Kane felt deep sympathy for the nephew. “I’m sure that she will.”
This is sparked by the memory of my grandmother, around fifty years ago. She went to a charity bingo every Thursday afternoon and once won a block of butter – and was very pleased with it! Whenever she went out with my mother, they used to count up every penny spent and work out who owed what with a thoroughness that would make any accountant turn to Modern Literature.
Tim McGuigan, solicitor and reluctant trustee turned to Kane. “Can you see any ghosts here?”
Kane looked around the dusty flat. “Hang on a minute, sir.” He moved slowly around the living room and pushed into the bedroom.
“The old lady died in hospital,” Tim said. “I suppose her spirit might have returned here.”
“You have her will, don’t you?” Kane asked.
Tim sighed deeply. “I think that Ms Beresford had a sharp sense of humour and hated her relatives. I have the will. I’m looking for the codicil.”
“Co da what?” Kane peered reluctantly into the bathroom and then returned to the living room.
Tim followed him. “It’s a legal addition to the will that is kept with the original will under normal circumstances.” There was an edge to his voice. “This is not normal circumstances.” He paused and then shrugged helplessly. “You may as well know. I loathe breeching client confidentiality, but I think any clue will help you. And Ms Beresford wasn’t exactly my client. She had already lodged the will when I bought the practice.”
“So you never met her?” Kane asked.
“No,” Tim said. “But I’m getting an idea of her. The will listed individual requests to her carers, made allowance for bills, taxes and payment for the funeral, and then said, and I quote, ‘the remainder of my goods and chattels to be divided among my relatives as stated in the list dated 14th November 2007, with the remainder to be sold and the proceeds to go to my nominated charity together with any money or monies remaining.’ I have memorised the dratted thing.”
“Is that a problem?” Kane asked.
“Look around. Somewhere there is a detailed list of who gets what of the art.” Tim shook his head. “That’s an original Hockney, and that’s a Moore. The art in here is worth a fortune. And then there’s the collected first editions of books. Some of them are worth thousands. All of her relatives are clamouring to get their share of the…” Tim’s training asserted itself. “I mean, they want to be able to have whatever legacy is due to them. And the charity has pitbulls for their legal team. My receptionist handed in her notice yesterday.” He turned to Kane. “Can your Auntie help? I know that she’s found people that are, you know, passed over in the past?”
Kane shook his head. “She’s fading,” he said. “She’s getting ready to pass over. I’m going to miss her, but it’s only right.”
“I’m sorry,” Tim said, patting the young lad’s shoulder.
“It’s okay,” Kane said. “I’m sort of ready.”
Tim smiled sadly, then looked around. “I don’t know what my predecessor was thinking. I mean, there could be artwork worth over a million pounds here, and we have no idea who should receive it. We’re going to have to store it, insure it and still try and find that list. He must have been mad. I can’t think what made him agree to that sort of madness.”
“You’d be surprised,” a voice behind Kane said.
Kane turned. The ghost was of an older woman with bright orange hair and wearing a pink velour tracksuit. “Ms Beresford?” he asked.
“That’s me!” she said. “As for how I persuaded the solicitor – I may have passed my prime, but there were a few tricks in the old dog yet. You see, Mr Clough had a weakness for…”
Kane desperately tried to cover his ears as Ms Beresford started to explain in minute detail exactly how she had persuaded the former solicitor. “It’s okay, you don’t need to tell me.” He turned to Tim. “She used sex.”
Tim looked at the embarrassment glowing from Kane. “I can tell. Has she appeared?”
“Yes,” Kane said. He turned to the outrageous lady. “Why did you hide the list for the relatives?”
“None of them have done a day’s work in their lives,” Ms Beresford said. “I thought it would do them no harm to exert themselves to find the list.”
“But they can’t come here until the list has been found,” Kane pointed out. “It’s Mr McGuigan that has to do the work, and he’s done nothing to you.”
Ms Beresford frowned. “But at least that shiftless lot will have to wait a while, and that’s something.”
Kane relayed the information to Tim and then turned to Ms Beresford. “How did you choose which charity to leave it to?”
“I chose a big one for the main will with a royal sponsor,” Ms Beresford said. “It was more or less at random. But the trustees are legally obliged to get the best deal possible for the charity, so they have to fight to keep the will as written.”
“Very clever,” Tim said after Kane had explained.
“It’s the cats’ shelter that I really valued, and I managed to put a decent amount their way when I was alive,” Ms Beresford said. Her ghostly face softened. “I helped out there, years ago. I’ve never forgotten.” She looked into her past. “I’ve always been a bit adventurous, with sex, but this was with love and it was different. I’ve always wondered what happened to her.”
“Did you leave anything to her?” Kane asked.
“I didn’t know where to start looking,” Ms Beresford sighed. “Besides, I could have more fun thinking about the useless lot scrambling for their pennies. They’ve ran up credit cards and loans waiting for me to die. The longer they wait, the more the interest will eat up the portion they get. And I’m going nowhere. Not until I see them work for it.”
Kane turned to Tim and moved a little aside. “I don’t think that I can persuade her,” he said. “Do you think you could arrange for the relatives to come and look?”
Tim stared at him. “It would be a riot. I’ve met the relatives, and while I’m not happy about being stuck in the middle, I don’t blame Ms Beresford for a second. They are…” His solicitor training kicked in. “They are difficult.”
“I suppose we could start looking,” Kane looked around.
“There are hundreds of books, all perfectly sized to have a small list in them,” Tim said. “The list could be inside the cushion of a chair or sofa, but we can’t do anything destructive because that would reduce the value of the estate and, trust me, those relatives would sue.”
“Perhaps we can go and get a coffee and plan what to do next,” Kane said. He looked at the smug shade of Ms Beresford.
He was interrupted as the ghost of Auntie Brenda shot into the room. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere! April’s had her baby and it’s a girl!”
Kane sighed in relief. “Are they both alright?”
“They are both fine,” Auntie Brenda assured him. “She’s a bit tired, poor kid, but the little girl is doing fine – a bonnie 7lb 4oz and they’re calling her Louise.”
“That’s a lovely name,” Kane said. He turned to Tim. “Sorry, it’s Auntie Brenda’s ghost. She brought some news…” he trailed off as he caught a glimpse of the expression on Ms Beresford’s ghostly face.
Ms Beresford was staring at Auntie Brenda, who was staring back. Auntie Brenda took a step forward. “Jocasta?”
“Brenda?” Ms Beresford’s ghost had lost all semblance of colour. “Is it really you?”
“I’m so sorry,” Auntie Brenda said, her voice suddenly younger. “But you know what my family was like and they whisked me away.”
“I tried to find you,” Ms Beresford said, her voice breaking, “But it was no good.” She took a deep breath. “I behaved disgracefully.”
“So did I,” Auntie Brenda said, and laughed her deep, throaty laugh. “Thank goodness we did!” She turned to Kane. “It’s time for me to go. Give April my blessing.”
Kane watched the two women fading gently. “Where is the list!?”
“Bedside table on the left, second drawer down, taped to the underside of the drawer,” Ms Beresford said over her shoulder before turning back to Auntie Brenda. “I can’t wait to hear all about it!”
Then they were gone.
Tim listened patiently as Kane tried to explain what had happened. The solicitor shook his head as he carefully removed the bedside table’s drawer. “It sounds like they are about to cause trouble wherever they end up,” he said. “I did a bit of research on Ms Beresford, and she did a lot of good on the quiet, while being very loud on the scandal.”
“Auntie Brenda fostered kids,” Kane said, “And she did her best even with the hardest ones.”
Tim neatly unpacked the contents of the drawer onto the dusty bed and then turned the drawer over. He started taking pictures with his phone as he eased off the yellowing envelope and pulled the flap open. “I can’t be too careful,” he said. “Ms Beresford’s family are not nice people.” He glanced over the list and his jaw dropped. “Look at this!” She’s listed everyone of her living relatives, with a family tree – look- and left them each a teaspoon. That’s it. One decorative teaspoon. It says that there’s a drawer full in the kitchen and she got them cheap from an auction house.” Tim looked at Kane, wide eyed. “And all the art and valuables are listed, and they’re all left to different charities.” He grinned. “There are a lot of cat charities listed.”
“The family are going to be furious, aren’t they?” Kane said.
Tim stared at the list as if he was holding a ticking bomb. “I think I’ll stick to zoom meetings for this. It might be safer.”
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 Hopand you may find a new favourite author. Just in case, there is an associated Book Fair here, where you are always welcome.