Kane’s Story

THE NEW BUILDING

Old foundation stone in the new building of the Church of the Nazarene, Morley

Kane Thelwell looked around nervously and slid into the church hall. It should be safe enough. All he had to do was keep his head down and no-one would look at him twice. He was just so desperate to get out of his small room and at least be around living people, even if he didn’t feel comfortable speaking to them, that he risked this trip to the church coffee morning.

It was standard stuff. Three old ladies were serving tea and coffee from a huge, overcleaned urn in one corner, together with a selection of bacon butties, sausage sarnies and toast. Another table had a selection of home made cakes. Kane looked over them and decided to buy one later. In his experience, competition between the ladies meant that the cake stall was always worth a visit. There was a sad selection of battered paperback books that had probably been trundled out every Monday for years, and a rail of ‘nearly new’ kids’ clothes.

The best thing about this was that the church hall was new. It was so new that you could hardly find it on the internet. It was a brand new, purpose built complex with a church, a church hall, a selection of meeting rooms and a large and extremely modern kitchen area. This was not a haunted building. It hadn’t had time. Besides, it had been blessed, so it had to be ghost free, right?

Kane couldn’t remember when it had started. He had always been faintly aware of ghosts, even when he was a child. There had always been the faint whisper on the edge of his hearing, the faint flicker on the edge of his field of vision and the sensation of not being alone. It was only as he got older, however, that the ghosts had started talking to him. As a young teenager in foster care, he had been glad of a sympathetic conversation and the old railwayman who had died forty years before in the bedroom now allotted to Kane had been a good listener with some sound advice. Kane had missed Eddie when his placement ended there. Then there had been Millie. She hadn’t been very helpful when it came to sorting out survival in a hostile household, and she hadn’t always listened, but she had some good stories and some great advice about how to talk to girls, which had been a real help to a fourteen year old.

The placement after that hadn’t been so much fun, and the elderly schoolteacher who had died in that room five years before was not sympathetic. He was, however, surprisingly tolerant when it came to helping Kane with his homework. Kane’s school attendance had been erratic at best even before he got into the system, but Mr Kettering had stood behind Kane as Kane scrolled through teaching sites on the council issued laptop and then patiently talked through the work Kane had missed. Kane had been almost sorry when the acerbic Mr Kettering finally passed over, comforted by the knowledge that he had got one more troubled boy through his exams.

His next placement had been a halfway house. There was no question of him going to college, despite his good grades, but the converted Victorian townhouse had been okay, and with the three ghostly parlour maids, the spirit of the old lady who had been the matriarch of a large family and the shades half a dozen kids and teenagers, there had never been a dull moment.

But that’s when it turned. One of the other, living, members of the facility had overheard Kane’s half of a long conversation with Mary, the maid from 1908, and had reported him to the resident social worker. When blood tests showed Kane to be drug free, a few further observations and careful questions led to Kane being held for psychiatric evaluation. That had been six months ago, and while Kane had illicitly stopped taking his medication, he was aware of being monitored in that same halfway house. Now he was careful.

Kane smiled nervously at the old lady as she poured him his tea, picked up his sausage sarnie and found a seat in the corner. As a defence he pulled out his battered phone and put in the headphones. There was nothing to listen to. Kane hadn’t been able to afford to pay for any phone calls for months. But if anyone saw him talking, perhaps they could assume he was having a conversation.

The sandwich was perfect – the sausages were crispy and brown sauce oozed from the soft, white roll as he bit into it. Then Kane’s heart sank. He could see ghosts. He could see their faint outlines as they wandered around the hall and inspected the latest information on the notice board. He started to bolt down his sandwich. He had to get out of here before the ghosts realised that he could see them. He drained the last of his tea, but he was too late. The ghost of an elderly lady caught his eye.

Kane’s heart sank as she grabbed her companion’s insubstantial arm and tugged the elderly gentleman towards Kane. He looked towards the door but it was too late.

“Hello, dear, I’m Margaret and this is Herbert. Herbert was the first minister on this site.”

Kane positioned his phone so he looked like he was making a call. “I thought this site was new.”

Herbert shook his head. “They rebuilt on the same site. I was completely against it, of course. I always said that there were issues with the traffic when the new supermarket was built.”

“Nobody listens to us, of course.” Margaret said sadly. “And now all we can do is listen to the endless rumble. It affected the foundations of the old building.”

Kane looked out of the window and onto the busy street. He could see the ghosts’ point. Traffic was edging along in a jam just before the turn off to the massive supermarket. “It’s progress.” He said quietly.

“We noticed the cracks in the cellar in the old building before anyone else.” Herbert sighed. “They never listened to us, and by the time the committee had spotted them, it was too late.”

“The old building had its problems, of course.” Margaret said. “They had a lot of trouble with the heating.” She looked wistfully out of the window. “Everything is working well, but there is so much traffic.”

“If there was only a way to escape this.” Herbert followed Margaret’s gaze. “Some way of leaving this endless rumble.”

“Is there a way?” Kane asked.

Margaret leaned forward, sinking slightly into the table. “You can see us. Perhaps you can find a way to get us some peace. That’s all we want.”

“If we could just find a way to silence the endless rumble.” Herbert said. He looked around the bustling church hall. “It is all so different from my day.”

Kane looked at Herbert who was wearing a frock coat and stiff collar and then glanced over to the young mums in leggings. “Time change.” He managed.

“And not for the better, young man.” Margaret said. “Surely you are willing to help us?”

Kane drew a breath to answer and then froze as a stern and elderly minister stalked over towards his table. Kane shrank back into his chair, miserably aware that a skinny youngster apparently talking to himself was never going to get a warm welcome.

The minister leaned down on the table and, to Kane’s utter shock, spoke directly to Margaret. “Are you causing trouble again?” He looked over at Herbert. “You both know better than that. This poor lad came in for a drink and a sandwich. He did not come in to be harassed by two ghosts barely better than poltergeists.”

Herbert pursed his lips. “I beg your pardon!”

“Which story were you telling? The tale where you just needed a picture of your descendants? Or the one where you needed to see pictures of the town.” The minister looked between the two ghosts. “Don’t tell me you were trying the traffic one again. You are on your last warning.”

“You are no fun.” Margaret pulled herself upright, drifting slightly above the ground. “It’s not like we meant any harm.”

“You never do.” The minister snapped. “But I’m still having to counsel those you contact.” He shook his head. “I think you need to leave this young man alone. And I am warning you, one more episode like this and I’m banishing you back to the churchyard.”

Kane watched the two affronted ghosts drift away through the nearest wall and then turned to the minister in surprise. “You can see them?”

“Most of us here can,” The minister smiled sympathetically. “But we’re an unusual bunch.” He hesitated. “I can talk you through some techniques to avoid the supernatural, if you like, or learn more about it.”

“I would really like to learn more about it.” Kane said without thinking. He paused. “I’d like to be able to ignore them as well, at least, the annoying ones.”

“I’m Charles Easton, the minister here.” Charles held out his hand. “If you’re free on Wednesday, I’m in my office all afternoon. We can have a chat.”

Kane automatically shook the minister’s hand. “I’m Kane Thelwell.” He said. “Pleased to meet you.” He took a breath. “I’ll be back on Wednesday.”

“Excellent,” Charles said briskly. “Excuse me, I need to speak to Mr Matthews.” And he was gone.

Kane took the last mouthful of his tea and stood up slowly. He couldn’t wait to tell the ghosts back home about this.

FAMILY JEWELS


Photo by Xuan Nguyen on Unsplash

“Can you see anyone?” Justin asked. He stood at the window, tension in every line of him.

“One moment, Mr Birstall.” Kane tried to concentrate on the sobbing ghost in front of him. “Calm down and just try and…” You couldn’t tell a ghost to take a breath. “Just take it easy.”

“All my life I’ve heard the story of the family jewels.” Justin said. “I’ve waited my whole life to buy back my family home.”

Kane nodded distractedly as the ghost slowly straightened up and looked at his sister’s great grandson. “That’s better. Now, this is Justin, and he wants to know what happened to his great grandmother’s jewellery.”

Justin looked between Kane and the gap that Kane was apparently speaking to. “Dad said that the jewellery wasn’t much, but it would be great to be sort of reconciled with that, to be part of the family.”

“I never thought she would leave.” The ghost started sobbing again. “I thought if I forbade her to marry then we would be together and comfortable. But she wanted to go to London with this clerk.”

Kane nodded politely. “I’m sure you missed your sister…”

“I missed her so much. How could I know that I would drive her away.” The ghost pulled out a spectral handkerchief. “I mean, if I had realised perhaps I would have at least had letters.” The ghost looked between Kane and Justin. “I have to know – did she die in poverty? Did she die in pain? Did she have a family? I’ve worried about it for so many years, I can’t rest.”

Kane looked at Justin. “Your great-grandmother, was she happy?”

Justin smiled. “I grew up with stories about her life. She loved the theatre, was devoted to my great-grandfather – she was so proud of him. She was always well dressed, and had all the latest fashions, especially when she went to the big dinners and galas.”

“What do you mean, big dinners?” The ghost forgot to sob into his handkerchief and stared at Justin.

“The ghost is surprised your great-grandmother went to big dinners.” Kane said, a little timidly. A skinny kid just out of local authority care shouldn’t ask questions of a high flyer in the City.

Justin didn’t take offence. “My great-grandmother ran off with my great-grandfather to the horror of all their families. But they settled in London, he went back to his father’s firm and they were very happy. Once he took over, there were shareholders’ dinners and charity events with the Lord Mayor.” He smiled. “Granny used to tell us stories about how they met with royalty and all sorts.” He sighed “But she used to whisper to Granny that all the fancy necklaces she had didn’t have the same feel as the locket her brother gave her and that she left behind.” He shook his head. “That’s why I’m here. One last chance.” He sighed. “Who am I kidding? That locket was probably sold or thrown long ago.”

“How dare you, sir!” The ghost stood, indignant. “The very thought that I would do something like that! Of course, I didn’t want the maids finding it and perhaps sending it on to London, so I hid it.” He turned to Kane. “Boy, you can fetch it for me.”

“What?” Kane said, bewildered. “I mean, what do you mean? Where is it?”

“I put it in the kitchen.” The ghost said. “No-one would think to look in the kitchen for something I hid. I never went there as an adult.” He shook his head. “Everyone forgot that I grew up in this house. I know every nook and cranny. Come on, lad, smarten up.”

Kane followed the ghost out of the empty study and down the echoing, uncarpeted hall and into the kitchen. Justin trailed after him.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m following the ghost, Mr Birstall.”

“What ghost?” Justin said. “I can’t see anything. Don’t you have to have a seance and call on them or something.”

As Kane walked into the kitchen, he wondered what it would be like to have to ask a ghost to come instead of trying to get them to shut up and leave him alone. “I’m getting a message.” He said.

“Hmph, a message.” The ghost snorted. “Anyone would think you were some sort of spiritist. Come over here, lad, and put your hand up the chimney, quick as you like.”

Kane looked at the soot-encrusted mantle and took off his jacket. “Whereabouts up the chimney?” He asked doubtfully, rolling up his sleeves.

“What?” Justin asked.

Kane ignored him and, following the ghost’s instructions, slid his hand behind the mantle. “The ghost, your great-great-uncle, would like to know if his sister was happy, and how she died.” The soot felt unpleasantly damp and a little slimy.

What?” Justin asked. He stared at Kane and then shrugged. “Everyone said she had a happy heart. She died in the Blitz, direct hit on the house.”

“She wouldn’t have suffered.” The ghost said quietly. “And she was happy.” He sighed. “Try a bit further left, boy.”

Kane looked down at the soot streaking his newest jeans and trainers. “Are you sure? Hang on…” His fingers found a loose stone and he wiggled it a little before he managed to prise it out. He set the stone carefully down on the hearth and tentatively reached in. “I think this is it.”

Justin took the small tin box from Kane, regardless of the soot falling on his bespoke suit and, after a struggle, opened it up. He swallowed and tipped the contents onto the dusty windowsill. “Great-grandmother’s locket.” He pushed aside the discoloured pearls and the garnet necklace and pulled out a simple locket, still faintly gleaming under the dust.

“She didn’t die poor, she died happy.” The ghost sighed as he started to fade and pass over. “I didn’t drive her to poverty. She was happy.”

Kane watched the ghost go home and turned to Justin. “The ghost has gone, Mr Birstall. I don’t think that there’s anything else.”

“Hmm?” Justin was staring at the picture in the locket. “Sorry, I was caught up with this.” He showed the facing pictures to Kane. “My great-grandmother and her brother. I have a similar picture of her at home, look.” He pulled out his phone and scrolled through to show Kane the picture of the same laughing young woman that was in the locket.

Kane looked at the faded photographs and smiled politely as he tried to brush the soot off his jeans. “So, I’ll see myself out.”

Justin came back to the present. “I’ll give you a lift to the station.” He handed Kane an envelope. “Agreed fee.” He added a second envelope. “And the bonus for finding the locket.” The smile on his face grew. “The family jewels.”

A GENTLEMAN


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Daisy shifted nervously in her seat. “Grandpapa, are you sure about this?”

Her husband held her hand. “It’s okay. We’re doing the right thing.”

“It’s okay for you, Russ, you didn’t grow up with Grandpapa.”

“He’s not exactly your grandfather, though, is he?” Russ said. “I mean, he’s your great-great-great grandfather. And he’s old enough to know his own mind.”

Daisy looked across at the ghost sitting next to the fire. It was an open fire, hissing softly with the smokeless coal they had to use in this part of the city. Grandpapa had never countenanced changing to central heating. “But it seems so final.”

“I know what I’m doing, girl.” Grandpapa puffed on his ghostly pipe. “But I’ve stayed here long enough.”

“Is it about Mrs Henderson?” Russ asked.

“Russ!” Daisy hissed.

“I’ll have you know that I was always faithful to my wife, your grandmama…”

“Great-great-great grandmother,” Russ whispered to Daisy.

“… but I do admit that when Mrs Henderson moved in next door I was struck by her character.” Grandpapa ignored Russ’s comment. “And, yes, now that she has passed over, it has made me think that perhaps I should go and join my Millie…”

“Or Mrs Henderson” Russ murmured to Daisy.

If you don’t mind.” Grandpapa snorted. “It’s time to join my Millie. I just hope you found someone suitable to take my case.”

“Are you sure you need help, Grandpapa?” Russ asked. “Can you not just, I don’t know, decide?”

Grandpapa shifted awkwardly. “I’ve not had any luck so far.” He admitted. “I may be a special case.” He puffed on his pipe again, enjoying the thought. “But hopefully you have engaged a suitable specialist, one who can manage matters with appropriate dignity.”

“He is the only one we could find,” Daisy said. The thought of the familiar, irritating figure disappearing left her unsettled. “But three separate people said he was very good. All the other people we asked were, well, fakes.”

“And he isn’t asking a fortune, like some of them out there.” Russ added. “If he can’t help us, it will have to be a priest.”

“No priests!” Grandpapa snapped. “I don’t approve of them. The old vicar ran off with his secretary and his replacement cooked the books.”

Daisy and Russ exchanged worried glances. There were plenty of stories about bad priests, but who else could get rid of ghosts? Daisy waved her hand at the table. “Are you sure we need to have this ready for him?”

Grandpapa snorted, “Anyone who can get rid of me will be a man of some courage, a man of discernment, a man of taste and refinement. It won’t be some teddy boy in a silly jacket or one of those punk mohicans. He will be a gentleman.”

Russ looked over the small table set aside for the ‘ghost whisperer’. “I hope he smokes.”

“All gentlemen smoke.” Grandpapa said. “Or they should. A man should be able to choose a good cigar. That’s how you can tell the quality of a gentleman. It may make all the difference in whether he accepts the case or walks away. And have you water for the whisky? I know we have soda, but some of the old guard take water with their whisky.”

Daisy and Russ avoided looking at each other. Grandpapa was becoming more and more out of touch, but Daisy had had the opinionated ghost in the background all her life and Russ had grown to love the old man – more or less. Neither could imagine the house without him. But now that the sprightly and scandalous Mrs Henderson had gone, a spark had gone out of the old spirit and he had become quieter and a little less visible. They jumped as the doorbell echoed through the room.

“Don’t keep him waiting!” Grandpapa said, “Or he may realise we no longer have staff! Go on – answer the door!”

Daisy and Russ raced into the hall and then paused at the door. Daisy looked at Russ. “If we open this door, we won’t be able to stop it.”

“If we don’t open the door, Grandpapa will carry on being miserable.” Russ said, “And he’ll make our lives miserable with it.” He looked at the door as if seeing it for the first time. “But I know what you mean.”

The doorbell rang again. “Open the damn door!” Grandpapa roared from the sitting room.

Daisy swallowed and, despite shaking fingers, opened the door. “Oh!” She looked at the skinny lad in the thin jacket and supermarket jeans and wondered what Grandpapa would say about this.

“Mr and Mrs Smyth? I’m Kane Thelwell. We spoke on the phone about a ghost.” Kane smiled nervously. “May I come in?”

THE WRONG FUNERAL

Image from Pixabay by Hans

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.”

WATER’S NOT THE WORST OF IT

Photo by Meg Barnett on Unsplash 

“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 hole.”

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 come down.”

“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 is. 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.

A MATTER OF TASTE

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Kane sat miserably at the table. The restaurant was closed business but he could hear the clatter of the kitchens as they got ready for the evening.

The ghost of Auntie Brenda had stood over him while he laboriously pressed his only white shirt and tried to get him to smarten himself. He had done his best, and now was sitting at a table in a restaurant where a normal meal would cost the equivalent of two week’s rent money.

“I bought this restaurant fair and square.” Mr Jervis said. “And I thought I was buying the recipes.”

Kane tried to ignore the ghost sniffing at the side. “Wasn’t anything written down, sir?”

“There wasn’t a scrap of information.” Mr Jervis tapped his fingers on the immaculate damask tablecloth. “I’ve gone over old purchasing invoices, but the old…” He caught sight of Kane’s expression. “The former chef did a lot of the marketing himself. There’s no clue there.”

The ghost nodded. “And I never let the staff know all the secrets.”

“The staff don’t know the full recipes either.” Mr Jervis said.

“I can see the ghost.” Kane said. “I can ask him for the recipes, if you like, sir.”

“That’s why you’re here.” Mr Jervis snapped. “I need the recipes. The restaurant was sold for a song after he died and now I know why.”

“I’m not surprised if you look at the standard of the bread order.” The ghost sniffed. “And that last lot of cabbage was not fit for the pigs.”

“The ghost says that there were issues with the bread and the cabbages.” Kane said. “Sorry sir.”

“Dammit, Jo said that I shouldn’t scrimp when it came to the bread.” Mr Jervis stood up and started pacing. “And I’ve changed back to the suppliers already.”

“I could give him a few pointers, as he proves himself.” The ghost watched Mr Jervis with a maliciously satisfied expression.”

“Umm, I think the late chef will be willing to give some information over time.” Kane said. “But I can’t make him do anything, sir. Sorry.”

“What’s the point of hiring a ghostbuster if you can’t them to bust the ghost.” Mr Jervis grumbled, then noticed Kane’s expression. “I’m going to have to be nice to him, aren’t I.”

“At least he’s not interfering, sir.” Kane said.

“I’m not interfering yet.” The ghost drifted over to the table. “And the first thing he can do is update those menus. I updated every six months. I’ll give him some new ideas.”

Mr Jervis sank back onto a chair as Kane passed on the information. “He’s going to be running the restaurant, isn’t he?”

The ghost looked up from the menu that Kane had opened for him. “Just because I’m dead doesn’t mean that I’m going to give up. Now, you need to get rid of the duck on the menu. It’s been here for a few years. Perhaps some partridge…”

Kane started taking notes.

NOT MY CUP OF TEA

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Kane managed a forced smile as he stood to shake Mrs Roberts hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

“I’m glad you can make it.” Mrs Roberts waved him to a seat. She set up her tablet and quickly flicked to the information. “You’re Kane, you live in Carlton Court down the road and you freelance. You are looking for a job in this shop to learn new skills and meet new people.” Mrs Roberts looked at him coldly. “This is not a dating site. This is a respectable coffee shop.”

A ghost of an elderly woman standing behind Mrs Roberts sniffed. “She may say it’s respectable, but the way they waste the cakes is shameful.”

The elderly man’s ghost next to her nodded. “You would have thought after eighteen months she would have got the cupcake order right.”

“They call them muffins.” The woman said. “It’s a disgrace.”

“What exactly is your freelance work?” Mrs Roberts asked.

Kane had practised this with the ghost of Auntie Brenda. He couldn’t say that he saw ghosts and sometimes he either talked them into ‘going home’ or passed on information such as the location of jewellery or recipes in a restaurant. “I practise a form of counselling.” He said with as much conviction as he could muster.

“I see that one of your references is that incredibly expensive restaurant in Chapel Allerton.” Mrs Roberts said, making a note. “Why are you coming to a small coffee shop after working there?”

“I didn’t work there as a restaurant worker.” Kane tried to keep calm. He really needed a steady income. He was making decent money as a ghost translator, but banks, credit cards and landlords needed something more tangible. “I was contracted as a freelance counsellor.” Mr Jervis needed something like counselling at the end of it and Kane still had to go in every month and play mediator between the old, dead chef and the new, living owner.

“That one looks like he might be worth keeping.” The elderly woman said. “He looks desperate enough to learn.”

“I’ve seen more meat on a butcher’s pencil.” The elderly man sniffed. “Perhaps he could eat up some of the surplus cake order.”

Kane tried to avoid looking at them. Mrs Roberts looked down the list. “You put that you prefer morning shifts. Is that to fit in with this freelance stuff?”

Kane nodded. “But I’m very flexible.”

“I bet he’s flexible.” The old lady smirked. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she tried to find out how flexible in the back room.”

The elderly man shook his head. “She never took her opportunity when we managed to lock her in the back room with the last lad that worked here. I would have thought it would have been perfect.”

“I even fused the lights.” The elderly lady said. “It takes a lot of effort to move electricity and she didn’t appreciate it.”

“I don’t approve of divorce.” The elderly man shook his head. “And she’s no age.” He looked Kane up and down. “He’s a bit young, but he should manage.”

“You can start tomorrow, if you like.” Mrs Roberts said. “6.30am sharp, I’ll show you how to set up.”

“I wish she would, but it would just be the café.” The elderly woman muttered.

Kane stood up. Auntie Brenda would be disappointed, but she would understand. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can work here. The ghosts are a little too much.”

Kane felt bad for Mrs Roberts as her shoulders slumped, but the appalled expressions of the ghosts would keep a smile on his face for a long time.

CHOOSING THE BATTLES

rain dropping from roof
Photo by Anna King on Unsplash

Tim put another log on the fire and then leant back. He hadn’t bothered to switch any lamps on as the light faded, and the flickering glow danced around the room, throwing shadows against the wall. It was that time of year again, when he wondered whether he had done the right thing, whether he had chosen the right path. A scatter of rain hit the window and he could hear the wind rising in the trees. There was a knock on the door.

Tim walked down the hallway, switching the lights on as he went, and checked the peephole. You didn’t get many surprise visitors this far out in the country, and he didn’t think it would be Estelle. She was visiting friends over in Rochdale and was staying the night. He did not expect to see a thin, hunched young lad, damp and bedraggled in the porch light. It could be a trick. Tim slid the chain on and cracked open the door. “Yes?”

“Mr Timothy Arndale McGuigan?” the young lad asked, shivering a little.

“Who are you?” Tim answered, peering around him for any possible accomplices.

“I’m Kane Thelwell, and I’m here on behalf of Major General Alistair Arndale McGuigan.” Water dripped from his plain brown hair. “He’s asked me to pass on some messages.”

“Alistair McGuigan is dead.” Tim said flatly. “He can send no messages.”

Kane turned, as if listening to someone. “No, I can’t say that! Or that! Okay…” Kane squinted through the rain back at Tim. “The Major General says that you wanted to call your first cat Cowshed, because a friend had a cat called Cola as…”

“Alright, alright.” Tim unhooked the chain and ushered the lad in. “You’re soaked!”

Kane managed a smile. “It’s a bit wet out there, sir.”

“Stay there!” Tim ordered. “My wife would kill me if I let you drip on the sofa.”

After a brief whirlwind of activity, Kane was perched on a bundle of towels on the sofa, his hair roughly dried and a large mug of hot chocolate thrust into his hand. Tim put another log on the fire and sat back in his chair. For a moment he watched the stiff winds whipping the flames up into the chimney and turned to Kane. “How did you know about my cat Kimble?”

Kane glanced uneasily at a space at his side. “I can see ghosts.” He said. “Sometimes I get paid to help people out with hauntings and stuff.” He glanced again and nodded. “But this time I’m doing a favour for Major General McGuigan, as a way of saying thank you for his help.”

“What do you mean?” Tim said.

Kane shook his head. “The Major General wants to pass on a message to you. He says he knows that he always told you to be a soldier like him. And that you became a solicitor instead. He says that he talked about you going after money instead of glory.”

Tim pressed his lips together and turned back to the fire. After all these years, the words still stung. “I am a damn good solicitor, you know. I’ve been invited to apply for a position as a District Judge.”

Kane paused and listened to the unseen presence at his side. “But you’ll take a pay cut if you do that.” He said.

Tim shrugged. “I’m not exactly on the breadline, and judges get a respectable salary. Besides, I’ll still get a share of the profits from my firm.”

Kane sipped his hot chocolate and listened again. “The Major General says that you were handling a divorce recently, the Atkins. He said that you encouraged them to reconcile.”

“They were just going through a bad patch.” Tim said. “It would have been wrong to force the divorce.”

“But you could have made a lot of money out of it.” Kane said. “The Major General says that the other solicitor was itching for a fight.”

“They didn’t want to divorce.” Tim said. “They just needed to have a long talk. And they’re happy now.”

“The Major General said you walked away from that fight.” Kane said.

“It was the moral thing to do.” Tim said coldly.

Kane cocked his head to one side. “But you went in hard for that financial settlement.” He said. “The Cawlstone one. The Major General said you fought that like a tiger. He said you spent hours on the books over that.”

“It was the right thing to do. I was merely pursuing a fair settlement against unfair tactics by the respondent.” Tim said. “It was a challenge.”

Kane listened for a moment, then nodded. “The Major General said that you did the right thing both times. That you showed excellent judgement and good leadership.” He paused and nodded. “He says to tell you that you made the right choice, in those and the other cases he saw. That you choose your battles with skill, use well considered tactics and strategy and that he is proud of you. He says you would have made a good officer, but you’re doing pretty good where you are.” Kane listened again. “He says to tell you properly, that Major General Alistair Arndale McGuigan is proud of you, his son, and that he always will be.”

Tim swallowed. “Thank you.” He said. “And I’m proud of him.” He hesitated. “I love you, Dad.”

Kane looked at the space next to him and smiled a little. “I think he loves you too.” He said. “He says, goodbye.”

“Wait, Dad, hang on!” Tim leapt to his feet, but Kane was shaking his head.

“He’s gone home now, passed over. He’s not here anymore.”

Tim lowered himself slowly back into the armchair. He found himself breathing a little harder, as if he had been running. He let the conversation sink in slowly. He turned to Kane. “Thank you.”

“No problem.” Kane said awkwardly, sipping his hot chocolate.

“Seriously, thank you.” Tim said. “It means a lot.” He managed a smile. “And that is just the way Dad would have said it.”

“He seemed a bit hard work, but he was a good man.” Kane said. “He helped me out with a problem last week, and I don’t think I could have managed without him.”

Tim smiled a little sadly. “He was a great man to have on your side.” He hesitated. “You say you are employed to sort out hauntings?”

Kane nodded. “Well, sort of sort out. I can see and hear ghosts, but I can’t make them do what I want.” He thought for a moment. “I could never have got the Major General to do anything he didn’t want to.”

Tim laughed. “That sounds like Dad. But what is your fee?”

Kane shook his head. “No fee tonight. It’s my way of saying thank you to the Major General. I don’t mind.”

Tim looked at the hunched young lad, with his battered trainers and worn, cheap jeans. “I feel like I owe you a great deal.” He said. “Are you sure there is nothing I can do for you?” He watched the emotions cross Kane’s face, as he struggled to resist temptation, before he gave in.

“Could you give me a lift to the station?” Kane asked.  

BERTIE

“Bless you!” Kane said.

The ghost of Auntie Brenda sniffed and looked at Kane reproachfully. “You know I’m allergic to cats.”

“I knew you were allergic to cats.” Kane stroked Bertie’s ears. “I didn’t think it would last afterwards.”

Auntie Brenda’s expression softened. “Poor little mite.”

Kane tickled under Bertie’s chin and tried not to grin. “This is not a poor little mite. This is a bruising bully with more attitude than fur.”

Auntie Brenda leaned forward and ran a spectral finger over Bertie’s coat. “Give that cat a bit of food and some love and he’ll have a coat you can be proud of, won’t you, sweetie?” Bertie gave her a disgusted look before leaning into Kane’s caresses. “Poor thing has lost its owner and is all alone in the world.”

Kane felt the weight of Bertie settle heavily on his lap. When he helped the spirit of Bertie’s last owner to pass over, he had not expected to have to deal with a cat afterwards. “I’ve always wanted to ask,” Kane began carefully. “Why did you always have cats if you were allergic to them?”

“Oh, I got used to them after a while.” Auntie Brenda wiped her nose on a ghostly tissue. “Besides, it isn’t a home without a cat. Now that you have your own little flat, it makes sense to have cat.”

Kane looked around his new flat. It was self contained and, for the first time he could remember, he didn’t have to share a bathroom or kitchen. He wished he could risk getting a new build flat, though instead of this Victoria conversion. He had spotted a few ghosts on the way in and he was sure Auntie Brenda had been gossiping. On the other hand, there was something grand about the high ceilings and painted mouldings. Auntie Brenda had helped him choose the right furnishings in the charity shops and it was starting to look cosy. “Ow!” He glared down at Bertie. “Just because I stopped tickling you doesn’t mean that you can spike me!” He went back to gently stroking the soft fur under Bertie’s chin.

“He knows what he likes.” Auntie Brenda chuckled. “Now, I have to get some rest.” She faded slowly from view.

Kane leaned back into the armchair and listened to the deep, vibrating purr of Bertie sprawled on his lap. Contentment settled around his shoulders like a warm blanket. Things were looking good.

LOVE YOU FOREVER

“How dare he date her!” A shower of dead rose petals scattered across the floor.

“You died two years ago.” Kane felt desperately out of his depth. How could he explain it to the ghost of Carlee Evans? “He can’t mourn you forever.”

“I killed myself because of him.” Carlee sobbed. “Of course he should love me forever. I left a note saying that I would love him forever. It’s not too much to ask.”

“I did some digging and looked some stuff up on the internet as well as talking to him.” Kane said. “You killed yourself because he went to his grandmother’s funeral.”

“I needed him!” Carlee wailed. “He was always talking to his precious family and his stupid friends. He should have been concentrating on me! I was devastated from work.”

“It was his grandmother’s funeral.” Kane stared at the ghost’s face for a moment, but saw nothing there. “He loved her and was heartbroken.”

“He should have been loving me!” Carlee stamped her ethereal foot. “I loved him.”

“Did you mean to kill yourself?” Kane asked.

Carlee shrugged and turned away.

“Because your internet search history was all about ‘safe overdoses’.” Kane could feel the ghost pulling away from him, but he concentrated a little. He was getting a lot better at dealing with ghosts and, to Carlee’s horror, she couldn’t leave.

“He should have been worried about me, not anyone else.” Carlee said. “And we should always be together. He doesn’t need anyone else.”

Kane took a deep breath and nodded to the ghost of Auntie Brenda who was hovering just on the edge of his vision. She slipped away. He tapped Carlee on the shoulder and almost smiled as she flinched at the unexpected contact. “You know Mick asked me to help because I can talk to ghosts.”

Carlee nodded. “And you can tell him how much I love him, and that I forgive him, and you can keep relaying messages. He won’t need the bitch now he can talk to me.”

“I can speak to all sorts of ghosts.” Kane said. “I keep it quiet, but I can often find a particular spirit or ghost, if I try and have a few clues.”

“I only care about Mick.” Carlee said. “Nothing else matters to me and nothing else matters to him. He has always been obsessed with me.”

Kane thought of the way Mick had described Carlee, the reluctance to date, the nightmare of the relationship and the relief mixed in with the guilt when she died. “I spoke to your mother.”

Carlee stared at him. “You wouldn’t!”

“Carlee Jean, how could you do this to me?” A ghost of an older woman strode towards them out of the shades, her lips pressed hard together and her eyes cold. “I can’t believe that you continue to embarrass your family, after everything I’ve said.”

Carlee spun around. “Mother!”

“Don’t you take that tone with me, young lady. Your father is so disappointed in you.”

“No, not Dad as well!”

The man following was as formally dressed as Carlee’s mother and wore a disapproving expression. “I found out about what the papers said.” He shook his head. “Even in death you were a disgrace.”

“I’m surprised that Father McKinley did the service.” Carlee’s mother said. “And to think he baptised you.”

“Mother…” Carlee tried to interrupt.

“You are coming with us.” Her father was adamant. “I am not allowing our family name to be dragged through the mud because you can’t control yourself.”

“No, Mum, Dad, you don’t understand!” Carlee cast an imploring look at Kane. “Say something.”

“Good luck.” Kane said, watching the figures fade out of sight. Now to give Mick the good news.

WINDOW

brown brick wall with green plants
Image from Unsplash, taken by Random Sky

“It’s easier to show you,” Kate said.

“We wouldn’t have believed it if we hadn’t seen it,” Kes chipped in.

Kane looked nervously at the couple. “I’ve never dealt with a haunted window before,” he said. “They’ve always been haunted by someone.”

Kes shrugged his broad shoulders. “We didn’t know where to turn until you were recommended.”

Kane sighed. “Show me the problem, please.”

Kate led them into the small back room in the tiny terrace. “We sunk a lot of money into this. We always came in the evenings, though, and when we look back, the old owner always rushed us out of this room.”

“We thought of suing the surveyor,” Kes said. “But how do you explain this in court?”

Kate went over to the far wall where thick curtains hung and pulled them back. Kane stared as Kes switched on the light. The window was completely bricked up. Kate saw his confusion. “We thought we could have it knocked through, but, well…”

Kane watched in disbelief as Kate’s hand passed through the apparently solid brick and rapped smartly on what sounded like a glass pane. “I think I see.”

“It looks normal from the outside,” Kes said. “You can even see the furniture in the room and everything.”

Kate nodded. “We asked the previous owner.” She sighed. “He had inherited the house from his aunt. Apparently the old lady had seen her fiancé kissing another woman through this window, and so she had it bricked up.”

“She never married, or even dated, as far as the nephew knew,” Kes said. “It’s a very sad story.”

“I’ve never done a window before,” Kane said carefully. “I’ve only done people.” He thought for a moment. “And dogs.” He walked slowly up to the window and pressed his fingers against what looked like dark brick. They passed through and rested against cool glass. “Could you give me a moment?”

Kane waited until the door had shut quietly behind him and then looked carefully around. It took a moment, but he saw her, a bent old lady huddled in the corner. “Hello, Miss. I’m Kane. Are you okay?”

“I’m so ashamed,” the frail figure said. “I’ve never forgave myself.”

“I knew it wasn’t just a window,” Kane said. “There is always someone there.”

“I found out later that it was his sister,” the shade of the old lady said. “It had just been a peck on the cheek anyway, but I was so jealous.” The ghost of a withered hand wiped away a translucent tear. “And afterwards, well, I just couldn’t look him in the face. I had said such dreadful things.”

“I’m sure he knew that you didn’t mean them.” Kane said sympathetically.

The old lady’s ghost shook her head. “I couldn’t live with myself. I wouldn’t see him. I couldn’t even bare to read his letters.” She gestured to the ghost of the brickwork. “I had to do this.”

Kane stared at the ghost of the brickwork and then back at the old lady. “Who took it down?”

“My nephew, Arthur, took it down.” The old lady slowly approached the window and stood next to Kane. “I should have done that years ago, and I was glad that he had.” Tears slid down the wrinkled cheeks. “I should have gone to him years ago, and now it’s too late.”

Kane thought for a moment. “But it isn’t really too late,” he said. “You could find him now.”

The old lady was suddenly still. “You mean, apologise? It’s too late for that. And I could never find him now.”

Kane shrugged. “People seem to manage once they’ve passed over. And perhaps you could just talk to him. You can explain.”

The old lady slowly shook her head. “I need to apologise. I need to go and find him.” She slowly faded into the dim light in the corner of the room. As her presence left, light flooded in as the ghosts of the bricks on the window followed her.

Kane sighed as he turned to call in Kate and Kes, his heart breaking a little for her sadness. He had dealt with enough ghosts to be unsurprised by her stubbornness.

KITTY

closeup photo of brown tabby cat
Image from Unsplash taken by Diana Parkhouse

“Come on, kitty, come for a cuddle,” Kane hoped he didn’t sound as helpless as he felt.

“Can you see him?” Adele called over his shoulder.

“He seems to be stuck behind the bookcase,” Kane said, “Come on, Kitler, come on.”

“I’ve never liked cats,” Adele said, trying to get a look. “But when my aunt died, well, I couldn’t let him go to a shelter. I mean, my aunt loved the evil creature.”

Kane stared helplessly at the ghost of the cat. The ghost stared back. Kane recognised the expression of bland assurance, the hint of secret wisdom and knowledge, and the pause of waiting for a thought to turn up between the furry ears. “Come on, Kitler, there’s a good kitty.”

“He was supposed to be called Sam, but after he terrorised next door’s rottweiler and dropped a live rat in front of the vicar, we thought Kitler was more appropriate.” Adele said. “He was a bit of a character.”

Kane reached out and tickled Kitler under his ghostly chin. The cat snuggled down onto the cuddle and edged forward. “He sounds a little difficult.” He could hear the phantasmal purr echoing.

“Do you know, the first week he was here, he chased a postman down the path,” Adele said with a hint of pride. “We had to collect all our post in the end, and we were blacklisted by Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

“Who’s a good kitty?” Kane said, as the spirit of the cat edged closer.

“I didn’t expect to miss him when he went, but I do,” Adele sighed. “I wonder if that held him back from crossing the Rainbow Bridge?”

“I think he was still happy here,” Kane said, watching the shade of Kitler push blissfully against his tickling fingers.

“I suppose so,” Adele said. “I mean, next door’s Alsatian still runs away from the post where Kitler used to sit. But he makes such a noise at night, racing around and knocking things over. It’s like he never left.”

Kane looked at the smug spirit in front of him. That’s why the ghost hadn’t moved on. He was having too much fun terrorising the household to want to see what happened next. “He is a strong character.” Any minute now, Kane thought. Any minute now the purr will turn to a hiss. I wonder if he can still scratch?

“But I’m not getting any sleep, and it’s unnerving having a ghost in the house.” Adele said. “So can you do something?”

“I’ve only really done people,” Kane said, pulling his hand back quickly as the cuddle turned instantly into an attack. Kitler glared at him. “I’m not sure how to get a ghost cat safely over.”

“Could you bribe him with ghost treats?” Adele asked. “He used to do anything for Dreamies.”

Kane stood up. “To be honest, I really don’t know what to do.” He looked around. “Aunt Brenda, do you have any ideas?”

The ghost of his foster mother tickled Kitler behind the ears. “What a sweetie. I wish I could take him home with me.”

“I’ll take it from here, my good woman!” A disembodied voice rang out before a spectral figure shimmered into view.

“Aunt Charlotte,” Adele whispered, holding on to the back of the chair.

“You can see her?” Kane asked.

“People always said I had a presence,” Aunt Charlotte said smugly. “And now I’ve come for my Sam before he gets exorcised or some such nonsense.” She grabbed Kitler firmly around the middle and hoisted him, unprotesting and stunned, into her arms. “He’s coming home with his mummy.” She turned to Adele. “You did your best for mummy’s little kitty. You should get that painting I left you valued, the one that you put in the spare bedroom.” She sniffed. “If you appreciated art, you would already know about it. The certificate of authenticity is tucked behind the frame at the back.”

Adele and Kane watched the ghost of Aunt Charlotte with her malevolent companion fade from view.

“Have they definitely gone?” Adele asked. “I mean, both of them?”

Kane smiled reassuringly. “I’m pretty sure that they won’t come back either.” He watched Adele sag with relief.

Auntie Brenda nodded in approval. “You’re going to find it very quiet around here now,” she said. “Perhaps you should get another cat.”

Kane decided that was one message he was not going to pass on.

THE COFFEE SHOP

empty chairs and tables
Image from Unsplash taken by Van Thanh

“Please, could you just consider it?” Jane looked around into thin air. “It would make such a difference.”

Kane looked at the ghost of Bob Jones who was twisting the shade of his flat cap around in his hands. “Times are hard at the moment,” he said.

“They always are, son, they always are,” Bob said. “But that’s no reason to lose my dignity. I’m not one to put myself forward and I’ve always been respectable.”

“Can you see him?” Jane asked.

Kane nodded. “He’s not very comfortable with this, and I can see his point of view.”

“All I’m asking is a little help,” Jane said. “I’m not asking for clanking chains and moaning. All I want is a little presence.”

“Presence?” Kane asked.

“Yeah, a bit of a chill sometimes, or perhaps unexpected draughts. Something lowkey.” Jane looked around, trying to guess where Bob was standing. “What can Mr Jones do anyway?”

“That’s a very personal question,” Bob said, affronted.

Kane turned to Bob. “You must have seen the amount of work Jane has put in to re-open this café. She just needs a little help.”

“It’s not the same since she bought it,” Bob said. “I was coming here for years before I died here, and I always came in for Ellen’s smile. She had a lovely smile and she always made sure I had an extra bit of bacon.” Bob smiled reminiscently. “So when I passed here, well, I just hung around. I still got to see Ellen’s smile, though she found it a strain at the end, as she got older.” His tone changed. “Then this young lass waltzes in and changes everything. It’s not the same. I miss Ellen.”

Kane turned to Jane. “Bob is talking about Ellen, the former owner. I think he’s worried that she’s being forgotten now someone new has bought the shop. Do you know her or any of her family that may be able to speak up for you.”

The colour drained from Jane’s face. “Ellen Carson? She ran this place for years, with the best bacon butties and meat and potato pies for miles.”

“They were absolutely the best,” Bob said, “And she always had a cheerful word for anyone coming in.”

“But it was losing money in the end. People weren’t coming in. They wanted fancy coffee and my poor grandmother couldn’t keep up. She took a holiday away to think about it but she just faded when she was away from it. She passed in her sleep.” Jane looked down at her hands and a tear slid down her face. “I miss her. I promised her I’d make a go of this place, and I inherited it fair and square, but the costs of renovation have taken all my savings. I have to make this work.”

Kane stepped back as Bob peered forward then looked at Kane. “Is she Ellen’s granddaughter?”

Kane looked helplessly at Jane. “Can you show anything to link you with Ellen?”

Jane stared for a moment and then dug into her pocket. “How about this?” She pulled out her phone and flicked through the pictures. “Here.” She held it in the air.

Bob walked around Kane to look at the picture. “That’s Ellen sitting with you! I mean, she isn’t as young as she was when I met her, but she always had the sweetest smile.” He frowned and looked at Jane, tilting his head and frowning. “Do you know, I think you do have a look of her about you.”

“I think he believes you,” Kane said.

“I think I do,” Bob said. “I tell you what, I’ll make a deal. I’ll haunt this place – respectfully, with no hanky panky, as long as there’s a picture of Ellen on the wall.” The spirit’s face softened. “She made a great cup of tea as well. She knew what I liked – strong enough for a mouse to run across it.”

Kane tried to hide his grimace at the thought of the tea and passed the message on to Jane.

“It feels strange, knowing that he knew Gran,” Jane said. “But nice, like having a fairy godfather.”

Bob snorted, but there was a smile in his eyes. “And the reason that infernal new coffee machine keeps messing up is that the workman put one of the switches in upside down. I watched him as he was trying to sweet talk some lady on the phone. The foreman was far too forgiving. It would never have happened in my day.”

Kane passed the message on, keeping any comments to himself about his own experience of past workmen. He turned to Bob. “You won’t get carried away, will you?”

“As I said, I’ve always been respectable.” Bob was firm. “A few unexpected chills won’t hurt anyone, just a little decent spookiness.” He grinned, a gleam in his spectral eye. “And if Jane takes down the picture of her grandmother once or twice a year, I’ll do something special for it. Not at Halloween,” he added hastily. “That would be cheap. I won’t do cheap. But it will be good just to keep a story going. So it’s still fun to come here for one of those strange coffees, but there’s a little extra.” He puffed up his ghostly chest. “Ellen would have liked that.”

OUT OF PLACE

person pouring coffee into glass
Image from Unsplash, taken by Tyler Nix

“How has it been?” Kane asked Jane. She had sounded strained on the phone when she had asked to meet him in the park.

“Well, it’s sort of a success,” Jane said, running a hand through her hair. It was evening and the setting sun gleamed on her loose, golden hair. “But it’s sort of not.”

“Is he haunting the café?” Kane asked.

“That’s the problem,” Jane said. “I thought he would have a bit of a chill around the place, you know, a cold spot or unexpected draughts. Instead he’s fixated on the machine.”

Kane thought for a moment. “Why?”

“He used to be a plumber when he was alive, remember,” Jane said. “I think he keeps trying to work out the coffee machines. To be fair, they work a lot better when he’s here. They get hotter, the flow is smoother and in general they are just that little bit easier. But it gives the barista’s the shivers.”

“How are they taking it?” Kane asked.

“With maximum drama,” Jane grumbled. “I don’t think that they’d miss it for the world. He’s very respectful, you know. They only spot it when the steam comes out twisted or there’s a disturbance on the surface of coffee, and they know he’s trying to work out what’s going on.”

“Is he haunting the customers?” Kane asked.

“He usually turns up for a Goth couple that come in most days, and all involved seem happy with that. But he seems unhappy to try anything with someone in a suit and tie, and they’re all office workers there. And he won’t upset the ladies.”

Kane smiled sympathetically. “If you’re going to have anyone haunting a coffee shop, it’s perhaps as well that they’re haunting it nicely,” he said.

“I wonder if you could have a tactful word with him,” Jane said. “He’s doing wonders for business and I’m very grateful, but perhaps if he redirects some of his work.” She smiled apologetically. “And I’ve arranged for a man to come and show the staff how to service the coffee machines. I’d like Bob to watch. I think he’d like it, and I’m sure he’ll understand it more than us. He could put us right.”

“You want Bob to service your machines?” Kane stared at her. “He’s a ghost!”

“But he’s already pretty good and it would save a fortune in repairs,” Jane said. “Please, will you tell him?”

Kane thought for a moment. It may seem odd, even to him, but who was he to argue. “I’ll let him know, and I’ll share what he says.” Kane shook his head. “I don’t know how he’ll take it, but I’ll be around tomorrow, around 10am.”

“Brilliant,” Jane said. “I can’t wait!”