Saturday, 21 January 2017

Spooking Chapter Four

When he woke up, he was in a normal bedroom with yellow flowered wallpaper. Rema and Zeboth were moving round. They were both wearing white tracksuits. Rema was setting out some strange shaped instruments on a table covered by a grey cloth.
“Some intensive physio today,” said Rema. “I’m afraid it’s going to hurt a little. I had been a little too optimistic about your progress.”
“I think I’ve found the problem,” said Zeboth, suddenly looking up form the file he was examining. “Your high emotional sensitivity has always interfered with your physical well-being. It’s the price you pay for being an artist.”
Oh yeah? thought Tom. What was that supposed to mean? Then he remembered the first couple of times he went out with Amanda. He’d been so nervous just before he went to meet her that he’d actually been physically sick. The same had almost happened again when he’d gone to have that conversation with her on the day of the accident.
Moments later, his bed had changed into a physio table and Rema was pummelling at various parts of him with her strange instruments. It wasn’t as painful as she’d promised. It was more uncomfortable really. He could feel some physical strength flowing into his limbs and muscles. He’d thought he’d seemed pretty solid before, but now he was becoming more and more real.
Except there was something missing. The mouth organ, that cheeky grin and the pointed comments.
“Where’s Marcus, then?” he asked, sitting up suddenly and almost knocking Rema backwards. “Has he gone?”
She exchanged a brief look with Zeboth. Zeboth nodded.
“No, he’s still around,” said Rema. “He’s sulking about something. I expect he’ll be back. Use your influence if you can. He really needs to be out of here.”
The exercises finished. Rema packed up her tools and Zeboth put the files into a large box.
“You need to get on now as well,” said Zeboth. “You should try and carry on from where you left off.”
They went. Tom was alone. Yes, he should get on. But he was clueless about what to do next. He was so used to having Marcus as advisor. He sat on the side of what had now become a bed again and tried to formulate a plan.     
“Why are you still here?” said a voice. “You damned well need to be with her now. How can you run out on her like that?”
Tom turned to see where the voice was coming from.
Marcus was standing in the corner of the room. His arms were folded across his chest and his forehead was creased with a huge frown. He looked so angry.
He played some loud, discordant note on his mouth organ. Tom had never known him angry. A bit serious now and then, but never like this.
He didn’t have much time to think about it though, because seconds later Marcus was thumping him hard on the chest.
“You had the chance,” he cried, “and you blew it. How can you let her suffer? She needs to get through the grief. Don’t you realise, you numskin, that that’s what they need us to do?” He then thumped Tom so hard that he fell to the ground.
“Get up and get on,” shouted Marcus, kicking Tom. “Do sommat.”
What’s the matter with him? thought Tom. Just as it began to get really painful, Tom had the curious thought that at least this showed that his ethereal body was really behaving like a physical one.
Marcus kicked him again, right in the face, and Tom heard a crunch as one of his teeth came out. His mouth filled with blood. That was enough.
He pulled at Marcus with all his force. And he had plenty of that now. Rema would be proud of him. It wasn’t difficult to pull Marcus over, despite the strength he was getting from his anger. Well, Tom was bigger, and he was angry as well now.
It was a real fight. The blows Marcus gave really hurt and Tom wanted to hurt him back as much as he could. He tore into him. Bones cracked. Places started to bleed and they both winced with pain now and then. One spectacular kick from Marcus caught Tom’s knee and he thought he was going to faint with the pain. He punched back at him even harder.   
Suddenly someone looking a bit like a hefty night-club bouncer grabbed Marcus and pulled him away.
At that same moment, Tom felt strong arms pulling him in the other direction.
“That’ll do,” he heard Zeboth say. Tom guessed the guy who looked like a bouncer was Marcus’ guardian. As he turned to look at Zeboth, he saw that he too was big and burly.
“You do realise,” said Zeboth, “that behaviour like that can result in you being transferred without delay.”
“Don’t listen to him!” cried Marcus, who was still held by the bouncer. “You can’t do that!”
“No,” said Marcus’ guardian, “but we can let the Authorities know and that is what they will arrange.”
“Naw, don’t be daft,” said Marcus. “We was only mucking about.”
Tom felt Zeboth relax his grip.   
“We’re mates, ain’t we Tom?” Marcus continued. He voice quivered. “We are, ain’t we Tom? Come on. Tell ‘em.”
“Yeah, we’re friends really,” said Tom, wondering if that was what friends did to each other, what enemies might do.
Tom felt Zeboth relax his grip.   
“Don’t do it again, then,” said Marcus’ guardian. The two guardians released Tom and Marcus and floated skywards, now looking like angels.
“I tried, you know, I really tried,” said Tom.
“I know,” said Marcus. “I’m sorry. It’s all because of – naw, don’t feel like talkin’ about it now.” He grinned. “You know what?” he said. “You and me, we both need a bit of fun. Come on.”
Tom felt as if he was floating, just like the guardians had. His body felt solid, but light. The bleeding had stopped and there was no pain. Ethereal bodies probably healed very quickly, then. Fun did sound like a good idea. But then they didn’t seem to be anywhere. They just seemed to be trapped in thick fog.
“What’s happening?” said Tom.
“Don’t panic,” said Marcus. “We’re just in the Nowhere Place. You always have to go through that, only when you first start spooking you don’t notice it. Shows you’m getting better at it if you’m noticing this place. We’ll be there in a minute.”           
     Seconds later, they arrived in Marcus’ time. The clerk at the shipping depot was sorting out some papers. He placed the papers carefully into a ledger. Marcus nodded to Tom and signalled that he should watch him.
The clerk went out of the room.
Marcus went over to the ledger, and took out the paper that the clerk had just put in there.
“Now we go forward to when he wants that paper again,” whispered Marcus.
They watched the clerk come into the room, open the ledger and start shuffling through the papers. It was funny watching the panic grow on his face as he couldn’t find the piece of paper Marcus was holding. He frantically sorted through the rest of the ledger, then through several others and then started taking other boxes out of a cupboard.
A bell rang. With a very worried look on his face, the clerk went out of the room. Marcus promptly replaced the paper exactly where it should have been.
The clerk came back into the office, looking harassed. He had a visitor with him, a finely clothed gentleman with a sour look on his face, who Tom supposed must be rather well off.
“I’m just looking for your file,” said the clerk.
The visitor looked round the room. His look seemed to get even sourer and Tom could have sworn his nose turned up.
“Bit untidy here, isn’t it Jackson?” said the gentleman. “I hope you’re handling my business a bit more efficiently than you run your own office.”
“Oh, we’ve just been a bit busy lately, sir,” said Jackson. Tom could see the sweat glistening on his forehead.
The clerk picked up the file which had been missing, a puzzled frown on his face.
Tom and Marcus started giggling. The scene faded and they were floating in the nothingness again 
“Can we do something like that in your place?” asked Marcus as they began to get under control again. “Nowhere near Amanda, though,” he added, quickly. 
Tom knew exactly what to choose.
“My old French teacher,” he said. “It would be great to get back at her. She was always telling me I didn’t have a cat in Hell’s chance… ”
“Don’t use that word,” said Marcus grimacing.
“That I hadn’t any chance of getting my French GCSE,” said Tom. “Well, I did pass!”
“G what? French?” asked Marcus. “What’s that?”
Oh, we have to learn French,” said Tom, “and then take an exam in it.”
“Oh,” said Marcus. “It sounds boring.”
“And it was,” said Tom. “But I did pass the exam. Not that what we learnt was much use.” 
“Ain’t that revenge enough?” asked Marcus. “Blimey, you’re a tough ‘un, wanting even more.” But he had a huge grin on his face.
“Yeah, I’d like a bit more,” said Tom, grinning back. “She was a real bitch to me.” 
“Let’s go then,” said Marcus.
The classroom came into view. There she was. That woman with the long face. She’d just walked into that horrible old classroom with the hole in the ceiling. She was carrying an armful of papers, which she put down on the desk.
“I’m going to give you your test results today,” she said, with the usual frown and the usual sour face. “I can’t say I was very impressed.”
“She never gives up,” whispered Tom. “The Devil’s gift to humanity.”
“Don’t use that word,” said Marcus.
Then Tom noticed who was sitting in the third row from the front.
“Crikey,” he said to Marcus. “That kid there – Sam Davis - I think he’s about to become my stepbrother. Or at least, he would be, if I was still alive.”
“Oh yeah?” replied Marcus. “We’ll see what we can do with him later.” He started to spin one of the lamp shades. The whole class looked up.
“What’s going on?” said Miss Richards trying to see where the whirring sound was coming from. “Who’s doing that? What is it?”
Marcus continued to turn the lampshade and pointed at the piece of paper on top of the pile Miss Thomas had been carrying. Tom got what he meant and floated over and removed it. While everyone was still staring up at the ceiling, he was able to put it safely out of sight in a drawer in the filing cabinet.
 Marcus stopped moving the lampshade.
“Good. Settle down now,” said Miss Richards, “and I’ll give you your results.”
She stared down at the papers on her desk. Her frown became even deeper than normal.
“I could have sworn I had them with me,” she mumbled. “I must have left them in the staff room.” She stared at the desk for several seconds. “All right, 8B,” she said louder. “I expect you to behave sensibly while I go back and find them.”
As soon as she had left the room, the noise level rose. Marcus nodded to Tom and pointed at the window. Tom floated over and shook the Venetian blinds so that they rattled. All of 8B looked in that direction.
“What’s going on in here today?” shouted one of the girls. “I think it’s spooked or something.”
While everyone was looking in Tom’s direction, Marcus made a paper aeroplane which he threw at the red-faced kid sitting in front of Sam Davis, catching him right on his ear. The kid turned round, becoming even more red-faced.
“What’s that for Sam?” he said. “What do you think you’re doing?”
All of 8B were now focussing on Sam and the red-faced guy. Marcus nodded to Tom, who took the exam results back out of the filing cabinet and put them back on the table.
The red-faced boy was out of his seat. “You want to watch what you’re doing, you do,” he said to Sam prodding him hard on the chest.
At that moment Miss Richards came back into the room.
“Roy Bailey, Sam Davis,” she said, looking even more harassed than she had before. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Roy went back to his place. “He started it,” he grumbled.
Sam just looked confused.
“Have you got our test results, Miss?” said one of the girls.
“I just can’t seem to find them,” said Miss Richards. “I am sorry. I have got another copy on my computer ….”
She stared hard at the desk.
“Goodness, they were here all the time,” she said, picking up the piece of paper Tom had just returned to the desk. “I must be going mad.”
“More like senile,” mumbled one of the girls.
“Well, anyway, here we go,” said Miss Richards, for once looking almost cheerful.
“Spooked!” mouthed Marcus, winking at Tom. 
The classroom faded and they were in the Nowhere Place again.
“That was a bit of a laugh, wan’t it?” said Marcus.
“Yes. Yes it was,” said Tom. He quite liked this spooking game.
“But, you know, it’s time now,” said Marcus. “Time to get back to her. Perhaps you’ve got to help her through her mourning time. I’ll come with you.”
“Aren’t I supposed to do it on my own?” asked Tom.
“It don’t matter,” said Marcus. “I’m just summat else in the room.”
Except seconds later they weren’t in a room. They were at the train station. Tom could see from the newspaper a guy was reading that it was the day after he died. It was the day after he died and Amanda was standing at the train station as if nothing had happened. Didn’t she care?    

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Spooking: Chapter Three

Tom gradually got used to being in the Between Place and the strange things that happened. Marcus took him to all sorts of places at all sorts of times
“You can go wherever you like, whenever you like,” explained Zeboth. “You just think about it.”
Somehow, Marcus explained it better. “You mustn’t go too far forward, though,” he said. “Or you won’t be any good when you go back. And you might spend weeks and weeks here, but you can still go back to seconds after you left a particular time thread,” he said.
Zeboth and Rema didn’t really seem to be much help any more. Rema checked him over occasionally. She hardly ever had to make “adjustments”, as she called them.
“You really are the most remarkable ethereal specimen,” she said. “I have never come across a body so easy to maintain.”
It was quite amusing seeing some of the ways they appeared: judge and barrister one time, two of Tom’s High School teachers another time, and even as clowns. He found he had more and more control over their appearance, but resisted some of the really funny things he might have done to them. On the whole, though, the two guardians spent most of their time chasing Marcus out of the way. Just occasionally Zeboth would ask the inevitable question.
“Are you any nearer finding out what needs to be done?” he would say.
Tom would just shrug his shoulders. Zeboth would look vaguely annoyed, but then that would be the end of the matter. Time in the Between Place went on. Tom showed Marcus round his world and Marcus took Tom back a couple of hundred years and taught him how to fish. Marcus carried on his monkey tricks and just every so often, Tom enjoyed the thrill of rolling a barrel off a ramp into the water in the small fishing village in the North of England where Marcus had grown up, or, in his own world, he would stick his foot out and trip up someone he knew but didn’t like all that much. 
One hot sunny day they dangled their feet in the muddy water of an estuary at low tide. Tom felt very peaceful, even though it did remind him a bit of where he’d crashed his car. He was just a little disturbed, though, because Marcus was very quiet and was frowning.
“What’s up?” asked Tom.
“It’s about time you made a start,” said Marcus. “You don’t want to end up like me.”
“But it’s all right, isn’t it?” asked Tom. “I mean you think it’s okay, don’t you?”
“Gets a bit boring sometimes,” said Marcus. “Anyway, they won’t let a mistake like me happen again. You know, they might think about sending you to the Bad Place.”
Oh, thought Tom.
“So, you’d better get on with it,” said Marcus. “I’ll come with you, if that helps.”   
“Will they allow that?” asked Tom.
“Course not,” said Marcus, grinning again now. “But they can’t stop me. They don’t know how to.”
“So what should I do?” asked Tom.
“You reckon as it might be something you need to sort out with your girlfriend?” said Marcus. “Well, just think about her, as usual, and you’ll be there.”
Tom knew he had to go and visit Amanda. But he didn’t want to. Either she’d be really upset and he couldn’t bear that. Or she maybe wouldn’t be too bothered. He didn’t know whether he could bear that either. He didn’t know which would be worse.
“Go on then,” whispered Marcus.
Tom tried to think about Amanda. That soft hair, her delicate little body he always thought was going to break and that he wanted to protect, even when they were sleeping together, and those cute green eyes. Where should he try to go to her? In her room? No, that seemed too private. Just at her house. Try and catch her in the lounge, perhaps watching TV.
He concentrated really hard. The riverbank faded. He could almost see her house. He began to feel inside air rather than outside air. But it wasn’t becoming real. It was just as if he was only dreaming about it.
Then the river bank was completely back in focus. He could feel the wetness of the water on his feet.
“No good?” said Marcus. “Try somewhere where you liked going with her. People go back to places like that after somebody dies. They like to remember them there. I remember when –“ Marcus stopped and stared into space.
“What?” asked Tom.           
“Doesn’t matter,” said Marcus. “So where did you like to go?”
Tom smiled. “Along the river bank, would you believe?”
All at once, they were on another river bank, walking along a path. Tom knew exactly where they were. “This goes down to the sea,” he said. “The river’s tidal here. We often used to walk into the next village this way and go for a drink. Sometimes she takes one of the neighbour’s dogs for a walk along here.”
“It’s nice,” said Marcus. “Blimey, who owns all them posh boats?”
Tom looked to where Marcus was pointing. He got what he meant. They must be worth thousands, if not millions. All of them, smartly painted hulls and shiny bits of metal.  
“Oh, it’s a bit like that here,” said Tom “Lots of money around.”
“I can see that,” said Marcus.
This wasn’t right. Tom suddenly knew that he had to be with her as soon as she got the news about his death.
“Who’d tell her the news?” asked Marcus, again knowing exactly what Tom was thinking.
“My dad, I guess,” said Tom.
“Go to him then,” said Marcus. 
They were now at a third river bank. Marcus didn’t remark on the poshness of the boats this time. They seemed to be looking down at Tom’s dad’s quayside house. The police car was parked outside. It was as if someone was pushing a fast-forward button, because without walking through a doorway or even through a wall, seconds later they were inside the house and they could see the policewoman talking to Tom’s dad. They couldn’t hear what she was saying, but they saw him go white and put a hand in front of his mouth.
Then they fast forwarded again, and Tom’s dad was on his own. He shook his head and ran his hand through his hair. He went over to the drinks cabinet, took out a glass  and opened a bottle of whisky and went to pour some.
Don’t, Dad, thought Tom.
His dad seemed to change his mind and went into the kitchen and put the kettle on.
They fast-forwarded again. The mug was empty. Tom’s dad still looked pale. He was sitting in his armchair, staring into space, the phone on his lap.
No, Dad, thought Tom, you can’t tell either of them that way. You’ve got to go to them.
Next they were in the car. Tom’s dad’s driving seemed erratic at times and he actually swerved quite badly at one point. Please, Dad, thought Tom. Don’t you have an accident as well.
He plunged for the steering wheel and tried to grab it. But his hand just floated through it. He really did seem like a ghost now. 
“Help, Marcus,” he called. “Help him to keep this wheel straight.” Marcus drifted forward and took the wheel. He managed to hold it firmly and straighten out the car.
What’s the matter with me? thought Tom. He was physical enough, judging by the lump in his throat. And how come Marcus knew how to steer a car? They hadn’t been invented when he was alive. 
“Blimey,” said Marcus. “And there was me thinking how well you was doing with your spook body.”  Then he grinned.  “Still, it gave me a chance to try working one of these things, didn’t it? Clever, ain’t they? Who’d have thought it?”
Next, they stood facing the door to Amanda’s house with Tom’s dad. This was almost unbearable.
Amanda opened the door. She smiled so sweetly at them, her beautiful green eyes round with pleasure and surprise. Tom knew that if he hadn’t been dead already, he would have passed out with the dread of how that look was about to change.   
“Oh, Mr Grant, how nice to see you,” she chirped.
Tom couldn’t see his dad, but something changed in Amanda’s eyes, so he guessed she had seen something in his father’s face.
Get inside, Dad, thought Tom. Make sure there’s somewhere soft for her to sit down.
“Can I come in love?” Tom’s father said. “It’s better if we talk inside.”
It went quiet again. In the lounge he could see them talking, but he was up above them again and he couldn’t hear the words. Tom could see Marcus hovering in the corner, his gaze fixed on the conversation going on below.
Amanda screamed. It was unearthly. He thought that any second now she was going to join him. Would that be cool? Probably not. There was something he’d got to sort out first.
“Go to her! Help her!” Marcus was screaming.
Amanda’s mum rushed into the living room. Amanda was shaking and tearing at her hair, and making balls with her fists. Her mother took Amanda into her arms, held her and rocked her. She reached out one hand and held Tom’s dad’s arm also. The lump in Tom’s throat got bigger. He couldn’t move.
“Go on!” screeched Marcus. “Go to her. What you waiting for?”
Suddenly, Tom found some strength from somewhere. He swooped down to her and hovered when his face was level with hers. He could smell the perfume of her. Not any perfume that she was wearing, but just the normal light fragrance about her that matched her general delicacy. But there was something else, as well. Raw pain. He could feel her raw pain.   
She was staring right at him but she couldn’t see him. She seemed to look right through him. He put his hand out to touch her face. He could feel her smooth skin beneath his fingers. It was good to be near her again. He tried to hold her, but his arms still seemed weak.  
It’s all right, he whispered. Death isn’t the end. I’m still here.
But she couldn’t sense him at all. He couldn’t give her any comfort.
What can I do? What can I do? he thought.  He couldn’t move any further. It was as if he was frozen.  He wanted to hug her, but he just couldn’t move. He could only watch her sinking deeper and deeper into her state of shock.
Marcus turned his back on him and drifted away.
This was it. He was a complete failure. He couldn’t do what he’d been brought here to do.
Tom felt as if he was falling heavily. Down, down, down. The whole room lightened up. Zeboth and Rema swooped down, now fully fledged angels, complete with wings and everything, and carried him up and up. They were high above his dad’s house, now looking down on the Hampshire countryside, then high amongst the cotton wool clouds floating in the deep blue, feathers raining from the sky.
Tom felt incredibly sleepy. The fluffy clouds looked inviting. He felt the warmth of a soft duvet and the comfort of his cotton and silk mix pyjamas. He was in bed and drifting into a refreshing sleep. Just before he lost consciousness, he realised he had not slept for months.