Volume 2 Number 2
That the house was haunted, he ruled out immediately. Balderdash. Stewed a bit in the kitchen of his mind, spiced up a bit with the ordinary eeriness of life, it would nonetheless make good food for a hungry story.
The setting was already perfect. Actual moors, isolated homes, fog at night, and a small town nearby decorated with a sufficiently strange and motley set of personalities. Asher preferred to think of the minds of unusual people as ‘ornate’. From that standpoint, the townsfolk were positively baroque.
It was no coincidence that his guide and driver for this pilgrimage was the local realtor. Claire had discovered that the best way to sell property was to show it off under the low-pressure pretense of tourism.
"People say it’s the ghost of a young man, cut off in his prime. He seems to be a very sad ghost."
Asher tamped his pipe, once they’d cleared the town, blew the initial puffs out of the window of the black LeSabre, and adjusted his seat to recline slightly for the remainder of the ride. "What do you think he’s sad about?"
"Some say it’s a lost love. Others say he lost his family. Still others that he is just lost."
Asher made a few notes in his pocket spiral. "But what do you think?"
Claire grinned sideways at him. "I think we’re all a little lost in some way. Maybe in each of us. . ."
" is a child who doesn’t know how to get home." Asher liked to think he rarely blushed, but he realized he’d spoken that thought aloud.
"There’s your ghost." She grinned again.
Asher kept his eyes on the countryside. Peat and scrubgrass. Granite piled oddly in some places. The road was rocky, too, and slanted. Gravel punctuated by battered stones. The landscape was a sumptuous ocean of greys and greens.
He was half way through a second briar when red rooftops appeared over a hill, the road evened out, and piled stone walls, groomed hedges and mowed grass lent an orderly appearance to the approaching estate. Claire slowed to let a collie cross the road, turned the car in, and parked between the markers flanking the drive.
No smoke from either chimney, Asher noted. No ghostly visage from the highest window. No ominous crows. He snapped a couple of digital photos with his pocket Nikon -- one of the house, the other of the way approaching it.
"You’re thorough." Claire’s eyes were bright.
"It costs little to be," he smiled. "And it benefits much."
"Shall we?" Claire cocked her head toward the main house, which seemed to be a later addition to the older, simpler structure parallel to it and joined by a wing.
"Actually… I need to be alone with her. I was wondering if you’d lend me the keys and let me just walk the halls, so to speak."
Claire’s face drained. For a moment, the word ‘jealousy’ went through Asher’s mind, but then he realized he must seem a bit eerie, himself.
"I assure you," he said, "I’ll treat it like my own home."
"I wonder if he will like that," Claire said. "It’s been his for a long time." But she tossed him the keys, smiled again, and lit a cigarette by the car. Asher hadn’t been aware that she smoked.
Asher pulled his muffler tighter around his neck and walked toward the house.
"Chills?" she teased.
He glanced back, one eyebrow cocked. "Certainly not. But it’s always important to be a stylish guest."
The door gave easily. It smelled of fresh whitewash. The floors were waxed, if a little dim. Of course, if there were a ghost, Asher mused, he performed excellent maintenance. To concentrate, he put the thought of ghosts on hold.
The largest room felt like meetings. Of course, it would. It had the sense, though, of waiting and emotional thirst. The hearth had long been deprived of embers. In fact, the whole place was bare, with none of the stereotypical shrouded furniture. A long hall of side rooms would have been bedrooms, a study (he got the feel of quiet concentration from one room), and guestrooms.
One room had been a library. Books leave a very strong impression on a place. If there were whispering voices, they would be the phantoms of stories and histories recounting themselves almost aloud. And, of course, there were impressions in the floor from furniture along the walls too narrow to be anything but cases or shelves.
Asher smiled. The mind thinks on its own, sometimes. It takes what the body sees, hears, smells, tastes, or touches, and comes to its own conclusions, giving impressions to conscious thoughts without asking permission. It is never really clear whether what one feels comes solely from this natural faculty of cognition, or if there is yet one more sense at work, helping it to fill in the shadowy spaces.
Asher had filled and flipped another page in his pocket spiral.
It wouldn’t be a haunted house without an attic, and Asher grinned when the stairs creaked, no doubt startling whatever spirits had ascended as far as they could without escaping through the roof.
The attic was entirely too artless for haunting. There were no portraits with shifting eyes. The assorted furniture, except for one chair, was not covered in plastic or white sheets. The mirror in the corner was not cracked or cloudy, and there was apparently no ancient chest of forbidden mementos, nor any tattered grimoires lying about to lure the unwary into the realm of wraiths.
Asher realized that the part of his mind which frequently gave him instructions, his working self, was reminding him of the need to gather more material for his latest story. The dust would not do for the black trousers that were the staple of his wardrobe, so he pulled the plastic sheet from the weathered armchair and sat down to write.
Asher jotted notes: "dim light, tiny window, chair facing oval mirror, wood frame, clear but dusty, see myself, ‘there’s your ghost’ . . . "
Asher studied the mirror. His own reflection was speckled with dust, dimmed by the age of the room as much by the light. It was as though looking at himself covered by the debris of passing time, the clinging detritus of life.
‘Time makes ghosts of us all.’
Asher extended a hand to touch cold glass. His poetic notes started to become prose.
The man in the mirror looks out at his own visage. The black mirrors of his eyes exchange an infinity of images reflected back, absorbing all the colors.
One hand reaches out to another, but what passes between these two, the ghost and his phantom, is the sum of a life without any of its parts. Touching a whole other universe, holding it all in, and being touched by nothing at all. The loneliness is this… the knowledge of a whole life, passed between apparitions, unable to be conveyed or understood except in solitude. Haunting is merely history – definitive moments that cannot be shared with anyone else but are never entirely gone. They come back to us, or else, with an ironic sense of loss, we come back to them. Then, do we leave them behind again, or do we stay?
The authentic man gets up, walks back through the world in the mirror, and goes downstairs.
"Did you like the place?" Claire shrugged. "Might as well be honest. After all, you know how I make most of my living."
"I did like it. It’s haunted in just the right way."
"You found your ghost then?" She cocked her head sideways in a way that might hide the fact from anyone else that she was actually studying Asher.
Asher smiled, and noticed that she watched his mouth. "Perhaps. In any case, I think I’ll take it."
Claire looked up. "Oh. Splendid. Don’t you want to know the owner’s asking price."
He grinned wider. "Some places seem to ask their own price. But they usually give gifts in return. As for the selling price, I’m sure I can manage it."
Asher tucked his pocket spiral into his pocket, adjusted his muffler, and lit a fresh pipe. He was being unusually candid.
Just before he opened the car door, he noticed his reflection in the window. It seemed to be smiling back at him.