It’s time now for a short story. Enjoy!
THE BENEFACTOR AND THE GHOST
By David John Griffin
Lightning appeared as jagged streaks above the charcoal sea. And a voice was heard inside of the Smugglers Arms, muffled and echoed as though spoken from a distance, ‘Do you believe in ghosts?’
Henry Sims was startled. It was difficult for him to locate the source of those words with their melancholic tone and strange reverberations. He looked about the small beamed room with its abundance of wooden panelling. First to the cast iron fireplace, then through the flickering flame of a candle on his barrel, to one of the room’s sides lined with chairs and more barrels. And when lightning lit the sash window panes once more, a grumbling of thunder came from across the bay and Henry said, ‘Who’s there? Show yourself at once.’
At the precise moment of his demand, he became fully aware of his surroundings as though he had awoken from a tiny place within the back of his skull.
A change in the ambience outside: a street lamp, casting puddles of light across the cobbled street, went out, and even distant hissing from the waves became silent. And there, in an unlit alcove of the snug, a distinct bluish glow could be seen.
Henry called out, ‘What the devil?’ as the glow pulsed, taking on a stronger outline, appearing to shift in an organic way like some phosphorescent sea creature. And when it formed into the distinct shape of a figure, a chill ran through him. Surely he was perceiving nothing less than a ghost in the snug of The Smugglers Arms.
To stand and run would seem an unmanly act but he was compelled to get away from that spectre. Yet it held some power over him, draining his strength and sapping any will to move.
By an unknown cue, he heard more echoed phrases spoken clearly and the ghostly apparition took on more substance. Distinct elements could be made out: features on the head, a shirt collar and jacket with sleeves, and hands even, those seeming to be resting on a luminous, open book.
Henry’s voice trembled as he asked, ‘What do you want of me?’
The words emanating from the ghost continued, now more insistent, ‘So you can hear? Can you hear me?’
‘I can hear you, yes. What have you done? I’m unable to move although I can think clearly but without memory. Are you a spectre sent to bring evil puzzles to warp my mind, to drive me insane? Already I feel…’
‘Quite the opposite: too real. A waking dream of a high perception that I am certain is about to change into a terrible nightmare. I should flee from your alarming entity if only I could move but my limbs have turned to heavy metal.’
The spectre’s voice continued, tinged with excitement. ‘So you can see me as well?’ The glow gained strength, showing the ghostly form accentuated like a neon chalk painting.
With Henry’s brow creasing with perplexity, he asked, ‘I see your strange phantom presence more defined by the moment and wonder why you haunt this snug. Is this a personal visitation?’
The voice still echoed though now stronger and without sibilance or distortion. ‘You could say that.’
‘For what reason? I have done nothing wrong; never have I harmed a soul.’
‘This I know. In fact, the opposite would be true. Much right, helping many,’ the visitant replied. ‘What do you remember?’
‘I do believe I have been suffering from amnesia,’ Henry answered, his tone, previously edged with worry, suddenly transforming with elation. His mind was opening again like a blossoming flower, senses refreshing as though muffs to his ears were being taken away and blinkers lifting from his eyes. ‘Now recalling much – I’m here in the snug of The Smugglers Arms waiting for someone. Yes, I await … I will say no more.’
The spectre now stood in impressive detail as if a real person bathed in a full moon’s cold light. ‘But you must. For your own good. Although I know the identity of your visitor, as well as the reason for his visit. You have nothing to fear. I’m not here to judge, turn your mind or worry you. My mission is to help, nothing more. You are a respected benefactor to many; consider me your benefactor.’
The reaction to those words was swift and abrupt. While Henry nervously stroked his greying beard, he replied with annoyance, “Why do you call me a benefactor? I know of no such person.’
‘But you are known for your help with the poor houses as well as improving conditions in the mills and factories. Your reticence to take any praise is now well-known. Take that beard off.’
Henry’s cheeks reddened with anger. ‘It is one thing to be tormented by a ghost but another to be insulted. I have no shaving equipment and even if I had, why should I shave off my beard, for you or anyone else?’
‘You know as well as I do,’ the spectre continued, ‘Please, remove it, now. I wish to see your fine features.’
‘For what reason?’ said Henry but began to remove the false beard all the same. Once he had peeled the beard from his distinguished face, he laid it on the barrel next to his tankard of ale. ‘Are you satisfied? I have done as you asked. Now my request — it’s time for you to leave, to be swallowed back into the miasmic pit from whence you came. I have been haunted enough. Go back to the past and may you rest in peace rather than your insistent stubbornness to remain on this Earth.’ The volume of Henry’s words had risen to the height of a pulpit-like sermon and, as if his words had taken his strength, he leant forward with his head hanging low.
The blue-illuminated spectre’s reply was precise: ‘I will tell you this much. I’m not from the past, nor am I in your present. Listen and try to understand. I’m from a time ahead of you.’
Henry was unimpressed and merely snorted. ‘Just as I guessed, one of Dickens’ ghosts from a Christmas future. Then what are you called, if spirits can still have names.’
‘There’s no need for you to know. I visit here to tell you something of the utmost importance.’
‘How can I believe a word you say?’ Henry replied. ‘ This could be some demon trick. Already you are becoming bluer and light up even more strangely, there in the corner. Why should I trust you?’
’I know much about your situation. I repeat, I’m here to help. Let me start by asking about the money pouch that was hidden in a secret pocket of your waistcoat. It contained two hundred pounds and five guineas, am I correct?’
Henry stood, swaying, pushing back the captain’s chair so that it scraped across the floorboards, and he bellowed, ‘No thief will come near, no matter how ingenious their entrapments! I begin to understand; it’s becoming as clear as that lightning in the black sky: here we have a Pepper’s ghost trick albeit a sophisticated one. Come out of hiding, you smoke and mirror criminal!’ But clasping the place near his heart where the money pouch should have been, Henry’s previous confidence vanished. ‘You insult my intelligence by taunting, after you’ve stolen from me? What disgusting creature are you?’
The ghost spoke quickly: ‘I will endeavour further explanation to our unique situation. Please listen carefully. I am, to you, indeed an apparition – but from your future, 2025 to be precise. I’m able to communicate with the aid of highly sophisticated equipment. You have become temporarily aware again, finally broken from your repetitive behaviour over more than a century. Before our contact I learnt a lot about you, Henry Sims, respected politician and public speaker, who has a secret not many people are aware of; and those that do know, are sworn to secrecy. You are a benefactor of the highest generosity helping those less fortunate ones. You’re here in the snug bar of the Smugglers Arms tonight, having again rented the room from the landlord for your private use only, to pass on another magnanimous money gift to Sir Christopher Plumber. He was due to arrive in less than thirty minutes time.
‘The money meant for Sir Plumber, for the aid of orphans in London’s workhouses, was stolen by the landlord of The Smuggler’s Arms.’
Henry said, ‘You somehow take the money and then accuse the landlord of doing so? You stoop low, sir.’
‘This is preposterous,’ Henry continued, ‘He is in the saloon bar, serving customers. I am here talking to a villainous actor involved with an intricate ploy.’
‘Of course you wouldn’t believe me. You must prove it. Do you see anything in the room, other than myself, appearing to be supernatural or other-wordly?’
Henry glanced over to a rectangle of golden light seen to hover above the floorboards, to the left of the fireplace. ‘Now perhaps I do. Seemingly a magical door.’
The spectre spoke clearly and precisely: ‘Then you must walk through that door. Pass through to heaven, your paradise, to final rest and peace. But first, go to a window and look over your shoulder at the reflection. Then you will see the truth.
‘At nine thirty-five on a stormy September night in 1879, a man you trusted, and paid to rent a snug bar in this public house, walked in unexpectedly and after a particularly vicious act of violence, stole the money pouch from your person.’
Henry was inspecting his wavering reflection in the darkened panes of the bow window, seeing a large kitchen knife buried up to its hilt in his back. And as a blanket of confusion descended, he staggered towards the door of golden light while the shimmering ghost hunter spoke on: ‘The landlord killed you in a terrible act of cowardly, cold blood. You see, Henry Sims, I am not the ghost. You are.’
Copyright © David John Griffin, 2015
About David John Griffin
David John Griffin is a writer, graphic designer and app designer, and lives in a small town by the Thames in Kent, UK with his wife Susan and two dogs called Bullseye and Jimbo. He is currently working on the first draft of a third novel as well as writing short stories for a novel-length collection.
His first novel – published by Urbane Publications in October 2015 – is called The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb. The second novel, due for publication by Urbane in spring 2016, is a literary/psychological novel, entitled Infinite Rooms. He has independently-published a magical realism/paranormal novella called Two Dogs At The One Dog Inn. One of his short stories was shortlisted for The HG Wells Short Story competition 2012 and published in an anthology.
Matthew Smith of Urbane Publications is kindly giving away 5 copies of David John Griffin’s new book, ‘The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb’, out next month. To enter just leave a comment telling me what you thought of David’s short story.
Terms and Conditions
This competition is open worldwide.
The closing date is 11:59 p.m. on the 14th November 2015
The winners will be randomly chosen and notified within 7 days of the closing date. Their details will be passed on to Matthew Smith who will send out the prizes.
Good Luck! 🙂
‘The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb’ is available to pre-order on Amazon:-