Authors: Gareth P. Jones
Jack sat down heavily on the bed Sam had made for him in the corner of his room.
âSo how did you get the gift then?' he asked.
âI've always been able to see Them,' replied Sam. âFather used to think I was talking to myself, but it was always Them.'
âShe'd heard of you, that one in the kitchen. You don't want to be getting a reputation as a Talker. They all got things they want said to people, don't they? You wanna spend your life running errands for dead'uns?'
âAnd why help her? Because she's got a pretty face? You won't get satisfaction from a dead woman.' Jack laughed crudely.
âIt's not like that,' snapped Sam, more angrily than he had intended. âShe asked sweetly. She didn't try to scare me or anything like that. I'll help her this once.'
âThe dead can't be helped,' replied Jack. âYou want some female company you'd be better off doing what your old man did and preying on grieving widows.'
âFather met my mother when she came to bury her own father,' said Sam.
âThat right, is it?' sneered Jack. âThen I stand corrected.'
Sam didn't want to talk about his mother. âHave you always been able to see Them?' he asked.
âNo.' Jack unlaced his boots and pulled them off, releasing a terrible stench from within. âMy first was a lad by the name of Brownin'. We were outside a pub up town. There was a drunken quarrel over somethin'. I forget what. A girl? A bet? Somethin'. Anyway, Brownin' started saying things he shouldn't. Speaking out of turn. So I silenced him with my blade.'
Jack pulled out a knife. The handle looked grubby but the blade was as sharp and clean as Sam's best bread knife. Jack held it up admiringly. Tenderly, even.
âYou killed him?' asked Sam.
âWe're all on paths towards our graves,' said Jack, shrugging. âSome of us are goin' faster than others is the only difference. Brownin' was always headin' fast. My little incision just pushed him on a little. I held him while the life drained out of him to keep him from hollerin'. They say it's them that have been up close to death that get the gift, don't they? Suppose it's being surrounded by all these stiffs that did it for you.'
Jack snorted. âAnyway, so I let Brownin' fall into the gutter. Only when I look he's still standing there. He's back on his feet. I go at him again but this time the knife just passes through like he's nothing but air.' Jack chuckled but Sam could tell there was dread within his laughter. âI don't know which of us looked more surprised, me or him. He just kept saying, â
You've done me in, Jack. You've done me in,'
over and over again. Eventually I told him that if I had done him in he might as well shut up about it. Then I heard that Knockin' they all hear. That was the last I ever saw of him, but since then I see Them everywhere. Just with my right eye. At first I thought, maybe I could use them in some way. After all, a man who can pass through a wall has gotta be useful, even if he can't unlock the door nor make off with nothing. But the thing about ghosts is they're selfish. They don't wanna help people like us. They just want us to help them with their petty needs.'
âI'm going out,' said Sam. He didn't want to listen to any more.
Jack reached in his pocket and pulled out a few coins, which he pushed into Sam's hand.
âBring your uncle a little something back, will you?' he asked.
âBeer, whiskey, wineÂ .Â .Â . I don't mind. Anything to numb the boredom of this miserable place.'
Sam pocketed the money and went downstairs. He asked Mr Constable whether he could be allowed to take a short stroll.
âOf course,' said Mr Constable, winking. He always seemed to know when Sam was heading out on one of his errands.
Outside, the streets were wet underfoot, but the air was crisp and the sky was clear blue. He crossed the railway bridge and met the ghost in the nightdress at the bottom of the steps leading up to the church, a spot he often chose. It was secluded enough to speak without attracting attention.
âMy name's Viola,' she said. âViola Trump. Thank you for helping me.'
âIf I do this once you must never tell any of the others,' said Sam. âI will not speak to you if there is any chance we can be seen by anyone, alive or dead. So you should not speak to me either.'
âI just want you to remind my Tom of what he said. That's all. He said he'd love me forever and now he's marrying my sister.'
âYou want him to live his life in mourning?' asked Sam.
Viola pouted and tilted her head to one side. âNot his whole life,' she said slowly. âBut I've only been dead a month and he's already engaged to her. I want him to know how that makes me feel.'
Sam followed the ghost up the hill. His role as messenger for the dead had often brought him into closer contact with matters that should not have troubled a boy of fourteen. It was yet another thing that distanced him from those his own age. Sometimes he wondered whether he had more in common with the lost souls he could see with his right eye than the living ones he could see with his left.
At the top of the hill he paused to look at the rising smoke of the city in the distance. London was home to so many embittered souls. Viola led him down towards Peckham Rye. Carts and carriages rattled past them, heading down in the direction of the market. Sam and Viola turned into a side road lined with newly built terraced houses. They walked in silence. Eventually Viola pointed to one and said with a huge sob, âHere. My Tom lives here.'
Sam waited for her to stop crying.
When she had pulled herself together, he knocked on the door. A sombre-looking man opened it. He was tall with red hair and a pale, freckled face. He wore a suit, although neither the material nor the cut suggested a wealthy man. He looked uncomfortable enough in it to lead Sam to the conclusion that it was new, to him at least. From the wailing, moaning noise that Viola was making, Sam knew this was Tom.
âMy name is Sam Toop,' said Sam. âI have business with a Tom Melia?'
âThat's my name. Do I know you?' said the young man.
âNo. I live on the other side of the hill.'
âThen you wish to sell me something?'
âI simply ask for a few minutes of your time.'
âI'm afraid time is one thing I am short on right now. I'm already late.' He stepped out and closed the door behind him.
âPerhaps we can talk as we walk,' suggested Sam.
Tom seemed more amused than annoyed by Sam's insistence. âThis business you have with me cannot wait?'
âYou must tell him now,' urged Viola.
âI'd be grateful to get it over and done with,' said Sam.
âVery well. Although, I am only walking to the church and it isn't far.'
âThe church?' said Sam.
âI am getting married today.'
âToday?' he exclaimed, looking over his shoulder to glare at Viola.
âThat's why it couldn't wait,' she said. âWe have to stop it.'
âYou seem surprised,' said Tom. âPeople get married all the time, you know.'
âIt's justÂ .Â .Â . I wouldn't want to upset someone on their wedding day,' he said, speaking to both Viola and Tom.
âI didn't realise upsetting me was your intention,' said Tom, with a smile. âIt makes me think twice about allowing you to accompany me.'
âHe promised to love me,' moaned Viola.
âI'm sorry,' said Sam. âYou must think me most peculiar.'
âYes,' replied Tom. âI do rather.'
Last night's downpour meant Tom and Sam had to jump over large muddy puddles on the way to the church, which Viola walked straight through, without disturbance or reflection.
âIt's a lovely day to get married,' said Sam. âMay I ask the name of the girl you are to wed?'
âHer name is Perdita,' replied Tom. âA more beautiful, honest and kind girl you could never imagine.'
âThat harlotÂ .Â .Â . That double-crossing witch!' Viola muttered.
âThen you're a lucky man,' said Sam, ignoring her. âHow did you find her?'
âI have known her family all my life,' admitted Tom.
âWhat about me?' demanded Viola.
âYou've been sweethearts since childhood?' asked Sam.
âIÂ .Â .Â .' Tom faltered. âI have never wanted to marry any other girl.'
âLiar,' screamed the ghost. âLiar!'
âThere was never any other for you?' enquired Sam.
Tom stopped walking. They were standing at a corner where they could see the steeple of the church only a couple of streets away. âIs this your urgent business with me?' he asked, the smile having fallen from his face.
âI don't mean to interrogate you,' said Sam. âBut I suppose when I grow up I would like to find a love of my own. I'm intrigued to know how such unions come about.'
âI was engaged to her sister,' admitted Tom.
Whether it was Sam's youth or his disarming manner, this was not the first time he had persuaded a total stranger to open up his heart to him in such a way.
âHa!' proclaimed Viola triumphantly. âThe truth. Finally.'
âBut I thought you said you always wanted to marry Perdita,' said Sam. âHow did you find yourself engaged to her sister?'
âIt was a kindness,' said Tom. âBut it doesn't always seem so.'
âA cruelty, more like,' said Viola.
âI don't understand,' said Sam.
âI proposed to Perdita three years ago to this day,' said Tom. âI knew she felt the same way, but she would not marry me. She told me that her sister had confided in her that she had feelings for me also. I swear I did nothing to encourage them.' Tom paused, as though awaiting further questioning. Sam said nothing so he continued. âHer sister was never long for this world. All her childhood she was plagued by illness and Perdita knew she had precious few years left with us. She told me that if I truly loved her, I would put her out of mind and make her sister happy in whatever time she had remaining.'
âShe ordered you to love her sister?' said Sam.
Tom nodded solemnly. âAnd so I did. For Perdita. I told Viola I loved her. I told her we would marry. I wrapped up my feelings and became an actor, playing the part of Viola's lover. Every day it broke my heart afresh, but Perdita was right. I made her sister happy. Was it right? I don't know.'
Sam's eyes flickered over to Viola. She said nothing, but her eyes revealed she knew this to be true.
âIf my opinion counts for anything,' said Sam, âthen I'd say it does sound like a kindness. You gave hope to she who had none.'
âThank you,' said Tom. âA strange young man you are that you should appear like this to tell me so, and on my wedding day of all days, but for some reason, I do appreciate your opinion. It has not been easy keeping this secret. The gossips have me as a fickle, cruel, shallow man. Perdita and I will move away once we are wed. We'll start anew.'
The three of them continued the slow trudge to the church. Neither Tom nor Sam spoke a word as they walked side by side. Viola walked behind them silently.
They arrived at the gate that led up to the church. âWe're here,' said Tom. âAnd you have not told me of this business of yours.'
âIt hardly seems important now,' said Sam. âPlease let me wish you the best with your marriage.'
âAnd good luck finding your own love,' said Tom.
âThat is some way off yet,' said Sam.
âWell, when it happens I only hope your journey to love is less strange and heartbreaking than mine has been.'
They parted with a handshake and Tom took the path to the church door. An icy breeze picked up and rustled the leafless branches of the trees in the graveyard.
There came a knocking, unlike any earthly sound, but one which Sam had heard many times before. It was the sound ghosts heard before they stepped through the Unseen Door.
âThat's for me, isn't it?' said Viola.
âYes,' said Sam.
He had no words of comfort for Viola Trump. She was about to step through a door that led somewhere beyond Sam's imagination. He expected no thank you and received none.
The dead were rarely grateful for his help.
The journey was even worse than Lapsewood had expected. First, the indignity of the Paternoster Pipe, his smoky self intermingled with all the other commuters. Enforcers and Prowlers were heading out into the living world or returning with shackled spirits destined for the Vault. Lapsewood was relieved when he flew up and out of the chimney.
Entering the physical world was a shock. Lapsewood felt things he hadn't felt in decades, yet the elements had no effect upon him and the cold, wind and drizzle passed through him as though he were nothing.
Hazy lamplights and fires burned within the dense fog that hung over London. Lapsewood drifted down with the raindrops and wondered how much his fellow spirits were responsible for the thick fog enveloping the city and how much of it was the winter fuel, burnt to battle the biting cold of the night.
He rematerialised in a cobbled backstreet. He rubbed his temples to rid himself of the spinning sensation in his head. He had picked a quiet street, hoping to have a moment to gather his thoughts but, as he stood gazing at the blackened brickwork that surrounded him, two men stumbled through him, giving him a brief but disturbing glimpse of the inside of one of their heads. Both men reeked of alcohol.
âWhy not the Old King?' said one.
âI've not been allowed in there since that incident with the landlord's missus. What about the Trafalgar?' said the other.