I am morose. I am indeed veritably steeped in utter morosity. CStM has had to return to Denmark for now. The separation will be temporary and not as long as last time but it’s still gloom time.
I have been told I must be suffering depression and should be drugged up to the eyeballs until I return to complacent drone obedience. I was told this by someone who has known for over 30 years that if I am seen to be voluntarily taking an aspirin then I really should be in hospital. Seriously, the chances of medicating me are lower than the chances of Pluto spontaneously turning into a Chesterfield lounge suite with matching curtains. Not totally impossible but very, very improbable.
So that’s not going to happen.
I am easing back into blogging mode with little dips into the Daily Mail followed by bouts of hysterical laughter. Even the radio news has gone beyond parody. But more of that later.
For tonight I have an unpublished gentle ghost story for you all. Everything is firing up again here. The model building, the writing, the general lunacy is all coming back to me now that CStM woke me from my creeping torpor. I’ll tell you how she did that another time. For this night, settle in, light a candle and turn off the lights and read about the man who came out of the woods.
Small Town Ghost
It was really dark.
Not a gleam, not a twinkle. Not one drop of light to relieve the blackness. Since the clouds had blown in to cover the moon, everything had turned to pure darkness. Martin could hear the rustle of leaves but the trees were no more than vague, billowing shapes, only a little darker than the sky behind them. He shivered, although he didn’t feel cold.
He could barely make out the road ahead and stumbled more than once as his feet brushed the dense, wet grass verge. When had he lost his torch? He tried to see the time, pressing the backlight button on his watch, but it wasn’t working. “Cheap crap!” he said aloud, then wished he hadn’t. All the noises of the night, the rustle of small animals, the far-off sounds of night-birds, even the murmur of the trees, all stopped. It was as if the darkness had suddenly noticed him and had interrupted its busy schedule to watch him, to watch as he walked this dark and lonely road to… where?
He stopped – where was he going? Where had he come from? Standing in the darkness, he tried hard to remember. While he stood, silent and still, the night lost interest in him and resumed its business.
Of course – he was on holiday. A week walking in the forests, alone and peaceful. He should be getting back. His week was over tomorrow and he’d have to make his way back to his car. He patted his pocket – damnation! His car keys were gone. Maybe they were in his rucksack – but he wasn’t wearing it. Sudden panic gripped him. He was lost. He had no food, no water, no tent, no car keys, no map, no idea where he was or how to get back.
He had fallen. It was coming back to him now. Yesterday, he had realised he was further than he had intended from where he had left his car and was rushing to make up the ground. He’d carried on walking even after sunset, picking his way through the darkened woods, and had tripped over something. That was it. He must have hit his head, lost his rucksack, keys, torch, everything. Probably that was how his watch had been broken. He must have been wandering, dazed, along this road – for how long? He had no way of telling.
Okay, Martin thought, just calm down. What’s needed now is a decision. Do I go back, try to find all my stuff? Fat chance, in this darkness. I don’t even know where I joined this road. So, then, carry on? Hope to find a house, a camper, anyone? That sounded like the best deal. He nodded to himself, and carried on walking. After all, it’s a tarmac road, not a dirt track. Eventually someone will come along it. If not tonight, then tomorrow. Going back would just get him lost. He could wander the woods until he starved to death. At least on the road there was some chance of help.
It had seemed like a sensible decision, but after an hour or so of walking he began to have doubts. The road led nowhere, as far as he could see. Still, it was too late to go back now, and wasn’t that a glow in the sky ahead? Could be dawn approaching, if only he could know the time. Quickening his pace, Martin topped the hill and almost fainted with relief. It was a town! Not much of one, just a couple of streets but it had street lights so it was alive. He hurried the last mile downhill into the town. What time was it, should he wake someone or just hang around until morning? The thoughts flooded through his relieved and ecstatic mind. Police station. That’s what he needed to find. Even if it was closed, he could just wait outside.
He entered the main street at a stroll, enjoying the warm, secure glow of the lights, looking left and right for a building that would house whatever local authority ran this place. Then he saw the man sitting in the rocking chair.
At the front of an old house stood a covered wooden porch with a few plain wooden chairs and one rocking chair. In this chair sat a man, rocking gently to and fro, watching him.
“Hi there”, Martin said, then again “Hi”, more quietly. Watch it, he thought, the locals won’t take too kindly to shouting in the streets in the middle of the night. The rocking chair stopped. The man’s face was a mask of confusion, and he turned to look behind him before looking back at Martin.
Martin walked closer “Hello”, he said. “Perhaps you can help me? I’m lost, don’t know where I am or how I got here.” He looked sheepish, realising how this must sound to someone local, someone who was likely to know his way around this area blindfolded.
The man stared at him. “Are you talking to me?” he said. He looked incredulous.
Martin’s patience was wearing out rapidly. It had been a long and unpleasant night, and he had hoped it was about to get better. “Yes,” he said curtly.
The man’s face broke into a grin. “Great! Nobody’s spoken to me in a long time!”
Oh Christ, Martin thought, it’s the village idiot. Just my luck. Nevertheless, he accepted the offered seat next to the rocking chair. He may be as mad as a hatter but he doesn’t look dangerous and he’s the only one awake. He’ll be company until morning. Still, better keep an eye on him, just in case.
“Silas Johnson,” the man said, as Martin sat down.
“What?” Martin said, momentarily nonplussed.
“Silas. My name. What’s yours?” The man’s grin was huge. Martin stared for a moment, wondering if that grin would get all the way around Silas’ head, and if the top half would fall off when it did.
“Oh,” he said. “Martin. Martin O’Hara.”
“O’Hara?” Silas’ grin got wider, if that were possible. “Irish. I like the Irish, great sense of humour.” He sat hunched, expectant. He obviously wanted a conversation.
Martin didn’t, not really. He’d been lost and walking all night and he just wanted to rest, to sulk and feel sorry for himself. Obviously he wasn’t going to get off that easily, so he tried small talk. “So, Silas, do you sit out here all night?”
Silas looked bemused. “Of course,” he said, as though it must be obvious to anyone. “Nothing else to do here. Oh, sometimes I look in on the bar, or in the shops, but nobody ever notices me so I just give up and leave. I like sitting here, it’s peaceful and I can see up and down the road that goes through the town, see anyone who comes through.”
Martin looked both ways along the road. It was dead straight as it ran through the town, but at the town edges, where the street lamps stopped, there was nothing to see. Blackness, total and complete. The town may as well have been sitting on a patch of earth, floating through space on its own. There couldn’t be anything for this lunatic to see, sitting out here all night. “Doesn’t look like you see much action,” he said cautiously.
Silas’s grin was unmoved. “I saw you,” he said, “saw you come strolling into town tonight. Big event, there aren’t too many visitors here. And you saw me, and spoke to me. Big night for me, tonight. It doesn’t happen often. I have to make the best of it, you know, you may not be staying very long.”
Martin narrowed his eyes, suddenly suspicious. He looked at the grinning idiot in the rocking chair, noted for the first time that he seemed to be dressed entirely in black, with a high-buttoned collar. He looked to be in his twenties, fit and lean. A little worried, Martin asked: “What do you mean, ‘doesn’t happen often’? What doesn’t? And I can tell you for sure I won’t be staying long. As soon as it’s light and people are awake, I’ll be looking for a phone.” He stopped, aware he had been talking too fast, and in a voice that was just a little too shrill. He had reason to be nervous. Nobody knew he was here, so if Silas was a knife-wielding maniac, he could be cut up and disposed of by morning. Nobody expected him to be here, nobody would look for him.
Silas’ face registered dismay at Martin’s obvious discomfort. “Oh. Oh, no, no, I didn’t mean to scare you. I won’t hurt you. I can’t, I mean, no way,” he blustered. “I just meant that I don’t see many visitors, and very, very few that stop to talk to me. And I know you’ll be leaving, just as soon as they find you.”
Martin felt a twinge of regret. The man was harmless, after all, just trying to be friendly. Martin had the impression that he was shunned by the townspeople, and was just delighted to find someone to talk to for a while. Silas’ last comment finally filtered through his thoughts. “When who find me?” he said, suddenly hopeful. “Is someone looking? Is there some kind of search party out already?” Part of his mind said ‘don’t be silly’, he wasn’t due back until tomorrow, nobody would be searching yet. Nevertheless, this was a ray of hope and he clung to it.
Silas looked uncomfortable, still resentful of Martin’s suspicions. “Well, they must be. You’re lost, you said it yourself. They’re bound to be looking for you. When they find you, you’ll leave.” He sat back in his chair with a sombre look. “They looked for me for months. Never found me, that’s why I’m still here. Oh, others have come, through the years, but they’ve always been found, and they left.”
Martin was interested now. “Looked for you? But you’re not lost, you’re here. If you don’t live here, why haven’t you phoned somebody?”
“Never picked up a ‘phone’, and wouldn’t know what to do with it if I did. Not much use to me now anyway.” Silas’ grin returned. “Nor to you, of course.”
Martin’s mind reeled. What was the idiot talking about? Looking at Silas, he noticed the man’s clothes again. Old-fashioned, very old-fashioned. Suddenly chilled, he asked the question that was rising in him, not really wanting to hear the answer he suspected.
“Silas,” he said gently, “how long have you been here?”
Silas thought for a moment. “What’s the date now?”
Martin considered this, he’d been in the woods for a week and hadn’t thought about it. A quick calculation told him. “August 17th, 2003,” he said.
Silas’ face contorted in concentration. “I was lost in July 1824, so that would be – one hundred and seventy-nine years now. Plus a few days.” The calm with which he said it was as shocking as the words he used. A hundred and seventy-nine years! Impossible! Silas was no more than twenty-five years old. Martin forced himself to relax. This guy wasn’t playing with a full deck, surely he was just fantasising.
Silas wasn’t letting up, though. “Yep, Summer, 1824. I went out into the woods, thought myself quite the woodsman. Fell off a cliff in the dark, at least I suppose that’s what happened. Anyway, I found myself on the road, walking, and ended up here. They didn’t have these street lights when I first arrived and the houses weren’t as fancy. It was about a hundred and thirty years before these television things started appearing. They’re great, they take some of the boredom out of the waiting. Sometimes I just wander into someone’s house and watch for a while. Did you know, men have actually walked on the moon?” His tone was calm, conversational, not at all like the deranged ramblings Martin had expected. Silas clearly believed every word he was saying. “Then these motor-cars, they started appearing here about, oh, nineteen-ten or twenty I suppose. Since then they’ve been getting faster and faster. I used to watch the horse-drawn carriages go by, watch the people inside. Now, you don’t see more than a flash, just a roar and a streak of colour. And flying machines that carry hundreds of people!” A note of awe was evident in his voice. “I saw them on television.” He sighed. “People seem to be in such a hurry now.”
A chill wind rushed through Martin’s body. The man wasn’t joking, he was sure. He talked as if he was discussing the weather, so calm, so – accurate! He’s either completely insane, or…. No. That can’t be. Silas must be insane, the alternative was just too distressing. Martin’s mind raced for options, produced two likely candidates for consideration. After falling in the woods, wandering lost for hours, had he fallen asleep and dreamed the town, dreamed Silas? Or, could it be, was it possible that he was talking to a ghost?
Silas grinned his grin at Martin. “They never did find my body, so I was never laid to rest. Been here all this time, just waiting, hoping that someone would find it. Oh, sure, I could go wandering the world, but what for? I can’t do much, can’t talk to anyone, at least not anyone alive. Can’t move on, you see? My body has to be found and buried or cremated properly, or I’m stuck.” He shrugged. “You’ll be okay, though, they’ll find you. These new machines and gizmos can find anything, anywhere. Oh, you won’t have to wait long.” He frowned, looking quizzically at Martin. “Are you okay? You look a little strange.”
If Martin’s eyes had widened any further, they’d have fallen out on his cheeks. His mouth gaped, opening and closing like a fish, as he struggled to assimilate what Silas was saying. Silas was a ghost! Further, he’d said that he couldn’t talk to the living. What did that make Martin, sitting here conversing with this dead man?
Silas pursed his lips, his tone conciliatory. “Oh. Oh dear. You didn’t know, hadn’t realised yet. Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to drop it on you like this. I thought you knew!”
“Knew! Knew what?” Martin blurted. It couldn’t be true. “Are you – are you saying I’m dead?” Preposterous. The man must be deranged.
Silas looked serious. “Yes.” he said. “I thought you’d realised. You died out there, in the woods, and you wandered into this town. You’re not the first. I see one like you every few years. They never stay, their bodies are found and they’re released. I don’t know where they go, Heaven maybe, or some kind of afterlife. They always go.” He looked up at the brightening Eastern sky. “Sunrise. I should tell you about that, it can come -”
The world swirled around Martin, the darkness grasped him and wrapped around him, as if it had to go somewhere and it was taking him along. He lost consciousness.
He woke to the sound of Silas’ voice: “- as a shock the first time. Oops, too late.” Silas smiled at Martin’s discomfort. “Sorry, I tried to warn you but it took me by surprise this time.”
“What happened? I passed out. Hey!” Martin stood up, looking to the East. “What happened to the sunrise?”
“Relax. The sun has just set, it’s night again.”
Martin turned on Silas, “You mean I’ve slept all day? You let me sleep here, when you knew I needed help? What kind of lunatic…” He trailed off, seeing Silas’ smile and upraised hand.
“Heard it all before, Martin, and I’m getting tired of explaining it. There was nothing I could do during the day, and nothing you could do either. The sun blanks us out.” He steepled his fingers, regarded Martin over them. “Sit down, and I’ll tell you as much as I’ve worked out.” Baffled, Martin sat.
“As far as I can figure it,” said Silas, “we’re made of energy. Not very much, but enough to keep us going. When the sun rises, it puts out a lot of energy, much more than we have. It’s like looking at a candle in a dark room. It looks bright and clear, and illuminates the room. Put that candle in a room with one of these new electric lights, and it’s swamped. The light from the candle is overwhelmed, you hardly notice it. That’s how it is for us. In the darkness, we can exist, but in the sunlight we’re like that candle. Overwhelmed, swamped out by the Sun’s energy.” He grinned. “Could be all bollocks of course, but I’ve had a hundred and seventy-nine years to work on that theory, and it’s the best I’ve come up with.” A sadness crept over him. “It means that we can never see the sun. You may feel bad because you’ve missed it for a day.” Gloom seemed to gather around Silas like a blanket. “I haven’t seen the sun in a hundred and seventy-nine years.”
Martin was slumped in his chair, regarding the street. Some of the houses had lights now. Over the road, there was the sound of merriment from the little bar. A seed of hope took root in him and burst suddenly into flower. People! They could help him, save him from the insanity this lunatic was forcing on him. Abruptly, he stood, and strode purposefully towards the bar. Silas jumped up to follow him.
“Still not convinced, Irishman? I’ll tell you, if you go in there, you won’t like what you find.” Silas sounded genuinely concerned. “Believe me, I’ve tried that more times than I care to remember. It doesn’t help.”
He followed Martin across the street, watched as Martin flung open the door to the bar, felt Martin’s satisfaction as the occupants turned to look at the door, felt his bafflement as they all turned away, back to their drinks and conversations.
Martin stood for a moment in the doorway of the bar, surveying its basic, simple interior. Small, round wooden tables, each with a shelf beneath – somewhere to put beer when the card games are running. A short bar, no-nonsense, plain wood. A few bottles of whisky and vodka hung in the optics, and three pull-handle beer pumps at the front. There was no gaudy decoration, no frills. Men came here to drink, not to be entertained. A television flickered high in one corner, its sound turned down to avoid clashing with the music from the juke box. A few men sat gazing at it with bleary, unfocused eyes, watching the colours move but not really seeing the pictures. Martin entered the bar with Silas close behind him. The door swung closed on its own.
“Hello,” called Martin. “Can anyone help me? I got lost in the woods and I need to get to a phone.” Nobody replied, nobody looked up.
Silas stood beside him. “They can’t hear us, Martin. They can’t see us either. We can wander around in here all night, but it’ll do no good. We can’t even drink the beer.” He stopped. Martin was staring upwards, ignoring him. Silas followed his gaze. Martin was on the TV! At least, his photo smiled from the screen. The scene cut to the woods. No sound accompanied the pictures, but the news story was clear. They were out looking for Martin, someone had noticed that he hadn’t returned yesterday and had raised the alarm. The search was on. Silas felt a pang of selfish regret. He knew what this meant – soon they would find Martin’s body and he, Silas, would be alone again. He looked at Martin, who was striding purposefully across the room.
Martin stood beneath the TV, arms wide. “Look!” he shouted, “It’s me! The guy on TV! I’m not lost, I’m right here!” Nobody reacted. Martin stood on a table, his face right next to the TV screen. “Look!” he shouted. Reaction! Several of the men looked disconcerted, some were rising from their seats. Silas could see the elation and relief on Martin’s face. He felt sorry for the guy, he knew what came next. He’d seen it before.
One of the men called over to the barman “Hey, Mike, what’s up with that thing?” Martin face fell, his eyes showing his confusion. He looked over at Silas, who returned his gaze with a sympathetic smile and a nod towards the TV set behind Martin. Turning, Martin saw the screen, a haze of snow, a buzz of static.
Silas called over to him “Should have told you. We interfere with those things. Don’t ask me why, but we get too close and they go all to hell. If you want to watch them, you have to stand well back.”
Disconsolately, Martin stepped down off the table. Instantly the screen came back to life, showing pictures of him, his home, his work. There was old Mrs Timberlake, his neighbour. She was looking after his goldfish while he was away, she would have been worried when he didn’t come back on time. A shot of his car, parked outside the small roadside café where he’d left it, the waitress he’d asked to keep an eye on it. He couldn’t hear the words, but he could imagine her responses. Expected him back this morning, never showed.
Striding over to a table where two men sat talking, Martin waved his hands in their faces, shouted “Hallo!” in their ears, with no response. Finally, in a fury, he knocked one man’s glass out of his hand, spilling the contents across the table, into the lap of his companion. “Watch it!”
“Sorry, it just sort of flew out of me hands there. I don’t know what happened.”
Mike, the barman, appeared with a cloth. “I hope there’s to be no trouble here tonight, lads. If you’ve had enough, best be off home now.”
“We’re OK, Mike, just an accident. Two more, if you please.” Mike looked doubtful but obliged anyway. It was their money they were throwing away, after all.
Realisation hit Martin like a sledgehammer. He responded automatically to Silas’ gesture, and they both left the bar. “It’s true,” Martin said. “They can’t see or hear me. I’m a ghost. I’m dead!” He looked at Silas, “What am I going to do?”
Silas smiled a wry smile. “Just wait. You know they’re out looking for you. They’ll find you in a day or so and then you’ll be gone. You’ll move on to wherever it is you all go. And if you don’t, well, I’ll show you the ropes.” His grin returned, “I’m an old hand at this, after all.” They returned to their seats on the porch opposite the bar, and sat in silence for a long time.
Eventually, the bar closed and the patrons staggered out onto the street. Some went quietly home, some dallied, shouting their conversations into the night. Martin glowered at them as intensely as Silas grinned. Eventually, mischief got the better of Martin. He stood, and walked across the street. One of the drunks was staggering along the pavement, veering from side to side. With a smile of gleeful malice, Martin tripped the man, who fell to applause and raucous laughter from the remaining drunks. Martin almost skipped back across the road, Silas grinning at him all the while.
“I used to get a lot of fun out of doing things like that,” Silas said, “in my early days here.”
“Don’t you do it now?” Martin said, still elated with his petty vengeance.
“No, I got bored with it after a few years. They never figured out what was happening. When you’re not getting credit for your jokes, they lose their flavour” Silas looked sombre, remembering. Martin’s elation sagged, turned to a vague resentment. He saw his childish prank for what it was, faced with Silas’ experience and maturity as a dead man. As a ghost, he thought, I’m a novice, this guy’s an expert. Better watch what I’m doing. A stifled chuckle from Silas made him feel a little better though. It had been funny, after all.
They lapsed into silence again, each lost in his own thoughts. Martin considered how his first impressions of Silas had been wrong, so very wrong. He found all his thoughts turning to Silas, and one hundred and seventy-nine years of waiting. Could he wait that long? Would he have to? What would he do, what would he have done in Silas’ place? Suddenly, his reverie burst out upon the night air.
“Hey, Silas,” he said, the sudden sound startling them both in the stillness. “How come you stayed here all this time? Why, you’ve had time to go right around the world.” He sat up, excited. “You could find a spirit medium, explain what happened to you, get them to send out a search for your body.” It seemed so simple, the answer to Silas’ predicament.
Silas cocked an eyebrow at him. “So, do people believe what spirit mediums say these days? They never did before. Besides, who’s going to look for me in those woods? Coming up on a hundred and eighty years, I’d say there’s not much left to find. No, my best chance now is you, and others like you.”
Deflated and a little confused, Martin sat back. “What do you mean, ‘me and others like me’?”
Silas smiled. “Well, they’re out looking for you now. They’ve looked for others in the past, they’ll look for more in the future. There’s always a chance they’ll come across whatever’s left of me while they’re searching. As long as people get lost and die in those woods, there’s a chance. I’d like to be here when it happens.” Suddenly pensive: “If it happens.”
Their conversation was interrupted by a warm glow in the East. “Brace yourself,” Silas said, “Here it comes again.”
Again, the darkness enveloped them before fleeing to hide from the rising sun, waiting under houses and in corners until the sunset, when it could discharge its passengers back into their shadowy existences.
Silas looked over at Martin. “Still here, I see.” He stood. “Well, let’s go and do something tonight. Fancy watching television until the bar closes? We could trip a drunk or two.” His grin was back, so wide it seemed to stretch from the sides of his face and blend with the street-lit night.
Embarrassed at the reminder of his childish prank, Martin stood. “Okay, let’s see what’s on.” He followed Silas along the street until they found a house with the TV light flickering through the window. “So,” said Martin, “how do we get in?”
Silas laughed aloud. “We’re ghosts! We just walk through the wall.” He turned his grin full on to Martin. “Oh, sure, we can open doors, just like you did last night. But we don’t need to. The walls aren’t really there for us, just a little concentration and we drift right through.” Saying this, he stepped through the wall and into the house.
Martin was disconcerted, until he saw Silas beaming and beckoning through the window. Experimentally, Martin held out a hand. It disappeared into the wall. It felt strange, like a warm band around his wrist. He closed his eyes and moved forward, feeling the warmth of the solid structure around him, like passing through a narrow band of steam. As the feeling left him, he opened his eyes to see Silas grinning like an ape. He was inside the house, in a lit room with comfortable cushioned furniture against walls of floral paper. Deep pile blue carpet, in which his feet left no impression. Nobody here. No television.
“Not this room,” said Silas. “Follow me”. He led the way through to the next room, where a solitary old lady sat in her large comfortable armchair, watching a TV with the volume blaring. “Remember,” said Silas, “don’t get close to the set and don’t move anything. If we give her a heart attack, she’ll be able to see us, then she’ll give us what for!” They both laughed at the thought.
A polished wooden dining table rested behind the old lady’s chair. Carefully, they sat in the dining chairs and watched the end of a rather feeble sitcom. Mercifully, the advertising break was too loud even for the old lady’s ears, and she turned down the volume before going through to the kitchen. The rattle of cups and the clank of a kettle told them she was making tea, muttering to herself all the while. I wouldn’t mind a cup myself, Martin thought.
The news started, immediately commanding both Martin and Silas’ attention with its headline, Man Killed by Corpse! They listened intently, both on the edges of their seats. Martin’s elbow nudged a place-mat along the table, perilously close to the edge, but neither noticed.
“Today, the body of missing walker Martin O’Hara was found, entangled in the ribs of a corpse.” The local newsreader was evidently relishing the story, possibly the biggest, and certainly the most gruesome, he was ever likely to report. “Police believe that Mr. O’Hara stumbled across the corpse in the dark, became entangled in the ribcage and fell, striking his head on rocks beside a small stream. It is unlikely that Mr. O’Hara was aware of the corpse that killed him, since the wounds to his head indicated that he would have lost consciousness immediately, and died soon after. There was no evidence that he had attempted to disentangle his feet from the ribcage after falling, so it would seem that he died without regaining consciousness.”
Silas turned a grave face to Martin. “They found you. You’ll be leaving soon,” he said. “Good news for you, but it looks like I’ll be alone again.”
Martin returned the look. “They also found another body,” he said, raising an eyebrow to emphasise the significance. Both turned their attention back to the TV, not noticing the old lady, shakily carrying her tea and a few biscuits back to her seat and turning the volume back to a blare.
Outside broadcast showed a recorded interview with a police officer, standing beside a sheet on which were laid skeletal remains and a few shredded items of clothing. Some mildewed personal belongings were bundled into a plastic bag alongside the corpse.
“…foul play is not suspected at this stage,” he was saying. “Mr. O’Hara’s death was an accident. The other body has been estimated at approximately a hundred and fifty years old.” Excitement was clear in Silas’ eyes. Martin’s elbow nudged the place-mat a few more precarious centimetres over the edge of the table. “We have recovered a few personal effects, and although these are badly deteriorated, we hope to be able to identify the body soon.”
Silas jumped up. “It’s me!” he shouted. “Has to be! If there were anyone else, they’d be waiting here too!” He did a little dance alongside the table.
Martin felt euphoria sweep over him, as if Silas was somehow so full of it he’d become infective. He laughed and stood up. The place-mat fell to the floor with a clatter. Both men were suddenly silent as the old lady jumped in her chair.
“What’s that? Who’s there?” She rose from her chair, reaching for the steel poker beside the fireplace. It was a gas fire, but the old coal-fire tools still stood in their accustomed place on the hearth, where they had always been, polished and gleaming and for many years untouched by coal.
She turned, holding the poker menacingly before her and waving it into thin air. Silas and Martin took no notice of her as they fled through the wall into the street, shouting and cavorting. “It’s our last night!” Silas shouted. “Hear me, town, I’m leaving in the morning, and you didn’t even know I was here!” His laughter sounded loud enough to wake the whole town, if they could only hear. Martin bounced alongside Silas like a small boy with the keys to the sweet shop. Silas suddenly dug an elbow into him, grinning and laughing. “Hey, Irishman, what are you looking so pleased about? You’ve only had three nights here!” Folding his arms in mock severity, “Please celebrate in proportion to your stay.”
Martin laughed. “Well, I can’t turn mine down, so you’ll have to turn yours up.” Furrowing his brow. “How many nights in a hundred and seventy-nine years?”
Silas roared with laughter “Don’t know. Don’t care!” he shouted as he whirled along the street, arms outstretched. They headed back to the covered porch and took their seats, chattering excitedly.
“So what happens now?” Martin said. “Do we fade away or something? Does someone come for us?”
“Don’t know.” Silas looked thoughtful. “The day after folk get found, the sun comes up, we vanish, the sun goes down, they’re gone. I’m still here. I’ve seen it many times, but I’ve no idea how it works.” His maniacal grin returned. “This is where I find out, after all this time.”
They joked and laughed into the night, until the Eastern glow took their attention. “Here we go,” Silas said. “One last time. I’m finally going to find out where all those other folk went.”
They looked expectantly at the approaching sunrise. A thought struck Martin, one he should have thought of hours ago. “Hey, wait a minute. If that was your body, then you killed me! If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be dead!”
Silas’ elation could not be daunted. “Sorry,” he said, “but I didn’t mean it. Anyway, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have been found today.”
Martin struggled to make sense of the comparison, then gave up and started laughing. They were both roaring with laughter when the sun clipped the horizon.
The town woke, and went about its daily business as the sun traced its accustomed path across the summer sky, eventually flaring a red goodbye.
A little after sunset, old George MacPhee stepped out onto his covered wooden porch. He looked long and hard at the old, decaying rocking chair, wondering if he’d ever have the heart to get rid of that heap of junk. Pursing his lips and raising an eyebrow, he realised what was different. The chair was still. Every night, he’d seen it rocking to and fro on its own, unoccupied. He’d put it down to subsidence, wind, even to the old planks of the porch expanding and contracting in the day’s heat and the cool of the night. Tonight it didn’t move, and there was something else, something indefinable. He felt as though something was missing, as if an old friend had moved away for good. He shook himself. Ridiculous, he thought, I’m going daft in my old age. George turned back into the house, cast one more glance at the chair and determined to get rid of the thing in the morning. Something in the back of his head told him it was time, the chair wasn’t needed any more. George paused in the doorway. He couldn’t lose the feeling that something was missing, something that had been there a long time, something that had always been there. Try as he might, he couldn’t put his finger on it. Oh, well, he thought, it’ll sort itself out in the morning. It always does. He entered the warm, safe light of his house, closed the door, picked up a bottle and forgot his worries.