The Powers of Persuasion

Submitted into Contest #65 in response to: Write about someone’s first Halloween as a ghost.... view prompt


Fantasy Funny

Author's Note Some may recognise Eve and Francesca from my earlier story Eve Makes her Mind up. I hadn't planned on meeting up with them again quite so soon, but this prompt virtually brought them into the room! That said, I hope it also works as a stand-alone story.

Eve Williamson was proving something of a problem for the ghosts of Fleetby Hall. Oh, they acknowledged that it wasn’t her fault, and she left them in no doubt that it wasn’t her choice. But that was the way it worked. If you met a premature death at Fleetby Hall – or at the Fleetby Hall Hotel as it was now called, then you became one of the ghosts of Fleetby Hall, one of the real ones, not one of the ones the Tourist Board made up and yet people still claimed to have seen, like The Governess (or Housekeeper) and The Soldier.

     Oh, if only the ambulance had arrived just that little bit earlier – but it hadn’t, and that was that, and she had succumbed to acute peritonitis on the grand staircase. It was all most unfortunate, especially for the people who owned the hotel, as somehow they just couldn’t quash the rumour that she had actually died of food poisoning and the peritonitis was just a smokescreen.

     Francesca Fleetby decided to have a talk with her. One of those serious woman-to-woman talks, not a telling-off, exactly, but something of a pep talk. Even though age wasn’t really supposed to matter now, there were those who thought that it was against the natural order of things that Francesca should have such a dominant role. After all, she had barely been eighteen when, expert horsewoman that she was, her horse was stung by a hornet, was spooked, and tried to jump a solid stone wall. She was solemnly borne back to her home on a makeshift stretcher made from a gate, and her father, who had seen action at the Somme and the Marne, knew death when he saw it. It wasn’t quite true, despite what the sad legend said, that he never smiled again, but he probably only smiled in company. Francesca had been his beloved golden girl, and secretly he had wondered about doing the unthinkable and leaving the Hall to her instead of her brother Roland – and Roland would probably have thanked him for it. But that was never to be. She still had this charismatic presence, an air of authority that rarely manifested itself in bossiness, and a knack of getting her own way through charm and force of personality leaving folk convinced it was what they wanted all along. It was easy to say that some of it was because she had been one of the Fleetby family, but that counted for less now than it used to, and even her detractors had to acknowledge that there was far more to it.

     Eve was in her bedroom. She still thought of it as her bedroom, and at least for a while, Francesca thought it best not to make an issue of this. 

     The truth was, Eve wasn’t adapting well. In fact, she was still in denial, or tried to convince herself that she was. She was reminded of those dreams she sometimes had. She was back in some of her places, at some of the favourite times of her life, and sometimes she railed against the fact that she had to leave and things had to move on, and sometimes, she didn’t know how to cope with the fact that it was apparently open-ended and not finite and would go on, in its paradoxically realistic and surreal way, for as long as she wanted.

     She had learnt soon enough that she wasn’t dispensable. They had mourned her sincerely at the television company where she had been working, and which had taken her to Fleetby Hall to investigate the ghosts. Her colleagues on the investigative show Make Your Mind Up, Ellen and Kevin, had shed genuine enough tears and said it was tragic and dedicated the whole series to her memory, but it seemed (there were ways of knowing such things, whether you were supposed to or not) that they were getting on very well with their new colleague, Annette. 

     “Now, Eve,” said Francesca, as she slipped through the door that Eve kept lock, never quite grasping, or appearing not to, that it was futile. “How about a little chat, my dear? Is there anything we can do to help you out? I know this situation isn’t ideal, and certainly not what you planned, but life, if you’ll pardon the inappropriate expression, is what you make of it!”

     Eve couldn’t quite dislike Francesca, but there were times when she annoyed her intensely. “Why can’t I at least see my Grandpa?” she demanded. The two of them had been extremely close, and she still missed him, so much, remembering those happy childhood hours when he had patiently helped her tend her own little garden, and how, later on, he had unconditionally loved his little girl still, which didn’t mean he always agreed with what she said or did.

     “Eve, we’ve explained that, my dear,” Francesca said, kindly. “You will be able to see him, I promise you. But not yet. You need a probationary period.”

     “You’ve still not told me why,” Eve said. “And I thought that time didn’t apply now.”

     “That’s – complicated,” Francesca admitted. “But trust me, please. If you left Fleetby Hall now, then – it would not turn out well.” She sat down on Eve’s bed, and Eve could almost have sworn that she made a depression in it, though she knew that could not be so. “This is serious. Please disillusion yourself of the notion that if you escaped from here you would fly straight to your grandfather’s arms, and it would be all harps and happiness. It would not work out well for either of you, and that is putting it mildly. Do you think I found it easy?” Something in her voice made Eve pay attention, despite herself. “I had my plans, you know. I was about to go to university, to study chemistry – and that needed a bit of a leap of faith, even for someone enlightened like my Father. I loved riding, and I loved to dance, and – yes, I had a sweetheart. A boy called Graham, from Gunby Hall. I don’t know if it would have worked out, I do know that two years after he was married to a girl called Sophia, whom I’d always thought of as a bit of a silly goose, but it worked out very well, and they celebrated their Golden Wedding.”

     “That must have been – difficult,” Eve admitted reluctantly.

     Francesca sighed. “I would say you learn to live with it, if I didn’t want to spend half my time apologising for inappropriate expressions. Why don’t you at least try to get to know some of the others a bit better? I’ll admit that some of them aren’t always that easy to go along with, but I’m no angel either ……” all at once, both of them chorused “If you’ll pardon the inappropriate expression!” in unison, and Eve heard a sound coming from where her mouth once had been that wasn’t quite a laugh, but wasn’t a hysterical squawk either. 

     “It’s nearly Halloween, Eve,” Francesca said. 

     “I was aware of that. I’ve never made much of it – oh, not because I’m particularly religious or anything like that, and I have some sweets ready for if the Trick or Treaters come round, but it’s not my scene.”

     “I always thought I could take it or leave it myself, and we never made that much of it, though I do remember that some of the folk in the cottages used to make Jack O’Lanterns – except very often they were turnips, not pumpkins. But I’m afraid there’s not really much of a choice in the matter. Even Parson Prior has to go along with it.”

     “Parson Prior?” Eve felt as if her brow were wrinkling.

     “He was the vicar at St Faith’s.” Eve had seen the squat, stone village church, of course. It was one of the few vestiges of a traditional village that remained in Fleetby, apart from the Hall itself. “Now there had always been a certain understanding about who was the vicar at St Faith’s, and it suited Father fine. A sort of Goldilocks Church, if you will. Not too high and not too low. You may have heard the expression The Tory Party at Prayer. Well, that’s not quite appropriate, because Father was a good old-fashioned Liberal, but you follow my drift. No going overboard on either the bells and smells or on the hellfire sermons. I don’t know how Parson Prior slipped through the net. Like I said, we didn’t make much of Halloween, but he certainly thought that our Harvest Festivals had fallen into dangerous Pagan ways, and he banished all the Corn Dollies from the church – the Christmas Tree too, though he had enough sense to realise that telling people not to have them in their own homes would be a step too far. I thought he was going to have an apoplectic fit when he heard about the Well Dressing. Anyway, Parson Prior – passed, though I’ll never really like that expression – when he was here at the Hall, lecturing Father about the evils of the St Valentine’s Ball, when he had a heart attack. Clutched his chest, keeled over, and that was that. I believe that his first words afterwards, seeing Poacher Adams and Mr Benson, who’d been the landlord of the Bell Inn, were, “Oh, am I in Hell?” I think he still half-suspects he is, or at least wonders why he deprived himself of the odd nip of whisky – apparently he’d been partial to it before he saw the light. But credit where it’s due, he adjusted. And now he’s allowed visits out quite regularly.”

     “And still comes back?”

     “My dear, I have – told you that the consequences of not doing are far, far worse. I have only once encountered a wandering spirit, and it still chills me to …..”

     “Where your bones should be?” Eve suggested.

     “That’s better. And let me tell you another thing about Halloween, and about the reward for marking it properly. Food.”

     “Food?” Eve asked, her voice sounding more desperate than she had intended it to be. Of course she was never hungry, but that wasn’t the point. 

     “Oh, of course it’s an illusion. We know that. But if we really make the effort then it feels pretty close. You can easily believe that you are eating ripe cheese, or sweet strawberries, or crisp chicken, and that you are drinking fragrant tea, or heady wine, or whatever you always loved to drink. The Parson can have his nip of whisky, and Poacher Adams can feast on venison. But only at Halloween.”

     “Even a pizza? A pepperoni pizza?”

     “I’m not quite sure what that is but – well, I don’t see why not.”

     Francesca breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps this might work out after all.

October 26, 2020 06:51

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