I escaped my untimely death by enrolling as a ghost in Limbo land. The initial contract requires four hauntings per month with time-off-in-lieu for exceeding client expectations. Given the workload, I’m looking forward to earthbound excursions and opportunities to tease my old schoolmates.
“So,” you say, “Limbo land doesn’t sound unbearable?”
Existing between two worlds is better than the alternative, but it’s not very exciting. Now I appreciate why ghosts are characterised by mournful wailing, it’s out of boredom. We’re only visible after nightfall and struggle to get noticed during daylight unless we clatter kitchenware or smash crockery.
My demise occurred at the start of October, so at least I had Halloween to look forward to. However, during enrolment, they advised me to join the Spirits’ Guild in order to take part in the celebrations. That gave me three weeks to pass ghost training and secure my accreditation, or else I’d miss the fun.
My quandary was that I needed Guild membership to practise as a ghost, but I couldn’t join unless I had some experience of haunting. Nepotism is the obvious way for newcomers to gain acceptance. Alas, I didn’t have family connections as all my predecessors opted for reincarnation.
I made enquiries and found an apprenticeship scheme that prepares novices for both the written and practical tests. The Guild considered my application and introduced me to Sir Robert Probisher. He was a lively soul who’d arrived four centuries ago after an inebriated misadventure on horseback.
Sir Robert was very modest, despite his formidable reputation for delivering retributive justice to villains who’ve evaded punishment. It’s nothing personal. The Guild nominates his prey and ensures the extent of the visitation is proportionate to the wrongdoing committed. Sir Robert’s work entails locating fugitives, but he’s known for tormenting them with plaintive whispers until they’re reduced to gibbering wrecks.
Bob, as I knew him, mentored me with enthusiasm, maintained a playful sense of humour and stimulated my imagination. He enjoyed hearing about modern life and inquired about the recent pandemic. Three plagues had occurred during his lifespan, and he voiced his concern about another major influx of new residents.
The Guild was monitoring the death toll and considering restricting new memberships to serious minded applicants. Bob was worried about their plans and cautioned me against appearing flippant before the examination panel. Fun is a four-letter word in their world and haunting’s a grave business.
At the end of my initiation, Bob’s recommendation made all the difference. At my interview they congratulated me for my hard work and I received my Provisional Apparition’s Licence in time for the big night. I’d learned the theory, now I had to act upon it.
Halloween is the highlight of the year in limbo, however I struggled to gain a satisfactory location. The Guild allocates venues and hour-long time slots, but chaos still abounds. There are queues of groaning ghouls and complaining poltergeists waiting to populate every neglected house in town.
My first pitch is an underwhelming Victorian villa that’s occupied by two mutilated phantoms. They introduce themselves as Headless Harry and Ronald Roadkill.
“We haven’t seen you before, sonny,” says Harry, who’s carrying his head in the crook of his arm.
“Have you got your P.A.L. and Guild card, lad?” says Ronald.
I pull out my paperwork. “I’ve got an hour here, at nine o’clock.”
“Well, we’ve still got fifteen minutes, so you’d better scarper.”
“Blimey, Harry,” says Ronald, verifying my permits. “He’s only one of Groggy Bob’s lads.”
“I thought he’d given up the ghost years ago.”
Bob had briefed me about these two characters. They met forty years ago, before the seat belt laws, and both fell victim to drunken drivers. He reckoned they’d traded on their disfigurements for too long and become complacent.
“All we’ve seen is a couple of trick-or-treaters,” says Harry.
“You’re wasting your time here, lad,” says Ronald. “Push off and go elsewhere.”
"Beyond the edge of town," chuckled Harry.
Bob warned me they’d try to pull rank. Lazy seniors looking for a slow night often hoodwink a junior member.
When we’d discussed tactics before Halloween night, Bob advised me to pick a suitable spot, sit tight and gather some handy projectiles. I consult my guide to good spook sites and discover the preferable locations in the town centre are pre-booked until after midnight. However, further afield, there’s a local beauty spot that sounds promising.
Witch Wood is a mile long woodland walkway comprised of a claustrophobic tunnel of trees. Half way down the avenue there’s an overhanging bough that offers a vantage point to monitor both openings. It’s perfect, although the prospect of spending a long night in a tree by myself is disheartening.
To my relief, the witching hour arrives and I hear distant giggles and see a flash of light. A young couple is tempting fate at the eastern entrance. According to legend, the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest during this time. Aloft in my eyrie, I’m toying with woody debris as they step forward holding hands.
High-pitched wails pierce the stillness. Three prowling phantoms materialise and cavort around their quarry. Together the teenagers endure the swirling onslaught and the lad brandishes his Maglite. The startled visitants recoil in agony, protecting their eyes from the harsh glare. Jeering at the faint-hearted apparitions, the emboldened couple continues on their way, undeterred.
Their eyes glint in the darkness as they advance.
I crack a branch and launch it towards them.
The lad stumbles but recovers his footing.
My bough creaks above their heads.
She falters and clenches his arm. His light beam probes the shadows.
Bark fragments tumble through my fingers. Her hand stifles a tremulous gasp.
I whisper their names. The Maglite flashes upwards.
They’re much too slow. Their breathing quickens.
Behind them, I hover with poised talons.
He swallows, she gulps.
I flare my nostrils.
She screams. He drops the Maglite. They run for their lives.
I could get to enjoy this.
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This was great! I thought it was a really original concept and an intriguing and unique take on the prompt! I really like the afterworld you created and the characters too are fleshed out well. Great job!
Hello Natalia, Thank you for taking the time to read my story and leaving such encouraging feedback. I’m glad you enjoyed my tale and if there is anything you were unclear about please let know. Any other thoughts are always appreciated. Howard :)