The Proto-Haunted Cottage
Although it wasn’t quite dark, I relaxed into my fugue state. I couldn’t hear Emily. I called her name a few times but there was no answer. I took a quick nap until it was fully dark Actually I overslept by a couple of hours and it was well after midnight when I woke up. I treated myself to a refreshing mug of tea and relaxed back into my fugue state. It was all quiet still. I felt a knot in my stomach at the thought Emily might not be there.
“Emily,” I called out. “Are you there?”
“Seamus, is that you?”
“I’m glad. You went all quiet for a while and I thought I was alone again.”
“It seems we can only talk when it’s dark. It’s after midnight. When we lost contact, it was because dawn was breaking. So we’ve got about six hours before we lose contact again.”
“I don’t want to lose contact with you again. I like talking to you. It gives me hope.”
“Emily, I want you to try something for me. Can you feel anything?”
“Yes, I’m wrapped in something. It feels like plastic.”
“Can you move it?”
“No. It feels solid.”
“Listen. You’re dead. Your spirit has no substance. You can pass through it if you believe.”
The next few hours seemed to fly past. I interspersed trying to cajole Emily into passing through the plastic with talking about her life and her friends. Eventually she made a breakthrough and managed to pass through the plastic, but found there was a tightly packed layer of soil above her. The next obstacle was a layer of concrete, and that seemed to pose an impassable barrier. I asked Emily to explore the concrete to find something, anything, that she could influence.
“Seamus, there’s a sort of pipe passing through the concrete.”
“Very good. Do you know where it leads?”
“No. I’m sorry, Seamus, I’m not very good at this.”
“You’re doing brilliantly. You’re my star pupil,” I reassured her. “Can you influence the contents of the pipe?”
Long moments later, “Yes! It’s a water pipe. I can make it squirt.”
“Emily, I need to find out where the pipe is. That means I’ll have to leave you for a while. Can you keep on making it spurt.”
“Please don’t leave me, Seamus.”
“I have to. It’s my best chance of finding you. You want to be reunited with your family, don’t you?”
“I don’t want to be reunited with Uncle Walter.”
“Don’t worry, I can promise you a very deserved fate awaits your uncle.”
“Okay, I guess. I’ll keep on making it squirt.”
I retuned my senses to the corporeal world and dashed round the cottage, checking all the taps. Nothing. Then I checked the washing machine. No water. I grabbed a torch and went outside, scouring the cottage walls for outside taps. I found two, neither of them squirting water. But I could hear water tinkling somewhere. I shone the torch around the garden and then I saw it - the pond had a fountain, and water was spurting from from it in controlled bursts.
I dashed back indoors, collapsed into an armchair and tried to relax into my fugue state. It was hard, with all the excitement I was feeling, but I finally got there.
“Emily, can you hear me?”
“Seamus, did you find where I was making the water spurt? It’s hard work and I’m tired.”
“Yes Emily, you can stop now. You’re a very clever girl. Your body is underneath the garden pond.”
“What pond? We don’t have a pond.”
“There is a pond now. It must have been put there deliberately to hide your body.”
And therein lay a huge problem. It wasn’t going to be easy to retrieve Emily’s remains, even if Felix and his wife gave permission.
I chatted to Emily some more but it wasn’t long before dawn terminated our contact.
Back in the corporeal world, I took a shower then had breakfast, passing time until it wouldn’t be considered too early to call Verity. And even then I rang earlier than I had intended.
Hopkins answered the phone and transferred me to Verity.
“Father O’Malley,” said Verity. “Hopkins passed on your message yesterday. How is your investigation going?”
“The property is haunted by the spirit of a young girl, but there are going to be problems helping her into the afterlife. And there are some legal issues too. Could I discuss them with Richard?”
“Good heavens, no!”
“But he’s a Supreme Court Judge.”
“Richard is a good man at heart, but he knows bugger all about the law. No, you need Prudence. She’s a walking legal encyclopaedia.”
“Who is Prudence?”
“She’s my sister. She works for a legal firm. In truth, she does much of the firm’s trickiest legal work, then the partners put their names to it, claim the glory and charge their clients a fortune. She could easily have her own practice but she’s the polar-opposite of Richard: she hates the bureaucracy and showmanship of court. She prefers to work at the coal-face, and the firm values her so highly they let her pick and choose which cases she works on. I’ll give her a ring and see what she’s up to.”
When Prudence didn’t call me in the next couple of hours, I went to bed to catch up on my sleep. When it got to early evening with still no call from Prudence, I decided to go back to the Poacher’s Arms for dinner again, unless the barman threw me out.
Joe’s opinion must have counted for a lot because Tom didn’t throw me out on my ear, although he hardly rolled out the welcome mat either. I ordered a bottle of Guinness, a venison and wild boar pie and a pint of Old Joe’s favourite.
Joe grunted when I sat down and passed him his pint. “You came back then.”
“Yes. I had a long talk to Emily last night, and I now know where her body is.”
“You do?” Joe’s face brightened the fell again. “I want to believe you but can you prove it?”
“Not easily. Emily’s underneath the pond.”
“What! Walter built that pond as a memorial so Emily’s parents could remember her as they sat by it.”
“Would that be Emily’s Uncle Walter?”
“Yes,” replied Joe. “Now how would you know that?” Then it dawned on him. “Oh my God! You think Walter murdered Emily, don’t you!”
“Is everything all right, Joe?” asked last night’s spokesman from across the room.”
“Father O’Malley here reckons Walter killed Emily and buried her under the pond,” said Joe.
“I didn’t say that,” I vainly protested as the crowd gathered round us again.
“The timing’s right,” said one of the crowd.
“I always thought there was something funny about that boy,” said another.
“But Walter spent days on the moors searching for Emily,” said yet another.
Then Tom the barman intervened. “Are you causing trouble again?” he asked me. “I warned you not to come back.”
“He’s okay, Tom,” said Joe. “These folks were just going back to their seats.”
The group continued to surround us, reluctant to disperse in case they missed anything.
“Joe’s right. This is all speculation. Break it up,” said the spokesman.
Several people muttered under their breath, but they reluctantly went back to their seats.
“Okay,” said Tom, “but this is your final warning. Don’t make me call the police.”
When everyone had dispersed, Joe scoffed. “If he called the police, he’d be lucky if they turned up some time next week.”
“Where is Walter now?” I asked.
“He’s not here, if that’s what you’re afraid of. He left the village with the rest of the family. Don’t worry, nobody’s going to tell him anything.”
My meal arrived and I ate it in silence.
I had a surprise when I arrived back at Rose Cottage. Alongside my little powder-pink Nissan was parked a little blue Mazda sports car. And lights were on inside the cottage. With some trepidation I opened the front door and went in. Moving as quietly as I could, I followed the sound of someone moving around. There, in the kitchen, was a woman I didn’t recognise. She had just prepared a meal for herself so she didn’t seem like a threat.
“Hello,” I said to get her attention.
“Oh, hello,” the woman replied. “You must be Father O’Malley.”
“And you are?”
“Didn’t Verity tell you to expect me? I’m Prudence, Prudence Roscoe.” Then she burst into a fit of giggles. “Oh golly, that’s torn it!”
“You’re Verity’s sister? I was expecting you to call me.”
“You have to understand that our parents were very fortuitous with their choice of names. Verity is the most truthful person I know, Felix is lucky, I’m supposed to be wise and our other sister, Charity, is a doctor.”
“A doctor? That doesn’t sound charitable.”
“Doctors Without Borders. She travels the world, risking her life on a daily basis, taking basic healthcare to some of the most godforsaken places on the planet and presenting a positive female role model to misogynistic cultures.” Then she burst into another fit of giggles. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have said ‘godforsaken’ in your company, should I!”
“That’s okay. But why are you here?”