The Knife in the Moonlight
Martin Gainesbury had been the groundskeeper for forty years. He’d seen things in that time, and what he’d learned from them was that any situation could be solved with a torch, a pistol and strong cup of tea.
He made tea now, in his little cabin tucked into the brambles. His cabin was like a fairytale house in the woods, and it had seen its fair share of monsters. As he poured the boiling water into a cup, there came a knock at the door. He assumed it was one of the new owners of the house (he could see some lights on in it but couldn’t hear anyone – perfect) but when he opened the door he found a man he knew standing in the rain.
“Good evening, Mr Gainesbury,” the man said, smiling. Martin had seen the man around the property a few times. He didn’t say much and the others kept a distance from him. He was, of course, dead.
“May I come in?”
“Certainly,” Martin said, “like some tea?” He glanced at the grandfather clock. It was three minutes past midnight. Ghosts loved being dramatic.
“Do you have herbal tea?”
“Then I would love a cup,” said the ghost, taking a seat at the lounge table. He was solid now, Martin could see by the way he bumped the chair. That took a lot of effort, especially from someone who’d been dead so long.
“Forgive my intrusion on your free time,” said the ghost, “I know you don’t have much of it. My brethren must keep you up all hours of the night.”
It was true. Just last week he’d had get up in the middle of the night to stop the butcher from frightening some teenagers messing about the park. However, a lifetime of dealing with the dead had taught Martin there was much more to fear from the living.
“There’s something I’d like to speak to you about. Thank you,” said the ghost, taking the mug in his hands. The edges of them flickered out of sight for a moment.
“You’ve been at this house for a long time,” said the ghost, “Not as long as me, perhaps, but still many years.”
“That’s correct,” Martin said, taking a sip. To him, every cuppa was the Holy Grail. “When did you come to the property?”
“Over a hundred years ago.”
“How did you die?”
The ghost put down his cup. “I was lynched.”
“Don’t be. You didn’t do it.”
Martin glanced at the tealeaves at the bottom of the ghost’s cup and hurried to change the subject.
“They say your tealeaves predict your future,” said Martin, taking the cup. His mother had had a love for the “spiritual” as she called it (or “the bloody daft” as his father had) and she’d taught him some leaf reading. “These swirls,” said Martin, “represent fortune, the specks are supposed to be conflict, and the black streaks are death.”
“A lot of death in my cup,” said the ghost. “Although, there’d be more cause for concern if there wasn’t.” He laughed. “Returning to my point. In all my unlife, long though it has been, I’ve never strayed from the bounds of this house.”
Martin nodded. “None of the ghosts can.”
“Yes,” the ghost’s smiled widened. “Why is that?”
“It’s just how the land works,” said Martin, “for as long as anyone can remember – before there was a house even – the dead have been coming back to life here. Previous groundskeepers will tell you it’s to do with leylines or witchcraft or a doorway to heaven He forgot to close. Or to hell. None of them really have proof. The only thing we can prove is that everyone who dies here and every owner of the house comes back as a ghost. I’ve heard rumors that there are other places like Whitechapel House around the world. Maybe. Maybe not. That said, while the dead do rise here, they’re all bound to the land. They can’t leave.”
“Riveting as your history lesson is, Mr Gainesbury,”
said the ghost, “you haven’t told me why we cannot leave.”
“You just can’t.”
“That’s your answer?”
“Some of the other revenants have been talking about a way to leave,” said the ghost, “Perhaps the lack of fresh gossip six feet under is just causing some ridiculous rumours, but I’m curious. The ghosts are scared. They can feel themselves fading away. They want to feel alive again. They think maybe if they leave, they can.”
Martin smiled and raised an eyebrow. “Sounds as if you’re planning to leave.”
The ghost shrugged. “Gathering information was my job. I suppose the habit’s never left me.”
“What job was that?”
“There is a way to reinvigorate a ghost,” Martin said, “it’s been done once before.”
“Yes. Before my time.”
“How did they do it?” the ghost said.
Martin chuckled. “Do you know why I took an interest in the tealeaves at the bottom of your cup?” he said.
The ghost’s face was so innocent it was angelic. “Enlighten me.”
“Because ghosts can’t drink,” said Martin, “But you did. So tell me what the hell’s going on here.”
The ghost’s smiled faltered. He stared at Martin for a long time, before saying, “Do you mind if I light my pipe?”
“By all means.”
The ghost took out a lordly oaken pipe, lit it and began to puff.
“You would have made a fine inspector,” said the ghost, “you’re very observant. It’s not often that the living are.”
Martin’s fingers slid to the pistol at his belt.
“You can drink,” he said, “Which means there’s more life in you than there should be. Which means you murdered someone.”
Martin’s face was stone. “What are we going to do about this?”
“You’re going to try to shoot me,” said the ghost, “but I think that would be foolish. I mean you no harm, Mr Gainesbury. On the contrary, I think a partnership between us would be mutually beneficial.”
“I think you should leave.”
“What are you afraid of?” said the ghost.
Martin said nothing.
The ghost studied him for a moment, and then laughed. His smile was different to his previous ones. The others had been fabricated. This one was real, and it was the smile of a hunter.
“You’re afraid of the dark,” he said. “Understandable. So am I. Do you know what death’s like?” Martin’s fingers tightened on his gun.
“Naturally you don’t,” the ghost said, “you have never
died. Death’s very dark, Mr Gainesbury. Very dark, and much too quiet.”
“That can’t be undone,” said Martin.
“You know that’s a lie,” said the ghost. “Why are you afraid of us coming back to life?”
“You already have.”
The expression that flickered across the ghost’s face could only be called a snarl. “This isn’t a life,” he said.
“It’s better than what most people get.”
“What would be so terrible about us being able to live again?” said the ghost. “You can help me get it. So I’m asking you, Mr Gainesbury, even for a moment, to not be afraid of the dark.”
“I can’t help you,” said Martin.
“You misunderstand me,” said the ghost, “I’m not asking you. I’m ordering you.”
“I don’t want to be your enemy,” the ghost said.
“Bit late for that.”
“I’m not a bad man,” said the ghost, his slyness vanishing for a moment. This was oddly even scarier. “I just want help.”
“You want things I can’t give you,” said Martin, “I can’t play god.”
“But you can help me.”
Martin drew his pistol. He fired. The bullet punctured the ghost like it would a human, but instead of blood the wound leaked a white substance – half liquid, half mist. The light in the cabin exploded. Martin heard the chair topple over as the ghost rose. Martin ran, throwing open the door and stumbling down the steps into the moonlight. He turned, and in the doorway he saw the ghost – surrounded by a cloud of the mist. It held a knife.
“Please,” Martin said.
The knife flashed. For a second, he saw his face reflected in its blade. He looked so afraid.