THE HOUSE GUEST - Part 1
Chestnut Cottage is a rather quaint Tudor thatched dwelling with its white walls and black oak timbers, its rose covered lych-gate and a wishing well in the garden.
It is very much the stereo typical “chocolate box” image of an English country cottage.
It’s a fairly remote cottage situated at the end of Vicarage Lane some half a mile from the church and about a mile from Appleby village itself.
My name is Harry Tyler and I lived in the cottage for more than twenty years and by the time summer came to an end I had been in residence another eight months after I died.
Not in a physical sense, my body did not lie undiscovered, decomposing in my armchair; I was found and dealt with in the proper manner.
At the time I was happy enough to die, though I took no hand in it I hasten to add I died of natural causes.
The last year of my life was a mere existence after the death of my dear wife Rose.
We had no children of our own and what other family that were left we were not close to.
Rose and I had been happily married for 47 years and we retired to Appleby village and we had such a nice life together.
She was my conduit to the world; she was the interface that connected me to people.
After she was gone it was like being stranded in a foreign land without a translator
To find myself alone in the world at the age of seventy four filled me with dread so I withdrew into the safety of the cottage and became very reclusive and only ventured out when I had to.
So when I died I thought I would be reunited with my Rose again. But I remained in the cottage and she was nowhere to be found.
I spent every day confined to the cottage and garden the same prison I confined myself to before I died.
In many ways it was no difference to when I was alive except I didn’t have to eat or drink.
Nor did I have to wash or comb my hair or trim my beard and of course I didn’t feel anything.
I was exactly as I was when I died, a fat, old man with white hair and a beard wearing the same clothes I had on when I breathed my last.
I hoped to God I didn’t have to spend eternity wearing that awful red jumper, I hated that jumper and the only reason I was wearing it at all was that my favourite one was still damp and I didn’t want to catch a chill.
If I had realised I was going to pop my clogs anyway I would have worn the other one.
So there I stood a fat white bearded old man wearing a red sweater that made me look like an off duty Santa Claus.
I didn’t understand why I was still there; I didn’t want to be there I wanted to be with Rose.
I thought there must be something I had to do in order that I could move on but at that time I had no idea what that something might have been.
On the first of September I thought today is not like any other day, today things are going to change.
I was standing in what used to be the bedroom Rose and I shared and I was looking out through the window at the unfolding scene below.
A removal truck had just come to a stop in the lane and a small blue car parked a suitable distance behind it.
The driver of the of the car slowly got out and walked towards the gate pausing briefly to speak to the removal men who were lowering the tail board, she walked through the gate and down the long winding path.
She was an attractive young woman late twenties or probably early thirties, petite with shoulder length black hair that shimmered with a hint of blue like a raven’s wing and she walked awkwardly with a stick in her right hand.
I recognised her at once as one of fifteen or so prospective buyers who viewed the cottage during the summer.
I thought to myself that it would be nice to have company even if there would be no conversation it would be a bit like watching a soap opera on TV.
I would have preferred it to be a man; after all spying on a young woman would make me feel a bit like a peeping Tom but beggars can’t be choosers.
Then as I watched her slow progress down the path something terrible occurred to me what if she was one of those awful naturist types who go about the house naked, where would I look?
Then I laughed at the stupid question I had asked myself it was obvious where I would look I might be dead but I was still a man.
So I watched her discreetly over the next week or so as she went about her unpacking and arranging her furniture.
Due to my gentlemanly disposition I declared her bedroom and the bathroom as off limits.
As I was in my ninth month of limbo I was desperate for knowledge of the wider world and I was bitterly disappointed that she didn’t have a television I really missed the TV and she didn’t listen to the radio either,
I had hoped she might at least take a daily paper but no the only paper to come through the door was the local freebie.
She did have a computer and I did look-over her shoulder while she was using it, very rude I know and under normal circumstance I would never have done such a thing but I thought to myself, needs must.
By the end of September the computer had taught me a lot, I had established that her name was Juliana Molesworth and she was a workaholic who lived on the computer, in fact the computer was her life, it was her work, she shopped on it, she banked on it, it was her library, it was her music collection and it was her only friend.
Apart from her visits for physiotherapy she never went out and her only visitors were delivery people, oh and a hairdresser.
This young woman was making the same mistake that I had she was cutting herself off from the world and making the cottage her prison.
Though I didn’t know why she was withdrawing from the world I now knew what I had to do to move on I had to save Juliana from my own fate.
I know that strictly speaking as I was dead I couldn’t actually live with her but after living with Juliana for five weeks it had become clear that she had gone to Chestnut Cottage to cut herself off from the world and I knew from bitter experience that course of action was pure folly.
My job was to show her the error of her ways but I had absolutely know idea how I would achieve that.
For a start I was dead and invisible although I could make myself visible without any difficulty the problem was not if I could make her see me but when and how would she take it.
If she didn’t freak out at having a resident ghost then she almost certainly would when she discovered she had been sharing the cottage with an old man who could make himself invisible.
I decided for the mean time to just maintain a watching brief just to keep and eye on her until I could figure out the best course of action.
I did allow her the odd glimpse, a reflection in a mirror, a shape in the corner of her eye just to test her nerve but she seemed un-phased by it or would dismiss it with a shrug.
She seemed at least on the surface anyway to be quite a strong character she was clearly in a lot of pain from her hip and she took strong pain killers for it.
She got around some of the day without her stick but towards the end of the day she couldn’t walk without it and she would rub her hip and you could see the pain etched into her face.
Juliana had a pretty face when it wasn’t screwed up in pain, with hypnotic green eyes and a sensual mouth.
There were some faint scars on her chin and some more on her forehead .but they did not detract from her beauty.
It was getting towards the end of the month and I was out in the garden, it had been a glorious late summer / early autumn day, the sun would have felt quite warm had I been able to feel it, and I was watching the sun set as I had so many times with Rose.
I missed her so much and I was feeling sorry for myself so I stayed until the sun disappeared behind the trees then I went back inside.
Juliana was sat perched on the edge of an armchair and in front of her on the coffee table was a large glass of wine and a pile of pain killers.
I feared the worse as I sat in the empty armchair opposite her, to my mind booze and pills meant only one thing.
Her hand was shaking as it moved towards the tablets.
“Don’t do it” I said
She looked around the room.
“Who said that?”
“I did” I said as I appeared
She went stiff and white and said
“Where did you come from? How did you get in here?”
“Get out before I call the police”
Then she grabbed the empty pill bottle and through it at me.
It went through my chest hitting the back of the chair before bouncing back on to the floor ending up by her feet.
She had manage to pull herself to her feet and was wielding her cane
But when she saw the pill bottle come to a stop by her feet she flopped down into the chair and said.
“Damn I’ve taken too many and now I’m hallucinating”
“You’re not hallucinating” I said quietly “I’m really here”
“No, No, that’s not possible” She said and drained the wine glass then instantly refilled it.
“I’ve over dosed” She was trembling and she held out a hand in front of her and watched it shake.
“Oh God now I’ve got the tremors” She closed her eyes tight for half a minute then opened them and stared at me.
“And you’re still here”
“You’re really not hallucinating” I said quietly “I’m really here”
“Please don’t take your own life”
She took a double take and was suddenly calmer as she considered what I had said.
“Take my own life?” she said quizzically
Then she glanced down at the pile of pills and the glass of wine.
“I’m not going to kill myself”
I looked at her and nodded and said “good” but I didn’t believe her and she could tell.
“I tipped them out to count them because my leg is hurting so bad I thought I must have missed taking one, but I haven’t damn it and I can’t have another one for two hours” She said impatiently
That made sense to me, and then I felt foolish and I had exposed myself for nothing.
“I can see you believe me now” She said “So now tell me who you are or what you are?”
“My name is Harry Tyler”
“I know that name this was your house wasn’t it?”
“But you’re dead, you died here” She took a large gulp of wine “Are you a ghost or an angel?”
“I think I’m just a ghost, I haven’t been anywhere to become an angel”
“So why are you here? Why haven’t you gone to where dead people go?”
She drained her glass and filled it again quickly.
“I not really sure” I lied
There was silence for a few moments before she asked
“Is there a heaven?”
“I don’t know if there is a heaven or not, I’ve always believed that there was”
I paused for a moment
“My wife Rose died in this cottage and she has obviously gone somewhere”
“God how many people have died here? Is it cursed or something?”
She had another glug of wine.
Then a look of panic came over her face.
“Have you been here all the time, Ever since I moved in I mean?”
Then she flushed deep red.
“You haven’t been letching at me in the bath?”
I laughed and said.
“No it’s alright don’t worry, I haven’t been letching at you even though you are a very attractive young woman”
She looked doubtful. So I continued.
“I am painfully aware that this is not my home anymore and as such there are areas that I have made off limits; I am a very discreet ghost”
She sighed and looked reassured.
We sat in silence for a while then she fell asleep in the armchair.
For the next two days I didn’t show myself to her partly because I thought it might be better for her to digest the knowledge of my existence for a while before I spoke to her again and partly because I was angry at myself for misreading the situation the previous evening and alerting her to my presence unnecessarily.
I had acted on the spur of the moment but in truth it hadn’t upset my plans in anyway chiefly because I didn’t have a plan to upset.
Of course there was always the possibility she might think she had imagined the whole thing as a result of the wine and painkillers.
I looked in on her from time to time and apart from the obvious signs of a hangover and her limp she seemed ok.
Although she did tend to suddenly look over her shoulder for no apparent reason.
Three days after, for want of a better phrase, I exposed myself to Juliana was one of those wonderful early autumn days that lifts your spirits but can also take you by surprise when you step out into it as the sun can deceive you into thinking the summer hasn’t quite surrendered and then the bitter October wind stings you.
I couldn’t tell which it might be as it looked like it might be quite warm but I couldn’t tell firstly as I was inside looking out and secondly because I was dead and couldn’t feel anything.
Juliana had been upstairs dressing as it was one of her physio days and she was just hobbling her way downstairs and I was beginning to think that she had indeed passed off our encounter as an hallucination but as she picked up her car keys and opened the front door she called back behind her with out turning around.
I didn’t reply because it caught me by surprise
But I don’t think she was looking for an answer though it was difficult to tell as there was no feeling behind the words.
Was it a “Bye Harry” see you later or “Bye Harry” I can’t live in a house with a ghost?
Or perhaps “Bye Harry” are you really there?
She was gone all day and I was beginning to think I had scared her away as it was unusual for her to be quite so late and it had been dark for some time when her car pulled up outside the cottage.
It was a little after seven when she came in through the door her face was tired and strained and she moved uncomfortably.
I had seen that pained look before in the weeks I had been observing her.
It was as a result of her physiotherapy sessions where they worked her hard and she suffered for it, but it was working she was getting better.
I had seen the change in her over the weeks and she was getting better becoming stronger and less reliant on her stick but her sessions left her exhausted and in a lot of pain.
She moved slowly over to the armchair and collapsed into it, after a few moments she rummaged in her bag and brought out a bottle of water then she reached onto the table and picked up her pills, her hand was shaking as she opened the bottle, she put one in her mouth and took a long drink of water then she leaned back and sighed.
She closed her eyes and was drifting off to sleep.
I sat in the chair opposite her and spoke to her.
She didn’t respond.
“What do you want?” she said without opening her eyes. “And don’t call me Juliana, only my Mother calls me Juliana”
“What should I call you then?”
She opened her eyes and looked straight at me.
“Julie is fine, but never Jules I hate that”
“Ok” I said
She closed her eyes again.
“What?” She responded impatiently.
“You need to go to bed”
“I can sleep here, its fine now leave me alone”
“Julie you need to go to bed”
“Leave me alone or I’ll call Ghostbusters and they’ll come and Hoover you up”
“They don’t exist” I said
“Nor do you” she replied
“But I’m here though, and I’m not going to shut up until you go to bed”
She opened one eye.
“That’s really unkind” she said with surprise.
“It’s for your own good” I said sagely
She looked unconvinced but struggled to her feet muttering under her breath.
Then she started slowly towards the stairs.
I felt guilty because it was clearly painful for her to walk but I knew it would be so much better for her to get a good rest in bed.
I wished I could help her but I was unable to, I hadn’t mastered any of the physical stuff when I was in the cottage on my own it didn’t seem worth training myself to open a door when it was easier to walk through it.
Since I had had a house guest or perhaps landlady would be more precise as I was actually the house guest I had been practising with some small success but propelling a person, even a small person, up a flight of stairs was beyond my capabilities.
“I can’t believe that I’m being haunted by Casper’s Granddad and he is making me do this” She said as she struggled up the stairs.
As she reached the top she paused briefly to catch her breath then she headed for her room.
“Tomorrow I’m calling an exorcist” she shouted.
A few minutes later all was silent and in an instant I left the sitting room and transported myself to her bedroom.
It was the first time I’d been upstairs since she moved in and she had made the room very nice.
She was lying on her back fully clothed and sleeping peacefully on her bed.
On the trunk at the foot of her bed was a throw which with a great deal of effort I managed to cover the lower half of her with it and I was just about to continue when her hand reached down and pulled it the rest of the way up and she turned onto her side with the throw wrapped round her shoulders.
That left me with the simple task of flicking the light switch something that I had mastered.
The next day was a dull and dreary early October day and it was raining hard, the rain beating against the window glass like someone was throwing handfuls of gravel.
Julie didn’t come downstairs until 11 o’clock, I had heard her moving about upstairs from about ten then I could hear the bath running so after more than twelve hours sleep and a hot bath she made her way down the stairs in a good deal less pain than her ascent the night before.
She was bright and breezy and had real vitality about her such as I had not seen in her before.
She was so alive, so vibrant, she was smiling!
“Harry?” she called as she headed for the kitchen.
I said nothing.
“Harry?” She called again as she entered the kitchen
“Where are you?”
I appeared suddenly in front of her.
“Oh” She exclaimed and jumped then she laughed.
“I’m here” I said “What’s all the noise about?”
“It’s enough to wake the dead” I said and smiled.
“Yes very funny” She was smiling too.
I studied her face it was a very pretty face when you removed the pain that was normally etched into it, what a difference from the night before.
It was nice to see the beauty of the person when the bitterness and pain were removed or at least masked temporarily.
The girl before me today was nothing like the one I had been observing for the past month.
It was clearly only a type of euphoria which would undoubtedly wear off.
“I hated you last night” She said looking straight into my eyes “Making me climb those stairs”
“But today I feel the best I’ve felt since before the accident”
She had not mentioned the accident before.
“I could kiss you” she continued.
“Well that would be lovely but there is nothing to kiss, you’d fall straight through me and head butt the cooker”
She blew me a kiss instead.
“I’m glad you are feeling better”
“I know that it won’t last all day but for now I feel terrific”
“You’ll be dancing by Christmas” I said
“Don’t spoil it by talking about Christmas I hate Christmas”
“I will tell you another time I don’t want anything to spoil my mood”
The pain did return later that day though not as severe and the next morning the bitterness was back and for the rest of the month she did battle with her demons,
Julie had good days and bad days but over all the demons won.
She still kept herself to herself only leaving the house for physio appointments, which were paying dividends, and her only visitors were delivering one thing or another.
The majority of her time was spent on the computer which she used for her work, something involving pages and pages of gobbledygook, and as her window on the world, a world in which she did not have to participate but could merely be a spectator.
Unless she called on me I chose my moments to appear trying to gauge the right time in between her black moods.
It was while Julie was on the computer, on one of her good days that I chose to show myself.
She was ordering her groceries online when I dropped in.
“Don’t forget the sweets for Halloween” I said
“Oh God not Halloween” She replied.
“Don’t tell me you hate Halloween as well”
“Of course I hate Halloween, why wouldn’t I, all those ghastly trick or treaters begging door to door”
She was bordering on rant mode and I was beginning to think I had picked the wrong time to call.
“Then there are the implied threats of violence and vandalism”
I looked at her and raised my eyebrows and she stopped and laughed
“You’re such a happy soul” I said
“Well why do you like it then?”
“I don’t really”
“So why do you want me to buy sweets? Did Rose like it is that why?”
Neither Rose nor I were fans of Halloween before we moved to Appleby but it was just part of living in the village.
The thing about Rose is that she was a community person and being part of the community was important to her.
We liked the way it was done, it was so different from our past experience, all the children would meet at the church hall and would go round in small groups each group being accompanied by adults then they would all go back to the village hall and have a party with all the traditional Halloween games and there were prizes for the best costumes.
“No not exactly” I didn’t elaborate.
“You’re so odd” She said and turned back towards her computer.
“I was mean to them last year” I blurted.
“The children, I wasn’t very nice to them” I looked down at the floor
“I think I made one little girl cry”
“I feel ashamed of my behaviour, Rose would have been so mad”
“Well there’s nothing you can do about it now” She said.
“Hopefully the kids will remember their bad experience and not come knocking this year, so no sweets required”
She punctuated the end of the sentence with an Oliver Hardy style nod, then she smiled and got up and headed towards the bathroom.
I moved over to the computer I looked at the screen and observed that she was at the check out.
Due to much practise, after all, its not as if I have anything else to do, I had mastered moving and manipulating things over the preceding weeks.
So I sat down and took hold of the mouse, I quickly returned to where Julie had been shopping and found a large tub of Halloween sweets and clicked quantity required 2 and then add to basket, then returned her to the check out just as I heard the toilet flush.
Then I went and sat down again feeling rather pleased with myself.
I was not totally unfamiliar with computers but I had never shopped on line but I had watched Julie enough times to pick up what to do.
When she returned she completed her shopping transaction and was none the wiser.
The next day when the shopping arrived, the driver unloaded the bags onto the step and Julie signed for the delivery and the driver left.
It was only after she had carried the bags into the kitchen and began to unpack them that she noticed the 2 large tubs of Halloween candy.
“HARRY!” she shouted and thumped one of the tubs onto the counter.
“You bellowed milady”
“Was this you?” she said pointing at the sweets.
“You ordered them after all” I said acting surprised “That’s really sweet”
“No I did NOT” She corrected me.
“Well it wasn’t me” I said “I wouldn’t know how, you must have done it subconsciously”
“I am not the sort of person who would buy sweets for the little…..”
I interrupted her
“Well obviously subconsciously you’re a very nice person” And disappeared.
I stayed out of her way for the next couple of days and I spent my time practising.
I had mastered the fine manipulations such as flicking switches, unfolding a handkerchief and picking up a pen.
I could even write though my handwriting was still a bit shaky.
What I wasn’t very good at was moving large or heavy objects so I was in the back garden trying to move the wheelbarrow.
Unfortunately when I eventually succeeded in moving it I managed to frighten a passing dog walker who was startled by the sight of a wheelbarrow moving along the path under its own power.
So I went indoors, I found Julie was sat in her chair reading some documents, I was considering whether it was safe to appear when I noticed the tubs of sweets were stood on a chair next to the door in readiness for the evenings visitors.
I knew that beneath that thick veneer of bitterness and cynicism there resided a good human being.
I deduced that the fact the sweets were now sitting on a chair and not in the dustbin meant that she was in one of her brighter moods.
I decided I would appear but that I wouldn’t mention the sweets just to be on the safe side.
She looks up from her papers then set them on the table in front of her.
“So you’ve decided to show yourself”
“What do you mean? I’ve been busy” I said feigning an indignant attitude.
“Just because I’m dead doesn’t mean I don’t have demands on my time”
“Yes I saw you playing with wheelbarrow”
“So did Mary Rudd” I said sheepishly
“Who’s Mary Rudd?”
“And she saw you?” She asked smiling.
“No she saw a self propelled wheelbarrow; she’s probably having a large gin to recover as we speak”
She was laughing now.
“Has anyone else seen you?” Julie asked.
“No and I only revealed myself to you because….”
“You thought I was going to top myself”
“I hope you think better of me now?”
“I do have low moments, and the world is a ****ty place, but on the whole I prefer life”
“I wish you’d start living it then”
“What do you mean?”
“If you prefer life why don’t you go out into the world and live it”.
“You’re just jealous that I’m still alive and not dead like you” She said viciously
“No you’re not dead you’re alive but you’re not living”
“You live your life though a computer screen” I continued
“You never meet people; you never interact with other human beings, you have everything delivered to your door”
She was about to interrupt but I pressed on before she had the chance.
“And if you could cut your own hair you would never see anyone at all”
“I have physio” she corrected me
“And what happens when you don’t need that anymore?”
She snatched up her papers and scowled.
“I don’t need life tips from a ghost” she spat out the words like venom.
Then she turned her back on me.
“Please don’t do what I did, don’t imprison yourself in this cottage”
I pleaded but she ignored me, she was angry with me but not as angry as I was at myself. I blew it I pushed to hard and she pushed back.
I could have got my point across with more subtlety, I was making progress but now I’d gone backwards.