a haunting tale
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by Paul Murgatroyd




A figure is approaching with cautious steps through the empty road’s shadows, past the blind eyes of boarded up buildings. Montague Smythe is walking down from where he has parked his ageing and slightly pitted E-type, well clear of the builders’ rubble that spills into the road from the forecourt of the derelict hotel which he has recently bought. It is a winter evening, and he shivers as the chill wind blows dead leaves about his feet and brings a fine spray from the North Sea, which periodically moans as it surges against the rocky shore nearby. He can smell the salt and taste it on his lips, and he wrinkles his nose in disgust. The moon appears briefly, then hides its face behind the black clouds again, as if frightened. The hotel is in a desolate stretch of failed bed and breakfast places in a seaside resort that has long ago had its day and been abandoned by holiday-makers. He starts as he suddenly hears a scream, a shrill, broken scream, made by a passing sea-gull.

When Montague Smythe reached his hotel, he examined its exterior in the dim illumination provided by the only streetlight in the road that was still working. The building had been completed in 1848 and had originally been a proud edifice with battlements and turrets, the weekend residence of a Newcastle merchant. Later it had been converted into a plush hotel, but by now its façade was dilapidated. Its rusty nameplate had lost the letter D and announced it as THE GRAN . Above that straggling weeds and a bush were growing in its gutters, and a strange pale stain had oozed down from the peak of the roof. In the front garden a barren apple-tree reached out grasping arms with taloned fingers. Beyond it the Corinthian columns on either side of the main entrance were disfigured by cracks and flaking paint, while the door was so scuffed and gouged that it looked like some creature of the night had been trying to get in. But it was still securely padlocked, and Montague Smythe got out a key, unlocked it and shoved it open, making it screech.

Once inside he quickly switched on the lights in the foyer and walked past the reception desk to the door marked BASEMENT. When he pulled that open, a stench of damp and decay surged out. He recoiled, hesitated, then reached in for the light-switches. A sixty-watt bulb at the top of the wooden stairs came on, followed by a hundred-watt bulb in the centre of the large room below, which left much of it in the clutches of darkness. Montague Smythe made his way carefully down the stairs, stepping over the ninth one down, which was rotten, and then paused at the bottom to survey the basement. It was strewn with dusty debris. His eyes picked out yellowed pages of old newspapers, a willow pattern teacup with fungus growing inside it, a long ebony shoe-horn, a splintered wine glass, a bottle of dried up black ink, a brown-stained bridal veil, a faded tartan blanket with holes in it, a dead crow, half-bricks, leprous planks of wood and a Gideon Bible with a broken spine lying on its face. Beyond all that he could see a sagging armchair and an antique dressing table with a spotted mirror. At the far end of the room and along its two long sides there was clogged shadow, with vague looming shapes and hidden recesses.

He advanced slowly, glancing round, and also looking down every now and then, to make sure he didn’t scuff his new, hand-made brogues or trip over something on the floor. After several seconds he became aware of a faint rustling ahead of him in the blackness. He stopped to listen, and gazed unseeing into the gloom. He couldn’t hear anything now. Had he just imagined it? But then the noise started up again, and became a bit louder, and seemed more like a scratching. It came and went at irregular intervals. It seemed to be made by something hard coming into contact with metal. There was a lull, then a brief frenzy of scrabbling, then only a prolonged silence. He stood there, wondering if the sound had been made by mice or even rats. It had not.

After several seconds he began walking forward again. Then he thought he glimpsed something in the dressing table’s mirror as he got nearer to it, but he couldn’t work out exactly what it was. He paused and peered. At first he could see what was apparently a wisp of smoke swirling and flickering, rising and falling. Hell – reflected smoke! Was the place on fire? He looked around the basement quickly, but there was no trace of fire there. After a minute or so the smoke began to billow out, more and more. It turned grey. Then it seemed to be forming into a figure. It was only a shape, with fuzzy edges, but it looked to him as if it might be a human shape. As he watched, it sharpened up. It was definitely a person, although it wasn’t a reflection of him, and another quick look round established that there was nobody else in the room with him. In the mirror there was somebody turned towards him, but bent double, with the head down, and the face concealed under a grey cowl. As he took a few steps forward to see better, the figure abruptly straightened up and revealed itself. It was an old monk, with a haggard, heavily lined face. The eyes were closed, as if in prayer, and the head was rocking backwards and forwards rhythmically. Suddenly the monk’s eyes snapped open, and blazed, as he glared at Montague Smythe, jabbed a withered finger at him and gibbered soundlessly. Montague Smythe took a step back in surprise. And he jumped when a deep voice close to his ear bellowed GET OUT and a perfume bottle on the dressing table exploded.

He gave a smug little smile and muttered: ‘Not bad. But a tad conventional and clichéd. I want much more frightening stuff if I’m going to pass this place off as the most haunted hotel in the Northeast.’

He had deliberately retained the haunted house exterior. Inside he had renovated the bedrooms and suites on all three floors. The man from SPOOKS INC. had made a start two days earlier on ghostly effects in the basement, which was to be the main draw for very expensive Haunted Hotel Weekends and slightly less expensive Haunted Hotel Weekdays, and Montague Smythe was there to do a spot-check on his progress so far. There were local stories about the building being haunted, by the spirit of Stan Laurel in particular, and he had really built on all that in the website he’d had set up, claiming that the comedian had committed suicide by cutting his throat in the basement. The SPOOKS INC. man was adept with motion sensors, sound recordings, plasma screens, animatronic figures and so on. Montague Smythe intended the basement to be the most sinister part of the hotel, the real seat of horror, a veritable pièce de résistance; but in the bedrooms suddenly lights and electric appliances would switch on or off, pictures would drop from the walls, doors would open or close and so forth as part of the whole haunting experience. He had also demanded listening devices in the rooms to pick up what the guests were hoping for or afraid of, so the terror could be tailored, with messages from dead relatives and similar tricks for the suckers.


His wife Daphne had put up the money for the project. He had married a plain and lonely rich woman in her early forties who had been easily ensnared by his sly ploys. After an initial money-making scheme of his failed she had been infuriatingly tight-fisted with her cash, until a few months ago, when she succumbed to a major charm offensive involving candle-lit dinners, red roses, declarations of undying love and prolonged stints of sexual intercourse with ersatz enthusiasm. She had insisted on a fifty-fifty split of the profits, but he fully intended to do the silly, sentimental bitch out of a small fortune with some creative accounting and outright lies. He knew he’d make a ton of money out of the hotel because ghost tourism had really taken off recently and brought in billions a year now.

He stood there savouring the inevitable success of his brilliant new project and the packet he’d make from gullible, superstitious fools who actually believed in ghosts - if SPOOKS INC. pulled their weight and earned their fee. He’d phone the grubby little man tomorrow and give him a flea in his ear. He’d demand greater inventiveness, more unusual effects, really singular scares for his establishment. He was paying them enough, for Christ’s sake, so they could jump to it and come up with the goods – superior shocks for a spooky scenario that would scare the punters shitless, all ready for the grand opening in the New Year.

His stomach rumbled. He suddenly realized he was hungry and decided it was time for dinner. As he turned to leave, he stood on something. He looked down and saw of all things a Brussels sprout, squashed by his foot. Then he realized that there were two sprouts next to each other with a phallic carrot in between them. He had just said to himself that there couldn’t possibly be Brussels sprouts there when he caught the unmistakeable odour of cooked sprout. That was odd, very curious. And he hated sprouts. How the hell had they got there? Clearly they weren’t old ones because of the smell…Ah yes, of course, it must have been the peasant from SPOOKS INC. He looked like the kind of creature who would eat sprouts, probably with his fingers. They must have been part of his lunch, which he’d dropped. Christ, sprouts for lunch! Still what could one expect from the lower classes? Ignorant bloody pleb. He’d have him on the carpet for that: no food in the basement, and sprouts absolutely verboten.

‘Right,’ he muttered, ‘let’s shake the dust of this place from my feet.’ He kicked the offending sprouts out of his path and picked his way through the debris, thinking how much he loathed the smell of sprouts. Immediately the slight odour of sprout gave way to a nostril-searing stink of cat-piss. My god, that’s disgusting, he thought. How did a cat get in here? There must be a hole somewhere. I’ll get the yobs to fill that in. The bloody navvies can earn their pay too. Lazy bastards were supposed to have checked the fabric of the building properly. I’ll bawl out that wog foreman tomorrow.

His stomach rumbled again and he started to think about what he would have for dinner. It was only a few days to Christmas, so maybe he’d have turkey. But without sprouts. As he formed that thought, he heard a turkey gobble somewhere in the shadows to his left. He found the coincidence unsettling. But then he told himself not to be silly. It was obviously just a sound effect for the mugs by SPOOKS INC. Still he’d gone off the idea of turkey for some reason. As he reached the bottom of the stairs, he decided on that swish new Italian restaurant. He looked at his gold Rolex, a present from his wife. That saucy little piece Randy Mandy would be off her shift soon. He’d wait for her outside the hospital, take her for a meal there, blind her with science and then go back to her place for a bonk, for several bonks in fact. Give them a good meal, and nurses were always good value, couldn’t get enough of it; handling bodies all day got them right in the mood.

As he stepped on to the lowest stair, a ukulele began to play behind him, startling him. Then a gormless voice sang: ‘I’m leaning on a lamp-post at the corner of the street in case a certain little lady comes by; oh me, oh my, I hope the little lady comes by.’ He looked into the darkness, but couldn’t see anything. He shook his head in irritation and dismissed the cheap scare. He began to think of Mandy’s breasts, those plump, delectable breasts that he’d be getting his hands on soon. Immediately the same voice chanted: ‘On the breasts of a barmaid from Sale, were tattooed the prices of ale, while on her behind, for the sake of the blind, was the same information in braille.’

Montague Smythe spun round. Then he grew angry, because he’d allowed himself to be unsettled. He’d talk to the retard from SPOOKS INC. tomorrow: he was not having a stupid song in an execrable northern accent and a naff ukulele and a dirty limerick in his haunted basement. That wasn’t weird, that wouldn’t frighten people – it was just imbecilic. He wanted much scarier stuff. His place would have class, distinction, be a cut above the opposition. As he started up the stairs, the voice spoke again. It said: ‘Hello, Monty. Slumming? That wasn’t SPOOKS INC., old boy. That was me – Stan, a real spook. You’re not very quick, are you? And no sense of humour. Don’t you want to be entertained? I used to be good at entertaining people. Me and me partner used to have them rolling in the aisles.’

Montague Smythe froze. This really was strange. But no, he must be just hearing things – trick of the acoustics or something. Yes, that’d be it. But he’d get out of the basement smartish anyway. He started up the stairs quite quickly. The ninth one down split when he put his weight on it, and he fell forward and banged his knee painfully. A mocking laugh came behind him. He scrambled to his feet and hobbled up the remaining steps more quickly. Just as he reached the top, the basement door slammed shut. He rushed at it, seized the handle and pulled hard. But he couldn’t move it. He tugged and tugged, and achieved nothing. He kicked it violently, several times, with no effect at all. The door didn’t even tremble.

The voice behind him said: ‘Time for much scarier stuff, superior shocks…You wanted weird.’ With that Montague Smythe involuntarily floated away from the door and down the stairs, watching the door now open of its own accord, tantalizingly, but unable to reach it and escape. He landed on the basement floor with a bump and immediately turned round so he couldn’t be taken from behind unawares. He tried to back on to the stairs, but he couldn’t move his feet. He stared about fearfully. The basement seemed somehow watchful, expectant. But there was silence and nothing happened. He held his breath and stared about.

After a few seconds he began to feel cold. He got colder and colder, but there was silence and nothing happened, for over a minute. He waited, helpless and taut with tension. Then the bulb in the middle of the room turned red. The diminished light that it gave off reduced visibility still further, so the darkness seemed to close in on him. It was as if the shadows were creeping up on him, to smother him. But there was still enough light for him to see the floor just in front of him start to bleed. He gaped with horror and the hairs stood up on his neck, as blood seeped up through the concrete. It formed a pool, a small pool, which grew into a larger pool. Then the blood began to squeak.

There was a faint squeaking as some of the blood was drawn off from the pool as if by a finger to form letters on the floor nearby. The letters spelled out two words. The words were HELP and STAN. Then Montague Smythe heard a clatter as a blood-stained knife fell on to the floor out of nowhere. He began to tremble, and quavered: ‘What the hell is this?’

‘Read your own website,’ growled the voice off to his right, ‘where you tell the whole world: “In a fit of depression Stan Laurel took his own life in the basement and now his spirit haunts the place.” Blabbermouth!’

Montague Smythe gasped, and then he heard the mocking laugh again. He didn’t want to turn his head to the right, for fear of what would meet his gaze. But something made him peep out of the corner of his eye. He couldn’t see anything. Then he could see something, and what he saw made him decide to close his eyes at once. What he saw was a dog, a large black dog with serpent eyes, which was talking. Its mouth twitched as he heard the words: ‘Here’s another fine mess you’ve got yourself into, you greedy, grasping sod.’

Even with his eyes shut he could still see the animal. He wondered how on earth that could be and how on earth a dog could be talking. As he wondered that, the dog seemed to say: ‘A gottle of geer, a gottle of geer.’ Then it clenched its hind quarters and appeared to fart. After a bit it came to him that it was farting the tune of Three Blind Mice. He thought he was going insane.

‘No, you’re not going insane,’ said the voice. He opened his eyes and looked at the dog in astonishment. But its mouth didn’t move as the voice added: ‘No, not there. Cold, cold (so to speak). I’m over here. On your left, old scream.’

He turned to his left and managed to make out a dim figure in the gloom. It was Stan Laurel, complete with sad clown’s face on the point of tears and vacant stare. He recognized him from old photographs. It was definitely Stan Laurel. He thought: this is bizarre, grotesque; I made this up, but it’s come true; I’m being haunted by Stan Laurel, for god’s sake; I really am going insane.

The apparition took its bowler hat off, put its hand on top of its head and scratched its spiky hair. Then it said: ‘No, you’re really not going insane. You’ve just had some strange and shocking experiences. You’ve been frightened yourself, by some genuinely supernatural phenomena, in lieu of tacky, tired little tricks. And I’m truly sorry to say it’s not over yet. Eyes front! Look straight ahead of you, not at me, you tripehound!’

Montague Smythe bit back an automatic angry response to that, then turned and looked ahead, with ice in his stomach and a growing sense of dread. Something seemed to be manifesting itself in the middle of the room. There was a vague outline – just that at first. He worried about what it was going to be. A ghost? A monster? A demon? But when it was fully formed and became clear, it was a beautiful Malaysian woman, naked except for a single slender gold anklet. After a sharp intake he stopped breathing, as he took in her large, firm breasts, her lips of fire and the stars glittering in her liquid eyes. She smiled at him seductively and slowly stroked her exuberant pubic hair. He became erect. She held out her hands to him in an imploring gesture. Then she formed her left hand into a fist, with her thumb in the air, while her other hand cupped her right breast, offering it to him.

He couldn’t help himself. He tried to go to her, he had to take up the sexy little bitch’s offer and fondle that delectable boob. But the voice on his left said: ‘Cor!...But not so fast, you twit. If you go to her, you’ll feel a right tit, in more ways than one. That is not a beautiful woman. That is a Pontianak. If you go to her, she’ll suddenly return to her true, terrifying form, and kill you. You’ll get an idea of what I mean very soon now. There’s a nail on the floor beside you. Can you see it? Right, pick it up.’

Montague Smythe snorted. It was preposterous him being lectured to and ordered about by Stan bloody Laurel, who had come out with a pun, and a smutty pun at that. He detested puns, viewed them as the lowest possible form of humour. But he picked up the nail and looked again at the beautiful Malaysian. Abruptly her breasts sagged and her face changed. He looked at it in horror. He recognized it from old footage. It couldn’t be. It was. It was the face of Margaret Thatcher! When she scowled and wagged a finger at him, the voice on his left shouted: ‘Quick, Monty! Throw the nail at her. Now!’

He did, and the apparition disappeared. The voice said: ‘Smashing, well done. But sniff. Sniff, Monty. Can you smell that pong?’

He sniffed, and he could smell a scent. He nodded and said: ‘Yes, I can smell something, but I don’t know what it is.’

‘That’s frangipani, that is. A flower found in graveyards out east. The Pontianak always leaves that scent behind when it disappears. You learn a lot when you’re dead. Well, blummineck, you’ve got a lot of time on your hands and access to all kinds of knowledge. It’s dead boring being dead, by and large, so you need to keep busy and fill the time in, reading, studying and that, or you go mad. Anyway you should be grateful to me. I’ve saved you from a flipping horrible death. I’m your saviour, I am… The Pontianak preys on travellers, posing as a beautiful female and begging a lift seductively, and can only be killed by driving a nail through the back of its neck. You learn something new every day, don’t you – well, some of us do. It’s a funny old world, isn’t it? And talking of fun, face front again. Old Maggie may have given up the ghost, but you won’t stand a ghost of a chance with this one. Eyes front.’

Montague Smythe winced at the play on words and faced front. He didn’t want to look, went to close his eyes, but the voice rapped out: ‘Oi! Better keep the peepers open, chum. Trust me, you don’t want to be caught unawares by this bugger.’

Montague Smythe examined the shadows dry-mouthed. Gradually he became aware of a stirring there, a sort of movement. Some of the blackness seemed to flow forward into the dim light and coalesce. It became a tall black man, a towering black man, with glistening skin and massive slabs of muscle. The Smythe sphincter contracted as he suddenly realized that the figure was so tall partly because it was hovering off the ground; and the feet had hooves, cow hooves. Abruptly it burst into song. It had a clogged nose, and sang in a nasal voice: ‘Do do that voodoo that you do so well.’ It followed that up with a silly high-pitched laugh. Then it stared at him, snorted and pawed the ground with one hoof.

‘Oh ‘eck,’ said the voice. ‘He hasn’t taken to you at all, Monty, has he? And that’s Moloch, horrid king besmeared with blood of human sacrifice and parents’ tears. Merde!...Just kidding. Actually it’s a Jamaican duppy. And he’s about to bite your bum. And sundry other bits. Strewth! Better leg it, Monty. Go on! Before he gets you.’

The duppy gave its shrill laugh again, and started to glide towards him. He tried to flee, but couldn’t move. It came on slowly, but relentlessly.

‘Help!’ squeaked Montague Smythe.

‘What?’ asked the voice.

‘Help me!’

‘Say “please.”’


‘Say “pretty please.”’

‘Pretty please. For Christ’s sake,’ snapped Montague Smythe.

‘Oh, don’t bring him into it. He won’t help you. Unless you can recite the Lord’s Prayer. Can you recite the Lord’s Prayer?’


‘Thought not. Heathen sod. Serves you right if the duppy gets you and eats you. All that plump, well fed flesh. Yum yum. It’ll start with your buttocks, and move on from there.’

The duppy was by now hovering menacingly over Montague Smythe and breathing on him. Its breath smelled of graveyards, of mulch and mould, of death and decay. It eyed him hungrily and licked its lips. The voice said: ‘I might just possibly be inclined to help you. But you’ve got to do exactly what I say. Will you?’

‘Yes, yes, anything you say.’

‘You didn’t do Latin at school, did you?’

‘Er, no. One did German.’

‘Oh, did one? Untermensch! Bit of a duffer at school, weren’t you, not in the top set, for the more challenging subjects. Well, no matter, if you want to get rid of this horrible get before he gobbles you down and steals your soul into the bargain, read these words out, quick!’

A series of words written in fire glowed in the air before Montague Smythe and he obediently read them out one by one just before each one disappeared: HIC EGO PER TEMPUS OMNE ERO; HOC EGO PER DIABOLUM IURO.

‘Very good, Monty, super, jolly D! The pronunciation leaves a lot to be desired, but still…Now count up to five, out loud.’


‘Count up to five out loud. Trust me.’

He counted to five and the duppy vanished. He gave a sigh of relief. The voice commented: ‘Funny thing about duppies, lady - they can only count up to four. And they sod off and leave you alone if you count up to five. So you see, it’s true what they say: there is safety in numbers…OK, now you’ve met some of me chums, it’s time for me to bare me soul, so to speak. Hope this won’t spook you too much…There’s a few more puns for you, Monty. I know what a lover of paranomasia you are, ha ha - a real punny man, aren’t you? I should cocoa! Right, er, anyway despite the local stories and your embroidery, Stan Laurel did not stay here, let alone kill himself here. He stayed in the Grand Hotel in Tynemouth, not The Grand (or Gran) here. And he died of a heart-attack, in California. I was the one who stayed here.’

As he said this, the speaker shimmered and then took on a new appearance. He grew taller and broader; and his face became quite different – with dancing black eyes, a hawk’s beak of a nose and thin lips set in a cynical smile. He was now wearing a loud red and yellow checked suit, a crimson dicky-bow and a straw boater with a yellow ribbon around it, and he was holding a cane in his right hand. He waved it like a wand and spoke: ‘Hey presto! There, I’m feeling more me old self again now. That’s better, much better.’

‘That’s a matter of opinion,’ murmured Montague Smythe, who was also feeling more his old self, now that the duppy had gone.

The ghost ignored that and went on: ‘The Stan Laurel story came about in time because I was a comedian named Stan – Cheeky Stanley Chester and his Speaking, Pumping Pooch. I was a ventriloquist too, obviously, and I did impressions and a bit of song and dance – an all-round entertainer. I used to be very popular, brought in big crowds at the theatres round here, but, well, the arrival of TV buggered all that up. All of a sudden the public wouldn’t go to see you unless you’d been on the telly, and they wouldn’t accept an act like mine on the telly. The BBC said me humour was crude and nasty, cruel even, they called me grotesque – me! They said I wasn’t smooth and sophisticated enough. Suffering cats! So, not smooth and sophisticated like Bill and bloody Ben or Mister flaming Pastry…Actually I was an intelligent man, I’d been a scholarship boy at a very good school, but I had to earn a living somehow and you can’t let intelligence show too much in an act for hoi polloi, if you want to be a hit with them…I hate the BBC. Did you know that once in the thirties someone suggested they might have a woman or someone with a northern accent to read out the news on the radio instead of a man with a posh southern accent? And they considered the suggestion, and decided they couldn’t possibly have a woman or a northerner reading out the news because none of the listeners would believe such a person. Bloody snobs…Later on I even tried the ITV, but they said I was old hat.’

Montague Smythe pursed his lips thoughtfully and nodded his approval of the BBC’s wisdom and good taste.

The ghost noted this, glared at him and continued: ‘Any road eventually I got fed up being ignored by massive audiences of up to a dozen, so I retired. I’d often stayed here, and the manager gave me a deal for a tiny room with full board, especially because his trade had fallen right off, so he was doing himself a favour rather than me, the calculating sod. Anyway I moved in here. Like many comedians I had a melancholy streak and a tendency to get depressed, and I felt that just entertaining the general public (and demeaning meself in the process) didn’t amount to much, and when I couldn’t even do that any more, I went into a decline and lost the will to live.’

What a loss to the Arts – the Noel Coward of Northumbria, thought Montague Smythe.

‘When the money ran out, I killed meself. And the dog. As you can see, he doesn’t hold it against me. He’s stayed with me (dogging me footsteps, you might say), and he still helps me out when needed, with a bit of twitching and clenching. We hung around here after I snuffed it because it was nice and quiet, especially in the basement. By then the holiday-makers were going to Spain more and more on package holidays and English seaside resorts were emptying out. Soon the hotel went bust and closed down. After a lifetime of being on show in front of people and having to put on an act to please them, and then being ignored or even heckled by the ungrateful buggers, I wanted nothing to do with people any more. I really enjoyed the privacy and isolation, with nobody around to annoy me.

Well, apart from that time in the early seventies when those two kids broke in, the two brothers. Jeez, I hate kids. Any road, these two teenagers got in here with torches and started poking around and trying to scare each other and daring each other. Really irritating. Then one of them said: “If there really is a spirit here, appear to us now.” So I made the main light work again and showed them directly under it a phantom fetus, a bloody lump with a face like theirs (same nose and chin). Then the fetus speaks, in a squeaky little voice. It says: “Hiya, Jimmy, Hiya, Danny. I’m your baby brother. Our mum had an abortion and got shut of me, killed me, but I’m always with you (me ghost is), watching what you’re doing, longing to be part of your lives. I love you, lads, I love you both. And now you’ve conjured me up I can show it. Give us a hug, Danny. Give us a kiss, Jimmy.” And with that the fetus begins to propel itself along towards them with its little flippers, leaving this smeary, slobbery trail behind it. For some reason that really did their heads in, the little fruits, and they ran off screaming, ha ha…Word must have spread, because nobody bothered me after that for ages.’

‘My god, that’s disgusting,’ said Montague Smythe in a voice filled with distaste. ‘Still what can you expect from someone who –‘

‘Oh shut your trap…Then you bought the place. It was bad enough having builders in renovating the rooms, with all the noise and upheaval upstairs, spoiling me concentration. But then that bloke from SPOOKS INC. turns up down here. Monkeying around to put on a tawdry fake spook-show, so you can bring in hundreds and hundreds of ghost-hunters down here, disturbing me…TV ruined me life, and you were going to ruin me afterlife. So I’ve been waiting eagerly for you to show up. I’ve been dying for that, you might say. Then again you might not. Anyway –‘

‘Look, must you make these awful puns?’ asked Montague Smythe, pulling a face. ‘It’s gruesome – a ghost making puns. I can’t take much more of that –‘

‘As the actress said to the bishop. Sorry about the puns, old chap, so sorry if they offend your delicate sensibility… Right, the reason why I was keen to meet you was so I could show you the real thing spookwise, and have a bit of intellectual sport, have some fun with you, have a laugh for a change – well, I am a comedian after all, and I have been just a teensy-weensy bit bored down here…You really are a repulsive bloody reptile, Monty. I only need to look at you to know why I despise the whole human race. You’re an operator, you intended to trick the punters, and you mock them for believing in ghosts and being scared of them. So I just couldn’t resist tricking you and mocking you and scaring you shitless.’

‘And you made a very good job of it, aahm, yes, I have to compliment you on your performance,’ said Montague Smythe smoothly. He had suddenly realized that this ghost, as the real thing, would be extremely efficient at scaring people, so if he could win it over, he could sack SPOOKS INC. and save lots of money there, and there’d be no risk of exposure of fakery.

‘Don’t you smarm up to me, mate,’ said the ghost. ‘Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to. I’m really pissed off with you now. I resented the intrusion, but I really resent the idea of you exploiting me. So you will be replacing me as the main attraction and you will be the one exploited. Step right up, you’re the main attraction. You’ll be discovered here tomorrow, dead, at the foot of the stairs, with your face set in a rictus of horror. And next to your corpse they’ll find written on the floor in blood: DAPHNE, MY UNQUIET SPIRIT WILL HAUNT THIS PLACE FOR ALL TIME. TELL THE PUNTERS AND MAKE A PACKET. THIS IS MY DYING WISH. YOUR LOVING MONTY. The second and third sentences will fade away after your wife reads them, but the rest won’t. She’ll duly contact the media, and she’ll put that detail about the haunting on your crummy lying website. The punters will soon descend in large numbers, and those with any kind of psychic sensitivity will see you and spread the word. So your wife will make a small fortune out of you, and you won’t be around to cheat her out of any of it, you cad, you meanie, you blue-arsed bloody lobby-snaker.’

Montague Smythe snorted and came back loftily: ‘Ha! You needn’t think I’ll meekly fall in with your plans, you bloody oik. I have no intention of staying here and being plagued by ghost-hunters. I’ll, re, I’ll just decamp, go off somewhere else and spoil your sordid little scenario. Just see if I don’t!’

‘Oh deary deary me. Don’t even think of doing that, Monty me lad. That bit of Latin that you read out a while back? Remember that?’

‘Um, yes,’ said Montague Smythe, wary now.

‘Well, one really should have taken Latin at school. I can’t stress too much the benefits of a Classical education. As a cleric once averred, it elevates above the common herd and fits one for positions of considerable emolument. And, if you’d understood what you were actually saying, it would have stopped you swearing in the name of the Devil that you would remain here for all time. Which is what you did by reading those words out. As incautious as Cydippe.  I just knew that once you accepted that I was a ghost, your devious little mind would start working overtime and you’d have an eye to the main chance and try to use me.’

‘What?’ spluttered Montague Smythe in outrage. ‘But I didn’t know what I was saying. You, you tricked me. That’s immoral. I’ll have you know –‘

‘Oh shut your cakehole! You said the words, and iuro means “I swear”, so you swore an oath, Sheisskopf, and you swore it by Lucifer, the Antichrist, Apollyon, Abbadon – whatever you want to call him. So don’t imagine for one second that you can leave here and get away with it. As you can imagine, the Evil One gets pretty pissed off when people take his name in vain. The Prince of Darkness gets cross if you cross him and he does horrible things to you.’

Montague Smythe blustered: ‘Oh come on! Stuff and nonsense! The devil’s a fairy story, put about by the church to scare gullible fools. Every intelligent person knows that.’

‘So that would let you out. You really are an arrogant, superior sod, flown with insolence, if not wine… OK, Mister Smarty-pants, take a look at this. Over there to your right is a Gateway To Hell, which is now being opened. See it?’

Montague Smythe did, and nodded unhappily, as a trap-door opened in the floor and he gazed down into an abyss filled with fire and smoke, with shadows and gibbets, with tormented souls and tormenting demons.

‘And do you see who’s down there on the left, someone who enraged His Satanic Majesty and is now undergoing condign punishment for that? Can’t you see her? Hell’s teeth! Do you see inside the bubble the great big rabbit with snow-shoes on and a sprig of holly growing out of its bum? Yeah? Right, just in front of that is the huge pair of ears with a knife sticking out between them, walking along on those big feet. Got them? OK, now look just to the left of the ears. See her? Yes, it’s your gran (well this hotel is The Gran after all). Yes, your poor little old gran, the only person in the world you ever loved (well, a bit, and apart from yourself that is). And she loved you.’

The ghost let Montague Smythe take in the Bosch-inspired Hell that he had created and then continued, lying: ‘She loved you so much that she sold her soul to the Devil in return for a long and prosperous life for you. But then, when she got old, well, she got on to a priest and tried to go back on the deal. Still what can you expect from a family like yours? Tsk tsk. Crossing the Archfiend is a bum move, as you are about to see.’

Montague Smythe tried to close his eyes, but found that he couldn’t, and so was forced to watch the fiery fiend next to his grandmother pick her up in one horny hand and cram her into his black gaping mouth, head first. Her feet in her fur booties waved about feebly until she was gulped down whole. Then a substantial lump could be seen slowly making its way down the gullet, jiggling slightly at first, and then no longer jiggling. After about forty seconds in the bowels the old lady was expelled from the anus with a splat and a splash in a brown deluge.

‘That’s what’s known as a bum’s rush,’ said the ghost. ‘I told you crossing Satan was a crap idea, didn’t I? And the dysenteric demon Asmodeus is now going to repeat that whole process da capo, after your gran has wiped the pooh off her glasses, so she can see what’s happening to her. And he’ll continue to repeat that process for all time, for ever and ever, throughout eternity…So think on. Leaving here is not an option for you. Unless you fancy something like that for yourself. Or something even worse.’

Montague Smythe gulped. He was a bit put out over his gran’s sufferings and absolutely appalled at the prospects for himself. He could find nothing to say.

‘What’s up? Cat got your tongue? Right, so you’ll be staying here. As for me, it’ll be far too noisy and crowded here for me, with wall-to-wall gawping ghost-hunters, so I’ll be moving on. I’ve got me eye on somewhere else, a very undesirable property, heavily contaminated by chemical and nuclear waste. But of course all that doesn’t bother me at all, and it’ll keep bloody people away, so I’ll be having some lovely peace and quiet again…OK? All clear? Good. So, I’ll be leaving you now. Toodle pip, old fruit!’

With that the Gateway To Hell closed up and the spectre glided off towards the far end of the basement. But then the spirit paused and said: ‘Hang on. Let me see. Was there something else before I go? Oh yes, of course. Silly me. Fancy forgetting that - the minor matter of the rictus.’

The phantom floated back, went up close to Montague Smythe’s face and looked deeply into his eyes. Then the ghost suddenly screamed - a shrill, ear-rending scream beyond all human endurance.




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