Not all hauntings are Hollywood horror-shows.
“He’s going to be insufferable if we accept it.” Sarah says, hands on her hips, an intent stare trained on the it in question.
Jim sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose beneath his glasses, takes a moment to compose himself before he replies, “Yeah.”
“But we’re going to do it anyway because it’s either this,” Sarah sweeps a hand toward the object of their discussion, “Or we’re homeless with enough bloody debt to carry us to the grave.”
Jim blows a resigned raspberry, rolls his shoulders back and tilts his head in mild consideration, “Yeah.”
“Great,” Sarah claps, the noise oozing sarcasm in a way her words don’t quite manage, “So we’re going to accept it, get the roofers off our backs, and then deal with the repercussions – of which there will undoubtedly be many,” She holds up a finger to stay the argument Jim opens his mouth to deliver, “Don’t. We both know he doesn’t do random acts of kindness, Jimmy. He’s not our Fairy Godmother—” Sarah pauses, deliberates the concept and then shakes her head violently as if to banish the very thought, “No, he’s absolutely not a Fairy Godmother. So,” She rounds on Jim, stone and iron and immovable mountains in her stance, “If we do this, we can’t leave. Right?”
Jim deflates, “…Yeah.”
“As in, and I need to say this out loud to make it abundantly clear, we are committing to this one-hundred percent and have to see it through to the end.”
There’s a heavy beat that Jim uses to reflect on all the ways his life is going to be made a living hell for the foreseeable future. He releases a breathy, “Yeah.”
In tandem, Jim and Sarah each drag a chair away from the table and collapse into their seats, their eyes going distant when they land on the doctor’s bag. It’s a classic design of supple, tanned leather and tarnished brass fittings, perfectly unremarkable apart from the staggering amount of money it contains within it and the sigil stamped on the catch. The very nature of its existence mocks them from where it sits between Sarah’s hideous, pug-shaped salt and pepper shakers, reminding them that Waxbourne Hall isn’t really theirs no matter how many documents they signed that state otherwise.
No, Waxbourne Hall has and will always belong to its last master, the late Marquess Reginald P. Waxbourne. A man who died in superstitious scandal and took his fortune with him. A man who catches Jim’s gaze over the doctor’s bag, sporting a grin on his translucent face that incites feelings of annoyance and frustration, bobbing where he hovers above the seat of the chair directly across from Jim and Sarah.
Reginald is (or was) a questionable gentleman, made of long limbs and a lean body wrapped in the expertly tailored fashion of his time. His face is silvery pale, the hollows between his proud features mired in shadow, and would still be handsome if it weren’t for the crusty clumps of foam and sick clung to the bottom half of his face and down his front.
“That should do it, ay?” Reginald beams and nods toward the bag, floating higher than the table until he notices and corrects himself. “And, I say this with the utmost sincerity: I vow to be as sufferable as it would please you.”
Sarah crumples forward with a groan, elbows on her knees, head falling into her hands. Jim throws a prayer at the ceiling as a last resort. He knows he’s not going to receive any last-minute opinions from God in regard to whether or not it’s worth it to basically pledge his and Sarah’s eternal souls for a piece of Reginald’s vanished fortune, but it feels like the right thing to do given their predicament.
Before taking the leap to purchase and renovate Waxbourne Hall, Jim and Sarah never bothered with the supernatural. Like most things, they thought about it when the subject was raised and then allowed it to slip from their minds as soon as the subject was dropped. Even once they began work in the east wing (where hints of a supernatural presence are now, in hindsight, glaringly obvious), neither believed ghosts could be behind the majority of the problems they encountered.
Waxbourne Hall is huge and magnificent and sprawls across 12 hectares with an unobstructed view of the village below and the rolling, green hills beyond. It was exactly the kind of project those who seek to give themselves a sense of purpose eagerly shed their lives for and assume with gusto. The Hall stood abandoned since Reginald’s death, the property vaguely managed by distant relatives who wanted nothing to do with the place and were therefore willing to accept peanuts in exchange for washing their hands of it.
Jim and Sarah were warned – clue number one that something was amiss, gleefully dismissed – that the Hall was a gateway to Hell; that Reginald practiced the occult in order to find a way to tether himself to the earthly plane so he may bask in his vast wealth forever. That the final ritual Reginald performed was, according to the local gazette, a grotesque display of sex and blood magic which resulted in his death and the death of his wife, Agatha, his maid-slash-mistress, Cassiopeia, and, for some odd reason that Reginald has yet to clear up, one of his former gardeners, the simple and witless Dillard – whether it’s a first or last name, no one will ever know (though not for lack of trying; Dillard merely seems disinclined to answer).
The room Reginald used to perform the ritual remains cluttered with disturbing artifacts and an inspiring collection of different translations of the Kama Sutra. Blood stains the floors in shades of grey at three cardinal points and in the center of the pentagram charred into the oak. None of the contractors Jim and Sarah hired dared enter the room without a priest. The priest refused to visit the Hall under any circumstances, his use of profanity colorful and damning, and so Jim accepted it as a personal side-project. That should’ve been clue number two.
Hidden amongst Reginald’s books was clue number three which Jim delightfully ignored: A little black book detailing the last few months of Reginald’s life and what he intended to accomplish with the sexy, bloody, murder-sacrifice-y ritual. Jim deeply regrets not giving the little black book more of his attention as Reginald later revealed – the cheeky prick – that its pages contain a map to his vanished fortune in the form of a cipher. If Jim had just read more carefully, he and Sarah wouldn’t have had to sink everything they had into Waxbourne Hall and its grocery list of troubles.
Jim studies the bag on the table, ponders the £20 000 worth of Victorian-issued banknotes within, wonders if perhaps this isn’t Reginald trying to bind him and Sarah to Waxbourne Hall after all, but a way of making amends for chasing away more contractors than there are available in the immediate area. The money won’t solve every problem they’ve accumulated since moving in however, it would alleviate a fair chunk of their stress and get them back on track.
And then Jim recalls the fourth, fifth and sixth clues – eerie sounds, rancid smells, objects shattering and lights flickering – and his stomach sours at the thought of spending his afterlife in the company of a foursome as infuriating as the one who haunts the Hall. Never mind the seventh and eighth clues – the final act of Reginald’s dismal haunting – that rendered Jim and Sarah grudgingly psychic. Electrocution and defenestration, respectively; dead for enough seconds each to graze the Light with their fingertips before being slammed back into their bodies with the horrible ability to see dead people.
After the revelation that the Hall was never vacant, Reginald, Agatha, Cassiopeia and Dillard made it their mission to keep Jim and Sarah around, partially because the ghosts genuinely enjoy their company and greatly because Jim and Sarah introduced them to Coronation Street and would be remiss if they let Jim and Sarah leave before they’ve watched it all.
Sarah’s chair creaks as she repositions herself, leaning her upper body into Jim’s space to whisper, “We could leave. Go back to the city, stay with my mum and dad for awhile until we get back on our feet…”
The disappointment in her voice pulls at Jim’s heartstrings as much as the idea of drowning under more debt than they’re capable of paying back in two lifetimes. He moans weakly, massages his temples, and replies, “No, no, we’ll—we should do it.”
The decision wouldn’t be difficult if Reginald weren’t so Reginald. Constantly skulking around the corners of their bedroom when they try to do the do; popping into the bathroom while Jim’s in the shower (he got himself a membership to the local boxing club just to use their facilities for twenty-five minutes a day); purposefully terrifying with a horrifying, decomposed illusion he mocked up to keep Jim on his toes. God, he should grab Sarah, get in the car and go, what are they thinking!?
“It is a gift, my boy,” Reginald says, his echoey voice softer and more sincere than Jim’s ever heard it.
When Jim looks up, the smile beneath Reginald’s beard is small, almost fatherly. Agatha, straight-backed and demure as she pointedly observes Jim and Sarah’s struggle, offers an unexpected wink that feels out of place on her otherwise expressionless face.
The mild affection is immediately cast aside when Cassiopeia speaks, imploring gaze on Sarah, “It has been marvelous having a proper woman around to speak to.”
She pouts at Agatha’s scoff and unimpressed side-eye.
The whole display unfurls something warm and worryingly close to a feeling of fondness in Jim’s chest. Sarah is clearly equally as affected, taking Jim’s hand in hers and pulling it onto her lap, her eyes sparkling. She glances again at the doctor’s bag, at Reginald’s sigil stamped into the brass, up to Reginald’s face and then finally slants her gaze to Jim.
“No going back.” Her lips quirk in the corners.
Jim heaves a sigh out his nose, huffs a laugh and says, “Yeah.”
Besides, if they stick around long enough, Jim surmises, they’ll – hopefully, eventually – stumble upon Reginald’s hidden fortune and can then hire an exorcist to grant Jim the peace and privacy to shower at home.