Hello, everyone! It’s Thursday again, and time for another story! This week’s offering was prompted by a fellow blogger and fiction writer, Sarah. Sarah suggested that I write a story about a ghost who is haunted by a human who won’t leave them alone. Well, I thought that was a bloody brilliant idea and so I went for it. Thank you, Sarah!
Here’s what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.
P.S. If any of you lovely readers out there would like to suggest a story for me to write on another Thursday, please tell me so by leaving a comment. Thanks!
The Boy and the Oak Tree
By Adam Dixon
“Heaven preserve me, not again!” Catherine groaned as she saw the boy approaching. She’d had it up to her undead neck of his gawking but she could not dissuade him from returning night after night. She considered vanishing from sight or disappearing into the gnarled oak nearby but dismissed the thought. The cursed lad would only hang around anyway! So instead she was forced to wait until he had crested the grassy hill and strode eagerly towards her. He looked like a hound loping towards his master. Idiot boy.
“So, here you are again, boy,” Catherine sighed, resting her hands on her hips.
“Course I am, Cathy!” the youth squeaked, his pimpled face lighting up. He was roughly eleven or twelve years old, rather small and bespectacled. “I told you I’d be back, didn’t I? I don’t like to think of you being stuck here by yourself.”
“I have managed perfectly well for over a century, thank you very much!” Catherine snapped.
“Yeah, but now you don’t have to!” the youth said. He brushed aside lock of lank, greasy hair as it strayed across his eyes and winked at his pale companion. “I’ve got your back, Cathy!”
“Will you stop calling me Cathy!” Catherine shouted, her neat hair springing loose from beneath her bonnet. “Really, young man, you are far too familiar! A woman of my station should be addressed as “my Lady”, never by her Christian name, or by any ludicrous shortening of it! If you must insist on invading my solitude then you must learn to address me correctly!”
“As you wish, my lady!” the lad chuckled and bowed low, sweeping his right arm around in a flourrish. He glanced up from his stoop, frowning at Catherine.
“By the way, Cathy,” he asked. “What’s your station, anyway?” Catherine raised her eyes to the sky and wondered what she had done to deserve such a tiresome companion.
“In life I was the Lady Catherine Seymour of Somerset, boy,” she replied, standing straight and regaining her poise. “I did not suffer fools then and I do not intend to begin doing so now! Consider yourself warned!”
“Sure thing, Cathy!” the lad winked again and sat down on the grass. Catherine longed for the dawn and wondered if all modern children were as irritating as this one. She grumbled to herself and stalked over to the other side of the oak, wishing that the boy would leave her alone.
A few years passed and the boy continued to return. Catherine’s annoyance had lessened somewhat but she still found strong words to say to him.
“Young man, why in God’s name are you wearing that awful shirt?” she demanded, her stern face darkened by a frown. The boy glanced down at his t-shirt. He had grown a few inches taller and had the feeble beginnings of a moustache growing above his lip.
“It’s just a band shirt, Cathy,” he replied, scratching at his bony elbow.
“It has the image of a lunatic displayed on it!” Catherine protested.
“Oh yeah, they’re called Iron Maiden, and that bloke’s their mascot. They’re awesome! I’ll bring my iPhone next time and play you some of their music!” The lad was grinning with excitement.
“Hmph!” Catherine said, grimacing. “Keep your ridiculous fashions to yourself, please!” Catherine folded her arms and sat down beside the oak. The lad sighed and settled on the hill next to her. After a few moments of silence and picking at blades of grass he spoke again.
“Cathy, I’ve been reading up about ghosts,” he said. “And it’s got me thinking. I reckon you’re a lost spirit, held here because of unfinished business during your life.”
“Fascinating.” Catherine replied, rolling her eyes. The moon was full that night and she enjoyed the way her ethereal form seemed to absorb its lunar glow. She almost felt beautiful..
“I was thinking that if we can find out what yours is, we can help you move on. You know, to the afterlife!” The lad’s eyes shone behind his spectacles. “You could finally rest, Cathy!”
Catherine tutted and glared at the lad.
“Do you think that a few books will reveal the mysteries of the afterlife to you?” she said. “I am bound here because of the life I led and the manner of my death, nothing more. God has not seen fit to allow me into Heaven and this is a reality I must accept. Clearly, you have been guided towards me as part of my punishment!”
“Oh, don’t be like that, Cathy!” the lad looked hurt. “Come on, there must be something we can work with? Maybe your death! How did you die, anyway?”
“I took my own life on 8th June 1867.” She turned her head, her ghostly eyes meeting the lad’s shocked ones.
They did not say anything for the rest of that evening.
“Hi, Cathy,” the lad said, although in truth he was no longer a lad. He had grown tall and his body had filled out leaving him looking healthy and strong. His pimpled face had smoothed and his cheeks boasted the stubble of a man. He looked rather fetching, although Catherine would never tell him that.
“Hello again,” she said, scratching her nose with pale fingers. “It has been a month since your previous visit. I was beginning to believe that I had finally gotten rid of you.”
“Ha! Never that easily!” the man chuckled. He became serious and stepped closer to Catherine. “Listen, I’ve been reading more on unfinished business,” the lad’s voice had taken on a bass rumble which reminded Catherine of father. She found the faded memories it evoked unsettling.
“Have you, indeed?” She asked, inspecting a translucent nail.
“Yeah, I have,” the man replied. “I think it’s time you moved on, Cathy. All the books I’ve read tell me that you need to move on soon or you’ll lose what’s left of your mind. You’ll end up like a wraith. Now, I’ve spoken to a local reverend who can talk to spirits as well and I think he can-“
“No!” Catherine said, quivering with sudden rage. “I refuse to be examined by any priest! It is bad enough that you are still visiting me! No, I forbid it!” The man sighed.
“Alright, alright,” he said as he shrugged his shoulders. “No priests. But I’d still like to help you, Cathy. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do since I found you here.”
“Your concern is neither desired nor appreciated!” Catherine lied. She had warmed to the man over the years despite her better judgement. She found his drive to help her to be sweet, if rather annoying at times. If only she had received that level of dedication from her family…
“You’ve still got such a way with words, Cathy,” the man laughed and shook his head. Catherine turned her back on the man, hiding a smile as it crept across her face.
“I think it’s time, Cathy,” the old man said. Catherine had watched the man shamble up and over the crest, feeling pity overwhelm her excitement. By then she openly looked forward to his visits, although she couldn’t remember when that had occurred. She found a sense of solace in his company which she had lacked during the century she had stood alone.
“What do you mean, young man?” she asked. She still insisted on calling him “young man” despite his physical seniority over her, her trump card being that she had existed for almost two centuries and him not quite one.
“I’m dying, Cathy,” the man wheezed, mopping at his sweating brow with a tissue. He looked terrible: his eyes were sunken in purple pits and the pallor of his skin was akin to Catherine’s. Catherine gasped, moving towards him.
“What? But…you can’t!” she spluttered. “You can’t die! I…how will you visit me?”
“I won’t, that’s the real kick in teeth,” the old man replied, a wry smile tugging at his lips. He closed his eyes and grimaced, a hand over his heart. Catherine reached out to touch his hand. Her arm passed through his body without resistance and in that moment she became aware of the weak fluttering of his pulse. It was like a fly struggling against the paper which held it stuck.
“Ooooh, don’t do that, Cathy!” the man laughed, pausing to cough. “I’m cold enough in this bloody gown!” The hospital gown was already grass-stained and it rustled gently in the wind. Catherine withdrew her arm, desperate for something to say.
“I…but…you can’t…” Catherine had never felt so terrified. She had become familiar with her solitude in the previous century, but the time before she knew the boy seemed aeons ago. She was afraid to go back to those long lonely nights. Horribly, mind-numbingly afraid.
“It’ll be alright, Cathy,” the old man said. He lay down and ran a skeletal finger across his white moustache.
“But why…are you here?” Catherine managed to ask. “You’re sick…surely you ought to be with a doctor, or at least a family member or a friend?” The old man smiled weakly.
“I was, but I managed to give them the slip,” he chuckled briefly before a series of racking coughs stopped him. Catherine’s heart wrenched with every one, her eyes widening in alarm as spots of blood flew from the man’s lips and decorated his gown. He finally stopped and rested his head again, panting.
“I…had to see you…again,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. His eyes flickered towards Catherine. “One last…visit.”
“But what shall I do without you?” Catherine wailed, feeling wretched and helpless. “You brought light to my existence when all I could see was darkness! My family and friends never cared a whit for me, not like you do!” She cast her head about to and fro, as if her denial could prevent the inevitable. “I never even asked you your name!” She cried, half in disbelief. Had she really never asked him that?! The man smiled again and spoke, his voice barely audible over the sound of the blowing wind. Catherine leaned in close, afraid that the jealous breeze would snatch away the man’s words.
“Can still…help…unfinished…business…” the man’s eyes closed and his final breath stumbled from his throat as a rasping sigh. Catherine stared down at the body of her only friend, aghast and dumbstruck. She felt the unbearable weight of loneliness crashing down on her ghostly form, twisting her heart into painful knots which could not be untied. She squeezed her eyes shut against the tears which would have flooded her face if she still had the capacity to weep.
“Damn you, boy!” she croaked, her throat constricted with emotion. “You have abandoned me…just like everyone else!”
“Oh, don’t be like that, Cathy!” A voice squeaked behind her. Catherine whirled and stood facing the spectral apparition of a young boy. Her boy! There he stood, looking as scrawny and puppy-like as the day they had met, with the familiar huge grin on his face. He scratched at his elbow and laughed as Catherine stood agape.
“What? How…?” Catherine stammered. She looked behind her to confirm that the body of the old man was still there. It was, and it lay peacefully under the oak tree.
“Unfinished business, Cathy,” the boy replied, winking at her. “All those years you sneered at the idea and here I am!” Catherine stared at him.
“But…what business have you left unfinished?” She asked, her mind a mess of confusion. The boy stepped towards her and touched her hand. Catherine gasped as she felt his cold fingers encircle hers.
“You, Cathy,” he said. “I still need to help you move on, remember?” Catherine trembled with emotion, startled by the first feeling of contact she had had in so many years.
“I figured out what’s been holding you back, too,” the boy said, taking Catherine’s other hand. Catherine looked deep into his eyes, marvelling at how beautiful they were now that they glowed with pale light.
“You never found anyone who cared about you enough,” he said. He moved a half-step closer and slid his arms around Catherine’s waist. He embraced her fondly, resting his head on her chest. “Well, now you have” he whispered, as if to a lover. Catherine’s eyes opened wide. The bubbling cauldron of emotion within her spilled over and she threw her arms around the boy, trembling.
“Oh, it is you!” She said. “After all this time waiting and it has been you all along!” She wanted to say more but could not find the words. Instead she held the boy tightly, not daring to let go. They stood for a several glorious minutes, clinging to one another like reunited sweethearts. Finally, the boy looked up at Catherine.
“It’s time,” he said with a smile. He took her hand and begun to lead her away from the oak. Catherine was afraid again, feeling the first beginnings of panic flare in her breast as she glanced back at her death tree. It had been a solid, stalwart reminder of her past for countless days and she felt uneasy about leaving it. But one look back at the boy’s eager face banished all of her doubts. The boy released her hand and made an exaggerated bow.
“After you, my lady!” he said. Catherine laughed long and loud, the joyous sound echoing into the night. She moved confidently towards the moonlit field beyond, taking the boy’s hand once again. In an instant they had disappeared together, their ephemeral bodies vanishing like smoke before a breeze. The wind blew through the now empty field, and even the old oak tree seemed to sigh. Catherine Seymour had moved on at last.