The Old Haunt
WITH HORROR, Grace realized that she was dead, and that she was now a ghost, and that she would be doomed to haunt the dark, dank, dusty halls of Chuffnuttington Manor for all eternity. What would become of her darling children? What of her dear husband, who had not the least idea of how to order dinner?
“Dearest maman, you are mistaken,” said her suddenly-appearing twin children, Catarina and Carl. “It is we who have passed on to become phantoms and not you.” They perched on tricycles before her, extremely pale and extremely calm, just as eerie in death as in life, for they had since infancy a penchant for talking in burps. “Do not fear,” they chimed in unison. “We are ever so happy. We play all the day, and our laughter shall fill your dreams.”
“How awful,” said Grace.
But then suddenly bursting into the room was her husband, Barley, seaweed covering his drenched tuxedo. “Darling, darling,” he uttered. “How silly you are. It is not you who are the haunting spirit, but I. And before I ascend to the light, I’d like you to take note of a few things, such as how to work the boiler, and that I squandered your family’s fortune on Internet gambling.”
“Oh, Barley!” said Grace.
“Nonsense!” came a voice, hinting of evil and too much apricot brandy. It was the voice of Barley’s father, Lord Chuffnuttington. He floated into the room in his cape and patent leather mandals. “I am the true ghost who haunts Chuffnuttington Manor! All the guests have been tricked into coming here by my missive from the Other Side—you know, Connecticut.”
Just then, the guests filed into the parlor, slowly, ponderously. The young couple who needed only some trauma to reaffirm their love for one another, the comely-yet-duplicitous real estate agent, and the diminutive psychic who was less a psychic and more just a very sensitive Virgo. All of them claimed to be the true ghost.
“FOOLS!” came the snarling voice with a geographically-unplaceable accent, of Carla Van Carla, the maid/chef/groundskeeper/mechanic/reiki master. “I’ve reached back from the Darkness to haunt you all for your sins!”v
“But then who made the hors d’oeuvres?” said Grace.
“The canapés were to die for,” noted Barley.
“This cannot be!” pronounced Lord Chuffnuttington. “We can’t all be ghosts.”
“Wait! I know!” said the diminutive Virgo not-really-a-psychic. “It’s the house!”
Just then the doors creaked, an ancient clock chimed, and a microwave dinged, like a forewarning of malevolence.
“The house is a ghost! The house is a ghost!” burped the twins in tandem.
“That explains the horrible wifi,” said the male half of the young couple.
“There is an old Indian burial ground below the library,” said the lovely-but-larcenous real estate agent. “But with its lovely view of the gardens and some curtains, it could be turned into a casino room.”
All of a sudden, the faithful old Rottweiler, who had a predilection for stealing and then chewing Barley’s private lingerie collection, appeared in the doorway and deeply barked: “Ridiculous bipeds! Hear me, Rugtug Catkiller, for that is my true name among my kind. I passed into the Great Nap, but I have brought you here to hear my plea from the Eternal Yard of Light.”
“Shoo, Peaches, you demon hellhound,” said Barley, who disliked the dog for what it had done to his corsets and who, like all the others, had not understood a word it had said.
Then, in the abnormal stillness that followed, they realized that they were all alive, that none of them was a ghost, apparition, or poltergeist, and that they were, in point of fact, merely bored, high on Ritalin, needing to potty, married, senile, emotionally stunted, manic depressive, plagued by dreams of Cthulhu, Libertarian, on steroids, in need of a paint job, and/or in gay denial, respectively.
Things seemed to go well after that, until Grace suggested a round of charades. The others quickly overpowered her, cooked her, and ate her like livestock. The twins particularly enjoyed her shins. “Maman is a tasty maman,” they said, eructating in harmony.
At midnight, their bellies filled, their mouths greasy, they sat round the cavernous library with its cavernous fireplace, and a cavernous bowl of popcorn, and, realizing after all that there was indeed nothing else to do, began a ripping game of charades.
“First word,” said the ventriloquist’s dummy, which had arrived alone and which had heretofore been silent. “One syllable.”
Originally published in Nightmare Illustrated.