John Martin relaxed in his
armchair near the left of the open fireplace, where a log fire
roared. He puffed at the stem of a blackwood pipe, filling the
air around himself with a pungent smoke. On his right, David
Farrar sat sipping tawny port and pondering over the chess board
that sat between the two men upon a squat, white marble coffee
The chess game had once been a
weekly ritual between the two men, however, they had not played a
game together in twenty years, before tonight.
Farrar had just made up his
mind to take Martin's rook with his own bishop, when the silence
was broken by an ominous howling, "Wooooooooo!" It appeared to
have originated from close by, yet Farrar was unable to locate
its source after twisting around to the left, then to the
"Imagination," he had just
conceded to himself when, "Wooooooooo!" came the noise again, as
though to assert its reality.
"What was that?" he asked
"What was what?"
"That howling noise, didn't you
"Oh, the howling ... You know,
I've become so used to it that I hardly notice any
"Well then, what was
"Don't worry, it's only
"Who in the world is
"Peter Wilson, the house
"The house...? Oh come on
now, John, nobody believes in ghosts anymore."
"Perhaps not, but try telling
Pete he doesn't exist, and see how far you get."
"Wooooooooo!" came the howling
"Well, he certainly wants to
put his two cents' worth in," remarked Farrar taking Martin's
rook with his bishop, only to see his bishop taken by Martin's
queen, placing him into check. "It's a pity he can't
"Check! Oh, he can talk all
"Then why does he only howl?"
shifting his knight between Martin's queen and his own king,
hoping that Martin would take the knight so that he in turn could
take Martin's queen with his rook. "I suppose he's one of those
distressed ghosts ... the misplaced person in life, who, lost in
limbo after death, howls to let the world know of his sorrow.
And continues to do so until some great wrong has been
"You don't really expect me to
be taken in by such an obvious ploy?" shifting his queen to the
safety of his own half of the board. "No, he wasn't a misplaced
person in life. In fact he had a great life, he was Vice
President at a major computer firm and was earning a packet.
Far more than you or I could ever dream of bringing
"Then it must be out of
loneliness! He was starved of love in life, or else had a great
love stolen from him!"
"No, he was never alone, let
alone lonely, he was the life of the party wherever he went.
Pete was one of that rare breed who manage to be both a man's man
and a lady's man at the same time. As for his love life, I've
never seen a healthier one," leaning over to prod at the fire
with a poker that stood near the hearth. "While most men
struggle to pick up women, Pete had his pick of the crop: brains
or beauty; blonde, brunette, or redhead, tall, medium, or short
... you name it."
"Ah!" cried Farrar, certain at
last that he had the answer. "Now I've got it, he had such a
great life that he's upset at his death and is in
"No," moving bishop to check.
"Pete always did have a very macabre sense of humour, he simply
loves being a ghost."
"I see," moving his rook in
front of his king to get out of check. "In other words, he
haunts just for the sheer love of haunting."
"No, not quite," moving up his
queen to take bishop and checkmate. "Checkmate. Care for
"Not until you've told me why
Pete is haunting you," insisted Farrar, "and why he howls instead
"Oh very well, I suppose I'll
have to tell you all about it." But first he stopped to clean
out his pipe, tapping the bowl lightly upon the hearth. Then,
taking a small pouch of tobacco from his pocket, he refilled the
pipe and relit it, before beginning his story -- all to the
obvious annoyance of David Farrar.
"It wasn't mere chance that
Pete chose to haunt me. We've known each other all our lives,
and since then in Pete's case. We were raised in the same
district and our mothers were second-cousins, so we were
continually being thrown together whether we liked it or not.
And we most certainly did not.
"We were bitter enemies right
throughout our school days, then, when we left school we went to
work for the same firm. Pete left school a year earlier than I,
after doing year eleven. I went on to Matriculate with first
honours in four out of five subjects.
"Having started a year after
Pete, you would naturally expect him to have been promoted ahead
of me. However, when the first promotion came up it went my
way. Apparently the bosses thought education counted for more
than on-the-job training. Other promotions followed and within
six years I was head of the section, while Pete was still a lowly
clerical-assistant, not even a full clerk.
"By studying at night school,
however, he managed to Matriculate, then obtained a degree in
computer science. This was back in the days when computers were
very new in Australia and anyone with training on them was
guaranteed a bright future. So, he was offered a large
promotion into the computing section of the company, however, he
turned it down and moved to another firm. He soon achieved
rapid promotions and after a decade or so was made Vice
President. But he never forgave me for my early successes ahead
"Pete died nearly thirteen
years ago and first appeared here as a ghost two days after his
"And he's never said anything
as a ghost, except, "Wooooooooo!"
"Wooooooooo!" came an echo from
"I don't think he likes you
mimicking him ... Actually, when he first turned up as a ghost he
talked at great length, telling me over and over again that he
intended to haunt me for the rest of my natural life. Later, he
would creep up behind me and shout 'Boo!' in a particularly
melodramatic way -- he always was a bit of a ham. That
continued for more than two years. When he finally became tired
of 'Boo!' he tried rattling chains throughout the night for a few
"I see what you mean about him
being a ham."
"After the chains bit fell out
of vogue, he started letting out the most blood-curdling screams
for about eighteen months. Once he grew tired of the screaming
routine there was a woman's low sobbing. He always was a great
mimic. Finally he got around to the current 'Wooooooooo!'
"Wooooooooo!" came the
"It seems he doesn't appreciate
me imitating him either ... He's been on this latest kick for
fifteen months or so, so by the next time you're over here he'll
probably be up to something new ... Care for a
"Thanks ... I don't know how
you can stay here with all his antics going on around
"What, be driven out of my own
home?" asked Martin, refilling his friend's port glass. "Oh,
it's not that bad really, and, as I said, I've reached the point
where I hardly even notice him any more. Though in the early
days it used to really get to me. I used to wear earmuffs and
cram great wads of cotton wool into my cars. At one stage I
even considered having him exorcised."
"But you didn't?"
"No. Before I could get
around to doing anything definite about it, his antics stopped
getting to me. Besides, he's a great party gimmick, he can
really get the conversation going."
"Not to mention more than a few
of the guests, I'll wager!"
"He's also very good for
chasing away bill collectors and other unwanted pests. Far more
effective than a watchdog, since there's no chance of him being
given a bait, or getting stolen. And I don't have the expense
of having to feed him. Besides, why should I spoil his fun?
I'll have my turn when I die, and who knows, I might even decide
to come back to haunt you!"
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