The ghost of China Mulligan.

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So now its Christmas time again, a time to sit around a crackling fire-place cracking nuts and telling ghost stories. Here`s my ghost story for you, enjoy!

Submitted: December 22, 2011

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Submitted: December 22, 2011



The Ghost of `China' Mulligan.

A short story


Geoffrey Kennell.

(1691 words)



`China' Mulligan breezed into my life whilst working near

Pietermaritzburg. He was a barman at the Ploughman`s Arms

Hotel, and we called him `China' because he was a typical,

down to earth Londoner, where the Cockney slang for mate, is

`china plate'. He excelled at his job, indeed, were it not

for his congeniality, I would not have patronised the public

bar where he served.  China never forgot a face, nor the

name that went with it, and soon after we met, he was able

to prepare my drink and present it to me almost before I had

stepped into the bar!

"Here we are, just what the doctor ordered." he`d call. "You

still up there at Hilton then?"

I nodded, you see, I was a temporary resident at the Hotel,

and was working with a firm of communication experts, on a

U.H.F. radio link between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, and

Hilton happened to be the last station in the link.

One night China seemed to have lost his usual zest for life,

he was more than quiet, in fact, I thought him a bit `short'

with me. "Quiet tonight China, what`s up?" I asked jovially.

His face was drawn, and white as a sheet, and it was obvious

that something was drastically wrong. I finished my drink in

silence and went up to my room.

On the way up the stairs, I met Morton, the Manager of the

Plough, and I stopped to have a chat. "Old China Mulligan`s

down in the dumps," I asked. "He looks like he`s had some

kind of shock or something!"

Morton drew me to one side. "You can say that again, he`s

only got a few more weeks to live!"

"What?" I exclaimed.

"He`s got cancer, didn`t you know, and what makes it worse,

he`s run out of money for his chemo-therapy!"

I didn`t sleep well that night, and every time I came awake,

I thought of `China', and the cruel hand that fate had dealt

him.  Poor blighter, no wonder he had been quiet.

The next evening, I went straight to Morton`s office, he was

busy doing the month end books, and I thought I`d suggest

the proposition that I`d thought up.

"Look," I said. "I don`t know what that kind of treatment

costs, but you can put me down for a couple of hundred, and

a quick whip round from the rest of the boys plus yourself

can only make a difference.

Morton sighed. "China would never buy it Geoff."

"The old beggar won`t accept charity, not from anyone!"

"Does he have to know?" I asked. "Lets contact the hospital,

I`m sure they would agree."

Well, to shorten a long story, we collected just on two

thousand Rands for China, and he was able to continue his


I completed my job in Pietermaritzburg, and moved to the

Eastern Transvaal on another assignment.


Perhaps I am luckier than most, I don`t know, but the next

communication network that I was to construct bordered the

Kruger National Park, from Phalaborwa in the North, to

Kaapmuiden in the South. The whole area was teeming with

wild life, and my crew and I were more than enthusiastic

about being there.

I had made my office in the rear end of a S.A.R. `Caboose',

a railway carriage converted for living accommodation, which

was parked in a siding at Kaapmuiden, and I remember that it

was air- conditioned too, which made it more than

comfortable in the searing heat of the Lowveld summer.

The day before Christmas, my staff pushed off on leave, and

I was driving from Nelspruit, towards Kaapmuiden,

intending to tie up a few loose ends before the holidays.

I passed an outcrop of large rocks and boulders to the

left, and had gone over a ridge when I noticed someone

standing at the side of the road waving me down.

I don`t usually stop for anyone, I don`t know why, but for

some reason I felt compelled to apply my brakes, slow down,

and pull up by the stranger.

To my complete surprise, I stared into the face of `China'


"China!" I gasped. "What the Hell are you doing out here?"

I don`t even remember him getting into my car, but before

you know it he was sitting in the seat beside me, and I had

set off down the road again.

"I`ve been waiting for you Geoff," he said with a big grin.

"You and me`s going to celebrate, so step on it mate, and

keep going `til you get to Malelane.

"Malelane?...China, I`m a working man, I`m turning off at

Kaapmuiden, I`ve got a bundle of work to complete before the


It was then that I noticed his hair, back in `Maritzburg it

used to be jet black, and curl round his neck and ears, now

it was a silvery white with wispy ends right down to the

collar of his jacket. I was about to make a remark about it,

then suddenly remembered that he`d been on Chemo-therapy,

and this could possibly have caused the sudden change.

"Here we are," I exclaimed, as the turn off to the railway

siding at Kaapmuiden came into view.

I turned to my companion. "Sorry China, you`ll just have to

sit in the car and wait until I`ve finished!"

Then, to my horror, my brakes failed!

Pushing as hard as I could on the brake pedal did not appear

to slow the car down, we sped on past the turning, and I

could do nothing about it!

"Dammit, the ruddy brakes seem to...."

China was still smiling, "Told `yer, we`re going on to

Malelane Geoff!" he chaffed.

My car seemed to be possessed, I even tried to turn the

steering wheel as we went by the turn off, it wouldn`t

budge, we slid on past, up through the cutting towards


There was a great sugar cane transporter ahead of me, and

for a moment, I thought we would surely slam into its rear,

yet when I applied my brakes, the car slowed normally, and I

drove on behind it.

"China, what`s going on here?" I was wasting my breath.

"China had his eyes closed, and had stretched himself out

full length in the seat of my car!

I drove on, incredulous as to what was happening until we

reached Melelane, and China woke up.

"`Ere we are Geoff, and it`s just on opening time!"

A typical China statement, if ever there was one, I slowed

to a stop outside the old Hotel, and we both got out.


We sat over our beer, and chatted about the old times in

Pietermaritzburg when China suddenly asked what the time


"Eleven thirty five," I said. "And I`ve got to go now,


"Right then," he said. "One for the road!"

I didn`t argue, I set up another round, but was determined

to drink it down and get out of there.

China got up from the table soon after I had finished my

beer. "Going out the back!" he laughed.

I looked at my watch, it was eleven forty-one exactly.

China never came back! I went to the `gents' myself, there

wasn`t a sign of him, I went outside, there was my car, but

still no sign of China.

Back in the bar, I tackled the bartender. "Did you see my

friend,?" I asked.

The barman stared at me. "Friend, what friend?"

"You know, the gentleman that was sitting over there with

me," I pointed to where we had been sitting and was amazed

to see that only one glass stood on the table.

The barman wiped the counter with a quizzical grin on his

face. "You came in alone Sir, there`s your empty glass, on

the table."

"That`s impossible, you see...." Words suddenly failed me, it

was all too ridiculous to explain.


I  drove back to Kaapmuiden, my head still buzzing  with

curiosity,  and was about to turn into the driveway when

a  fire  engine  arrived, I let it go on ahead,  then  a

Police vehicle turned in behind me.

It was impossible for me to park beneath the shady mango

bushes where I usually parked, for some reason, a great pile

of debris, some five meters high stood in its place.

Stopping the car, I got out.

The scene was horrific, the caboose that I used as my office

had somehow been smashed to matchwood, there was literally

nothing left of it!

Charlie Van Zyl, the Station Master came running towards me,

his arms open wide, and for a moment I thought he was going

to kiss me!

"Geoff! Geoff! Hell man! we thought you were in there,

that`s why I called the Fire Brigade."

I stared in disbelief at the tangled wreckage, no-one would

have survived an impact like that.

"What in the name of Glory happened here," I asked.

"We were shunting, and a runaway truck laden with ore

skipped the points and smashed into the caboose!"

I began to shiver, it could have been shock, I don`t know,

but the events of the morning began to crowd my mind.

"What time did this happen Charlie?" I asked.

Without hesitation, Charlie came back with an answer that

made my flesh creep! "Eleven forty-one, on the dot!"

Despite the dreadful mid-morning heat, I continued shivering

until I reached my car. Composing myself, I searched the

passenger seat for any clue that China might have left, he

didn`t even leave a footprint!


A couple of weeks after Christmas, when things had settled

down again, my curiosity got the better of me.  I lifted

the `phone and called the Plough Hotel in Pietermaritzburg.

"Remember China Mulligan," I asked. "Is he still alive?"

I heard Morton chuckle. "Heavens no Geoff, he passed on

soon after you left, when was it, `92 or `93, poor chap

didn`t have a soul in the world, only us, we buried him with

what was left of the whip round you started!



Geoffrey Kennell


Christmas 2011


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