The Late Night Ghost, by James Hartley
Marcia was rather upset when they started to tear down the house she was haunting. Even though nobody had lived in the old place for a number of years, the scary old Victorian mansion had terrorized the neighborhood children into believing in ghosts. And belief, of course, was the one thing she needed–the one thing that kept her ectoplasm charged, and kept her from fading into oblivion.
Marcia had always been a good girl, so she thought. So she was quite surprised to find herself climbing willingly into bed with her boyfriend Byron. What ensued was very pleasant, and she figured that the harm was already done, so repeats became a regular thing. It was almost a year before she found herself swelling up and realized that the true harm had not been done the first time.
But by then it was too late.
Her Mother had fainted when Marcia told her, and her Father had shouted and raged, and threatened to challenge Byron to a duel. Her maiden aunt Prunella went so far as to suggest a large scarlet ‘A’, but her parents pointed out that this was the enlightened year of 1883, and such things were no longer done. Duels were no longer common in the enlightened year of 1883 either, but when Byron heard of the threats, he suddenly discovered a need to visit an uncle in the Midwest.
Marcia’s parents took care of her until her time came, and they made sure they had the finest midwife in the city to perform the delivery. Had they gotten a doctor instead Marcia might have survived, but then again, given the state of medicine in 1883, she might not have. She lived just long enough to see the baby, a healthy little girl.
Marcia found herself standing on a cloud. Sitting at a desk in front of her was an old man with white hair and a halo. He had a huge book open on the desk in front of him. After a moment he looked up at her.
“Where am I?” asked Marcia.
“Oh, I guess you might call this the Pearly Gates, my dear, although many of your ideas about it are wrong.”
Marcia felt a wave of dizziness, then pulled herself together. “So you must be St. Peter, and you’re going to tell me if I go to Heaven or Hell?”
“I’m Peter, all right, but there are other options you may end up with. In fact, you probably will. According to this,” he waved vaguely at the book, “you’re not quite good enough for Heaven, but nowhere near bad enough for Hell. No, most likely we’ll send you back to Earth as a ghost.”
“Yes, to haunt your house. A fairly light sentence, but a bit of a gamble. You see, you have to get people to believe in you to keep your ectoplasm charged. No belief, no ectoplasm, you fade out, and then you end up in Hell. You survive for, oh, let’s say two hundred years, we bring you back here and send you on to Heaven. Fair?”
“Do I get a choice?”
“No, not really, unless you want Hell immediately.”
“I’ll take the haunting, Sir, thank you.”
“Kind of thought you would.” Peter waved his hand at her and everything went dark.
Haunting her family’s house was fun. She found her maiden aunt Prunella, the one who had wanted to give the scarlet ‘A’, the best target. The old woman lived another sixty years in constant terror, finally dying of a heart attack in 1944 at the age of 102.
Marcia’s daughter married and brought her husband to live in the house, as did her granddaughter. Finally in 1957 her great-granddaughter married and moved away when her husband got a job in another part of the country. Three years later, the rest of the family, all aging, sold the house and moved to warmer climes. In the next fifteen years the house changed hands many times, the price dropping each time. Never once did the seller mention that the house was haunted until after the closing. The last owner to live in the house died of a stroke, possibly brought on by Marcia, and the place was abandoned while a long fight over the will took place.
Marcia was a little worried about this, but soon discovered that the decrepit old house inspired enough fear and belief in ghosts in the neighborhood children to keep her going. A little extra effort on Halloween night brought her a bonus charge of ectoplasm that enabled her to stockpile for a year, even two, ahead. But she didn’t notice that the rest of the neighborhood around her house was also becoming seedy and rundown, or that many of the houses were being vacated.
It was a dozen years later that disaster struck. Marcia didn’t know that the estate had finally been settled, she only knew that one morning crews arrived and began to tear down her house and all those around. When the land was clear, construction started on a number of large buildings. She listened in on the builders and found out they were called ‘condos’. Each building would have places for many families to live. She hoped they would hurry, because the lack of people around was making her tighten her psychic belt as her supply of ectoplasm dwindled.
When the first building was finished, the one where her house had been, and people started to move in, she got another shock. These people were of some tribe called ‘Yuppies’, and they weren’t even Christians! Instead, they worshiped a god called ‘teevee’. Each dwelling place had at least one shrine, some had one in every room. These people laughed at ghosts and haunting as shown on the teevee shrine, but they didn’t believe. Marcia’s ectoplasm continued to dwindle.
One of the men living in the building seemed to be a priest of teevee. His title was Electronic Engineer, and he had many sacred books on the nature of teevee. Marcia wanted desperately to read them, but her early upbringing told her this was blasphemy. For months she argued with herself, but finally she reasoned that she would go to Hell anyway when her ectoplasm ran out.
Free from human limitations of time, she went through the books in a night. Not all of it made sense, but she learned that the teevee god’s pronouncements entered the building through a ‘cable’, and she discovered she could sense the ‘signals’ on the cable. Then, cautiously, she attempted to change the signals.
At first all she could do was distort what was there, bringing muttered curses from the watchers and phone calls to the acolytes at the ‘cable company’. But after a week of practice, she was able to insert a picture of herself as she had been when she was alive. Then she added a message: “Hi, I’m Marcia. I’m a ghost and I haunt this condo. Please believe in me.”
All over the building children ran to their parents yelling, “Come look at the great new show.” Marcia felt a great upsurge of belief expanding her ectoplasm. Carefully maintaining the image, she relaxed and enjoyed the sensations.
Her relief didn’t last long, though. The Yuppie children quickly got tired of looking at her and changed the channel. When she spread the image over all the channels, they turned on something called DVDs that kept pronouncements of the teevee god in a little box and let them watch that instead of what came in on the cable. Parents who didn’t have DVDs quickly got them to quiet their children. Marcia discovered it was beyond her capabilities to change the signals on the vast number of DVDs in the building.
She sat down to think about what to do next, leaving a small part of her mind to keep her picture and message on those few teevee shrines still tuned in. But she had never been one to concentrate well, and her thoughts began to wander. She began to reminisce about her life, the time before her death, and she began to think about Byron. Gradually her face faded from view, to be replaced by a scene of her and Byron making love, with her message superimposed on it. Immediately the few children still watching came to rapt attention, then began phoning their friends to watch. Marcia, lost in her reverie, barely noticed the upsurge in ectoplasm.
All good things come to an end, though. A mother wandered into the room when her children were watching Marcia and Byron, gave a loud shriek, turned off the set, and immediately began to phone other mothers in the building. Frantic calls to the cable company produced only angry denials, and a firm statement that channel 28 was showing ‘Mr. Ed’ and not an X-rated movie.
As fathers drifted in from work and had the situation explained, there was considerable disbelief until a TV was switched on. At this point Marcia was remembering the time Byron had taken her for a carriage ride to a deserted woods, and they had both undressed in broad daylight and made love on a blanket. Many of the fathers gasped and turned off the sets. Others, having been taken in the bedroom by their wives to see it where the children couldn’t watch, had other reactions. Finally someone had the sense to call a meeting of the Building Association.
The adults gathered in the meeting room. Opinion was divided about the phenomenon and what to do about it. After a lot of argument, one man got hold of the mike and asked, “What if this is real?” There were catcalls, but he waited until it quieted down, then he turned to the TV and called, “Marcia!”
Startled out of her daydream, she put her face back on the screen, then overlaid it with, “Yes, Sir. Can I help you?”
Several women and one man fainted, but the man with the mike asked, “Are you really a ghost? What are you doing here?”
“This is the site of my old family home, which I was condemned to haunt for two centuries because of sins when I was alive.” She scrolled her message across the screen. “But I must have people to believe in me or I will be banished to Hell.”
“What are these scenes of a couple making love?”
“Oh, dear! Did I show that? I guess I was daydreaming about my boyfriend before I died, and it got out. I’m sorry. I was just trying to get my message out, mostly to the children, since they believe more easily.”
By this time, all eyes in the room were riveted to the screen. The man with the mike turned to the crowd. “All you people, we believe in Marcia, don’t we? Raise your hands if you believe in Marcia!” There was a pause. A hand went up, then another, then the rest of the hands. “Great! Marcia, we believe.”
“Yes, thank you, I can feel it. Thank you very much! Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Well, yes. We don’t want the kids watching you and your boyfriend, so if you could keep it off until eleven at night or so, we’d appreciate it. And you might leave some channels open during the day for the kids to watch. Other than that, well, go about your haunting, we promise to keep believing.”
“Oh, I’ll be happy to leave most of the channels open, now that you people believe in me. And I’ll be careful with the daydreaming. Oh, I’m going to be so happy haunting this condo.” Marcia settled back in the delightful glow of belief, enjoying the feel of her ectoplasm charging.
James Hartley is a former computer programmer. Originally from northern New Jersey, he now lives in sunny central Florida. He has published two fantasy novels, The Ghost of Grover’s Ridge and Magic Is Faster Than Light and has two more, “Teen Angel” and “Cop With a Wand,” due out soon. He has had stories published in the “Desolate Places”, “Strange Mysteries 1,2,&3”, “Book of Exodi,” “Christmas in Outer Space,” and Free Range Fairy Tales” anthologies, and in various e-zines and print magazines. He is currently working on a new novel, “Magic to the Rescue.” He is a member of IWOFA and the Dark Fiction Guild. Visit him at teenangel.netfirms.com.
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Tags: ghosts, james hartley, sex