George studied the figure in front of him. A middle aged man, dressed in shabby chinos, a frayed shirt and dark green cardigan.
“You should be running away,” said the figure.
“Why?” asked George.
“Because I’m a ghost,” came the reply.
George stroked his chin. “A ghost? And do you have a name?”
“Ronnie,” said the ghost. “Now are you going to run away?”
George considered the proposition. “Hmm. No. I don’t think so.”
Ronnie appeared peeved by the rebuttal. “Look,” he insisted, “I’m a ghost, right? Ghosts are scary, so you should be scared and run. Everyone does.”
George sat at the kitchen table and played with a placemat. “That’s the theory,” he agreed, “but frankly, you’re not very scary.”
Ronnie hovered in front of him. “I’m not?” Disappointment seeped through his words.
“No,” said George. “I once attended a Conservative Party rally wearing a badge that said, ‘vote Labour.’ Now that was scary.” He gestured at Ronnie. “I mean look at you. You’re dressed for an afternoon’s work in the garden. What’s scary about that? If you had your head under your arm …”
“You mean like this?” Ronnie gripped his head, tugged and it came away. He tucked it beneath his left arm. “This is scarier?” he asked.
George yawned and scanned the solid apparition. “Hmm. It’s a move in the right direction, but even so … Tell you what, lose the cardigan?”
Ronnie appeared uncertain. “I don’t know about that. I mean, it’s a bit chilly in here.”
“You’re dead, or you wouldn’t be a ghost, so you shouldn’t feel the cold.”
“Ah, now that’s where you’re wrong,” Ronnie argued. “Even on this side we feel the pinch in the middle of February.”
“Yes, but you’re hardly likely to die of pneumonia, are you?” George countered.
Ronnie considered this. “Fair point.” The cardigan disappeared. “Right, so now I’ve got shut of my woolly, are you scared?”
George shook his head. “No. You just don’t look the part Ronnie. I mean, have you ever met my mother-in-law?”
“A dragon?” asked Ronnie.
George nodded. “She’d scare the Parachute Regiment.”
“All right,” said Ronnie, and his shirt disappeared. “How about now?”
George laughed. “You’re wearing a vest. What kind of ghost wears a vest?”
Irritation flooded Ronnie’s face. “I was dressed like this when I pegged out. It’s not as if I thought, hey up, I’m going to die in two minutes, I’d better get me duds off. I was tucking into a steak and kidney pie, a piece of steak got lodged in my windpipe and a minute later, I’d gone.”
“No one there to help?” George asked.
Ronnie’s head shook under his arm. “The wife was there, but she was hopeless. She thought the Heimlich Manoeuvre was one of Hitler’s World War Two battle plans. She slapped me on the back and almost broke a rib. This is how I was dressed. End of story.”
To emphasise his point, Ronnie ran both hands from shoulder to knee but in doing so, he dropped his head, which landed silently and rolled across the kitchen floor.
“Bugger,” he said from beside the stove, and picked the head up. Slotting it back into its proper place, he approached George again. “Look, we’re wandering off topic here. I am a ghost, you should be scared, but you’re not, and I resent that. I mean, what’s the point of me turning up to scare you if you’re not scared?”
George thought about this. “Maybe it’s to do with the way you led your life,” he suggested.
“I was a good man,” Ronnie protested. “I never beat my wife or the kids, I always gave to charity, I never got drunk, I was kind to animals. I led an exemplary life.”
“You led a boring life,” George corrected. “What did you do for a living?”
“I was a clerk at the town hall.”
“QED,” George retorted. “Town hall clerks are hardly scary, are they?”
Ronnie harrumphed. “So what do you do, Mr big-time go-getter? Secret agent?”
“Estate agent, actually,” said George. “That’s why I’m here. I’m trying to sell this place.”
“Estate agent?” Ronnie laughed. “And you call me boring.”
“Selling property at least gives me the chance to be creative,” George argued.
“You mean tell lies.”
“Let’s split the difference and call it accentuating the positive,” George countered.
“All right, smartarse,” Ronnie niggled, “how will you accentuate the positives on this place?” He waved at the drab surroundings. “It hasn’t been decorated since the Millennium, there are tiles missing off the roof, the brickwork needs pointing, and it’s haunted.”
“I can sell this easy,” George said. “The house with the most boring ghost in the world.”
Ronnie almost burst into tears. “I am not boring.”
“Yes you are. Let me give you some advice, Ronnie. You may have been red hot as a town hall clerk, but as a ghost you leave a lot to be desired. The best thing you can do is shoot over to the library and throw a few books around; tell the newspapers readers to be quiet.”
Ronnie’s eyes lit up. “You think so?”
“I know so,” George assured him. “At least you’d get some publicity. And right now, the library could do with some. The town council are thinking of shutting it down.”
“What?” Ronnie was appalled. “No way will they shut the library. Not if I have anything to do with it. See you.”
And with that, Ronnie disappeared.
“You can come in now,” George shouted.
Maria stepped in from the hall. “Another ghost gone?” she asked.
George grinned. “You know me. I never fail. That’s ten this year.”
“Estate agent.” Maria laughed.
“Ronnie believed me,” George pointed out.
“Becuse you’re such a good liar,” Maria told him. “You’re also the best ghost hunter I ever met. But what will we do when we get more ghosts than readers in the library?”
George shrugged. “Shouldn’t worry. It’ll be closed down by then.”