A free ghost story for Hallowe'en then.
Mr Hoolihan Regrets
Michael S. Collins
“Will the witness stand and confess his truth to God?”
“That’s unfair, yer honour. Prejudiced I might say.”
“The witness must explain himself.”
“Well for one thing, I can’t stand, as I don’t have any legs. I can only hover like this. Second, I’ve been dead for nigh on a hundred years, and I’ve never met God yet. It sort of puts a damper on the whole belief bit, when you know he’s hiding from you.”
“Objection!” cried the nearest lawyer. “Existence of God has no basis on the witness needing to make the oath.”
“Sustained.” Said the judge. “Just say the damned oath already.”
The witness did so, and shot a filthy look at the lawyer.
“Now” said the lawyer. “Peter claims that many spectres have trespassed on his property. Can you clarify this?”
“Can a spook trespass?”
“After Joe vs. Sade, yes.”
The poltergeist issued its beliefs in the sanctity of haunting several times over the next hour, while the judge tried to get it to keep to the facts. Sitting on the other side of the court room, Peter Hoolihan sat neglected, wondering why he ever got into parapsychology in the first place.
It seemed fun at first, to continue in the footsteps of Underwood. To enter houses claimed to be haunted, usually in a Scottish backwater graveyard, with long staircases which had the unerring ability to creak at the most inappropriate times for ones nerves, at a suitably dark hour, and have some locals, who erred on superstition over reality nine times out of ten, hanging on his every word. Trouble was, this only worked for a few jobs, until he met his first phantom. Then, he couldn’t stop meeting incorporeal beings.
One time, when he gave a lecture in the Adam Smith building at Glasgow University, on Biblical subtext (his paying job), a headless monk walked into the room and denounced his views, referring to de Chartian and questioning his qualifications. The students would have loved it, had more than two stayed beyond the second the monk manifested. His head in his hands, denouncing. The university had quietly hushed up the situation, announcing that as far as they were aware, there were no ghosts in that particular part of the campus.
On another occasion, some of the London Palladium wraiths had decided to put on a show for him. What made this unusual was that he was nowhere near London and had in fact just popped into his local Starbucks for a coffee. Presumably, with the Palladium gone, they had gone on tour to try and impress folk. As far as he was aware, there was no “sensitive’s” (i.e. people who could see apparitions) in the Starbucks, judging by the disapproving mutters his scream and dive out the door received. Seemingly it was only him who had seen the four disembodied shadows perform Hamlets famous ‘to be or not to be’ monologue like a barbershop quartet. Well, three of them. The fourth, reading from a different hymn sheet, sang ‘Send in the Clowns’.
One or two incidents like this would be worth a therapy bill.
After twenty five years of this, Peter Hoolihan could take no more. Therefore, he sued the underworld, to get them to cease and desist their activities against him,
“Next witness, please.”
The banshee that entered the room next was of a peculiar nightmarish visage. A few members of the audience, for lack of a better terminology, fainted at the sight. He was a hunched figure, which almost seemed human, in the right light. The courtroom, however, was very bright.
“I believe,” said the horrible vision, “That if you look at the results of Joe vs. Sade, presences have the constitutional right to haunt people in this country.”
“He has a point, you know,” whispered the ghost hunter’s lawyer to him. “Damned brute has read up on precedents.”
“What are we going to do?” said the renowned ghost hunter.
“Damned if I know.” Said his lawyer. “I’m used to folk not knowing the law.” He rose.
“Your honour, I would like to suggest that if it has been found within a court of law that a ghost has the right to haunt people in this country, then by that same precedent of law, then it must also be applicable that the dearly undead can be given restraining orders. One cannot have the right of cohabitation without the law existing to take it away as punishment.”
The lawyer sat down, flushed. Privately he thought that had been a rather good spur of the moment speech. The judge seemed to nod in his direction, which could only be a good sign.
After lunch, the ghost hunter himself was on the stand, telling the jury of the great stress and duress he had been under for some considerable time. With every tale of blood shrieking ghouls appearing at the bedside table, he glanced over in the jury’s direction for sympathy, and saw what he assumed to be saddened eyes.
“You sod!” yelled a deep-throated character dripping blood all over the floor. “I even sent you a Birthday card, and this is the thanks I get!”
“Order! Order!” Yelled the Judge. “I may allow you, on great kindness, to bleed all over my floor. But you will not shout out of turn, Mr Bloody Baron.”
“Humblest apologies” said the bleeding character in the tone of voice of a naughty schoolchild.
The Judge filled in one of the clues that had been bothering him on his crossword puzzle – 8 down, a continual occurrence of the mind: haunting. This had been one of the most perplexing trials he had overseen in some time, and the least sane man in the room appeared to be the only living one. He hadn’t had the heart to tell the Ghost Hunter that the jury were not of the living.
“Three across, seven letters: civil redress of grievance.” Read the Judge. “I’m utterly stuck on that one. Any clues?”
“Sounds like lawsuit” said the lawyer.
“Ah, it is! Thanks!” said the judge.
The judge banged his fist upon his hammer, and both yelped in pain and shouted in joy at the same time. “I’ve finished it. For the first time in thirty years, I’ve finished one of these blasted crosswords.” The court gave him a standing ovation.
“You’re not treating me seriously! Or my case!” said the ghost hunter.
“To be fair,” said the Judge. “You do believe in ghosts. It is hard to keep my contempt appearing.”
“But the courtroom is full of ghosts!”
“I know. But their existence doesn’t make your belief in them any less childish!”
“Your honour” said the prosecutor. “I object.”
“Oh be quiet, Fred.” Said the Judge. “I’m half inclined to find on the case of the various ghosts, and send Mr Hoolihan here to a sanatorium for believing in them.”
The ghost hunter waited for the world to stop spinning while he stood still and tried to take in sanity.
“I think you have done a fine job, judge.” Said the Bloody Baron, hanging from the ceiling – he had brought his own noose – and dripping all over a man in a three-piece suit in the front row of the seated audience.
“Thank you, Mr Baron” said the Judge. He turned to the defending lawyer. “I believe you have one final witness to consult.”
“I do! Someone who will show up this man’s case for what it really is. Bring in the Grey Lady!”
The Grey Lady? Hoolihan tried to cast his mind back, over several decades of going to old castles and churches and sitting back with his recording equipment, and tried to remember the Grey Lady. Trouble is, there were loads of them. Every single Castle in Scotland had at least one grey lady hiding in its remains, marketing itself as the one true lady who happened to be rather grey these days. The possibilities were endless.
And then she came into the room, and Hoolihan’s mind fell.
“Do you swear to tell the truth and only the truth, so help you God?”
“Darling, it’s a bit late for that now, don’t you think? But I don’t plan to lie, if that helps.”
“I knew Mr Hoolihan very well. In fact, you could say we were engaged. I thought it was to be the greatest day of my afterlife. Then, a week after the wedding, he found out that I was dead – something I was building up to telling him – and he scarpered.”
A low murmur of dissent filled the court room.
“This is very grave news.” Said the Judge.
“But your Honour” said the lawyer, “Till death does us part and all that. You can hardly expect my client to hold true to someone when they’d ended the marriage by the process of no longer being alive.”
The Judge hummed over the news in his chair.
“Being dead is no barrier to carrying out a normal, pain free existence.” Said the Grey Lady. “Saying otherwise is prejudice. You wouldn’t say the same if I were gay or disabled, would you?”
The jury murmured, the judge summed up his feelings (using the word “damned” a record one hundred and thirty times for court proceedings) and the jury left to consider their verdict. They returned before long to announce they found the ghost hunter guilty of all charges.
“I wasn’t even the one being charged!” he said.
“That doesn’t matter in this court,” said the Judge. “I find you now guilty of hate crimes against the deceased. You are sentence to ten years solitary confinement in a haunted house. Case dismissed.”
The ghost hunter starred at his feet in dismay as the Bloody Baron celebrated wildly, blood spewing out messily over the first few rows of spectators.
This all happened many years ago now. The former ghost hunter recently left his ten years confinement and the last I heard resided in a nursing home for the terminally insane. He still gets visitors there now and again. Three of which I am aware. A baron, with a tendency to bleed over most of the elderly inmates, increasing their various ticks. A lady of fine repute, who many claim shimmers grey over bright lights as she admonishes anyone who doesn’t fit into her world view. Finally, of course, the Hanging Judge, that fellow who ruled the Old Bailey for so long, and whose death never seemed to stop his rulings, even to this day. A fine trio of visitors they make, and every time they visit, why, that old ghost hunter makes the most peculiar response. You know, he can’t stop for laughing his head off after each and every single visit!