For your Halloween reading pleasure, an excerpt from my current work in progress, in which one of the characters, Loren, has an experience with a ghost.
Althea and Loren stood just inside the door and looked about them at the spacious room. To their left was the pub’s bar, a long oaken counter. On the wall behind the bar was a long shelf with bottles of liquor, glasses of various sizes, and mugs. At the end of the shelf there was a door that Loren figured must lead to the kitchen area. A dozen bar stools stood before the bar. On the wall to their right was a large fireplace full of ashes. Tables and chairs filled most of the space of the room. Empty lanterns were hung along the walls. Across the room from Althea and Loren was a staircase leading, Althea thought, to the sleeping quarters on the second floor. Thick wooden shutters covered two large windows, one on either side of the door. Cobwebs and a thick film of dust covered everything.
Anju wandered off into the room with his nose to the ground, following a spider that had caught his attention and stirring up puffs of dust with every sniff and sneeze.
“What a mess!” Loren complained. “It’ll take forever to clean this place and get it ready for business.”
“Maybe,” said Althea as she ran a finger through the dust on the top of a nearby table, “but it’ll be a nice change of pace, don’t you think? Relaxing, taking our time, cleaning and repairing the place…”A wistful smile crossed her lips. “I haven’t done any real domestic chores since my time at the orphanage. I’m looking forward to this.”
“Orphanage?” Loren asked in surprise, taking his eyes from a large cobweb in a corner that he had been watching – where there was a rather large spider wrapping a moth up in webbing – and focusing his gaze on his partner. “You never told me you had been in an orphanage, Althea.”
“I didn’t? I thought I had. Well, I was. My parents died when I was ten years of age, and since I had no other living relatives to take me, I got thrown into an orphanage. I didn’t stay there long, though – only a couple of years or so. The caretakers were nice enough, but I was never able to make friends with any of the kids. I’m really not sure why. But when I think on it now, it’s almost like they were afraid of me for some reason. What reason, I have no idea. I was a nice little girl and did nothing to cause any fear. Anyway, the loneliness became unbearable and one day – my thirteenth birthday, to be exact – I managed to run away from the orphanage. I haven’t had a home since.”
Her frankness at answering surprised Loren. She must be in a really good mood, he thought. She’s usually not this open about her past. Taking advantage of it, he asked another question. “So how did you end up hunting monsters? I’m pretty sure you didn’t learn that at the orphanage.”
“You’re right. I didn’t. Not long after I ran away from the orphanage, I met a wandering hunter. He was a kind, older man who was nice enough to take me on as his apprentice and teach me everything he knew. But it wasn’t long before I was alone again. After a couple of years of apprenticing with him, he was killed on the job one day while fighting orcs. I continued hunting, to keep my master’s memory alive.”
Althea’s green eyes shimmered with unshed tears in the afternoon sunlight streaming in through the open door. After a moment, a tear finally trickled down her cheek. Loren instinctively reached out to wipe the tear away. “I’m sorry, Althea,” he said softly. “I didn’t mean to drag up painful memories. I…” He trailed off as a chair scraped across the floor behind him, and he jumped and turned around. “What was that?” he asked with a trace of fear in his voice.
“Anju probably bumped a chair while nosing around,” Althea answered as she wiped her eyes. “Come on. Let’s check out the rest of the place and see what supplies we have.”
Althea headed for the door behind the bar. Loren followed her after a moment. “Are you sure it was Anju?” he asked as he stepped through the door after his partner.
“Who do you think it was? The ghost?” she teased.
Loren scowled and did not bother to dignify her taunt with a response.
They did not see the mug that left the shelf, floated through the air, and settled down atop the bar – seemingly by itself.
Althea and Loren were not the least bit surprised to find that dust and cobwebs covered everything in the kitchen area as well. It was a modest-sized room that they were in, with a good-sized table directly in the middle. A couple of stools stood by the table. Lining the wall were cupboards that upon inspection were found to be empty of food, and only a couple contained plates, bowls, and dining utensils. In one corner of the room sat a cast-iron stove with a pile of logs of firewood. Knives and other cooking utensils hung from an iron rack dangling from the ceiling over the table, along with various sizes of pots and pans. There were two other doors besides the one they had come through – one directly opposite the door back to the pub and one on the wall to the right of it. Checking out the doors, they found that the former led outside and the latter led to a large but barren pantry.
“That has to be the most depressing thing I’ve ever seen,” Loren remarked as he followed Althea from the kitchen back to the pub proper.
“What? All the dust and cobwebs?”
“No. I was referring to the total lack of food. I’ve never seen a kitchen so completely devoid of foodstuffs before. It’s unnatural.”
Althea paused and turned to look at the elf. “You’re hungry again, aren’t you? I bet you were hoping to find a little something to snack on, weren’t you?”
Loren gave her a wry smile. “You know me too well, Althea.”
“Just be glad you didn’t find anything. Any food in there would have been ten years old and definitely not good enough to eat.”
“You’re right. I…” He trailed off as his eyes caught sight of something behind his partner. His eyebrows rose in surprise. “Althea, was that there before?” he asked tentatively.
“Huh? Was what where, Loren?”
He pointed over her shoulder. “That mug sitting on top of the bar.”
Althea turned to look. “Oh, that? I… I don’t know, Loren. It may have been. I wasn’t paying all that much attention to minor details earlier when we looked around.”
“Well, I was, and I didn’t see it there.”
“Are you sure?”
Loren nodded. “It wasn’t there before we went into the kitchen.”
“Well, then, if you were that certain, why did you ask me?”
“I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t mistaken.”
“Oh. Well, then, I’m sorry I couldn’t confirm your suspicion. So, Loren, if you’re so sure it wasn’t there before, how did it get there?”
“Well, obviously, the ghost put it there.”
Althea rolled her eyes. “The ghost. Uh-huh. Right. Couldn’t it be just as likely, Loren, that someone saw us come in here, and decided to play a little prank on us while our backs were turned? We did leave the door wide open, after all.”
“I suppose,” he conceded after a moment’s consideration.
“Good. Then let’s lock up and head upstairs to check out the bedrooms and get some rest.”
Loren looked at her as if she were crazy.
“What?” Althea retorted for the look. “You said you were looking forward to sleeping in a nice warm bed for a change.”
“Yes, but I didn’t mean in a haunted house.”
“You got any other ideas? We don’t have the money to stay at an inn, you know.”
Loren sighed. “I know.”
“Okay. Then let’s go.”
Althea gathered their leather bags together and started for the stairs, but Loren did not move from his spot. “Althea…” he began.
She stopped at the foot of the stairs and turned to face to the elf. “Now what?” she snapped. His childish behavior regarding the ghost was beginning to get on her nerves.
“I’m still hungry.”
She tossed a leather bag at him, and he deftly caught it. “Here,” she said flatly. “We still have some rations left. Munch on them. We’ll get some real food tomorrow.”
“How? We’re broke.”
“We’ll pawn your other silver dagger, of course. Now come on. Lock up and let’s head upstairs.”
Scowling, Loren watched her start up the stairs with their other bag. Then he headed towards the front door to lock up. Once the door was locked, he headed back towards the stairs. He had not gone more than a couple of steps in the dark when he felt the room grow chilly and saw movement out of the corner of his left eye. Turning for a better look, he saw the mug on the bar lift into the air, float over to the liquor shelf, and settle down – by itself. Loren just stood there, stupefied. Then, before his very eyes, a man materialized behind the bar. He was in his late forties, had short dark hair, and wore a simple white shirt, brown pants, and an apron stained by various foods and beverages. And Loren could see the wall and liquor bar through him. The man smiled and waved hello to Loren, then vanished.
Loren just stood there a moment, stunned. “A…A…Althea!” he finally managed to stammer out, and ran up the stairs.
Upstairs, Althea had lit a small lantern and had already opened three of the four doors along the short hallway. There were two doors on each side of the hall. She was just about to open the fourth door when Loren called her name and ran up the stairs. “Oh, now what?” she muttered and turned to face the stairs. A moment later Loren reached the landing and stood facing Althea. His slanted chocolate-brown eyes were wide and he was breathing heavily.
“What’s wrong now, Loren?” Althea asked snidely.
“I…I…I saw the ghost, Althea,” he gasped out. “He…He smiled and waved at me.” Then the elf fainted dead away, falling forward, luckily, and landing on his face.
Althea rolled her eyes again. “Oh, for crying out loud,” she muttered. “Anju!” she called, and the white wolf stepped out of the first room on the right of the stairs. “Take your silly master into his room and make sure he gets some rest. He’s hallucinating now.”
Anju took hold of the collar of Loren’s shirt and cloak with his teeth and gently dragged the unconscious elf into the room. Then Althea shut the door, picked up the bag Loren had dropped when he fell, and returned to the door that she’d been about to open – next door to Loren’s room – when she was interrupted. She opened the door and stepped into the room.
Althea’s room looked just like Loren’s room and the room opposite it. They were moderate-sized bedrooms containing a small bed along the left wall, a desk under the room’s single window across from the door, and a bureau and mirror along the right wall. Even here cobwebs and dust covered everything. The fourth room, across the hall from Althea’s room, was the lavatory.
Althea took one look at the bed and smiled. She took off her sword and tossed it and the bags into a corner, shut the door behind her, ran over to the bed, and threw herself onto it. Lying on her back, she heaved a long sigh. This feels so good, she thought, then drifted off to sleep.
* * *