This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning
“And what did you do then?”
“It was all too much. I’d killed someone! No jury would believe it had been an accident, and even if they somehow did I’d still get years in jail. I wouldn’t even be safe from Knuckles. He’d already made it quite clear that getting arrested was not going to be a way of avoiding his retribution.
“So I pulled out my phone to call the police. At least they could take care of the man’s corpse. Then I was off to find a tall bridge to throw myself off. It was all I could think of doing.”
“Did you phone the police?”
“No. And this is the bit… I don’t know if you’ll believe this, Father. I pulled out my phone and started dialling, then this voice right next to me said I wouldn’t do that if I was you.”
“Was somebody else there?”
“No! No one else. Just someone who was already there. The business guy. The dead business guy! He was a bloody ghost! Standing there, part see-through, and telling me not to call the police!
“I dropped the phone my hands were trembling so much. And then… and then he started to give me advice! He said it was all his fault. He said he’d hate for his death to lead to any problems for me, especially as he felt he was the one who’d made a mistake. He blamed himself for getting hurt. Can you believe that?
“Then he started to explain how I could get away without being caught. Except he kept saying we. For god’s sake… sorry, but his body was still cooling in front of me and he was giving me tips on how to avoid going to jail for killing him. And he seemed to be enjoying himself! Like it was the most fun he’d had in years.”
“That is certainly… unusual.”
“I know! I half thought I’d lost my mind, but he was so real despite not seeming to be fully there. I probably would have lost my mind over what I’d done if he hadn’t been there.
“But he talked me through the steps. It was raining hard… did I mention that? I don’t think I did. Well, it was, so he pointed out how much of his blood was already running down the drains.
“Then he pointed out a large rubbish bin almost right next to us, the sort restaurants put stuff in and which gets lifted up by a machine to be emptied. There was a big piece of plastic sheeting sticking out of it. So I grabbed it and wrapped up the body, lifting it into the bin to dispose of it, and all the while the body’s ghost was giving me tips on how to avoid getting too much more blood on my clothes!
“With that done I just wanted to get out of there. I guess I thought the ghost would stay with its body or… well, move on from this world. Damn was I wrong!
“He stayed with me. Frederick. That was his name. He only told me that after he had died. Weird that, that he introduced himself after he died.
“Well, Frederick was his name. And he felt responsible for me. He wanted to make sure not only that I wouldn’t go to jail, but that I didn’t end up doing anything like that again. I guess in amongst it all, while I’d been telling him how sorry I was, I must have let on it was the first time I’d tried it.
“The first thing I had to do was get cleaned up. Weird as it sounds, I had a change of clothes with me. I’d been to the gym earlier and had the bag still.
“Well, between the rain coming down and the change of clothes I managed to cut at least a vaguely presentable figure. Then Frederick insisted I take the money from his wallet. Somehow it had managed to stay clear of all the blood. It was damp, but the notes were fine.
“That was it. We headed off and in no time at all I was in a store buying some hard liquor. A lot of hard liquor.
“Only then did it occur to me that I was walking around with a translucent ghost, but it soon became clear no one else could see him. Some people even managed to walk through him, which he found most amusing.
“And then… well, we ended up back at my place. Where else was I going to go? I poured myself the first of many drinks and we started talking. I told him exactly what had led me to that point and he decided it was his responsibility to get me out of that situation.
“By that point I was well and truly drunk and certain I was going out my mind and imagining Frederick, so I went along with it. We made plans. I fell asleep. Well, comatose, if I’m honest.
“The next morning, I woke up with a splitting hangover. I finally rolled myself to sit on the edge of the bed and I was certain I’d imagined it all the night before. That lasted until I left my room… and heard a bright and cheery good morning from him. He was sitting… well, sitting above my sofa. By a few inches.
“I got used to talking to a ghost surprisingly quickly, and I soon figured out he was a lot smarter than me. He was the one who figured out the card games I kept losing money on were probably fixed in some way. Then he suggested we play a few more hands with some of those same people.
“And you know what, even with the game rigged against you if you’ve got yourself a ghost who only you can see it becomes much easier to win. As long as that ghost is happy looking at everyone else’s cards and giving you advice.
“Frederick was much smarter than me. While he helped me to win more he also ensured I lost a fair bit too. But overall, I came out a fair way ahead. Over the next few hours we earned enough to pay the first instalment back to Knuckles.
“A few more days and I was able to pay it all back. He didn’t ask where I got the money, and the places I won it from are small enough that he will probably never get to hear. Knuckles just said he’d see me again, next time I needed money.
“That was it. I was out of trouble. Frederick had completed his task. He’d saved me. I thought he’d move on then. I even felt a small tug at the thought.
“No such luck! If seemed he still viewed me as a work in progress, with very little sign of progress so far. He had more work to do!”
* * *
Chad sighed and shook his head.
“He kept on going. Telling me what I should do differently, how I should act. He had advice for everything.
“After a couple more days I’d had enough. People start to give you very strange looks when you spend all your time flinching away from a voice only you can hear, shaking your head, or even shouting at the unseen voice to be quiet.
“Between that and knowing Knuckles was waiting for me to slip up again, even just a little, I decided it was time to leave. Go to a whole new city. Go far enough away to leave everything I’d known behind, and I guess I hoped to leave Frederick behind as well. I had a feeling ghosts had to stay close to where they died or some such thing. I bought a ticket, hopped on a coach, and after a long journey I ended up here.
“I was wrong about him not being able to follow me. He was there every step of the way, and if anything he had even more advice for me now I was in a city I’ve never visited before.
“It’s been two weeks since I stepped off the coach and my life is turning into a disaster. He’s constantly trying to get me to try things I don’t want to. To stretch me he says. To better myself.
“Even when I try and do what he asks, I fail almost every time. It’s not that I don’t try, but I never was any good at school. He wants me to learn new things, but keeps distractingly me the whole time telling me what to do and won’t let me get on with it.
“Tonight was the worst. I got a new job, nothing major but I managed to land it and really thought I could have made something of it. But Frederick would not shut up. Because I was trying to do the five different things he was telling me to I ended up making mistakes.
“I could have done that job, but I messed up. Now I’m out on my ear with almost no money left. I just can’t take it anymore. I didn’t know what to do. I had nowhere to go.
“Then I saw the cathedral and I thought maybe, just maybe, Frederick wouldn’t be able to come in. I was wrong. Again. He’s here right now, and he’s still jabbering on at me!
“There it is, Father. I’m sure you think I’m a complete nut job but I swear it’s true. Every single word of it.”
“Well my son, it does seem you have been through an awful lot. Taking another’s life, even accidentally as you did, that’s a hard thing for anyone to cope with.”
“You do think I’m crazy, don’t you? You think the stress of that has pushed me off the deep end!”
“I never said that. Let us say for the sake of argument that I do believe you, that I accept that there are such things as ghosts, what would your next step be?”
“Can you do an exorcism or something? You know, send him on his way to heaven?”
The priest laughed deeply and shook his head. And yet Chad didn’t feel he was being mocked. There was a real warmth to the laugh, and a twinkle to the old priest’s eyes.
“I’m afraid there are several reasons that is not possible,” said the priest. “Firstly, the church really doesn’t have a position of believing in ghosts, other than the Holy Ghost of course. Performing an exorcism to remove a ghost could be argued to go against my position as a priest.
“Secondly I think you’re getting a little confused between demons, the Devil, and ghosts. An exorcism is not to send the departed soul into heaven, it’s to drive out and destroy an evil spirit.”
Chad’s jaw dropped. He shook his head vigorously.
“No! That’s not what I wanted! Not to hurt him. I just… I just wanted some peace from him.”
“I’m relieved to hear that. And the third reason I couldn’t perform any form of ceremony to send a ghost on its way to heaven is that I am a ghost. Right now, I’m really quite happy where I am. Any such ceremony could send me on my way as well!”
Chad stared at the priest sitting next to him and shook his head vigorously.
“You can’t be! I can see you clearly. Look. You’re solid…”
He went to pat the priest on the shoulder, but his hand went straight through. It wasn’t like with Frederick who was semi-translucent. Chad’s hand disappeared inside the priest. He yanked it back with a yelp.
“As you can see,” said the priest. “I am one-hundred percent ghost.”
* * *
Chad just stared at the ghostly priest for a long time, then he felt all his hopes collapse inwards.
“You’re a ghost. You can’t help. What am I going to do? I can’t carry on like this.”
The priest smiled.
“Well, I have been able to hear Frederick the whole time you’ve been here. I’ve heard all of the interjections and corrections he kept trying to make.” He shifted his glance to Chad’s side. “Not meaning to offend you, Frederick, but I do kind of see Chad’s point.”
He turned his gaze back to Chad and spoke again.
“But I also saw how horrified you were at the thought of an exorcism harming Frederick. I also noticed that when you dropped down onto the pew you left enough room for Frederick to sit beside you. And you said yourself that Frederick not only helped you to clear that dangerous debt but has been trying to help you since then.”
“I know that. I know he’s trying. I just can’t… it’s all… it’s too much.”
“I’m only trying to help,” said Frederick primly. “And I must say it’s quite rude of you not to have let on you could hear me, Father! All the time I was sitting here trying to help Chad tell the story properly. Do you know how frustrating it is not be able to directly interact?”
“Funnily enough, I do have a fair idea,” said the priest drily. “It seems to me that the problem is not actually the two of you being together. It’s more that you need a little help in working out the best way to be together.”
Frederick’s mouth dropped open at that. Chad found himself speechless too.
“What, forever?” he finally managed to say.
“Maybe. Or at least until Frederick feels he’s done enough to remove the guilt he’s feeling.”
“Guilt? But I killed him!”
“Nonsense!” said Frederick. “It was my own stupidity! And by being so stupid I put you in such a difficult position! I can’t leave you until… well, until I know you’ll be okay.”
“I will be okay! I can manage on my own!”
“Well not at the moment. You’re…”
“But only because…”
The two of them were talking over each other now, voices rising.
“Enough!” snapped the priest sharply, silencing them. Then he smiled again.
“If I might be allowed to continue, what I was saying was that you need to learn to live together. I think I should spend some time with each of you separately, to understand you, then with both of you together. Shall we see how that works out? After all, what have you got to lose?”
* * *
Father Sanders smiled as he watched Chad and Frederick leave the church together, Chad holding the door open for his ghostly friend despite the fact Frederick could simply pass through it.
The tension between them had eased greatly. They were talking to each other now rather than at each other. Father Sanders doubted things were completely sorted and he firmly expected both to take up the offer to come see him again.
In fact, he knew Frederick would be back. That was part of the deal which had been struck. For parts of each day Frederick would leave Chad alone, allow him to live a normal life. During those times Frederick was welcome to come visit the cathedral and Chad could spend time working, socialising, and having a normal life without distraction.
But at other times Chad had agreed that Frederick could help him. Even to visit Chad at work if there was something Chad needed help with – as long as Frederick stayed focused on that one thing. The solution also meant when they did spend time together they would have things to talk about.
It wouldn’t be a perfect life for the two of them, but whose was? The two of them had developed a strong bond despite the circumstances of their meeting and the troubles they’d had since then. That was probably the only reason Chad had lasted as long as he had before seeking help.
They needed more help than Father Sanders could give, though. Both had been thrust into a world they’d had no idea existed. A world inhabited by ghosts and other supernatural creatures. The two of them needed a chance to talk with others who lived in that world, who could show that far from being freaks Chad and Frederick were just differently normal.
There was himself, of course, but he knew plenty of others who would help. He went through some of them in his mind and smiled to himself. Of course! The next person they should meet was Vincent. After being a vampire for more than a hundred years, Vincent was more than used to the difficulties of trying to fit an unusual life into the normal world.
After that… well, there were plenty of others. Father Sanders couldn’t promise an ordinary life for Chad and Frederick, but maybe, just maybe, they could have a normal life. In a weird kind of way.