___WORDS FROM ME_____________________________________

tickety boo

two carved pumpkin heads glow in the dark
Photo by Beth Teutschmann
If there's one thing I've had no luck with - or frankly just aren't very good at - then it's competitions. I did win one once, when I was but a pale youth with long hair and flares. That was in a colouring competition run by the local paper, and the prize was an Evel Knievel stunt cycle. It was, to be fair, a great prize back then and Evel was every boy's hero. But when it's come to writing competitions, I have had about as much luck as Evel did when he was trying to jump across the Grand Canyon.

To illustrate why, and because it is October and Hallowe'en is due, here's a short short story that was written for a Yorkshire magazine's local haunted stories competition. I don't think it's any worse than the stories that were selected as the winners - but then I wouldn't, would I?

It's called "Tickety Boo!" and it's about 1,000 words long.



TICKETY BOO!


The man sent to photograph ghosts arrived just as evening stole in on the last day of October.
          After a long whining hum that seemed to chime in the air, the railway-line rattled with his coming. Gusts of leaves turned and lifted, falling like a shroud or a sigh, and for a moment there was a sound that might have been an old steam locomotive piping out a trill whistle in the autumn air. But surely that was just the phantom echo of a past age.
           I’d been assigned as the photographer’s tour guide and told to be sure that he went away with what he most wanted. Among my kind – which is to say those of us who still have some influence on this particular night – I wasn’t considered too distracting to play the part.
           If the photographer didn’t match my own preconceived notions when he stepped from his train, then I’m certain that I, sombre and funereal, fitted none of his as I stepped off mine. A short sturdy man who squinted behind his eyeglasses, he wore his hair short and was dressed in corduroy trousers and an open-collared Oxford shirt beneath a v-necked jumper. His jacket was grey and understated and wouldn’t, I thought, offer much insulation for the time of year. A digital camera was looped over his shoulder and he carried hand luggage in the event of an overnight stay. He looked distinctly harried as he left his carriage.
             When the other commuters had faded away, the trains had left, and he stood alone on the platform, I called out to him.
          “Mister James?”
          Startled, he spun around. He had a small nose, but his glasses slid to its curled end as he peered over their frames in my direction.
          “You surprised me,” he confessed, holding up a hand. “I didn’t see you there.”
          I glided from the smoky shadows and presented my card. “Han Duet.”
          He studied the card and then looked me over. “It says here you’re a watch repairer, Mister Deut.”
          “Who better to guide you around the town? It means you won’t be late getting back for your train. Have you been here before? John Betjeman says the station’s architecture is the most splendid in the country. Just tickety.”
          “I’m here to take pictures of Huddersfield’s supposed haunted byways, Mister Deut. And I don’t have a lot of time. This is my last stop in Yorkshire and so far I haven’t captured so much as the suggestion of an apparition on camera. It’s late in the day and you’ll understand if architecture’s not high on my list of priorities.”
          “Of course, of course. That’s tickety.” When I reached for my old pocket-watch and flipped the lid, he lifted his eyebrows in surprise. I tapped the dial and said, “Let’s be on with the tour, shall we?”
          As the thick burn of sunset spread across the sky, we passed beneath the Corinthian pillars of the portico, into St George’s Square, and walked beyond the statue of the former Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The streetlights glowed to life as we proceeded toward Kirkgate. Of course, the stores and restaurants had been decorated for the ghoulish festivities, and already children were to be seen in garish make-up and plastic fangs. The more adventurous had opted for face paintings and the wicked fakeries of terrible scars, as indeed had more than a few adults. The presiding colour-coordination was black and red – the bloodier the red the better. As the night progressed, Mr James the photographer seemed to be the one whose clothing was inappropriate and not my own.
          “The town hall is reputedly haunted,” I told him after we’d exhausted the more famous examples of the town’s supernatural history and had been left wanting for a ghostly materialisation. I delivered a slow, knowing wink. “But the real spirits are only said to come out when the council meets.”
          “Right,” Mr James said disconsolately. “Maybe I’ll just take some shots of these people dressed up for the night. It’s probably the best I’m going to get.”
          “Why, yes, that’d be a tickety idea.” I made sure to stand beyond the reach of his lens and not to get in anyone’s way.
          Mr James photographed some youths who were dressed as Dracula, the Frankenstein monster (complete with neck bolts), and an unravelling Egyptian Mummy. “Say cheese,” he told a woman partygoer next. She pouted rouge lips through the mouth-hole cut in her simple white sheet costume, and an unseemly length of bare leg was revealed as a furry-faced wolfman embraced her. She squealed with delighted laughter as the wolfman howled and the camera flashed.
          But before long even the Hallowe’en revellers were heading home or weaving uncertainly from one pub to another. They were friendly enough but decidedly not in the mood to be captured for immortality’s sake after imbibing a couple too many light ales.
          I led the photographer back to the station. The frontage was lighted to spectacular effect at this hour. It was still a little while to midnight by my watch. As we waited on the platform, Mr James grumbled that his time in the county had been a waste. “Whitby was all wind and rain from the sea. York was stuffed with too many tourists. Harrogate too posh, and Leeds full of students. You’re the only person I’ve met who looks genuinely spooky. You dressed for tonight, I’ll give you that.”
          “Then the least I can offer you is a picture,” I said, mindful of my instructions to see he got what he wanted.
          As he angled his lens to take my portrait, I thought about how puzzled he would be the next morning, when Hallowe’en had ended, to find my profile faded and gone from his picture. We spirits have but our single night a year, and our images do not last beyond it; alas, poor Mr James would be left with nothing more than the backdrop of the railway lines on his camera tomorrow and a host of questions that would never be answered.
          “Say cheese,” he instructed.
          “Oh, I’m not really much of a one for cheese. I’m not a big eater these days.”
          “Then say something else, just be sure to smile. And look … kind of … dead.”
          “Now that’s easy,” I said, perfectly truthfully.
          “Ready?”
          “Tickety,” I said. And then posed. “Boo!”

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