The Ghost of Gidley
“Are you SURE it’s not haunted?” “One hundred per cent certain, my good sir,” Friedrich Gidley said, shaking the hand of the man he stood before. The quivering businessman was the first person to have responded to an offer for the sale of Gidley Manor, the vast foreboding structure at the corner of 45th and Farrow streets. “What was that?” the man said, jumping at the faintest creak. “It’s an old house, good sir. An old house. It creaks here and there, but it’s as strong as the day it was built,” Friedrich continued, his gentleman’s grin still holding true. The next thing they heard left neither of them grinning. The last thing Friedrich Gidley could remember of that night was running faster and for longer than he ever had in his entire life. He could not recall arriving at the Harpy’s Lair tavern, nor could he remember how he became so… damp. He looked down at himself and found that there were flecks of blood all across his fine white shirt, and his jacket was nowhere to be seen. Was the blood his own? He could not recall that either. How very odd. How very unbecoming of a businessman. He would have to see a seeker about this. * “So you see… I would like you to be rather discreet for this particular task,” the gentleman said to Elspeth. She recalled that his name was Gidley (he hadn’t introduced himself, but was well-enough known), but quite unlike she had ever seen him. He looked as though he hadn’t slept properly in a few days. His hair was poorly kept and his clothes in disarray. “Discreet doesn’t always work with the job, but I’ll do my best,” she said, studying a book as she listened. A seeker had to be the master of multitasking. “What happened to the other man?” she asked. “Who?” “The investor you were showing about the place. The one whose blood somehow ended up on your clothing,” she said, studying the quivering Gidley out of the corner of her eye. People had a tendency to let their guard down when they thought they weren’t being watched. The man blinked nervously, his eyes widening. “I…” he stuttered. “I don’t know. One moment he was there and the next he… and the smell… but the horror…” he trailed off, clasping his hands over his ears as he started to rock back and forth. “I will take this job,” Elspeth said, closing the book and mentally recording the page she was up to. “That is, assuming you can actually pay me what you’ve offered.” “You can certainly have confidence in my financial resources, I promise you that. Cost is hardly an obstacle, though it would still be preferable to keep it under the cost of selling the manor itself.” Elspeth stared at Gidley with her unflinching pale yellow eyes, and the gentleman squirmed somewhat. “We will see,” she said, before standing up to assemble her kit for this job. “You would be surprised, in my line of work, how many cases of hauntings are really due to pranks or mere superstition,” she continued. “Unnen hauntings tend to be rather rare, but I will happily investigate your manor before I charge you the full price. If an Unnen really is at work, then I will bill you accordingly.” “How very… gracious of you,” Gidley said. That very evening, Elspeth stepped out to meet Gidley out the front of his manor. It was certainly an impressive sight, standing four stories tall and on an enormous block of land. Nowadays such a block could fit a score or so of flats. Elspeth’s pack for hauntings was diverse and complex, even more so than her usual equipment. For most of her missions, she would primarily take a broad assortment of weapons. For a haunting, she had to take with her a large number of tools – potions, plants, knick-knacks, totems and chemical mixtures. Gidley fumbled with the keys as he went to unlock the gates and dropped them, but Elspeth quickly snatched them from the air to open the manor grounds herself. She quickly looked the older man over – still shaking and pale. “Perhaps it would be best if you stayed outside. You can wait in your hotel room until I’m done, if you’d like.” Immediately relief washed over Gidley’s face and his shoulders slumped, as if a large burden had been lifted from his soldiers. “Oh, thank you. I’ll wait for you there. Best of luck!” he said, quickly making his escape back down the street. Elspeth hardly watched him go, entering the manor grounds and locking the gate behind her. The manor grounds were reasonably well-lit, with gas lanterns here and there. She had no trouble finding her way to the front door, which was swaying gently in a light breeze. Gidley had evidently been telling the truth about his hurry in leaving. A brief glance at the floor within showed the faintest traces of bloody footprints. Elspeth knelt down, bringing her face closer to them. They matched Gidley’s shoes. She looked up, standing upright again. The house was not in bad repair, but there was a general sense of foreboding about the place. The air felt heavy and smelled musty. She stepped over the threshold into the house and involuntarily shivered, feeling goose bumps across her skin. There was definitely something here. From her belt she retrieved her ether scanner. Ghosts didn’t precisely exist within the physical dimension, save for the visual effects of their energy. The ether was just a name for the ‘otherworld’, a place not precisely within the prime universe but overlapping it. The ether scanner allowed her to detect fluctuations within the local ether, which would indicate the presence of a transdimensional being. She could detect multiple types of beings with it – before she could see them, often. After taking a few steps into the house, the door slammed behind her, locking with a faint click. Elspeth only glanced over her shoulder. It was common for these kinds of jobs. As she continued on, she carefully retrieved a crystal from a small pouch at her hip. It was no more than five centimetres long, and dull blue. The ether scanner’s readings continued to climb steadily as she headed towards the dining room, indicating the source of the ether disturbance was close. Elspeth slowly turned the handle, opening the room to find blood pouring from the ceiling. She stood, watching it for a few moments, before the scene vanished. An illusion. Unfazed, she walked in to find there was absolutely no trace of any blood whatsoever. Curious. The ether scanner had faded somewhat, indicating she was certainly dealing with some kind of otherworldly-phenomenon. It was unlikely to be regular magic, but regardless she was indeed facing a legitimate haunting. She suspected a spectre or shade, rather than a true ghost, but there was little difference for her. She hoped it was one of the former two – they would be easier to remove. “You should not be here,” a mysterious voice spoke, seeming to come from both everywhere and nowhere at the same time. “It will be your undoing,” it said. “You can save the theatrics, spirit. I’m well over all that. Move on out of here and I won’t have to hurt you,” Elspeth said. “I’m not going anywhere. In fact, I think you might be joining me… very soon.” A chill to Elspeth’s back instinctively made her crush the crystal in her hand, sending a blast of dancing lights into the air. She turned to find herself face to face with an elderly-looking gentleman, somewhat- translucent, wielding a long, wicked blade in his left hand. He had one hand over his face, screaming. “You bitch! What have you done to me?” “I see you,” she said, reaching her hand into a pocket. Just as the spirit recovered enough to see what she was doing, she threw a bolas-like object at its feet. “NO!” it screamed, its feet sinking to the ground with a thud. The spirit tried swinging its sword at her, but she dodged back deftly. “Now I have you, shade” she said, grinning her devilish smile. “This won’t hold me forever.” “It will hold you long enough,” she said, pulling a length of chalk from her pocket. She held it in her open palm a moment, closing her eyes as she chanted to herself. When she opened her eyes, it was floating. With gentle pushing movements, she guided the chalk across the floor to draw a faint cross within a circle. The shade grinned wolfishly at her when it realised what she was doing but said nothing further, not even attempting to stop the chalk as it traced between its feet. A few more chanted words from Elspeth caused the chalk to glow and pulsate, tendrils of wispy smoke climbing upwards. The shade started to thicken, almost imperceptibly at first but was soon entirely opaque. A few moments more and the bolas untangled itself, clunking to the ground as the shade stood on its own two feet. “That was not your best move,” it said, still grinning maniacally, its eyes wide. The shade hefted its sword and charged, swinging recklessly. Elspeth dodged under the cut and drew her own blade, a smallsword. She parried away another cut before jumping back, creating some distance between her and the shade. The creature wasted no time in attacking again, a series of ringing blows echoing throughout the otherwise silent household. Elspeth felt her arms burning as she fought off the monster’s furious assault. The clashing of the steel also helped to invigorate her, hone her mind. It was in the midst of a fight for one’s life that they felt, perhaps, truly alive. The shade was strong, but she was agile. She was able to dodge, weave and duck out of the way of many of its swings, but the true advantage the spirit had was that it was untiring. She would have to end the fight sooner rather than later, to have a chance of winning. She ducked under a savage cut and elbowed her opponent, causing it to stumble backwards. It aimed a stab at her, which she sidestepped and countered with an overhead chop, striking deep into the grey ‘flesh’. The spirit howled and tendrils of light weeped from the wound. Elspeth darted away again only to have the monster charge her. She ran to meet it and jumped, pushing herself off the nearby wall to kick the shade’s head. It fell heavily, and she lightly landed. With a two-handed heave, she impaled the shade to the floor, driving her blade deep into the wood. Struggling to move, the spirit’s features contorted as it continued to shout. This was her chance. She retrieved a small paper seal from her pocket, pressed it into her fist and quickly shoved it into the mouth of the yelling shade. Thick, grey-blue smoke poured out and the shade was now screaming as it burned away. Elspeth stood back as it flailed feebly for a few moments longer, before becoming no more. With that, she retrieved an unfolding dustpan and broom, then sweept up the stringy residue. She could use it for something. This was the true reward for this job, though she would never tell Gidley that. When she was done, she slowly withdrew her smallsword from the floorboards. The hole wasn’t that noticeable. She hoped. The house was now very quiet. Not deathly quiet, as it had been before her encounter with the shade. Serenely quiet. The house seemed less dark, less ominous, and Elspeth knew that it wasn’t just her imagining things. Putting an end to so great a disturbance had brought balance in the energies of the place. The area had been cleansed not just physically, but spiritually. Gidley would be pleased. * Gidley Manor was sold within the week. The well-to-do businessman and his family were likely none the wiser with regards to the recent de-haunting that had occurred (it was not an exorcism, that was entirely different). Elspeth had received her substantial fee and had proceeded to refocus on her experiments. Fresh shade ectoplasm was rare, and she wanted to make the best use of this asset that she could. Thus it was, during one of her days of rather extensive experimentation that she was disturbed by a knock at the door of her apartment. Peculiar, as she usually sensed approaching strangers before they even entered her building. She set down the apparatus she had just been using before checking the entrance. She had long since set up multiple layers of security for her home. Her work did not necessarily bring her many enemies, but it often brought her a lot of trouble. The mirror system allowed her to see that her visitor was small, slight and likely a client rather than a foe. She sighed. Her experiments would have to wait for now. She opened the door to admit a man who was… narrow. He had small shoulders, a thin face, an almost (but not quite) emaciated frame and long, spindly fingers. He wore thick glasses and seemed the bookish type. His demeanour was the opposite to what one would expect of someone with his stature. “I have a proposition that I guarantee you will find most interesting,” he beamed, good-naturedly. “I’ve certainly heard that before,” Elspeth said, leafing through a book as she spoke to him. “Well it concerns your brother,” the man said, his grin broadening. “I know where to find him.” The man was right. That WAS guaranteed to have her interest. “Go on,” she said.