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U3A Writing: A Ghost Of A Chance

Lucy Manders sees a familiar figure, hears his voice… But this can't be. Reuben is dead….

Ida Smith tells a spooky tale.

Old Lucy Manders pushed open the heavy security door and carefully stepped into the large dimly lit undercover parking area of the building. The heavily clouded sky obscured the light, which filtered through the narrow window apertures. Making her way carefully along the uneven floor, she approached her car.

It was then that it happened. She became aware of something strange – an unfamiliar movement. Then her eyes rested on a tall hefty figure of a man clad in dark overalls. He was standing on a ladder, painting the long high wall on her left. He was partly hidden behind the Emerson’s large black 4X4 parked there. She stood frozen. It wasn’t possible! “I can’t believe it!” she gasped, “I’m crazy …”

The man was standing on a short stepladder. His right arm was moving up and down holding a brush and covering the wall with whitewash. “Reuben? No, it couldn’t be! It’s the poor light! I can’t see well. Reuben was dead. Of course, they must have hired someone else by now to finish the job. I’m confused!”

Her heart was jumping wildly in her chest. ”But it is Reuben! I know him. I recognise him!” She stood transfixed, gazing at the figure. Suddenly, the man half-turned and called out kindly, “Good morning, Madam!”

Paralysed with fear, she thought she was being utterly ridiculous. Of course, it must be someone playing the fool, someone with a bizarre sense of humour. She had to get out of here and call for help. She turned towards the door. She’d find Thomas, the caretaker. He should know that somebody was impersonating the well-loved, late handyman who had been employed in this large block of flats for the past forty years. He had arrived here as a young man and had been a faithful, obliging workman, always ready to do a repair or to install some appliance or other for the many tenants.

Before his sad demise, he had begun the mammoth task of painting the walls of the garage. Two weeks ago, he had reached the very same spot where he was now busy. It must have been a seizure which caused his death. His heart must have given in. Someone had seen him staggering outside, calling for help, but before he could be aided, he collapsed and died in the flowerbed next to the steps in the garden. Everyone in the building had been deeply touched by Reuben’s sudden death.

Still trembling, Lucy approached the caretaker’s door. Agitatedly, she called, “Come quickly!” When he opened his door, she spluttered, “There’s something really odd going on! Reuben is downstairs, and painting the wall at the same place where he had got to the day he died!”

Thomas gazed at the old woman. “You’re joking, of course,” he said in that flat voice of his. “Don’t do this!”

“But really, I saw him, Mr Thomas!” She almost wept in desperation. I’m serious. I feel quite faint. You must come down and see!”

With his face set in an expression of disbelief, Thomas strode ahead of her to the garage. Once inside, she pointed to the wall, at the spot in front of the big 4x4. “There!” she said, “He was over there!” As she led the way, she knew there was nothing to see.

“But,” she argued with herself, “He’s moved on to somewhere else.”

Thomas stopped following her. “I think you were greatly mistaken,” he called out. “You are making a mockery of Reuben’s death,” he added, trying to hide the anger and disdain he felt.

“But, he greeted me!” she said as a last attempt to convince him, before he turned around and walked out letting the door close behind him with a slam.

She went up to her car, overcome with humiliation and anger. Then, she heard the familiar voice again. “Ma’am, remember if you ever need me, I’m around!”

“Reuben!” she cried, looking for him, wanting to question him, but he’d vanished. “It’s a ghost, Reuben’s ghost I’m dealing with, and I don’t think I’ll be able to handle this,” she cried out to herself as she drove out to the shops.

Later on, when she returned and drove into the garage her anxiety returned. She began to doubt her sanity. Of course, it was impossible that Reuben could be roving around the place as he had done these many years. “He’s not here anymore,” she told herself, “and that is THAT!”

But leave it to Mr Thomas. He was going to inform all and sundry of Lucy Manders’ hallucinations and how she might be “losing it.” She felt overwhelmed. She wouldn’t be able to cope with the mockery behind her back that would follow, forcing her to move elsewhere perhaps.

She opened the boot of her car. Her parcels were heavy and difficult to carry. When Reuben was around, he was always there to help. But dare she call him! Of course not!

Once back in her flat, she sank exhausted into a chair. What a strange experience this had been. No one would believe what had happened. She had always been well-esteemed by the few people she had befriended and her neighbour Erica Sillson on her left regarded her as a good, stable friend, and interesting company.

She was feeling calmer now and decided to make herself a light snack and to have an early night. In her small, neat kitchen, she set to work, placing everything she heeded on a tray. As she turned to take a plate from the shelf, a sudden wave of dizziness overcame her.

“What now?” she thought as she staggered towards the door, praying that Erica would be in to help her. As she turned the key, there was a loud knocking on the door, “Lucy! Lucy! Are you all right? Open up!”

There stood Erica. She rushed forward to support her now swaying friend. Quickly she called for help, and Lucy was taken to hospital.

A few days later, feeling very much better, she was discharged and was brought home. On seeing Erica, she thanked her for her kind help. “Erica, I have something to tell you. It’s about Reuben …”

“Wait a minute,” she interrupted. “I have something to tell you!” How do you think I knew you were in trouble? I heard his voice, loud and resonant as always, calling “Go next door quickly … she needs you!”

“Well,” thought Lucy, feeling very relieved and happy, “Things have changed, but they are still pretty much the same as always!”

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