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Clement's Corner: A Day For A Ghost

So would you expect to see a ghost on a hot day in a small town in Australia?

Owen Clement tells a fine tale.

”Hurry, you’re just in time,'' said the ancient caretaker of the equally ancient run-down theatre said to the couple who had appeared at the door of the neglected building.

Mary and Ross Grant had seen the boarded-up weatherboard building with State Theatre vertically emblazoned on its front when they had strolled into the town centre. Noticing that the front door was wide open they became curious and looked inside. That was when they were confronted by the bent little old man.

”Oh, what for?” Mary had asked with a tinge of excitement.

“You mean you never heard of Garrison Whitttaker?” the old man replied with obvious surprise.

“We’re on holiday from the north of England,'' Mary said. "We arrived in Australia only a week ago. We are on a coach tour, here on an overnight stop.''

“You’d be familiar with ghosts then I should imagine?”

“Ghosts?” Ross's tone was scornful. He thought there were no such things as ghosts. They were "invented'' by folk who were eager to attract tourists. “Come along Mary, we’d best get back and see what others are doing.''

However, Mary was interesed. Very interested. "Mister...?'' she asked, inquiring after the old man's name.

“Slaney. Bert Slaney. I’m the caretaker of this theatre. Have been for over forty years. Even though it closed about ten years ago I still keep an eye on the place. I always make sure that I’m here when Garrison Whittaker is due to make his appearance.

“I’m Mary Grant and this is my husband Ross. Please tell me about the ghost.”

Bert, frowning in Ross's direction, said "I'm afraid he won’t appear if there are sceptics present.''

“Come along Mary,'' Ross insisted. "We haven’t got time for this bloody nonsense.”

“You join the others dear. I would like to stay here.''

“Mr Slaney,” Ross said with a touch of exasperation, “I’m a retired journalist. I have covered so-called ghost sightings over many years. Not one of them was authenticated.''

”Ï tell you mister I and many others have seen Garrison Whittaker, and always on the same day,'' Bert responded. "He disappeared eighty-two years ago today. He was supposed to have been murdered by a jealous husband.''

"So how long does this ghost hang around when he comes to visit?'' Ross asked in a mocking tone.

“Not long.”

"OK, I'll leave you here Mary and come back in an hour. Good day to you Mr Slaney.''

Impassively the old man turned and entered the building. Mary followed him. Their murmuring voices retreated towards the interior of the darkened theatre.

Ross, unable to walk away from a possible story, did not leave. He too slipped into the theatre, watching the shadowy figures of his wife and the old man who were making their way towards the stage which was lit by a solitary light bulb.

Bert helped Mary up the steps, onto the stage. Once there, the old man checked his watch.

Ross suddenly felt a chill run down his spine. He began to doubt his own convictions. A tall figure wearing a black frock coat and a high-crowned hat drifted out from the wings onto the front apron of the stage to stand behind Mary and Bert. The "apparition'' then swung around and glared in his direction.

Ross was gripped by fear. There was menace in the "spectre's'' eyes. He wanted to flee, but his feet refused his commands. He remained frozen, immobile, until the tall figure disappeared.

Bert and Mary were now talking to one another. Slowly the left the stage and began to make their way down the aisle.

Ross, his thoughts in turmoil, hurried outside.

Bert and Mary soon emerged into the daylight.

"Ah Mr Grant...'' Bert said, surprised to see him. "I don't understand it.... He has always appeared before on this day...''

"You didn't see anything?'' Ross asked, stunned.

Mary shook her head and took him by the arm. "Good bye Mr Slaney,'' she said. "Come along darling.''

As they walked away she asked "Are you all right? You're looking pale.''

Then, with a laugh, she added "You look as though you've seen a ghost.''

© Clement 2007


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