Muriel hadn’t been feeling herself for some time now. Her sister, Gertrude, was worried about her.
"What’s up?" she asked, when she bumped into Muriel coming down the stairs one morning.
"Oh, I don’t know," Muriel said, flouncing past – Muriel was rather good at flouncing, so she flounced at every opportunity.
Gertrude turned and followed her sister into the living room where Muriel threw herself on to the sofa.
"How long have we been haunting here?" Muriel asked.
Gertrude shrugged. "Don’t know really." She put her fingers to her lips and tapped her foot. "Let me see. You died in …. Er … 1998, wasn’t it?"
"5th of February," Muriel confirmed.
"And I was a bit earlier, a couple of years before you, I think."
"28th August, 1996, 9.30 in the evening. The doc got there five minutes too late."
"Don’t worry, dear," Gertrude said, floating over and patting Muriel on the arm, "my time was up anyway. There was nothing old Doc Sayers could have done."
Muriel was surprised. "Really? I didn’t know that."
"Yes, you did, dear. I told you when you arrived over." She sighed. "Sadly your memory hasn’t improved since then."
"Well! Really!" If it was possible to flounce while seated then Muriel achieved it.
"So I’ve been here for, ooh, 12 years." Gertrude said
"Nearly 13," Muriel corrected. "And I’ve been here over 10."
"And very lonely it was until you got here," Gertrude told her. "I’d almost given up and moved on. It was getting boring here on my own with only you to haunt. And you were so deaf you never heard the wailing, and so forgetful you didn’t notice when I moved things around. When I put that bucket on the stairs and you fell over it you thought you must have left it there yourself."
"Yes, until I got over here and you put me right," Muriel pointed out.
"Well, if I hadn’t you might still be living here and I might still be a lonely ghost."
"Hrrmph. Selfish as ever," Muriel muttered.
"Nothing. Well anyway," Muriel crossed one leg flamboyantly over the other one, "I’m bored now."
"So what do you want to do about it?" Gertrude asked, seating herself in an armchair.
"I don’t know," Muriel said. "Something dramatic."
"Oh, no, please don’t do anything silly, I’m too tired." Gertrude said.
"Yes, tired. Worn out. Kaput. Knackered. Exhausted. I don’t think I really want to be here any longer."
"But this is our house," Muriel wailed, "It’s where we’ve lived for our whole lives."
"And deaths," Gertrude added.
"And deaths," Muriel agreed. She cocked her head on one side and regarded Gertrude critically. "Come to think of it you do look a bit peaky. A bit crumbly round the edges, if you know what I mean. I can see right through you now and I never used to be able to do that.
Gertrude laid her head back. "And the fun’s gone out of haunting lately."
Muriel had to agree. "I must admit the lot that are living here don’t seem to be taking much notice of us recently. I don’t think they’ve even noticed that I’ve swapped all the china around in the cupboards.
"Well," she stood up, all the flounce gone out of her now. "I’m going to find something major to do, and make our presence felt.
"All right," Gertrude said quietly, her eyes gently closing.
Two days later Muriel woke up in the spare room and looked across to the other bed where Gertrude –
She shot upright and tumbled out of bed. "Gertrude," she called, hurrying along the landing. "Gertrude? Gertrude, where are you?"
She opened and closed all the doors leading off the landing. There was no sign of Gertrude.
She flew down the stairs – literally, no flouncing this time, and no buckets, either, and rushed through the downstairs rooms.
"Gertrude," she screamed. "Gertrude, WHERE ARE YOU?"
Eventually, exhausted, she collapsed on the stairs. "Gertrude, come back, come back," she wailed, before burying her head in her hands and sobbing – no tears, but her pain was as real as for any living person. Just as real as the pain had been when Gertrude had died on that dreadful day in 1996.
Eventually Muriel made her way back to the bedroom; it was more peaceful upstairs. All the family had been woken by the banging doors earlier and were even now sitting in the kitchen discussing why their personal ghost had suddenly reappeared and whether or not they should get in the exorcist.
"Reappeared," Muriel whined as she flounced into the bedroom. "Like we’d ever been gone!"
The family had just got used to them, that was the trouble. None of them had even noticed the cold spot as they’d run through her as she was sitting on the stairs this morning. She might just as well have not been there,
She laid down on the bed. Perhaps Gertrude was right, she thought, perhaps it was time to move on. But not without a fight. She sat up again and looked round the room. What to do, what to do ….
Later that day, when the family were all out of the house, Muriel went downstairs and entered the living room. She picked up a photograph frame from the mantelpiece and gazed at the two faces that looked back at her, Jo and Sandy, the children who lived here. Nice children, Muriel supposed, but she was too old to appreciate them. She could do without the fights, the screaming, the loud games and the even louder music. Didn’t they know she was old?
Muriel sighed as she lifted a cushion and placed the picture frame beneath it. She’d never had children of course, had never even had a boyfriend, yet alone a husband, and sometimes, when the children had been younger and Alex, their mother had shuffled tiredly along the landing to comfort a crying child in the dead of night, Muriel had been quite pleased to have been spared having another person so dependant on her. She hadn’t escaped completely, of course, her mother had needed nursing at the end and then when Gertrude had been widowed she’d moved herself back into the family home alongside of Muriel and expected Muriel, as the young sibling, to do all the hard work.
Still, it hadn’t been a bad life, Muriel thought as she rearranged various ornaments around the room, and it had been nice to carry on living in this house even after her death. She removed the shade from the standard lamp in the corner and placed it carefully on top of the vase on the table before leaving the room and heading off into the kitchen.
She had to be careful here. Once, some years ago, soon after Alex and the family had moved into the house Muriel had gone a bit overboard in the kitchen, taking all the packets from the cupboards and tipping them all over the kitchen floor.
Alex had gone mad. She’d shouted at Muriel. Not directly, of course, but she knew who was responsible. "Don’t you ever do this again," she’d screamed at someone, or something, undefined. "It will cost a fortune to replace all this, and take me hours to clean it up." Then she’d burst into tears.
Muriel had felt quite guilty then; she wasn’t a bad person, just bored. Since that day she’d never done anything that would cause her family – well, they weren’t hers really, but she thought of them in a possessive way – anyway, she’d never caused damage to anything and never done anything that would take too long to put right.
She stood in the sunlight pouring through the large picture window and lost herself in thoughts. The previous evening she’d heard the family planning a holiday and she was not looking forward to being in an empty house on her own now Gertrude had moved on. Honestly, Muriel flounced out of the room at the thought of her sister, how could Gertrude have been so absolutely selfish?
Suddenly she stood still. Why stay in the house? Why not go with them? They were holidaying on the west coast and travelling by car, so that would be no problem. Muriel couldn’t have gone if they’d been flying anywhere, she’d gone up in a plane once and had been sick the whole time.
She felt brighter now somehow, more cheerful. She had something to look forward to.
Two weeks later and the car was loaded with two adults, two children, two suitcases and several other pieces of assorted luggage and one ghost.
The weather was fine, the travelling easy, and Muriel found herself nodding off several times in her position sprawled across the luggage in the back of the estate car.
The house that the family had rented was lovely. Light and airy and just a few yards from the beach.
All went well until the last morning. They’d spent the week visiting museums (fascinating, thought Muriel, although the children didn’t seem quite so impressed), going to a theme park (again Muriel and the children differed in their opinion of this activity) and laying or playing on the beach.
Then, on the last morning Muriel decided that she ought to go for a swim. She hadn’t really felt warm enough before, but this last morning the temperatures had soared and, thinking this might be her last chance in her current life Muriel glided down to the beach early, while the bags were being packed back in the house.
Muriel didn’t come down to earth until she was well out over the water, by which time it was more a case of coming down to sea rather than earth, and this involved her making a horrific discovery as she sunk beneath the waves. She couldn’t swim! She couldn’t float or keep herself above the water.
Of course, ghosts can’t die – well, not in the way that you or I think of dying, so she was able to walk back to shore, albeit slowly. Whatever element the sea had that made it impossible for it to support a ghost body didn’t apply to ghosts walking, it was just as difficult for ghosts to walk through water as it is for those of us still living.
Out of the water Muriel flounced up the beach, annoyed at losing yet another capability her living body had been able to do. Honestly, she was beginning to think Gertrude had done the right thing by moving on. It was no fun being here any more, no fun without Gertrude to talk to and no fun because her family ignored her these days. When they came across her latest prank they just tutted and put things right again. Still, they were better than nothing, she supposed.
As she drew nearer to the house she realised that the family car had gone and she began to panic. They couldn’t have left yet, surely? They had only just started packing when she left the house.
But they had. The front door was locked and the key left under the mat as per the instructions the family had received. Muriel let herself in and looked at the clock. It was mid-day! Walking back underwater had taken longer than she’d thought – although, come to think of it, she’d wondered at the time if she had been walking in the right direction all the time. When she passed the same crab for the third time she’d wondered at his alacrity, but now she realised he had probably been sleeping and she had been walking in circles.
It was too much. Muriel slowly walked back to the beach and lay on the sand. If she’d been human she would have cried at this point, but even the effort of being miserable drained her.
There was no point in going on now. Her sister had deserted her and now she had been abandoned by her family. She wondered if they would miss her, or whether the missing would be a good thing.
She turned on her side, drew her knees up to her chest and wailed. Ghosts wailing make a hideous noise, but luckily there were no other houses for some way and nobody out walking their dogs, so her wailing went unheard.
"Muriel," a voice whispered, but was drowned out by the wailing.
"Muriel!" The voice shouted on this occasion.
Muriel went quiet. "Gertrude?" she asked, afraid she was hearing things.
"It’s me. I’ve come to take you home." A shimmery figure appeared on the sand in front of Muriel. It held out a hand, and Muriel lifted hers and clasped the offered fingers. The hand was warm, like soft fabric, and it drew her up … up … and away.