Rare Sight

Hi! Thanks for visiting. I hope you enjoy 'Rare Sight', which I loved writing - I've already written an early draft of the next book in the series. And now for the blurb: Joe Simmonds didn't ask to see spirits. It doesn't help that a teenage ghost called Georgia turns up, claiming to be the aunt he didn't know he had - and that she was murdered.
Add in a vengeful dead grandfather, an unscrupulous spirit trader and a couple of nasty murders, and Joe has a hard time just staying alive, as he learns what Rare Sight is, and how to use it.
Cover design by the talented Mark Dyball (though I've spoilt it by cropping!); image copyright Dundanim/Dreamstime

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15. Chapter Fifteen

“Joe? Joe?”

Déjà vu. He kept his eyes tightly shut. His chest felt squashed, as if all his ribs were broken or something.

“Whaaat?” he croaked.

“Oh, thank goodness… Joe lovie, it’s Mum."

He opened one eye and took in his mum’s worried face.

“WherramI?”

“At the Khalils’, love – remember?”

He remembered with a jolt the fall with his gran. He opened both eyes. “Gran? She all right? Wherrisshe?”

“She’s lying across your chest, love. I can’t wake her. Are you up to helping me move her?”

“Urgh.” He shook his head. “Can’t move.”

“OK – I’ll get help.” She walked away and he closed his eyes again. His breathing seemed too loud. Unless… He craned his neck to squint at his gran. Yes, it was her breathing he could hear. He put his head back down with relief. He heard footsteps and lifted his head again; a familiar figure had come into view.

“Yous, is that you?”

Yousef grinned. “We really have got to stop meeting like this, y’know.”

“Ha-ha.”

“C’mon, mate, let’s get your gran into a more comfortable position.” He knelt down next to them. “Mrs Simmonds? We’re just going to move you into a better position, all right?”

Joe smiled weakly. “You’ve been watching too much Casualty.”

Joe’s mum and Yousef grunted as they lifted his gran off Joe and laid her carefully down on the floor.

“She needs a cushion,” his mum told Yousef. “And have you got anything to cover her with? Her hands feel freezing.” While they fussed over his gran, Joe lay quietly, amazed at how little of him hurt. He concentrated on twitching his toes, then moving his fingers and hands. He could taste blood in his mouth – he remembered his knee crashing into his mouth just before he fell. How far had they fallen? It had seemed to go on forever. Then he remembered Gideon – that thing that had nothing human about it. He groaned and shut his eyes.

“Joe? Are you all right?” His mum was back by his side, and the worry in her voice made him force his eyes open and smile at her.

“Yeah, I’m fine, Mum – sorry. Just remembering about Gideon.”

“What about him? You’re not still fretting over that deal I did with Tansley?”

He shook his head. “No – I’m thinking about the monster in the attic that turns out to be my dad.”

“What are you talking about?”

He groaned again. Sleep was a warm, dark place he longed to visit, but he forced himself to focus. With a supreme effort, he heaved himself into a sitting position.

“In the loft, right…” he said. “Gideon and Georgia…”

“…Wait a minute,” said his mum. “Gideon and Georgia were in the loft with you and your gran?”

He nodded. “Yeah… Except Gideon… well, he was this monster.”

His mum looked at him. “Gideon? He’s been many things in his time: a dangerous, reckless fool, a bully, a liar and a coward, but he’s no monster, Joe.”

“No – I mean really. He’s really a monster. This great big ghoul-thing, like a huge tower of shadow with shiny eyes like lights.”

“Then it wasn’t Gideon,” said his mum. She took a duvet from Yousef and carefully tucked it around her mother. “There, Mum. Better?”

“Mmmmm,” murmured his gran, and they all looked at each other in relief: she was conscious. Then the old lady whispered another word.

“What Mum – what was that?” asked Joe’s mum. She repeated it, and Joe understood and translated,

“She’s saying, ‘shape-shifter’ – that’s what Gideon is now. He can look like a man – like Gideon – or he can look like this horrible ghoul-thing, like I said before.”

“Nonsense,” said his mum.

“But…”

His mum held up a hand to stop him. “Listen, Joe, I don’t know what awful creatures you and your gran encountered in that loft, but Gideon – the Gideon we traded for Georgia’s Receptacle – is a real, flesh-and-blood human being.”

“But Mum, Forester was there and everything.”

Yousef interrupted. “What, old Forester? Up in our loft?”

“Except it wasn’t your loft,” said Joe.

“Eh?”

“It was… a different space. And it kept changing. I think we ended up in the roof space of some sort of warehouse or something.”

“Stuart,” said his mum.

“What about him?” asked Joe.

“I’m guessing Gideon has escaped from Stuart Tansley, and he isn’t happy about it – he’s trying to pay us back,” said his mum.

There was a pause.

“But… this thing knew all about Gideon,” said Joe.

“Simple enough ghost trick, isn’t it, Mum?” said his mum. His gran mumbled an assent. “And Georgia would know everything about Gideon, after all.”

“What was Forester doing up there?” said Yousef.

“I’m not sure,” said Joe. “Saving us – me and Gran, I mean. But he was doing all this quiet talking to Georgia, like he was trying to win her over. I dunno what all that was about. But Georgia seemed really into it.”

“Good old Marty,” said his mum. “Do you know, I can’t believe I hadn’t even realised your teacher was the same man who used to hang out with Georgia and Gideon. They used to go ghost-hunting together. Of course, he didn’t have a beard in those days.”

“Gideon said Forester had something called Rare Sight. Did you ever hear about it?” His mum shook her head, but his gran mumbled something. Joe’s mum leant over her.

“What’s that, Mum?” His gran mumbled again, and his mum picked it up, “She says it’s seeing the ghosts that aren’t normally visible.”

Joe nodded. “Yeah – that’s what Gideon said, too.” There was a pause. “I really trusted him, you know.”

“I don’t get any of this,” said Yousef.

Joe shook his head. “Me neither. I mean, why’d they let us go when they knew Gran had Georgia’s Receptacle?” He paused. “I hope Gran’s still got the ring.”

They all looked at her prostrate form.

“Well, I’m certainly not frisking my own mother,” said his mum. “When’s this ambulance coming anyway, Yousef? We’ve been waiting ages.”

Yousef put a hand to his mouth. “Ah, no… I don’t believe it…”

“You forgot to call them, didn’t you?”

He nodded. “I’m really sorry. I’ll go and do it now though.”

As Yousef walked away, Joe heard his gran say something else. He looked at his mum, then back to his gran. “What, Gran? Did you say something?” His gran lifted a hand to beckon his mum to come closer. “What? What’s she saying?” asked Joe.

His mum put a finger to her lips and shook her head; he waited impatiently while she bent over his gran to listen. Then she laughed. She stood up and walked over to Joe, dangling a tiny, sparkling circle over his head. “The ring! Where was it Mum?”

“Your gran had it in her bra,” she said, still laughing. Joe recoiled slightly and his gran’s voice came, louder and clearer this time,

“Well – kept it safe, didn’t I?” she said.

Yousef reappeared. “They said if she’s breathing and a normal colour she’s not a priority,” he said. “Could be up to two hours before they get here – they’re having a busy day.”

“Aren’t we all?” said Joe’s mum.

“What time is it anyway?” asked Joe.

“’Bout six in the morning, mate,” said Yousef.

“Six? But… where did the time go? Wasn’t it like midnight or something when we went up in the loft?”

His gran’s voice came again, quiet but clear, “We’ve been visiting spirits. Their world doesn’t obey the same rules of time and space as ours… Please can someone help me into a chair? I’m not very comfortable on the floor.”

“Of course, Mum,” said Joe’s mum. She and Yousef supported her into a standing position, and they made their laborious way into the living room. Yousef came back out.

“D’you want to come through too, mate?”

Joe nodded. “Yeah – that would be great.” He leaned heavily on his friend as they walked, and Yousef groaned.

“We have to stop doing this – you weigh even more than last time.”

“Sorry. I just… it’s my legs – they’re all shaky.”

“I’m not surprised, mate. I mean – all that talking to your dad who turns into a monster and then falling all that way and having your gran land on top of you. It would make my legs shake, too. Your mum says you and your gran just sort of fell out of the ceiling in the hall… Here you go.” He lowered Joe with a thump on to the cream leather sofa. “That all right?” Joe nodded. “Glad you didn’t leave a hole in the ceiling – my mum would’ve gone ballistic..” Joe looked round,

“Where are your mum and dad anyway? And your sister?”

“Still in bed, mate. Your mum came to get me after you made your appearance. We decided we’d let the rest of them sleep. My mum and dad were so stressed out about me. You should have seen the fuss they made when they found me stuck up there. I felt like a right idiot, getting stuck in my own loft. I'd only gone up to get the cot down for the baby's room. I still don’t know who shut the loft ladder and the hatch. Unless Sal didn’t realise I was up there, and thought someone’d forgotten to close it.”

Joe pulled a face. “Look, I’m sure it’s all our fault, Yous. I don’t suppose Sal had anything to do with it. But how come your mum and dad went to bed when they knew me and Gran were going up to look for you?”

“To be honest, when we came down from the loft, there wasn’t any sign of your mum either. I don’t know what happened – it’s like you were all in some parallel dimension or something and we couldn’t see any of you. So we tried ringing you but then we gave up and went to bed. Sorry, mate.”

“That’s all right. It did all get a bit confusing.”

Joe’s mum finished rearranging his gran’s cushions and stood up. “I’ll put the kettle on. I reckon a cup of sugary tea will make everyone feel better, don’t you?”

His gran smiled. “Sounds lovely, Sara. You know… I’m not sure I need an ambulance. I’m feeling a lot better. How about you, Joe?”

Joe nodded. “Just a bit wobbly.”

His mum stood looking from one to the other. “Still… I’d like to get you both checked out. Make sure there are no broken bones.”

“What are we going to say though?” said Yousef. “I mean, so far I just said that Mrs Simmonds had a fall.”

“Oh… I see what you mean,” said Joe’s mum.

“Oh, yeah,” said Joe. “We fell for miles and miles through some supernatural tunnel…” They all looked at each other.

“Should I cancel the ambulance?” said Yousef.

“I know what we’ll say,” said Joe’s gran. “I was falling out of the loft hatch and Joe tried to pull me back up but we both fell.”

“How’d you explain that neither of you’s got a scratch?” said Yousef.

“Good point, Yousef. I hadn’t thought of that,” said Joe’s gran. “And what if it all looks like some kind of cover-up? If our story doesn’t make sense, they might think I’m too scared to tell the truth about how badly you’re all treating me. I don’t fancy having to go and live in sheltered housing or something.”

Yousef nodded. “I’ll call and cancel now.” As he said it, the doorbell rang and they looked at each other. There was a loud knock and the bell rang again. “I’ll get it,” said Yousef. “But you’d better do the talking,” he said to Joe’s mum.

A moment later, two male paramedics came striding into the room. One put down a big bag and glanced round.

“So – where are the patients?”

Joe’s mum signalled to Joe and his gran.

“These two – my mum, Eunice, and my son, Joe – but I’m afraid we may have wasted your time. We found them at the foot of the loft ladder and thought they’d fallen all the way down it. But as you can see, they both seem fine.”

“D’you normally go up in the loft in the early hours of the morning, Madam?” the first paramedic asked Joe’s gran.

She smiled weakly. “I’m afraid I was sleepwalking,” she said, just as Joe said, “We were getting blankets.”

The paramedic looked from one of them to the other, then across to his colleague. Joe’s gran broke the silence,

“The truth is, I sleepwalk regularly but my grandson Joseph here didn’t want to embarrass me by telling you that. We’d foolishly left the loft ladder down last night after we’d been up in search of extra bedding. Joe actually found me climbing the ladder in my sleep; he tried to bring me back down, but I slipped and fell on him.”

It sounded plausible. Joe smiled and tried to look like the kind of grandson who’d worry about embarrassing his gran.

“Did either of you lose consciousness?” asked the paramedic.

“Gran did,” said Joe.

“I see.” He knelt down and shone a slim torch into each of her eyes. “Any nausea?” She shook her head. “Headache?”

“No.”

“Good.” He turned to Joe. “How about you? Did you hit your head?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t think so.” He flinched as the man turned the torch on him.

“Can you both walk OK?”

“They’re both a bit wobbly,” said Joe’s mum.

“Any pain?” Joe and his gran shook their heads. “I think we should take Eunice here in for observation,” said the paramedic.

“Thank you, but I’m sure I’ll be fine,” said Joe’s gran.

“Even so…” said the paramedic.

She shook her head. “The only place I’m going is home to bed.”

“You don’t live here?”

There was another pause.

“This is my family’s place,” said Yousef. “They were all staying here overnight, which is why we had to get extra blankets and stuff down yesterday.”

The paramedic looked at Joe’s gran again. “Aren’t you fully dressed under that blanket? Do you normally wear your clothes to bed?”

She shrugged. “I… I’m afraid I was very cold in the night, so I put my clothes back on over my pyjamas.”

The paramedic who hadn’t said anything pointed at his watch.

“Well…” said the other. “Please go straight to A & E at Runchester Infirmary if you have any cause for concern.” He rummaged in his bag and brought out a typed sheet, which he handed to Joe’s mum.

“These are the typical things to watch for in case of concussion.”

“Thanks,” she said, walking them to the door. “I’m sorry to have wasted your time.”

“Oh no – you were right to call us,” he said. “It’s always better to be safe, especially where head injuries are concerned.”

The others heard the front door open and close. As Joe’s mum came back into the room, his gran sat up straight. “So, are you going to take me home, then?” she asked.

His mum smiled. “OK, Mum.” She looked at Joe. “What about you, lovie? Do you feel all right to travel?” Joe nodded. He couldn’t wait to get back to the house – preferably for a good, long sleep.

Yousef helped him out to the car, and then went back into the house to help with his gran. Once she was settled in the back seat next to Joe, with a blanket spread across the pair of them, Joe’s mum got into the driver’s seat.

“Look,” said Yousef, leaning in at her door. “I’m really sorry about all this. I mean, if I hadn’t been stupid enough to get myself stuck in the loft like that, you’d never have got hurt like this.”

“You what?” said Joe.

“As Joe so eloquently put it,” said his mum, “this has nothing to do with you, Yousef. You’re just an innocent bystander who got caught up in our mess. We’re the ones who need to apologise.”

“But… I got stuck in the loft and you had to come and rescue me.”

“You were just the bait to get us there,” she said.

“Mum’s right,” said Joe. “Georgia wants the ring so she can get free. And I thought Stuart Tansley was after getting revenge on Gideon. But now I don’t know any more. But it was definitely about getting us to your place, mate. Sorry about that.”

“You didn’t get yourself stuck in that loft, Yousef,” said his mum. “The spirits shut you up in there. They let you go once we’d arrived, though.”

“Yeah,” said Yousef. “I get that it was something to do with Georgia, but I still feel like a plonker for letting them shut me in. Anyway, I reckon I’m going to go to school today just to give my head a rest.”

Joe’s mum laughed. “Good idea. Well, thanks for all your help. We’ll try to keep you out of things from now on. Love to your parents and Salihah.” Yousef nodded and stood watching as the car drove off. Joe felt a pang, as if he was leaving normality behind – even though he knew Yousef’s life was as mad as his at that moment.

They got back to his gran’s without incident, and Joe waited in the car while his mum helped his gran into the house. She came running back out.

“Joe – there’s someone here I want you to meet.” She had a huge grin on her face. “Come on – hurry up.”

Joe groaned as he swung his feet out of the car. “All right – I’m going as fast as I can. It’s not every day I fall for like a hundred miles or something, you know.”

“Sorry, love. Let me give you a hand.” She helped him to stand up, and let him lean on her as they walked in to the house. He wasn’t in pain, but he felt as though every muscle in his body had seized up. He felt like an old man. He glanced in the hall mirror as they passed it, and stopped in horror, putting his free hand to his face.

“Mum, look.”

“What is it, love?” She looked completely unconcerned.

“My face – can’t you see?”

She turned to scrutinise him. “See what?”

He gazed at his features in the mirror. He was ancient – all shrivelled and haggard. “My face – it’s all wrinkled, like an old man’s. Can’t you see?”

She looked again. “Lovie, there’s nothing wrong with your face. Concentrate, Joe. Look at yourself. You look the same as ever.” She was frowning. She put a hand to his forehead, to see if he had a temperature.

As he stared at himself in the mirror, his face dissolved back into his twelve-year-old skin, smooth except for the occasional spot.

“It’s all right,” he said. “It must’ve been a ghost trick or something. It’s normal again now.”

She smiled, but she was still looking at him as if he was nuts. “That’s good, lovie. I think you need some sleep.” He yawned.

“I need to sleep for like fifteen years or something, I reckon, to make up for the last few days.”

“But first there’s someone I want you to see.”

“Oh yeah – I forgot about that. Who is it?”

“They’re in here.” She steered him into the living room, where a tall figure was standing by the French windows. Joe stumbled backwards as the man turned.

“Get the hell out of my gran’s house,” Joe hissed.

Gideon pulled a face. “Not quite the reaction I was hoping for,” he said.

“You see, lovie – I told you Georgia was playing a trick on you,” said his mum. “Here’s Gideon, in the flesh. Nothing ghoulish about him, is there?”

“Not until he changes,” said Joe, staring at the man.

“Changes?” said Gideon. “Oh – into that monster-thing you told your mum about?” He took a few steps towards Joe. “That wasn’t me, Joe. You’ve got to believe me.”

“How can I?” said Joe. “It looked like you. It spoke like you. Why should I believe there are two of you?”

Gideon looked him in the eye. “I can only hope you have enough depth of character to have faith,” he said. “Look at me, Joe, I beg you. There are no monsters inside me.” Joe stared into the man’s face. There was no suggestion of sarcasm or mockery. He desperately wanted to believe him. “Joe, I’ve only just got away from Stuart Tansley. After you knocked me over…” Joe winced at the sudden memory, and Gideon walked towards him and put a hand on his shoulder. It felt warm and comforting, but Joe wasn’t ready to trust him yet, so he shrugged it off.

“Well, after that, the spirits tried to convince Tansley I was dead, but he was too thorough to fall for that. He wants revenge and he’ll do anything he can to make sure I don’t die in some instant, painless way. Once he’d established I was still breathing, he locked me up in one of the warehouses and had one of his men watch over me. I’m not sure what he was planning for me, but it certainly wasn’t going to be quick or painless.”

“Go on,” said Joe.

“I had to wait for the right moment. It took hours, Joe. They had me bound and gagged on the floor in a corner. It grew pitch dark and another man came to take the first guard’s place. They were muttering together when I managed to get my hands free – I’d been working at the ropes with a tiny knife I keep in my shoe. They were thick ropes and it was a tough job. Look.” He held up his hands and Joe saw blisters on his big palms.

“Well, once my hands were free it was much easier to cut the cord on my ankles. Then I stayed in place until the first guard had left, and waited for the second to get near enough to tackle. He wasn’t expecting an attack, so I had the upper hand. I managed to knock his gun out of his hand just as he drew it, and I grabbed it from the floor and tied him up with a few choice knots. Self-defence is my area of expertise, Joe. I learnt how to protect myself early on. My dad – your grandfather – was a violent man and my brother and I grew up watching for the sudden mood swings. We reacted in different ways, though. Robin used to lie still and wait for the attack to pass; I, on the other hand, always fought back.”

“You’ve got a brother?” said Joe.

There was a long pause. “Robin died,” said Joe’s mum at last. “He’d always been sickly, and the regular beatings didn’t help. He died of pneumonia when he was just six years old.”

“And your dad?” said Joe, watching Gideon. “What happened to him?”

“Just tell him,” said a voice behind them, and Joe spun round to see Georgia, standing in the doorway behind him. “After all, isn’t it time to tell the truth, Gideon?” she said.

He stared at her. “The truth, Georgia? I didn’t think you knew what that was any more – after all your lies and tricks.”

“My lies and tricks? When you were born with two faces?”

“I had to pretend to be two people, that’s true, Georgia. But I didn’t have any choice.” He was pleading with her. “You know what my home was like.”

Joe looked from one to the other. “Mum… I think we should get out of here,” he whispered. But Georgia was still in the doorway, making it impossible for them to creep out. Georgia was looking at Gideon.

“Oh, I know what your home was like, Gideon. I saw it for myself, remember? Your darling daddy, with his welcome-home ways.”

“So…” Joe asked Georgia, “If this is Gideon, who was that in the loft?”

“Oh, that was Gideon,” said Georgia. She sniggered. “We duplicated a bit of darling Giddy here to turn a shape-shifter into someone you’d find more… appealing. Did you like him?” She leered at Joe, and he moved further away from her.

“What’s going on?” muttered his mum. “I take it Georgia’s here?”

“In the doorway,” said Joe.

“Drat,” said his mum.

“Exactly.”

Joe played for time, hoping Georgia and Gideon would get so caught up in their own affairs that he and his mum could get away. “So… what is the truth, then?” he asked Gideon. Gideon looked at Georgia.

“Well…” said Gideon. “…It’s certainly true that my dad was vicious. We all lived in terror of him. He’s why I spent so much time out of doors, away from the house.”

Georgia started to sing. It was an eerie sound, her clear young voice combined with the knowingness of all those years she’d been dead, and all the things she’d seen.

 

“His daddy was a brutal man

who liked to see the fear

showing in the faces

of the boys that he did rear.

 

“And like all cowards before him

and every bully since

he only picked on little kids

– he liked to see them wince.

 

“But the evil daddy’s big mistake

was picking on the brother,

whom courageous Giddy loved

and protected like no other.

 

“And so our little hero swore

he’d bring his daddy down.

He waited for him in the dark

and he didn’t make a sound…”

 

She looked at Gideon. “Shall we tell them the ending, Giddy? What do you think?” She walked into the centre of the room and stood in front of him. She was tall for thirteen, but still the top of her head barely reached his shoulder. Joe tugged at his mum’s sleeve and nodded towards the door; they started to creep that way. But Joe froze as Georgia spoke again.

“How many people did we kill, Gideon?” whispered Georgia. “Was it just the three? Some nights I’ve dreamed there were thirty or forty of them.”

Joe looked back at the pair of them. Gideon wasn’t meeting Georgia’s eye, but was gazing over the top of her head, into space. “And does it make any difference, in the end?” continued Georgia. “I mean, is one life worth less than thirty? Or is it all the same after the first one? It certainly gets easier, doesn’t it?”

“Oh, Georgia,” said Gideon, and his voice broke. “What did we do?” He looked down at her. “I’m sorry, Georgia. So sorry.”

She shrugged. “Don’t be. I’m not. Don’t let’s get all sentimental now.” She shook herself. “Anyway, how did you escape from Tanner this time, Mr Bond?”

“Oh…” Gideon looked away and blinked back tears before replying. “You know – that knife I keep in my shoe.”

Georgia stamped her foot. “Of course! How did I forget that one? Tanner wasn’t very pleased, I can tell you. Bit daft of you to come back here, though, wasn’t it?”

“I’m needed,” said Gideon simply.

Joe and his mum tiptoed out of the door.

“Your gran!” said his mum. “We can’t leave her here with those two – goodness knows what’s going to happen.”

They ran up to her bedroom, where she was already fast asleep.

“Mum, wake up,” said Joe’s mum.

“Mmmm,” said his gran sleepily.

The doorbell rang and Joe and his mum looked at each other. Joe took a step towards the landing.

“Joe, no – don’t answer it,” said his mum. “It could be Stuart Tansley.”

Joe went back into the bedroom and peered through the curtains. The figure on the doorstep was wearing a navy-blue donkey jacket that looked familiar.

“It’s OK, Mum – I think it’s Forester.”

She looked at him. “Do you think we should let him in while Georgia’s here? It could turn nasty.”

“I dunno. She seems to like him.” They looked at each other.

“I still think we should get out of here,” she said.

Joe nodded, “Me too. Maybe we could leave Forester and Gideon to deal with things and we could run away to Australia with Gran.”

His mum smiled. “Good idea. If we had enough money for the plane fare.” They both sat down on his gran’s bed. “I don’t know what we should do any more,” said his mum.

“Me neither. I mean, is any of this even about us?”

She looked at him. “Well, the spirits have worked out that they can get at Gideon by targeting you. So I suppose it is about us now.”

Joe sighed. “So you and Gran would be safe if I went off on my own?”

“Not while I’ve got the ring,” came a small voice from under the bedclothes.

“Mum – you’re awake,” said Joe’s mum.

“Well, with you two sitting on my bed and talking loud enough to wake the dead I couldn’t not be, could I?”

Joe grinned. “I don’t think the dead need waking, Gran – they all seem pretty lively round here already.”

“Joe, love, help me sit up, will you?” His mum waved at him to stay where he was.

“I’ll help you, Mum.” She put an arm round his gran’s shoulders and eased her into a sitting position, with a couple of pillows behind her.

“So, what’s the latest?” said his gran.

“Well, Mr Forester’s on the doorstep,” said Joe, “and Gideon and Georgia are having some heart to heart in the kitchen.”

“Same old, same old,” said his gran with a weak smile.

“Listen, Mum,” said Joe’s mum. “We were thinking it might be safer to get out of the house – at least while Gideon and Georgia are talking.”

“I’m not going anywhere, love. You and Joe do what you have to, but I’m too old and too tired to move another inch.” The doorbell rang again and Joe sighed as his mum went to answer it.

As soon as she had left the room, his gran clutched his wrist.

“Listen, Joe, this is important.”

“What is it?”

“We need to do the exorcism ceremony again. Look over there in that chest of drawers. Top drawer.” He opened the top drawer as directed.

“What am I looking for?”

“It’s a little china box with flowers on the lid.”

He took out the box. “Got it.”

“Open it, lovie.” Inside was a business card. “It’s the details for the exorcist,” she said.

He picked up the dog-eared card and examined it. The font was a Gothic style, to make it look old and otherworldly, he supposed. It read, “Rev. Peter Michaels. For all your unwanted house guests from ‘Beyond the Grave’…” Tiny print at the bottom added, “Also available for weddings, funerals and christenings”. There was an address but no phone number.

“It’s a house in Little Boughton,” said his gran. “You know, that tiny village with the stream running through it?” He nodded. “Well it’s the house next door to the graveyard.”

“That figures.” He sat back down on her bed and she clutched his arm again.

“Listen, love, you and your mum need to go now. Today. You’ll have to skip school and your mum’ll have to miss work. This needs finishing.”

He nodded wearily. “OK, Gran.” She fumbled in her nightgown under the covers and brought out the ring.

“You’ll need this.”

He took the ring unwillingly. It felt warm in his palm. He would have liked to flush it down the toilet. His gran must have been able to read his face,

“You take good care of that, all right?”

He sighed. “Yeah. OK, Gran.” He placed the ring inside the china box and put the two of them in his pocket. She pulled the covers back up to her chin.

“I’m just going to take a nap.”

He started downstairs. His legs still felt stiff and it made stairs particularly difficult. Curiously, going down was harder than coming up had been. He met his mum at the bottom.

“Where’s Forester?”

Mr Forester is in the kitchen, with Gideon. I think Georgia must have left already.”

“Well, that’s something anyway. Look, Mum, we have to get out of here. Gran says it’s time to do the exorcism again. She’s given me the address for the man that did it last time.”

She nodded. “That would deal with Georgia, at least.” She sighed. “It’s a shame, really. I would have liked to see her at peace.”

He hesitated. “Is there any way we can help her with that?”

She thought for a moment. “There may be one thing… Grab your coat, Joe.”

Outside, rain was pouring down. They ran for the car and got into it, shivering.

His mum turned to him. “What’s the address for this exorcist, then?”

“I thought we were going to try to help her.”

“We are, but I’ve got no way of tracking her down. I thought he might be able to do that for us. Your gran could summon her again, but she’s exhausted – I’d like to let her catch up on some sleep.”

“Right. It’s in Little Boughton.”

“OK.” She started the engine. “We should be able to get there in twenty minutes if the traffic’s good.”

The traffic was terrible. They sat in the car, inhaling fumes from a monster of a truck, and cursing the rain which had flooded various roads through the centre of town. At last, they were able to turn off, on to a quiet B-road which led through waterlogged fields to the village of Little Boughton.

“Which house?” asked his mum as they passed through water so deep it was like a ford at the start of the village. He peered through the driving rain and managed to make out the huge slab of grey stone on the far side of the graveyard that was the Reverend’s house. He pointed.

“There – that grey building.”

“Right.” She pulled across the deserted road and turned into the driveway.

They sat in the car for a moment, waiting for the rain to ease. When it showed no signs of doing so, they made a run for the house instead. The building had a storm porch, and they squashed together under the tiny roof as Joe found the old-fashioned doorbell handle and pulled it hard. They heard the bell ringing somewhere inside the building. There was no other sound from the house, and they rang several more times and waited a good few minutes before turning away from the door. The rain was not so heavy as they walked back to the car, and he saw his mum glance over towards the graveyard.

“Joe…”

He stopped. “What is it?” She pointed, and he saw a black umbrella moving among the graves – someone was out there in the rain. They opened a little gate which connected the Reverend Peter’s driveway with the graveyard and approached the distant figure. The rain was dripping down Joe’s hair at the back and getting inside the neck of his jumper, and he wondered why he and his mum hadn’t thought to bring an umbrella themselves. The man in the graveyard looked odd, even from a distance. He was dressed in a black raincoat which flew out a little as he walked and there was something manic in his movements. His umbrella was broken, so that two of the spokes hung down like a bird’s broken wing.

When they got close to him, they stood and waited for him to acknowledge them. He was walking around two graves that stood at a diagonal to one another, weaving his way in an s-shape, over and over, with his eyes half-closed. When at last he stopped, he jumped as he caught sight of his audience.

“Sorry,” said Joe’s mum, holding out a hand for him to shake. “We didn’t mean to startle you. I’m Sara Simmonds and this is my son, Joe.”

The man ignored the proffered hand and closed his eyes again. He was murmuring. Joe leaned closer, and heard their surname, “Simmonds, Simmonds,” repeated over and over. The man stopped and his eyes snapped open. “Georgia Simmonds,” he said triumphantly. “Born, 1980. Died, 1993. Exorcised, March 2008,” he said.

“Yes,” said Joe’s mum, taking a step back in surprise. “You’re quite right. That’s… Well, I’m Georgia’s sister.” He started to walk away from them, talking quickly over his shoulder,

“So now you want her back. You people think you can have everything, but you can’t, you know.” He put on a high-pitched, whiney voice, “‘Oh, she’s tormenting us; you have no idea what she’s putting us through; we can’t go on like this…’” He snapped back into his normal voice, “And a couple of months later, it’s,” he went back to the mimicking voice, “‘Oh, but we miss her. We made a terrible mistake; can’t you bring her back?’”

“She already is back,” said Joe’s mum. The Reverend Peter stopped walking and turned towards them.

“She is? But how…?”

Joe’s mum shrugged. “We’re not sure. There’s a crack in the ring.”

“A crack? Do you have the ring with you?”

Joe nodded and fumbled in the inside pocket of his jacket. He took out the china box and held it out, open, for the Reverend, who reached in and took out the ring to study the stone. He had black-rimmed glasses with lenses as thick as a magnifying glass.

“Fascinating,” he said. “I’ve never seen this before, although I’ve heard of it, of course.”

“What is it?” asked Joe.

“Outside interference,” said the Reverend. “An external force – a very powerful one – has helped to break the Receptacle, to free the spirit. Your Georgia has friends in high places.”

“Oh, great,” said Joe sarcastically.

“Come,” said the Reverend. “We’ll have a cup of tea and talk about what’s to be done.”

He led them back through the graveyard and along the little path that led to his house. Joe and his mum avoided getting too close to him, as the man’s large umbrella was dripping heavy drops which were even more uncomfortable down the neck than the raindrops themselves.

“Here we are,” he said, as he unlocked the front door and switched on the light in a dreary hallway with a threadbare carpet. “Home, sweet home. Please wipe your feet as you come in.” The place was filthy. Even Joe, who didn’t normally notice dirt, felt repulsed by the dust building up along the skirting board and the layers of grease visible on the walls. He saw his mum rubbing her hands as if washing them, and guessed she was feeling the same way. They removed their dripping coats and put them over the grimy banister. There was a coolness in the air that hinted at something more profound than just the cold of an old building. It was, Joe thought, the chill of the dead. He shook himself.

Reverend Peter was standing in the doorway of a room, gesturing proudly for them to enter. “Sit down, sit down,” he said. “Make yourselves at home. I’ll put the kettle on.” After he’d left, Joe and his mum looked at each other and suppressed a nervous laugh.  The room they were in held a tatty sofa and two armchairs, all as filthy as the hallway. They lowered themselves gingerly side by side on to the sofa, and kept their hands well away from the upholstery.

Reverend Peter bustled back into the room, bearing a tray with three mugs and a plate of biscuits. “Here we are, here we are,” he beamed, holding out the tray. Joe and his mum each took a mug and a biscuit, and Joe managed not to catch her eye as he noticed how chipped and stained the mugs were. His own tea looked grey, with a swirl of grease on top, and he put it down on the floor by his feet.

The Reverend took the remaining mug and lowered himself into an armchair. He leaned towards them. “So… You were hoping to perform a repeat exorcism?”

“Not exactly,” said Joe’s mum. “We thought, if we could help Georgia to resolve her…issues…”

“Resolve her issues?” interrupted the Reverend. He put his mug down on the floor beside his chair. “Do you have any idea how dangerous these spirits can be?”

Joe and his mum looked at each other. “I think we have a fair idea, don’t we, Joe?” she said.

He nodded, “Yeah.”

“How much does either of you know about the spirit world?”

“Well not a lot,” admitted Joe’s mum. “But we’ve had a lot of… visitors.”

“Visitors?” said the Reverend. “Spirit visitors, you mean?”

Joe nodded and the exorcist glanced at him; he looked hard at Joe; then he got down on the floor and moved across to him on his knees, staring at the space above Joe’s head. Joe stifled another laugh. The man put one hand on either side of Joe’s face and looked into his eyes. He seemed oblivious to Joe blinking back at him – he was like a vet examining the family pet. After a moment, he took his hands away and stared again at the air above Joe’s head.

“Er…” said Joe at last, glancing nervously at his mum. He wondered how long this would go on for. At last, the Reverend murmured,

“How on earth did I miss that?” He stood up and went back to his seat, where he sat down, picked up his mug and proceeded to sip from it.

“Er…” said Joe again. He caught his mum’s eye.

“Is something wrong?” she asked the Reverend.

“Hmm? Wrong?” He bit into a ginger nut and looked at her. “How do you mean?”

“Well…” she gestured at Joe.

“Oh… Oh, I see. No, there’s nothing wrong. I just can’t understand why I didn’t notice it before.”

Joe’s mum looked at Joe, then back to the Reverend. “Notice what, exactly?”

He gestured towards Joe with the remainder of his biscuit. “The Rare Sight. I normally spot it straight away. Of course, it was raining…”

“Rare Sight?” said Joe. “I haven’t got Rare Sight.”

The Reverend choked on his biscuit and had to take a swig of tea to wash it down.  “You mean to say you aren’t aware..? Extraordinary.”

“Are you saying my son has special psychic ability?” asked his mum.

“Madam, your son has the gift. He can communicate with spirits on all levels, from the mere wisps of humour – emotional detritus – to the most complex of paranormal phenomena the Spirit World possesses.”

“Ah,” said his mum.

“Er…” said Joe again. “Um… is there any chance you’ve made a mistake? Only I can’t… I mean, except for the really obvious spirits – you know, the ones that still look like people…”

The Reverend put his mug down on the floor again and sighed. “My dear boy, you have the gift. It’s as plain as the aura round your head and the violet flecks in your iris.”

“My iris?” said Joe.

“The coloured part of your eye,” said his mum.

“Oh,” said Joe. “And what’s my aura?”

The Reverend sighed again. “Everybody has an aura,” he said, “a series of coloured rings encircling their body and head. The aura’s colours allow us to discover many things about the person. A presence of brown, for instance, would suggest an illness; black, that the person was close to death. Yours tells me that you have a strong sixth sense.” He crossed to a bookcase and scanned the spines of the books. “Ah – here,” he said, pulling a fat, grey pamphlet from the shelf. “This will tell you what you need to know.” He passed it to Joe, “Rare Sight and its Implications for the Gifted – I wrote it myself.” Joe took the pamphlet reluctantly and put it, unopened, in his lap, where it lay as unwelcome as his mum’s revolver had done the day before.

There was a silence. Joe leant over to re-examine his mug of tea, but a second glance at the greasy meniscus made it even less appealing. He sat back.

The Reverend was sipping his own tea and regarding Joe over the rim.

“Aren’t you curious?” he asked at last, gesturing to the pamphlet.

Joe shrugged. “I only started seeing spirits a few days ago. I’m not really ready for it to get any more complicated.”

“Ah,” said the Reverend. There was a short pause. “Has it ever occurred to you, you might be viewing this wrongly?”

Joe raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“Well…” he gestured again with another half-eaten ginger nut, “Many people would give anything to have a gift like yours.”

“Well, they’re welcome to it,” muttered Joe.

Joe’s mum caught his eye. “Perhaps we should concentrate on the matter in hand..?” she suggested.

“Ah, yes,” said the Reverend, standing up suddenly and walking to the window, slopping tea over the top of his mug as he went. Joe and his mum caught each other’s eye again.

“Georgia…?” prompted his mum.

“Mmm,” said the Reverend. “Resolving her issues, I think you said?”

“Exactly,” said his mum.

He turned to face them. “It can’t be done,” he said.

“I’m sorry?” said Joe’s mum.

“It can’t be done. I’m sorry. You’ll have to come up with something else. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do. The spirit world doesn’t wait, you know.”

He ushered them into the hall, while Joe’s mum tried to protest.

“But couldn’t we call Georgia here – to ask her what she wants?” she asked.

The Reverend stopped. “Call her here? An unpredictable spirit, whom I exorcised personally? Does that really sound like a good idea to you?” Joe and his mum gazed blankly at him. “Ms Simmonds, I like my house as it is. Have you seen the damage a headstrong spirit can do to a place?” He opened the front door and Joe and his mum felt they had no choice but to collect their coats and step out. As Joe passed him, the Reverend clutched his hand for a moment; when he let go, Joe found himself clutching a translucent, orange stone.

As they got into the car, he held out the stone to his mum.

“What have you got there?” she asked, peering at it. “It looks like a piece of amber. Where did you get it?”

“The Reverend gave it to me – just now, as we left.”

“How strange. You’d better keep it safe – perhaps it’s relevant in some way.”

He slid it into his coat pocket and rubbed his hands together. The chill of the house had seeped into his skin.

As his mum started the engine, she glanced at Joe. “What did you make of our friend back there?”

“The Reverend?” She nodded. “I dunno. There was something… weird about him. What did you think?”

“I think he’s holding out on us.”

“You mean he knows stuff about Georgia?”

His mum backed out of the drive and on to the quiet road through the village. “I’m sure he knows more than he’s letting on,” she said.

Joe found he was still holding the pamphlet. He turned it in his hands, then opened it to the contents page. He skimmed down the list of chapters, murmuring as he read the headings:

“Chapter One – Rare Sight: what is it?

“Chapter Two – Rare Sight: what does it mean for me?

“Chapter Three – Rare Sight: how can I harness it?”

Joe continued down the list, until he got to Chapter Twelve. The heading read, “When troubled spirits become troublesome”. He turned to the relevant page, seventy-nine, and said, “Oh!”

His mum glanced at him, “What is it? Found something useful?”

“Maybe,” said Joe. “Listen to this, ‘For all troubled spirits, there is an emotional double still living. Find their Doppelgänger and you will be able to perform the Healing – but both parties will need to be present.’” He looked up, “What’s a Doppelgänger?”

“It’s a German word, another word for ‘double’ – you know, like a mirror image. But in this case it seems to be talking about a spiritual, rather than a physical, connection.”

 “Do you think… Do you think it’s Gideon? I mean, he and Georgia seem to have a lot of complicated stuff going on, don’t they?”

His mum laughed. “‘Complicated stuff’ would just about sum it up, I’d say. Anything else of use in that pamphlet?”

Joe skimmed through the text. “Oh, wait!” he said, as the red light they were waiting at turned green. “I don’t mean, ‘wait’, I just mean ‘listen’: ‘To test the suspected Doppelgänger, take a piece of their clothing and hold it, at midnight, to an image of the spirit when they were living. If the clothing binds itself to the image, you have the right connection.’”

His mum glanced at him as she turned into their road, “So that’s what we’ll do tonight,” she said.

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