Folks in the English Lake District were often heard to complain about the lack of public transport.

“Seven miles to the nearest bus!” exclaimed Mrs. Brown from the butcher’s shop to anyone buying her sausages. And I appreciate it probably was inconvenient for the villagers of Little Eden, with only two shops and a post office on Tuesday afternoons. But if they found it awkward, how much harder must it be for two young ghosts?

In these days of equal rights, I think it’s high time a Spectral Relations Board was established to give us a voice—our own being orally challenged so to speak. Discrimination is definitely an issue. It’s not as if we had done anything wrong to find ourselves in this predicament. The lady in the Tourist Information assured us that Coniston Old Man was a perfectly safe mountain and didn’t require any special mountaineering skills.

If I were alive, I could sue. I’ve seen adverts on the television asking if I’ve had an accident in the last twelve months. I wrote to one once but they asked me if I was willing to appear in court. I didn’t see a problem. I can appear more or less anywhere I want to now, although St. Mary’s Church and the graveyard are more usual in the tourist season. James and I have increased visitor numbers dramatically since our accident last winter. But the firm wrote back saying that wasn’t what they meant and they didn’t feel qualified to represent life-expired clients. Discrimination again, you see.

The point to this preamble is that we decided we needed a break. Pretty though the village was, we felt like a change but how could we hitch a lift if no-one could see us? Appearances take a lot of energy and can’t be sustained, you see. At one time a ghost could have slipped into any car but now there are anti-theft devices. And these are strident and upsetting to a young and sensitive spirit.

“We could always walk to the bus, Rebecca,” said James one day, after another alarm almost made me jump out of my skin, metaphorically speaking.

“It’s seven miles to the nearest bus!” I repeated in horror.

He frowned. “Well we’re only twenty-two, you know. Or we were when we passed away and I don’t suppose we’ve got any older.”

James was always keen on outdoor pursuits. When Great-Aunt Matilda left us the cottage in Little Eden, he was overjoyed at the prospect of moving here.

“Mountains and lakes everywhere,” he cried in excitement. “The great outdoors just waiting to be conquered.”

Yes, well....

Don’t get me wrong, I’d enjoyed living here too before the mishap. The vicar was particularly welcoming, delighted at the prospect of swelling her dwindling congregation. Well—doubling it if we both attended the morning service. And even the Women’s Institute approached me in honour of Matilda, a stalwart member for over seventy-two years.

“We really need some younger women,” explained Mrs. Brown as she untangled my sausages. “Olive Meldrew had such an original idea. She suggested producing a certain kind of calendar.”

She winked at me surreptitiously as she said it.

I didn’t know how to break the news so I decided to suggest something completely different. What about a reality show set in the Women’s Institute? How long would Jordan or Madonna survive before the viewers voted them off? Sadly the plan came to naught the day we climbed that treacherous peak.

Mind you, it’s not all bad news being a ghost and I wouldn’t want you to go away thinking it is. The funeral was nice to start with. It was touching to see so many of the villagers turning out to give us a good send off. They weren’t to know we weren’t actually going anywhere. And Reverend Pettigrew became emotional as she gazed out across the rows of occupied pews.

“Oh, what a wonderful sight,” she sighed happily. “Just like the old days.”

Molly Winterbottom was forced to remind her she was conducting a funeral and she became embarrassed and remorseful but we didn’t mind. Let her have her moment.

Afterwards we all went back to the cottage and the villagers had tea. Naturally, they weren’t aware of our presence at that time and it was amusing standing by the mourners, listening to them eulogise about us.

“Such a charming young woman,” sighed Roger Carstairs, the debonair and astute owner of The Grange.

“That’s not what Olive Meldrew said about you,” James reminded me curtly and I had to agree. We did discover one or two rather catty people in the village.

After that we continued to live in the cottage much as before except for the fact we didn’t eat, of course. With my cooking it wasn’t a great loss and on the plus side you didn’t have to diet. We soon learnt how to appear and disappear at will, although walking through walls is a myth. I suggested James experiment one day but at least we discovered it was possible for a ghost to feel pain. It was only in the spring that our continued presence in Little Eden was finally discovered. Unfortunately it is true that a few canines are sensitive to the psychic presence. And that pesky border collie at Honeysuckle Farm had to be one of them.

What a fuss! Naturally reactions were mixed and ranged from neurotic vicars planning exorcisms to entrepreneurs adding us to the ‘What’s on in Lakeland’ guide produced by the National Park. At first I have to admit it went to my head and I almost felt like a celebrity.

I took to popping up unexpectedly in the gift shop, floating tea towels and mint cake around the visitors’ heads. Or lurking in the village pub, mysteriously hiding pints of beer when the customers weren’t looking. This wasn’t so successful and I was finally banned after several nasty fights broke out. Honestly, it was only a joke.

James brought me back to earth one day with a bump.

“Rebecca, if you carry on like this, we’re going to be in serious trouble. At the moment we’re a useful tourist attraction and accepted as harmless spirits. But you’re going to get us exorcised if you don’t stop this. I overheard Reverend Pettigrew on the phone to someone yesterday. I don’t know whether it was the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Pope but either way there could be unpleasant repercussions. For heaven’s sake, Rebecca, we’ve got a nice afterlife here in the village. Please don’t spoil it for us.”

I was subdued. I knew in my heart or whatever passed as a substitute these days, he was right. But I was young and bored—which was why I came up with the idea of the holiday.

“Why don’t you pop in to the Tourist Information?” suggested James tactlessly. “They might know of some special excursions.”

“And they were so helpful last time,” I muttered sulkily.

Still I could always look at the leaflets and cause no end of problems for the assistant at the same time. She’s still looking for her guided walks itinerary and the Beatrix Potter diary. Childish perhaps but hobbies are limited for a ghost and anyway she started it.

This was how I happened to spot the notice advertising the W.I. day out to Ambleside. I appreciate to some of you this may not seem like the glittering occasion of the year but in Little Eden it was always a big event. And we didn’t even have to sneak on board because they knew our situation already. Wasn’t I a member?

Again prejudice reared its ugly head.

“Oh no, dear, it’s not because you’re ghosts,” explained Mrs. Merryweather reassuringly. “Haven’t we always been broadminded? No, it’s simply that James is a man and we couldn’t possibly take one of those with us.”

“But you can’t even see him,” I wrote down on the pad we took everywhere with us.

She read the words mysteriously appearing under the biro and shook her head.

“Ah, but we’d know he was there, dear. I’m sorry.”

That was it. I had tried to play by their rules but this time they were being totally unreasonable. I invented a foolproof plan. On the morning of the trip I was waiting by the minibus, pad in hand.

“Is that you, Rebecca?” said Mrs Brown politely to the air beyond my right ear.

I lifted the pad and wrote my message for her.

“Oh, James insisted you come on the trip on your own, did he? Said it would do you good?”

The pad nodded.

“Lovely, dear. Just put your note on the seat so we know where you are. Wouldn’t want to sit on you, would we?” she joked, weakly I thought.

She wasn’t to know James had slipped on board ahead of me and I was actually sitting on his knee. It was all quite exciting actually. As I’ve said before, we don’t get out much in Little Eden.

The journey through the Lakes was lovely, although James found out more than he wanted to about Molly Winterbottom’s hot flushes. Not to mention a ghastly home remedy for cellulite. He was feeling quite queasy when we finally climbed out of the bus and even I was glad of the fresh air. But at least we were here—and we had the whole day to ourselves.

We slipped aboard a lovely old Windermere steamer and managed to find plenty of empty seats on the top deck. Every now and then someone tried to sit on us but our reactions are fast and no-one was aware of our presence. I don’t really know what came over us but it was like a second honeymoon. Don’t forget we could do exactly what we liked and no-one could see or hear us. And it was so romantic as we sailed the length of the calm blue lake in the gentle warmth of the soft summer sun. Mrs Winterbottom would certainly have had a hot flush if she could have seen us.

“There’s a lot to be said for being a ghost,” murmured James softly into my neck and he got no argument from me. Not to mention the fact we didn’t have to buy a ticket.

In the afternoon we visited Rydal Mount which was fascinating. I had no idea William Wordsworth was still living in the old house with his wife and sister but he was very friendly and welcoming. They don’t meet many ghosts apart from Samuel Taylor Coleridge and apparently they pretend to be out when he calls round.

“Still enslaved to the poppy,” murmured William shaking his head sadly.

I hadn’t realised that was possible for a spirit but you live and learn. Well, perhaps live is the wrong word. Actually, I found Dorothy a bit odd myself but I don’t know what I’ll be like at a hundred and fifty and anyway we shouldn’t judge. We moved on and even managed a quick look in the shops to pick up a new pad and a packet of biros.

At last it was time to go home. We were tired and it had been a wonderful day but surprisingly we were both ready to return to Little Eden. At least everyone knew about us there and it really wasn’t such a bad little village. I think going away always makes you appreciate home.

I snuggled cosily against James as the little bus meandered its way along the lanes and we were almost asleep when Molly Winterbottom made her announcement.

“Are any of you ladies interested in the Mothers’ Union trip to the coast next Thursday? I’ve been told there are still four seats available. Rebecca, what about you?”

I looked at James and he winked mischievously. The biro roe up and started to scribble.

I don’t know about you but we’ve always found the sea romantic...


# # #

Spectral Relations by Heather Parker
originally published May 7, 2008



Heather Parker works for the University of Cumbria and has been published in numerous popular UK magazines including The People’s Friend and The Weekly News. She has won prizes for fiction in several major competitions. 

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