“This is the room where he died, sir,” intoned the butler, who stood at the threshold showing us the way. “Take care! His ghost still walks!”
We stepped into the somber room where we were to spend the night. The Count, whom we had met earlier, had kindly agreed to put us up in his castle for a nominal fee, once the unpleasantness about the damage to his moat had been settled.
We were temporarily stranded without transportation and therefore had accepted his offer.
We were without transportation because I had crashed our rented Peugeot into the river Rhone. I did this while narrowly avoiding a collision with an advancing oxcart. Yes, an oxcart. Not something you see everyday where I come from and I’d panicked a little and flew off into the river. I’ve never claimed to be much of a driver. No one was hurt and my wife thought it was very funny and coincidentally provided her with more evidence that I was a dunce. She liked those moments, of which I’d presented her many over the years. Then we’d somehow, after being pulled from the river, snapped our towline and along with the oxen and oxcart and a few French villagers who’d innocently come out and tried to assist, ended up in the Count’s moat, causing not a little damage to the moat itself and flattening the nearby shrubbery on either shore.
It was the oxen I blame for that. But they couldn't help it. They're just dumb beasts. They’d scrambled for footing as they were being sucked into the dark swirling waters with the innocent villagers. How where they to know the water in the moat was only three feet deep? Even the next day there was a terrible smell from the shit they sprayed everywhere in their panic to escape.
The oxen I mean, not the villagers. Spraying shit.
I could go on, but why bother?
Stuff like that happened to me all the time when I travelled. The shit was always flying!
“Will there be anything else, sir?” asked the butler as we passed into our room.
“Uh, no. No thanks,” I stammered. I’d never addressed a butler before.
“I’d like a gin and tonic, if it’s not too much trouble,” said my wife. She had never addressed a butler before either, as far as I knew, but she spoke now as if she'd spoken to one every day.
“Yes mum,” he said. “Will there be anything else?” After hearing there would not, he turned and left the room.
“Kinda creepy, wasn’t he?” said my wife, after he’d left.
“Yeah,” I responded. “Do you think it’s odd that a French Count would have an English butler?”
“Not in this country,” answered Saucy Boy. Saucy Boy is a nickname I have for my wife. I call my wife that because she’s saucy, in case you were wondering, not because she’s a boy. “Listen,” she continued. “Any country that thinks Jerry Lewis is funny has got to be a little screwy!” She paused a moment, then added, “You think there’s really a ghost?”
“There’s no such thing as ghosts, honey,” I lied.
Our luggage had preceded us. It had been opened and our things, those that had survived the crashes and the oxen and the river Rhone and the moat, had been put away.
“Put away by whom?” said Saucy Boy as she inspected the closets.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “Maybe the butler.”
“I don’t like people touching my underwear,” said Saucy Boy.
“That’s not what you said last night!” I laughed.
“You!” she exclaimed. “Don’t you ever think of anything else?”
“What’s that?” she said suddenly, looking behind me.
“What’s what?” I said, turning to see.
“That.” She pointed past me.
There, peeking out from under the massive oak dresser that stood against the wall, was what looked like the corner of a dusty old telephone book. It appeared to have been there for years, yet seemed strangely out of place.
I went over and picked it up. I blew off the dust. It was a manuscript.
“Hold the Beetroot,” I read aloud. “By Rusty Pliers.”
“Nice name,” said my wife. “I’ll bet he’s a fun date. Funny title, too. Wonder what it’s about?”
I hefted it. “It’s about two kilos, I’d guess.”
“Smart-ass!” laughed my wife. “You don’t suppose it’s really about beetroot, do you?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “How would I know?” I answered.
“Reeeeead it,“ came a deep, quavering voice, seemingly from within the stony castle walls.
“What’d you say?” asked Saucy Boy.
“I didn’t say nothing,” I replied, my grammar failing me in my terror.
“Reeeeeeead it!” commanded the voice.
“Cut the clowning, will ya?“ ordered my wife. “I’m tired and I think an ox stepped on my foot.” She leaned down and rubbed her foot.
“Reeeeeeead it!” commanded the voice again. “It’s nooooot about beeeeetrooooot!”
My wife and I stared at each other. Neither of us had spoken.
"Reeeeeaaad the boooook," said the voice.
“Who are you?” asked my wife as she looked around the room. “Show yourself!”
That Saucy Boy, I thought with admiration, she is afraid of nothing!
“I am the ghost of Rusty Pliers,” intoned the voice. “The author of the book you have found. Reeeead the book!” he commanded again. “Forget the beetroooot!”
“If it’s not about beetroot, then why did you name it that?” asked Saucy Boy.
“Ooooh-oooooh!” the ghost wailed in tormented anguish. “Everyone asks me that! If only I’d changed the stupid title before I died! Oooooh, woe is me!”
His anguished wailing rent my heart and I felt pity for the poor ghost.
“Why must we read it?” asked Saucy Boy. “What’s so important about your book?”
“Alas!” said the ghost. “I suffer the curse of the unpublished writer. My soul clamors to be heard! Unless one person can be found who has actually read my book and enjoyed it, I am doomed to forever walk the earth as a deathless spirit. It’s my punishment for wasting my life trying to creatively express myself for the enjoyment of others.”
“A curse?” I asked. “You’re being punished then? By whom?”
“Yes, a curse!” responded the ghost. “I’m being made to suffer for my sins. Aa all artists must suffer! Some of us more than others!”
“Make yourself visible, if you can,” said Saucy Boy. “Or are you too hideous?”
“I’m not hideous,” said the ghost defensively. “I’m a ghost!”
To be continued…