Two o’clock in the morning, and Nerys is outside resus, standing by a trolley piled with equipment, scrubbing a head block. The department is strangely quiet, a vista of empty trolleys beyond her, and despite some quiet movements and murmurings from the cubicles, not a person in sight.
‘Hey Nerys. What’s up?’
She straightens and smiles. Frank goes on past her to hand over at the desk; our patient lies sleeping on the ambulance trolley, anaesthetised with booze.
She nods at him.
‘They’ll be starting to come in now, I expect.’
‘Yep. So it begins.’
She smiles again, but seems pale and wrung out, her eyes as blue as her tunic.
‘Are you okay?’
She puts the block down.
‘I just saw a ghost,’ she says.
‘A ghost? What – literally? Where?’
She glances behind her at the swing doors of the resus room, absently wiping her gloved hands with the cleansing wipe as she talks.
‘It was so weird. Resus is empty - which god knows is weird enough. I thought I’d take advantage and catch up on some cleaning. I was half way through when I felt this wash of cold go through me. I looked up because I thought the doors must have blown open, and saw this shape moving through the room.’
‘What sort of shape?’
‘Definitely a person, but just a blurry outline. I don’t know – it’s difficult – like if you press too hard when you do a drawing and it comes through underneath. All I did was just stand there and say ‘Hello?’, and watch it pass out of the room.’
‘Through the doors do you mean?’
‘Well – kind of the gap between them, actually. I was so freaked I brought all my stuff out to work in the corridor.’
She smiles thinly and picks up another head block.
‘Maybe I’m going crazy,’ she says.
‘I don’t think you’re crazy. Maybe you did see a ghost.’
‘Have you ever seen one?’
‘Me? No. Well – not that I know of. I try to talk myself out of all that stuff because I know I’d freak out if I let myself believe in it. I get so spooked out when I hear stories like this. Look at these goose bumps.’
‘So how did the ghost seem to you, Nerys? Sad? Evil?’
She raises her eyebrows and thinks about it for a moment. Eventually she sighs and says:
‘I don’t know. Lost. Like it had somewhere to go but couldn’t remember where.’
Suddenly a deep, slurry of a voice speaks between us.
‘Ghosts exist all right,’ it says.
My heart twitches, but in that same instant I realise it’s just my patient, who has woken up and raised himself on one arm to look at us both. He closes an eye and drills the corner of it with a filthy finger, smacks his lips together, then wriggles about to make himself more comfortable.
‘Are you all right?’ I say to him, but smile at Nerys because I can see he made us both jump.
‘I had this job in an off licence,’ he says when he’s settled. ‘Part of a big old building, used to be a bakery in the nineteenth century. Apparently the baker murdered his wife and bricked her up in the cellar. Anyway, when I got the job the manager was walking me round the place telling me about this and that, you know, the alarms, the toilet, what the job was, you know, when he slips it in all casual-like about the ghost. “What do you mean? What ghost?” I says. “Oh, don’t mind her,” he says, “but she’s got some rules and it’s as well you know about them.” “Okay, fine, what rules?” “Well, for a start, she doesn’t like anything hidden, so don’t bother trying. The last guy was supposed to set up a Hamlet cigar display in the shop, but he didn’t like it so he hid it under some boxes in the cellar and locked the door. When he came back in the morning the door was still locked, but the display was sitting right in the middle of the shop.” “Okay,’ I says to him, “What else?” “Well,” he says, “She throws things around sometimes if she’s in a strop, so just don’t piss her off.” The first day I worked there I was just finishing locking up the back when the bell rang at the front. I thought whoever it was would go away when they saw we were closed, but the bell rang more persistent like, so in the end I went out. But there was no-one at the door and the street was empty. Then the bell goes down in the cellar. All I thought was, someone messing about, kids or something. Anyway, I went down there and opened the little door that leads out into the back yard, but that was deserted too. Then I remembered about the ghost. So I just stood there and said out loud I know it’s you, ghostie. It’s nice to meet you and everything. I’m new here, I want to make a go of it, but I don’t want us to start off on the wrong foot. I’ll be around all day, but you can have the run of the place at night, and that way we’ll get along just fine. If there’s anything else you need, just let me know and I’ll do my best. And from that day on I didn’t have any trouble, apart from the usual ‘footsteps on the stairs’ and ‘cold shivers’ and ‘floating bottles’ and stuff. But I didn’t mind. It was a bit of company.’
‘Floating bottles? What do you mean?’
Suddenly he begins coughing, an eruption of rattles and dinks, like someone shaking a bag of marbles. I sit the back of the trolley up. He dredges a gloop of dreadful matter and flops it into the bowl. I hand him some tissues. When the moment has passed, he carries on.
‘I was doing a stock take when suddenly a bottle of Old Plymouth slid off the shelf and hung there in front of me, in mid-air. I just looked at it. A good couple of minutes it was hanging there, all shivery in the light from the window, and I couldn’t understand what the hell was going on. Then suddenly it fell to the floor and smashed. “Great” I thought. “You know who’ll get the blame for that.” I’d just fetched the dustpan and brush out and was starting to clean it all up when the door burst open and Carrie came running in. She was always running in with one thing or another, but this time she goes: “You won’t believe the news.” “Oh yeah? Try me” I say. “They’ve just found Old Nellie Ellington dead in her flat,” she says. Then she looks down at the floor and sees all the mess and says “Blimey. What happened here?” And it suddenly made sense. And I said to her: “It’s the ghost. I think she’s trying to tell us something about Old Nellie.”