Darren Beaufort’s ghost chose a most inopportune time to appear in his ancestral manor.
His wife Jessica – or should I say, his former wife – and I had just dismissed the servants for the evening, on the pretext that she required rest. One doctor, I reasoned to them, should be more than adequate should she happen to need some small personal service, and would be more suited should she need any medical attention.
I was about to start, now her husband was out of the way at last, giving her undressed form a most thorough examination – when Darren shimmered into view, rattling his chains and staring at the pair of us mournfully. Jessica pulled on a robe with lightning speed, though one wonders why; surely her husband had seen her before. I must confess that I did not pursue the virtue of modesty so quickly. The only thing I was more aware of than a wilting sensation in the lower regions was a dawning feeling of inevitability.
I turned to Jessica and said, “I told you something would go wrong.”
For indeed, that had been my contention from the start. I take no responsibility whatever for the events that followed. It was Jessica’s idea.
You might think I am lacking in chivalry. Well, perhaps so, but the truth is the truth for all that. It was not that Jessica hated her husband; she liked him, in a sort of distantly abstract way. But she was not yet close to turning thirty, and he was very nearly double that age. They had nothing in common. There were two things Jessica fancied, however – myself, and the Beaufort family estate. And she didn’t see why she should be deprived of either, just for Darren’s sake.
Why did I agree, you might ask? Well, if you had ever met Jessica, you would understand. Women may be the weaker sex in the aggregate, but serious-minded women can achieve their own desires as often as they please. And when you are the chief desire of such a woman, and haven’t too many desires of your own, you really haven’t a chance.
The plan was brilliant. Jessica, you see, was nothing if not practical. Darren always worried about his health, particularly his heart. Jessica would play on his fears until he was sufficiently worried to send for me. (This wasn’t too difficult – he called me up to his manor several times a month.) While I was there, she slipped a particularly nasty poison into his tea, a poison which had just happened to make its way into my medical bag that morning. I would then “attempt” to revive him, making sure that there were several marks on the body from my zealous efforts. Shortly thereafter, we would send for the constable. As the local physician, I would regretfully pronounce my friend dead of a heart attack.
Jessica was confident in the plan. She believed no one would check it. But I knew she was wrong. Something was bound to happen that would reveal us as murderers.
And yet…no one questioned my word. There was no inquest. Darren was laid to rest in the family crypt, and Jessica entered an extended period of mourning. That, too, we had planned. Frequent complaints would keep me at her side with near-constancy, and it is common knowledge that doctors and their patients sometimes fall in love. Jessica would emerge from her “mourning” period so devoted to me that no one would question our attachment.
It seemed I had been wrong. Or at least, it did until Darren’s reappearance.
He haunted us constantly whenever I was about the manor. We were never rid of his presence. And I mean only we – the servants never caught a glimpse of him, even when he was in the room with them. His faithful dogs knew something was wrong, but that was as far as it went.
I had always thought that if there were such things as ghosts, a haunting would be terrifying. And I admit it, he looked a ghastly sight. But after a time, Darren’s presence became less chilling, and more – how should I put it? – more of a nuisance, really. Jessica had conceived her plan so we could be together, and yet consummating our affections remained a steadfast impossibility; neither of us felt right about it, you understand. He would follow us from room to room, and all about the grounds, his chains lightly clinking together, his mournful eyes burning into the backs of our heads. Once, Jessica suggested a day in the country. He accompanied us, how I don’t know. As we tried in vain to ignore him while we ate a packed lunch, he floated around the field, not so much as disturbing the fluff on a dandelion, weightless chains unaccountably stirring in the breeze.
At last, Jessica was roused to action. Proceeding on the theory that Darren’s return meant he wanted something, presumably to expose us, she collected everything in the house that might possibly have indicated the nature of his fate, and disposed of it. He remained.
“Material possessions, then,” she said. She gave away his dogs, sold his books, and rid herself of absolutely every piece of family treasure which Darren might want, and which the servants couldn’t manage to hide from her. When he still didn’t vanish, she had the house searched high to low for any secret hiding places. The servants found four, all empty. Darren continued to appear.
Finally, using that kind of practical thinking which completely discards common sense, she reasoned as follows: Darren truly loved her after all. It was her for whom he appeared, perhaps to beg her forgiveness, or simply to ask her why. She should never be rid of him, as long as she lived. At least, she put all this down in the suicide note.
Still, in a bizarre way, she had found the solution – by eliminating the last remaining possibility, save one. Darren, you see, had few real worries about his health. He sent for me on any flimsy pretext he could think of, because he was under the impression that I was the closest thing to a friend he had. The picture I have is admittedly incomplete, because I have been forced to deduce it from very one-sided conversations with Darren himself.
Oh, yes, he still follows me around, though I’ve long since left the county. He was attached to me, you see. Still is. And apparently, always will be.
As is also true, I unfortunately found out a few days after her death, of Jessica…
Let me know what you think of the story. If you like it, please feel free to forward the link to your friends! If it wasn’t to your taste, better luck tomorrow — a new piece of short fiction goes up every day.