CASPER AND THE EXTERMINATOR
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"Don't be daft," said Ted, his nose buried in the sports page,
"Whoever heard of a ghost in a council house? The bloody thing was only built 15 years ago. Nothing's had time to die yet."
"Well, maybe it moved in from down the road then," retorted Doris, glaring at the newspaper, "Maybe it likes central heating and magnetrons."
"We haven't got a magnetron," Ted pointed out reasonably, "'Ere, look at this! Mike Tyson's retiring! Blimey..."
"Fascinating," snorted Doris with heavy sarcasm, dropping a lump of marge into bubbling baked beans, "I s'pose you think all them thumps and bumps is rats then, do you?"
"Could be, could be...," answered the newspaper, obviously more concerned with things of a more down-to-earth nature.
Doris sighed and cracked eggs into the frying pan, where they swam glutinously for a moment before congealing. She fished out a bit of shell, burning her finger in the hot oil and wishing she'd married Anthony Worrell-Thompson.
He was a nice bloke Ted, she thought, but dull as tarnished pewter. Pottering down the allotment all day growing slug-chewed cabbages and getting all het up because Damien Hill was in pole position was not Doris's idea of an exciting existence.
So when the ghost had moved in Doris, bored with bingo, had brightened considerably.
Doris's first encounter had been during the early hours about two weeks ago. A light sleeper, she was lying in bed trying vainly to recall a recipe she'd seen on the telly that afternoon, when there was a distinct thump from the loft, reminiscent of young Ollie falling out of bed. Only Ollie, Doris recalled, still somewhat groggy with sleep, was now 19 and had mercifully moved out a year ago.
Ted, of course, who wouldn't wake up if a bomb exploded in his denture glass, didn't hear a thing. Doris had elbowed him sharply in the ribs, but he'd merely grunted and snored even louder.
Doris, a sterling woman of vast proportions and afraid of no man, had heaved herself out of bed and thrust her feet into fluffy slippers. Grabbing Ted's brolly from the corner, she'd padded down the stairs as quietly as her bulk would allow and prepared to do battle. No intruder was going to get the better of her!
Trouble was, there was no intruder to be seen. Creeping into the kitchen, though, Doris beheld a sight which upset her greatly.
The fridge door was swinging open and, splattered on the lino in front of it, was a gooey mess of broken eggs, spilt milk and the remains of a chocolate cake she'd baked only that afternoon.
Doris, justifiably proud of her housekeeping skills and not a woman to be trifled with, was incensed.
"Bloody cheek!" she whispered, fortuitously remembering to keep her voice lowered and brandishing the brolly, "You just wait 'til I get hold of you!"
She never did manage to get hold of anything however, even though she subsequently conducted a thorough search of the house.
When she told Ted the next day about the ghost, he'd just laughed at her.
"Ghost," he snorted, stirring his mug of tea, "Don't be silly, woman. Besides, ghosts don't eat. They don't need to. Or maybe you think it was trying to make a chocolate omelette?" and he left to weed the allotment, chuckling richly.
Doris, undaunted by this display of male skepticism, decided to name the ghost Casper, after Ollie's favourite cartoon character. Besides, it seemed to be a friendly enough spook, if a bit messy.
Doris became quite fond of Casper. He set her apart, distinguished her from the common herd. Besides, her status shot up no end with her mates at the bingo hall.
After his initial banquet, however, Casper seemed to have lost his appetite, although he wasn't averse to pinching the occasional scone or rock cake should Doris forget to close the pantry door properly.
He took, instead, to running up and down the stairs all night and appeared to find the central heating oppressive, as he left all the doors open on his nightly prowls.
Once, as she lay sleepless, Ted comatose as usual, Doris heard grunts and scrapes from above, as if Casper had decided to rearrange the furniture.
Casper, a mischievous ghoul had, for some reason best known to himself, decided not to reveal his presence to Ted, who was getting progressively fed up with Doris's tales of ghostly comings and goings.
"Rats," he said one morning, spooning sugar onto his cornflakes with vigour, "That's what it is Doris, rats. I've called in the exterminators. They'll be here this afternoon."
"Rats my arse," muttered Doris indignantly. She was curious, nevertheless, to see what the exterminators discovered.
The spotty youth who presented himself at precisely three o'clock that afternoon, found himself somewhat daunted as he confronted Doris on the doorstep, arms akimbo and her chin thrust stubbornly forward in defiance.
"You'd better come in then, Mr. Gone." she said, warily eyeing his white van which had 'VERMIN VANQUISHED! B. GONE & SON.' emblazoned in scarlet letters on its side.
"Oh no, it's not really Gone," said Gone junior, blushing, "That's just a joke. A play on words, see. It's Brown, really, Terry Brown. 'Gone' was my dad's idea." he finished lamely, visibly wilting before Doris's formidable scowl.
Ted, hovering in the background, grinned and rubbed his hands in gleeful anticipation.
Doris and Ted waited nervously in the living room while young Terry conducted his room-to-room investigation.
Strange scufflings and yelps were soon to be heard from above, followed by the reappearance of Terry, sucking a bleeding finger. He was scarlet, dishevelled and carrying a large cane basket.
"What's the verdict, then?" Ted wanted to know, looking smug as he eyed the basket. He nudged Doris painfully in the ribs.
"Fox," said Terry, "Bloody thing bit me too. Must've come in looking for food and couldn't get out again. I'll take it down to the sanctuary if you like."
Doris regarded the basket, crestfallen. Ted, of course, was positively prancing with delight.
"See?" he cried triumphantly, "Told you so, woman. Ghosts indeed! A bloody fox all along. Blimey, the lads're going to love this one! I'm off to the pub to tell 'em all about it.." and he and Terry ambled off down the path, all chummy and chuckling as they bonded together, discussing the fancifulness of the female.
Ted still hadn't returned when Doris was settling down much later with a cup of tea and a packet of digestives to watch Rolf Harris save the animal kingdom.
Just as Rolf, glasses askew, was struggling to contain a suffering salamander and she was about to dunk her bikkie into her mug, there was an almighty crash from the loft, followed by a series of scrapes and thumps. The stairs creaked as Casper made his way clumsily downstairs.
"Bloody fox, indeed!" grinned Doris contentedly, as she munched a soggy biscuit with superior satisfaction...
© Andrea Lowne 2000
Originally published in ASWELLas Magazine