Carter woke up, blearily rubbing his eyes. He could hear the television on in the other room again.
“I gotta get some better help for this,” he muttered. “Or some better sleeping pills.”
He considered for a moment whether to get out of bed and turn the television off, and realised it wasn’t just the noise that woke him up; he needed to go to the bathroom as well.
Carter put his right foot out of the bed, trying to find his slippers. He flicked on the bedside light and heard a hiss, like a snake, from the other room.
“What on earth was that?” he asked, out loud. There was, of course, no answer. He finished putting the slippers on and walked out to the living room.
“I wasn’t watching that side,” he muttered. “Was I? Or at least, I don’t remember.”
He shook his head and went to the bathroom.
The morning alarm rang too early, as always, and Carter got himself out of bed, showered and dressed ready for work. The train was late, as usual, and he fell asleep as he always did.
“Hey,” someone said, nudging him. “Edgemont.”
“Thanks,” he replied, only half awake. “But I get off at Wolfburg. Still half an hour for me.”
“Ok then,” the man replied.
Carter checked his wallet, just to be sure. It was still there.
The office was quiet when he got there. Carter was the first in, because of train times; either be just over half an hour early, or just under half an hour late. It never bothered him; besides, being early was never a disciplinary offence. And by the time anyone else arrived, he’d got coffee, settled at his desk and had a good half hour without interruptions to get some work done. This morning, he was starting answering his third payment enquiry before anyone else arrived.
“You look tired. Sleepwalking again?”
“Can’t seem to shake it,” he replied. “Last night I woke up at three to go to the bathroom to find the TV was on. Clearly I’d got up and been watching it.”
“Either that or the place is haunted,” Rex laughed and shook his head. “Tea?” he asked.
“Still on this coffee,” Carter replied, “but thanks for the offer.”
“Could be worse,” Rex said. “At least it’s Friday.”
Carter gave him a thumbs up that he really didn’t mean. “Here’s to Friday,” he said.
Rex wandered off to the staff kitchen and Carter continued to go through the payment logs. It wasn’t the most exciting part of his job, but it had to be done. Worse, it was tedious work, so the earlier in the day it was done, the better.
The morning proceeded normally for a Friday. The ten thirty team meeting was its usual dull self, with the highpoint being the news that Janet would now be taking over some of Suki’s responsibilities while she was on maternity leave.
“And finally,” the manager said, “I’ve been asked by facilities if we can all try and leave the staff kitchen clean and tidy please? The dishwasher fairy doesn’t really exist and we know it’s all of you – the kitchen isn’t haunted.”
The manager laughed at his own joke, and smoothed down some imaginary hair on his bald head.
Carter went back to his desk and continued grinding through the daily chores until lunch time. At least it wasn’t a payroll week, so he would have some chance of getting home on time, at least.
The word had been presenting itself to him over and over again today, and as he stood in the lunch queue visions of Linda Blair in the Exorcist ran through his head, croaking in their demonic voices and spinning their heads to taunt him.
“What do you want?” the woman behind the counter asked, loudly.
“Sorry, I was miles away,” he replied. “Bacon and sausage in a mini loaf, please.”
“Coming up,” she reached over to a bread basked, and continued talking while preparing. “Penny for your thoughts?”
“The Exorcist,” he replied. “Or rather, my flat. I’m not sure but… it might be haunted.”
“Haunted?” she asked, reaching for the butter.
He nodded. “Strange idea, but I’ve been sleepwalking. Or at least, I thought I had. I mean, I started going to a psychiatrist and that but he couldn’t find anything wrong.”
“Really?” the woman asked, grinning.
“Well, you know, no more than usual, I mean,” Carter laughed. “Anyway, nothing that could point to sleepwalking, as far as he can work out. So that led me to wondering… is it haunted?”
“You need a medium,” the other woman behind the counter said. “Someone who can tell you for sure.”
Carter shrugged. “Where do I find one?”
“Oxford Canal Street,” she replied. “Near Artillery Guard station. Jones, I think the name is.”
“That’s over the other side of town,” he said. “Besides which, I commute in, takes me over an hour. I haven’t time to go all the way over there.”
The woman in front of him handed over a small loaf filled with bacon and sausages.
“They do make house calls, you know,” she said. “That’ll be four fifty please.”
Unwilling to risk internet usage at work – not after what happened last month, anyway – Carter took a look in the phone book in the reference library. Sure enough, in the businesses section, he found a one-list listing: Jones, D. Medium. He wrote the number on a napkin and thought about going outside to call but decided he’d had enough time for lunch already. He considered dialling on his mobile about two when he went for another coffee, but didn’t. He thought about it again during his meeting that afternoon – it was, after all, more interesting than discussions about EBITDA numbers – but it would have to wait. After the meeting he had some figures to pull, and by the time he’d done that it was five thirty.
On the way out of the door, he grabbed the napkin out of his pocket and dialled. They couldn’t complain about him ringing on his own time, at least. Someone answered at the fourth ring.
“Hello, Des Jones,” said a female voice.
“Ah yes,” Carter coughed. “I’d like to book an appointment for someone to come and take a look at my flat. I think it might be haunted?”
“That would be me,” she replied. “Can you tell me where you live?”
“Can’t you work it out?”
There was a sigh at the end of the phone.
“Sorry,” he said. “My attempt at humour.”
“I wish I could say I’d never heard that one before,” she replied. “But I’ve heard them all. Several times. Whereabouts do you live?”
He told her, and she thought for a few moments.
“Takes about an hour and a half on trains from here, I think,” she said. “I can be there tomorrow afternoon, at three.”
“I’ll see you then.”
He hung up. He felt, somehow, better.
He spent the evening in front of the television, flipping idly from channel to channel looking for something to watch. He ordered pizza, which arrived late, and cold. He microwaved it – the wrong thing to do, but he was hungry – while watching a film that had been on half an hour. He didn’t know the name, but it had Sean Connery in it, a jazz soundtrack, and appeared to be about spies without actually being a James Bond movie.
Eventually he fell asleep in front of the television and woke up around one. He went to the bathroom, and then to bed, unable to shake a strange feeling that he was being watched.
Carter spent the morning tidying up, cleaning the bathroom and then vacuum cleaning the carpet. He went to get lunch.
“No cheese?” he asked the fridge. “Where did the cheese go?”
The answer was clear: he ate it while sleepwalking, of course.
“I gotta cancel the medium,” he shook his head. “This is on me.”
He picked up his mobile, opened the recent calls list and stood there, thinking.
Eventually, he put the phone back down on the counter, but couldn’t say why.
The door bell rang just before three. It was turned out to be a well-dressed woman, medium height, with dark hair, glasses and a disarming smile.
“Carter Bell?” she asked. “I’m Des Jones.”
“Come in,” he said. “Can I offer you anything? Coffee? Tea?”
“I’m all right thanks,” the medium replied, shaking her head. “I had something on the train.”
“I don’t recommend that,” he said.
“Neither do I,” she smiled. “At least, not after today. So what’s the problem?”
He told her. How it had started six months ago, how at first he couldn’t work out how things had moved around the flat, how food went missing, why the television got left on at night.
“So you think you’re sleepwalking?” she asked.
He nodded. “And I know you can’t help with that, but -”
Jones held up a hand to silence him, closed her eyes and cocked her head on one side, listening, and stayed still. Carter watched her in silence.
“She was here,” she said, pointing to the sofa and opening her eyes again. “This morning.”
“Who was?” he asked, confused.
Jones turned to him and smiled. “She was.”
“That’s the question, isn’t it?” Jones asked.
“Actually the question for me is why do they call you Des?”
“It’s short for Destiny,” she replied. “Do you have a girlfriend? Or sister? Or someone who would have been here about 4am?”
“No,” Carter replied. “I did have, about a year ago.”
“Did she die?”
“No,” he shook his head. “Her visa ran out and she went back to Canada. Which is fine, it was pretty much over by then anyway.”
Jones pursed her lips and walked over to the sofa. She bent down, smelling the cushion.
“Dude,” he said. “I just washed that.”
Jones stook up again, and looked Carter in the eyes.
“I’m clairalient,” she said. “Among my other talents. Which means, before you ask, that I can smell ghosts.”
“But the thing is,” she replied. “I don’t have a particularly good sense of smell for normal things. So if I smell something here, it could be ghostly. If you smell it too, then it probably isn’t.”
“And do you smell something there?” he asked.
“Sadly, no,” she said, lifting one of the sofa cushions and looking underneath it.
“Look,” he said. “I don’t want to waste your time, but I really think this is just me sleepwalking.”
“Just give me a minute,” she looked up, raised one hand to her mouth and touched her lips.
She bent down and looked under the sofa.
“Have you cleaned under here today?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
She stood up a little, took another look at the sofa and started to head off to the bathroom.
“Did you find anything?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he replied, following her. “Just a couple of empty packets is all.”
The bathroom was a small, squarish room, with a switched-off bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. A single frosted window in one wall let in the afternoon light.
“I er…” Carter coughed. “I didn’t get around to cleaning in here yet.”
She turned and looked at him and smiled.
“That’s going to help.”
“Help what?” he raised an eyebrow.
“You’ll see.” Jones turned to look at the cistern, and smelled the top of it. Then she closed the lid of the toilet and examined it carefully.
“What are you looking for?” he asked.
She turned, held a finger to her lips and made a “shh” noise.
“Well there’s nothing here, Mr Bell,” she said, loudly. “I can’t help you.”
Carter blinked and looked at her.
“Really?” he asked. “Because -”
Jones waggled her finger at him and shook her head. She reached down, took her shoes off, and handed them to Bell while leaning over to his ear.
“We need to be quiet now,” she whispered.
Bell watched in astonishment as Jones stood on the seat of the toilet, stepped deftly onto the cistern, holding lightly onto the cabinet above the sink for balance, and pushed at a part of the ceiling.
To Carter’s amazement, the ceiling lifted.
“You can come out now,” Jones shouted into the space. “Unless you want us to involve the police.”
After a few moments, a girl’s face appeared in the hole in the bathroom and timidly looked out.
“Behold,” Jones said. “The enemy within.”
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