So Skirts and Chintz and me come out the pub and find ourselves dead opposite the haunted house. I say it’s a tourist trap, but Chintz says out for a lark. So in we go. And yes, it’s hokey. Tarot cards, a plastic skeleton done up with fairy lights, crystal balls and I don’t know what the hell else.
We pay our fivers and go into a room like my great-aunt Vera’s, inherited from her grandma Slurry and never changed a thing. And just as gloomy. Then we go on up a staircase to the attic, one of those half-timbered jobs. A loudspeaker starts up about a girl dying in childbirth, and she’s carrying on with screams and moans, which I could have well done without.
On the floor down there’s a room with a round table for the séances. Once the door closes it’s hard to make anything out, it’s about pitch black. Chintz grabs my arm and says orright? and I say orright, and Skirts says he’s orright, if anyone wants to know. But now I spot an old woman in a raincoat with one of them plastic hoods that ties under the chin, and she as sure as hell didn’t come in through the door. I’ve a message for you, she says to me, and then takes out a handkerchief and blows her nose. Which is not something you’d expect a ghost to be doing, but there it is. I say what is it then, and she says a man may build himself a throne of bayonets, but he cannot sit in it.
Chintz is rattling the doorknob and saying it’s stuck. Skirts lends him a hand, and then they get it open and we belt down the stairs and a minute later we’re back in the pub with fresh pints apiece.
“Drink life to the dregs,” Chintz says, taking a swig.
“What are you on about?” Skirts asks.
“That’s what the man on the stairs said. The soldier. Had a rifle and a tin helmet. Covered in mud and smelled like shite.”
“I didn’t see a man on the stairs,” Skirts says.
“Me neither,” I say. “But I did see a woman in the séance room. She said something about a throne. Let me think: a man may build himself a throne of bayonets, but he cannot sit in it.”
“Only us in the séance room,” Chintz says.
“What about the girl in the attic?” Skirts says.
We stare at him.
“She was scrubbing the floor. She looked up at me and said ‘Sin recognized—but that—may keep us humble, but oh, it keeps us nasty.”’
“What does that mean?”
“Well, there’s one thing,” Chintz says, eying his glass.
“We’ve drunk to the dregs.”
“Fair enough,” Skirts says. “Your round, then.”