Sunday, April 25, 2010
The Five Minute Manfred; FFF #29
"I said that you don't have to believe me, and I certainly wouldn't...if I were in your shoes," Eion paused to puff at his cigar, "but I have seen Manfred's ghost in this very room every night for two weeks now and if you wait long enough, you will see him too."
James tossed the butt of his cigarette into the grate and sat back to look his companion over. "You can't be serious, Eion old friend. That is the biggest load of tommy rot I've ever heard! You tell me you're seeing ghosts now? I know that Manfred's death was a shock to you and that he'd been with the family for years, but when you say you are seeing spirits of the dear departed in your library, my first thought is that you have gone barking mad!"
"Which is precisely why I invited you over. I need a sceptic, a non-believer. When I saw you at the club tonight, it was as if fate had placed you in my hands. Now at your elbow is a fine bottle of port and some glasses. Let's have a nip and enjoy another cigar. Manfred doesn't appear until 9:45 so I have thirty minutes to lay the facts before you."
"If you must," said James with a sigh as he handed Eion a glass, "but in this enlightened age it seems silly to sit and chat about ghosts and bogey men."
"Nonetheless," Eion began as he pulled out his pocket notebook, "I must insist or I will never know peace in this house again." He ran his pencil down the page and ticked off points as he hit them, "On February 28, I left home to attend to business out of town, leaving Manfred here at home alone. I was only going to be gone for a couple of days and Manfred was going to stay here, polish the silver and finish a book of poems that his sister had gotten him for his birthday. On March 2, I received a telegram from the local police saying that my house had been burgled and Manfred had been found dead. The constable explained that the milkman had found him. He found the door ajar and entered, calling for Manfred all the while. He found him here, in the library, struck dead with the fireplace poker. The house had been ransacked and my mother's jewels were missing, as well as the silver and one pillow case. The pillow case was presumably stolen to carry away the silver. The constable was certain that Manfred had surprised the burglar and his death wasn't premeditated as the weapon was simply what came to hand."
Eion paused to relight his cigar and glanced at the clock before continuing, "For the next three days I was busy arranging the funeral and never entered this room. On Monday, March 5, I buried poor Manfred. That night I was restless but I couldn't bring myself to go out. At eight-thirty or so, I came to the library, lit a fire to drive away the damp, and sat back with a cigar and a glass of the very port we are drinking. I tried to distract myself with a book but after a page or two, I realised I was reading Manfred's poetry book and it made me feel even worse. I blew out the lamp and sat by the glow of the fire. I looked at the clock on the mantle and it was a quarter 'til ten. I was about to get up and throw one more log on the fire when I noticed Manfred standing just to the left of the fireplace. I saw him just a plainly as I see you now. He was no mist or floating bed sheet. He didn't have a strange glow or sport a halo. He was just as real as when I'd left him."
"Did he say or do anything?" James asked, trying to hide his smirk behind his glass.
"I was so startled, I left the room. I dashed to the kitchen and splashed my face with water. In five minutes or so, I returned and he was gone. The next night I waited up for him and at exactly 9:45, there to the left of the fireplace was my man Manfred. He was dressed in the black suit he aways wore, but his tie was missing and his collar was undone as if he was getting undressed for bed. His face was a little flushed and his hair was a little rumpled, but other than that, he looked as right as rain. He didn't speak and he didn't move for the next three minutes. I called out to him and he smiled as if he recognised me. He bent as if to stoke the fire, then his face took on a worried look. He looked up in anguish and disappeared. Every night since then, I have sat here and watched the scene repeat itself over and over again. At 9:45 he appears. At 9:48, he smiles. At 9:49, he stokes the fire, then he looks worried. At 9:50, he's gone." Eion closed his notebook and emptied his glass. He looked at James and waited for him to speak.
"There is no variation to it? He never does anything else? Have you tried to touch him?"
"My hand passed right through him and he looked a solid as this table. Last night I got the idea that since he was so intent on fussing with the fire in the five minutes that he is here, I thought I would help him. As he reached for the poker, I moved to put another log on the fire. He looked at me and shook his head no. Then he took on the same worried look and disappeared. That is why I need you here tonight. I need to know if you see him too. It's 9:38 by the mantle clock. The fire has burned down a bit. Let's just sit back in silence for a few minutes and see what happens."
James lit a cigarette from his new gold case, stared into the fire and wondered how his friend had gone so completely off his rocker. The mantle clock chimed the quarter of the hour. James looked at Eion. His face was filled with expectation. James returned his gaze back to the fireplace and there stood Manfred, exactly as Eion had described him.
The lit cigarette that fell from Jame's lips made an uncomfortable hot spot in his lap and reminded him that he wasn't dreaming. When he had managed to crush it out, he saw Manfred turn and smile at his master. Then he picked up the poker and leaned over to stoke at the fire. He seemed to be making a sweeping motion with it as if to brush the coals aside. Then Manfred raised his head from his task and his face was overcome with terror. He looked as if he had seen his doom. In an instant, he was gone.
"You saw him too, didn't you?" Eion smiled as he broke the silence. James found himself trembling and his breath short.
"I don't know what I saw, but by God, it sure looked like Manfred!" he gasped.
"I noticed something this evening that hadn't struck me before," Eion said, "He doesn't seem to be trying to build the fire up. He seems to be trying to put it out." Eion leaped to his feet and dashed out the door. In a few minutes, he returned with two pitchers of water. The steam rolled off the fire with a hiss. "Bring the lamp over here James." Eion crouched in front of the fireplace and shifted the wet ashes from side to side. "These ashes haven't been emptied since I've been home. Wait. Look there. The soot by the damper has been disturbed."
Eion reached up into the chimney and drew out a slightly charred canvas bag. He spilled it's contents on the hearth. Diamond earrings and gold broaches nestled in the loops of a long string of pearls. "My mother's jewels!" Eion exclaimed, "Dear Manfred must have hidden them from the thief. He has been trying to point them out the whole time! Dear old Manfred. Dear sweet Manfred..."
"Yes, you can thank him in the afterlife," James said coolly as he rested the cocked pistol against Eion's head. "The both of you were supposed to be out of the house that night."