“ ’ad a problem with that supernatural stuff once, ” muttered Big Jim in the middle of my story. “Yer want to stay right clear of demons and them Exhaustists, young feller.” He shook a warning finger the size of my wrist at me.
I blinked. Big Jim, with tattoos weighing 200 pound… and him weighing another 250 more (It was heavy ink) six foot ten… wide, hands that weren’t like hams around his beer, more like entire pigs … him with a bald shaved head, and a Doberman called Killer, well, he wasn’t the sort of bloke you’d think would be inclined to take Halloween stories seriously. I thought the only spirits he believed in came in a 160 Stroh Rum bottle and he thought they were pretty weak, at that. “My shout,” I said, getting us a couple more beers. “What happened, Big Jim?”
“I got took,” he said, shaking his massive head at the very idea.
I wondered if the aliens brought him back in a hurry. But I kept my mouth shut. I’m ugly, not stupid.
“I’ll tell you, my lad,” he said, taking the beer and quaffing half of it. “It were before Blackburn road got all gentrified,” his sneer at that word told me what he thought of gentrification, of people like me coming into his boozer. That hadn’t gentrified much beyond electric lights. They’d installed a television on a sports channel, but someone threw a dart through it, and now there was just the drone of the racing on the radio to compete with. It still smelled like a lavatory, but the drinks were a quarter the price of the new wine bar down the road.
He sighed gustily. “Back in them days, when Plod uster patrol down there in groups of ten, at midday. At least once a year. Now we was renting nice little old crib down there, number 13. Uster belong to old Vukerich. Polish feller, was convinced the Nazis was still after him. He had inch thick bars on the winders and door made from the special wood, Ballata, I think he said it were, with steel re-enforcing straps. It were a good door.”
He took another pull of his beer. “Once the drug squad tried to knock it down. Mind you it was a bit of a mistake seeing as Plod was supposed to raid number 3, only the one ‘ad fallen off Vuk’s door. So they ‘ave at it with one them rams… and bounce back like a sorbo ball. Jarred them to the back teeth, I ‘ear, ‘urt their likkle hands, didn’t do nuffink to the door. So they ‘it again and got bounced again. Then ol’ Vuk heard them knocking and pulled the bolt just as they was coming for the third try, and they fell in and knocked ’im and ‘is walker over. ‘is old lady come downstairs in ‘er nighty, screeching, an’ bashed five of them with her walking stick and ‘er Pekingknees bit two of them. Vicious dogs them Pekingknees, not big soppys like my Killer,” he said, fondling the Doberman’s ears. Killer grinned, showing big yellow teeth that would only take your arm off, if you were lucky. “And that was before they found out they was at the wrong ‘ouse. Then it got louder and worse.”
“Anyways, the old feller never got over the fact that the magistrate wouldn’t make the coppers pay out fer damages to ‘is door, on account of yer couldn’t see any. ‘E went back to Poland in disgust. Said at least ‘e could shoot home-intruders there. So me and missus moved in there. We got it quite cheap, it were number 13, see, and people is superstitious. I should ‘ave been, me lad. I should have been.” He sighed, and I wisely bought more beer.
“Bad luck?” I prompted.
He nodded. “Demons, or so I was told. Not a good house to be in.”
“Well, see, we got the place all nice. Big Telly. Nice Stereo wiv birdies and little dogs and all, and some nice leather couches. Even a bleeding glass coffee table for me Missus. On the never-never, of course.”
“Tough being a repo man in that part of the world.”
He grinned, showing teeth like tombstones… in a badly kept graveyard. “Yeah. No one was ever ‘ome, strangely, and Plod weren’t too keen to ‘elp. An’ Killer would have et ‘em alive. Anyways, we settled in and was living the good life like they do on telly. Only…” He paused. “Fings kep’ movin’ at night. I just thought it was ol’ Killer ‘aving a bit of a scratch, but the missus, well she’d been a bit worried about the number 13 stuff. Started preyin’ on ‘er mind like. Didn’t ‘elp that some bloke come into Patel’s and tell ‘em ‘e’s eard aba’t this haunted ‘ouse… number 13.”
Patel’s was like the boozer, an old-fashioned corner shop that sold everything and gossip in equal measures, at all hours. For some things it was highway robbery, others, oddly cheap.
“Anyways it was gettin’ to the point where Val, me Missus, puts down a packet of smokes and forgot where, she’d swear it must be one o’ them pole-ter-whatsits moving ’em. Everythink was spirits, and she ‘eard someone ‘ad said to Old man Patel that Old Vuk ‘ad bin one of these alchy-mists with a pact with the devil.” He sighed. “There was no living with ‘er an’ a man can only spend so long in the boozer before you ‘ave to go ‘ome. I was even thinkin’ bout moving.”
“Yer telling me. All in ‘er ‘ead, but there was no living with it. Then suddenly we gets a flyer in the mailbox. An Exhaustist offering services.”
“Yeah. Whatever. Shoulda chucked it in the fire. But Val got ‘old of it, and then nuffink would do except to get this bloke in. So I gives him a call. Now, Val bein’ Val she’s told the whole street. Well, she says she told Mrs. Patel and ‘er friend Marcie, but that’s like putting billboards and getting’ it national telly. So this bloke shows up one evening. Long, thin bloke in a van, ‘e’s wearing a dog-collar and a black dress. Looks all reverend like. And he’s got a bible and a bell and a little wooden case. Looks like a flamin’ traveler. Anyways, we lets ‘im in. I goes and chains poor Killer up in the back, and ‘e starts walkin’ about, snuffling around where ‘e don’t belong with Val taggin’ along like a puppy dog. Anyway, ‘e comes to the back room, the spare one next to the kitchen, got nothing much in it – and ‘e finds this green jelly on the rug. Looks like lime jelly to me but ‘e says ‘Aha! Ectoplasm!’ Whatever that means.”
“Lime jelly left by ghosts,” I explained.
“That would account for it. They’d like lime jelly. So ‘e says Val’s quite right and the place will have to be exhaustised, and the demon was resident in that very room. It was a good thing we didn’t use it much. That it and its minions was responsible for pole-ter-pole stuff, the furniture was now all possessed and there was demons on it. Val’s all shivering and squeaking by then, and ‘e gets out chalk from ‘is pocket, and makes marks on the floor, and takes out candles from the case, lights ‘em up and positions them in these little ‘olders… and then says it is too light and we must tape this black plastic from his case on the winders. So we does. And then ‘e says we’d better get out the house, because it could be very dangerous until the demons are exhaustised.”
“And did you?”
Big Jim nodded grudgingly. “’e put on a good show, he did. And I wasn’t going no further than the back garding, see. I gets there with Val, and there’s just about everyone in Blackburn road in our back yard taking turns at peekin’ through the bit o’ winder not covered in black plastic, ‘cept a couple o’ kids playing with Killer. Not that yer can see much, except the bleeding Exhaustist. ‘e’s standing there in the middle of his candles and chanting away, ringin’ ‘is bell. And there’s this cold mist rising from the floor – might ‘ave come out of his case, like ‘es got some dry ice in there. ‘e’s callin’ out demon names banishing them. Fair made the ‘air on me neck stand up, or would if I ‘ad any. And the noises! Bumps and curses… we can see ‘im and ‘ear shouting at the devils doing it, telling ‘em to be gone, and ringin’ ‘is bell fit to bust. This goes on for mebbe twenty minutes, and I’m wonderin’ if I should nip orf to the boozer for quick one… and out ‘e comes. ‘e don’t blink an eye at the forty people in me garding. He just says: ‘The problem with moving possessions about has been rectified. It will trouble you no more. The demons causing it have been banished to nether darkness! You need to wait a few minutes before going back, because it takes some time for the odor o’ sanctity to disperse, let alone the smell of Sulphur from the demons. Oh, and ‘ere’s me bill.’”
“And the blighter ‘ands me a bill for two ‘undred and fifty quid.”
He downed his beer at the memory the sheer effrontery of it all.
“I says, ‘I’m not paying that.’”
“The Exhaustist says: ‘Them that don’t pay, gets repossessed.’ And ‘e walks orf to his van. I’m larfing ‘cause, well, repossession on Blackburn road… so we opens the door. It stinks so we leaves it open for a bit before we goes back inside. Val is ichin’ to see if ‘e’s done the trick. And sure enough, ‘e ‘as. This Exhaustist ‘as stopped the furniture and stuff in the ‘ouse EVER moving around ever again. Because it ain’t there. While ‘e was putting on a show for us round the back, ‘is boys was movin’ us out the front. Everything was gorn. Me telly, me stereo. Me fridge with me beer in it. The leather couches… Val’s coffee table, the bleeding lot.”
“Did the cops ever catch him…?”
He looked at me and shook his head pityingly. “Not much Plod is going to do about yer getting a visit from the dreaded repo man, is there? Worse ‘n bleeding demons.”
I thought seeing as everyone is getting worked up about the midterms and Halloween has just been… I’d put up a quick short shaggy dog story and give you a laugh instead -Dave