I am a travelling salesman. It's an unusual occupation these days, but to do what I do, you really need to go door to door. Selling ghosts is a tricky business to begin with. Trying to do so over a counter in a shop is asking for trouble. No, I've found it works much better to give my clients a look at what a house ghost can do for them, but also to make sure the ghost wants to stay. A willing ghost can be the difference between a satisfied customer and a poltergeist lawsuit.
Stepping up to the doorway on the old verandah, I felt good about this house. No other sales all day, but little old ladies are good customers. They like the company, and they could use the help, all great points to bring up during a pitch. The doorbell chimed deep inside and a minute later the door was opened on a mothball smell and an octogenarian with reading glasses. I launched into my introductory spiel with an accustomed fluidity.
"Good evening, ma'am, my name is Bob and I'm from Ghost Guests Limited. How many chores around your home could use some help?"
"Well, I'm not sure. Did you say 'ghosts'?"
"That's right, ma'am, I have in my case a selection of our finest household helping spirits ready and willing to assist you with your household upkeep. They sweep, dust, mop, tidy up, cook, garden and carry. Anything around the house you could do, they can do tirelessly, and usually just because they like the company. We choose only the most contented spirits and bottle them ourselves in a monestary on a cool, calm mountain for maximum tranquility. All of them come with a 'lifetime' guarantee!"
That last line is a 'joke' mandated by the company, and it never, ever gets a laugh. I am not shocked to find the same is true here.
"Would you like a demonstration?" I ask, quickly skipping over the awkward silence.
"You know, that does sound kind of interesting."
As I step through the door, I feel a kind of rattle in my case. One of the bottles is shaking, which can be a good sign, but I've never felt one shake like this.
"Would you like some tea?" the little old lady asks.
"That actually sounds like the perfect opportunity for a demonstration."
Before I can even reach in and open up one of the spirit bottles, the rattling one pops its top. The silent, foggy figure of a young man flies out, circles the room a couple of times, looks from me to the customer, and darts for the kitchen.
"I say, are they all as lively as that?"
"Not usually," I respond, a little awkward now that we're off script.
The ghost, to my surprise, returns quickly with a tray of tea, but one cup already poured with just a touch of milk. The ghost drops one sugar lump in, gives it a quick stir, and hands it to the customer.
"I thought that was you," she says to him, and actually introduces me to my product. "This is my Arthur. We were married for forty years."
"Oh, I see," I respond, totally at a loss now. "So ... he'll be staying, then?"
"Yes, I believe so."
"Well, then, our standard payment plans..."
I catch a death stare (no pun intended) from Arthur, and realise that our "standard" plans are not going to cut it here.
"Well, um, how about..." The glare continues. I sigh in resignation. Upsetting a woman's husband is one thing. Upsetting a ghost is entirely another.
"How about just a cup of tea and we call it even?"
Arthur smiles and pours the tea and I am left to wonder how a sure-fire sale turned into trading a cup of tea for some of my best merchandise. I guess you can't win them all.
Mokalus of Borg
PS - I may be pushing the definition of "flash fiction" here.
PPS - Though it was written quickly.