The Prince and the Poltergeist

“Why is it so hard to find an honest-to-goodness exorcist these days?” Humphrey grumbled as Sir Bartholomew, the castle’s persistent poltergeist, upended his bowl of cereal. Humphrey’s dislodged spoon dripped milk onto the counter.

“The last several that have come through have either completely failed to notice any supernatural activity or have run screaming when Barty actually does something.”

His mother munched on a piece of toast and nodded as she turned the page of the newspaper. “Frauds, all of them,” she agreed.

Barty whooshed her newspaper off the table and she sighed. “He knows well enough to hide when we hire exorcists.”

Barty cackled has he flew down the hall, and Humphrey put his head in his hands. “I’m about to give up. Sell the castle. Find a nice little cottage somewhere. Give up my title. What am I supposed to be a prince of, anyway?”

His mother patted him on the shoulder. “There, there. Sir Bart has been a legacy in this castle for years. It wouldn’t quite be the same if he were truly gone.” She went from consoling to glaring. “Besides, you may end up living in a little cottage somewhere before long anyway, so enjoy it while you can. It’s only a matter of time before our village-sized kingdom gets sucked up like all the rest.”

Humphrey groaned and kept his head in his hands.

Thankfully, Barty quieted down by lunch time, when Humphrey started to see petitioners. He wasn’t in the mood, though. Barty’s favorite times of day were when he was trying to fall asleep, sometimes the middle of the night, and breakfast just about every morning. Humphrey couldn’t remember the last time he’d gotten a good nights sleep.

He tried not to rub his eyes as one of the peasants in his kingdom explained how the cottage at the edge of his property was slowly sliding into the swamp. “I can’t be responsible for it if it goes. The swamp isn’t on my property, you see.”

Humphrey nodded distractedly. “I will tell the Royal Land Surveyor to take a look when he is back from his most recent trip.”

The peasant scowled. “Already been out, he has. Just nodded and said it wasn’t on my property, so weren’t my problem.”

Humphrey frowned. “So what’s the problem?”

The peasant looked at him like he was stupid, sighed, and stormed out.

Humphrey had never claimed to be a good prince. It was only his birth and the untimely death of his father that made it so. He really needed to find a wife.

And an exorcist, he amended, as his head slipped off his hand. The petitioner before him looked as dejected as the weather had become outside.

Thankfully that meant that the petitioning was over early, as nasty thunderheads built on the horizon. They were in for a wicked storm, all right.

Just great, Humphrey thought. If the ghost didn’t keep him up, the storm surely would.

That night, while he and his mother ate dinner, the storm broke. He could hear the wind howling around the eaves of the castle, Barty answering likewise with his moans. A glance from the window on the way to his study showed a hefty downpour slapping against the walls.

And then, a horrible gonging noise made Humphrey nearly jump out of his skin. It set Barty off on another rampage, and he heard his mother’s shrill voice from the sitting room.

“Was that the doorbell? Humphrey, go see who it is. James has the night off.”

They had sent the butler home when the weather turned nasty so he wouldn’t have to make his way through the storm, so Humphrey sighed and made his way to the large castle doors.

His mother, already in her dressing gown for the evening (and a brandy clutched in her hand), peeked around the corner to watch him answer the door.

He threw open the heavy door, and wind and rain whipped into the entry. A sodden figure stood there, and a flash of lightning illuminated a female figure, her sopping hair obscuring her face.

“I got caught in the storm. Might I bother you for lodgings for the night?” she yelled over the wind.

“Of course,” Humphrey replied, and fought the door shut once she’d crossed the threshold.

“Oh you poor dear,” his mother said, noting the girl’s sodden clothing. “Humphrey, go and find a blanket and some of your sister’s old clothes. Hurry now, before she catches her death!”

Humphrey sighed and made his way to Harriet’s old room. She had made her way out into the world at a young age, and had never returned to their tiny tract of land. They got postcards from her now and then of the exotic locales she was visiting, but she showed absolutely no interest in ever returning to her home kingdom. Their mother had left her room almost exactly as it had been, so Humphrey grimaced at the layers of dust and found what he was looking for.

When he made his way back to the grand entrance hall, it was deserted, but he followed the puddles down the hallway. Not to the guest quarters, interestingly enough. What was his mother up to?

He found the two of them in his father’s old room—he and his wife had started sleeping in separate rooms when Humphrey was still a boy—standing closely to the fire that was just fluttering to life. The girl was still shivering in her wet clothes.

Humphrey mumbled a greeting and placed the change of clothes in his father’s separate wash room.

“Thanks,” the girl—woman really—said gratefully, and disappeared, closing the door behind her.

“Mother, why are we in Barty’s favorite room?” Humphrey asked under his breath when the girl was out of earshot.

His mother’s eyes twinkled. “Humphrey, I asked her what she did, just making small talk, mind, and it turns out she’s an exorcist! This is perfect! It’s like fate just dropped her into your lap.”

Humphrey blinked. “Are you sure? I mean, I’ve never heard of a…such a young girl doing such a job.” He corrected himself, not wanting to show his skepticism at a female exorcist. His mother had always believed women could do anything a man could, and usually better, besides.

His mother shrugged. “One way to be certain. After a night in here, we’ll know whether she’s being truthful or not.”

Humphrey very nearly rubbed his hands together with glee. The girl would be so thankful that they let her stay that surely she’d do an exorcism for them. Although he realized his mother’s intentions, putting her in Sir Bart’s room. If she wanted to sleep at all, she’d have to exorcise the ghost. It was as evil as it was ingenious.

Humphrey sat on his heels poking at the fire and his mother paced, the ice in her glass clinking, while they waited for the girl to come out. She took quite awhile. Humphrey was just beginning to wonder what she was doing, when she emerged.

Harriet’s clothes were a little large on her, but they showed that she was most definitely not just a girl. She had also brushed out her hair and plaited it into a pretty braid. A light smattering of freckles arched over a perfect button nose, and bright green eyes stared appraisingly out of her narrow face, and her chin had an adorable cleft in it. In a word, she was beautiful. It was a pleasant surprise.

“Hello,” Humphrey said. “I don’t think we were properly introduced.” He held out his hand for introductions.

“I know who you are, Prince Humphrey. Madame Wisteria,” she said as she took Humphrey’s hand and nodded to his mother. “I’m Abigail, as I told Madame already.” She withdrew her hand from Humphrey’s after a firm shake.

“What were you doing out and about in such horrible weather?” He didn’t add in the middle of nowhere like he wanted. His mother was very touchy about the insignificant size and location of their kingdom.

Abigail shrugged. “My business is my own. However, I do appreciate you letting me in at this late hour and letting me stay. I promise to be out of your hair by afternoon.”

“No rush,” Humphrey said casually.

Abigail narrowed her eyes but didn’t comment. “If you’ll excuse me, my travels have exhausted me. Might I trouble you for some rest?”

“Of course, dear,” his mother said, grabbing his arm with her free hand. “We’ll talk more over breakfast. We begin at nine.”

Humphrey laid in bed, at any moment expecting to be disturbed by an excitable poltergeist. Much to his amazement, he woke up with the sun shining in his face. A whole night’s sleep with no interruption. He jumped from the bed. He couldn’t remember the last time he felt so awake. So rested.

He whistled as he dressed and made his way down to breakfast.

His mother was already at the table reading her paper. He grabbed a couple pieces of toast and poured a cup of coffee. He couldn’t help the ridiculous grin on his face. His mother glanced at him, and her eyes sparkled.

“It’s quiet,” she whispered, as if afraid she might break some spell.

“No sign of him?” Humphry asked. He almost didn’t dare hope that his mother’s plan had worked.

She gave him an amazed smile and shook her head. “Not yet, anyway.”

However, the silence didn’t last long. Abigail burst into the room, slamming the door wide.

“Good morning,” Humphrey said, blinking in surprise.

She glared at him. “Were you aware that you have a poltergeist on the premise?” she demanded.

His mother was quiet, coffee cup lifted halfway to her lips. She set it back on its saucer.

Humphrey ducked his head sheepishly. “Yes. Sir Bartholomew has been haunting this place for several decades now.”

“Had?” his mother said as she folded her hands on the table.

Abigail shifted her glare to Humphrey’s mother. “Yes, had. I finally had to exorcise him to get any sleep at all.”

“Lovely, dear. Just lovely!” Wisteria said, clapping her hands.

“You knew I would. That’s why you put me in that musty old room.” Abigail crossed her arms over her chest. “I expect to be paid for my services.”

Humphrey decided she looked like a thunderhead about to unleash. “Of, course, of course. We are in your debt, Mistress Abigail. We’re prepared to reward you for your, erm, heroic deed.”

“Is that so?” Abigail asked. Her voice was still frigid.

His mother rolled her eyes, but Humphrey saw the solution as plain as day. He had been hoping to find a wife. And what better woman than this gorgeous lady that had practically fallen into his lap? She hadn’t said why she had arrived at their castle so late. Perhaps she had even been fishing for a marriage proposal. Surely that was the best thing he could offer this young, single woman.

“Yes! I will offer you the most coveted position in the kingdom. I will take you as my wife.” Humphrey stood and offered her his hand.

She gave a loud snort and uncrossed her arms. “Thank you, but no.”

“No?” his mother asked, eyebrows raised.

“No?” Humphry said weakly, letting his hand drop in hurt defeat.

“No. I will take my normal exorcism fee, plus the differential for working after hours. I’ll collect that, and be on my way.” She rummaged in her still somewhat damp handbag, wrote out a ticket, and slapped it on the table.

Humphrey about fainted when he saw the amount. He could pay it, but he wouldn’t have much left in his coffers after that.

“Erm, I might have to come up with a payment plan.” He cleared his throat and coughed at her deadly look. “Or, I can pay you upfront right away.”

He watched wistfully as the beautiful exorcist made her way from the castle, pouches bulging with his kingdom’s riches.

And so the castle was now exorcised. No more Sir Bartholomew. Over the next several days, Humphrey found that he was not only missing the gold from his treasury, but also the annoying poltergeist. Bad luck ensued, and much ahead of schedule, his kingdom went completely bankrupt, and he and his mother were forced to flee from angry peasants who tried—unsuccessfully—to catch the ghost-free castle alight.

“Where are we supposed to go?” his mother demanded, barely visible under mound of gowns and other expensive accessories that she had “saved” from the palace.

It was then that Humphrey remembered his petitioner who mentioned the cottage that was slowly sliding into the swamp. It wasn’t technically part of the kingdom, and the petitioner had said it had been abandoned for generations, so he figured nobody would mind the ex-king moving in with his mother.

“This is it?” his mother asked, still clutching her valuables. She seemed reluctant to put the mound down on the dirty floor.

“Home sweet home,” Humphrey announced, and dropped his saddle bags (he had saved the bags, stuffed full of treasures of his own, but not the horse) onto the floor. “We’ll get it cleaned up and it’ll be the little cottage with no responsibility I’ve always dreamed of.

It wasn’t until that night, tossing and turning on a pile of fresh straw Humphrey had managed to scrounge, that he heard it. The unmistakable hooting of a poltergeist.

“Sir Bart? Is that you?” he whispered into the darkness.

The answering cackle made his blood run cold, and his mother let out a shriek.

“That old bat? Left me here to rot, he did. Friends of his, are you? Oooh, I will make the rest of your lives miserable,” the decidedly female ghost hissed at them.

Humphrey sighed and turned over as his mother poured herself a drink of the brandy she had also smuggled out.

“Home sweet home.”

Sara is a Kansas-grown author of the fantasy and horror persuasions. She is convinced that fantastical things are waiting for her just around the corner, and until she finds the right corner, she writes about those things instead.

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