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Aubrey's Ghost

by Charles Lacey

I wasn't looking forward to this appointment. Every GP has to face it occasionally: telling someone that they have an incurable disease and are likely to die before long. So when I saw Martin Freebody's name on my list my heart sank.

The reactions to this kind of news vary from patient to patient. The most usual one is a blank, stunned look. You hand them some literature and give the usual talk about modern treatments which can give a better quality of life. Occasionally you have one that gets angry, as if it were the doctor's fault. Occasionally, of course, it can be, if you miss some vital symptom until it's too late. Sometimes you get tears, usually from the patient's other half.

Anyway, Martin came in, and I asked him to sit down. "Martin," I said, "I'm truly sorry to have to tell you this, but it is cancer."

He looked at me, and nodded.

"And," I continued, "the tests found that the lump under your arm is a secondary."

"Does that mean it's incurable?" he asked.

"I'm afraid so. The primary is in one lung, but there are several secondaries now."

"I see. Edward, putting it bluntly, how long have I got?"

I looked him straight in the eye.

"I would estimate three to six months, until you reach the point where you will need to go into hospital. Of course, there are excellent palliative treatments, and we can give you some chemotherapy which will hold it back for a little while."

"I see."

I was silent for a few moments, waiting to see what Martin would say next. What he said, and the way he said it, surprised me greatly.

"I see. Thank you for being honest with me. Let me return the compliment. I have suspected for some time that I could be nearing the end of my life. For the time being, I will continue as normal: no doubt you can prescribe some drugs that will keep the pain to a minimum. But I shan't want any other treatment."

"Are you sure? We may be able to prolong your life, at least for a while."

"Quite sure."

I was at a loss. This calm acceptance of a death sentence was something new in my experience.

"Edward, you look puzzled. But I am not afraid of dying, though I hope you can make my passing as pain-free as possible. But I'd like to tell you my story. I'm sure you have other patients to see now, but would you like to join me for dinner? How would Thursday evening suit you, at the King's Head?"

I'd known Martin for several years, though we were not close friends. The main point of contact was that we both sang in the local Choral Society. He was in many ways a rather solitary figure, with no family that I knew of. But he was pleasant enough, in his quiet way.

So we met at the King's Head, a local pub which did exceptionally good evening meals, and once we were well into the meal, he opened up.

"It goes back to when I was a teenager. We lived in the country…"

That was the last time I saw Martin, until I visited him in the hospital. He went downhill rapidly, and died within two months. The nurse who was with him at the end told me that he said a name, quite strongly. "Aubrey…" he said. And then he smiled as if he were greeting an old friend. And then he died.

What follows is the story he told me.

It goes back to when I was a teenager. We lived in the country, in Cambridgeshire, near a village called Frampton. It's quite built up now, but then it was pretty rural. Not far from our house there was a house that was almost derelict. I believe it was called Pargeter House, something like that, but we called it the Haunted House. It was a big place, I would guess seventeenth or eighteenth century, with Dutch gables.

My mother and I didn't get on. She wanted a son who would be completely conventional, who would do well at school, then go to university, then get a "good job", marry a "nice girl"and present her withgrandchildren. That wasn't going to happen. I was a duffer at most things at school, and hopeless at games. My termly reports made very depressing reading. And I took no interest in girls.

I tended to avoid being at home more than necessary, since Mother would nag constantly at me. I use to walk a great deal, and I got to know the countryside around there very well: more so when I got a bicycle and could venture further afield.

Like most people, I avoided the Haunted House. It had an unpleasant reputation locally: dogs and horses were said to be afraid of it and there was talk of a ghost. But one day I was passing by there, and it started to rain quite hard. I thought the outside chance of meeting a ghost was probably less worrying than the certainty of getting soaked, so I ran inside and took shelter in a room that was still reasonably intact, with some roof remaining. There was an old fireplace, and I sat on the ground, waiting for the rain to finish.

But the rain grew heavier, and I realised that I was in for a long wait. I thought, what do I do now? What I actually did was what most boys do when they are on their own… if you take my meaning.

Well, things were proceeding towards their climax (please excuse the pun!) when I suddenly heard a voice calling "Martin." My first thought was that Mother had followed and caught me. She had strong views on what she called "self abuse" and on the one occasion that she caught me pleasuring myself I got a sharp slap and a sharper scolding. I hastily put away my tackle and did up my trousers. But it wasn't Mother's voice. It sounded like a boy, around my own age, light and clear.

"Hello?" I called, two or three times. "Is anyone there?"

I got up and walked around, but there was no sign of anyone there. But since the rain had stopped, I resumed my walk, thinking no more of the voice.

But a week or so later I went back there. I'd not had any sense of a ghostly presence, and I wanted to explore the place a bit more. In my haversack I had a bottle of ginger beer, a packet of biscuits and a picture of Mike Holoway that I'd cut from a copy of the Radio Times. You don't remember Mike Holoway? He was an actor with a starring role in The Tomorrow People. He was my heart-throb back then – and if I'm honest he still gives me a thrill. So I sat in my corner, with the picture – he was naked to the waist, and my God, was he gorgeous!

Well, this time I managed to finish off what I was doing. For the final ejaculation I stood up and came onto the ground so as to avoid staining my clothes. And again, as I zipped up, I heard a boy's voice calling my name. Strange, I thought. I had a good look around, and again there was no-one there. Well, I thought, if that's a ghost, it's a pretty harmless one.

So I called again, this time quite softly, "Hello? Who's there?"

The answer came, quiet but clear. "Martin. It is I."

"Who are you?" I asked, by now thoroughly intrigued.

"Look," called the voice. "Look over here."

I looked, and this time I saw him. Very faintly, and only partly formed. It was a boy, with most of his face in shadow. But I could see his hands moving, and his lips as he spoke.

"Who are you?" I asked again.

"My name is Aubrey. Aubrey Wills-Freeman. I died in this house, seventy years ago."

"How did you die?"

"I took… I took my own life."

"Why? What had happened?"

"It was because I was found out…"

And suddenly, silently, he was gone. I realised that he was indeed a ghost, and I don't know why I wasn't terrified. But actually I felt more sorry for him than anything else.

Well, I was pretty intrigued by this, and next Saturday I went into the Local Studies Library in Cambridge, and looked up the house, and the family that had lived there. Well, there was a family called Wills-Freeman and they owned the house from the 1880s until the late 1920s. Thereafter the house was abandoned.

I spoke to the Librarian, but she was unable to help me with anything further, but suggested that I try the archives of the local paper. As it happened, the school holidays started a couple of weeks later, so I took myself off to the offices of the Cambridge Evening News and asked to see their archives from the 1900s onwards. My word! It was a long job. But I persevered, and eventually found an article. It told how Aubrey, son of Colonel and Mrs Edward Wills-Freeman, living at Pargeter House, near Frampton, had tragically taken his own life. It added that the Coroner had been unable to find any reason for his having done so; he was popular at his school and had a comfortable and happy home life.

Well, there must have been some reason, I thought. He'd been a pupil at The Leys School, and so that was a possible starting point. But I thought, if I let them know that I am digging into the story of a pupil who killed himself, they'll clam up. So I invented a great-uncle called William Jones, and boldly went to the School and asked to see the Secretary. She was very pleasant, and took me over to the School Library. The Librarian was helpful and took me to what he called the Muniments Room. There I was able to go through all manner of old records. Several times I found references to Aubrey Wills-Freeman. He had been quite a scholar, it seemed, and had won several prizes.

Then I found the photograph. It was in black and white, of course, and faded to sepia. But it was of his form, and his face looked out at me as if greeting me across the years. I didn't need to look at the list of names at the foot of the photograph to know which boy was Aubrey, but it confirmed it.

He was stunning.

I borrowed a magnifying glass from the Archivist, and looked more closely. Fortunately the picture, though faded, was pin-sharp. He had fair hair, worn rather longer than most boys then. I could sense the deep blue of his eyes. His hands could be seen, too; they were shapely and delicate. In the body he must have been quite lovely. So why did he take his own life?

In 1909 his name disappeared from the records. This accorded with the date of the newspaper account. But there was no record of the suicide, and no indication of what might have happened. Well, I thought, there's only one thing to do now, and that's to ask him.

So the next day I went back to Pargeter House and sat quietly. I called, "Aubrey?" There was no response. So I thought, well, perhaps he likes it when I … well, when I masturbate. So I started to do so. I'd just got properly hard when I heard his voice. As before he called, "Martin…"

I called his name back. This time I could see him more clearly. It was a funny thing, I'd have been hopelessly embarrassed if I'd been caught by anyone else with my dick out, but I didn't mind Aubrey.

But he was there again, in the corner, and this time I could see more of his face. It was a perfect match for the one in the school photograph. And the hands were the same too, long-fingered and delicate.

"Aubrey, " I said, "Why are you here? And why did you… do what you did?"

His voice was light and clear, a boy's voice, but filled with sadness.

"I loved another boy. His name was Martin, too. We were found together in the groundsmen's shed. He was in a different House from me, which seemed to make it much worse.

"I was going to be expelled. So was Martin. At that time there was dreadful prejudice. It seemed to me that the only thing I could do was to end it all. The stair posts have all rotted away now, but they were sound and solid in those days I put a rope around my neck, attached it to the top one and jumped.

"But I have not been able to leave here, to go on to the next stage of my life. I am trapped here."

His voice sounded so weary, so sad, that I felt really sorry for him. After all, he was the same kind of boy as I was. We had that in common.

"Can I help?" I asked. "Is there anything I can do? Is there any way you can escape and get to where you should be?"

"I must stay here until I find my true love. When that happens, I will be taken from here to … I suppose you would call it, Heaven."

"But how can you do that?"

All the time we had been talking, his voice and his figure had been growing clearer. I was right, he was stunningly good looking. There was an anxious sweetness about his face, and the way his hands moved showed deep emotion.

"It has been a great joy to me that you have come here to pleasure yourself. I remember when I used to do the same thing. But now I have no physical body it is no longer possible."

I was silent, thinking furiously. Could it be that I was falling in love with Aubrey? Not with the physical body that he no longer had, but with the essence of him, the beautiful, boyish, elf-like spirit. If I had ever felt any fear or nervousness it was gone. I grieved for him, trapped in a lonely, disembodied existence for year after year.

"Aubrey," I asked, after a long, thoughtful silence, "Is there anything I can do? I am sure you were a kind, gentle person in life and I… I wonder if there's something …"

Aubrey did not speak, but I felt him waiting, perhaps with some glimmer of hope in his heart.

"… if you could come into my body, to be with me… is that possible? And would it help in any way?"

"Oh, dear Martin, thank you, thank you. I could not ask, but you have offered. Yes, I can ride with your own spirit in the saddle of your body, and share your pleasure. Not here, in this place which has become dank and ruinous, but perhaps in your own bed at home. I will come to you tonight."

That night, I said I felt tired and wanted an early night. I went to my bedroom, undressed and lay down, naked. It was about ten o'clock that Aubrey came. I felt his presence, warm and loving. I nearly wept, when I thought what a sweet boy he must have been in life, and how he had felt driven to end his life because other people did not understand him. I understood him, very well.

I lay on my back, my hand caressing my thighs and my belly and then my shaft, which was as hard as steel. I felt Aubrey sliding into my body with me, not usurping my own spirit but as its companion. My hand – our hand – stroked and rubbed at my – our – phallus. And I felt his spirit close to my own, and it was loving and gentle, a sweet companion. As my own pleasure mounted I could feel Aubrey becoming ever more excited, until that moment when the seed spurts forth and the climax, which men of old called the "little death" occurs.

We lay back, fulfilled and happy. I could feel Aubrey leaving me, and suddenly I didn't want him to go, to separate himself from me. But I knew he had to go. I heard his voice once more.

"Dear Martin, you have set me free, and for that I am in your debt for ever. I will soon be gone, to that land where all arrive at last. But be sure, be very sure of this: that when your turn comes to pass through the gate of death, I will be there to welcome you. And then, if you desire it, we may stay together. For I love you, I live and honour you above every other mortal creature. Remember, dear beloved friend, that I will be there for you. And now, farewell…"

And I felt his lips, which had been so lovely in life, for a moment warm and living, pressed to mine in a kiss, and then he was gone.

But he left me a legacy. The work I had done to research Aubrey's history had given me a taste for that kind of work. I became friendly with the Archivist at The Leys School, and I spent so much time in the Local Studies Library in Cambridge that I became friendly with their staff and was invited, when I graduated, to join them.

And so, Edward, until the reorganization of County Library staff – which in practice meant about fifty per cent staff cuts – I had a job which was also an absorbing interest. But I wasn't able to find another post, and I confess that time has hung heavily of late.

But I hope you now understand why I have no fear of death. I did not dare to take my own life, since I might have ended up in the same plight as poor Aubrey. But now that I have been given notice, so to speak, I have put my worldly affairs, such as they are, in order. I have no family to grieve for me and my work is done. I hope that my passing will be gentle and decent, but I rejoice to think that I will be reunited with my beloved Aubrey. Indeed, I hope that we may be together for all time. Because, even in that short time that he shared my body, I came to know him very well indeed. I am glad with all my heart that I was able to help him. And I long for our reunion.

And, Edward, I know that Aubrey sees me, and every now and then… I have a sense of his presence near to me.

The day I came home from your surgery, when you told me I'd not much longer to live, I looked in the mirror, and he was there. He was as beautiful as ever, and he looked into my eyes and smiled, and said, "Not long now, my darling…"

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