Authors: Christina Jones
Tags: #General, #Fiction
In fact, she thought, looking round the shop, the whole evening was going very nicely indeed. It was far better than she’d
ever hoped. Maybe Francesca’s Fabulous Frocks really would be open by the weekend.
The door rattled and then swung open, allowing yet more of the storm to billow icily inside.
‘Hello, sweetheart. Am I too late?’ A plump and slightly bedraggled figure, draped in a voluminous raincoat with a massive
hood over her cauliflower-head perm, and swaying on ridiculously high leopardskin shoes, peered into the shop. ‘I couldn’t
get a taxi for love nor money. It’s the weather, you see. Everyone wants taxis on nights like this. Still, I’m here now. I’m
Maisie, sweetheart. Maisie Fairbrother.’
‘Oh, yes. Brian said you were on your way. No, of course you’re not too late.’ Frankie pulled the door open wide. ‘It’s lovely
to meet you and so kind of you to offer to help. Come along in and meet the crowd.’
Tossing back the raincoat’s hood, Maisie Fairbrother stepped into the shop.
Conversations died. Laughter petered away. Giggles ceased. Everyone stopped what they were doing and stared towards Maisie
and Frankie in the doorway.
‘Are you all right?’ Frankie asked anxiously. ‘What’s the matter?’
‘Oooh,’ Maisie gasped, striking her forehead with the back of her hand in a dramatic fashion. ‘Oh my word … I’ve come over
all faint, sweetheart. Completely light-headed. It always happens … ’
This, Frankie reckoned, must be the trouble Brian had hinted at. Great. Maybe Maisie was shop-phobic or something.
‘Let me get you a chair? A glass of water?’
Maisie shook her head weakly. ‘No, no … They won’t help. Oh, my word, can’t you see them, sweetheart? So many of them. They’re
Was it agoraphobia? Frankie wondered. It must be the shop heaving with people that had brought on this panic attack. Maisie
was still leaning heavily against the door for support.
‘People?’ She looked worriedly at Maisie. ‘Well, yes, but they’re all friends. They’re all here to help.’
‘I know that.’ Maisie’s voice was barely a whisper. ‘That’s not what I’m talking about, sweetheart. Oh, this is unbelievable.’
At a complete loss and mentally cursing Brian for even mentioning the clear-out to Maisie who was clearly not a well
person, Frankie patted Maisie’s damp shoulders. ‘I’m sorry, I’m not sure what’s wrong. Do you have a problem with crowds?
Shall I get someone to run you home if you don’t like being amongst all these people?’
Maisie shook her head, whimpered, and slumped a bit more. ‘Maybe a nice cup of tea?’ Frankie was rapidly running out of her
caring repertoire. And everyone else was still silently staring. Surely someone was a first-aider or something? ‘A cup of
tea, with lots of sugar? Then we’ll get you away from all these people, OK?’
‘It’s not the crowds that bother me.’ Maisie sighed softly, eyes closed and still adopting the dramatic head-smiting pose.
‘Not these living people in here, sweetheart. They don’t worry me. They’re not calling to me.’
‘Aren’t they? Oh, good.’
Maisie opened her eyes. ‘No sweetheart, they’re not. It’s not the living, sweetheart. It’s the dead. Ghosts, sweetheart. This
shop is full of them.’
Bloody hell, Frankie thought. This is all I need.
With a gentle groan, Maisie, still leaning backwards against the door, closed her eyes again and slowly slid sideways.
‘She’s fainted!’ Frankie looked wildly round the still-staring shopful of people. ‘Someone do something, please.’
‘Ah, it often happens with Maisie. I said she had her troubles, didn’t I?’ Brian, still carrying cardboard boxes, lumbered
towards them, dropped his cargo in a heap and elbowed Frankie out of the way. He grabbed Maisie’s shoulders. ‘Stand back,
gel. I can deal with this. My old ma knew how to deal with faints. Head between the knees, that’s what she needs.’
Brian tightened his grip on Maisie’s shoulders and jerked her head forwards.
‘Brian!’ Frankie yelled. ‘Not like that!’
Too late. Brian quickly had Maisie bent double and was trying to force the cauliflower head somewhere midway beneath the voluminous
‘Head-between-the-knees,’ Brian panted. ‘Head-between-the-knees.’
Brian continued to thrust Maisie into a forward-bend gymnastic contortion.
The shop watched the manoeuvres in shocked and silent awe.
Frankie whimpered. She definitely wasn’t insured for this, was she? ‘Brian! You can’t! No one can bend like that! You’ll kill
her! I mean, if you’re going to do head between the knees, surely she should be sitting down first. Oh, Lord.’
Maisie gave a little scream and suddenly fought back.
‘There you go, gel,’ Brian puffed, straightening up with a triumphal smile. ‘That brought her out of it. Always works, that
The shop gave a ragged round of relieved applause.
Maisie looked around her with vaguely blinking eyes. ‘What happened? Did I make contact?’
‘Only with Brian,’ Frankie said, mightily thankful that Francesca’s Fabulous Frocks didn’t have a death on its hands before
the official opening. ‘Are you feeling a little bit better now?’
Maisie shook her head. ‘No, sweetheart, I’m not. I’m still all of a flutter. I’m afraid I can’t stay here, sweetheart, and
neither should you.’
‘What?’ Perplexed, Frankie shook her head. ‘What on earth are you talking about?’
‘Spirits, sweetheart. Presences. The souls of the dead.’
The shop was gradually returning to normality. Frankie wished she was.
‘Is she OK?’ Dexter, followed by Lilly, clambered across the pile of boxes. ‘Did she have some sort of funny turn?’
‘Ah.’ Brian nodded. ‘She did. She often does. That’s why she
don’t get out much. Her troubles make her a bit of a social piranha. It causes a lot of problems, see? Maisie’s a medium.’
‘She’s never!’ Lilly gawped. ‘She looks like a large to me.’
‘A medium.’ Brian looked pityingly at Lilly. ‘You know, gel. Communes with the dead.’
‘It’s no laughing matter.’ Maisie did the back-of-the-hand head-smiting thing again. ‘They’re not laughing, the spirits in
this shop, sweetheart. They’re unhappy souls.’
‘Bloody hell,’ Frankie groaned. ‘This is lunacy. Maisie, this is a perfectly normal shop. It’s old, yes, but with no dodgy
history. It was never an old hospital or a church or built on some prehistoric graveyard. There aren’t any spirits here. There
never have been. Anyway, I don’t believe in ghosts.’
‘Oh, I do,’ Lilly said happily. ‘And you must do, Frankie. You’ve seen the film. We watch it loads of times. Especially on
duvet days. You always cry.’
‘Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore are
It isn’t a sodding documentary
Lilly looked crestfallen.
‘And you –’ Frankie turned to Brian ‘– should have told me about … well … about her, um, troubles.’
‘You said you knew.’ Brian sounded sulky. ‘I said she had troubles and you had to take her as you found her and you said yes.’
Oh, God …
‘All I knew about Maisie,’ Frankie hissed through gritted teeth, ‘was that she has a shoe fetish and eats Toast Toppers.’
‘Does she?’ Dexter looked at Maisie with new interest. ‘Lovely – I haven’t had a Toast Topper since I was a kid.’
‘No, well –’ Brian blinked slowly ‘– maybe I should have said. She sees ghosts. They make her come over all funny. But she
says she can talk to them. And they talk back to her.’
‘Rubbish,’ Frankie said sharply. ‘And please don’t tell anyone else that. Especially not here. You know what Kingston Dapple’s
like – it only takes one whisper to start the rumour mill grinding.’
‘Ah, you don’t need to worry about that, gel. Everyone local knows about Maisie. If she says a place is haunted then we just
accept that it’s haunted. We take it as read so to speak. We’re all used to it. No one gets scared off by Maisie’s ghost stories.’
‘Is that because no one’s ever seen one of Maisie’s ghosts?’ Dexter queried. ‘Has there ever been a sighting?’
Maisie, still quivering, gave a soft sigh. ‘
see them, young man. And that’s all you need to know.’
‘But no one else does – has?’
Maisie looked piqued. ‘Well, no, not yet … ’
‘Which is why, gel,’ Brian whispered to Frankie, ‘you don’t need to fret too much over this. Look at ’em – all the locals.
They ain’t taking too much notice, are they?’
Frankie looked round the shop. OK, it was true that the crowd in the shop were definitely divided into two camps. Those villagers
who clearly knew all about Maisie’s ‘troubles’ had stared at her during the fainting episode with amused concern but little
surprise; whereas those to whom Maisie the medium was a whole new phenomenon, had been shocked rigid.
Brian beamed kindly at Frankie. ‘Don’t worry, gel. She ain’t the best in the business by a long chalk. Maisie’s ghost-busting
won’t affect your little shop.’
‘It might,’ Lilly said. ‘Especially if she eventually manages to conjure one up.’
‘I’m not damn Paul Daniels,’ Maisie said huffily. ‘It’s not a magic act.’
‘Course it’s not, gel,’ Brian said soothingly. ‘We all knows that. Now, if them old spirits are giving you a bit of gyp here,
shall we get you home?’
‘That would be lovely, sweetheart. Thank you.’ Maisie looked at Frankie. ‘Sorry not to have been able to help with the clearing
up. I wasn’t expecting, well, to be taken over the way I was. And can I give you a word of advice?’
‘Please do,’ Frankie said faintly.
‘Well, sweetheart. I’d suggest that you let me come back when the shop’s empty and let me talk to the poor souls who are here.
See if I can get them to leave, you know, sweetheart? I’m afraid you won’t be successful until they’ve gone.’
Frankie sighed. ‘Thank you for the offer, but honestly, no. And anyway, if you think this place is haunted, then why didn’t
the ghosts cause a problem for Rita? I’ve worked here for three years with Rita and no one’s ever mentioned ghosts.’
‘They were probably here all the time, sweetheart. I don’t know. I never came here. And Rita wouldn’t have noticed anyway,
would she? Rita was very one-dimensional, sweetheart. No imagination.’
‘Rita had loads of imagination,’ Frankie said robustly. ‘But not even Rita would have imagined she was surrounded by the souls
of the dead or whatever they’re supposed to be. It’s complete nonsense.’
Maisie bridled. ‘It’s not nonsense. I can only assume that Rita’s life-aura was very strong and blocked the spirits from making
contact. Now she’s gone they’re free to roam.’
‘Like spectral ramblers?’ Frankie sniffed derisively. ‘And what you really mean is that Rita didn’t believe in ghosts, don’t
you? Well, neither do I. The shop has obviously been unhaunted for years and years – there’s no reason at all why it should
be any different now.’
‘But there is.’ Maisie looked sorrowful. ‘Because now we
there are unhappy souls here, don’t we? Now I’ve made contact, now I’ve intercepted their spiritual space, they’ll be waiting
for me to speak to them and release them from their haunting hell to give them eternal freedom.’
‘Well done.’ Dexter clapped his hands. ‘Very nearly as good as Stephen King.’
Despite everything, Frankie smiled to herself.
‘Oh.’ Lilly looked puzzled. ‘Are they trapped, then? The ghosts? Oh, poor things.’ She flickered the inch-long blue eyelashes
towards Frankie. ‘We shouldn’t leave them trapped. It’s cruel. Maybe Maisie should—’
‘Whatever … ’ Lilly flapped her hands. ‘But I still think—’
‘And I think that when Dexter and Brian take these boxes to Biff and Hedley’s they should pop Maisie in the car and take her
home,’ Frankie said quickly. ‘Then maybe the rest of us can finish off in here and have time to go to the Toad before last
‘Slave driver,’ Lilly muttered, teetering away, every inch of her radiating irritation like a cross cat.
‘Sounds like a plan,’ Dexter said. ‘OK with you, Maisie? Lovely – now let me fetch you a chair so that you can sit down and
calm yourself for a bit. You’re obviously not feeling too well at the moment. We won’t be long.’
Dexter climbed back over the boxes, disappeared into the
kitchen and returned with a chair. Maisie subsided weakly on to it, the voluminous raincoat billowing out round her.
‘OK now?’ Frankie asked.
‘As I’ll ever be in this place.’ Maisie’s eyes darted fearfully round the shop, obviously still seeing things that weren’t
visible to anyone else. ‘Or at least until you come to your senses, and let me sort out your unwanted visitors.’
‘None of my visitors are unwanted,’ Frankie said firmly. ‘And please, Maisie, I don’t mean to be rude, but can we just let
the haunting stuff drop now?’
‘You can if you like, I can’t. It’s my calling, sweetheart. I didn’t ask to be blessed – or cursed – with this gift.’
‘I’m sure you didn’t. But I’d honestly rather not hear any more about it. Especially not tonight. I’m far too busy to cope
with anything else.’
‘Whatever you say.’ Maisie pushed trembling hands through the cauliflower perm. ‘But one day you’ll need me here, that I can
Frankie sighed, holding the door open against the storm and watching as Dexter and Brian started hefting the boxes of clothes
into the boot of Dexter’s car. ‘And when that day comes I’ll be in touch, OK?’
‘OK, sweetheart.’ Maisie seemed mollified.
The rain slashed icily against Frankie’s face and she shivered. Someone walking over her grave, her gran would have said.
Nonsense! All nonsense.
‘There.’ Dexter grinned, the wind whipping his hair across his face, and slammed the car boot shut. ‘All done. Let’s get Maisie
buckled into the back then we can squash some of those carrier bags round her.’
As Brian clambered excitedly into the passenger seat, Dexter,
with surprising gentleness, helped Maisie up from her chair and out into the car.
It was a pretty swish car, Frankie thought. Especially for someone who allegedly hadn’t got a job. Was it a BMW? Or a Mercedes?
Or one of the new Jaguars? And how on earth could someone like Dexter afford a car like that? Was he into something else?
A little iffy business on the side? Was that why he had to leave Oxford so quickly? Was that the cause of his troubles?