‘Footstep for footstep, it follows me around. Everywhere I go I can hear my own footsteps doubled. Someone is behind me marking every step in time.’
The Barman looked at John sceptically. It was the middle of the afternoon and there were no other customers, so there was no escape from this story. He sighed and took up his designated role. Listener in Chief.
‘On a busy street, I don’t hear it,” said John, ‘but if I turn onto a quieter road, it is still there. If I look back, I don’t see anything or anyone, and it’s been getting closer behind me. I don’t want to know what happens if it catches me up.’
‘Do you think it’s something trying to scare you?’ asked the Barman. He had heard weirder stories in his time.
‘Yeah, I feel persecuted. You know – if there’s something you can’t see following you around, stalking you – it can’t be good. It wants me to hear it. I know it does.’
‘When did all this start?’
‘I was walking past St. Mary’s graveyard — it was only about seven thirty in the evening — and I heard someone call my name, ‘John Jenkins’, just like that. I looked to see who it was, but there was no-one there, so I thought I’d misheard something. Nothing more. I walked away, and that’s when it started following me.’
John paused, and took in a deep breath.
‘You don’t think it’s Death following me, do you?’ he asked.
‘Does Death wear shoes?’ asked the Barman.
‘You hear footsteps, so it would be someone wearing shoes, wouldn’t it?’
‘Oh, yes, I…”
‘Death personified is a literary and artistic convention,” opined the Barman.
‘Oh, yes, so… not that then? A ghost?’
‘A ghost who knows your name.’
John shivered convulsively.
‘Do you know anyone who is buried in that graveyard?’ the Barman asked.
‘No, I don’t think…oh…only one…Mr Jones, my old Maths teacher.’
‘Is there any reason he might want to haunt you?’
John swallowed to relieve the sudden constriction of his throat, and whispered his answer.
‘I cheated on my GCSE. I never was any good at Maths, so I had to — I wrote stuff on the inside of my shirt cuffs in pencil. Mr Jones knew what sort of grade I deserved, so when I did a lot better than I should’ve, he congratulated me, but in that way that means “I know what you did”.’
The Barman went to a small pile of business cards that were kept in a basket on the counter, sorted through, and pulled one out, handing it to John.
‘Exorcist,’ he said. ‘I’m told he gets results.’
‘Thanks,’ said John, ‘thanks.’
Clutching the card, he left the pub, and half of his pint of beer. The Barman listened carefully and thought he could just hear that second set of footsteps.
John put the exorcist’s postcode into his phone as he got into the car, and set it up to direct him there.
The car bounced slightly and there was a creak in the back seat.
He tried to drive carefully all the way, feeling that there was someone behind him, and afraid to look in the rearview mirror. By the time his phone told him that he had reached his destination he was on the verge of total panic.
Banging on the door, ringing the bell, he was faint with fear and desperation. A woman opened the door.
‘Please,’ he begged, ‘you’ve got to help me. I need you to make it go away. Tell it I’m sorry. I never cheated at anything else. Send it back where it came from.’
‘Is it in your house?’
‘No, following me everywhere. Behind me right now.’
‘Charlie!’ she called over her shoulder.
A small, slight, bald-headed man emerged from the dim recesses of the hall.
‘Man’s got a follower. Needs your expertise,’ the woman said, then she wandered away back into the house.
John took a step forward, but Charlie stopped him.
‘Don’t bring it inside,’ he said. ‘This is a clean house.’
They walked around the house through a side gate into the garden and into a small summerhouse that was set up as an office, John telling his story as they went.
‘Mr Jones?’ said Charlie. ‘He was my Maths teacher, too. I can’t tell you how many times I pretended to be ill on the days we had double maths.’ He laughed. ‘Even the kids who were good at maths were terrified of him.’
Once inside the office, Charlie had John sit on a meditation cushion, and sat down on another, facing him. Charlie rang a little bell, closed his eyes and began to chant, but the bell was plucked from his hand and thrown across the room. Charlie sprang to his feet.
‘Look,” he said, ‘John’s obviously sorry for what he did. Leave him alone now, go to your rest.’
A small vase flew through the air, just missing Charlie’s head.
As the exorcist continued to remonstrate, then plead with the furious presence, John got up, left the office and the premises and hurried to his car. In the street, he experimentally walked a few paces up and down. There were no following footsteps.
A crash and a scream issued from the exorcist’s house.
John got in his car and drove away, relief winning out over the feeling that he ought to be sorry.