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THE TRANSFERRED GHOST
Frank R. Stockton
Updated by Rafael Coira and J. H. Coira
THE TRANSFERRED GHOST
Copyright © 2015 Rafael Coira and J. H. Coira.
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted or used in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical including, but not limited to, scanning, recording and photocopying, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher. The only exception is for reviewers, who may quote brief excerpts for critical articles and reviews.
While based on a public domain work, this adaptation is protected by Copyright law.
Cover by Rafael Coira
The country residence of Mr. John Hinckman was a delightful place. It had broad, smooth-shaven lawns and towering oaks and elms. Not far from the house was a little stream with a rustic bridge. There were fruits, flowers, chess, billiards, rides, walks and fishing. All these were great attractions but not one of them, or all of them together, could have kept me at that place for very long. I had been invited for the trout season and should have finished my visit by early summer had it not been that upon fair days when the grass was dry and the sun was not too hot, there strolled beneath the lofty elms my Madeline.
She was not, if I am honest, my Madeline. She had never given herself to me nor had I in any way acquired possession of her, but she was my only reason for living and for that reason I considered her mine. Maybe if I had told her my feelings she would have been.
But this was an unusually difficult thing to do. Not only did I dread, as all men do, sharing my feelings in the face of rejection, I was also dreadfully afraid of her uncle John Hinckman. He was a good friend of mine, but it would have required a bolder man than I to ask for the gift of his beloved niece. If I knew that Madeline felt for me the way I felt for her I would have brought it up with him in an instant. But I never asked her feelings. I thought of these things at all hours of the day and night, particularly the latter.
I was lying in bed one such night when, by the light of the moon, I saw John Hinckman standing by a large chair near the door of my spacious bedroom.
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I was surprised for two reasons. First, my host had never before come into my room. Second, he had left home that morning and was not expected to return for several days.
The figure was John Hinckman in his ordinary clothes but there was a vagueness about it, a certain translucency that left no room for doubt. The figure standing before me was a ghost.
Had the old man been murdered? Had this spirit come to tell me of the deed and perhaps to entrust me with the protection of his dear-? At that moment the figure spoke.
“Do you know,” he said anxiously, “if Mr. Hinckman will return tonight?”
I tried my best to stay calm and answered: “We’re not expecting him.”
“I am glad to hear it,” he said, sinking into the chair. “During the two and a half years that I have inhabited this house that man has never been away for a single night. You can’t imagine the relief it gives me.”
As he spoke, he stretched out his legs and leaned back in the chair. His form became less vague and the colors of his garments more distinct, while the look of anxiety on his face turned to relief.
“Two and a half years,” I exclaimed. “How is that possible? I saw John Hinckman alive just this morning.”
“That’s how long it’s been since I first came here. Mine is not an ordinary case. But before I go any further, let me ask you again. Are you sure that Mr. Hinckman will not return tonight?”
“I’m as sure as I can be. He left today for Bristol, two hundred miles away.”
“Then I will go on,” the Ghost said. “I am glad to have the opportunity to talk to someone who will listen. But if John Hinckman were to return and catch me here I would be scared out of my wits.”
“This is all very strange,” I said. “Aren’t you the ghost of Mr. Hinckman?”
“Yes, I am his ghost,” he replied, “and yet I have no right to be here. It is a strange story and I believe it is without precedent. Two and a half years ago, John Hinckman was dangerously ill in this very room. At one point he was so far gone that he was believed to be dead, and it was in that moment that I was appointed to be his ghost. Imagine my surprise and horror when, after I had accepted this position and taken its responsibilities, that old man revived, became convalescent and eventually regained his usual state of health. My situation was now one of extreme delicacy and embarrassment. I had no power to return to my unembodiment but no right to be the ghost of a man who was not dead. I was advised by my friends to maintain my position and assured that, as John Hinckman was an elderly man, it would not belong before I could rightfully assume the role for which I had been chosen.”
“But I tell you,” he continued, “the old man seems as vigorous as ever. I spend my time trying to stay out of that old man’s way but he seems to follow me everywhere I go. I tell you, sir, he haunts me!”
“But why are you afraid of him?” I asked. “He can’t hurt you, can he?”
“Of course he can’t. But his very presence is a terror to me. Imagine yourself in my shoes.”
I couldn’t imagine such a thing at all. I simply shuddered.
“And if one must be a wrongful ghost at all,” he continued, “it would be more pleasant to be the ghost of some man other than the ill-tempered John Hinckman. I can hardly imagine what would happen if he saw me and found out how long I have been wandering in his house. I have seen him in his bursts of anger and, although he did not hurt the people he stormed at any more than he would hurt me, they seemed to shrink before him.”
All this I knew too well. It was the reason I didn’t dare approach Mr. Hinckman about his niece.
“I feel sorry for you,” I said honestly. “It reminds me of those people who have doppelgangers.”
“That’s not the same thing at all,” the ghost said. “A doppelganger lives on earth with a man and, being exactly like him, makes all sorts of trouble.
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I am not here to live with Mr. Hinckman, and I am not here to make trouble. I am here to take his place. It would make Mr. Hinckman very angry if he knew that, don’t you think?”
I nodded in agreement.
“Now that he is away I can relax for a while,” the ghost continued. “And I am so glad to have an opportunity to talk to you. I have often come into your room and watched you from the corner as you slept. I dared not talk to you in fear that Mr. Hinckman would wake up and come to ask you why you were talking to yourself.”
“But wouldn’t he hear you talking?” I asked.
“Oh no,” he said. “There are times when some may see me but no one hears me except the person to whom I address myself.”
“But why do you wish to speak to me?”
“Because,” the ghost replied, “I like to talk to people sometimes, especially someone like yourself whose mind is so troubled by your own thoughts that you are not likely to be frightened by a visit from one of us. And I wanted to ask you a favor.”
“What is it?”
“There is every probability that John Hinckman will live a long time, and my situation is becoming unbearable. My current goal is to get myself transferred and I think that you may be of use to me.”
“Transferred,” I exclaimed. “What do you mean by that?”
“What I mean is this: now that I have started on my career I have got to be the ghost of someone, and I want to be the ghost of someone who is really dead.”
“That should be easy enough,” I said. “Opportunities must come up all the time.”
“Not at all,” he said quickly. “You have no idea the waiting list. Whenever there is a vacancy, if I may call it that, there are crowds of applications.”
“A waiting list,” I said, becoming interested. “There ought to be some sort of system by which you could all take turns, like customers in a barbershop.”
“Oh, that wouldn’t do,” he said. “Some of us would have to wait forever. There is such a rush when a good ghostship opens up, while there are other positions that no one would care for. It was my being in a rush for this position that led me to my current predicament. But you might be able to help me.”
“You might know of a case where an opportunity for a ghostship that was not generally expected might suddenly present itself. If you could give me short notice I could arrange for a transfer.”
“What do you mean? You don’t want me to kill somebody? Or commit suicide?”
“Oh no, no, no,” the ghost said with a smile. “I mean nothing of the sort. To be sure, there are lovers who are watched closely. Such persons have been known in moments of depression to offer very desirable ghostships. But I don’t expect that from you. I simply hoped that you might give me some information that would be of use and, in return, I would be very glad to help you with your love affair.”
“What do you know of my love affair?”
“I’ve wandered this house for two and a half years,” he said. “I know everything that happens within these walls.”
It was horrible to think of Madeline and I having been watched by a
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