The Spirit Guide

Pere Calders

Artwork by Sukutangan

Everybody, when they get to a certain age, has had some contact with the supernatural, and when the subject comes up and they feel like talking about it, they do.

I personally have always moved through the hereafter with the greatest of ease, perhaps because reality has never gone that well for me. I have prophetic dreams, warning premonitions, use telepathy to my advantage and, except in times of real hardship, have always had a ghost in the house.

This story, however, is not a spooky one. I wouldn’t have to mention that if people read more and understood that ghosts aren’t scary. It’s merely a question of knowing how to deal with them with a certain sense and a certain prudence, without making such a fuss over them.

There was a time when I was awoken every night, shortly after going to sleep, by three knocks on the wall of my bedroom, followed by the ticktock of a pendulum that didn’t belong to any actual clock I owned. From the very start I was suspicious about where the sound was coming from, and precisely for that reason I ignored it, because you really have to be in the right mood to deal with ghosts.

But one day I got tired of my interlocutor’s doggedness, and springing from my bed, I asked:

“What’s going on?”

“It’s me.”

It was a ghost, of course. A busybody, loaded with prejudices, who, like all ghosts, struggled to keep his feet firmly planted on the ground.

“I’ve come to ask you to mediate in a matter I’ve been assigned . . . ” he said.

“Not again!” I replied. “I don’t get why you guys are always coming back to this world to stick your noses into mortal affairs.”

“We’re just the messengers.”

He had a humble voice, which worked in his favor, and since in good faith he believed, as they always did, that he had a lot on his plate, I treated him magnanimously.

“And how may I help you?”

“Look, there’s this merchant (whom I’m taking care of because I’m the ghost of his relative) who’s planning to take the ten o’clock express the day after tomorrow for a business trip. You have to warn him not to. The express is going to derail and it’s not gonna be pretty.”

“Are you sure about this?”

“One hundred percent! We never joke around about these sorts of things.”

“And why don’t you warn him yourself?”

“I’ve already tried, but I keep failing. Every time I show up, he runs out of the house and wakes up half the neighborhood.”

That was no laughing matter, I realized right away.

“But it’s not enough to warn the merchant. We have to warn everybody.”

“I haven’t received instructions about anyone else. I’m being very careful not to botch things up and put my assignment at risk.”

I, however, was not bound by those same rules and it seemed my duty to keep catastrophe from happening.

The next morning I went to the newspapers with a note that said: “This is to inform the general public that tomorrow morning’s ten o’clock express will derail. All those who can avoid taking it, should, because one never knows how these things will end up.” My intent was for it to be published on the front page in bold type with a text box, but there was no one in charge there who was willing. They felt it was premature to vouch for the news and advised me not to worry. What could I do? I couldn’t count on the police because they would demand details I was in no condition to provide. I was left with only one option. Going to the train company and warning them.

I was received by the director, a respectable business manager. I told him:

“I’ve come to tell you, sir, that tomorrow the ten o’clock express will derail.”

Not a single muscle in his face moved. He looked at me steadily and asked:

“Is this some sort of prophecy on your part?”

“Take it as you wish. I’m telling you so you can take the necessary measures.”

“You can well imagine that we weren’t waiting on you to know that was the case.”

“You were aware of the news?”

“The ten o’clock express derails every day.”

“Oh, really?”

“Really,” he says. “It’s some sort of tic.”

He said it with great aplomb. Naturally, I couldn’t just give up that easily:

“But what about the passengers?”

“Not very many people take that train.”

“No matter how few, the passengers deserve a guarantee of their safety.”

“We’ve had them insured.”

Well, that, of course, ended the conversation, with the director getting the last word. I left, legitimately indignant, and that same evening, at midnight, I called out for the ghost. When he appeared, all I said was: 

“I’ve had it up to here with your kind, always with your fanciful illusions!”

They were just a few simple words, perhaps, but the tone of their delivery left him aghast.

translated from the Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem