Issue Four:
Ghosted

By Max Dunbar

The story of how he got into prison was complicated, but Kerry would always blame the X-Factor. A kid had been shot outside the Southern Cemetery. Nothing to do with Kerry Withell, but when this lad wasn’t running coke he was a budding vocalist, and had got to the X-Factor semis with a cover of Brian Wilson’s ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’. This meant that the shooting generated more media interest than might otherwise have been the case.

It got to the point where Alan was insisting that they had to hand someone up for the murder: in other words, frame some idiot wannabe so that the journos would go back to London and the police would leave them alone to get on with the day-to-day business of sourcing and selling hard drugs.

Alan Green had been Kerry’s business partner for a decade, but Kerry no longer trusted him. Over the last few years, Alan’s weed habit had taken him into dark places. He’d grown disgusted with way Alan behaved when he was drunk and stoned, particularly around women; worse, there were rumours that Alan was trying to force him out of the firm.

Paranoia had been his way of life since boyhood but Kerry became more and more convinced that Alan was out to get him. Between them the two men controlled the doors for several booming city centre clubs. If Alan could take over the firm, he would have full control of these doors, and therefore a bigger share of the profits generated by sales of pills and coke. The surest way for Alan to get rid of him, Kerry thought, was to hand him up for the singer’s murder. Not me, Kerry vowed.

One evening early December Alan gave Kerry a ring and said he wanted to meet. Spidey senses tingled. His body was suspicious before his mind. This is it. Wouldn’t say what it was about, apparently too hot to talk on the phone, although Alan and Kerry, like most professionals, changed their mobiles on a regular basis.

For insurance Kerry took a gun and a man called Ravi who worked the Sankey’s door. He had known Ravi since William Hulme and trusted him; his old friend had become a welcome confidante in these recent shaky times. The meeting place had been set for a café in Ancoats, suspiciously out of the way.

Halfway up Wilmslow Road, and a couple of moments after they were due to meet, Kerry phoned Alan. He didn’t have enough petrol to get to Ancoats: how about Ravi’s place in Fallowfield instead? Alan agreed; it would have looked bad if he hadn’t.

He had driven to Ravi’s place off Platt Lane. He remembered, as he parked, seeing Alan’s yellow Punto drive up. How had he got there so fast from North Manc? It was definitely him: the rainy smear of his single headlight (the other had been smashed durin a drug-drive from Electric and never replaced) and then the man himself, unfolding his strange clotheshanger body from the car.

‘How’d you get here so quickly?’ Kerry demanded.   

‘I figured you’d go to Ravi’s,’ Alan said. His voice was like his grin: it seemed stretched beyond its means.

‘The fuck are you on about?’

His words were lost in a blaze of slowing sirens. Kerry realised now, knew Ravi was gone, his own body pelting down the street before his instincts made the decision. Alan tackled him as he tried to get past. Kerry stumbled, winded, but did not go down.

It probably would have taken only a hard punch to get Alan off him, but out of pure selfish anger Kerry drew his pistol and shot Alan point-blank in the top of the head. That was how he became a killer; and once you are a killer, the duppy considers you fair game.

 

For the murder of his business partner, Kerry received a sentence of twelve years. It took less than a month for Alan’s duppy to find him.

From the stories the old ones had told him Kerry had expected the coming of Alan’s spirit to be a portentous and frightening affair. Alan first spoke to him at night, after lights out, and that Kerry had expected; but the voice of his late associate wasn’t echoey and grave, but the same reedy Beswick twang it had always been. His presence went unannounced by thunderbolt or the creak of a window.

One moment Kerry Withell was lying there in the dark, hands folded behind his head, drifting the way one’s mind does when you’re lying in bed at night – problems, concepts, reference points – and the next Alan’s voice was in the room, and it didn’t let up until the lights came on.

Again, it wasn’t what he’d expected. You would think the duppy would have been full of recrimination and revenge fantasies, particularly the spirit of Alan Green, who had been a real petty, vindictive bastard towards the end of his life. But Alan just went on about the same stuff he’d gone on about while he was alive. Old victories and old grievances. The cheating of motor fines. Taking advantage of the students who bought his pills. The birds he’d shagged at William Hulme. Memories of fighting on derby days. The scores he’d kept in Madrid and Magaluff. A video game enthusiast, Alan’s duppy spent the best part of a long March weekend talking Kerry through his completion of Medal of Honour.

There were no demands for justification or repentance, no ghostly knowledge of the way the world works. A philosopher or theologian would have learnt nothing from the spirit of Alan Green. In death as in life he only wanted to talk about himself; the wider world was there to contextualise his small triumphs. Sometimes it was interesting: Kerry found out things that had happened in their business that Alan would never have told him had he still been alive.

But most of the time, the duppy was a nightmare – not in the sense of childhood terror, but in the everyday colloquialism: something or someone that is really dull and really irritating. This was his penance, an audience captive at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

He’d been prepared for everything about prison except this. He had friends at Strangeways and he was a big lad (growing up in Moss Side named Kerry, one had to be) but he needed his sleep: often, on the landings he felt that his soul too was discorporating with fatigue.

But the duppy could not be slain – this the old ones had told him.

He lay on his bunk at evening bang-up, eyes closed to the roaring light.

Show him something – something that makes him realise – that it ain’t all him

He might have slept in the few moments before Alan came. He couldn’t remember.

Over the next few weeks, Kerry spread a rumour that he was planning to import heroin into the prison. The rumour got picked up by the screws, as he had intended it should, and the clocks had not long gone forward when they called upon him in the early hours. At the time Alan’s duppy had been regaling him with the story of how he had raped a schoolgirl after getting her wrecked on doves; a fact Kerry had long suspected but never proved.

The duppy had some physical image. As his eyes adjusted, Kerry would be able to make out the shining curvature of his forehead, the insect glitter of his eyes. The door opened, and Alan’s shadow danced on the wall like a scarecrow in a gale.

‘Okay, Withell. Get your shit together.’

Cuffed and chained, Kerry was escorted out of the cell. Alan’s duppy came with him; of course, the screws couldn’t see it. The duppy swaggered along the landings, still wearing the baggy Converse and gold chain he had on when Kerry had murdered him. He expressed no interest in where Kerry was being ghosted to; in fact he was going on about a cab driver he’d ripped off in 1997.

There were no windows in Kerry’s cell but there was going to be a yard between the gate and the Serco van where they were in the open air. The spring night filled Kerry’s heart with a wild hope and wild regret – and his head with the screams of his late partner.

Alan’s ghost was transfixed with horror at the open sky. Dawdling, wanting to see, hurried along to the open van, Kerry saw Alan’s spirit collapse into empty atoms. As always, the voice was the last thing to go, but now it was high with fear and a terrible recognition – ‘My God! It’s full of stars!’ – and then that too had crumbled into the gentle breeze.

Kerry was never again troubled by the spirit of Alan Green. They took him to Ranby, where he slept well for the first time in weeks. He awoke before the alarm. He wanted to make something of this. Fiercely he repeated to himself: use the time, don’t let the time use you.

He got his head down and studied hard and did whatever outside work came his way. Eight years later he was released and went to work for a haulage company. Things went on and got better. He was on life licence, but he’d never felt more free.

Thirty months after his release, Kerry Withell was having lunch with his second wife in the Oyster Bar on a summer afternoon. An old guy had been looking at him all day. He was on his own, and seemed to be debating whether to come over. At one point Melissa went inside to the bar, and the guy bounded up.

‘Hey, Kerry. I appreciate you don’t want to be disturbed, but I had to apologise.’

‘For what?’

‘Well, you must know I set you up.’

Then Kerry understood – this was Ravi, the man he’d taken on that disastrous meet. How long ago it had been – and how old Ravi looked now.

‘Forget it. Seriously. Not an issue. I’d sit you down, but I’m with –‘

‘No problem. No problem at all.’ Ravi gushed. ‘That’s all I wanted to say. I’ll be gone now.’

They were sitting outside and Kerry watched his old friend walk across to the Printworks. He noticed that Ravi moved in a strange, uncertain way, and often gesticulated with his hands as he walked, as if something was troubling him.


About the Contributor

Max Dunbar lives in West Yorkshire. He blogs at http://maxdunbar.wordpress.com/ and tweets at http://twitter.com/MaxDunbar1.


Losslit canon

Lunar Park - Bret Easton Ellis

Ellis always had the ability to make the reader feel like they were slipping, with his protagonists, through the cracks in sanity and identity. Lunar Park is his best novel because he adds so much emotion and soul to this disorientation. A near-tragic story about families and the loss of connection between fathers and sons, Lunar Park is also a marvellous ghost story in its own right, as well as proving that Ellis is not afraid to send up his own L.A. bad boy image.

See all entries in the Losslit canon


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