I was upright and halfway out the door before I'd even woken up, heart pounding and hands reaching for something - anything - to use as a weapon. As reality hit me between the eyes, I focused on my partner, hair dripping from the shower, towel clutched ineffectually round her, pointing with shaking fingers towards the bathroom.
"It's a GHOST!" she squawked.
With hindsight, this now seems like a less than sensible reason for scaring me half to death. At the time, however, and given that she's not normally a hysterical type, I charged into the steaming room, ready to rip the arms off anything that could be so dismembered, or terrify back into its grave anything else.
As it happened, I couldn't do either.
The figures hovering a little above the floor weren't the prettiest I've ever seen. A little smaller than average human size, they had long, somehow rat-like snouts with buck teeth, large ears, small, constantly shifting eyes and what appeared to be a covering of short greyish fur. There were a couple of what looked like bags at the feet of the largest of the four, and they all wore things around their necks that I could've sworn were cameras.
They were also almost transparent.
The next few minutes are something of a blur, partly due to my taking a swing at the largest figure, passing straight through it and skinning my knuckles - and my chin - on the bathroom tiles. When the room stopped spinning, I rolled over and peered up at them.
'Pop' ghost was chittering to his family in something so high-pitched it hurt my ears. He gestured to me - and the others sniggered behind their paws! I swallowed my outrage with some difficulty.
"OK. Would one of you like to tell me what's going on?" Not that I expected an answer.
However, 'Mom' ghost watched me closely, head on one side. Her mouth twitched in what could, just possibly, have been a smile.
'We here holidays - see local wildlife, natives. You...'
I must have looked pretty stupid, lying there half-naked with my mouth hanging open. The two 'kid' ghosts laughed outright, a nerve-mangling noise. I closed my mouth and tried to take control of the situation.
"OK. Who are you? Where are you from? And what the hell are you doing in my bathroom?"
'Pop' fumbled in what was apparently a phrase book.
'Like she say,' he said, slowly and with considerable difficulty, 'we here holiday. Check out new tourist attraction. We zprkldgts - not made matter like you. Energy.' He looked around my bathroom, nodding. 'Nice place. We stay here awhile.'
"Noooo!" screamed my partner from the doorway. "You can't! It's our home...!"
'Mom' gazed at her, expressionlessly, for a moment or two, then shrugged and casually dismissed her from notice. Chittering to her kids, they opened one of the bags and brought out something resembling a tent. The touch of a button opened the thing up. It half filled the bathroom and extruded into our bedroom and part of the landing. In common with the zprkldgts, it was insubstantial. I dragged my partner downstairs to the kitchen.
She sat at the table, shivering. I handed her a coffee.
"I don't believe this is happening. Tell me it's a nightmare..." she whimpered.
I felt that way myself. "I wish I could."
We sat in silence for a minute or two. Then I noticed the time. It's amazing how normality can take over when you're faced with the unbelievable.
"You sit here. I'll go get our clothes. We'll go to work as normal - and with a bit of luck, by the time we get back, they'll have gone."
She glared at me as I left the room.
They hadn't gone. When we got back, they were sitting in our lounge - well, half sitting in our lounge. Only the upper halves of their bodies showed above the floor: the rest was sunken into the carpet and the floor beneath. My partner groaned and slumped against the wall.
"Ring the police."
"And tell them what? That there's a group of ghosts camped in our kitchen? I don't think they're likely to take us very seriously."
She choked back a sob, and I hugged her.
"Sorry, love. I'm a bit upset myself."
She bit her lip. "What can we do?"
I'd been thinking about that all day. I didn't want to have to admit it, but......
"I don't think there's much we can do. We can't physically touch them. I think you're right, though - we'll have to try calling the police. At least that will start the ball rolling..."
Well, we called them. They couldn't do anything, so they contacted the University and called in a couple of professorial types. Pretty soon our house was crawling with doctors, anthropologists, psychologists, biochemists, physicists and quantum mechanics. None of whom did any good. It looked like our visitors were here to stay - at least for the length of their vacation.
We moved out for the duration.
A month later, the senior scientist on our 'case' rang us at the B'n'B to tell us that our unwanted visitors had packed up and gone. We were round there in a flash.
They hadn't exactly left the place as they'd found it. There were empty cans, what looked suspiciously like carrier bags, containers, and other less readily identifiable bits of rubbish scattered around the house, most of it hanging in mid-air, and of course all completely immaterial. My partner tried a number of ineffective swipes at them before bursting into tears again. She'd always been house-proud. I turned to the most senior-looking person there - who could have been the junior research student's secretary for all I knew.
"They've really gone?"
He nodded. "As far as we can tell. You can move back in."
I looked around. "Is there any way we can get rid of this junk?"
He shook his head, it seemed to me a touch embarrassedly.
"Unfortunately, as of this moment, we have been unable to ascertain an effective method of removal. Of course, we will continue to work on a solution - but at present we've no way of knowing how long that may take..."
"Oh great." I turned to my partner. "Looks like we're just going to have to manage. Still, at least they've gone."
And we all left it at that........
Until a sprkldgt Scout group turned up to spend a month's jamboree at the UN HQ. And what was apparently their equivalent of an OAP coach tour arrived to spend three days wandering around CERN, then a weekend in the middle of a Middle Eastern war-zone, several hours floating around the Pentagon, afterwards poking tremulous fingers into golden bars at Fort Knox, culminating in a week's sojourn in Buckingham Palace. The monarchy were not amused - but could do bugger all about it.
A newly-bonded sprkldgt trio spent their honeymoon in the Pope's private apartments, much to that reverend gentleman's apoplectic ire. A bunch of drunken teenage sprkldgts spent many happy hours decorating Red Square with carefully balanced piles of empty drink cans that no earthly power could remove.
And suddenly, ordinary human dwellings became the place to go for your holiday. Sanctuary, solitude, and basic human privacy became things of the past. The sprkldgts could not be touched, harmed, halted, exorcised or removed until they chose to go. Our choices were simple. Ignore them and continue with life as before. Try and make friends with them (we tried. Most weren't interested in conversing with primitives). Attempt to find somewhere they hadn't discovered (fewer and fewer places all the time). Kill yourself.
And the planet began to fill with not just our own rubbish, but the ethereal and eternal junk from a dimension we couldn't touch, while they came, and gawked, and laughed and laughed and laughed at us........
© 1999 WordWrights.