The Greening of Toby Jug
Toby Jug was short, round, lived in a crypt, and hunted ghosts.
Haunted houses were his natural element. However, ghosts, by their intangible nature, were difficult to catch. The best he had managed to record were the drops in temperature that accompanied their appearance and, when really lucky, a blurred image on emulsion (for some reason they escaped the pixels of digital cameras).
Poltergeists were the trickiest. They had attitude. Their motives for lingering in the mortal world were usually disruptive. Ghosts were benign shadows of what had once been. Poltergeists were manifested from mortal motivations, which were seldom benign; they could pop out of the ether like will o’ the wisps.
Most of all, Toby Jug wanted to trap a poltergeist. He believed it was one of these responsible for haunting his dreams since infancy and, as he grew older, even remaining with him when awake. He had learned to live with the green afterglow on his retina that persisted after he had turned quickly. Frustratingly, it never lasted long enough for him to identify his phantom.
That was the reason he became a ghost hunter.
His Puritan parents had damned him at the age of five as the spawn of a Devil he could not comprehend. And Toby never did understand their concept of God either. So the family suffered each other in resentful silence. The young man was cajoled into taking a course in theology with the hope it would cure his disbelief. All it did was compound his reluctance to accept an Almighty Omnipotent Being: to him life was more complex than the absolutes expounded by any religion. So Toby Jug remained committed to revealing those mysteries the human mind could not understand, those glimpses of the supernatural just out of peripheral vision. He did not want to exorcise ghosts, but communicate with them. Unlike the cleric with bell, book and candle, Toby believed that they were fleeting impressions of a previous time imprinted onto the fabric of the present, unaware that they frightened people.
The green demon that had haunted him from infancy was another matter. Toby sensed that it disliked humans - apart from him - intensely, and he needed to know why.
The books Toby wrote on the supernatural were popular and their royalties had enabled him to set up his HQ in the renovated crypt of a disused church. It was so creepy there it should have been haunted, but nothing, apart from the occasional rat’s pattering feet or pigeon pecking at the skylights, broke the silence. He would sit and write by candlelight until the early hours, subconsciously in the hope that some spirit, however insignificant, would manifest itself. Even the personal phantom peering over his shoulder resolutely remained out of sight.
Then a letter arrived. The sender seemed somewhat annoyed that the ghost hunter could not be reached by phone or email, and there was a pompous tone to the demand that he attend the address under the pretentious letterhead. Toby knew he should have tossed the letter in the waste bin, but was intrigued by this summons to deal with the elementals undermining a wealthy man's attempt to build his palatial residence in greenbelt countryside. It seemed more plausible that these mischief-makers were human, some that Jerome Christian Dribblet Jnr had alienated whilst trampling over lesser people on the road to prosperity.
On the off chance that the mayhem was being caused by poltergeists, Toby Jug dutifully arrived at the designated time and was shown around the large grounds by the site manager. As he viewed the smashed concrete, overturned bulldozer, and flooded foundations of the proposed mansion, the ghost hunter could tell that there was more than mortal vandalism at work here. The woodland being despoiled was ancient. The building site was surrounded by trees and hedgerows going back to the Bronze Age, and probably long before that. Archaeological excavations might well have uncovered no proof of human disturbance other than the postholes of modest homesteads and flint tools. The authorisation for this development must have been acquired by corrupt means. Had planning permission been applied for legally and published there would have been a storm of protest.
Toby experienced a chill of excitement. To him, it was obvious that the damage had been caused by a very angry, powerful, supernatural entity - no mere poltergeist. He had not heard of such a force of Nature before, and certainly not one possessing the strength to overturn a bulldozer.
The site manager could tell that the visitor knew what had happened.
‘Well, can you do something about these pesky entities?’
Toby Jug took a deep breath. ‘Not likely. The guardians of the land you are desecrating cannot be exorcised by me or the might of any church.’
‘So what do I tell the boss?’
‘Tell him to build his mansion somewhere else.’
‘You've got to be joking!’
‘His choice. I'm merely being consulted here. Take my advice or leave it. No charge.’
The way the tubby Toby Jug strode nonchalantly away to catch the taxi that would take him to the train station belied the fact that he was facing a serious dilemma. Something had to be done to stop the destruction. Pleas to common sense and the ecological good obviously would not work on Christian Dribblet Jnr. This was a man used to getting his own way and he would have probably levelled all the surrounding ancient woodland to spite the elements trying to protect it. Toby Jug may have kept his email address and phone numbers secret, but it wasn’t because he was a technophobe. He knew how to start rumours on the Internet without recourse to social media. Online news providers were the best. They could investigate, report and publish without leaving the comfort of their backroom parlours and were always hungry for a good story.
The billionaire’s hubris was soon common knowledge. Once a scandal had gone viral, power and influence counted for nothing. The development of the mansion was halted and investigation into why it had been allowed begun. Christian Dribblet Jnr knew who was responsible. Unfortunately it did not occur to Toby that someone used to getting his own way would not be philosophical about being crossed.
When he heard that the woodland elementals had been placated, Toby genuinely felt comfortable for the first time in his life. Previously he had always looked - metaphorically - over his shoulder for religious disapproval and contempt of scientists. Now his crypt took on a warm, companionable feel as though a friendly breeze was filling every nook and cranny of the ancient stone pillars and niches. What would have been the ideal bedroom for a vampire became as friendly as a hotel lounge. And, inexplicably, he no longer felt alone. The entity which had haunted his peripheral vision bloomed into a warm green glow that enveloped his every move like a fleecy blanket. Toby could explain most mysterious things, but not this new sense of security. He no longer worked by candlelight, but took long walks in the moonlight, embraced by Nature's midnight perfumes.
Somebody else, less friendly than the woodland elementals, was also aware of his change of habit.
One night, Toby Jug did not return to his crypt until early morning.
He could not remember where he had been.
‘Looks like the work of a hired hit man to me.’
‘Reckon you're right, Sir.’
‘Search him for ID.’
‘Before forensic see him?’
‘He was shot through the head. Maybe traces of the killer's DNA on his clothes, but I doubt it.’
‘Hold on Sir,’ said a uniformed constable. ‘I know him. He's a local writer. Does books about ghosts and stuff. Uses the name of Toby Jug.’
‘From the title by another writer, Dennis Wheatley, “The Haunting of Toby Jugg.”’
Toby went to his armchair and would have sat down, but he had the peculiar feeling that it wasn't really there. The flame of the candle he had left burning when he went out hours before should have been guttering, but now glowed brightly with a green radiance that shone through the stone walls and into the overgrown cemetery above.
Toby Jug drifted into a luminous dimension of leaves, vines and tendrils where stems laden with buds speared into the starlit night from a mattress of moss and burst into huge, ghostly flowers. The moss was velvet to the touch and the electric blue petals tingled his fingertips. He instinctively knew that this was his true home, not the sparsely furnished rooms of his judgemental parents or busy, polluted streets he walked miles to avoid.
At last the willowy green entity that had been with him all his life materialised.
‘Welcome to our world, Toby Jug.’
‘The one you just gave your life to defend.’
‘Gave my life?’
‘Of course. This is where you have always belonged. You are now one of us, a protector of Nature's realm.’