As we walk past the cemetery I hear the boys behind us talking. One of the boys says that a ghostly man in a cloak walks these pavements at night, carrying his head under his arm. He says he knows someone who has seen this.
I think this sounds most inconvenient, and potentially rather messy. Why, I ask the Owner, does the ghostly man carry his head?
The Owner says he doesn’t, and the whole ghost thing is a load of rubbish invented by people who wanted to sell other people pumpkins. She says the problem with pumpkins is you only need half a one to make enough soup to last six months, so what do you do with the rest?
Later that night, though, when all is dark and quiet I think again about the man carrying his head down the road. I realise that, although in daylight the carrying of the head sounded rather ridiculous, now that I am alone in the dark it feels rather different. I howl for the Owner and she appears in her dressing gown and asks what the problem is.
I explain that I am concerned that the headless man might appear shortly and try to get into my crate. It is Hallowe’en, I say. The restless spirits of London are walking abroad. And we do live on the edge of a cemetery.
Exactly, she says. We live by the cemetery. If the restless spirits are all walking abroad they won’t be here, will they? They will all have gone off for the night. Possibly even as far as Kentish Town. And besides, the headless man would not want to get into my crate. He would not fit, not if he wanted to get his head in too. I observe that he could leave it outside, which would be one small advantage of its detachability, but she says I am being silly now and must go back to bed.
We go back to bed. The night darkens and the wind moves strangely through the ivy in the cemetery outside. Realising that this must be the sound of ghostly feet returning to haunt their final resting place I howl again.
The Owner reappears. What’s the matter now? She asks. I say I understand that the restless spirits have probably gone to Kentish Town, but I think one of them has possibly popped back because he has forgotten something. What if it is the one carrying his head?
The Owner says there is no such thing as a ghost. She says if there were ghosts then, given that we live in a cemetery, we would have seen one by now. I say not necessarily, since as she pointed out earlier if they have all been restless they may not have been home for some time. They may all have been at a party. A party for headless people that is just finishing. They may all come back at once.
Look, Hergest, she says, there are no more ghostly headless men at parties in Kentish Town than there are ghostly carnivorous owls in that tree over there. Go back to sleep.
I curl up. The night darkens. Moments later I hear the cry of a Ghostly Carnivorous Owl. I get a sense that it is carrying its head. I howl again.
Look, says the Owner, there’s really no such thing as…
I prefer sleeping on the Owner’s bed, anyway.
The Owner says next time I hear a ghost story she is going to buy me earplugs. I say it’s too late, since you can’t un-know things and the Ghostly Carnivorous Owls will Always Be There for Me. She quotes William Joseph Jackson, who says that to awaken the conscious self one needs to forget oneself, so that in knowing one also unknows. But I say this makes absolutely no sense when it comes to Ghostly Carnivorous Owls. Once known they cannot be unknown. Besides, I can hear them hooting.
The Man, who has fallen on the floor again whilst we are discussing this, says do not say anything else at all about ghosts to That Dog, and tomorrow he is sleeping in his own bed, owls or no owls.
Hergest the Hound
I am a dog of many thoughts.