THURSDAY: Henry, Hortense and the Halloween Party


Copyright is held by the author.

“HI HENRY, I’m home.”

No answer.

The apartment was quiet. Too quiet. Ominously quiet.

It was clear that Henry was still sulking.

It all began a few weeks ago when I had decided to host a Halloween party. Deep in party-planning mode, I had already made a list of what to serve (my signature devil’s brew chili with pitchers of Bloody Marys to wash it down) and how to decorate (lots of black candles and illuminated jack-o-lanterns). And to set the mood, I decided to rent a few black-and-white horror movies from the local library.

I was online scrolling through the list to find just the right ones when Henry drifted into the living room. That’s when it all started.

“‘The Evil Ghost of Dublin Grange.’ ‘The Phantom of the Bookshop.’ ‘The Spectre in Solloway Castle’,” he said, reading aloud the titles I had checked. Then he looked at me.

I sighed. I had known it would come to this. Ever since I started talking about having a Halloween party, I knew I was treading on thin ice as far as Henry was concerned. He didn’t care what I did for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or the Fourth of July. But when it came to Halloween, Henry had very firm opinions about what was not appropriate — and they all centred around any depictions of ghosts, spirits, or other forms of apparitions as evil, malevolent or even slightly malicious, which pretty much ruled out every representation of otherworldly bodies.

“How would you feel if I had a party and the movies I chose were all about single women who hated their jobs and had no love life and ended up attacking innocent people?” he demanded when I first brought up the subject a few months ago, just after I had moved into the apartment.

I had allowed that he might have a point — not that I really thought he had one — and dropped the subject, hoping that by the time October rolled around, he would change his mind. After all, we didn’t know each other all that well yet, and I recognized that adjustments would have to be made. That’s what everyone went through when they had roommates.

And when it came to people like Henry, my experience was pretty limited, which is to say, non-existent. In principle, I liked his type, or at least, the concept of his type. And on the whole, Henry was a lot easier to deal with than some of the other roommates I had lived with. He didn’t hog the bathroom, eat my food, or take over the television remote. He stayed to his area, wherever that was since I didn’t know where he spent his time when he wasn’t around me. In short, Henry was fairly accommodating.

So, as I said, I let it go and bided my time. But I wasn’t willing to give up the idea because I really wanted a Halloween party. I loved the whole concept of Halloween: the scary costumes, the spooky sound effects, the spine-tingling possibility that somewhere out there just might be an actual evil spirit waiting to catch you unawares. I had never outgrown the Ouija board-and-séance stage of my youth, as evidenced by my preference for goth décor and my ever-growing collection of books dealing with spiritualism, ghosts and the afterlife — all courtesy of the local metaphysical bookstore, Books and Bones.

It was my choice of reading material that initially drew us together. I was in the middle of unpacking my books when Henry first appeared, and, after introducing himself with a simple, “Hello, Jennifer, I’m Henry,” he came over to inspect my personal library.

“I can see that you appreciate the spiritual realm. That’s important to me,” giving me an approving look.

“Well, I like to think that spirits are people too,” I said — not the most original line I could have come up with, but it was the best I could do under the circumstances. After all, I wasn’t expecting to find my apartment came with a roommate, especially one like Henry.

But I was open-minded, and as it turned out, Henry was good company. He was there when I awoke and there when I came home from work, always willing to listen to me complain about my bosses or my lack of social life.

Sometimes we’d spend our evenings debating the relative merits of séances versus crystal balls as a way to summon the dead or discussing how spirits were portrayed in literature. We talked about our favorite authors, with Henry favoring Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe — not surprising since he was of that era, after all — while I leaned toward twentieth-century authors, like Stephen King, Shirley Jackson and Daphne du Maurier.

Despite the obvious differences in our ages and physical (or in Henry’s case, metaphysical) appearances, we had more in common than a lot of other couples I knew. Except when it came to our views on the October holiday.

There the divergence was Grand Canyon in size, and I didn’t know how to bridge it. So, I took the same approach I had used (albeit unsuccessfully) when I had encountered problems in my other relationships: I ignored it. And when October came around, I went ahead with my party plans, hoping Henry’s objections had faded away.

But they didn’t, which was evident when he saw the list of movies I was reserving.

“A deal’s a deal, Jennifer,” he said flatly.

“But damn it, Henry, this is my apartment, too! I pay the rent and the utilities! I should be able to have a party if I want to! Why do you have to be so difficult?”

“Difficult?” he shot back. “You don’t know how difficult I could be! I could make your life pretty miserable if I wanted to! I could bang on walls or turn lights off and on! And what would you say to your landlord if you tried to break your lease — that the place was haunted? He wouldn’t buy that excuse and you’d be out your deposit and the rent money! And you’d have to find a new place to live! You ought to just be grateful and give in on this one little thing!” and then he disappeared.

“Henry, come back,” I said in my best wheedling tone. But there was no response. “Come on, Henry, I know you’re there. Look, if I only get one movie, will that be okay? After all, I’m not responsible for Hollywood’s views on goblins, you know!”

“A ghost is not the same as a goblin. How many times do I have to explain that to you? A ghost is the spirit of a person, but a goblin was never human to begin with.”

I twisted around in my chair and there he was again, with that “I’m still angry” look on his face. I grinned. “I love it when you talk didactic to me.”

But Henry wasn’t ready to forgive me. He gave me one final look and then stomped out of the room (if a ghost could be said to stomp), leaving behind a definite chill in the air.

His absence continued for the rest of that evening, and for the days that followed. Each afternoon when I came home from work and called out, “Hi, Henry, I’m home!” there was no return “Hi, Jennifer! How was your day?” response to greet me.

Worse, there was no one I could discuss our relationship problem with, since I had kept Henry out of my conversations with my friends. It wasn’t like I could casually say, “By the way, I’m having a little difficulty with my roommate Henry. He’s a little older than me, well a lot older — about a century or so — and he is really opposed to me having a Halloween party. Any advice?”

While my friends were generally open-minded, even they might draw the line at my belief that my apartment was haunted. And it wasn’t like I could count on Henry to appear on command and demonstrate that he wasn’t a figment of my imagination but was instead a real-life apparition — if that wasn’t a contradiction in terms.

No, I couldn’t get anybody’s help on how to handle this issue, and the longer it went on, the worse I felt. We were at a stalemate, and as Henry’s absence continued, I didn’t know how to break it. He had vanished — from my sight and apparently from the apartment as well, since I didn’t have that “Henry’s home” sensation: the very slight tingling you get when you think there’s someone watching you. No, like Elvis, Henry had “left the building, and I didn’t know how to convince him to return.

So here I was, with the party just two weeks away, and I was no closer to resolving the problem. If I cancelled the event, my friends would be disappointed. But if I had the party, Henry would be angry, and might return just in time to make his feelings known to everyone in attendance. It was a no-win situation.

And to make it worse, I had high hopes for this party. It would be the first one I was holding since my last love affair ended (hence the change in my living location), and I had encouraged my girlfriends to bring a few unattached guys. While Henry was lots of fun to hang out with, there were indisputable limitations to our relationship. Granted, we could go to a movie together, but dining out would definitely raise some eyebrows, unless I wanted the other patrons to see me apparently talking to myself. And once we got back to my apartment — well, there was only so much one could do when the other person lacked a solid presence.

The Halloween party would hopefully resolve that particular issue, if a suitable male showed up. And if Henry behaved himself and didn’t cause any trouble.

But the fact was that the longer this went on, the more I realized that I missed Henry. Weird as it may sound, the two of us had developed a true friendship and I wasn’t sure if the party was worth ruining it. What could I do to mend the fence that was clearly broken? What should I say to him the next time I saw him? For that matter, how could I find him to say whatever it was that I wanted to, since he was choosing to remain absent?

By the Thursday before the party, I was ready to say or do anything to let Henry know that I was sorry I hadn’t taken his feelings into account. First, I walked around my apartment, calling to him like he was a house pet: “Here, Henry, where are you? Come on, Henry, come to Jennifer!” But no response was forthcoming.

Then I tried apologizing: “Henry, you were right, and I was wrong and please forgive me.” But still no reaction.

I even tried pleading: “Henry, please come back. I won’t ever have a Halloween party again! I promise!” But Henry remained stubbornly AWOL.

It was well past midnight and I had just crawled into bed when I felt that old familiar chill — but stronger than it had ever been before. And suddenly there was Henry, standing in my bedroom doorway.

“Oh, Henry, you’re back!” I pushed back the covers, intending to go to him but paused when he made a weird jerking move, as though someone had pushed him from behind. And then I saw her, a lovely red-haired girl wearing a long lace gown and bonnet — and a very determined look on her face.

“Go on, Henry,” and she gave him another firm shove. “Say it!”

Henry sighed and then, looking down at the floor, recited what was evidently a practiced statement. “I’m sorry for being so angry with you, Jennifer. You have every right to enjoy your holiday.”

And,” prompted the girl, and he sighed again.

“Please forgive me.”

“Oh, Henry, of course I forgive you and I’m so glad you’re back!” I started to rush over to him but then stopped short. After all, it wasn’t as if I could give him a hug. So, I settled for adding, “I’ve missed you, Henry” hoping he could hear the sincerity in my voice.

He looked up at me, and I could see it was that old familiar Henry again. “I missed you, too, Jennifer,” and he smiled.

“Henry?” the girl said, and he turned around.

“Oh, I’m sorry, my dear. Let me introduce you. Jennifer, this is Hortense. Hortense, this is Jennifer. We met two weeks ago when I was, when I was . . .” and he stopped, apparently not sure what to say next.

“When you were being such a stick-in-the-mud about Jennifer’s party plans,” said Hortense with a smile. “My goodness, I have never seen anyone so angry! He came up to the fifth floor — that’s where I live — and he was stomping around on the landing, making so much noise I had to finally come out and tell him to stop! If he had kept that up, he was likely to make my roommate Peter want to move out. So, I gave him what-for and —”

“And I was so taken by her beauty that I couldn’t say anything more than I was sorry,” he finished, with an expression on his face that I had never seen before. “And when I tried to explain why I was so angry —”

“I told him that he was being a ninny and that he was lucky to have you as a roommate and that he had to apologize,” Hortense interjected. “And eventually he agreed.”

Judging by the look she gave him, I suspected that she had worn him down until he had no choice — a neat trick and one that I should learn how to do. It would come in handy in my relationships.

“So here we are,” she finished. “And besides, he owes you a thank-you, too.”

“For what?” I asked and I thought I could see a faint blush on Henry’s cheeks.

“For the two of us meeting,” Hortense explained. “If he hadn’t been so angry, he wouldn’t have left your apartment and come upstairs. Then we wouldn’t have gotten to know each other. Isn’t that right, Henry?” and he nodded, a sheepish look on his face.

“And it turns out that Hortense and I have a lot in common — even more than we do, Jennifer! Not that I don’t value our friendship,” he added hastily, apparently worried that I might take offense and he’d be in hot water with me and his new love interest. “But you know, Jennifer, there are just some things that only another spirit can understand.”

“Of course, Henry, and I’m very glad you found someone,” although I found it a little irritating that while I had successfully played Cupid for a ghost, I couldn’t find a living breathing love interest for myself. And judging by that sappy smile on his face, he would most likely be spending every minute with her, doing whatever two spirits in love do and leaving me all by myself.

Hortense’s next words indicated that she sensed what I was thinking. “You know, Jennifer, you should meet Peter. You two have a lot in common — you’re about the same age, you’re both unattached and —”

“And you both believe in ghosts,” said Henry. “That’s what ended his last relationship, right, Hortense?” and she nodded.

“That’s true. All he did was mention to her that he had a roommate, and then, when he explained who I was — or, more accurately, what I was — she told him that he was crazy and it was over.”

“She was so conventional,” Henry added. “Not at all like you” and I smiled at the praise.

“I just know you and Peter would get along. Why don’t you ask him to your party?” Hortense suggested.

But I shook my head. “I just think it would be weird to invite someone I don’t know and who doesn’t know me to a party at my place, even if we do live in the same building. I mean, we haven’t even met!”

“That’s true,” she said thoughtfully. “It’s too bad . . .” She paused then grabbed Henry’s hand. “My goodness, it’s late! Jennifer, you need to get some sleep! Come on, Henry!”

And before I could even say goodbye, the two of them vanished from sight, leaving me wondering if I had dreamed the entire encounter.

The next afternoon I stopped by Books and Bones on my way home to pick up some new reading material, since it looked like Henry would be spending a good portion of his evenings with his new ladylove. Once back at the apartment building, I was trying to hold my purchases with one hand while I struggled to pull my keys from my pocket with the other, when someone bumped into me, sending my stack of books flying.

“Damn it! Can’t you watch where you’re going?” I turned to my assailant and found myself staring directly into the sexiest pair of blue eyes this side of Paul Newman.

“I’m so sorry! I don’t know what happened!” the man said, bending down to pick up my books. “I saw you there and was going to unlock the door for you — I live here, too — when suddenly it was like I was pushed from behind. I guess I tripped or something,” he added.

“No, really, it’s okay,” and I reached for my books, not wanting him to see the titles. But it was too late. He had already noticed them.

“This is a really great book on the rise of spiritualism in popular culture.” He handed it over and then collected the rest from the sidewalk. “Of course, it’s not as detailed as Professor Harriet Allgood’s work” — a name I was familiar with since I owned at least three of her books — “but it does give a different perspective on the reasons for the growing interest.”

I didn’t know what to say. Could I actually have met an attractive man who shared my affinity for all things metaphysical?

“Um, yes, well, I just picked it up at —”

“Books and Bones, right?” he finished. “That’s the only place I know of that carries these types of books. I’m there at least once a month myself. Funny we never met.”

“Yeah, funny,” I answered, not knowing what else to say.

“Here, let me unlock the door,” and once inside, he said, “If it’s OK, I’ll give you a hand getting all these to your apartment. What floor are you on? Oh, and I guess I should introduce myself. My name’s Peter.”

Peter. Of course. Who else could it be?

“I’m Jennifer. Third floor,” I added and the two of us climbed the stairs. The whole way up, I felt like I was being watched, and when we reached my apartment, I knew why. There was Henry and next to him, Hortense, the two of them looking far too pleased with themselves. I remembered what Peter said, something about being pushed from behind, and I knew who was responsible.

“Henry?” and at the same time Peter said, “Hortense?”

“We just thought you two should meet, since you both have a shared interest,” said Hortense innocently. “You have told him about the party, haven’t you, Jennifer?”

Peter looked at me and I could feel my cheeks redden. “Well, actually, I’m having a little Halloween get-together tomorrow night, nothing real big, just a few friends and —”

“And she would love to have you come,” said Henry, since I was obviously having difficulty finishing my sentence.

“Of course!” he responded immediately. “What can I bring? Food? Drinks? Oh, I know!” and he looked at Hortense. “Remember that CD I bought last year, the one with bloodcurdling screams and howling noises and gusty winds? That would be just the thing to set the mood!”

Hortense nodded. “Absolutely! So, Jennifer, we’ll see you at tomorrow — seven o’clock, right?” and then she looked at Henry. “Right, Henry?”

“Yes, dear,” he said, nodding reluctantly.

So that was how it came to be that my Halloween party expanded to include three more guests. Henry and Hortense spent most of the evening out on the tiny balcony off the living room, with Hortense keeping Henry too occupied for him to engage in any ghostly behaviors that might give the others in attendance pause. As for Peter — well, sufficient to say that the attention he paid to me made it clear that Hortense’s suggestion had been a good one.

“That was a great party, Jennifer,” said Peter, coming up to me after the last guest had left. “Thanks for inviting me.”

“Well, thanks for coming,” sounding for all the world like a prim and proper hostess. But I guess it didn’t matter because Peter leaned forward and gave me the kind of kiss that made words superfluous. I don’t know if it was his idea or if Hortense had given him a nudge, but in the end, it didn’t matter.

“Yes, I do think the party was a great success,” said Hortense with a sly smile once I came up for air. “I think we should do this every year! Don’t you think so, Henry?”

Henry looked at two of us and then at Hortense and surrendered to the inevitable. “Yes, dear.”


Image of Nancy Christie

Nancy Christie has been making up stories since she learned how to print and has no plans to stop now. She’s the author of two award-winning short story collections with two more forthcoming, a debut novel entitled Reinventing Rita (2023), and three nonfiction books. “Henry, Hortense and the Halloween Story” is her third piece in CommuterLit.

1 comment
  1. Entertaining, I recall the movie “Harvey,” with Jimmy Stewart. Every available single person could use a personal matchmaker ghost!

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