One of the most perplexing cases to come to the attention of the psychic investigator Algernon Spooky was the so-called “affair of the unsucked toffee”. In 1922, at a crumbling manor house in Ghoulshire, there were reports of the spectral manifestation of an albino ghost, trailing in its wake several live chickens, a blind otter, and an invisible spider of monstrous size. Their appearances were accompanied by inexplicable hissing buzzing twanging rattling knocking drumming piping squealing yodelling whooshing ratatatting screeching moaning plopping grinding hammering giggling puffing whistling hooting gnashing gurgling wheezing bubbling grunting sucking noises.
Distressed beyond measure, the sole resident of the house, the Dowager Duchess Dipsy of Poxhaven, summoned Algernon Spooky to investigate. He arrived on a sopping wet Thursday, in the company of his illegitimate daughter Poubelle, who acted as his amanuensis, and a somewhat shady character, a half-pay army officer known as Captain Trubshaw, whose role in the party was unclear. Twitching and shattered, he seemed to spend most of his time slathering his less than impressive bouffant with hair oil and poring over pocketfuls of dog-eared betting slips.
After hearing Dipsy’s account of the ghostly phenomena over tea and muffins, Algernon Spooky declared confidently that he could entrap the phantom by luring it with toffees. He then proceeded to distribute a bagful of toffee sweets, removed from their paper wrappers, throughout the house. The foursome – Spooky, Dipsy, Poubelle and Captain Trubshaw – then sat in armchairs around the fireplace in the first-floor sitting-room, though Captain Trubshaw kept excusing himself to go skulking down to the wine cellar.
The night passed without apparent incident. After breakfast of kippers and kedgeree, Algernon Spooky, accompanied by Poubelle, toured the house to examine the toffees. He discovered that every single one of them showed signs of having been sucked, and in some cases chewed, except for one. This toffee, placed anent the skirting board in the disused billiards room, was pristine, both unsucked and unchewed.
“Tell me your thoughts and I shall write them down,” said Poubelle to her Papa, her propelling pencil poised over her notepad as they stood puzzling over the unsucked toffee.
But before the psychic investigator could utter a word, there came from far below the blood-curdling sound of squawking. Was this one of the albino ghost’s chickens? Spooky and his amanuensis sprinted downstairs to the boot-room, where they found the Dowager Duchess slumped on the floor, surrounded by feathers and with blood dripping from her mouth. Beside her, on the floor, was the corpse of a chicken from which the head had been bitten clean off. In the opposite corner of the room, Captain Trubshaw was slathering his less than impressive bouffant with hair oil and poring over a pocketful of dog-eared betting slips.
“It was a scene I hoped never to see,” said Algernon Spooky, speaking in the past tense for the benefit of Poubelle, who was taking down his words with her propelling pencil in her notepad preparatory to the compilation of his memoirs, “And quite frankly it only deepened the mystery. Had Dipsy swallowed the entire head of the chicken? Who – or what – had lured her to the boot-room? Was the monstrous invisible spider lurking within, unseen? Why precisely was Captain Trubshaw on half-pay? Was I speaking slowly enough for my illegitimate daughter and amanuensis Poubelle to take all this down, accurately and free of the slapdash errors that crept into the work of my previous amanuensis who I had to push off a cliff in the Alps? Was this one of the albino ghost’s chickens or was it another chicken entirely? And most pertinently of all, why was just one of the several toffees I scattered at significant places throughout the house unsucked? And who – or what – had sucked the other toffees? If there are answers to any of these questions, they lie perhaps in realms beyond our puny human senses. That, my friends, is the ineffable mystery of the times in which we live – eldritch and spooky times I strive to record, that posterity may gape in wonderment. Or wonder, wonder would be better than wonderment, don’t you think, Poubelle? … Poubelle? … Poubelle?!”
But Poubelle had vanished, inexplicably, in a puff of vapour, leaving only the scent of calla lilies hanging in the boot-room air.