Bartholomew Templeton was a lonely man. In the morning he was lonely. At lunch he was lonely. He was lonely at work. He was lonely while watching TV. Even his dog was lonely. He led a lonely life.
One windy—and now fateful—night, Bartholomew Templeton awoke to a horrible, earsplitting screech. He bolted upright in his bed and opened his eyes so wide his eyelids began to throb. But this was the least of his worries. For sitting on the far end of his king size bed (which was lonely, since he was the only one who slept in it) was a ghost. (In stories such as these, a ghost visiting in the middle of the night is a common occurrence, but it never gets less frightening.) Needless to say, Bartholomew was frightened.
“Bartholomew Templeton, I have come to issue you an ultimatum,” spoke the ghost in a hollow voice that seemed to emanate from everywhere at once.
“Oh, hello. Sorry for my fear. I’m just not used to having guests at night…Actually, I’m not used to having guests in the house at all,” replied Bartholomew, somewhat oblivious to what the ghost had said.
“You must stop being so lonely,” declared the ghost.
“Oh. Is that it?”
“Yes. All of us ghosts in the afterlife who are in charge of your fate are getting sick of your moping around with no one that cares about you. It’s just aggravating!”
“But I have my dog Snickers as my faithful companion.”
“Have you checked on him today?”
Bartholomew had not checked on him today. In fact, he had not checked on him in a week. And that was why Snickers was currently dead.
As the fate of his pet dawned on Bartholomew, the ghost informed him, “Your dog—Snickers—died from loneliness. Now would you want that cruel fate to befall you, too?” Bartholomew quickly shook his head no. “Then I command you, on behalf of all the ghosts who are tired of your solitude, to find a friend!”
With that last thunderous order, the ghost vanished. Bartholomew missed him already; it was actually kind of nice to have someone to talk to at night.
“Maybe getting a friend isn’t such a bad idea,” he pondered out loud. When there’s no one to talk to, people usually start speaking their thoughts so the world can hear. Except the world’s not there to listen. “But I better sleep on it.”
Bartholomew certainly tried to “sleep on it,” but after you’ve been haunted by a ghost, it is always difficult to get any rest.
In the morning, Bartholomew got up, determined to accomplish a goal for the first time in many years. It felt refreshing. Not quite up to cool-glass-of-lemonade refreshing, but still pretty invigorating.
He decided taking a walk in the neighborhood would be a not-lonely thing to do. He opened his door, took in a deep breath, and took the first literal step of his sociable life. He saw Mrs. Higgins walking toward him. He never liked her, but then again, he had never tried to get to know her. As they passed, he gave her a smile. And she smiled back. He didn’t know what to think; no one had smiled at him in the longest time. He felt…tingly.
“A ghost should have come to visit a long time ago!” said Bartholomew.
Speaking of the ghost, we should check back in with him in the afterlife. The ghost who had visited Bartholomew, whose name was Ted, filled in the other two ghosts in charge of Bartholomew’s fate about their meeting last night.
“He’s so pathetic,” Ted told the others. “I don’t know why we’re even trying to fix his loneliness problem.”
“Because we can’t take one more day of hearing his blasted complaining!” said Mark, ghost number two.
“Right, that’s what we agreed upon, but I just don’t have much faith in Templeton’s ability to change his lonely ways,” retorted Ted.
“I don’t trust him either, but you haven’t even given him a day to actually talk to someone. Chad, you’re on my side, right?” asked Mark.
Chad did not respond. He just gave Ted and Mark a wily smile. They knew that smile well. It meant he had another one of his plans boiling in that pot-shaped head of his. Ted and Mark did not like the look of it, but they knew that once Chad got started, there was no stopping him.
Back in the real world with our becoming-not-so-lonely-anymore man Bartholomew, things were looking good. Actually, things were looking better than they had in recent memory, which for Bartholomew was a while because things worth remembering never happened to him. He had finished his stroll to the park and then decided to stay outside so he could be closer to other people. He did not know what had gotten over him. Maybe he was still spooked from last night, but if that was the case, he wanted to be visited by strange spirits more often.
As he was people watching, he spotted an attractive, middle-aged woman sitting on a bench two down from his. He thought to himself, “Things seem to be working for me today, so why not?” He got up and sat on the next bench over. With a deep breath, he stood up again and carefully sat down next to the woman on her bench. After an awkward pause consisting mostly of her looking expectantly at him, Bartholomew spoke.
“Hi. My name’s Bartholomew Templeton and I just wanted to come over to talk to you because you’re a person and I’m a person and I don’t want to be lonely anymore and people who aren’t lonely talk to people so that’s what I’m doing right now.”
She stared at him for a long, uncomfortable minute. Suddenly, she smiled and began to laugh. “You have no idea how happy you just made me! I come to the park every day, but no one comes up to chat. I don’t know why they’re afraid to pick up a conversation with a random stranger! It’s very refreshing that someone finally came to talk to me.” To clarify, this was put-an-ice cube-on-your-forehead-on-a-sweltering-day refreshing, not jump-in-a-pool-to-cool-off-after-a-hard-day’s-work refreshing. “Do you want to get some lunch?” she asked.
Bartholomew’s mind was racing. He was trying to remember what people usually do when they meet. Is it normal for people to eat together? How can you talk to each other when there’s food stuffed in your mouth? He decided to go with it—she probably knew more about interpersonal relationships than he did.
“Sure,” he said.
“Great, let’s go,” she responded cheerfully. If Bartholomew had been more used to talking to people, he would have recognized that she spoke with too much cheer. Not sarcastic cheerfulness, but inhuman cheerfulness. Because this woman was not a woman. She was Chad, and he was playing one of his dirtiest tricks yet. Ted and Mark had been committed to helping Bartholomew out, but not Chad; he wanted to have some fun messing with the lonely, helpless man. So he decided to pose as a woman and lure Bartholomew into a false sense of security. Then he would leave him, making him so disappointed that he would enter perpetual melancholy and would be lonely forever. But Bartholomew did not know any of this, because he did not recognize the overly cheerful tone of his new friend’s voice.
At the local café, Bartholomew and the woman from the park, who had still not told him her name (maybe that’s normal behavior?), were having a jovial time. The art of conversation was slowly returning to Bartholomew. It’s like riding a bike: if you fall off while moving too fast, you will get hurt. And that is exactly what happened to Bartholomew:
“What do I do in my usual day? Well, after a breakfast of dry cereal, I usually lift some hand weights. I’m trying to lose a little weight, and exercise has been doing the trick!” said Bartholomew.
“I enjoy my exercise, too. We have so much in common!” said the woman. But Chad was thinking, “Perfect. He’s walking right into my trap.”
“Oh, are you also overweight?” Bartholomew asked innocently.
“Finally!” thought Chad the ghost. Out loud, the woman said angrily, “What? Do you think I’m overweight? Am I fat? You know, this conversation has been dragging on since you sat next to me on that park bench! I’ve had enough of you, you heartless pig!” With that last outburst, the woman (also known as Chad the mischievous ghost) got up and stormed out of the café.
Bartholomew was devastated. His eyes began to moisten, but one thing he remembered about social interactions is that it is frowned upon to cry in public, especially when you are a grown man. Still, a few aqueous drops escaped from his lacrimal ducts. A woman sitting at the opposite end of the café had heard the commotion and looked over curiously.
As soon as Chad left the café, he vooped (the ghosts’ mode of quick teleportation-like movement) back to the afterworld, where Ted and Mark were waiting for him.
“Chad, where have you been?” demanded Ted.
“Well, I was having a nice time—” Chad started to say.
“That was rhetorical! We know that you were with Bartholomew Templeton, trying to mess up his new life that we helped create!” retorted Ted. Mark nodded his head vigorously.
The new woman not only felt bad for Bartholomew’s misfortune, but also had grown a liking to him just by eavesdropping on his conversation. She thought he was a very charming man, so she decided she wanted to get to know him better. She walked over to him and sat down.
“I just wanted to have some fun!” said Chad.
“By ruining a poor man’s life even more?” demanded Ted.
“And now we have to listen to his complaining about being lonely again,” reminded Mark.
Bartholomew and the new woman, who had been kind enough to tell him that her name is Kat, suddenly were deep in conversation.
“Mark and I have decided to banish you from the ghost squadron in charge of Bartholomew’s well being,” Ted said.
“I’m really glad you came over,” said Bartholomew.
“So am I,” replied Kat.
“You can’t do that!” declared Chad.
“Yes we can,” asserted Mark.
“Let’s go for a walk,” said Bartholomew.
“And we just did!” Ted shouted.
With those final two declarations, Bartholomew and Kat ambled through the park, taking their time getting to know each other, and Ted and Mark vooped Chad to a new group of ghosts, where he could attempt to ruin some other poor person’s life.
Smiling, Ted and Mark realized that Chad had not been able to perpetuate Bartholomew’s loneliness. By himself—with just a little motivation from Ted the previous night—Bartholomew had been able to find a friend and reenter the social world.Bartholomew Templeton wasn’t lonely anymore.