Ringo lifted his right hand to rap on the door, then hesitated. He held it in front of his face for a few seconds and examined it in the warm golden light of the sunset. His favorite sapphire ring was so tight on his pinkie finger that it practically cut off his circulation. But he didn't dare switch it to his left hand. He'd already lost two of his favorite pieces of jewelry when they slipped off his slender left digits.
He sucked in a long, sad breath, raised the heavy brass door knocker, and let it fall. Moments later, Paul opened the door and welcomed him into the foyer of Friar Park, George's magnificent mansion.
"You're looking good, Ritchie," Paul said, the forced jollity in his voice ringing false to Ringo's ears.
Ringo sighed. "Thanks," he mumbled. "So are you."
Paul smiled and straightened his tie. "Ta!" he laughed. "S'pose I have to agree with you there, mate."
"It's not fair," Ringo grumbled. "The way you still look so good."
"Only some of the time," Paul protested. "When I'm at my worst, I am truly not fit to be seen in public."
"Yeah, but that's only a coupl'a days a month," Ringo replied.
Paul shrugged. "We all have our crosses to bear. C'mon now, follow me. George is setting everything up in his recording studio."
Ringo fell into place behind his former bassist, clumping his large feet in an unsteady rhythm against the polished parquet floor. He caught a quick glimpse of his reflection in a gilt-framed mirror hanging over a large potted plant, then shuddered and looked back down at his enormous black boots. The two men turned a corner at the end of the long hallway and stepped into a long room cluttered with guitars, amps and recording equipment.
"Shut the door behind you," George ordered his guests by way of a greeting. Ringo complied with the directive, then followed Paul to a round table covered with a brightly patterned Madras cloth in the far corner of the studio.
"No crystal ball?" Ringo asked, sizing up the golden goblet resting in the middle of the table.
George readjusted one of the multiple silk scarves draped around his neck and offered his former drummer a smile of condolence. "I find this chalice works better," he said. "I discovered it when I moved here nine years ago. The nuns apparently left it behind."
"Isn't that…oh, hell…what's the word?" Ringo stammered. "Sacri…sacri…"
"Sacrilegious?" Paul guessed.
"I'm sure the holy sisters would consider me blasphemous for putting their blessed cup to such an unintended use," George admitted. "But I sat through enough bloody Masses and Sunday school lessons when I was young to say the Catholic Church owes me a few indulgences."
Ringo nodded. "So where's John?"
"He'll be here soon," George replied. "He called this afternoon and said not to expect him before nightfall."
"As if we didn't know that," Paul laughed.
Ringo shrugged. "Well, he always did keep vampire hours, even before the…before he was…"
"Yeah, yeah," Paul agreed. "I have to say his new gig suits him. I mean, nobody's even noticed that he's changed now, have they?"
"He's a bit paler than before," George countered.
"Right, his previous palpitating Victorian pallor has faded to an alabaster sheen," Paul joked.
A loud thumping at the far end of the room interrupted their conversation.
"Bugger, I forgot to leave the window open," George said. He stood up from the table, pulled back the drapes from a tall set of French doors, and threw open the glass.
A large black bat darted into the room, flapping its wings maniacally. It circled the studio, then landed on top of a boxy amplifier and wrapped its wings around its emaciated body. With a soft, rustling noise that sounded like a gentle wave lapping against the shore, the bat transformed into a thin, bespectacled man with long, brown hair pulled into a tight ponytail.
"I recognize this Gretsch!" the new visitor exclaimed, reaching for the electric guitar propped against the amplifier. "It's the one you played on our first American tour!"
"Great, John, now get off my tube amp before you break it," George scolded his guest.
"Damn, you've got the collywobbles today, haven't you, Harrison?" John replied. He slipped off the amplifier and flicked back the edges of his long black cape, revealing a tight-fitting, pastel-colored T-shirt decorated with a 'Fest for Beatles Fans' logo. "Guess where I've been, boys?"
Paul chuckled. "Did you actually go inside the meeting hall and greet the fans?"
"Fuck, no," John laughed. "I just hung around the back exit at the end of the show, and said hello to a coupl'a Apple Scruffs as they were heading to their cars. Got this shirt off a lovely bird from Cincinnati."
Paul raised his eyebrows. "Did you now?"
John spread his thin lips into a wide, open-mouthed smile, revealing his elongated incisors, then took a seat at the round table beside Ringo. "So how are you feeling, Ritchie?" he said, his voice softening noticeably. "George told me you've been having a hard time adjusting to the new you."
Ringo turned his head towards John. His sad blue eyes drooped down even further than they used to. He cleared his throat and shrugged his massive shoulders. "Dunno. I know I should be grateful to still be alive, but I never thought I would end up like this."
"Well, try looking on the bright side, why don't you?" John replied. "You're the tallest Beatle now."
"By a good foot and a half, I'd say," Paul added.
"Yeah," Ringo agreed, frowning. "I had my manager release a statement about my thyroid going wonky after my last surgery, but I'm not sure the press is gonna buy that."
"Maybe you're just having growing pains," George suggested.
Ringo moaned. Each of his bandmates winced at the unexpected sound. But they quickly resumed their brave faces.
"C'mon now, Ritchie, you can tell us," John said reassuringly. "Where does it hurt the most? Your joints?"
Ringo put his hand to his neck and fiddled absent-mindedly with the screws peeking out from the collar of his jacket. "No, you'd think that would be the problem now, wouldn't you? But I ache inside. My heart. My gut. Even my lungs. I swear, it hurts to even breathe now."
"Well, maybe this séance will help," George said. "Dim the lights, would you, Paul? Then everyone hold hands."
John giggled. "I want to hold your hand tonight, Ritchie, not Paulie's."
Paul stood up and toggled the light switch by the door, throwing the room into darkness, then staggered back to the table. "Bugger!" he cursed he as crashed into the tube amp. The Gretsch fell to the floor in front of him with a loud twangy thump. "Sorry, George, gimme a second and I'll see to that."
"Leave it," George directed him. "Just take a seat."
As soon as Paul slid into the chair across from John, George grabbed his hand and started chanting. His former bandmates quickly fell into place with him, chanting a steady chorus of "om's." After a few minutes, the throng of breathy voices melded into one deep drone. The chalice in the middle of the table started to glow.
"Spirit of this home, arise," George intoned, focusing his gaze on the iridescent goblet.
A bright beam of light shot up from the cup, forming a luminescent pillar that touched the ceiling and bathed the room in a soft radiance. A faint, ghostlike image of a portly man dressed in elaborate Victorian garb rose out of the chalice and started spinning slowly around the beacon of light.
George smiled at the man. "Thank you for coming, Sir Frankie."
"Please, call me Mr. Crisp," the ghost replied in a posh London accent. "I've told you before, Mr. H, that the knighthoods bestowed upon British subjects during our lifetimes are no longer recognized in the afterlife. Only hereditary titles hold any weight once we slip the bounds of earth."
"Thanks for the reminder," George said. He let go of Paul and Ringo's hands, and tossed John a quick look urging him to do the same. Then he rearranged the scarves about his neck and turned his gaze back towards the apparition. "So I was hoping you could help my poor friend Ritchie here," he continued, throwing a glance at Ringo. "He's had rather a tough go of it, these past few months."
The ghost floated over to the tube amp, flicked back the tails of his waistcoat, and sat down facing the table. "I'll do what I can. What seems to be the problem?"
George, John and Paul turned towards their former drummer. Ringo swallowed a sigh, shrugged his lopsided shoulders, and started to speak. "Well, I suppose you could say it all started when I was a boy. I was a sickly child, you see. My appendix burst when I was little, and I developed peritonitis and fell into a coma. Then a few years on, I got tuberculous and had to spend several months in hospital, recuperating. As I grew older, I…"
John groaned theatrically. Paul squeezed Ringo's hand. "What do you say we skip to this past April, Ritchie?" he prodded gently.
Ringo rolled his yellow-tinged eyes in opposite directions, then cleared his throat and continued speaking. "Alright then. A few months ago I fell deathly ill once more, so my girlfriend Nancy rushed me to the casualty…actually she took me to the Princess Grace Hospital in Monte Carlo, which is a bloody fine medical center, if you ask me. Posh, I'd even say. It's not as if I was at the mercy of some goddamned quack from the National Health this time around."
John started banging his head against the table. Sir Frankie Crisp shuffled uncomfortably atop the tube amp. George squeezed Ringo's other hand. "I don't mean to rush you," he whispered to his friend, "but we do have to be done by the crack of dawn, or John will start crisping up like a rasher."
"Okay!" Ringo groused, noticeably frustrated. "So the doctors in Monte Carlo removed a coupl'a fuckin' yards of my intestines! I nearly died on the operating table! I rallied a bit after that. I even played drums at Eric Clapton's wedding reception this past summer, along with George and Paulie. But then I took another turn for the worse. My doctors looked me over, and noticed that gangrene had taken hold. So I figured I was a goner then. But, wouldn't you know, one of the nurses took me aside and said she knew a Swiss specialist working out of a private clinic in Ingolstadt, Germany, who could maybe set things to right for me with an experimental surgery. So I flew out to see him. And, well, fuck…"
Ringo's voice trailed off and he started to sob. John patted his back and looked up at Sir Frankie. "The doctor was a distant relation of Victor Frankenstein," John explained. "He claimed that he'd worked out the kinks in his barmy great-great-great-uncle's surgical methods, and he wanted to use our Ritchie as a guinea pig for his new procedure. So Ritchie called the three of us up, desperate for advice, and we all traveled to Deutschland to give him a pep talk."
"We traveled separately," Paul pointed out. "And discretely. None of us wanted the press to get wind of the news and start twisting it into some sort of 'Beatles Reunion' story."
"Of course," Sir Frankie concurred.
Ringo lifted his head and wiped his tear-stained cheek with his large right hand. "I didn't expect my old mates to encourage me to go along with this mad plan. But then John told me he'd been bitten by a bat in Central Park a few months previous. And Paul confessed that he'd recently been attacked by a wolf when he was tending his flock in Scotland. And then George mentioned how he had just discovered, whilst channeling his past-lives, that he was the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian priest named Imhotep, and…well…I guess I realized then that…that…"
"That it was time for our fans to chuck their old Beatles records and start replacing them with copies of The Monster Mash," John interjected.
"Well, I wouldn't say that," Paul countered. "Though of course if we recorded a cover version of that song, and released it as a B-side for one of our own compositions, it might bring in a tidy sum."
Ringo clutched at his heart with his right hand, rubbed his abdomen with his left, and started panting. "Ever since the surgery…I get these moments when…when all of a sudden…I can hardly breathe…"
Sir Frankie Crisp floated back to Ringo's side and eyed him carefully. "Do you know where this unconventional Swiss surgeon secured his…how shall I put this…his supplies?"
"You mean, where did he get my new arms and legs and whatnots?" Ringo asked, focusing his sad eyes on the ghost's blurred shape.
Sir Frankie nodded. Ringo shook his head.
"Well," the ghost surmised. "I think therein lies your problem. Find the source of your new body parts, and you shall find the source of your new body aches."
"But how can he do that?" Paul asked. "His surgeon was very hush-hush about everything."
"Those damned Swiss," John cursed. "So secretive with their banking practices and corpse harvesting."
Sir Frankie turned towards George. "I believe Miss Edna Thrushbottom might, perhaps, be able to lend us a hand, don't you think?"
George tensed his shoulders and threw an angry look at the ghost. "No, I don't think she might, actually."
"Oh, yes, please!" begged John. He rapped the table loudly and started to laugh. "I love Edna! She's a right old larf, she is!"
Sir Frankie glowered at John. "I'll have none of your disrespect, young man. Miss Thrushbottom is one of the finest souls I have ever encountered. She alone, amongst all of the sundry persons who have carried the reincarnated spirit of Imhotep within them, had the strength and courage to resist his homicidal urges. I was proud to offer the home that I built to your friend Mr. Harrison, because I knew that through him, my dear friend Edna could reside within the walls of my beloved Friar Park."
"I am not bringing her out," George insisted. He fiddled nervously with the jumble of scarves wrapped around his neck and almost tied two of them into a knot.
"Oh, c'mon now, George," Paul begged. "Not even for our Ritchie?" He edged closer to George and rested his hand on top of his. He smiled seductively, then winked.
"Stop that this instant!" George hissed. "Just cut the crap, Macca! I mean it…I…I…"
George's features softened and his voice took on a higher, breathier pitch. He slipped his hand out from underneath Paul's and readjusted one of his scarves so that it covered his hair like a loosely tied kerchief. "I mean, stop trying to hold my hand, Mr. McCartney," he continued in an affected feminine voice. "I know you are a married man, and I will not have you flirting so shamelessly with me."
Paul smiled, exchanged a sly wink with John, then turned back towards George. "I am so sorry, Miss Thrushbottom. I meant you no harm. But sometimes, when I'm in your presence, I just can't seem to restrain myself."
"Well," George said, fluttering his eyelashes. "You might at least try."
"Edna," Sir Frankie stated succinctly, redirecting the conversation back to the matter at hand. "I was hoping you might be able to help Mr. Harrison's poor, unfortunate friend Richard. He seems to…"
"I know exactly what the problem is, Mr. Crisp, you needn't repeat it," George replied in a clipped, Kentish accent. "I have been present throughout this entire séance of yours." He pursed his lips, put his hands together and steepled his fingers. "I can call forth the spirits of the recently departed who gave of their bodies so that Richard Starkey might live to a ripe old age, but I will require a little assistance. Mr. Lennon, I believe you are an accomplished chanter."
"At your service, dearest Edna, as always," John laughed. He sat up straight, closed his eyes, and started repeating the mantra he had set to music when he was studying meditation in India. "Jai guru deva…jai guru deva…"
Paul cleared his throat and started singing along with John in perfect harmony.
"Show-offs," Ringo muttered under his breath. He straightened his large shoulders and started chanting the word 'om' under his friends' voices.
George started swaying. He grew pale, then rolled back his eyes. A large mist arose from the chalice in the middle of the table, then split in half. As the two, vaporous clouds started taking on human shape, John, Paul and Ringo stopped chanting.
"Would you look at that?" John exclaimed. "That one on the left looks like an Olympic wrestler!"
"And the other seems to be a discus thrower," Paul added. "Check out that big circle thingee in his hand."
"Check out his biceps," John countered. "Shit, Ritchie, did you get that bloke's right arm?"
Ringo examined the discus thrower's arm. "Bloody hell, that moon and stars tattoo! I wondered where that came from! And look at that birthmark on the wrestler's left forearm. I've got that now too!"
Paul smiled at George. "Good work, Edna. What else do you have to show us?"
The two athletes' forms melded into one enormous shape.
"Bullocks, that's Lurch!" John shouted. "Y'know? The butler on The Addams Family? I love that show!"
Ringo nodded. "I'd heard that the actor who played him on the telly just died. I must have his legs now. No wonder I'm so tall!"
The tall ghost split into two shapes that looked like a small woman in a diaphanous dress and a large man in cowboy attire. The two forms floated apart, then extended their arms and drifted back together, touching each other's forefingers.
"They look like God and Adam in that painting in the Vatican," Paul noted.
"No they don't," John countered. "They look like Merle Oberlin and John Wayne."
"And their hands look like mine," Ringo added. He examined his small left hand and his large right one and frowned. "I wonder why the surgeon didn't give me a matching pair?"
"Heathcliff, I'm home!" John shouted teasingly at Merle Oberlin's ghost.
"Whoa, take 'er easy there, pilgrim!" Paul called to John Wayne's.
The two ghosts moaned an unearthly cry of protest, then spun around the beacon of light and transformed into a single human shape once more. The new ghost scowled at the four Beatles, then opened his fly, pulled out his penis and aimed a whispy spray of vapors into the chalice.
"Well, I never!" George pursed his lips once more and threw a withering glance at the ghost. The ghost sneered at George and laughed maniacally.
"Bullocks! Is that Sid Vicious?" Ringo asked.
John bent his neck so that he could aim a glance at Ringo's crotch in the chair beside him. "The more important question is, Ritchie, is that Sid's cock you're now sporting?"
The punkish ghost arched his back and screamed, then twisted and turned until it had taken on the shape of a lovely young topless woman.
"Well, she's a looker," Sir Frankie remarked appreciatively.
"I don't recognize her, do you Paul?" Ringo asked.
"No idea who she is," Paul replied.
The ghost locked eyes with John, then brought her hands to her chest and covered her left breast. Ringo felt a stabbing pain in his heart.
"Oh, um, I, um, actually kind of know this bird," John mumbled, trying to divert his gaze. "She's that fan from Cincinnati who gave me her shirt."
George's eyes rolled forward to their usual position. "Did you, perchance, drink this young lady's blood?" he accused John in the tone of a condescending, school marm.
John shrugged. "I was bloody thirsty!"
"More like bloodthirsty," George scolded. He clicked his tongue disapprovingly. The topless ghost expanded and contracted, then reformed herself in the shape of another beautiful young woman.
Paul's neatly trimmed sideburns immediately sprouted into a full-grown beard. He leaned forward in his chair and howled at the woman. She opened her mouth in terror and grasped her midriff protectively. Ringo felt a simultaneous pain in his gut and clutched his abdomen.
"Let me venture a guess, Mr. McCartney," George stated sarcastically. "You met this lovely lass when you were hiking one night, under a full moon, in the highlands of Scotland?"
Paul looked back at George and growled softly. "Wrong, Miss Thrushbottom. I met her when I was hiking in the lowlands."
"And you eviscerated her?" George conjectured.
"I may have ripped her open, but I didn't eat her," Paul protested. "I might be a werewolf, but I'm still a vegetarian."
"Fine," George stated bluntly. "Well this is a fine kettle of fish, indeed."
The ghost of Paul's victim spun around the beacon of light, evaporated into a blur of mist, then reshaped itself into the form of a slender man dressed in an auto mechanic's jump suit.
"Well, that's a change," Sir Frankie noted.
"Yeah, I much prefer the last two apparitions," John agreed.
Paul's whiskers retreated back into his chin, leaving only a dark five-o'clock shadow in their wake. "I have no idea who this bloke is."
The ghost of the mechanic turned towards George, put his hands to his throat, and started to scream. The soft quality that had enveloped George through the persona of Edna Thrushbottom fell to the wayside and was instantly replaced by an aura of menace. The scarves on George's head and neck tightened without him touching them, and hugged his body in close relief like a silk balaclava. His eyes appeared to sink back into his skull, and his brow grew darker. He stood up from the chair and pointed an accusing finger at the mechanic.
"Silence!" he shouted. "You loathsome toad! How dare you cross paths with Imhotep?"
John nudged Ringo and whispered into his ear, "I'm guessing George recognizes this sorry sod."
"This worthless worm is the reincarnation of Pharaoh Menmaatre Seti, the cowardly eunuch who buried me alive because I dared to love his wife, Anck-su-Namun," George stated in an eerily calm voice. He reached up his hands towards the ghost as if to strangle him.
"Lads, this might be a good time to sing your chant again," Sir Frankie suggested.
Paul nodded and gestured to John. But before they could open their mouths, the scarves that had wrapped themselves tightly around George's face and neck fell to the ground. George collapsed on his chair and started panting. "Bullocks, did Imhotep escape again?" he asked his friends between gasps.
"'Fraid so," John replied. "I hate to say this, mate, but I don't think he's a good look on you."
"Right," Paul agreed. "I much prefer Edna."
"So do I," said a soft-spoken voice new to the conversation.
"Brian!" Ringo exclaimed. He stood up from his chair and smiled at the ghost of his late manager, who had taken the place of the doomed mechanic and was now floating serenely over the table.
Brian Epstein's ghost encircled the beacon, allowing each of his former protégés to soak in his presence. "It's so lovely to see you boys once more," he declared.
"God help me, Brian, I never thought I'd we'd meet again!" John exclaimed. "I figured now that I was undead, I would never get a chance to commune with the dearly departed."
"You won't, John," Brian agreed. "So I had to come to you." He waved his hand over John, as if in benediction, then floated over towards Ringo. "So how are you feeling, lad? I know it's been rough."
Ringo sighed. "Well, I have to admit, Brian, I really don't feel like myself anymore."
"You'll get used to the new you, I promise," Brian assured him. "And the pains that beset you now will make you stronger."
Ringo furrowed his brow.
Brian offered him a gentle smile. "Remember, Ritchie, you might have been the last man to join the band. But the Beatles never really took off until you became one of them. You are the gel that united the group. And now that your bandmates have suffered their – how shall I put this – their recent misfortunes? – you are once again the force that will bring them together."
He floated back towards John and sized him up. "You killed a girl, John. A fan at a Beatles convention, no less! You sucked her blood dry so that her heart had nothing left to pump!
"And you, Paul," he added, floating across the table. "You disemboweled that poor woman! That is hardly conduct becoming of a 'cute' Beatle!"
He turned around and gazed upon the collapsed heap of George Harrison, still panting in his chair. "And honestly, George. I thought the whole point of this Eastern mysticism kick that you embraced was to find enlightenment – but you've let it get the better of you! None of the racers on the Formula One Circuit are going to let you to keep company with them if they discover you strangled that poor mechanic!
"But not to worry," he added, floating back towards Ringo. "The innocent people that your bandmates killed will live on in you, Ritchie. You've got the heart, liver and lungs of their victims inside you now, alive and well. And where there is life, there is hope."
"We ex-Beatles are now bonded by our monstrous appetites," John surmised.
"And by our piecemeal drummer," Paul added.
"But what if Ritchie murders someone too?" George asked. "Not wanting to sound rude, but he's a monster now as well."
"From this day forward, you four will have to watch out for each other," Brian answered.
"Does that mean we have to play music together again too?" George asked begrudgingly.
"After all the trouble Paul's lawyers went to, breaking up the band?" John challenged.
Paul threw him a dirty look.
Brian sighed. "Let bygones be bygones," he said. He stole a quick glance at the open window, then turned back towards John. "You still have a few hours before you have to settle in for the day. Why not use that time to rehearse for a gala reunion show? I'm thinking a Halloween concert date might be in order. Everyone will just assume you four are in costume."
Paul froze up. "But what if…?"
"The full moon isn't due to rise until the third of November this year," Brian assured him. "You'll be furrier than usual on October 31, but you shouldn't be dangerous. And just think of how splendid you'll sound when you sing the 'ooh's' in Long Tall Sally!"
Paul sucked in a deep breath, and released it in song. "Yeah, yeah, yeah! Ba-by … ah-OOOHHH!"
"I dig the howl, Paulie," George said, standing up from his chair and looking more like himself than he had since the séance commenced. "Truly I do. And maybe now you might teach me the words to that song you wrote about the spirits of ancient Egypt?"
Sir Frankie Crisp's ghost floated up from the tube amp and joined Brian's spirit at the table. "I say, old chap, before we dive back into that cup, why don't you let me give you a tour of my old home? There are quite a few nooks and crannies built into the architecture that you might want to take note of, in case you ever want to keep an eye on your boys while they're rehearsing for their big show in the upcoming months."
Inspired by the Universal Studio motion pictures Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy and The Wolfman, and by the novels that inspired them, including Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" (1818) and Bram Stoker's "Dracula" (1897).