(Author's Note: Okay, I will admit right up front that this fic, created as a story challenge on the Terrouge Wordsmith's Army forum, stands as a shameless, unapologetic ripoff of an idea from a 1980s episode of "The Twilight Zone" TV series, but I ended up having so much fun with it, and my readers seemed to enjoy it so much, that I thought I'd share it with everyone here as well. But be forewarned: If you're a major fan of Martin the Warrior and believe he can Do No Wrong, you might not like what I do with him here!)
The Ghost of Martin was really starting to bug me.
Twelve nights before, Martin had come to me as I sat in the Abbey gatehouse, pondering an ancient riddle in Abbess Germaine's equally ancient journal. How was I to know it was the fabled Ultimate Riddle, the one that would summon Martin not just in a dream or vision but in a more lasting and substantial form?
I'd spoken aloud the cryptic lines of the arcane verse, then simply stated the solution as it occurred to me, not really convinced I'd stumbled upon the One True Answer. But, as fates and seasons would have it, that was exactly what my tired mind had deciphered in a fleeting moment of late-night lucidity, and before my words had been fully absorbed by the recesses of the study around me, there before my bleary eyes stood Martin in all his glory.
At first I thought I might have nodded off and was having a dream, or perhaps the dancing shadows cast by the flickering lamplight were playing cruel tricks on my strained vision. But no, it was neither my imagination nor my subconscious presenting this spectral figure to me. Martin had come, called back to the land of the living in our hour of greatest need.
The only problem was, there was no crisis. Redwall was at peace, and had been for several generations. No warlord battered at our gates, no vermin horde lay siege to our fair homestead, and no warriors of ours were off in faraway lands taking the battle of the righteous to tyrants who oppressed their own. We didn't even have any warriors these days, since strife had not visited our Abbey in more seasons than anybeast could count. I had merely been perusing some of the old records to while away the time, a harmless diversion for a warm summer eve. And, lover of riddles that I am, when I stumbled across this one, I could not help but bend my mind to its resolution.
And now, as a result of my idle puzzling and providential problem solving, the most revered figure in Redwall's history was stuck to me like dead flies to tree sap, not to leave my side for a moment ...
"What do you mean, there's no threat to Redwall? Why then have you summoned me?"
I tried to explain the best I could, but my attempts sounded lame in my ears. One does not summon the spirit of Martin lightly. The fact that I wasn't aware this was what I'd been doing hardly mitigated the situation ...
"Well, this will not do. Not at all. You must send me back to Dark Forest, and then hide that riddle someplace safe where nobeast else will treat it so ... frivilously." He made no attempt to mask his disdain - which cheesed me off a little. As Redwall's Recorder and historian, I was accustomed to being treated with at least some respect, after all. Then again, how does one protest against Martin the Warrior?
I did the natural thing - I sought to butter him up with a little well-applied flattery. Not that I had to put on too much of a front, mind you; my historian's curiosity and my innate respect for this illustrious figure burned within me. This might well be my only chance to speak with this legend from our past until I joined him in Dark Forest, which hopefully would not be for many seasons to come.
He would have none of it. He insisted he was there to lend aid in times of trouble, and if these were not such times, he could not linger. Again, he demanded that I send him on his way.
"All right," I said at last. "How do I do that?"
"Well, uh ... that's the problem. There's only one way to send me back to Dark Forest. Otherwise, I must remain here for ... well, forever, I suppose."
"And what must I do?"
Martin fixed me with his translucent gaze. "Either assign me a task I cannot perform, or ask me a question that I cannot answer. Until you do ... " He shrugged in his astral armor. "Here I stay."
"Well, what can you do? And how much do you know?"
He teased me with a knowing smile. "That's for me to know, and you to find out."
Things quickly went downhill from there. Martin never left my side, not even when I was, ah, attending to personal needs. Ghosts don't need to use chamber pots, I discovered, but that didn't stop him from hovering over me while I was using mine. Such violation of my privacy turned out to be the least of my worries, however. Naturally, as his summoner, I was the only one who could see and hear Martin ... which made matters distracting in the extreme whenever I was with my fellow Abbeybeasts. I'd be trying to exchange pleasantries with Foremole or the Abbot or Skipper, and there would be Martin whispering in my ear, flaunting his omniscence by dropping gossipy tidbits about the very creatures with whom I was conversing. It's not easy trying to maintain a dignified audience with your Abbot over hot buttered scones while an invisible voice from over your shoulder is describing in great detail that very same Abbot's unrequited passion for frilly silk undergarments, the unsightly warts he bore beneath the fur on certain parts of his body, or his penchant for sucking his tailtip when nobeast was looking, an embarrassing childhood habit he'd never broken. The things Martin had to say about our beloved Friar were even more scandalous.
I turned on Martin. "Oh, and I suppose you were always perfect in all ways, huh?"
He smirked. "At least I never went around shouting at nobeast."
This smarmy quip brought me to the sudden painful realization that nearly all of Cavern Hole was staring at me as if I'd grown a second tail out of my head between my ears. Sure, I had my own share of idiosyncracies - that's almost a requirement to be Recorder - but interrupting a chat with Father Abbot to snap at empty air was not generally one of them.
"Are you feeling all right?" the Abbot inquired.
"Ah ... aha. Just a joke. Not a very funny one, I'm afraid. You were saying ... ?"
It got so bad in the days that followed that I had to cancel all of my classes with the Abbey youngsters (the things Martin had to say about some of them!), which in turn made Sister Phlox the Infirmary Keeper demand to know what was wrong with me. In a community as close as ours, one simply did not withdraw into one's chambers and refuse to come out without providing a very good explanation. And I was hardly about to trumpet to the Abbey that the spirit of our founding warrior was haunting me through my own misguided actions. Although, when Sister Phlox's unwanted attention threatened to verge on harrassment, I ordered her to go away or else I would tell everybeast about the things she did with honey maple custard in her room late at night. She promptly left me quite alone after that; I guess there were some advantages to having otherworldly insights after all.
But Martin simply had to go. His presence was destroying my reputation and rendering me an outcast in my own dear Abbey. Worst of all, he flatly refused to divulge anything at all about life in the afterlife, claiming he couldn't remember any of it (I could tell he was being less than truthful on this score), or to answer any questions that might have been of supreme historical interest to a mouse such as myself. In short, I was being presented with an opportunity any Redwall Recorder worth his salt would have killed for, and Martin was staunchly determined not to allow me to benefit from it even one paltry whit. Maddening only began to decribe it.
I fervently began casting about for a solution to my dilemma. I'd solved some kind of ultimate brainteaser to get him here, after all, so coming up with a way to send him back ought to be well within my abilities, right? Just one question he couldn't answer, or one task he couldn't perform, and I'd be rid of him ... and the sooner the better.
Unfortunately, this was no mere wispy spirit I'd called into semi-existence. I found that out the hard way when, imagining that I'd hit upon a solution, I commanded Martin to raise the entire Abbey building off its foundations up into the air. Words cannot capture the consternation - okay, pandemonium - that ensued when, during a pleasant outdoor lunch in the orchard enjoyed by all, that massive structure lifted a badger's height above the ground and just ... hung there. In the panicked confusion, I beat a hasty retreat into my gatehouse cottage.
"I didn't think you'd be able to do that," I confided to my invisible companion.
"Sorry to disappoint you. Now, can you come up with something REALLY hard?"
I suggested he spin the floating Abbey about very, very quickly. He assured me he could do it, but it would probably traumatize both those within and outside of the Abbey. Not that they would come to any harm; that too was within his power to prevent, as much as it might seem to violate every physical law of which I was aware. In the end, I told him to forget it and replace the Abbey upon its foundations.
The Abbot sought me out that evening. "What in the name of Martin is going on?" he demanded to know. I simply grimaced and agreed with him ... which hardly seemed to satisfy the old coot.
"This is really getting to be fun," Martin the Ghost said as he blew onto the Abbot's whiskers, sending my esteemed superior into a sneezing fit. "I think I'll stay for the rest of the season, at least."
"The Hellsgates you will," I muttered under my breath.
"What was that?" the Abbot asked between explosive nasal outbursts.
"Nothing. Nothing at all."
Maybe Martin was serious about wanting to stick around longer, or maybe he was employing some very deft reverse psychology on me. Whatever the case, he certainly made no secret, in those later days of my torment, about the full extent of his talents and powers. And the more I heard, the more I despaired. It seemed there could not possibly be anything I could conceive that would banish this pest from my life.
But then, Martin's very boasts gave me an idea.
And so, on the thirteenth night since my inadvertant summons of him, I found myself back in my gatehouse once more, my constant unwanted companion standing before me. Settled into my coziest wingback chair, I stared down my nemesis. "So, tell me again, just what can you do, and what do you know?"
"Where do I begin?" Martin tossed off in an almost mocking tone. "I know everything that has ever been, and everything that ever will be. I have journeyed to worlds far beyond the realms of the living, and Dark Forest too. I have delved into the hearts of suns and cupped in my paw the primoridal fires that burn there. I have dived into the spaces between the smallest of particles that make up all things, and I have straddled the cosmos from one end to the other. I have been inside the minds of everybeast who has ever lived, and know the fates of those yet to be born. No thought or desire is deep or dark enough to be kept secret from me. I have seen the birth of time, and seen the end of everything that is. It is with this knowledge that I can do anything within imagining. Want me to stop time? Done. A dive to the bottom of the deepest ocean? I could take you there and have you back in your chair, safe and dry, before you could blink your eye. I could make every tree in Mossflower vanish with no effort whatsoever, or turn every one into a belltower pudding. I have traversed all of existence, and no path lies hidden to me."
"So, you're saying there is no place in all of existence you cannot go, and nothing you do not know?"
"More or less."
"Very well." I couldn't keep the hint of a smile from lifting the corners of my lips. "In that event, I am going to give you another command. One you must perform, or else return to Dark Forest."
Martin stifled an insubstantial yawn. "If you insist. What is it?"
I leaned forward in my chair, staring Martin down.
I've never been able to decide for myself whether any particular expression registered on Martin's face before he winked out of existence. Perhaps surprise that I'd succeeded in devising such an impossible task for an omniscent being, or disappointment that he'd been outsmarted (if he truly did wish to stay in the land of the living) or even congratulation at a job well done (if he wished to be back in Dark Forest). All I know for sure is that the moment I uttered this rather impudent command, I was alone in my study, and I have never again glimpsed so much as a ghost's whisker of Martin in all the seasons since. Of course, my reputation took a good season or two to repair, and Sister Phlox never looked at me quite the same way after that, but every Abbey needs its Recorder, so I was soon back in everybeasts' good graces. After all, when the very Abbey starts floating above the ground, the mere eccentricities of an introverted historian rather pale by comparison, don't they?
One thing I learned from that entire experience: nowadays, whenever I come across a riddle in the old journals, I'm very quick to turn the page.