2014 – A Year In Stories: Week 39 – This Is Your Death

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Posted on October 5, 2014 by

This week’s prompt was a very interesting one because it was actually very similar to the plot I had for my (failed) NaNoWriMo story last year. The idea I’ve used is one I’ve had for even longer than that, and have been looking for a way to get down on paper in one form or another for ever, so it’s great to finally get to do that!

I’ve not yet decided if I’m doing NaNo properly this year or not. If I did I would be doing it in addition to this project, and I don’t know if that’s too much to aim for. I guess I’ll see if I happen to be struck by any big ideas between now and November 1st!

Anyway, the prompt for this week was: ‘I love ghosts and I love reading about humans becoming ghosts for the first time, and their experiences with that. Anything from the moment of passing, to interactions with humans and/or other ghosts, to the sensations of morphing into a ghost, etc’. This Halloween appropriate idea was suggested by Saskia van T Hoff on Facebook.

I couldn’t do the whole thing in 2000 words but I’ve had a go at one aspect. See the results below.

2014 – A Year In Stories
Week 39
This Is Your Death

Liam was dead. He wasn’t sure how, or indeed why, but the one thing he was certain about was that he had bought the proverbial farm.

He was sure of this because while a few minutes ago he had been stroking cheerfully down Charing Cross Road in London, he was now stood, rather disoriented, in what appeared to be the green room of a television studio surrounded by skeletons.

Not people dressed as skeletons, rather actual proper see through skeletons that were moving around and talking to each other and doing other typically unskeletal things like holding clipboards and wearing headsets. One of them was rather inexplicably drinking coffee, cheerfully ignorant of the puddle it was leaving on the floor.

Initially Liam had suspected he had merely fallen asleep, as one often does when strolling through Central London of an afternoon. He had dismissed this theory after pinching, or rather attempting to pinch himself several times, and watching his fingers go right through a ghostly arm. Anyway, whenever he became aware that he was having a dream normally he would just wake up, and he definitely hadn’t woken up this time.

The final nail in the coffin, as it were, was that the above the exit from the green room was a flickering neon sign bearing the legend ‘This Is Your Death’ surrounded by low wattage light bulbs.

When he had arrived, rather when he had become aware of his presence in the green room, Liam had been asked politely by one of the skeletons to wait around for his timeslot, and told that he was welcome to help himself to any food on the table.

He attempted that now, but his ghostly hand merely passed through the delicious looking sticky buns piled high on a plate in front of him. Even licking his fingers to try and remove any sugary residue had no effect. Liam began to suspect he would never taste anything again.

“Mr Goshawk?” said one of the skeletons.
“That’s me,” Liam replied, standing up and wondering why if he couldn’t pick things up he hadn’t just fallen through the sofa, or indeed the floor. He thought the whole thing was rather unfair.
“If you’d like to come with me, sir?” the skeleton prompted and ushered him through the tatty red velvet curtain that separated the green room from the studio.

As he stepped out in to the studio Liam was greeted initially by the sort of music you would have expected from a late 80s Saturday night gameshow, and then by a raucous round of applause from the audience, all of whom were also skeletons.

Liam didn’t have time to process how skeletons could clap their hands before he was ushered in to a comfortable, if faded, looking armchair by the skeletal production assistant.

A voiceover boomed around the studio.

“Liam Goshawk, This. Is. Your. Deeeeeeeath!”

There was a flash, followed by some smoke, during which a man had appeared in the chair next to him. The man was extremely pale, had a widow’s peak, was wearing a dinner suit and cape and, of course, had fangs.

“I’m your host, Vlad Strigoi, with my guest Liam Goshawk. Welcome to This Is Your Death!”

The music played briefly again and Strigoi smiled and waved for his adoring plans through another round of boney applause.

“Tell me, Liam,” Vlad began in a thick Romanian accent, “how did you reach us here today?”
“I uh, I’m not sure,” Liam replied tentatively. “One minute I was walking around London and the next I was in your green room. I was rather hoping you could tell me, actually.”
“But of course! Roll the tape!”

Liam had theories of course. He had been out in Central London, so there was every possibility that he had been taken out by a rogue driver or flattened by a bus as he crossed the road without paying attention. Perhaps it had been natural causes. He had only been 32, and was in pretty decent shape, but he was always hearing about young, fit people suddenly dropping dead of an unexplainable heart attack.

He was not prepared for what had actually happened.

“A bloody piano fell on me?!” he exclaimed incredulously after the short video clip had finished.
“Ah yes,” Vlad replied, a hint of remorse in his voice. “That is never a fun way to go. Anyway!” the vampire continued, cheering up. “We have some very special guests here for you this evening.
“Hello Liam,” said a croaky old voice, coming over the studio’s speakers. “Remember me, dear?”
“Grandma?” Liam said. This was all getting a bit too much.
“That’s right!” Vlad replied, beaming a wide grin that was mostly fangs. “All the way from heaven, it’s your grandmother Patsy, who you haven’t seen since she died of bronchitis 8 years ago!”

A little old skeleton hobbled out on to the stage with the support of a walking stick. Even though she lacked flesh or features of any kind, she was unmistakably his grandmother.

“Come give your old nan a hug!” she demanded, preferring a skeletal embrace.
“I, err, I can’t grandma. Incorporeal you see” Liam said, passing his hand through Vlad by way of demonstration. His grandmother, as disgruntled as it was possible for a skeleton to be, went and sat on a bench reserved for his guests.
“Up next,” said Vlad, “an old friend who you haven’t seen in some time.”
“Bet you weren’t expecting me to be here!” came a younger, male voice over the speakers.

Liam was puzzled as he tried to work out who the next person would be was. The skeleton that wandered out wasn’t much use either, it looked just like all of the ones that had been wandering around in the green room.

“Don’t you remember me, buddy?” the skeleton asked, sounding a little hurt. “It’s me, Darren, your buddy from primary school!”
“Darren Hartwell?” Liam asked. “I had no idea you were dead.”
“And I had no idea I was allergic to shellfish!” Darren replied, drawing a roar of laughter from the crowd.
“How about man’s best friend?” Vlad asked as Darren went to seat himself next to Grandma Goshawk.

Liam heard a loud woofing over the speaker system, and seconds later a small skeletal dog came rushing out on to the stage waving its osseous tail frantically.

“Buttons?!” Liam exclaimed. He couldn’t believe they’d even managed to find his dog from when he was a boy. They’d be bringing out his bloody goldfish next.

Buttons heard Liam’s voice and bounded towards the armchair. The dog leapt up to say hello to its old master, but had failed to take in to account his wraithlike form, and smashed in to the chair instead, dislodging one of its own legs in the process.

Buttons’ canine instincts kicked in and it grabbed the bony limb in its mouth. It then hopped off on its remaining three legs in to the corner to chew away happily on its new toy.

Things continued in this fashion until the benches were filled with people that Liam had known who, like him, had passed over in to the great beyond. There were family members, a couple of old friends, ex co-workers, all sorts. Liam thought they were stretching it a bit when they brought out a girl he had kissed once while drunk at university, but figured that if this was indeed being broadcast to skeletal homes across the underworld that they had to fill the timeslot. If anything he was glad because it meant that they hadn’t found many people he knew who had snuffed it.

After the last special guest had gone to sit in the bleachers, Vlad clicked his fingers and a large, leather bound book appeared in his other hand. It had the words ‘Liam Goshawk, This Is Your Death’ embossed in silver filigree on the front.

“Well that was another wonderful trip down memory lane,” Vlad said, still grinning. “Thank you to Liam for being such a good sport, and for his friends and family for coming out to be with him on this special occasion.

“Liam,” he went on, “we would like to present you with this souvenir book so that you can remember all of the good times we have had.”

Vlad proferred the book to Liam, but then realised his mistake.

“I’ll just put it here for later,” the vampire said, laying it on a table between them. “Now, before we go and you begin your life after death, do you have any questions?”
“A couple,” Liam replied. “Firstly, why am I a ghost when you’re a vampire and everyone else is a skeleton?”
“A very good question! I am a vampire because I wasn’t unlucky enough to be bitten. You are a ghost because you are newly deceased. Once the show is over you will complete your transformation, and regain corporeal form as a skeleton.”
“Of course,” said Liam, dryly. “How silly of me not to know that.”
“What was your second question?” Vlad asked, leaning forward.
“Why this?” Liam replied, waving a spectral arm around to indicate the set. “Why set all of this up, bring all of my erstwhile friends and family here and put on this elaborate show. I’ve been in here 45 minutes, hundred of people must have died since then. You must have a backlog out the door and round the block waiting to come through here if you take an hour over every person!”
“Ah, now, folks, isn’t he an observant one?” Vlad grinned at the camera. “It’s simple my dear boy. Not everyone is welcome to the afterlife like this. As you correctly asserted, we would have no time at all. The fact is that everyone has a different idea of what happens after they died some are greeted by robed figures who read out their collected sins to them, some check in as if they were at a hotel.

“Others, like yourself, have a rather unfortunate obsession with the collected works of the likes of Bruce Forsyth, so when you died you were sent down to us to go through different parts of your life in he he style of a light entertainment programme. We cater for everyone’s expectations, so this place doesn’t get used as often as you’d think.

“Plus,” the vampire added, shielding his mouth from the audience and dropping his Transylvanian drawl to an almost conspiratorial whisper, “the boys and ghouls at home get a kick out of watching other people’s deaths. I believe its a concept known as ‘reality television’.”
“I see,” said Liam. It had all sounded fair enough.
“Well, that’s all we’ve got time for tonight folks, what a beautiful story,” the vampire concluded, returning his attention to the audience, one of whom Liam was sure was crying. “Until next time, I’ve been Vlad Strigoi, and this has been This Is Your Death!”

#

“So what do I do now?” Liam asked Vlad after the cameras had stopped rolling and the audience had all filed out and gone home.
“Well very shortly you will turn in to a skeleton.”
“But after that, what then?”
“Well, you will have to get a job.”
“A job?” Liam asked incredulously. “But I’m dead.”
“So am I, buddy, but those bills ain’t gonna pay themselves.”
“Where can I get a job?”
“Well,” Vlad pondered, “I hear that one of the runners has left to have a baby, so there’s a job opening here if you’re interested.”

Liam went to question how a skeleton could have a baby, but thought better of it.

“That’d be great,” he said instead. “Thanks.” It wasn’t much, he reasoned, but when you’re starting a whole new death you have to start somewhere.

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