The observant among you will note that I’ve written a couple of stories about ghosts (I don’t consider either of them ‘ghost stories’) over the last few weeks. The timing of these in the run up to Halloween has been purely coincidental.
This week however, I had a list of about 12 suggestions to use in the run in to the end of the year, and I picked this week’s theme specifically because the plan I had for it was actually much more in line with a ‘horror’ story than either of the ghost pieces.
Anyway, the suggestion I chose this week came from Dean Horsefield, who suggested that I write a story about ‘A kid who opens the curtains one morning to find their room is now part of a giant dollhouse. The rest of the family are oblivious.’
Enjoy. OR DON’T. *spooky laugh* *crack of thunder*
2014 – A Year In Stories
Toys R Us
“It’s 7.30am!” the alarm clock blared, “And boy, we’ve got some absolute classics coming up for you before 8. Let’s kick you off with some Wham!”
Becca’s hand finally found the snooze button, just in time to prevent her hearing George Michael’s requests to wake him up before she went-went.
The alarm clock had been a present, if you could call it that, from her parents for her tenth birthday earlier in the year. Her mum had said that as she was growing up she would need to learn to get herself out of bed, and not rely on her parents.
Her father had added, with the sort of self congratulatory laughter that often comes from a father about to commit a dad joke related crime, that it was going to be her worst enemy for the next 50 years, and knowing your enemy was half the battle.
Becca hadn’t understood that one, but then she rarely got any of her dad’s ‘jokes’. Anyway, she already had a worst enemy: Karen Timpson. If she had another then neither of them could be the worst.
She rolled over and went back to sleep.
9 minutes later the alarm came back to life in the middle of ’5, 6, 7, 8′ by Steps. Becca lay in bed until the song finished, and the enthusastic DJ started rambling on about something or other. She wondered how anyone could be that cheerful at 7.41 in the morning. He must be an alien, she decided.
Reluctantly she got out of bed and out her dressing gown on over her pyjamas. It was late autumn, and the air was beginning to get chilly. Her father refused to put the heating on until he saw the first Coca Cola Christmas advert, and right now their TV was on the fritz.
Out of the corner of her eye, Becca could have sworn she saw something moving outside her window.
This was very strange indeed, as her bedroom was on the first floor. She dismissed it as tiredness. After all, she had only slept for 10 hours last night.
But then she saw it again. Curious, she wandered over and pulled back the curtains. She shrieked so loud that her parents, who were downstairs having breakfast, rushed upstairs immediately.
“Becca?!” her dad shouted, bursting in to the room. “What’s wrong? Are you alright?”
“An eye!” Becca said. “A giant eye outside the window!”
Her dad walked over to the window and opened the curtains, which Becca had jerked shut again immediately upon seeing the eye. The eye was gone.
“Come now, dear,” her mum soothed. “You must be seeing things. Come downstairs and have some toast.”
“I’m NOT seeing things!” Becca replied, shrugging her mum off. “It was THERE!”
Her mum and dad shared a look.
“Of course it was, sweet pea,” her dad said. “We believe you. But you’ll feel better after something to eat.”
Toast did sound appealing, so, reluctantly, Becca allowed her parents to lead her downstairs.
Becca sat at the table, and tucked in to her third round of toast. The scare that she had got from the eye earlier on had made her very hungry.
“Would you like some eggs with that, dear?” her mother asked.
“Ooh, yes please mum,” Becca replied, pushing the memory of what she saw from her head.
But, to her horror, instead of walking over to the oven to make the eggs like a normal mum would have, something very strange happened.
The kitchen was filled with light as the wall swung away, and a giant hand reached in. The hand picked up her mum, who seemed totally oblivious to the whole experience, and placed her down in front of the cooker, where she began to busy herself with the preparation of the eggs.
Becca stared, wide-eyed and open-mouthed in disbelief. The slice of toast she was holding tumbled from her grip and landed, butter side down, on her plate.
“Did you see that?!” she asked incredulously, as the hand withdrew and the wall swung back in to place.
Her dad, who was sipping at a mug of tea and reading the Sunbury Morning Post, glanced up and said, “Hmm?”
“The wall…a hand…picked up mum!” Becca gibbered. “How did you miss it?”
The look her parents shared this time betrayed much more concern.
“Are you feeling alright, sweet pea?” her dad asked.
Her mum, moving normally now, walked over from the oven and pressed a hand against her forehead. “No temperature,” she said.
“Perhaps you should stay home from school today, get some rest,” her dad said. “Just in case.”
“I’m fine!” Becca replied. She thought about going to school, but when she really dug down for the memories, beyond what was on the surface, she couldn’t remember anything about her school. In fact, she couldn’t remember ever having left the house before.
She thought that she could picture trips to the cinema, the park or visiting a friend’s house, but somehow all the memories seemed false, and she definitely couldn’t remember any of the journeys.
In a panic Becca bolted from the room. Did her parents feel the same way? Why had she realised this all of a sudden? She sat, her head in her hands on the bottom step, wondering if her brain was playing tricks on her. Could she even trust her own memories anymore?
Come to think of it, she had always wondered how the family got their stuff. They never went shopping, but every week new items would appear in the house. Cutlery, crockery, furniture and clothes all appeared out of nowhere, as if by magic.
She recalled the time that a new summer dress had appeared in her wardrobe. Upon closer inspection the dress had a tag, which had read ‘Smith Co. Summer Dress SC01127′. On the reverse of the tag there had been an unusually large price sticker, indicating that the dress had cost £0.99, which had always seemed awfully cheap for such a nice dress.
A thought struck her. She ran upstairs and opened her toy cupboard. Flinging aside toy trains, a hobby horse and some clothes she had shoved in there to pass a room-tidiness inspection, she finally found what she was looking for. Her old dolls house.
She’d had the thing as long as she could remember. Her dad had always boasted that he had made it for her, but she had found the remains of a scraped off sticky label on the bottom that suggested otherwise. Being a veritable grown up now at age 10, she couldn’t be seen playing with dolls anymore, and the thing had lain undisturbed beneath a pile of stuff in her toy cupboard for the last couple of years. She gave it the once over, and then, rather gingerly put her theory to the test. With one hand on each half of the house, she slowly swung it open.
Sure enough it came apart, operating on a set of hinges. Becca gently placed the house on the floor in front of her and sat there, not sure what to do or how to react.
Her silent introspection was broken by her mother shouting up the stairs for her.
“Becca!” she called. “Abigail is here to see you.”
Odd, thought Becca as she got to her feet. She hadn’t heard the door bell, or any knocking. As she went out on to the upstairs landing, she could have sworn she saw the walls of the house close up again, just as they had in the kitchen.
When she got downstairs, Abigail was sat at the kitchen table.
“Abigail,” Becca said urgently. “How did you get here?”
“Well my mum brought… Or did I walk? I don’t think I rode my bike.”
“Don’t you think that’s a bit odd?” she asked the room. She’s only been here 2 minutes and she already can’t remember how she got here.”
“Oh don’t be silly, dear,” her mum replied. “Abbie’s always been a bit forgetful, haven’t you, love?”
“That’s right,” Abbie smiled. “Shall we go upstairs and play?” she added.
“Play, but we’ve got to go to school. Dad, why haven’t you left for work? It’s almost 8.30.”
“Oh, no work or school today, sweet pea,” her dad replied, his head still buried in the paper.
“But two minutes ago you said I could stay home from school…” Becca trailed off, as her mum was busying herself about the washing up, and her dad was engrossed in the sports section. Neither of them was listening to her.
“Look,” she said to Abigail. “I appreciate you coming to visit, but now isn’t a very good time. Some strange things are happening around here and I think I’m the only one who has noticed.”
“Oh, strange like what?” Abigail asked.
Becca looked at both her parents, then leaned in to her friend and whispered conspiratorially, “I think we are living in a dolls house.”
“Oh!” Abigail replied. “That is strange. Well, I’ll see you later I suppose.”
And with that, the walls swung aside again, and the hand reached in and plucked Abigail out of the kitchen. Becca’s mum went to put some dishes away in a cupboard that had been on the wall, but they fell and smashed on the floor instead.
“How strange,” she muttered, and began to sweep up the mess with a broom as if it was completely normal for your cupboards to temporarily vanish.
Maybe this is all a dream? Becca thought. Yes, that must be it. I’m still snoozing after I turned the alarm off this morning and this has all been a weird dream. Perhaps, she mused, in order to wake up, I need to go back to bed in the dream.
Before the walls closed up again, the hand returned and picked Becca up. It removed her from the room and went up a level, before moving back the covers on her bed and placing her underneath.
With its final act before withdrawing and closing the house up, the giant hand tucked her in.
Ah yes, Becca thought. That’s much better. I’ll be awake in no time, and I can tell mum and dad about this funny dream over a couple of rounds of toast.
The walls closed back up, and the house was complete again.
“Mitzy, honey, we have to go.”
“But mum!” the little girl protested.
“You can play with your dolls later, sweety, but right now we are going to see your Grandad,” her mother replied, firmly.
Mitzy stood up from the floor and went to leave the room. Just as she was about to walk out of the door she remembered that she still had the Abigail doll in her hand. Running back over, she placed it in a box next to the house.
“Mitzy!” her mum called. “I’ll not ask you again.”
“Coming mum!” she replied, grabbing her coat and shutting the door behind her.
I had a bit of a choice about which story I went with this week, which was nice. Wishing to continue with the vague Halloween theme from this month, and for maximum spoopiness, I have gone for another ghost story. This time it was suggested by Steph Minshull-Jones! ‘A host decides to have some fun with people who don’t believe in ghosts.’
2014 – A Week In Stories
The Ghostess With the Mostest
Sandy walked down the street to the station, as she did at this time of the morning every day of the week. She went through the barriers at the station entrance, made her way down the escalator and got on the waiting train.
This was her daily routine because it brought her some semblance of normality. She had no job, nor a need to have one. Riding the rails every morning reminded her of what her life used to be like. It reminded her of better times.
Times were no longer normal for Sandy. When she walked down the road people would no longer make an effort to get out of her way, and instead walked right through her. Passing through the ticket barrier meant literally passing through it, and descending the escalator could quickly lead to descending in to the escalator with a simple lapse of concentration.
Sandy’s life was not normal, because she did not in fact have one, being that she was a ghost. She estimated that she had been dead nearly a couple of years. Time was a rather redundant concept when you had all of it to look forward to, but she still came down to the train every day all the same.
It was a way to pass a fraction of the time she had to spend in the afterlife.
Other than riding in trains of a morning, Sandy had a fairly empty existence. As a ghost she couldn’t interact with corporeal objects without extreme concentration. It was a mystery what kept her from sinking through the floor more often. She often found herself visiting friends or family, or floating in to a nearby house to watch the television, but that was no fun when no one could interact with you, or even knew you were there.
Generally she avoided the company of other ghosts. Sandy was frustrated by their similar inability to interact with everyday objects, and found that most only ever wanted to talk about their cause of death rather than celebrating their lives in retrospect.
This was a subject that she had no interest in exploring in any depth with the billions of potential ghosts she would potentially meet between now and the end of time. Much like when meeting other travellers in hostels around the world, ghosts tended to have a stock set of questions that they asked any new spectral acquaintance, and so she had developed a standard set of answers to go with them for when polite conversation was unavoidable.
What’s your name? Sandy Dunstable; Where are you from? Epping Forest; How long have you been dead? A couple of years; How did you die? Severe anaphylactic shock; etc., though if pushed she would concede that you would probably never get asked the last two in a hostel by the beach in Bali.
To top it all off she had no idea what her purpose in death was. One of her fellow ghosts had once told her that not everyone becomes a spirit, and that only those with unfinished business don’t pass on directly in to the great beyond. Beyond that, she had been given no clues or reassurances other than that when she worked it out she would pass on to eternal rest.
In other words, Sandy’s afterlife had hit a rut, insofar as that was possible. She contemplated this one morning as she rode the train in to the city centre. Perhaps, she mused, she should go to a hostel in Bali, and see if those were the sorts of questions that got asked.
After much deliberation she decided that she probably wouldn’t be able to concentrate hard enough for long enough to keep her on the plane all the way to Indonesia. Sandy may have no body to lose anymore, but she had always been squeamish about heights, and it appeared that this affliction had followed her beyond the grave. Anyway, she reasoned, the questions asked in those type of hostels were much more likely to be geared towards getting in to the pants of e other travellers than they would be existential quandaries about the nature of mortality.
The train rumbled on its merry way, oblivious to its ghostly cargo. Several other spirits boarded the train every morning, and they were probably the closest thing Sandy had to friends, though she had not spoken a word to any of them. Slowly they filtered off as the train came to a halt at various stops, until Sandy noticed that only one slightly misty figured remained at the other end of the carriage.
Sandy observed the figure, whom she had never seen before. She figured that whoever he was, he must be new to the whole thing, because she saw him approach a young couple on the train, looking as if he meant to interact with them. Watching with interest mixed with a healthy dose of skepticism for the fellow’s chances, Sandy found herself beyond surprised when the interloper managed to not only touch the couple. But spooked them enough that they got off at the next stop, muttering something about the train being haunted.
Awestruck, Sandy briefly lost concentration and nearly fell through the train to the tracks below. The ghostly man also got off at the stop, and Sandy had to muster all of her wits to stop gawking at what she had just witnessed and follow him. If he could interact with humans, maybe he could interact with objects. Maybe he could even teach her.
Sandy sprinted through the station, trying to catch up with the man, who was obscured by the crowds. Eventually she caught sight of him leaving the station and wandering off down the street and caught up with him. She felt as though she should be panting from the exertion, but on balance decided that might be a bit weird.
“How did you do that?” she asked to the back of the man’s head, or at least the bit of it that was opaque enough to see.
“Do what?” he asked, turning around. Sandy noticed that he had been young when he died, like her.
“You touched those people. You made them jump. Can you teach me how to do that?”
The man looked puzzled. “Teach you?” he asked. “Can’t all ghosts do that?”
“No!” Sandy replied. “In fact, you’re the first I’ve seen in about two years who can. God knows we all try for a while, but none of us ever manage it.”
“Oh…” the man looked contemplative. “It took me a little while to pick it up. At first I couldn’t, but then I switched to lateral thinking and decided to think of myself as the object I was trying to touch, and think that I really wanted to be touched…” He blushed. “Sorry, that came out a bit ruder than I intended.”
“Of course!” Sandy shouted, not sure she actually understood what he had just said, but wanting to make it look as though she had. “Can you show me?”
The man cast about for a suitable subject, and settled on a drinks can that someone had left on the wall nearby.
“Right,” he said, concentrating on the can. “If I try and move it because I want it to move it doesn’t go anywhere. But if I envision the can, think why it would want to move, I can do whatever I like with it.”
Sure enough, as he said that he moved his hand through the can, which dutifully toppled off the wall and landed on the pavement with a clatter.
“You give it a try,” he urged.
It took a while, as he had suggested it might, but eventually Sandy managed to detach her mind for long enough to get inside the can and move it along the pavement. It was exhausting, but she had never felt more satisfied with an accomplishment in her entire life or death.
“How does it work on people?” Sandy asked, after recovering from her exertion.
“Oh, it doesn’t really,” the man, whose name Sally had discovered to be Roy said. When he noticed the look of disappointment on her face he quickly added, “Well, it might. I haven’t tried it.”
“But I saw you spook that couple!” Sandy protested.
“I touched the guy’s jacket, not him, and then I made the girl’s purse zip and unzip by itself. I guess it might work on people, but it feel a bit weird about the idea of imagining how complete strangers would like to be touched. I’m a ghost, not a pervert.”
Sandy couldn’t help but laugh at this. She spent the next few days training with Roy, building up her abilities until she could pick the can up and move it several feet before it became too difficult to continue.
One evening as they sat watching the sunset it occurred to Sandy that she had not caught the train in several days. This whole new experience was simply too much fun, and she was so glad to have met another ghost who seemed rather underwhelmed by the rules and formalities of the spirit society. She didn’t even know how he had died.
For the first time since she had passed on, Sandy felt like she had a purpose.
“Why were you scaring that couple anyway?” she asked him one day.
“Boredom,” Roy replied. “I’ve given up trying to work out what my dumb quest is. I figure it will be obvious when it needs to be, and until then I might as well have some fun. Right,” he added, jumping off the wall they had been stood on and floating gently to the ground below. “I think it’s time for your first scare, and I know just the location.”
Even though he was largely see through Sandy could still see the glint in his eye, and could tell that he was up to no good.
Ten minutes later they arrived at their destination: a pub in Shoreditch called the Nine Friars.
“What are we doing here?” Sandy asked. Roy responded by pointing at the sign outside the door, which read ‘Skeptics’ Society Meeting Today’.
“They’re focussing on the paranormal today,” he added by way of elucidation.
The pair skulked in a corner and watched the meeting unfold for a while. This, Roy reasoned, would give Sandy a chance to pick her victim.
Eventually they settled on the group’s leader, a rather severe man in his early 30s with a pony tail and a goatee. He was certainly old enough to know better on both counts.
Throughout the meeting he had been waxing lyrical about how ghosts were clearly not real, and that anyone who claimed otherwise was an idiot, and probably had the audacity to believe in God to boot. Richard Dawkins, he asserted, probably did not believe in ghosts.
Sandy scanned the man for an opportunity, and eventually decided on grabbing the hair and holding his ponytail in place.
Well, she thought as she heard the man scream in terror as his head jerked backwards, this was hardly her purpose in the afterlife. She wasn’t still here on this earth to go round pulling Atheists hair all day. But, until she found out why she was still here, she had to agree with Roy. It was a fun way to pass the time.
…sung to the Dad’s Army theme.
This week’s suggestion is from my friend Manda Richardson, who has recently started to do very well in some animation competitions. Congratulations Manda! I’m sure you will all see the fruits of her labour very soon.
Anyway, her suggestion was for me to write a story about ‘A person who realises their cat is the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler.’
2014 – A Year In Stories
Why Do You Think You’re A Kitty Mr Hitler?
“Our prices are extremely low this year,” the Avon lady explained to Juliet. “We have made some savings in our packaging department and this has allowed us to pass the savings on to you, the customer. I’m sure you’ll find the prices more than competitive.”
Juliet wasn’t usually the sort to let door-to-door salespeople in for a chat, but she was new in town and didn’t really know anyone yet, so she was grateful for the company. It didn’t hurt that she had been in the market for some new eye shadow, either.
Just as the Avon lady was preparing to show her skin are samples, Juliet’s pet cat, Socks, came prowling in to the room and leapt up on to her lap. She began to pet the cat as the lady went on about sea salt facial scrubs.
“Now, see, what the benefit is…” the woman said before trailing off.
“Is everything OK?” Juliet asked.
“Yes, I’m sorry,” the Avon lady replied. “It’s just that your cat looks so remarkably like Adolf Hitler.”
“I, uh, I’d never noticed,” said Juliet, leaning round to have a look at Socks’ face. The cat purported not to notice the special attention that was being paid to him, as he swatted idly at a fly. “Now you mention it, though, he sort of does…”
Sure enough, a diagonal streak of black fur crowned his head, where the parting would be, and another small patch just under the nose where the dictator’s famous moustache had grown.
Juliet had only recently got Socks from a cat shelter, taking full advantage of the fact that her landlord had failed to put a ‘no pets’ clause in her contract. The lady at the shelter had said that Socks had been to a few homes already, but always came back as unmanageable. He had seemed to take a shine to her, however, and caused no trouble so far.
“I hear there are whole websites devoted to that sort of thing on the internet,” the Avon lady said, as she packed up her samples. “I’ve left you a catalogue, just be sure to mention my name if you do decided to order anything.”
Juliet saw the woman out and went back to her job search in the local paper. When’s he got back to the living room, Socks had disappeared as he so often did during the day. Probably chasing mice or birds no doubt.
It was a frustrating afternoon. Her search bore no fruition, and Juliet began to question the wisdom of moving halfway across the country on a whim. Thirsty, she went through to the kitchen to get a drink.
She looked up as she poured some orange juice in to a glass and saw Socks sitting on the external sill of the kitchen window, next to her begonias. His back was turned, and he appeared to be mewing at something or someone. Probably a dead bird.
Juliet walked over to the window to see what he was looking at, and nearly dropped her orange juice in surprise. Outside, the decking was filled with cats, all of whom were staring up intently at Socks, who was mewing away authoritatively.
Every cat in the neighbourhood must be out there, Juliet thought. Surely they weren’t all…listening to him? She decided that she had been in the house too long and went out for a walk.
As she returned from her walk to the shops, Juliet’s attention was caught by a scream that came from the next door neighbour’s back garden. She rushed down the side passage of her house and out in to her own back garden, where the erstwhile kitty congregation had dispersed.
Peering over the fence to see what the commotion was about, she saw her neighbours, a middle aged couple, tackling a fire in the doghouse. The woman was aiming a fire extinguisher at the wooden construction, which was now merely smoking, while her husband held their poodle in his arms.
“What happened?” Juliet asked when the fire was out for certain.
“It looks like a mouse got in and nibbled the wires,” her neighbour replied, dipping her head in to the charred remains of the doghouse. She reached in and pulled out a small, very dead, mouse. “See?”
“What a horrible thing to happen.”
“Oh yes, we’re just so glad our Floofykins is alright, aren’t we Floofykins?” the husband replied, snuggling the rather reluctant poodle right up to his face.
Juliet elected to leave them to it, although she couldn’t shake from her head the fact that she was sure she had seen Socks slinking away surreptitiously from behind the doghouse.
When Juliet got back in to the living room and sat down, Socks wandered in and jumped up on to her lap. She stroked his head, and he kneaded her legs with his claw as in an affectionate manner.
“You’re not really Hitler, are you boy?” she asked the cat, who mewed in response.
But she couldn’t get it out of her mind. First the cat rally and now a suspicious fire with an unlikely suspect? What if the Avon lady was more right than she knew. What if socks didn’t just look like Hitler? What if he was…
It seemed silly, but if it was true then she had to know for sure. Casting her mind back to her walk earlier Juliet remembered seeing an advert on a lamp post for a pet psychic. She wasn’t generally inclined to believe in the occult, but giving the guy a call seemed better sooner rather than later after Socks had claimed Lebensraum in a neighbour’s flower bed.
Ten minutes later Juliet was back in her front room, the advert clutched in her hand. She found her cordless phone and dialled the number. A quick explanation later and John Young: Animal Psychic was on his way round.
The van pulled up outside Juliet’s house, and a middle aged man in a purple velvet jacket got out. He smoothed his clothes down and walked up the path.
“You must be Juliet,” he said, extending a hand, which Juliet took. “Now where’s the great dictator?”
They went in to the house, where Juliet found Socks asleep, stretched out in no patch of sun that was coming through the living room window.
“Now let me take a look here,” John said, placing a hand on Socks’ forehead. This didn’t seem to disturb the cat, and a few seconds later he stood up.
“Yes, ma’am, I’m afraid that your cat is indeed the physical reincarnation of Adolf Hitler.”
“What, it’s that simple?” Juliet asked, bewildered. “You only touched him for a second!”
“Ms Harper,” John Young: Animal Psychic replied, “I’m just very good at my job.”
“But how can you be so sure?”
“Animal reincarnation is quite common. Eventually someone – or something – was bound to come back as Hitler. That cat has by far the darkest psychic presence I’ve ever come across. Unmistakably a great and evil being has come back in to existence within him.
“Oh, and Pol Pot and Stalin were accounted for recently, I’ve got a lead that Genghis Khan is in a German Shepherd up in Leeds, and most of the others were rounded up ages ago. Pretty much just left Hitler. The real clue was the actions, though. The spirits tend to repeat their old actions, and based on what you were describing it’s got Adolf’s calling cards written all over it.”
“Rounded up?” Juliet asked. “You mean this is quite common?”
“Oh yeah, happens all the time. Psychic community does its best to keep tabs on the real doozies. The ones that are likely to offend again, given the chance. This one would have been purging the neighbourhood cats and declaring war on the next street over before you knew it. It’s good you called when you did.”
“So, what happens now? What is your fee?”
“Oh, no fee for this one ma’am. Knowing that I was the one that collared history’s greatest monster is reward enough for me on this occasion. I’ll take socks to our containment facility, where he will lead a good full life, just away from any temptation to commit acts of unspeakable evil.”
“That’s good, I suppose…” Juliet said. Even though it turned out her cat was the reincarnation of an evil dictator, she would still miss the little bugger. He had always been perfectly nice to her.
It was a sad farewell. Juliet came close to tears as Socks was carried down the path in a cage. She thought she saw him put his paw on the cage to say goodbye, but it could just as easily have been a salute.
John had comforted her, saying that it wasn’t her fault she had adopted an evil feline. After all, there was no way of knowing who her cat really was.
She spent the next few days moping around the suddenly empty house. An offer to look after the neighbour’s poodle was politely but firmly rebuffed, as word had gotten out about the true identity of her cat.
Eventually Juliet decided that the only way she would fill the void was by getting another animal.
She drove off down to the rescue centre, determined not to make the same mistake again, and quickly dismissed a dachshund that she thought looked suspiciously liked Chairman Mao, and a golden retriever that had once barked enthusiastically at a photo of Kim Jong-il.
After hours of agonising decision making, slowly ruling out each of the animals one by one until only a handful were left, Juliet found the most adorable fluffy bunny rabbit called Nibbles, which was busying itself rearranging the food in its bowl.
A bunny can’t be evil, she reasoned, loading her new friend in to the car. And anyway, it lived in a cage and wouldn’t be let out, so what harm could it do?
As she drove off, she failed to notice the pattern the rearranged food had been made in to. Reversing out of the car park, she bumped over the curb, and the perfect pentagram was knocked out of shape. Nibbles squeaked irritably, and began its task all over again, a certain glint of malice in its tiny eye.
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
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.