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.
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.