Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Story: Altogether Too Ethereal

Agnes was used to ghosts. At eight years old she’d looked up from her wavering spoon to see her great grandmother watching her eat a bowl of cornflakes from the kitchen doorway. Having attended the woman’s funeral only a week before, Agnes was so alarmed that she vomited her breakfast over the kitchen table and her great-grandmother had vanished. Later that day, when she saw the spectral old lady watching her do her homework, she was calmer and asked her Nan how things were. They’d chatted for about half an hour. Apparently Nan was hanging around for a bit, checking that Agnes’ mum was handling things OK.

Nan had introduced Agnes to some fellow spirits, and soon enough Agnes was holding séances. She had a knack for it. They were just little ones at first, barely even real, just inviting friends round, freaking out boys, but as she’d grown older she’d started charging money for it. Good money, too. Talking to the dead was not something that frightened her; it was something that put food on the table. So she was not unduly worried when she awoke shivering one night to see the disembodied spirit of Charlie Lewis floating near her bedroom door.

Not worried, but more than a little pissed off. Charlie Lewis had been a bastard of a boyfriend, and Agnes hadn’t too wasted many tears when she’d heard that, after a break up that involved the hurling of threats and crockery, he had drunkenly stumbled out into the road and into the path of an oncoming Danish lorry. Agnes had not much mourned the man, yet here he was, wide-eyed, faintly luminous, and a little transparent. His mouth flapped uselessly. She guessed that the power of speech had been lost. It happened sometimes. He should have been grateful that he didn’t have the appearance of his corpse. By all rights he should have been a lot flatter and a lot more of what had been inside should have been visible.

“Get the fuck out, Charlie,” muttered Agnes, and rolled over.

But he didn’t. The chill that came with the presence of the dead did not dissipate. She kept her eyes firmly closed.

“I don’t want to hear it,” she said. “You were annoying enough when you could breathe, you’re twice as annoying now. Go away.”

She could feel him silently moving around the room. Whatever it was he wanted, there was no way for him to articulate it. She hoped that he would give up and go back to wherever it was he’d gone to in the first place.

For a moment, it seemed that her wish had been granted. The chill went. She opened her eyes and sat up in bed. Charlie wasn’t there. Then she heard a noise from downstairs. Like something bumping against something. Was it the table in the hall? If he’d done anything to her Mum’s lamp she would be furious.

Then Charlie was back in the room. Eyes bulging, mouth hanging slackly open, tongue lolling. He looked ridiculous, even for a ghost.

“Was that you? Are you serious? Moving stuff around in my house like some half-arsed bloody poltergeist? Even in death you’re useless.”

For a moment she regretted being so cruel as her words drove him into a frenzy. He whirled around the room, hurling himself against the walls. A few audible bumps suggested he was getting the hang of this. He was learning physical contact. This wouldn’t do. Agnes had an 8am séance tomorrow for a busy woman who worked in the city. Some bank or something. She needed her sleep.

“Alright, Charlie. I’m sorry I was so rude. But you can’t be here. Are you stuck, is that it? If you come back tomorrow, after I’ve had some sleep, we can sort this out. Alright? About 9.30?”

He coughed. She heard it.

“Can you tell me what you want, Charlie? If you could just fucking articulate...”

There was a sound like someone clearing their throat. His eyes were so wide that Agnes thought that they might just pop out of their sockets. It would not be the first time that had happened. She watched his mouth furiously work to form words that just didn’t seem to want to come. Had Agnes been wrong to assume he’d come just to annoy her?

“If we go through all of this and it turns out you’re just trying to tell me that I’m a bitch, you should know I’ll send you to a much worse place than wherever you are now. You know I can do that, don’t you?”

Charlie slammed his fist into the wall. It left a dent. Agnes was impressed, if a little irritated.


Agnes sat up in bed. She had never taken Charlie for a fast learner, but there it was, just minutes after his first appearance, his very first word.

“Down what, Charlie?”

Charlie’s ghost slapped itself very hard across the face, started beating on his chest. The pain and frustration was written all over his face. He was crying.


“Down what? Is that where you ended up? Did you really expect something else?”

A bolt of pain went through Agnes’ head like a long sewing needle. Charlie wasn’t focusing his energy; it was coming out of him in aimless waves. She felt blood trickle out of her nose. As she saw the red drops on her bed sheets she remembered all the times he’d ever been bad to her, all the things he’d done. And she made up her mind. She looked straight at Charlie and focused.

Charlie knew what she was doing. He’d seen her do it before. But instead of giving up he strained even harder.


The pain clattered through her head but Agnes cleared her mind of all thoughts except the most important one.

His feet were the first to go. He looked down, horrified, as his already transparent legs began to disappear completely. But he kept repeating that He didn’t stop shouting even as his fingers began to dissipate. The pain didn’t stop in Agnes’ head but she was nearly there. So nearly there.

“Downstairs! There’s someone downstairs!”

Then he was gone. And the bedroom door opened.


Hello there,

So, hope you enjoyed that. I wanted to do a "THE CALL IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE" story, and this became it. Only without a phone. Those really scared me when I was younger. I'm not familiar with too many novels with that twist, but the best film examples, of course, are When A Stranger Calls and Black Christmas. The originals. Not the gutless remakes. Anyway, it's also got a bit of The Frighteners and all those Stephen King stories that end with something terrible gurgling with laughter as it pushes the door open....There are quite a few of those. They are awesome, I am in no way disparaging them.

But yes, this is basically another "bit of fun" story. Which is fine, but I imagine that you want a bit of variety, and I would like to keep things fresh. Well, fairly fresh. So what I think I might do is, instead of trying to post a story every week, have alternating story and blog posts. The blog would be that writing about writing we talked about. How does that sound? Hopefully it'll mean that I actually come up with something a bit different for you.

Once again, I am useless at coming up with names so Agnes is from the song "Agnes" by Nat Johnson and The Figureheads. Nat Johnson is great, she used to be the front-person for the lovely Sheffield band Monkey Swallows the Universe. Check them out. Also check out her song "Dirty Rotten Soul", which makes a Volvo a romantic car. The title for the story is a line from Hal Hartley's amazing film Amateur, where nun-turned-porn-writer Isabelle Huppert complains about her body type. If you know me, you know that I will go on about Hal Hartley. He's a great filmmaker whose failings I can now acknowledge, but I still love him. Amateur isn't available on Region 2, but Trust, Henry Fool, and The Unbelievable Truth are fantastic. But his films are in no way similar to this story.

The project I'm working on Benjamin Elias Sheppard (he updated his blog!) continues. If I can write better it'd be going better. I'm still unemployed which isn't fun, plus I'm also flat-hunting, but I am trying not to let this affect my work. I'm also pondering e-publishing The Novel That Nobody Wanted, but that's just a faint blink of an idea. I've got no idea how to go about it. And if anyone would want The Novel That Nobody Wanted. It's not actually called that, I'm just a bitter man.

Anyway, hope you liked the story. I'm going to make a cup of tea.


  1. There's a maniac in the back of the car! We should have an Urban Legends marathon some time. I'm pretty sure it'd count as martyrdom (I'm working on getting you a sainthood).

    How was the cup of tea?

  2. Damn you read that fast, Ben!
    Tea was lovely, thank you. Those are not good movies, only bit worth watching is the brilliant Brad Dourif scene at the start. "THERE'S SOMEONE IN THE BACK SEAT!!!!"

  3. Creepypasta and other internet faux-real horror fiction often plays on the 'Call Coming From Inside The House'/'Switch Bitch' twist, e.g. the very amusing,


    Daddy, I had a bad dream."

    You blink your eyes and pull up on your elbows. Your clock glows red in the darkness—it's 3:23. "Do you want to climb into bed and tell me about it?"

    "No, Daddy."

    The oddness of the situation wakes you up more fully. You can barely make out your daughter's pale form in the darkness of your room. "Why not sweetie?"

    "Because in my dream, when I told you about the dream, the thing wearing Mommy's skin sat up."


    Anyway, nice story - hope you're well!

  4. Cheers Jon! That is a great example, don't think the ones I was ever told as a boy ever extended to skin-wearing. It was always the serial killer in the attic, and, of course, The Monkey's Paw. How are you?

  5. I'm good, thanks! In London. Doing things. As you do.

    Additionally, as someone who's currently setting up an e-publishing website, I heartily and self-destructively recommend you keep battling wearily on with your novel with 'real' agents before describing it as Unwanted.

  6. Hmmm...I sent it out to everyone I could find who would even consider taking horror/dark fantasy (hate that term) and pretty much got a lot of nice emails saying that it was not a terrible novel and it was almost quite good in places and they liked such and such but after consideration it was not what they were looking for. Which is fair. I think its commercial prospects are slim-to-none.
    Also in London, not doing things currently. As you do.

  7. I thought it was about vampires? Vampires don't have commercial prospects all of a sudden? Ah, the buggers.

  8. I know, right? Well, it was a novel with vampires in it, but they were secondary, actually no, tertiary characters. Next book is all about the monsters. Maybe that'll be more popular.

  9. Though, of course, I'd have to actually write it.