Sunday, 6 January 2013

She Wore Stripes

She hadn’t been dead long. That’s important. And she hadn’t made a mess of herself. A bit of blood around the nose, easy enough to wipe off. Some hot water and a wad of toilet paper would take care of that. And she was dressed all in stripes, looking a bit like Beetlejuice’s teenage sister, especially now that she’d snuffed it. I’d been wearing a dress a bit like that when I went. I got hit by a lorry, though, so those white stripes turned red very quickly. Ha.

For any ghost attempting possession of a corpse, it’s important that the body hasn’t been dead for very long. It’s important because being in a corpse as it goes through rigor mortis is about as much fun as dying. And once you’ve done either once you don’t really want to do it again. You’ve only got about three hours before it becomes noticeable. I can tell you that it’s difficult to explain to the dead person’s friend why your arm isn’t bending any more. Best to know your limits. And if you do hang around for rigor mortis, the livor mortis has already begun. Blood pooling in places. Not good. So yeah, unless you want to tell a barman why you can’t move as you feel yourself becoming a soggy sausage skin full of…keep an eye on the time.

My name’s Elsie and if you’re wondering if I just hang around waiting to people to die so I can walk around in their bodies, you’re not far off the truth. I mean, yes, you can possess the living but that takes weeks, sometimes months, of preparation and frankly it’s very rarely worth the hassle. The dead don’t fight you; the only thing working against you is the clock.

I come to The Worker’s Hearth quite often. It’s open late and you quite often find people stopping off for a last drink at three in the morning on their stumble home. Every now and then one of them dies and I walk them home instead. But I’d come along early tonight and I was glad I did. This girl, the one in stripes, had popped in with her friends for a round of cheap shots on the way into town and had gone, alone, to the loos for a pee and a snort. After thirty years as a ghost you start notice when people’s bodies are struggling to cope and this girl had all the warning signs. So I floated off after her.

Sure enough, as soon as she’d got it up her nose the bleeding started and her little heart fluttered and gave out. Her face hit the tiles and I got to work.

There’s not really an art to this. It’s pretty simple. The person dies. Their spirit leaves the body like a reflex. And in you pop. The best way to describe it is like climbing into a wetsuit. You’ve got to wiggle your way all the way down the arms and legs, make sure your fingers and toes are in properly. If you do it right you’ve got total control of the body in terms of movement, vocal chords and so forth. You can walk, talk, smile. Sadly, you don’t have any say over the body’s decomposition. You’ve got about an hour, maybe two before people start to notice that you look and smell terrible.

A word of advice. Always take the time to clean yourself up. People tend to notice if there’s a dreadful stink of shit coming from you, or worse, there might be a wound that you haven’t noticed. Claiming to be drunk will only get you so far if you haven’t spotted that the back of your head is open and dripping.

So, I cleaned the blood from her nose and got the arms and legs moving. No stiffness yet, everything seemed to be working as normal. And she hadn’t shat herself, which was a relief. Obviously, sometimes you have to clean up but when you don’t have a lot of time you don’t want to waste it in the stalls. I gave her face a bit of a touch-up with the make-up kit in her bag. Her being a bit of a druggie was a relief; her friends would be used to seeing her pale. The outfit wasn’t too bad. A damp patch from the floor but I could always blame that on busted taps; in a place like this the girls downstairs would believe it.

I went back downstairs, going carefully to get the hang of her pins. The people at the table looked happy to see me. I was accused of taking my sweet time, to which I answered that I’d had too much to drink. They called me Tania, which I made a note of. Then I downed my pint, left the pub, and got into a taxi with them. On the way there I didn’t say a lot. I tried to focus on the little things. Feeling fabric against Tania’s skin. The air from the open window on Tania’s face, rushing through Tania’s hair. The after-taste of watered-down lager on Tania’s tongue. These things make Elsie happy. Before I knew it we’d arrived at the club.

I don’t really know the best way to describe trying to dance with limbs that don’t have blood pumping through them anymore. You know the Thriller video? It’s fuck all like that. There’s much less coordination. You just try to move your limbs as much as possible, really. I think maybe it helps postpone the stiffness but I have no idea. It’s just nice to have the feeling that the body you’re in is responding to instructions. I’ve tried haunting an aerobics class but anyone who’s going to snuff it at the gym tends to so fairly publicly, everyone hovering around them. You want people to go privately.

I noticed a couple of guys checking me out and quickly discouraged them, sticking to the group of friends this girl had found for herself. I’m not stupid enough to attempt intercourse while inhabiting a corpse. That would be horrible and incredibly ill-advised. Well, I tried it once. Once. After six years of being dead I finally had to give it a try. It was as disastrous and disgusting as you’d assume, and we’ll say no more about it. There were…fluids. Jesus, I’m shuddering just thinking about it.

I’d kept an eye on the time and it was approaching midnight. Time to get going, but I still had a couple of minutes to think about it. How did I want people to find Tania? She had friends with her, most of them seemed nice. A girl called Sarah seemed to be closest to her, a slightly chubby freckly red-head who had asked if I was alright and had tried to make me laugh. She’d stayed on the dance floor with me and shown a similar disregard for people trying to dance with her. I wondered if they were together. However, I wasn’t going to find out. I could feel the changes starting to happen and I didn’t want to freak her out unnecessarily.

Now, when it comes to getting rid of your body you can go for the alley-drop but that always struck me as a bit cruel on the survivors. I didn’t really want Sarah feeling guilty because she’d let her drunk best friend wander off to expire alone in a dirty alley. So I considered the “I just died in your arms tonight” approach. She’d always remember that. She could call an ambulance. That would make her feel better, if she’d been proactive. She could tell herself that she’d tried to help. I went for it.

I stuck around in the body long enough to give the illusion that Tania was dying in Sarah’s panicking arms, a bit of light convulsing, eyelids fluttering, some shallow breathing . Once people starting yelling I left. You don’t want to hang around all that. That’s none of your business; it’s nothing to do with you. Best left alone. So off I went.

You probably think all of this is wrong. Maybe you think it’s immoral, that I’ll burn in hell for it. Well I’m not there yet. And when you’ve been stranded in spectral form for thirty years you can talk to me about it.


Hello there. I hope you enjoyed this one. I was worried at first that the voice was a little to similar to Eliza in Witch's Bile but I think Elsie's more disaffected than malicious. Anyway, she was a lot of fun to write and I have a plan for a second story with her where something actually happens, as opposed to this, which I think is just her normal Friday night.

Not sure which story will be next but it will be another week or two. The title from this story came from @merazad and I'm very grateful!


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