B-Sides: A Beginner’s Guide to Haunting

 
For the next few weeks I will be posting microfic and writing experiments that in most cases never saw the light of day, usually for good reason. I’m calling these ‘B-Sides’, and they’re possibly of interest only to hardcore roffwrites fans (n == at least 2).

Looking through these snippets again with fresh eyes, I see imperfection. There is a reason most of these pieces did not become fully realised, polished stories. They don’t represent the best writing I’m capable of. For that reason I’ve hesitated sharing them — will a publisher read these and conclude I’m a hack? But fellow writers might be interested from a process perspective. Why didn’t these things quite work? And amid the imperfection, there are lines that still make me smile, that make me remember what I was trying for, even if I didn’t fully succeed.

So without further ado, here is the first B-Side, a microfic in which (IMO) a good concept is slightly let down by the narrative voice, the weak ending, and the ‘tell-ish’ exposition. Oh, and the best line in it is lifted from Keats…

A Beginner’s Guide to Haunting

When you die, you’re taken to a large dim room like an old community hall, and told to wait until the next induction. There’s heaps of other people lingering, and nobody has any idea what’s going on, except that some people remember the moment when their bodies failed. There is much bewilderment. Some low-level panic. But it’s clear that there’s a system, so most people just wait to see what’s what. Humaniform beings in blue polo shirts circulate with clipboards. They form everyone into three queues. All things considered it’s more tedious than scary, and that pretty much sums up what being dead is like.

After the induction, where they explain just enough to placate you without answering any of your really urgent metaphysical questions, you get your first job. I was assigned a quiet suburban street in Adelaide. I’m from Gosford and had never been to South Australia, but it’s a nice street with jacaranda trees.  Because I’m new, I’m only expected to do basic stuff like knocking over rubbish bins, setting dogs to barking, and flinging gates open and shut. You do ten hours of that and then you return to the spectral plane, to generally chill out until your next shift.

I’d have preferred to wander around. Try out a couple of other dimensions. Walk through some walls and see what celebrities get up to. As a geist you have the power to do just about whatever, but you’re not allowed to do anything fun. There’s a code of conduct, and if you break the rules, you’re demoted. My supervisor, a beige middle-monster with a perpetually harried expression, always says, “You don’t want to spend the rest of eternity haunting a Centrelink office, do you?”

What I want most of all is to visit Liliana. I don’t remember the exact moment of my death, but I recall stiff sheets and disinfectant smell, and those stupid curtains. And Lil smiling through tears, all health and quiet breathing.

They don’t let you haunt anyone you knew in life. It’s a conflict of interest. If someone you used to love needs a haunting, they’ll dress up a substitute, feed them a few lines. If Lil’s getting visits from a geist pretending to be me, I hope that at least they’re not too hammy.

Trying to catch a glimpse of her, or worse, trying to communicate, would be a serious code violation. That sort of thing could see me working a sewer in Victorian London, or an abattoir in Texas. Repeat offenders get stripped of their powers, even their faculties. After a while, all they can do is shift about and moan.

Still. To know she’s doing alright—the anxious part of me could rest. And if rule-breaking means working a shit job for a millennium or two, well, I’ve worked shit jobs before.

There’s no time like the present. When you’re dead, that’s still true, but in a different way. Tonight, I think I’ll swing by our old place on my way home from work.

“Ceremonial Ghost Mask” is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0