For my latest artist collaboration, I got to work with the incredibly talented Sian Ellis. Her quirky and cute illustrations instantly make me smile and her art has such a wonderful whimsy to them but with a dark edge or twist which I am immediately drawn to. As with the other collaborations, I created a short story inspired by her style of art and body of work and I tried to encapsulate the fun side of darkness her images portray so well. She in turn created the incredible image below & I will 100% be buying a copy of this print from her & putting it on my wall because how could I not? You can check out more of Sian’s work here.
Here’s to a sucky afterlife
Being dead sucks. You are stuck haunting the same small patch of earth, potentially for all eternity, trapped by the emotional and psychological ties that bind you there. You have to watch the living day in day out, come and go around you taking their life, their beautiful, wonderful life, for granted. You watch them worry about all the wrong things and waste their time on nonsense, letting the truly important and arresting moments pass with the blink of their blind, selfish eyes. It is unendurably frustrating and if I had hair, I would surely pull it out. But the worst part of all, is being stuck, forever in the same clothes you died in. For me, that’s a pair of Halloween themed pyjamas covered in little black bats. It’s humiliating and the other ghosts never let me forget it. How was I to know these would be the last items of clothing I would ever wear? If I had known, then I would have slept in a ball gown.
But let’s face it, if I had known I wouldn’t have went to bed at all while my broken fireplace slowly and silently filled my little terrace house with poisonous gas. I would have got it serviced at some point instead of endlessly procrastinating. I would have opened a god damned window, but as they say, hindsight is 20/20. It could be worse, I could have been a smoker. An eternity black and charred like some sausage left too long under the grill.
Death brings so much clarity alongside so many unanswerable questions. I see now, when I look back on my rather ordinary life, just how precious it was. How important every single second of it was, even the moments that made me cry or broke my heart. I see how I took it for granted, assuming I would have years, decades to see the things I wanted to see or visit the places I wanted to visit but alas, life or in this case death, had other plans.
But that painful realisation is nothing compared to the questions that eat away at me day in, day out. Why am I still here? Is this it or is there something beyond this? And if there is, how in the name of all that is good do I get there? I want to move on, I really do but it’s hard to make that journey if you’re not sure what is anchoring you to your current mooring. I’m trapped.
I know there is somewhere else that people go otherwise my little stretch of afterlife would be a hell of a lot more overcrowded. As it stands, the strip of houses on my block have only six ghosts including me. Six souls since the beginning of man. There is Bock, the oldest of us, here since the time when the wheel was the latest invention. At least I think his name is Bock, I don’t really understand his grunts and hand signals but he says Bock a lot so Bock is what I have christened him.
There is Peter, a poor Victorian boy who never made it past the age of twelve thanks to consumption. He died in the street outside my red brick house seeking shelter in the door way.
Then there is a portly woman called Edith who fell from stairs I myself trod so many times, her black cat the assassin in the night getting under her feet. Her neck is at an odd angle and her voice is cracked and garbled as she speaks. After 30 years, it still grosses me out.
Next came Jenny, an elderly woman who died in a chair in what was once my neighbour’s living room, the one to live the longest of us all reaching the ripe old age of 80.
After Jenny came Starlight. Not her real name is course but one she chose during the summer of love in a decade of revolution and music. She overdosed in the bath tub of the house two doors up at 28 years old. With her matted, braided hair, head band, tie dyed shirt and mini skirt she is every inch the hippy dippy stereotype. I’m determined to one day know her true name. I bet it’s something intolerably dull like Mildred or Janine.
Finally, of course, there’s me. A 23 year old woman who in 1994 died in her sleep in a pair of novelty pyjamas her mother had got her for Christmas three months prior. A girl with dreams and ambitions alongside a dozen excuses. A girl with regrets.
So where are the rest? Where are the other people whose lives passed at this particular intersection of worlds? Maybe they’re in heaven, or Hell if that is more their speed. Perhaps they were reborn anew, another child crying under the slap of a Doctor or maybe a kitten born in a cardboard box, the memories of their former lives, their former selves now gone to dust along with their former bodies. I would be happy to come back as a dung beetle at this stage. But I’m still here. Stuck with my regrets. Trapped in the same row of four small houses alongside five other lost souls, dragging regrets of their own. God my afterlife is crap.
We have our little amusements of course. Habits and hobbies we have developed over the years to help pass the time. There’s the glory that is Television, our small window to the outside world and thanks to the varied residents of these four houses, there’s something for all of us. There are two small boys living in number 2 at the end of the row whose thirst for cartoon violence greatly satisfies Peter and staves off his boredom many an hour.
The elderly gentleman who lives at the opposite end prefers documentaries and antiques roadshow much to the pleasure of Jenny and Bock. Bock is a big fan of nature documentaries, particularly those hosted by David Attenborough. I have no idea if he can understand him, but he certainly listens, a captive audience at every opportunity.
Edith despite appearances is a sports nut and is usually found in the living room of number 4 where the current resident, a young man called Alan, watches everything from golf to football, rugby to cricket, snooker to basketball. If there’s a ball involved, he watches it.
Starlight is a soap addict so Alan’s wife in number 4 provides her regular entertainment. Both women sit beside one another on the wide bed, mouths agape, shocked sighs when characters reveal their diseases or affairs.
Me? I like the news so I have plenty of options with most residents watching at least the evening edition, but I prefer the company of Mr Paul Jennings and his husband Jack in number 6. They watch the news every morning and evening and in between, listen to music. They have a particular love of 80s rock so their home makes me feel a connection, however tennuous, to my childhood, to the life that was.
They also love old Hollywood movies, the black and white films I used to watch with my mother as a child, a woman in love with Cary Grant and James Stewart, who admired Hepburn and Monroe. Those films, which Paul and jack always watch hand in hand, sitting close together on the large leather sofa, these films remind me of her, of my mother. I wonder often where she is, whether she has moved on to somewhere better or whether she too is trapped where she perished, eternity in a hospice where cancer took her from this world far too young. I hope it’s the former.
We also amuse ourselves by messing with the living. You know when you put something somewhere safe only to find it moved when you go to retrieve it? That feeling that you’re losing your mind? That’s us ghosts. Or when your bulbs and appliances fail at the most inconvenient moments, a boiler breaking just as you go to draw a bath or a television failing as a potential game winning goal is kicked…us!! That blur on your peripheral vision, that feeling of being watched? Us of course. Nothing gives us more pleasure than hearing your frustrated yells and for you to ask us, speaking directly, who is there? Those small moments so insignificant to you are the only times we feel, however momentarily, alive once more.
My favourite game is hide the keys. I love nothing more than to see the residents rushing around in frantic panic, late for work or a dental appointment or a movie. It never ceases to make me giggle. Cruel I know, but we have to pass the time somehow and this seems like as good a way as any.
I’ve grown attached to my weird little family over the years. An eclectic bunch to say the least but we all look out for each other as best we can, each of us seeking the answers to our own untenable questions. In the interim, I guess we are stuck here with you lot. Speaking of which, have you seen your keys lately?