v. a short guide to the afterlife

They're judging my flat, I know they are. Or they're judging my lounge room, at least. That's where we're sitting, awkwardly.

Swimming-pool-blue and bistre-Bambi-longlashes sweep over the room: a black glass TV stand housing a television I rarely turn on (my laptop functions as my television; only ABC shows the shows I'm really addicted to -- mostly British panel shows, and then six months after they air in the UK), a pink Sony PlayStation and a black Wii, the two slender shelves underneath them housing a plethora of DVDs and CDs. A La-Z-Boy leather lounge set in a reasonably inoffensive mushroom colour, the loveseat home to a lurid purple circular throw-cushion with a smiley face on one side, and a cross face on the other. Two bookshelves in silver and black got for a song from Fantastic Furniture, filled with silly tchotchkes and books. (To be honest, if my lounge room has a theme going on at all, it would be "tchotchkes and books".) On the glossy black painted coffee table with a bistre tile inset, the latest few editions of Frankie and Australian Sky and Telescope, and (because sometimes I let myself be a really, really pretentious hipster who spends a ridiculous amount of money on fripperies, Lula), and a dragon egg' I've made from thumbtacks, a foam egg-shape, and my favourite nail varnish. Across the room, a small white two-drawered cabinet that was meant to store documents and files, according to the instruction manual, but which I use instead to store my many pairs of different coloured knockoff Chucks. On top of it, an astoundingly, fantastically tacky plastic dome-shaped clock, gold with moving parts. Beside the clock, a set of matryoshka dolls with rosy cheeks and blonde hair. In front of them, a long rectangular wooden incense holder, the vents to let the incense escape in diamond formation around the lid.

It's ridiculous, and rather random, but I like it. Even the silly mushroom-coloured couches we're seated on.

Teddy and Llew keep looking at things, the ridiculous knicknacks (a whole set of Hello Kitty plastic figures I'd gotten from Hungry Jack's recently next to the telly), the books (classics and literature, mostly, as well as a stack of handmade zines I'd procured over the years), the stained-glass cardinal bird windchimes hanging by the door to the patio.

I want to blurt out "What?" defensively, but they haven't really said or done anything yet.

Yeah, but they will. Just you wait. Just wait.

"What's this?" Teddy asks. He's pointing to the dragon egg, which I have sitting in a basket, on top of a nest woven out of dark pink rattan. When I wove it, my fingers were a startling suburnt colour for a good couple of days, which amused me to no end.

"It's a dragon egg," I say. "I made it."

"You made it?" Teddy asks. "It looks awesome. Can I pick it up?"

"Um -- sure, I guess. It's not fragile." Fragility isn't the problem, here -- how do ghosts pick things up?

But, sure enough, Teddy picks it up very gently, and turns it over and over, running his fingers carefully over its faux-scaled surface in curiosity. It doesn't fall through his hands.

"Would...that be floating?" I ask, and he blinks at me with his Bambi eyes in confusion. Try and be more obtuse, Winter, I dare you. Idiot. "I mean, if someone else was in here with us, someone who couldn't see you, would it appear to be floating to them?"

"Probably," Llew pipes up. He's sitting sprawled on the love seat, and seems to have taken an amusing liking to my smiley-cross cushion. "We tried doing some stuff at your gig with the security goons. You know, one braincell between the lot of them."

"Stuff?" I raise an eyebrow. "Stuff like what? I didn't notice any stuff."

He chuckles. "To be fair, if a nuclear bomb had gone off outside the Pavilion I don't think you'd have noticed."

"I like my music, and Yuzovka Hearts are my favourite band," I snap back, defensively. "I waited months and months for them to come back down to Australia, I wasn't gonna be paying any attention to the frickin' security guards."

"All right, feistypants, take a chill pill. I like my music too, y'know."

"Llew kept pulling out the ear piece of one of them." Teddy looks slightly irritated. Llew's grin is positively diabolical. "The bloke kept getting more and more annoyed."

"I was pretty sure he was going to call for backup," Llew snickers, the picture of mischief. "I wanted to see that, actually. Help help, my ear thing won't stay in, charlie uncle november tango one one calling for backup'. Knowing that lot, it might have actually happened."

I remember the way the security guards stood between the barrier and the stage glaring out at the concert-goers as if any of us gave even the most vague amount of shits that they were there, and have to smile at that. He's right; it probably would have happened.

"It's 'uniform', not 'uncle'," Teddy says. Llew waves a careless hand.

"Same difference. Dude was still an idiot."

"Really mature," Teddy sighs.

"What?" Llew asks, indignantly. "I'm so sorry for having fun with Neanderthal man. I'm dead, how the hell else am I supposed to get my kicks? I don't sleep, I don't breathe, I can only touch one person, or at least I think I can, everyone else walks through me if I don't keep moving--"

"Wait, wait," I cut into his tirade with a wave of my own hands. "You don't sleep?"

"Nope. Neither of us can sleep. We haven't slept since we died."

I blink at the both of them, Llew sprawled on the love seat and Teddy on the recliner, nervously rolling the dragon's egg about in his hands, not looking up. "But...then...what did you do last night?"

"Watched you sleep," Llew replies, with a leer. I'm gradually growing immune to his ribbing; I respond with a glare. "Sat. Talked about stuff. Talked about being dead, mostly. You were out like a light."

"We tried to keep quiet," Teddy adds, and puts the dragon egg back into its pink rattan nest with an odd delicacy of movement that creates a tiny stillness inside me. "It didn't look like we disturbed you, but..."

"You didn't," I say, and that's the truth. I didn't hear anything until four, when my phone blared Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child o' Mine" at me in the most obnoxious alarm I can recall setting for myself lately. "So. No sleeping. No tiredness?"

"Nope." Llew shrugs. "Guess that's a living people thing. Not for ghosts."

"You said you didn't breathe, either."

"Not really," Teddy replies. Discomfort is rolling off him in waves; he doesn't like talking about this. "I think...I mean, we speak, so we must perform some kind of function that draws in air or whatever, but we timed each other holding our breath last night."

"The longest time we got was fifteen minutes," Llew says. "Then it just got boring and fucking redundant. Again, guess breathing's for the living. Not a necessity for ghosts."

I go through his long list of complaints in my head again. "And you can't touch people."

"No one except you," Teddy murmurs.

"But -- before, when we were running through the airport and getting on and off the train, and all that. I don't know if you noticed, but people go around you. Like they can sense you, even if they can't see you."

"I did notice," Teddy says, but shakes his head. "I don't know why that happens, really. We've...we've only been ghosts for twenty-four hours, now. We don't have all of the answers, yet."

Of course. This must be as new to them as it is to me. It's a wonder, really, that they aren't losing their minds. Teddy's discomfort would probably be much greater than it looks on the surface, and Llew's sarcasm and obnoxious quips probably keep him from screaming. (There again, who knows? Maybe he's just a sarcastic git all the time.)

I giggle, suddenly. Llew's onto me like a hawk, one eyebrow raised.

"What's so funny?"

"Just, this. Us. Not you being dead, I mean, that's not funny at all, but, like...you're ghosts, you're stuck going where I'm going, I'm the only person you can touch, none of us know why, and I don't even know your full names." The giggles turn into full-on laughter; I wonder if I'm the one losing my mind, now. It wouldn't surprise me. "When I first saw you, I just called you Blue Eyes and Bambi."

"Bambi?" Llew looks stunned. "What, for real?"

"Well...yeah. I know it's silly. But, because of those eyes, you know."

Llew bursts into laughter himself. "I call him Bambi! I was the only one who ever did!"

"I wish you wouldn't," Teddy mutters, a tell-tale splash of pink on his cheeks making him look even prettier than usual.

"And you hadn't heard me call him that?!"

"Um, no. You called him lots of things when you belted him up at the airport, but none of them were pet names." I pause. "Or repeatable, to be really honest."

"That's fuckin' hilarious," Llew states, still laughing. "Oh man, Teddy. I'm not the only one, any more. All we both had to do was die to prove it."

Again, Teddy is uncomfortable, but also extremely embarrassed on top of it.

"Your...Alex...calls you Snowbell!"

"My Alex'!" I start laughing again, but I'm also turning red myself. "Yeah, well...yeah, he does, but so do a few other people I'm close to. And oh God I wish they wouldn't."

"I don't know exactly what he -- Alex -- is to you, so, um...was to you...?"

"He's my ex-boyfriend. Closest friend, now, I guess."

"Knew it!" Llew, of course. "Snooooowbell."

"Shut your face," I zap back, but I'm not as embarrassed as I might be. I wonder why that is?

"Sounds like a great name for a poodle or a chihuahua."

"For god's sake, Llew-Llew, will you not leave her be for five seconds?"

"Llew-Llew?!" It's my turn to crow, and Llew looks like he wants to crawl under the carpet and murder Teddy at the same time. Not that that would be possible, of course. "Llew-Llew!"

"Yes, Snowbell, what is it?" Llew is looking daggers at me, but I just giggle. Teddy looks a little shamefaced.

"...sorry, Llew, I just...whups."

Llew gives us both a haughty look. "Llew is Welsh for lion, I'll have you know."

"I didn't know that," I say, but I'm still giggling. The look on Teddy's face tells me that for him, this is old, oft-repeated knowledge.

"Dydych chi ddim yn gwybod unrhyw beth," Llew replies. I don't know any Welsh, but the vowel-laden phrase is probably him telling me I was being a pain in the arse, judging by what he told me about himself last night. I hold my hands up placatingly, stopping my giggles but unable to hide my smile.

"Hello, I'm Winter Tora Brennan. Nice to meet you."

The blades disappear from Llew's eyes, and Teddy smiles back at me brightly.

"I'm Edward Patrick Cassidy. Just call me Teddy. Only my folks call me Edward."

Llew rolls his eyes, which doesn't surprise me, really, but adds, "Llewellyn. Don't make any smart arse jokes, I've heard em all before. Llewellyn James Evans. Just Llew is fine. Obviously. Hi."

"There we go," I say. "Now we know each other."

"Well, we know each other's names." Llew, ever the shit-stirrer.

"Yeah, but that's enough to start from, isn't it?" Teddy asks.

Oddly enough, it seems to be.

go to chapter: i. wintering | ii. cast away your troubles | iii. hallucinoghosts | iv. planespotting | v. a short guide to the afterlife | vi. rules of engagement | vii. thin ice
side-stories: let's get high

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