Don't Fade Away: A Ghost Story
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For Elle, haunting a share house comes with a unique set of challenges. Living tenants come and go, leaving her with nothing to fill her days except a crush on longstanding housemate, Dean, who literally doesn’t know she exists. Talk about unrequited love.
Just as she despairs at being stuck halfway to the other side for the rest of her afterlife, the newest resident sparks hope for something more than the humdrum of everyday death.
As far as mediums go, Ethan barely knows he is one. He just wants a place to knuckle down and finish his medical degree. But as soon as he moves in, he senses a presence. He tries to ignore it – but Elle is insistent…
The more Ethan uncovers about Elle, the more he suspects her death was no accident. Can he help her move on, or will greater forces intervene?
Don’t Fade Away is a spooky contemporary ghost story with a few scares and a lot of heart!
Release date: January 1, 2023
Print pages: 319
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Don't Fade Away: A Ghost Story
It really was such an undignified way to die.
In fact, if there was anyone she could actually talk to, she would probably be too embarrassed to tell them.
Hi. My name’s Elle, and I’m so clumsy I managed to kill myself.
Not that she remembered what happened. Not really—just the end result. Her crumpled form lying at the bottom of the goddamned stairs.
She sat on that bottom step quite often these days, pondering her fate. Or sulking, as someone else might have called it, that is, if someone else could see her.
She wondered if all ghosts were like her, constantly drawn to the very spot they met their demise. The fact that the step remained solid beneath her was also a plus. Unfortunately, she couldn’t say the same about the couch to her left in the outdated lounge room. At least not the one there these days.
The trusty old couch she and Amelia rescued from the side of the road when they first started university was long gone. Not that Amelia took it with her when she moved out after Elle died. No, she left so quickly that she hardly took any of the cheap furniture or knick-knacks they accumulated during their student days.
The poor old couch survived a couple of subsequent tenants before Michelle? Melissa? consigned the good old ‘solid’ couch back to the side of the road. Of course, the horrible pea green thing she replaced it with was also long gone along with… Melissa? Yes, it had been Melissa.
Elle actually quite liked the bright red leather couch that now took pride of place in the lounge room. It was just a pity she couldn’t sit on it. It looked comfy even if it did clash horribly with the kitsch wallpaper and yellow bottle glass in the entry hall in front of the staircase.
The red couch arrived along with Dean two years ago, and Elle hadn’t missed Melissa or her ugly green couch for long. Not for the couch’s sake, since she quickly discovered that trying to ‘sit’ on any new furniture resulted in her butt making contact with the ground, but because Melissa spent a lot of time with her own butt on that couch watching television. And while Elle could quite comfortably watch from the bottom step, she hadn’t always appreciated her former housemate’s taste in crime shows with their plethora of dead bodies.
Entertainment options were hard to come by when you were dead, but as it turned out, Dean managed to put his couch to much better use on a fairly regular basis. While it may have felt a tad voyeuristic to start with, Elle quickly got over her prudishness once she realized watching Dean make his own entertainment with his frequent guests, was a hell of a lot more interesting than CSI reruns.
What could she say? This was still her house—was she supposed to leave the room? It’s not like she followed them into his bedroom (okay, she may have followed them into his bedroom once or twice) but come on, what’s a ghost to do with so much spare time?
Over the past four years, many people had moved in and, before long, out of the house. Dean was the only tenant of the admittedly dated seventies split story who bothered to stick around for longer than a year. One guy lasted all of three weeks. Sometimes Elle wondered if it was her. Not that she got up to any spooky hi-jinks, she was more of a watch from the shadows type of ghost.
When it came down to it, haunting a share house proved far less glamorous than haunting one’s ancestral family home. But it’s not like she had any say in the matter. Or an ancestral home to haunt.
When she shuffled off her mortal coil, there hadn’t been a light she didn’t go into, nor any familiar faces waiting to guide her to the other side. Not even a strange disembodied voice. Just a very confused ghost at the bottom of the stairs. And Amelia, crying over the loss of her friend.
She remembered Amelia crying a lot in the beginning. But she didn’t like to think about that. If she were still alive, she’d say focusing on her death—her past—gave her a headache. Now, though, it made her feel…fuzzy, dazed, like trying to focus after waking up in a strange place. Except her mind never cleared, and the more she tried to remember, the worse it got.
Sometimes she wondered if that block was why she was still here. If she could remember her death, would she become so fuzzy she’d just fade away?
It had happened before—it just never stuck. Sometimes long periods went by when she wasn’t really there anymore. But sooner or later, she came to again, usually on the bottom step or lying on her bed staring up at the ceiling. The bed was still her old one, thankfully. Although she had found herself sharing it with a parade of students and nurses over the years, those who did their time in the house before moving on to wherever it was living people moved on to.
It was a good bed. The only new piece of furniture she could afford when she moved into the house a year into her nursing degree. At times she worried someone would replace the mattress, and she’d sink straight through and end up lying on the slats in the midst of someone else’s brand-new mattress. She’d made an unwritten deal with herself that if it came down to such an undignified circumstance, there was truly nothing left for her in this world, and she’d move on. Or try to. That is, if she could just work out how, she would try to…
Ghosts didn’t need to sleep, but Elle drifted off sometimes while lying in her bed. Not to sleep, of course, more like into the ether. It felt a little like falling asleep, unlike when she got fuzzy, which was more akin to passing out.
At times, it scared her, but other times it came as a welcome relief. She had no reason to still be here, but it felt like the alternative was…well, nothing.
It was quite the letdown after an entire lifetime (albeit a short one) of wondering what mysteries lay beyond the great unknown. The answer to the burning question of what happened after you died, so far, for Elle, was in fact, a long stream of tedious boredom broken up only by these occasional episodes of nothingness.
What if she fell into one of her fuzzy states and never ‘woke up’ again? Would she make it to the other side, or would she just be gone?
It wouldn’t be so bad if she could leave the house, but apparently everything beyond the front porch was out of bounds for ghosts. Or at least for her ghost. Most of the time she couldn’t even see out of the windows properly. The glass appeared foggy or frosted over like a bathroom window. Not all the time, though, just when she was feeling a little…fuzzy.
Still, it could be worse. It’s not like she was suffering endless torment in the depths of hell. Not that she would have expected to. She thought she'd been a good person, always wanting to help others. That’s why she became a nurse.
The only good thing about haunting a share house was that something interesting was usually happening with at least one of her housemates, although lately things were quiet. Dean had been on his own for a while now. The two girls he’d shared with for the past year both moved out within the span of a couple of months with little notice.
One was a country girl who, once she got a taste of city life, transformed into a party animal. To no one's surprise, her new lifestyle had an unfortunate effect on her grades. After failing two of her courses last semester, she’d dropped out and moved back to the family farm. Elle doubted much partying went on there, but as mummy and daddy were paying the rent, she had little choice once they worked out what she was spending their money on rather than textbooks.
Hailey had been the sweet and innocent type. Unfortunately, she also turned out to be a hopeless romantic who bought into the idea that the good girl could tame the player in the end, and it wasn’t long before she set her sights on Dean.
Once the country girl moved out, she’d seized the moment. Dean was up for it, at least for the first couples of weeks, and they barely left the bedroom. But after another couple of weeks of bickering, recriminations and tears she was out the door. Elle didn’t know whether she ended up running back to mummy and daddy as well, but she wasn’t too disappointed to see the back of Hailey.
It was frustrating enough to watch Dean with the normal parade of girls he had no trouble picking up every weekend, but someone who might have been serious? Well, maybe that would have been enough to tip Elle over to the other side. Who knows? Judging from Dean’s quick resumption of his previous weekend activities, it wasn’t something she needed to worry about anytime soon.
He might not be able to see her, or even be aware of her existence, but as long as Dean remained single, Elle liked to fancy herself the woman in his life. He just didn’t know it. Talk about unrequited love.
Having Dean to herself, however, grew old quicker than she expected. Watching someone surf the net (mostly for porn), try to take the perfect selfie, and do their laundry, proved a hell of a lot less interesting when they didn’t have someone else to talk to. Not to mention that he was hardly ever home. Perhaps that’s why she drifted off for so long this time.
But things were about to change. She could sense it. Someone else was in the house. She could always distinguish a new housemate from a visitor. It’s like the air shifted slightly, and a new scent diffused throughout the entire house.
She sat up and surveyed the room. Shit! Someone else was definitely here. She’d drifted off in her bed again, and now, judging from the overlarge suitcase next to the door, it appeared the new person had chosen her room.
Elle frowned, lips tightening as she took in not only the bedroom but the whole house, her ghostly senses extending outwards.
It wasn’t really a scent (she didn’t have a working nose, for one thing), more of a sixth sense type of feeling. The one that told you whether anyone was awake when you got home in the middle of the night, or that someone had left the room right before you entered. At least that might be how a living human would describe it. As a ghost, she was pretty much all sixth sense.
Usually. Not only had this new person decided on her bedroom over the third actually vacant bedroom, but she hadn’t even noticed them move into the room in the first place.
It left her uneasy. It’s not like she thought her ghostly body stayed in the bed when she drifted off there, but surely she should have known when someone entered her room!
The suitcase was empty, the wardrobe door wide open.
At least it’s not on the bed, Elle thought as she shifted off the edge and strode to the wardrobe to take a closer look.
A man, and not a very stylish one from the look of it. Her gaze landed first on a bunch of t-shirts haphazardly stacked on a shelf, the topmost emblazoned with some comic book character she didn’t recognize. A handful of checked long-sleeved shirts in several shades of blue hung lopsidedly from bent wire coat hangers. Nothing like the muscle T’s, bold shirts and leather jackets Dean tended to wear.
Elle huffed. This was hardly the first time she’d ended up sharing her room, of course, since no one knew it was already occupied, but it always felt like an invasion, especially at the start.
On the other hand, if someone stayed in her room, they could hardly blame her if she, you know, watched them sleep and…stuff. It’s not that she got off on just being a voyeur, though. Even the most unimaginative people could still be interesting when they thought no one was watching. Sometimes at least. She’d seen some truly creative dance moves over the years.
A loud thump, followed by a string of curses, distracted Elle. She headed for the door as a much louder bang vibrated throughout the house.
“Holy shit, that’s a heavy goddamn chair!” Dean exclaimed as she made her way through the door and to the landing of the staircase. She barely repressed the shiver that always struck her when she passed through a solid object.
“Well, thanks, but I can manage the rest myself,” an unfamiliar voice replied. It sounded a touch out of breath. And like he was speaking through clenched teeth.
“Nah, it’s all right, man. You’ll pull a muscle if you try to carry too many boxes up the stairs with those skinny arms!” Dean countered with what Elle could tell, even from the top of the stairs, was a smirk, albeit a relatively good-natured one, she was sure.
Dean hardly had a mean bone in his body. Plenty of inconsiderate and downright oblivious ones, though, as she could certainly attest to.
The new guy huffed out a laugh. “Well, not all of us have time to hit the gym as often as you obviously do.” He might be trying to match Dean’s banter, but from the strained tone in his voice, he was a little out of his depth.
As Elle reached the bottom of the staircase, she got her first glimpse of the new guy, lips pursed and glaring slightly at Dean’s back as he headed out to the small rent-a-truck idling in the driveway.
Other than the sour expression, there wasn’t anything too interesting about him. He had short, somewhat floppy, light brown hair. Not floppy in a trying to be fashionable way, more of an ‘I don’t use any product’ kind of floppy. The most notable thing about him was a pair of thin-framed black glasses that didn’t suit the shape of his face.
Of course, everyone looked a little less attractive next to Dean. He was a six-foot-two gym junkie of the tall dark and handsome set. To be fair, that wasn’t Elle’s type either. Or it hadn’t been before she died. She struggled with the uneasy feeling that a guy like Dean would have looked straight through her, even when she wasn’t a ghost.
For her part, she probably would have dismissed him as exactly what he appeared to be. The girls Dean came home with were usually flashy and drunk, and Elle never saw herself as the one-night-stand type. But over the years she’d seen how kind and easygoing Dean could be, and even if he swam a little in the shallow end of the pool, it wasn't like she could have a deep and meaningful conversation with him anyway. So all in all, that felt like a moot point.
“Hey, Ethan!” Dean called from outside. “I don’t mind helping, but I’m not going to carry all your shit by myself!”
Ethan winced. He’d been busy stretching out his shoulders as he pouted at the admittedly heavy-looking leather recliner. He muttered something that sounded like ‘for fuck’s sake’ under his breath before intercepting Dean as he tried to maneuver a coffee table with a box precariously balanced on top of it through the front door.
Elle made her way further into the lounge room to get a closer look at the new guy and anything else he’d moved into the house while she was ‘sleeping.’ She darted out of the way as the box slid off the end of the coffee table and spilled its contents across the entryway. A biology textbook came to rest on the floor at her feet.
Instinctively, she reached down to pick it up, only to curse herself as her hand passed straight through. She started to straighten, feeling foolish, but came to a sudden stop when she found herself face to face with Ethan as he bent down to retrieve the book.
The annoyed expression on his face transformed to one of confusion. He faltered, fingers fumbling as he tried to grasp the book while his eyes darted around the room.
If Elle had any breath left to hold, she would have been doing so as part of her waited for his eyes to settle on her own. A yearning for recognition welled up from deep within as she watched his face for the slightest sign he could sense her right there in front of him.
The glasses really were a mistake, and not just because the shape was all wrong. No, they hid his eyes as well. They were quite startling this close. If only there were more light in the room, she might be able to tell if they were blue or green. But pretty as they were, all that concerned her right now was whether those eyes would actually see her.
No one had since the day she died. She’d reasoned to herself more than once during her loneliest nights that if ghosts were real, then psychics and ghost hunters and bloody mediums must be too, damn it! Someone had to see her eventually, didn’t they?
Intense disappointment flooded through her when, after a few more seconds of darting eyes, he gathered up the textbook and a couple of others that hadn’t made it as far and stood. He turned to Dean, leaving Elle with a view of his back.
“I told you I can do the rest myself!” he snapped, dropping the books back in the box after he righted it on the floor. He took the small coffee table from Dean and headed towards his recliner.
“No pleasing some people…” Dean grumbled as he nudged the box out of the way with a scuffed boot and walked past Elle into the adjoining kitchen.
Elle felt numb as she stared into the box, absently noting the titles of several textbooks. They were all medical ones. She recognized the one on top from her boyfriend, Adam. Or should she think of him as her ex-boyfriend? Not that they broke up, she just died. Perhaps she should refer to him as her former boyfriend. Somehow, she didn’t imagine he sat around thinking about Elle as his girlfriend anymore.
She shook her head as Dean called out from the kitchen, offering Ethan a coffee. She smiled. The man couldn’t hold a grudge to save his life. It was one of the things she loved about him. Ethan, on the other hand, appeared to have the opposite problem. As Elle turned to watch him, she saw narrowed eyes glaring in the direction of the kitchen.
Shaking her head once more, she decided to return upstairs when she noticed his eyes peering furtively around the room yet again. Huh.
She made her way to the couch instead, somehow resisting the urge to wave her arms about like a madwoman hailing a taxi. She had spent so long jumping around in front of the first few newcomers that it became downright embarrassing, even if no one else would ever know how desperate she looked.
“Ethan...” Elle said, not much louder than a whisper. Not that yelling ever made a difference in the past. She’d tried that repeatedly too.
“Coffee?” Dean called again.
Ethan frowned. A hand brushed his hair out of his eyes as he took an indecisive step toward the kitchen.
“Wait!” Elle exclaimed, desperation rising up from deep inside. The intensity left her disoriented. This guy was moving in—there would be plenty of opportunities to work out what was different about him, but at that moment, it felt like she’d lose her last chance to ever connect with another person if he left the room.
“Please wait,” she begged.
Ethan opened his mouth like he was going to make an abrupt comeback, but he paused as his eyes darted around the room one last time before taking a long deep breath.
“No thanks, maybe later!” He shook his head twice, then proceeded to gather the rest of the contents of the spilled box from the faded rug in the entryway.
Elle gazed on, wondering more than anything else, how he could not hear her non-existent heart. Because to her, it was beating harder than it ever did while she was still alive.
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