It’s the house that does it. It’s a step up from her previous accommodations in terms of roominess at least (there are many rooms and she eventually pokes her nose into each and every one of them). Funny; they talked about her moving out some day, getting a better job, finding a nice, stable bloke – but that was just her Dad talking during one of his sensitive phases. He’s been getting those a lot lately, along with PMS that should have been Alex’s but never really was.
They sure never talked about her dying, moving to Barry Island of all places and settling in with a vampire who’d drunk her blood and a werewolf who… Well, actually, she has no qualms about Tom; he’s lovely.
The first couple of weeks are pretty hectic. Not as hectic as her first day (unfortunately, they don’t get to blow up a bunch of Really Old Ones every day), but there is Hal detoxing and Tom working for two at the café and those weird men in grey to puzzle over. She does her fair share of searching but it’s not like she can rent-a-ghost all over the world. She somewhat fails as a supersleuth.
Little by little, Hal is back to normal (which is a very relative concept in his case). The restraints are off, the dominoes are up. He doesn’t talk much; not that she wants to have a chat. The day he is finally allowed to join Tom at the chippy, Alex finds herself alone in the house, and the realization sinks in like an anchor that was falling through the vastness of water and has finally hit the ocean bed.
She is dead.
The house sprawls around her like a maze. There are landmarks on this half-explored trail: the spot where Annie killed Cutler; the basement where Hal showered her with some pretty inventive insults while being tied up during his forced rehab; the kitchen where she tried to make tea once and ended up producing swill that Tom drank with a pained smile on his face.
She walks up the stairs. Rent-a-ghosting is great, the best thing about being a ghost really, but she wants to pretend for a moment that she’s just doing what her Dad wanted her to do: moving into a new place, getting a life. Ha ha.
There is Hal’s room, which she’s not really allowed into. Hal gets prickly when you touch his stuff and mess up the order of things. She’s been there many times either way.
There is Tom’s room where he hides the stakes he makes and thinks no one knows.
There is the attic turned nursery turned attic. The crosses and the cot are still there just like the pink sparkly rota sheet is still there in the living room. Tom doesn’t have the heart to remove any of it, Hal doesn’t seem to mind, and Alex isn’t really in the position to make decisions about such things. This house holds on to its memories.
She asks Tom later whose house it was. He gives her the names: George and Nina, Eve’s parents, werewolves; Mitchell, a vampire; Annie, you’-ve-met-her, a ghost.
“Does this happen often then?” she wants to know. This flatsharing thing, she means. She thought most vampires were wankers.
Tom says “nah” to the first, “yeah” to the second. She can tell he doesn’t really want to talk about those people. She doesn’t really want to talk about her family either, which is strange since she couldn’t keep her mouth shut about them while she was alive.
All these rooms make her agoraphobic. Or claustrophobic. Or just phobic. The place is a B&B but it has this unused air about it, which is a bit like staying in a school building after classes. Creepy.
She tries to read one of Hal’s books to keep distracted. It’s a very Hal book: lots of characters with difficult names, lots of philosophizing, and everyone will probably die at the end. She doesn’t read it because she wants to understand Hal (there is no understanding a five-hundred-year-old with a questionable sense of humour who looks at you like you’ve just flayed a puppy alive before a child’s eyes just because he’s discovered you can’t tell Doctor Zhivago from Doctor Who). The worst part is that the stupid book can’t even put her to sleep because – hello, yours ghostly.
Hal throws a fit when he sees her. An inner fit, to be more precise. He puts on this haunted facial expression that pretty much states: Huge inner turmoil going on, do not disturb, and the way he looks at her makes her regret that she hasn’t thought of doing anything really bad like cutting up his dress shirts (which he probably doesn’t have).
“Is that my book?” he coughs up the question like a piece of toffee stuck in his throat.
Alex shrugs. There are George’s books in the boxes upstairs, and Nina’s too, albeit not many, but yeah, this one comes from The Bookshelf.
Hal looks like he’s frantically doing some breathing exercises. Then he makes a curt nod.
“Do you like it?”
Oh, hey, she knows that look. So you like my Transformer figurine, huh, Ryan? In that case, sure, take it. But I’ll have your toy Batmobile in exchange. It’s the look, which boys make great sacrifices with.
Alex puts the book back before the inner fit becomes an outer fit.
* * *
There are a lot of perks about being a ghost. She doesn’t need to buy a ticket to see a film. She can eavesdrop on people. She can… Oh, darn it, that’s about where it ends. Being a ghost is like being a member of some cool club that is so exclusive that it takes all the fun out of it.
She learns to make decent tea. Even Hal drinks it.
They fight every day. It’s almost as if she is back home. But then, she has a feeling that Hal and Tom would have already eaten each other alive if she weren’t there to mediate. Go her.
The house diminishes around her like a deflated rubber castle. It’s still a maze but she can see above its walls. The empty rooms contain fewer mysteries, abating the fear of loneliness that sometimes grips her when the others are away. She has never been clingy or needy and she doesn’t intend to start being that way now.
“You and I wouldn’t have worked out anyway,” she tells Hal haughtily. Looking superior is easy when he is wearing that funny apron and marigolds.
He flashes her a brief, pointed look. “This admission makes me ineffably elated.”
“How did my blood taste? Was it good?”
He rolls his eyes. “Will you ever let it go?”
Alex snorts. “First of all, no. And second of all, this is rude. You drink a girl’s blood and won’t even compliment it?”
He finally understands that she’s pulling his leg. He gives her that small, crooked smile that makes him look cute and says: “My apologies. It was the best I’d had in years.”
Alex puffs up triumphantly. There are stranger things to be proud of.
* * *
When Ryan was little and had his television frenzy phase, he successfully proved that television is mortar that keeps the bricks of society glued together. The entire family would gravitate towards it when he watched some stupid cartoon and provided an imaginative running commentary. Dad would stop angsting, the other two ankle biters would call ceasefire, and Alex would catch a break.
Tom and Hal watch telly together sometimes. Mostly some weird stuff about antiquities or random black-and-white films. It’s funny because Hal always nags and points out the anachronisms. It’s crystal clear they watch for the plot.
They take peak time; Alex usually goes for the late night slot. She gets TV-show repeats, occasional documentaries and low-priority imported series. Ice cream would make it worthwhile.
Hal joins her one night, placing himself on the couch next to her. She glances at him like he is an anomaly and looks back at the screen.
“What are you watching?” he asks quietly.
“Some Australian series about ghosts.” Lately every good TV-show has to have ghosts.
Hal twiddles his domino piece between his fingers. “You’re not a lodger, Alex.”
“You don’t have to tell me that.”
She shrugs flippantly: “I know what you meant.” But she didn’t, not until he said it. Their arrangement is not two plus one. It’s three, and he acknowledges it. Maybe it’s time she started too.
* * *
“‘S a big house,” Tom says. “Lotsa empty rooms. Dunno what to do with ‘em.”
“Hal can always drink someone else’s blood and we’d heap up ghosts,” Alex comments.
They are watching the Australian ghost show together, all three of them, cups of tea rising on the floor like toy towers. Alex can cook too, but she won’t do it because she’s not their housekeeper. And because she enjoys watching Hal cooking, but don’t tell him that.
Hal makes a sour face that apparently shows that he is above retorting to such petty gibes.
“I don’t think the house is that big,” Alex says. “What with us in it.”
* * *
It’s the house that does it.
And then it’s them chipping in.
June 26–28, 2012