The Haunting of 555 Maple Avenue

Submitted into Contest #200 in response to: Write a story about someone trying to track down the source of a rumor.... view prompt

40 comments

Contemporary Fantasy Funny

Eloise Fish pulled back her drapes a hand’s breadth, took a sip of wine, and watched the circus unfolding down the street. Night was settling on Maple Avenue, but the old house four-doors down was bathed in the lights of half a dozen full-sized vans, each honking at the others. The crew of the National Ghost Hunters had been embroiled with the cast of Paranormal Sightings Unlimited, and just now the whole production team for Spectre Collective rolled up, with their tour bus in tow.

When Snuffles – her pet tarantula – shimmied down the drape, Eloise petted him and cooed.

A crowd of local gawkers gathered around all the illustrious out-of-towners. Kids out past their bedtime, bored retirees, and hopeful extras – everyone out to see what would become of the famous Maple Avenue Haunting. The locals had long known about the spooky home, but its story had only recently exploded on the national circuit. There were even rumours of an Italian crew planning a feature, so maybe it had gone international.

“Idiots,” Eloise muttered, with a smirk.

A few people did break ranks, as the arguments among production crews raged. Probably wouldn’t be any filming tonight if they were arguing over rights. She saw a young man – no, a teen – walking off in the twilight, and heading down the sidewalk past her house. Eloise closed the drapes until only her eye poked through. No point in drawing unwanted attention.

And then her eye narrowed, when the teen stopped in front of her house.

Kids these days were miscreants, through and through. Idlers, the lot of them, and to be out after the sun had set – it was positively scandalous.

The kid looked behind him, at the film crews still arguing. Then he looked down the other way, and Eloise willed him to keep walking. But instead, he looked at her house.

She closed the drapes until there was barely a needle to look out through.

“Go away,” she muttered.

The kid looked at her house, and he looked and he looked and he looked. He looked up at the peaked roof and down at the overgrown lawn. He studied the dark windows and the lonely tree. And then, he started walking down her path.

“Piss off!” Eloise hissed.

But the kid didn’t piss off, and when he neared her door she dashed from the window. The sudden movement spooked Snuffles, and the tarantula bolted into the dark recesses of the house.

Eloise stood in the closet at the head of her front hall. She heard the dull clicking of someone pressing her dead doorbell. And then, it came. Knocking. She shuddered.

“Nobody’s home, jackass,” she whispered.

Perhaps he heard her, as the knocking stopped.

Or perhaps not, as he shouldered the door open and stumbled into the hall.

Eloise felt herself tremble with fury, and it took all her effort to stay quiet. The kid – a dorky teen with a clipboard of all things – regained his balance. She couldn't fathom why anyone would wield a clipboard in this day and age, and especially not one of the cellphone addicted youth.

“Hello?” he called out, his voice wavering. “Is anyone here?”

Eloise’s lips were drawn tight.

The kid flicked the hall’s light switch, but of course the lights remained off. Then he had the audacity to produce a flashlight, which he turned on. Eloise pressed herself further into the closet as the kid walked by, further invading her home.

“Hello?” he called out again. “Mrs. Fish?” The floorboards creaked under his sneakers.

Eloise followed after him, moving soundlessly and sticking to the low and dark places. Each step of the way she willed him to turn around and leave, to grow bored like his shiftless generation was famous for, but he just kept marching deeper into her home. First, into the sitting room, where he stirred up some dust. Then into the kitchen, where he frightened poor Snuffles who skittered under the fridge. Then the kid had the audacity to climb her stairs, and his filthy sneakers tromped all over her moldy carpet.

Eloise resigned herself that this nosy brat wasn’t leaving any time soon, and she feared he might do something stupid like start smoking or drinking drugs – or whatever the little reprobates got up to these days – and listening to obnoxious music. No doubt he’d make his way to her study and start lounging on her divan.

But no, the kid stopped at the top of the stairs altogether, and flipped through the pages on his clipboard by flashlight. Then he looked around and approached The Portrait. Eloise’s breath caught in her throat.

The Portrait was an amateur atrocity of a humanoid horse in 1800’s gentleman’s attire, smoking a pipe, while standing in some sort of European parlour, in oil. The painting had only a single redeeming feature – the fact it was almost exactly four-feet wide by seven-feet tall, and it perfectly concealed–

–the kid grasped the frame and moved it revealing–

–the door to her bedchamber!

This was unconscionable! To have a strange teenager invade her privacy like this was just too much. As he turned the knob and pushed through yet another of her doors, Eloise rose into the air, began glowing with an otherworldly green light, and let out the horrid keening of the long-dead.

“Boo!” she wailed, floating behind him and spraying ectoplasmic spittle everywhere. “I say, boo!”

She was crestfallen when the teen didn’t fall over dead from fright. He didn’t even flinch! He just turned around, shined his horrid little light at her, and grinned.

“Mrs. Fish?”

“Boo!”

“My name is Kevin Ferguson, and I’m with the Briarstone High Bugle.”

“Boo–what?”

“I was wondering if I could interview you for our school paper.”

What!? You’re a journalist?

“Well, maybe one day, ma’am. I’m just a student right now.”

Eloise grumbled. Up close, this Kevin kid looked real young, barely old enough to be a teenager. But, if he already had his sights on a career – even if it was journalism – maybe he wasn’t as useless as the rest of his generation. It might even be irresponsible to deny him.

With a flick of her fingers, a spectral cigarette appeared in her hand. She took a long drag.

“All right,” she finally said. “I’ll give you an interview. But on these conditions. I stay anonymous, and you do not publish the fact that we met. Indeed, you publish that this old house is as empty as the brains of those movie producers down the street.”

Kevin frowned. “Anonymous, ma’am. That’ll make things difficult.”

“Pshaw.” She waved her ghostly smoke for emphasis. “Just refer to me as a confidential source.”

“Oh! All right then, thank you Mrs. Fish.”

“Eloise, please.” She held out her hand.

“Eloise then,” he said, and his hand passed through hers.

“So, what is it you wanted to ask about? I expect it’s about my gruesome murder.” She floated through-and-past Kevin, into her bedchamber, and he followed. “This is where it happened, you know.” She pointed to the floor. “This is where the Dowager Destroyer strangled me.” She sighed wistfully.

“The Dowager Destroyer?”

“Oh, he was such a charmer. Such a handsome mustache.”

“You don’t seem too upset about… um… being murdered.”

“Oh, heavens no, of course not.” She took another puff of smoke. “It was so long ago, and frankly, a death is a very personal thing. There’s a lot of sentiment wrapped up in it.”

“I see.” Kevin scribbled something down.

“I expect you have a lot of questions.”

“Yes, Mrs.–Eloise. But not about your murder.”

“Oh.” Her shoulders sunk somewhat.

“Actually, I was wondering if we could talk about the house down the street, 555 Maple Avenue.”

“Oh.” She waved her free hand around and a ghastly wineglass materialized. “Fine, fine.” She downed it. “What do you want to know?”

“Well, it seems like there’s a lot of film crews interested in it.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“They’re looking into a ghost that’s rumoured to live there.”

“What of it? Hey, you remember our deal, right kid? Nobody lives in this house, especially not me.”

“Yes, of course. I won’t tell them a thing.”

“Good.” Eloise conjured up more wraithish wine.

“I’ve just been looking into the rumour is all. It’s what my story is about.”

“Fascinating. What’s that got to do with me?”

“Well, the rumour’s been circulating for a number of years now. I tracked it down to starting about a decade ago. It seems back then, someone kept ordering pizzas to 555 Maple Avenue, but of course nobody answered the door because the house was abandoned. And when they were interviewed, the clerks said the voice on the other end sounded spooky.”

“Okay? What of it? Some ghosts like playing pranks, and some ghosts have phones.”

“Fair enough. The thing is, I looked up the number that called the pizza places, and at the time it was actually registered to this address. Your house.”

“Ah,” Eloise said, smirking. “I’m starting to remember why I don’t like journalists.”

“My question is: why do it? Why start a rumour about a haunting at 555 Maple Avenue?”

Eloise sighed, and floated to the window. “When I died and found myself here, I feared a lonely afterlife more than anything else. But I was dead-famous – the final victim of the Dowager Destroyer – and people kept crawling around my home hoping to catch sight of me. Frankly, I found all the attention overwhelming, and the behaviour of my voyeuristic interlopers to be quite disgusting.”

“I see. So you created a rumour so that everyone would go looking for ghosts elsewhere?”

“Yes! That’s exactly it, Kevin. And you know what? It turns out I like being alone. Just like in life. I mean, I was a shut-in! The only person I took a chance on ended up strangling me.” Her face fell to the floor. “And then he too abandoned me. He played with my heart and ran off.”

“It almost sounds like you miss him.”

“I do, if I’m honest.”

“But – he murdered you.”

She turned to him with a matronly smile. “Yes, Kevin. I’m sure it sounds a little strange to you, but you’re a young man yet. One day you’ll see that love is a strange thing, a thing with a life of its own that cares little for our logics and reasons.”

Kevin scribbled more notes.

“Let me ask you a question now,” she said. “Why pursue this story? Are high school students really interested in dilapidated houses and the people that used to live in them? I’m flattered, I’m sure, but it seems odd.”

“Well, actually, I started out trying to get an interview from National Ghost Hunters. They said they’d do me one better and let me experience their world first-hand, as a guest executive producer.”

“How did that turn out?”

“Basically, I spent all my time getting them coffees and cleaning up the sets. So, okay I guess. But one night, when I was cleaning up after we filmed the season finale, everyone else went to celebrate at a bar. I was alone. And that’s when the ghost showed up.”

Eloise startled. “Wait, what? There is a ghost in 555 Maple Avenue?”

“Yes ma’am. And he was tired. He was hunched over like he was melting or something, and he said he couldn’t take it anymore. The noise, the visitors, the constant cameras and drama – he was a prisoner in his own house. We got to talking, and he told me his troubles started about a decade ago. He told me about the rumour and asked me to try and track it down, so that maybe we could put a stop to it.”

“Oh my goodness,” Eloise said. “I had no idea. Why, I never meant to inconvenience anyone. Oh, I feel just terrible! And to think, another ghost living just a stone’s throw away. What’s the chap’s name?”

“Beowulf Whickup,” said Kevin.

“Beowulf?” Eloise whispered, her face lighting up. “But – that’s the Dowager Destroyer!”

“Yes ma’am. After you, he was tracked down to his house and cornered by the police. He refused to come peacefully and there was a shootout.”

“Oh my,” said Eloise. She twirled her wineglass, pondering something. “Well, I feel just dreadful. Say, Kevin, could you do me a favour?”

“What’s that?”

“Well, I don’t think we can do anything to stop this rumour. But maybe… could you go to Mr. Whickup with a proposal? He could, well, move in here – just for a while, you understand. Just until media attention on his house dies down.”

Kevin arched an eyebrow. “If you like.”

“I do like.”

Kevin frowned down at his clipboard.

“Something amiss?”

“Well, I’m just wondering how I’m going to work all this into a story. What with all the anonymity. I can’t tell them you live here, and you probably don’t want me saying I helped another ghost move here too.”

“You’re right, I don’t. But I see your dilemma.” She pursed her lips. “How about this. I show you where my old diary is hidden.”

“Um,” said Kevin. “I guess that could be interesting. How will it help me?”

“It outlines how I poisoned my husband, and got away with it.”

Kevin’s eyes widened.

“You can break the story.”

“Jeez!”

“You’re welcome.” Eloise smiled beatifically. “Oh, don’t look at me like that. The old codger never liked my poor spiders even though they never harmed anyone. Kept stomping them. Anyway, do we have a deal?” She held her hand out.

Kevin squinted into the distance and tapped his pen against his clipboard. “Break a decades old murder? Hmm. That’s probably worth extra credit.” He passed his hand through hers. “Deal!”

May 31, 2023 23:50

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40 comments

Anna W
19:44 Jun 08, 2023

I really enjoyed reading this! The "get off my lawn" vibes of Eloise made me chuckle more than once. Great dialogue, excellent descriptions, and a great take on the prompt. I think it would be fun to read how Eloise and the Dowager Destroyer get along in the after life, if you ever get the inkling to explore that one. :) Thanks for this story!

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Michał Przywara
00:48 Jun 09, 2023

Thanks, Anna! "get off my lawn" sounds exactly right :) There's plenty of room here for follow up stories, so perhaps one day I'll revisit it. That's a nice thing about these weekly prompts - they generate stories that in turn might generate more. I appreciate the feedback!

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Amanda Lieser
15:50 Jun 20, 2023

Hi Michal, Oh how much I love these characters. Eloise is funny in the best way possible. And her pet! My husband has been begging for one of his own for far too long. Perhaps, I shall tell him he needs to become a ghost first. I liked this conflict for Eloise. Her heart is perfectly described as remaining in love with her person. Your twist was wonderfully clever for this story. Nice work!!

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Michał Przywara
20:34 Jun 20, 2023

Thanks, Amanda! Eloise was a fun character to write :) Glad her story is enjoyable. Thanks for reading!

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Marty B
03:15 Jun 09, 2023

Those are some lousy Ghost Hunters! They missed 2 ghosts! It took the 'guest executive producer' to meet the actual ghost (Beowulf Whickup is such a good ghost name!) and then he has the wherewithal to track down the pizza pranking phone calls by Ms.Fish and her pet trantula. They should have their Reality TV card revoked! Maybe they can at least get an exclusive with the poisoned husband -I m sure he is not too far away- :) Those reality show

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Michał Przywara
20:46 Jun 09, 2023

They'll just CGI the ghosts in, in post-production :) Although you might be onto something with the dead husband. Thanks for reading, Marty!

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Ken Cartisano
05:37 Jun 07, 2023

Hi Michel, Just wanted you to know that I thoroughly enjoyed this story. It hit me on several levels at once. There are a number of places where I would suggest alterations. (“But he – he murdered you!” For instance, or, ‘To have a strange teenager invade her privacy…’ To have a stranger, even if only a teenager, invade her privacy…’ A missing question mark: “Anonymous ma’am? That’ll make things difficult.) But I’m quibbling, because this is a clever, fabulously written, quirky ghost story. I was a third of the way through it before I even...

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Michał Przywara
21:06 Jun 07, 2023

Thanks, Ken! Yes, the idea was to kind of take that macabre haunting idea and then *not* focus on the tropes, instead going a more mundane route. (And mostly, this was because it's unexpected, which I think sets up the comedy better.) Although maybe in the day and age of ubiquitous cellphones, this isn't so unusual. After all, once upon a time forests were mysterious and filled with wolves and witches, and nowadays they're just a place where trees live. Thanks for pointing out those lines! Some were mindfully done that way, to establish ...

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Susan Catucci
18:54 Jun 06, 2023

Hahaha - that was fun, Michal. Even more, that has to be one of the smoother reads I've enjoyed. Eloise is quite a character and I think Snuffles could give Thing a run for his money - or whatever idiom might be applicable. Of course, I'm thinking what if the husband is hanging out nearby attempting worthless air-stomping on Snuffles and if the DD comes to visit or to stay? I can only think one thing: Sequel! Please, sir, I want some more!

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Michał Przywara
21:04 Jun 07, 2023

Thanks, Susan! You know, I wondered about the husband. Perhaps he is haunting things somewhere, given he was poisoned. I'm now wondering if perhaps this entire neighbourhood is filled with the self-absorbed ghosts of people who used to inflict intrigues upon each other. Maybe this will need to be revisited in the future :) I appreciate the feedback!

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Susan Catucci
21:38 Jun 07, 2023

And let it be known, if you do, I need to know about it! (no pressure, of course.) :)

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Rebecca Miles
09:57 Jun 06, 2023

Well this was a spooky caper. What I really enjoyed was the blend of the modern context with all the slightly historic/ generic conventions: a weirdly wonderful portrait, hidden rooms, poisonings and dusty diaries bearing dark and hidden secrets. I'm pleased Kevin got his big break, every aspiring journalist needs one of those.

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Michał Przywara
20:51 Jun 06, 2023

Thanks, Rebecca! I suspect Eloise has a very interesting home and history. Ghost stories seem perfectly suited to be a little anachronistic, where you can mix things and people from different eras without it being unrealistic (well, notwithstanding the presence of a ghost :) I appreciate the feedback!

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Madeline Hurning
05:00 Jun 06, 2023

Great story here! Eloise is an absolute treat. You did a great job of building character through the dialogue. Can't wait to read more of your work!

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Michał Przywara
20:53 Jun 06, 2023

Thanks, Madeline! I think dialogue is a great tool for character building, so I'm glad it came across that way :) I appreciate the feedback!

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Ellen Neuborne
01:48 Jun 06, 2023

I love Eloise. A ghost with attitude!

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Michał Przywara
20:55 Jun 06, 2023

Thanks Ellen! She definitely is :) I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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Glenda Toews
02:43 Jun 05, 2023

I laughed because I completely feel like Eloise anytime someone sits in my driveway, in fact, I believe I've uttered her exact words. I enjoyed her opinion of youth and how she could whip wine and cigarettes out of the ether, and the fact that she could still enjoy them. Do ghosts have the ability to leave their houses? If she didn't know her 'love' was just a few houses away I would assume she never ventured out. I wonder 'can' she? Or, does she just choose to stay put? Now I'm curious to know if Beowulf 'can' go to Eloise's house? Or wil...

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Michał Przywara
20:45 Jun 05, 2023

Thanks, Glenda! I believe I've uttered some of Eloise's words myself :) She was a fun character to write. I don't know if they can leave, to be honest. I've not met any ghosts to ask. But I figure, a central theme with a haunting is a spirit lingering because it can't let go, or because some unfinished business is holding it back. I imagine ghosts would thus be kind of stuck dwelling in their memories, and never really looking forward to a future. So for this story, I believe they can, it's just not an idea that ever really occurred to...

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Glenda Toews
01:37 Jun 06, 2023

"it's just not an idea that ever really occurred to them before. So strong is the inertia of a life remembered" Very good point! ... Maybe a future ghostly romance story will spin off :P

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23:47 Jun 04, 2023

What a fun little bit of nonsense! I came looking for funny to mean « biting satire on the self righteous » like it did last week, but instead I got ghost pizza delivery pranks. You have range!

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Michał Przywara
21:01 Jun 06, 2023

Thanks Anne! Sometimes we all need a bit of ghost pizza delivery pranks :) I appreciate the feedback!

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Wally Schmidt
23:45 Jun 04, 2023

Another well-crafted story with some humorous bits from you Michal. Some of my favorite lines: ''...a death is a very personal thing. There’s a lot of sentiment wrapped up in it." "Some ghosts like playing pranks, and some ghosts have phones.” Plus all the insults she hurls at Kevin as he begins to invade her space. Congrats on Uncle Dale!

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Michał Przywara
21:00 Jun 06, 2023

Thanks Wally! Both were fun to write, though for different reasons. Definitely a bit sillier this week :) I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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Wally Schmidt
21:09 Jun 06, 2023

Can’t go wrong when the mc is into a bit of ghost seduction

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Delbert Griffith
23:26 Jun 02, 2023

I love it. Eloise is a hoot, and I figure that if she wants to get back with Beowulf, then that's fitting. It IS their afterlife, right? LOL All I can really say is that this was a delightful read. Eloise and the kid are drawn perfectly, which is terribly difficult to do. Dialogue. Oh, the dialogue. So good! I'm always impressed by how easily you make it look. I struggle to make it right. Wonderful tale, my friend. A pleasurable and entertaining read. Cheers!

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Michał Przywara
21:20 Jun 03, 2023

Thanks, Del! I'm glad you enjoyed it :) And yes, I figure in an afterlife - whatever form it might take - our priorities and outlooks probably change quite a bit, much like we often abandon the bs of youth as we age (and pick up new bs to fill the void :P) I appreciate you pointing out the dialogue! But frankly I'm surprised you struggle, as I've always found the dialogue in your stories to be engaging :) Particularly when it is just that - dialogue, two people verbally sparring. I guess it just proves that good writing takes effort, and we...

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19:28 Jun 02, 2023

I can't resist a ghost story and this one had a few giggles along the way - great stuff. I love the use of ghostly / ghastly phrases and the introduction of the spectral cigarette and wine especially. I only spotted a couple of things you might want to look at: I feel like the clipboard should have been mentioned earlier - maybe I missed something but it seems to come out of thin air at this point: But no, the kid stopped at the top of the stairs altogether, and flipped through the pages on his clipboard by flashlight. In this line: ...

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Michał Przywara
21:31 Jun 02, 2023

Thanks, Katharine! I appreciate you pointing out those spots. I changed one of the wails to a keening. The clipboard did appear once earlier, but it was a passing parenthetical mention and it's easy to miss, so I expanded it a bit as well. Hopefully it's less jarring now. I used to have a problem where I'd over describe things, and I fear now I sometimes under describe them, so it's very useful to hear when that happens :) Other than that, I'm glad you enjoyed it! I like the odd ghost story myself - particularly when we consider these ar...

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13:35 Jun 02, 2023

Great fun here Michal. I'm totally with Eloise on this one, if I'm dead just leave me in peace! Wonder if Beowulf will take her up on the offer...!

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Michał Przywara
21:53 Jun 02, 2023

Thanks, Derrick! I imagine if you've got all of eternity before you, even shacking up with your worst enemy might sound like a good idea, just to stave off ennui :) I'm glad you enjoyed the story!

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Michelle Oliver
08:59 Jun 02, 2023

This was such a fun story, a very good twist on the haunted house theme. Ghosts that just want to be left alone to do ghost things. I like the link between herself and her murderer, as if there was some kind of intimacy there that links them together in the afterlife. It’s quite an intriguing idea. -a death is a very personal thing. There’s a lot of sentiment wrapped up in it. Loved the whole tale, and ghosts are not usually my thing, but this story had a lot of life in it… (pardon the pun!)

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Michał Przywara
20:46 Jun 02, 2023

Thanks, Michelle! Yes, I imagine being stuck as a ghost gives you a different perspective on "life". You're out of the rat race, you don't have much of a future to look forward to, so you wander through your memories - and dying is the last, and probably quite an emotional one. Well, I say ghosts, but some people live like this too, after a traumatic event. I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I appreciate the feedback!

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Viga Boland
22:31 Jun 01, 2023

This was a joy to read Michae. Just loved the twists. You almost had me believing in ghosts…I don’t…but it sure would be fun to meet Eloise. Crusty old thing that she is. My kind of ghost 😂👏👏

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Michał Przywara
23:46 Jun 01, 2023

Thanks, Viga! Yeah, I'm sure Eloise would have all sorts of interesting stories to tell :) And no shortage of unapologetic opinions to make :)

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Helen A Smith
11:18 Jun 01, 2023

Hi Michal I enjoyed your tale and particularly liked the twist at the end. Lots of deep stuff for the young would-be journalist to ponder over about love and life and he’s only just getting started! A quirky ghost who likes privacy. I can identify with that.

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Michał Przywara
20:46 Jun 01, 2023

Thanks, Helen! Yeah, I always figured ghosts haunting places wasn't because they were mean, they just didn't want their homes invaded and didn't feel like hosting. I'm glad the twist worked - I had some trouble bringing this one to an end. Thanks for the feedback!

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Mary Bendickson
02:12 Jun 01, 2023

Ghostly little tale.👻👻👻Well spooken.

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Michał Przywara
20:47 Jun 01, 2023

Thanks, Mary! I'm glad you enjoyed it :) And "spooken" is a great word :)

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Ken Cartisano
16:26 Jun 06, 2023

Hello Michal, Just wanted you to know that I thoroughly enjoyed this story. It hit me on several levels at once. There are a number of places where I would suggest alterations. (“But he – he murdered you!” For instance, or, ‘To have a strange teenager invade her privacy…’ To have a stranger, even if only a teenager, invade her privacy…’ A missing question mark: “Anonymous ma’am? That’ll make things difficult.) But I’m quibbling, because this is a clever, fabulously written, quirky ghost story. I was a third of the way through it before I e...

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