Physical Improvement, or Ghost Cosmetics

My good friend Ben Smithe died in the early 1600s in a roaring house fire.  He saved three of his younger siblings, and then collapsed from exhaustion and smoke inhalation in the process of rescuing his remaining sister. They manifested together, burned to death, clinging to each other, the fibres of their clothes embedded in their skin, and the buckle of Ben’s belt seared to his stomach. He was sixteen; she, fourteen.

Now, we ghosts tend to have a dark sense of humour.

We have an entire tumblr dedicated to the ridiculous things people are wearing when they die.  We have a soap opera called Days of Our Afterlives.  Most tribute bands just throw ‘Dead’ in front of the name of the band they impersonate.  And so on.

But it would be a cruel joke indeed if Ben and his sister Samantha were forced to spend eternity wandering around in pain, as the shreds of their former selves.

And that is why ghosts have spent century after century perfecting the art of physical improvement.

There are two aspects to physical improvement: surface and developmental.

Surface improvements are essentially cosmetic, and they happen in two stages.  First, a manifestation team swoops in and helps you to remember who you were prior to your death.  They aim to help you find your healthiest self–the self you want to be as you step out into the afterlife–and then assist you in coaxing your energy back into that form.

Ben and Samantha, for example, coaxed their energy into the appearance of fresh clothes and unharmed skin.

Most ghosts stay in this initial form for quite a while–learning to manipulate energy without the assistance of manifestation experts is no small task.

The Smithes, though, were rather adept.  And so they proceeded into the second stage fairly quickly, using their imaginations to mold their appearances to fit what they had dreamt about experiencing in life.  Namely, Ben cut off his hair and Sam coiled hers up, they dressed in the latest out of London, and they popped right off to the continent to see what ghost world had to offer.

Very progressive Puritans, these two.  Or, you know, the rebellious children of a man who’s name was literally Abstinence Smithe.

Either way, my point is that not only can you manipulate your age and your appearance, you can also style yourself as you travel, as the eras pass by, and as you try out new traits and tastes.  All you have to do is imagine what you want, and, if you’re aiming for the most immersive experience, borrow the memory of a ghost who knows…lets say…what silk feels like.

As to the developmental changes.

Round about 1800, Ben tells me he grew mighty tired of looking sixteen.  And his sister Samantha, still his boon companion and partner in crime, was finding it more and more difficult to find ‘fun’ blokes, as she puts it.  The concepts of adolescence and childhood were growing in vogue, and new ghosts weren’t taking the Smithes seriously.

They needed to look older, they decided.  They needed to better suit their 200 year old minds.  They needed to age.

Here’s where it gets a bit tricky.  Because while ghosts can change clothes, you cannot ‘age’ in any actual sense.  In fact, you have two choices.

You can add energy to your manifestation to gain a few extra inches of height, for instance, or to fill out a gown, but convincing the new energy to stay and permanently amalgamate is very difficult.

Similarly, you can reduce your manifestation to tone the appearance of muscle, define a chin, or lose weight, but only through the redistribution of the energy with which you died.  You either have to displace the energy into, say, longer hair or bigger feet, or you have to condense your body as tightly as possible, through exercise, and hope that it stays put.

And all told, the most any ghost has ever managed to really ‘age’ is about four years.

For Ben and Sam, shooting from a soft sixteen and small fourteen to a muscular twenty and fulsome eighteen made all the difference in the world.

For other ghosts, such as my daughter Mira, who wants nothing more than to experience romance or to adopt a child, seven to eleven won’t make much of a difference.

Incredibly frustrating, that, poor thing.

But I suppose, overall, it is rather lovely that ghosts can shift and change their bodies after death, particularly given the sadder manifestations.


How to Prank a Roman General

Let me save you some time and trouble—it is both nearly impossible and ill-advised to prank a roman general.

Of course, I am talking here about my husband, who is forever lurking behind doors, setting up traps, and hiding under furniture with the sole intention of scaring me shitless. He also occasionally cooks a prank meal, subbing salt for sugar, puts glitter bombs in my pillowcase, or, taking advantage of my colour-blind state, sends me off to work looking like a clown.

In other words, he’s an asshole.

Over time, I became determined to retaliate. But I quickly learned that if I lurk…he will find me. If I hide…he will hear me. If I set a trap…he will diffuse it. And so on. He’s as much a master as he is a menace.

To date, my only successful infliction of physical comedy involved hollowing out the leg of his chair at the supper table, and waiting patiently for him to take a dive. It was outstanding, but of course, now he inspects all new furniture.

So, it occurred to me, in one of my more Machiavellian moments, that if I wished to prank my husband, I would have to exploit one of his intellectual weaknesses.

Suffice to say, he does not have many of these. And the sore spots he does carry with him are often linked to old injuries, fears, instincts, and memories, none of which am I willing to abuse for personal amusement.

I also take very seriously my role as his English Language Learner champion, helping him with interpretation, vocabulary, and reading. I could make up false terms, or purposely misinterpret an email or something like, but undermining his trust on such matters wouldn’t be worth the two seconds of thrill.

Unless, I thought to myself, remembering my embarrassment upon appearing to work in a 1970s colour palette, I came up with a linguistic invention so silly it couldn’t possibly destroy his faith in me. Something so absurd that he would undoubtedly figure out my trick in a few days’ time, waggle his finger at me and say, ‘oh you…’.

And then it happened. He gave me an opening. I mean…he wrapped it up in pretty paper and presented it to me on a silver platter, and what was I to do?

He tells me, one afternoon over lunch, ‘You are know there is be animal is be call titmouse? I am bet is total weird kind of mouse’.

Being the honest gent that I am—as established above—I reply, ‘Honey, I’m fairly sure a titmouse is a bird. Unfortunate name, though, to be sure’.

He put down his sandwich and stared at me. ‘Non. Is mouse. Is say right in name is mouse’.

I consequently put down my sandwich and stared back at him. ‘Yes, you must be right’, I said, knowing full well he was wrong.

‘Duh I am right’, he said, rolling his eyes.

That was it. He’d brought it on himself.

And perhaps it was the eye roll, his tone, his refusal to admit wrongness…but I decided I was going to perpetuate this prank for a while, see where it went.

This required a few extra steps. Namely, I had Lucas, my second assistant, set up Marc’s computer so that every time he googled ‘titmouse’—knowing full well he would—it redirected to pictures of mice. I told everyone in the office to exacerbate Marc’s belief that this bird was actually a mouse. And, out and about, I made sure to mention the titmouse to Marc, keeping it at the forefront of his brain, making sure the he, in turn, would feel compelled to mention it to others.

This went on about three months. I might have stopped it sooner, but he kept scoffing at me, reminding me how ridiculous it was that I thought a titmouse was a bird. And I subsequently discovered heretofore unknown depths to my vindictiveness.

Then…the glorious reveal.

We were relaxing at home with our host, when Marc realised he had not yet a) told Alex what a bird-brained blockhead I was; b) looked at pictures of ‘weird mouse’ in a while.

So, he said, ‘I am need you are google ‘titmouse’, Xander’.

Alex dutifully submitted the google query…and a couple of things happened on Marc’s face. First, confusion. Was Alex’s computer broken? Why did the google image search bring back pictures of birds? Second, understanding. The titmouse is a bird. It has never been, nor will it ever be a mouse. I had lied to him. Third, rage, of the most hilarious sort.

He wheeled on me. ‘OH MY FUCKING GOD IS NON MOUSE IS BIRD’, he shouted. ‘YOU ARE BE SHIT ME ALL OF TIME’!?!?

‘Um’, I said. ‘No? Just for like…a few months’.

At this point, confusion followed by understanding also passed over Alex’s face, but rather than landing in rage, he fell headlong into delicious, delicious mirth.


[One of Marc’s favourite stories to tell harkens back to the time that Julius Caesar bought a zebra from an Iberian trader, and decided that zebras must therefore come from what is now Spain, telling the world as much. Marc informed Caesar as to where zebras actually originate, and Caesar refused to believe him. He told Marc he must be wrong.

No, I know, the parallels are just magnificent.]

‘Well…’ I goaded him, ‘how adamantly did you argue your case’?


I do. I do know Marc has one setting for arguments. That’s what got him into this predicament in the first place. I calmly ate a grape while he continued to fume.

‘Why didn’t you just google it yourself, Marc, and find out the truth’? asked Alex, ever sensible.


‘He did google it’, I confirmed. ‘I had Lucas change his settings so a search for ‘titmouse’ redirected to pictures of actual mice. Turns out he’s good for something’. Here I started to lose it. I’m a giggling mess at this point. ‘I don’t even know why I did it. I guess because I’m an asshole’.

Alex and I collapse into laughter.

‘I mean, you have to admit he deserves shit like this once in a while. He is constantly ruining my life’. I look over at Marc, who is obviously struggling to remain angry. He knows I’m right. ‘Admit it. You’re impressed’, I said.

‘UGH. You are worst’, he dropped his head into his hands. ‘Like SIX people, Elias’.

‘Well, I hope they weren’t important to our children’s futures’.

Alex is just dying. I never do things like this. Really, I don’t. He showers me with praise for my brilliance.

‘Which bit was brilliant’? I asked. ‘All of it? All of it’.

‘Yes, all of it’, he said.

And that is how you prank a roman general.

Jesus, 2016 peaked early.

A banner year, all.