Hey guys, guess what I have?
Yes! A free, all-new, all-exclusive Ethan Banning short story for anyone who wants one! Interested? Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and it's all yours. I'll be giving away copies for free right up until the released of DEMONISED on March 1st, after that ... well, I'll still be giving it away for free, but I'll also be uploading it to the Kindle.
UNGRATEFUL DEAD is set before the events of AFTERLIFE and DEMONISED, and nothing bad happens to Ethan at all, except he has to spend the night in a haunted morgue with no alcohol or cigarettes. Here's a taster to whet your appetites:
In case you ever wondered, the “p” in “PI” stands for “private.” Not “phantom” or “paranormal” or anything else to do with ghosts and that shit. I don’t normally have to explain that to people, but Charlie Mullen had been pawing at me for an hour now, insisting that private investigators really could investigate haunted morgues as easily as cheating wives, and it was starting to make my head ache.
Charlie was one of those guys you just know got bullied at school. All weedy and twitchy, and probably even worse with women than me. I’d been pretty surprised to find him in Sylvester’s bar tonight at all. It’s the kind of place you only go if you’re broke or pathologically incapable of forming meaningful relationships. I was both, so I pretty much lived there, but as far as I knew, Charlie had plenty of money and worked with dead people, so probably wasn’t interested in meaningful relationships with the living.
Sylvester’s is dirty, cheap, and nasty, like the clientele. The decor is depressing, the beer is watered down, and the peanuts are so salty you have to keep drinking the beer. The jukebox is always playing Johnny Cash and the light bulb in the mens’ washroom is always flickering. It’s got a certain sleazy charm though, personified by Jenny the barmaid and her orange cleavage. I was trying to admire said cleavage right now, but Charlie wouldn’t shut up and let me concentrate.
“Seriously, Ethan. Just as a favour to me. One night, that’s all. As a favour.” He tugged at my coat sleeve to get my attention.
I sighed and shrugged him off. “Charlie, I spent the whole day rooting through a pro-golfer’s garbage looking for used condoms for his paranoid wife. I don’t need this shit, okay? I just want to drink my bad beer and go home and watch some bad TV. I’m not spending the night at the morgue with you. I don’t care how haunted it is.”
“I’m not asking for anything big,” he said indignantly. “I just want some back-up, some proof so my boss will believe me. All you have to do is take a few pictures...”
“No.” I downed the rest of my beer and signalled to Jenny for a refill. “Not interested.”
“I’ll pay whatever your going rate is.”
I shot him a sideways glance then. He gazed at me through coke-bottle glasses, thin face mournful and eager, like a Basset hound. I’ve got a soft spot for dogs. Especially if they’re going to give me money. “Tell you what,” I said as Jenny plonked a fresh beer in front of me, “how about we go and sit down and talk about this, okay? You can tell me what exactly the problem is and I’ll advise you accordingly. Call it an initial consultation.”
“And that’ll cost one hundred and fifty dollars,” I added.
“Oh ... great.” Charlie’s shoulders slumped, either from relief or disappointment. Hard to tell with the dodgy lights in here. He followed me over to a table in the corner, away from the jukebox and Johnny’s song of woe, and I set about rolling a cigarette while Charlie gave me his own sob story. Nobody paid attention to little things like smoking bans in Sylvester’s. Smoke adds ambiance to a room, right?
“It started about a month ago. You remember that robbery at Cloth Encounters? The lingerie shop? The girl that died came to me after the autopsy. The police couldn’t find any next of kin, so she was there for over a week before they decided to just have her cremated. But after that, weird stuff started happening. Little things at first, like the lights flickering on and off, even if the bulbs were new. Fluctuations in temperature too – they say that’s a classic sign of haunting, don’t they?” He peered at me over his glasses, demanding a response.
“Yeah, I guess they do,” I replied vaguely. Sounded to me like the morgue needed a good electrician and a better air-con system, but I’ve never had a paranormal experience in my life so what do I know? “What else? Walls dripping blood, anything like that?”
He sniffed, slumping back in his seat. “Things going missing. Just little things at first, paperwork, pens, like that. But then two weeks ago –” He cut himself off, face chalky-white like he might be sick. “Two weeks ago,” he whispered hoarsely, “one of the bodies...moved.”
“Moved how? Like twitching-toes moved, or did a little jig moved, or what?” I leaned forwards, interested now despite myself. Could be someone was just screwing with Charlie’s head – and I didn’t think it would take much – or could be we had a genuine body-snatcher on our hands, if this corpse had disappeared entirely. That might be interesting. Probably not as interesting as Jenny's cleavage, but who knew?
“Moved,” Charlie repeated, eyes burning into me now as he tried to impress on me how goddam serious this all was, “as in sat up on the trolley and stared at me.” He turned green now, sweat beading on his forehead, fingers tapping erratically on the tabletop. “For a good minute or so, it just stared at me. Didn’t speak, but I knew it was her. The girl from Cloth Encounters. She’d possessed the corpse somehow. She...”
I held up my hand to silence him. “Charlie,” I said carefully, “I’ve got to ask this, so don’t be pissy, okay? Had you been drinking that night? Taking any medication –“
“Ethan! When have you ever seen me drinking?”
I shrugged. “We don’t hang out a lot. You might have a whole bunch of bad habits I don’t know about. You might be a secret crackhead.”
“Well I’m not,” he flared, scowling at me. “I wasn’t drunk or high or stressed or tired or anything else. I know what I saw.”
“Okay.” I finished my beer and assessed him. “What else has been happening?”
“Well, no more bodies have moved,” he said, “but everything else – the lights, things disappearing, the temperature stuff, that’s kept on. And I feel someone watching me, all the time. But my boss doesn’t believe me, and I just want some proof, Ethan. Just someone who’s word he’ll trust.”
That pleading Basset hound look was back on his face. I shifted around in my torn leather seat, uncomfortable. God knows why Charlie thought my word was one his boss would trust. I mean, I’m a bum, right? I’m one missed rent payment away from being a full-time hobo and I had cold noodles for breakfast this morning. I wish I was joking about that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a good PI, but I’m pretty fucking useless at everything else in life. You wouldn’t look at me and think, Ethan Banning. Now there’s a stand-up guy who I can rely on. More like, Ethan Banning. Why does that guy always smell like Chinese food?