This chapter will be merged with the previous one once the next update is up.
The first surprise is that they don’t look like her. They don’t all look like her, at least. One of them does, pale and translucent but otherwise… human. Others, though, not so much. One is a vague swirl of colours in the vague shape of a person, shifting and changing in the light. Another is almost like an abstract painting; all her features are somehow visible at the same time, from every angle. Another still is a caricature, all exaggerated, bold lines, and while they’re solid, they don’t quite line up with the surrounding geometry in the right way.
Those are all bizarre, but manageable. Harder to deal with are the others that, she realises after a moment, are actually like her after all. The reason she didn’t recognise that at first is that they still bear the wounds that presumably killed them. But not simple gunshot wounds like her, oh no. A man talks through a mouth that start disintegrating halfway along its length, along with the rest of his face and most of his body. Another woman smokes a spectral cigarette, and the smoke curls out of the holes in her cheeks. And in the back of her head, and through one eye. Her entire body is riddled with holes, like a cartoon character who’s been shot, but the sprays of blood and bone that hang, frozen, just beyond the exit wounds dispel any illusion of farce. One is halfway through the process of being burned alive, skin charred and blackened, eyes leaking down their face.
Not for the first time, Sorayah wishes she still had the ability to vomit.
After a moment, the group notices her. The abstract one, to be precise. “Hey!” they say, in a voice that somehow perfectly matches their appearance. It shifts through multiple pitches and tones and timbres within just that word, as if it’s… she knows there’s a better word, but all she can think of is “crowd-sourced”. “Haven’t seen you around before!”
The rest of the group turn to look at her, and she feels like she’s going to burn away under the gazes. They’re not even hostile, not all of them, it’s just too much, in a way she hasn’t really felt since… recent life changes. She squeezes her eyes closed, and leans over so that her head is inside the cliff. It’s instantly better, the rock cool against her skin despite the fact that she doesn’t have any, the noise muted despite… actually, she isn’t certain if that makes sense or not. Either way, it’s better. “Yes, sorry,” she replies, her voice echoing oddly. “I’m, um… I’m… new? I don’t know what the terminology is.”
“How new?” demands another voice. “How did you find this place?”
“Relax, Holt,” the multi-layered voice replies easily. “No need to be aggressive. I think we can assume they were given directions. That, or they’re looking for a spot to get high.”
“She,” Sorayah clarify, still from inside the wall. “And, the second one. I was given directions, I mean. There was a… skeleton? Ghost? In a suit?”
The group give a collective groan. “Of fucking course it was,” Holt spits.
“O-oh,” Sorayah stammers, caught off-guard. “Are they… not… liked? Or…”
“Nah,” a different voice drawls in a distinct American accent, “Vachon is just, uh.”
“Complicated,” the multi-layered voice finishes. “Not something you need to worry about. You okay there, though?”
“…yeah,” she replies slowly, and is surprised to find that it’s true. “Yeah, I’m alright.” Tentatively, she floats back out of the wall and into view. A few of the group are still looking at her, but most have returned to whatever conversation they were having before.
Unfortunately, Holt isn’t one of them. “Gross,” they say. They turn out to be the abstract one, looking at her with an exaggerated expression of disgust. “Yet another one.”
“Another-” Sorayah starts, but the multi-colour ghost gets their first. They raise their free hand, and slap Holt upside the head.
“Asshole,” they say, but there’s no menace in it. “It’s obviously not deliberate.”
“Er…” Sorayah ask tentatively. “What’s not? Deliberate, I mean.” They tap their chest, then flick the fingers forward at her. She looks down at her chest, but doesn’t see anything out of the ordinary. “Your cod.”
“…my what?” What do fish have to do with anything?
“Cause of death,” Holt snaps. “C-O-D. God, honestly.”
“Holt,” the American woman says, “shut your g-damn trap, okay?” She hasn’t spoken since Sorayah returned, but now that she does, it’s easy to match up the voice to the woman with holes through her head. “COD’s a shorthand,” she says to Sorayah, “but it kinda sucks. I like mortifacient, personally.”
“What Holt was referring to,” the multi-coloured one cuts back in, “was something of a… cultural divide, I suppose?”
“It’s not a f-king cultural divide!” Holt jumps in. “It’s just f-king basic decency, and-”
The American woman punches them in the mouth, and they go staggering backwards.
“Look,” the multi-coloured ghost sighs, “I’m really sorry about him. It’s probably easier if you just head inside, yeah?” They thumb over their shoulder, at a small nook in the rock wall. “I think things will be fairly self-evident from there.”
“…okay, yeah. Thank you.” She begins to float towards where they gestured. “Oh, um. I’m Sorayah, by the way.” She goes to stick her hand out, but then realises and jerks it back.
Somehow, they give the impression of a smile. “Inge. Nice to meet you.”
The American woman looks up from where they’re holding Holt in a headlock. “Rose. Charmed.”
“That’s them over there, actually.” Sorayah pointed over to another corner of the bar, where the two other ghosts were sharing a drink with what looked like a re-animated corpse. Inge noticed her, and gave a small wave. “They’re nice.”
“What are we,” Kath grumbles, “chopped liver?”
“Inside” turns out to be… dark, for one. Sorayah’s eyes take a moment to adjust, and she barely even has a panic attack over the fact that they still need to despite not actually having real, physical pupils. Once they have, they reveal a medium-sized room, with low ceilings and plentiful support beams. Tables are interspersed between the latter, and small booths line the walls. At the back of the room is an unassuming bar, staffed by two people in server’s clothing, and above it hangs a sign that says “Second Constance”.
There’s also a heaviness to the room; she can sense it, somehow. A solidity that feels strangely familiar, almost… homely? Tentatively, she reaches out to touch the nearest support beam, and, sure enough, finds herself resting a hand against smooth, dark wood.
“Just to be clear,” June asked, “it’s this ghost bar, right? Not a different ghost bar.” She paused. “…that is also named First Constant, I guess.”
Sorayah gave a soft laugh. “It’s this one, yeah.”
“Oh good.” She tipped her bottle back and drained the rest of her mostly-full drink in one go. “Cause after Kath’s story,” she continued, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, “I’m on edge for that shit.”
Kath shrugged. “Fair.”
“Also, though, I thought I felt some funny shit on the way in. Do you reckon they’d let me have a look? When I’m less sloshed, I mean.”
“I, ah, I really couldn’t say.”
“Bet they won’t,” June said sourly. “Everybody’s always ‘ooh, our security, our special super-secret formulas. Everybody’s doing the same goddamn thing these days! It’s all fucking Grantchester! You’re not special just because-”
It was Kath’s turn to restrain June as she began to half-rise from her seat, volume increasing steadily. She’d attracted a few looks from the other customers, which she met belligerently.
“I’m just saying,” she grumbled as she sat back down, her righteous fury deflating. “It’d be nice.”
The clientele inside the bar turn out to be just as diverse as the ones outside. More so, in fact; while the outside area seemed to be a mainly spectral group, at least at the moment, inside is another story. There are a few more ghosts, sure, but there’s also… well, everything. Everything Sorayah’s ever heard of, anyway. Vampire (she thinks, but maybe they’re just a goth albino), check. Werewolf, check. Various different types of zooeys, check. A… actually, she has no idea what that is, but it certainly looks interesting.
A few looks start to turn her way, and she realises that she’s been standing awkwardly in the doorway for over a minute now. Hastily, avoiding eye contact, she descends onto the main floor, weaving awkwardly between tables and pillars towards the bar. She’s out of practice at actually interacting with physical objects, though, so she ends up leaving a trail of bumped elbows and annoyed glares in her wake.
“Um,” she says, arriving at the bar. There are two staff working behind it; a female ghost, and what appears to be a living man. “Hello. Hi. Um, how do you order… a… drink?”
“Kind of like that,” the male bartender chuckles, “but with more nouns. What can I get you?”
“Um.” Panic actually helps her for once, forcing the words out before she can second-guess herself. “Shirley Temple?” A moment after the words leave her mouth, of course, she immediately realises that she doesn’t even know if she can drink anything, and how’s she going to pay for it anyway, and-
He grins, and grabs a few bottles and glasses. “Sure thing.”
“Alright,” the other bartender says as he begins to mix and pour, “I’m out. Have fun, Ray.”
“Yeah, you too.”
She floats out from behind the bar, tossing the towel back onto the bench. She stretches, and as she does, her form comes apart, motes of light scattering like dust in the wind. Sorayah gasps in shock, but the dust doesn’t blow away; it slows, then comes to a stop, hanging in the air for a brief moment, before swirling back together into the woman’s body. Only now, instead of being dressed like a bartender, she’s wearing casual clothes and a jacket, with her hair down. And instead of looking normal, the left side of her head is halfway through the process of being blown apart by a bullet, fragments of bone and muscle frozen in the air.
As Sorayah gapes, the woman notices and groans, then waves a hand over the area. It comes apart again, then reforms, this time looking uninjured like before. She rolls her eyes, then notices Sorayah staring.
“Take a photo,” she says dryly, “it’ll last longer.”
Sorayah flushes. “N-no,” she stammers, burning up, “I w-wasn’t- I d-don’t- I’ve just never-”
The other woman relaxes a little. “Oh, sorry, mate. New?”
She glances away. “…really wish it wasn’t that obvious.”
“Trust me,” the bartender replies with a grin, “it really is. Everyone gets it, though. It’s a big adjustment.
“…that’s putting it mildly,” she replies, surprising herself. “H-how did you do that, though?”
“Um. All of it?”
She laughs. “Damn, you really are- …okay, yeah, I see what you mean. Anyway, it’s pretty simple…”
“So it’s just…” June waved her hands incoherently around her head. “Zippity, zoppity, whatever? As easy as that?”
Sorayah chuckled awkwardly. “It’s, ah, a little bit more complicated than that? Mmm… here.” She squeezed her eyes closed, tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth, and waved a hand over her head. In fits and starts, the whole area blurred, becoming obscured, before snapping back into clarity. The style hadn’t changed at all, but now the tips of her hair were a deep sea blue.
Kath whooped loudly, applauding, while June raised an eyebrow. “Damn,” she said. “Wish I could do that.” She considered it for a moment. “Probably not worth it, huh?”
“Ah, heh. Yeah.”
Kath paused in the middle of her fist-pumping. “Uh, Ray Romano? You’ve got a bit of a… situation.”
“Hm?” She glanced down, to see the bloodstain spreading across her shirt. “Ah, darn,” she swore, before scrunching her eyes closed again and repeating the process on her chest.
“Sooo,” June said, as the shirt resumed its unbloodied state, “lemme guess. Your, like, ‘default state’ is always gonna be how you looked when you, grkk,” she stuck out her tongue and made a face. “But you can change that through effort, but the actual wound that killed you- sorry, malfactor, is, like, stronger or whatever? So unless you’re specifically concentrating on hiding it, it’s gonna come back first.” She bit her lip, thinking. “…that made sense, right?”
“…actually, yeah. That’s pretty much exactly right, well done.”
June held up a hand, and Kath high-fived it, entirely too hard.
“So,” she asked, as June cradled her hand and tried not to whimper, “how much can you change? Could you change into an animal? How about a chair?” She gasped dramatically. “Could you change into me?”
“Kath,” June said tiredly. “Don’t be such a complete asshole all of the… time…” She trailed off, glancing across the table to where a slightly translucent copy of her was now sitting, imitating her movements and echoing her words.
“…that’s gonna get really annoying,” she said sourly, and the double imitated her perfectly.
Kath laughed so hard that she began to choke.