The rumblings of a story were storming through my brain. I had an idea of the direction I was going in, but needed a scene to start the story. I asked my son, Seth, who was fifteen at the time, what he thought would be a really scary incident.
His reply was: A girl has fallen asleep in the lounge and wakes up to the sensation of something cold tapping against her nose. When she opens her eyes, she finds that the cold sensation is from toes. As her gaze works upwards, she sees the ghost of a dead girl dangling from the ceiling fan with a rope noose wrapped around her neck, her cold dead feet tapping, tapping against the girl's nose as she slept.
And so After Life was born. Take a look to see how the scene played out in the novel.
by Jacquie Underdown
Something thudded against Zoe's nose, cold like an ice-cube, hard enough to hurt.
She dragged her eyelids open, anticipating the kind face of her father as he woke her to go up to bed. But she found something else.
Pale feet hung in front of her face, swinging subtly in the air, hitting her nose with stiff, icy toes.
She gasped. Her heart thumped hard and fast, yet her muscles solidified, holding her in place. The odour of stinking flesh found her nostrils and curled in her belly.
Zoe’s wide gaze worked upwards: bone white legs mottled with thick blue veins; a long cream shift, damp and loose around swollen shins; dark hair drooping around a girl’s pallid face.
Blue and black smudges rimmed the girl’s eyes and tarnished the flesh around her neck where the thick noose squeezed tightly. Her head lolled downwards, eyes closed, facing Zoe.
Dead. Dead. Dead.
Zoe jerked her knees up and staggered along the couch like a cornered crab, unwilling to turn her gaze too long from the girl dangling from the ceiling fan.
Breaths were hard to draw in. A dull hum echoed in her ears.
She searched the living room for an escape route, head jerking back and forth, then peered up at the girl’s white face.
The lights flickered and dimmed overhead, and the girl’s eyes snapped open.
Glaring down at Zoe, she bleated, “Help me!”
Zoe’s breath wheezed from her lungs. Her heart hammered hard. She looked into the girl’s bloodshot eyes, the irises faded to ghostly grey, and a long shiver coiled up her spine.
“Help me!” The shrill voice of the girl painfully vibrated Zoe’s eardrums.
Zoe screamed until her chest could burst and her throat was raw. She lurched from the couch and sprinted to the staircase at the back of the living room. Not looking back, she threw her hands over her ears and ran up the stairs, two, three, at a time.
She tripped at the top and busted her knee against the edge of the stair. As pain bit hard, she groaned.
This can’t be happening. This can’t be real.
Zoe’s knee throbbed, but she didn’t falter. She dragged herself to her feet and bounded upwards. At the landing, she didn’t slow, too afraid the pale-eyed ghost was creeping close behind her, long claws ready to scratch at her ankles.
She skidded around the corner, sprinted to her bedroom, and slammed the door shut. Feet barely touching the ground, she leapt onto the bed and yanked her duvet over her head and the pillow over her ears to drown out the horrible screeching.
She can see the dead, but that’s the least of her problems ...
All Zoe wants is to be normal and feel accepted. But that is an impossible goal for a girl who can see spirits. Maybe if she hides her dead-seeing abilities and pretends to be like any other seventeen-year-old girl, she can, at best, appear to be ordinary. That’s her hope when she moves to a new town for high school, but it all depends on keeping her secrets concealed.
But the dead have different plans, and they expose her for who she truly is. As her reputation around school as the resident freak show grows, her world crumbles. And she soon learns that she can’t trust anyone, living or dead.
When Zoe believes all is lost, the truth is finally revealed—not only about who she is but what she is. She is shown glimpses of a world after life and her place within it. But with this new knowledge, comes responsibility, and she will be forced to make the most painful and difficult decision of her life.
Will Zoe choose the safety and comfort of the human life she knows? Or will she be courageous enough to venture into the world that comes after death? A world that may just hold the answers she has been seeking all along.