by Izzy Haunting
When Josh got out of the shower in his new apartment for the first time, someone had written Hi Roomie! : ) in the steam on the bathroom mirror. Josh stood in the bathroom and looked at it for a long time, wondering what to do about it. In normal circumstances, he would have ignored it. But this wasn’t normal. Josh lived alone.
“Hello?” he said, a little nervous. “Is someone there?”
Nothing. The steam in the mirror had faded, and the message with it. He took a deep breath, dried his hair and was half-dressed when he heard a thud in the next room. When he went into the kitchen, the salt shaker had tipped over on the counter, spilling salt everywhere.
“What the fuck,” he said to himself quietly. There was nothing that could have knocked it over. He watched, incredulous, as the salt moved and then, very slowly, like someone was pulling their invisible finger through the crystals, watched them spell Hi.
“Uh,” Josh said. “Is someone there?”
The salt shook slightly, and then spelled Yes in big round finger letters.
Josh stared at the letters for a long moment, and then looked around his kitchen. It hadn’t changed since he’d left it, clearly uninhabited, that morning. It felt the same: boxes of unpacked dishes sitting on the counters, a bag of takeout boxes next to the sink and, crucially, no other people.
“Well, shit,” he said. He had a ghost.
He remembered his manners quickly. “Do you need anything?” he said.
The salt spelled letters slowly. He stared at it uncomprehendingly.
“Letters? Like the post?” he asked, confused. Nothing happened, and the silence made him feel a little silly. He looked at the salt. “Wait, letters! Like Scrabble letters?”
A fat line appeared under the yes, slowly, like it was stating something obvious.
“Oh yeah, I can do that, just a second,” he said. He ducked out of the kitchen and into the spare room, still full of piles of unpacked boxes. He’d only moved in last week, and had been taking a leisurely approach to unpacking. But the box labeled ‘games’ was right where he’d left it and inside, nestled on top of a couple of puzzles and an old Monopoly box, was a cardboard Scrabble box. He grabbed it and trotted back to the kitchen, then turned the bag of letters up over his kitchen island, letting them scatter.
“Uh, I’m Josh,” he said, to the air, as the tiles started to move on their own. “What’s your name?”
EZRA spelled the tiles quickly.
“Nice to meet you Ezra,” Josh said. He looked around the kitchen, shivering a little. “I guess I should put a shirt on, huh?” He tried not to think about all the times he’d walked around the apartment naked since he’d moved in. A couple of the pieces shook, a little like laughter, and then some more flipped over and formed into words.
I DONT MIND
“Okay, well, that’s good,” he said. “Um, stay here, I guess?”
One of the pieces flipped back and forth, an acknowledgement, and Josh jogged into his bedroom to put on a t-shirt. His day was turning out way differently than he expected. He’d thought he’d maybe unpack a little, play some video games, order pizza and watch old episodes of The Office he’d seen a hundred times. Now he was talking to his live-in ghost. He was definitely going to complain to the letting agent about this. They should have told him the property had a ghost.
“Okay, okay, I’m back,” he said, walking into the kitchen. “Um, can you play video games?”
There was a long pause, and then the tiles flipped over slowly.
I DONT KNOW
Josh nodded. “Okay, well, let’s see I guess?”
The first thing Josh had set up in the new apartment was the tv and the switch, because he had his priorities in order. He opened up Mario Kart and set the other controller on the sofa cushions. He opened up the game, made his character and then waited, watching the other controller. For a while, nothing happened, and then the joystick slowly started moving, picking up speed with time, the controller otherwise perfectly motionless on the sofa.
“Awesome, man!” Josh said, looking where he thought Ezra might be. “Let’s try racing!”
It was weird playing someone who couldn’t talk or react out loud, but eventually they were both in the swing of it, Josh moaning when he got blue-shelled, or cheering when either of them won. Ezra wasn’t very fast on the corners, and he didn’t seem to understand drifting, but he had really good aim and kept hitting Josh with bananas when he least expected it.
“Oh, c’mon man!” he groaned, when Ezra got him with a green shell just before the finish line and Donkey Kong sped past him.
“Shoulda been faster,” said a voice next to him, and Josh felt himself jump nearly a foot. He’d gotten so used to the perfect silence.
“Gah!” he said, one hand over his rapidly beating heart. The room still looked totally empty, but now the silence was a bit smug.
“Sorry,” the voice said, although he didn’t sound sorry. “It gets easier to talk after a little while.”
“You could warn a guy,” Josh said, catching his breath. Ezra laughed, the laughter seemingly coming out of nowhere. It was pretty ghostly.
“I didn’t want to distract you from the race,” Ezra said, and then paused. “Not that it helped you.”
“Hey!” Josh said. He picked up the controller. “Just for that, I’m going to get you.”
“Mm-hmm,” Ezra agreed sarcastically, and then the music of the next race started up and they were focused on the game.
Eventually, it was dark outside the windows, the lights of the city blinking in other, far off buildings, and Josh was starting to wilt. It had been a longer day than he’d been expecting, and his eyelids were fluttering closed in between breaths. “I’ve got to sleep now, man,” he said, when they finished their last race. “Do you want me to leave the game on for you?”
“Nah,” Ezra said. “It’s okay. I should rest too.”
Josh nodded, and then paused. “Wait, how does that work?” he asked, but after nearly five minutes there wasn’t any reply, so he took that as a sign Ezra had gone to whatever ‘rest’ he’d been talking about.
In his own room, he hesitated getting undressed. He usually slept shirtless, but he didn’t know anything about ghosts. Could Ezra walk through walls? Could he see through walls? Josh didn’t even know what he looked like. He put an old t-shirt on and fell asleep in some old sweatpants, curled up under his duvet, feeling like he could hear Ezra’s pleased laughter.
Josh had to go back to work after that, the days he’d taken off to move into his new flat all used up, but he and Ezra managed quite well. He had no idea what Ezra did during the day when he wasn’t around – ghostly things, he expected – but in the evenings they’d chat while Josh heated up his dinner and then they’d sit – or, well, Josh would sit, and he assumed Ezra was sitting but couldn’t see him to check – and watch TV. During the advertisements, Ezra would tease him about his terrible taste in TV, but he never suggested they change the channel, so Josh figured he was happy enough.
Josh had been worried about living alone. After his last break-up, he’d lived with roommates he’d found online, but he’d never really thought of them as friends. They were just convenient. But this flat had been his first time alone. Or well, he’d thought it was. It was hard to feel lonely when Ezra was always around to play video games with or talk about the football. But Ezra didn’t leave dirty dishes in the sink or hair in the bathroom, or track mud through the flat. He was just a warm presence, and Josh would think of him sometimes, when he was at work, if something particularly frustrating or funny happened. It was nice to have someone at home he could tell things to, even if he still didn’t know what Ezra looked like, or if he even looked like anything at all. Josh had tried to drop a few subtle questions about, well, anything to do with his past or his life, but Ezra had smoothly dodged them and Josh had received the message loud and clear it was none of his business.
But then one day he came home from work and there was a strange man in his kitchen.
“Ah!” He stopped in the doorway, still holding his shopping in a plastic bag against his chest. “Who the hell are you?”
“Oh, hey,” the guy said, turning around from fiddling with the kettle. “I was going to put the kettle on for you.”
“What?” Josh felt like he’d stepped through into another dimension. Or like he had the morning he’d gotten out of the shower and seen the writing on the mirror. Like something was happening he was supposed to understand, but didn’t.
“Man, it’s me,” the stranger said, looking at him. “It’s Ezra.”
“Oh.” Josh felt his sudden spike of adrenaline drop. “Why can I…see you?”
Ezra smiled, and Josh had a strange moment of realising that it was the first time he had ever seen Ezra smile. It was a nice smile. He had a boyish face, and deep brown eyes and a heavy mass of freckles down his face and neck, disappearing under his white tank top. Josh dragged his eyes up.
“It takes me a little while to, uh, become corporeal,” Ezra said, pulling a face. “God, I hate saying that, it sounds so silly.”
“Are you gonna, like, get ectoplasm everywhere? Turn into slime?” Josh asked, still in the doorway.
Ezra snorted. “I’m not letting you watch Ghostbusters anymore,” he said. “In fact, no more ghost movies.”
“Aw man, c’mon,” Josh wheedled, and put his shopping on the kitchen island. “Ghostbusters is good.”
Ezra put a mug on the counter and threw in a tea bag, giving him a straight look as he poured the water from the kettle. “You just like looking at Chris Hemsworth,” he said. He pushed the mug towards Josh, and a teaspoon. One of Ezra’s front teeth was crooked, and when he smiled Josh caught a glimpse of it, just enough to stick in his memory.
“Were you, um, trying to get visible?” Josh said, fishing the teabag out and dropping it in the bin. “Or did it just happen?”
Ezra shrugged. He had slim shoulders, and the peaks of his shoulder blades pulled together when he shrugged. Josh hadn’t realised how hungry he was for details, physical details, of Ezra. He wanted to commit everything to a picture-perfect memory.
“It just got easier and easier and then, ta-dah,” Ezra said, which wasn’t clarifying at all. Ezra really had the mysterious part of ‘mysterious supernatural happening’ perfected.
“Is it permanent? Will you go away again?” Josh asked, holding his tea but not drinking, letting it cool down.
The look Ezra gave him was nearly fond, warm in his brown eyes, his freckles pulling up at the corners of his mouth. “I don’t want to,” he said, the most directly Josh had ever heard him express an opinion.
“Okay,” Josh said, nodding, and then drank his tea, watching Ezra putter around the kitchen over the rim of his mug. He looked at home.
Someone at the office told Josh about the council tax reduction he could get for living with a bona fide ghost, and he looked up the paperwork while procrastinating finishing something for his boss. It wasn’t that tricky, just some questions he’d need to check with Ezra, so he printed off the pages and stuffed them in his backpack.
The commute was a nightmare, delayed trains everywhere he looked, every year he thought winter would be fine and every year it was a mess and Josh totally forgot about the forms till after he’d eaten and opened his bag to get his book out.
“Oh, hey,” he said, flipping the sheaf of papers out onto the kitchen table. “I’ve got to ask you some questions, we can get money off the council tax.”
“I don’t pay council tax,” Ezra said, sitting on the sofa. He didn’t do any of the things people did to keep their hands busy – eating, drinking, even playing with his hair, since he could apparently change his hair and his clothes just by thinking hard about it. The stillness didn’t feel unnatural anymore, to Josh.
“Okay, fine,” he said. “I’ll get money off the council tax. You have to let me fill in these forms though.”
“What do I get out of it?” Ezra said, while Josh fished a pen out of his bag. Josh gave him a look.
“A flatmate with more money to spend on video games,” he said. “Now, c’mon, what’s your surname?”
He paused with his pen poised over the page, and then, when Ezra didn’t say anything, looked up. Ezra’s face was carefully, viciously blank, not a single twitch of emotion getting through. “Hill,” he said. “Ezra Hill.”
Josh didn’t want to push at it, so just ducked his head and filled in the box in neat block capitals. “Do you know your NHS number?” he said.
That made Ezra’s expression twist. “No,” he said grumpily. “I didn’t exactly take any paperwork with me.”
“That’s okay,” Josh said quickly. “The form says you don’t need it. Uh, do you mind if I ask the rest? Of the questions?”
Ezra was looking at his hands, extremely pointedly casual. “Why would I mind?” he asked, deceptively mild.
“Uh, well,” Josh said, not knowing if he was somehow doing something wrong. Ezra usually seemed pretty happy. He liked video games, reading Josh’s old fantasy paperbacks, and their growing collection of cactus plants. He told jokes, he laughed, he smiled all the time. The sudden careful blankness was unnerving.
Ezra sighed, and then waved a hand. “Go ahead,” he said. “It’s fine.”
Josh looked down at the form. “Okay,” he said, keeping his eyes ahead. “Is this the address of your…discorporation?”
“It says death on there, doesn’t it?” Ezra asked.
Josh felt his jaw clench. “It says ‘death or discorporation’,” he said, a little sharply. They’d never spoken about how Ezra had come to stay permanently in the apartment.
“It wasn’t here,” Ezra replied. “It was down the street.”
“At the pub?” Josh said, looking up. The only thing ‘down the street’ was the Fox and Hare. Ezra’s lips were so tightly pressed together they were nearly white around the edges.
“Yes,” he said.
Josh wrote out the address of the Fox and Hare quickly. “Okay, last one,” he said, keeping his shoulders hunched and his focus on the pen in his hand. “Date of …discorporation?”
Ezra snorted. He obviously didn’t approve of Josh’s trying to spare his feelings. “September 16th, 1996,” he said.
John wrote in the numbers, then flipped the pages over. “Done,” he said quickly, like ripping off a plaster. “No more questions.”
“All right,” Ezra said, studying his fingernails like they were hiding the secrets of the universe. Josh wasn’t buying it. Answering the questions had rattled him, in a way Josh had never seen before. He folded over the forms, and tucked them back into his bag. He could finish the rest at work tomorrow.
“You want to play some video games? Mario Kart?” he asked.
Ezra looked up and smiled. “I always beat you. Pick something else,” he said, playful but brittle, his shoulders relaxing like he was glad to have the subject changed.
Josh didn’t even try that hard to win, just let Ezra roll right over him, watching him, seeing how Ezra very carefully avoided looking at him. “Do you not like talking about it?” he said, putting his controller down. He knew it was a stupid question, even as he asked it. He obviously didn’t.
Ezra paused, looking stubbornly ahead. He didn’t set the controller down, just kept it in his hand, not moving. “Would you like to talk about it?” Ezra said viciously, biting the words out. “If you’d been dead for twenty-four years, stuck in a fucking apartment, not able to go anywhere, touch anyone?”
“You haven’t tried touching me,” Josh said simply. He didn’t know how to deal with any of the rest, the grieving, the years, the loneliness. It all seemed like too great of a burden. Maybe all he could do was chip away at it, piece by piece. He reached a hand out, palm up. “Wanna give it a shot?” he asked.
Ezra looked at him, his face pained and his eyes glistening with tears, clearly trying to hold back. He clearly bit back what he was going to say, and reached out his hand, hovering it a few inches above Josh’s hand. “It’s not going to work,” Ezra said thickly, watching their hands.
Josh shrugged. “Maybe,” he said. “Won’t know until we try.”
Ezra only frowned, holding his hand perfectly still. Josh raised his palm slightly, until there was barely a hair’s breadth between them. He thought he could maybe feel something: not skin, but a light tingling, like very faint electricity, or the sensation of bubbles popping off the surface of a fizzy drink.
“Do you feel that?” Josh said, looking up.
Ezra’s frown had smoothed out to something nearly hopeful. “Maybe,” he said slowly. Josh let his hand rise again, just barely, and could feel the strange sensation all down his palm. It was like rain, only not cold or wet, just the sensation of droplets falling against his hand. It felt – gently wonderful. Something to cherish. So strange and otherworldly he had never looked for it, but now wonderful to hold in his hand.
“I can feel you,” Josh said, nearly a whisper. He didn’t know why he was whispering, but it felt right.
Ezra’s mouth twisted. “It isn’t the same,” he said, but he didn’t pull his hand away. Josh didn’t move, just looked back at him.
“I like it,” he said, and watched Ezra smile in response, the expression moving across his face slowly until he was just grinning, his eyes light.
Something changed then, after they realised they could touch each other, even if only faintly. Josh didn’t want to take any of it away from Ezra, even when it was strange sometimes to feel the sparky, popping sensation of Ezra’s palm on his shoulder blade in the kitchen, or on the back of his neck when Ezra passed behind the sofa. Every time, Ezra would smile, small and private. Josh wanted to do anything to protect that little smile, Ezra’s quieter happiness.
If either of them moved quickly, the fizzing touches would fail, and Ezra would move right through him, feeling of absolutely nothing. But if they were slow and careful, they could do everything, hold hands, hug, even let Ezra bend over and kiss Josh on the forehead, thrillingly chaste.
Josh didn’t always think he was the most perceptive guy, but even he could tell they were building to something. He was happy to wait for Ezra to make whatever decision he was mulling over. He could wait, and, in the meantime, enjoy every wonderfully strange electric touch.
He was glad he’d thought about it, in the end. It meant he wasn’t surprised when, one evening no different from any other, Ezra put down his game controller and turned to look at him.
“Can I kiss you?” he said, quickly, with no preamble, like he’d been working up to it.
Josh smiled, letting his relief and happiness show on his face. Sure, he’d been happy to wait, but not-waiting was even better. “If you like,” he said, knowing his huge grin was undermining his casualness. He didn’t care.
“Wait, what do you mean, if you like? I’m asking you!” Ezra said, pulling back and frowning, his expression like an affronted cat.
Josh laughed. “I’m kidding,” he said, and then, more softly. “Yeah, I’d like to kiss you.”
“Are you sure?” Ezra said, already leaning forward, one hand flat on the sofa. Josh could see where he was biting his lip, the soft indentation. “What if you don’t like it? We live together,” he said quickly, still moving in closer, like he couldn’t help himself.
Josh put his hand down next to Ezra’s, just barely touching, the familiar sensation of popping candy faint against his fingers. “I’m sure, Ezra,” he said.
He leaned in gently, so slowly it felt nearly painful. He had to go so slow he didn’t feel the headlong rush to close his eyes and he watched Ezra’s freckles get closer, the plush skin of his lips, the little crinkle of skin at the corner of his eyes, his faintly trembling eyelashes. He wanted more than anything to just dive in, to feel Ezra’s mouth against his, soft and warm, but he forced himself to wait, to hold perfectly still.
It was Ezra who crossed the final inches and gently pushed his mouth against Josh’s. A sensation like the gentlest bolt of electricity fizzed across Josh’s lips and into his mouth, down his spine and leg and the soles of his feet.
“Wow,” he said, when they pulled apart. His mouth felt strange, a little numb, but when he touched his fingers to his lips, they felt normal.
“What does it feel like?” Ezra asked, watching him carefully.
Josh smiled. “Like fizzing,” he said, wiggling his fingers. “It feels good. What does it feel like for you?”
“Warm,” Ezra said happily, and leaned in again.
They kissed for a long time. It was addictive, and Josh could feel the time gliding away from him, the minutes soft and malleable, the only thing he was thinking about the gentle feeling against his mouth. They figured out quickly that if Josh held still, Ezra could kiss him filthily, sliding his tongue into his mouth, the fizzing electric feeling lighting up his whole head, like being high with none of the after-effects.
“Fuck,” Josh said, when they pulled apart again, a little dazed. He could feel his body reacting, heating up, a blush spreading across his face. He was uncomfortably hard and he shifted in place, trying to relieve the pressure. Ezra blinked at him, and then smirked.
“Are you all right?” he asked, his voice low and his gaze warm. “Do you need anything?”
Josh coughed in surprise, and then laughed. “I could use a hand,” he said, grinning. “What about you?”
“Do you think we can go slowly enough?” Ezra asked, his tongue between his teeth playfully, like a dare. Josh snorted, and reached for the hem of his t-shirt, pausing before he pulled it off.
“Can you…get undressed?” he asked slowly. He didn’t know how ghost clothes worked. It seemed wiser to ask. Ezra didn’t even move, and between one blink and the next his shirt disappeared, showing his thin chest, the pink peak of his nipples.
“You’re slow,” Ezra said, and they were both grinning at each other, silly and stupid and fun, just the way Josh had hoped it would be. He pulled his shirt off, and then started on his belt, wriggling around on the sofa, trying to simultaneously coordinate his hands and watch as Ezra disappeared his own trousers.
Finally, Josh peeled his jeans off, until he was just in his underwear and Ezra was in his, his first proper chance to look his fill at all of Ezra’s body. Ezra looked back at him, doing the same. It was cold in the living room, without clothes on, and Josh could feel his skin rising up in goosebumps, but he stayed still, letting Ezra look all he wanted.
So slowly it was maddening, Ezra ran his hand over Josh’s shoulders, then down the plane of his chest and across his stomach, stopping at the edge of his underwear. Josh met his gaze. “I’ll take them off if you do,” Josh said, and Ezra smiled back, his expression nearly hungry.
“Deal,” Ezra said quickly. Josh hooked his thumbs into the waistband of his underwear and pulled them off quickly, not giving himself time to overthink it. His dick caught in the band and then flopped back against his stomach, leaving a damp patch against his skin. When he looked up, Ezra was watching him, both of them turned towards each other on the sofa, completely naked. Ezra’s dick was – for want of a better word – pretty, curving up towards his stomach, the skin pulled back exposing the deep pink of the head. Josh wanted it in his mouth, but he didn’t think he’d be able to go slowly enough to manage it. He’d probably go right through Ezra and faceplant into the sofa.
“I definitely can’t go slowly enough to suck you off,” Josh said, in the spirit of saying what he was thinking. It had worked for him so far.
Ezra wrapped a hand around himself, his long fingers curling gently around the length of his dick, holding it away from his body like he was showing off. “We can practice later,” he said, his eyes heavy-lidded with pleasure. “Let me watch you?”
Josh swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry, and nodded. The idea of watching each other – no touching, no kissing, just their own hands and each other’s gaze – felt more intimate than anything physical he’d done before. There was nowhere to hide. Ezra was gorgeous. His freckles came all the way down his chest, and when he leaned back to touch himself, Josh could see the way the muscles in his chest and arm moved, his whole body tensing. He wanted to watch Ezra. But knowing he was being watched at the same time? It was all swirling together in his brain in a soup of attraction and lust and arousal.
He nodded, licking his palm in a broad stripe and wrapping his fingers around his dick, playing with his foreskin the way he liked, a smooth, tantalising glide over the head of his dick.
“You too,” Josh said, when Ezra didn’t move his hand. He couldn’t stand to just jerk off on his own. He wanted to see Ezra get himself off; he wanted to watch him come.
“Yes, yes,” Ezra said quickly, although Josh didn’t know if it was agreement or pleasure.
It would have been easy to get lost in his own body and just focus on getting himself off, but he forced himself to focus on Ezra, watch the way his dick leaked into his hand when he played with his balls, the way his thighs tensed as he got closer and closer. He knew Ezra was watching him too, how he liked it tight and fast around the head, his fist nearly completely closed and only his wrist moving. Ezra’s whole arm moved in long strokes from root to tip, getting himself wet and shiny.
Josh licked his lips, and then had to bite down, as the feeling reached its peak. His eyes were open, focused on Ezra, but he was picturing everything he wanted to do: suck him off, his mouth full of the sweet electric fizz of touching Ezra, or figure out a way to fuck him, or even just suck on Ezra’s fingers, a slow, maddening tease. And then the bubble popped and his eyes squeezed closed as his whole body tensed, his cock jerking in his hand, come striping his fingers.
He snapped his eyes open as soon as he realised they were closed, his breath coming in great gasps, afraid he’d missed Ezra’s orgasm. Just as they made eye contact, Ezra gasped loudly, nearly a whine, and Josh got to watch as he came, each twitch and tremor that went through his body, and the come that painted his stomach and chest. It was glorious.
“Oh my god,” Josh said, flopping back on the sofa, one of his hands going straight through Ezra’s arm. “You’re amazing.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Ezra said, looking down at him fondly, moving close enough part of him went through Josh’s side.
“Hmm,” Josh hummed, already feeling kind of dozy, his eyes fluttering shut. “Don’t let me fall asleep on the sofa, I’ll get come on it.”
“I won’t,” Ezra agreed, and Josh felt the fizzy feeling of Ezra’s hand against his face, miraculous and wonderful.