Thirty Minutes, Tops

Oh, I know what you’re up to. I might not know all the “unfinished business” rules (not that your lot ever bothered to tell anybody, lazy sods) but I’m in charge of my business and I’m saying that I’m not done. I shan’t be intimidated. That hag needs to be taught a lesson and that lesson is me.

Thirty Minutes, Tops
Photo by Jeremy Wong Weddings / Unsplash

By K.R. Lai

Look, I’ll be honest, I’m a bit flattered to be invited here of all places, but you need to know something—I’m not done. No, don’t look at me like that. I said, I’m not done.

Hey. Your darker than night cloak and scythe thing doesn’t work on me, even with the extra special effects. Get rid of this atmospheric smoke nonsense at once. This office is small enough as it is, this “chair” you’ve given me is bloody uncomfortable. Honestly, I’m not impressed. Weren’t you around when chairs were invented?

I like to see who I’m talking to. Turn it off. Thank you.

Jesus, you could stand to tidy up a bit in here, couldn’t you? All these shelves and papers, how on earth do you get anything done? Is that why you add all the smoke and fog? To hide this mess? That’s embarrassing. You’ve had all eternity to tidy up and this is your best attempt?

Oh, I know what you’re up to. I might not know all the “unfinished business” rules (not that your lot ever bothered to tell anybody, lazy sods) but I’m in charge of my business and I’m saying that I’m not done. I shan’t be intimidated.

That hag needs to be taught a lesson and that lesson is me.

No no no. I’m not leaving this office until you send me back.

I’m not asking forever, just a bit longer. A few hours.

Oh, don’t you start. I know where you want to send me. Don’t start with that pearly gate possibility stuff, I won’t be coerced. Where was He when I got hit by a car and missed every important thing in my granddaughter’s life? What, you think being a ghost is fun? He knows how much she loved her grandma Edwina, and he has the gall to say he’s merciful? Eff purgatory too, that boring hole. Let’s agree now: I should go straight downstairs. At least it’s bloody warm. I’ve always wanted to try cocaine and group sex. And I’d like to find out who Jack the Ripper really was. It’s been bugging me for ages. Come on. I’ll go quietly when you let me go back finish my business. It’ll make the paperwork easy. You don’t know what happened, you’ve been busy with that earthquake. No need to flick through my file. It’s quite thick, see? Hefty thing. Just listen. Alright? Good.

Sit up straight now. It’s impolite to slouch.

When Matthias proposed to Matilda—I knew they weren’t the sort but I’d always hoped Matthias would pop the question—I was thrilled! My daughter and the love of her life, such a good match! Unlike her brother and his cardboard flavoured wife. You know Lawrence (he goes by Larry now can you believe it? Hideous) couldn’t organise a funeral for toffee? As usual his sister stepped in and made it perfect. Even after seeing my mangled body at the morgue, she took a deep breath and made it happen. Matthias was supportive as ever, of course. And my granddaughter, Alisa, is the best of both of them. Matthias, Matilda, Alisa. Sort of wish they stuck with the “M” thing, but oh well.

I worry about Tom though, I do. Lawrence and Francesca are such an unfortunate pair. Tom is so wonderful; I’m blessed in the grandchildren department. I’m glad he’s going to university soon. The further away the better.

So. This wedding was almost perfect from the get-go, save a few blips. It was lovely and I was floating around,poking canapes and nudging waiters. Waiting for the music to happen. The Big Moment. 

Then Saunder, Matthias’s good for nothing brother arrived. I do not know how that hag produced one flawless son and a sweaty, alcoholic inbred, but there you go. I mean, I had Lawrence. Sorry, Larry.

Did you know what Francesca got him into? 


Bloody bagpipes. And he’s not a hobbyist, no, he didn’t have the politeness to keep it to himself. He’s a competitivebagpipe player now. Lawrence, Larry, this adult man going through another mid-life crisis because his third and quarter ones weren’t enough, shotgun married a woman who thinks bagpipes are good fun. Don’t get me wrong—bagpipes are a fine instrument. It’s Lawrence that’s the problem. As soon as his lips touch that thing it’s like he’s trying to resuscitate a dying animal. Like he’s doing unspeakable things to a Canadagoose. Like the bagpipes have done unspeakable things to him

Anyway. That bumbling buffoon Saunder plonked his arse right next to my granddaughter and made a pass and I saw red. She’s fifteen and terrified. He’s nearly forty and bald. She naturally went to her father and Matthias erupts from his room, furious. Made a scene (rightly so) and Saunder left.

So what if he fell into the sea as he was leaving? 

I didn’t know he couldn’t swim.

Don’t frown—I said I didn’t know. And he managed to fish himself out. I don’t see why getting rid of a predator adds to my file. He’ll be in hell someday and I’d happily meet him.As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to hell for one thing, not two. Surely saving my granddaughter counts for something?

Ah ah ah, no, the secondary drowning thing was definitely not on me. Who knew you could get water in your lungs and drown from the inside? You learn new things every day, even when you’re dead. Besides, it didn’t happen until forty-eight hours later. By then Matilda and Matthias were on their honeymoon, Alisa was at her friend’s house, and so I followed Saunder for a few days out of boredom. He’s vile, as expected. Dirty slob. And I was there, hovering over him as he dialled for an ambulance after his shower, choking out his address and turning blue in the face. He made it.Unfortunately.

The message I left on his mirror did frighten him, post-hospital stay. I’m glad that I had time to practice beforehand. This whole making yourself solid thing is exhausting, especially at my age. I didn’t enjoy touching that mirror. That thing was dirty enough without the steam. Hopefully he’s learned his lesson.

So that problem was solved. After Saunder takes a dip, guess who chooses to arrive? The hag. Fashionably late, of course. Like some villain in a bad sitcom she’s been awful since day one. Made my daughter cry more times than I can count. If there’s one thing I did wrong with Matilda it was raise her too polite. But that hag got what was coming to her.She’s there for five minutes and already making pointed comments about the flowers and the décor and the cake and the dress.

I’m not sorry I spilled that wine.

If you want attention, you can bloody have it. 

Of course, she has this whole episode about how awful and unfair life is, but I’m telling you she looked like a circus tent made of blue doilies. Nobody felt bad for her, except for maybe Alisa when she reached hysterics. She’s the one who gets the napkins and is there dabbing at this woman’s dress and trying not to grin, looking around, avoiding her gaze. I swear to you she looks right at me. She squints for a moment, then returns to dabbing. The hag brushes her aside. I hoped she’d leave gracefully, but no, that hag came prepared. She goes back to her hotel room and returns…

Wearing white. At a wedding.

“Oh, it’s all I had!” She says, airily waving a matching fan. The guests are wide-eyed, and she’s there strutting like a peacock. They’re all too polite to say anything, but we’re all thinking the same thing: The nerve of this woman.

I tried everything I could to trap her, but the hag and her UFO pancake hat bothers everyone like a mosquito, bragging about Matthias and whispering about Matilda. If I had blood, it’d be boiling. Of course, the moment arrives, and everyone’s asked to go to the proper venue outdoors. Hag leads the way, and I try to dislodge the hat from her bulbous head, but I can’t concentrate I’m so angry. They walk, I hover. I did manage to make her shiver though, so that was fun, shoving my hand in and out like the hokey pokey through her chest.

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky when we got out. You couldn’t have asked for a better day. Not even the seagulls (nasty birds) were there to bother us. I’m so glad they chose Italy.

The ceremony was picture perfect. If the hag and I could agree on one thing it was that they loved the hell out of each other. I wept. My darling girl, all grown up. Her dress was a trailing path of flowers and lace, something fairies and angels would dance on. Matilda noticed her hag-in-law but she brushed it off like the diplomat she is. I was so, so proud. They both mentioned me in their vows, which incensed the hag further, to my delight.

Naturally, she had to have her moment after dinner. There she is, holding up her glass, already half drunk and slurring her speech, whining about how poor Matthias’s father was no longer with us, and how lonely and hard it’s been for her, this obnoxious, frisbee-headed woman.

Annoying, yes. But it was the next thing she said that sent me off the edge.

“And this poor, penniless orphan my Matthias fell in love with. She’s quite pretty, but she’ll need to work hard to keep him happy!” She finishes her glass with triumph, waiting for the laughs. I’m not kidding when I say jaws dropped. Matilda turns scarlet and Matthias hurriedly stands up to thank his mother and move onto the next thing. Matilda excuses herself for a moment while everyone sits awkwardly, then Matthias excuses himself to go after her.

I don’t need to go. I know she’s sobbing in her dressing room and Matthias is rubbing her shoulders. At this point I’m by my granddaughter, who turns toward me. I wasn’t trying to show myself to her, but she can surely feel my presence. Alisa’s more perceptive than anyone else in the family, and she shivers when I touch her shoulder. Maybe those ghost books she’s been a fan of lately have helped. I wish she’d lay off the serial killer documentaries though.

“Grandma?” She whispers.

I whisper back, but she doesn’t hear. Instead, she glares at the hag and jumps to her feet and claps her hands. “While mum and dad are busy, let’s have Uncle Larry start the music!”

Oh, Lawrence. The one time in his life he gets to shine. He pulls out those bagpipes from whatever hidden orifice and heads to the dance floor. He starts squawking, and unbelievably, people begin to follow this tooting pied piper. I expected Alisa to follow as well, but she makes a beeline for the hag, her cheeks pink.

“Why do you have to ruin my parents’ special day?” She demands. The hag is affronted, but Alisa rails on. “You’re an embarrassment, and you should be ashamed!” Then she turns on her heel and leaves the hag, who is speechless and storms away.

I follow, beaming, shoving my hand into her head and heart and arms and making her twitch and wriggle like she’s being poked by a cattle prod. She stops outside the venue and pulls out a cigarette, muttering to herself. Cursing Alisa, Matilda, even Matthias…then me. Oh, does she have things to say about me. She puffs smoke into the horizon, one hand perched on her hip.

You know, the Italians know how to do beauty right. Gorgeous food, fantastic weather, lovely people…

And high, high cliffs.

Did I mention it was a cliff top wedding?

I did what anyone would’ve done. If they were a ghost, I mean. And bored.

I tense up, will myself into existence and the second she turns around I reach over, finger outstretched toward her chest. Her mouth turns into a perfect O and the cigarette tumbles.


Nobody heard her shrieks over the bagpipes. She made quite the splash.

The wedding went on and on into the night. Of course, the manhunt was worrying to the couple, but everyone just assumed the hag had buggered off. I’m not saying they didn’t try to find her. I’m just saying they didn’t try very hard.

Alisa was the one who convinced them to go on their honeymoon first. Lawrence and Francesca did the adult thing and contacted the police. It was all wrapped up quite nicelyand the guests were none the wiser. I latched onto Alisa. She didn’t seem bothered by my touch anymore on the way home, she was more excited about packing her things and going to her friend’s house. While she was away, I trailed Saunder thenreturned to our front gate to welcome her home. I regaled to her my adventures as she walked up the path.

But guess who’s there when she opens the front door? The hag.

I thought I looked rough, with the mangled head and gaping wounds. But wow, the hag looked more seaweed and rotten fish than woman. I grinned.

“Hello, Bertha.”


We fought while Alisa made coffee. Luckily she had her earphones in, otherwise she would’ve heard the rattling chandeliers and swaying houseplants while she did laundry. It was mid-fight when my hands started disappearing. Then my feet. Then I was back to the void, after God knows how long. And now I’m here.

What I’m saying is, I’m not leaving that seaweed stackin the same house as my family. I’m not. I don’t know if my unfinished business was witnessing my daughter’s wedding or seeing my granddaughter grow up or teaching that idiot Saunder a lesson, but I’m not done.

Whatever that seaweed hag’s unfinished business is, it’s with me. I’m not having her terrorise my family. She’s not the repentant type, you know that. She’ll give them nightmares.She’ll become the most pathetic poltergeist. Me? Never! Idon’t terrorise. I only protect, haven’t you been listening?

So how about it? 

You’re welcome to watch. Make sure the fight is fair. Have us both, double trouble! Condemn us both for eternity once it’s over. Sure, send her to Purgatory if that makes you feel better. Go ahead, thicken up my file, I know you love filling out that thing. 

A few hours.

An hour? Come on. Throw me a bone, you’ve got two hundred and six of them.


Fifteen? Ridiculous. I’ve had orgasms that lasted longer.

Fine. Thirty-minutes, tops.

Good. That’s settled then. Pass me a pen. Yes, yes, of course, I’m grateful. Here? Alright, signed.

Afterward I’ll be on my merry way to hell. Promise.

K.R. Lai is a British writer based in Shanghai. When she’s not procrastinating and fighting Imposter Syndrome, she’s “working” on a novel series that’s been sitting in her brain for 8 years and she promises she will get on it this year. Her work has been featured in the Centifictionist, Everyday Fiction, and Allium, A Journal of Poetry & Prose.