The idea of ghosts who die natural deaths after being ghosts is one that is new to me. I’m writing a story about a woman who dies of a drug overdose and she becomes a ghost. Once in the world of the dead, she finds herself one of only five ghosts around. Collectively, they try to make some sort of guide for new ghosts but none of them really know anything. They wind up with a very depressing page and a half worth of useful information to anyone who has just died. It’s 1978, Disco and cocaine is all the rage, and Clara Strickland has died at the age of twenty-three. The oldest ghost in her group, a man named Matt Truman, tells her that he’s been dead for thirty-two years and has never felt better. But one day Matt is gone, and none of the other four know what’s happened to him or why.
The remaining ghosts question their collectively knowledge. What do they really know about being dead and how did they find out about it? Amy, who died in a car wreck twenty years ago is now the oldest ghost. She confesses that everything she knows was told to her by a ghost, but she has no idea if it is really true. For instance, Amy has always believed that direct sunlight would kill her, and other ghosts, and she’s always hidden from it, and told others to hide from it, but she’s never actually seen direct sunlight and a ghost interact. Amy has always been told that cameras capture a ghost’s spirit, and trap in in the photograph until the photo is destroyed or exposed to direct sunlight, but none of the other ghosts have ever heard of his, except from Amy, and none of them know if anything they have heard is true or not.
Sammy, the youngest person who died, at age sixteen, and the next oldest ghost at eleven years, has an idea. Ghost can, once they get the hang of it, physically manifest. They’ll get a camera, one of them will take a photo of another, and then they’ll see if the ghost is trapped or not. They’ll use an instant camera, one that spits out the photo, and tear it up to release the trapped ghost if it goes awry. This seems to be a really great idea, and Sammy volunteers to be the subject of the photograph. Amy takes his photo and sure enough, Sammy is trapped. They can see his photo, vaguely and out of focus, and they can hear him, barely, but as Amy tears a piece of the photo to release Sammy, he screams. They discover that Sammy’s spirit cannot be released by tearing the photo, but it can be destroyed if the photo is damaged. Sammy is trapped!
Down to three ghosts, the remaining trio realize there has to be some source of knowledge but now they’re, uh, spooked, by what’s happened. Where did Matt go? How to help Sammy? They’re feel frightened and confused by what’s happened and they wonder if being a ghost is a temporary thing, like being alive, but what comes next?
In the meanwhile, Clara discovers her husband, who according to the death do us part clause in the vows, she is no longer married to, doesn’t miss her at all. That’s not unexpected; Clara died while doing cocaine with her boyfriend. But Clara discovers that George took out a lot of insurance on her, and now she wonders if the cocaine that killed her wasn’t hidden in a place she might find it. Of course, as much as Clara haunts George, there’s no real evidence he actively sought to kill her, but still. She’s pissed off. And now she thinks that she might be dead on borrowed time as well.
Amy and Ted are against it, but Clara wants to do something to screw up George’s life. He has a new girlfriend but he’s keeping her hid until all the legal wrangling over Clara’s death is over. Clara figures out George is lying to her family about how much insurance money is out there, and he’s hidden her will. She and the other ghosts plot to reveal everything at Thanksgiving, and also reveal that George’s new girlfriend, who he is passing off as one of Clara’s friends, is pregnant. None of it is true, of course, but Clara realizes that the sight of her ghost will be enough to convince everyone to examine Georgie’s claims more closely. Unexpectedly, George is arrested for Clara’s murder after her family demands an investigation.
After Thanksgiving, Amy and Clara discover that Ted is gone. He’s left to go find the truth about ghosts, if he can, but he’s done with haunting. Sammy, still trapped in the photo, demands that he be left out in the sunlight. Maybe it will free him, maybe it will kill him, but he has to have some sort of relief. Clara sits down in her old home, watching her husband, out on bail, weep for the girlfriend who has just broken up with him, and she realizes that she not a better person for being dead. Worse, she realizes that she likely won’t get a chance to change who she is or who she was. Clara dislikes the idea of waiting to die, in some mysterious and untimely fashion, and she asks Sammy if he’s serious about leaving.
The story end with Clara out beside the pool, with Sammy’s photo propped up beside her. She’s watching the sun come up, and Amy is watching from the attic. This will be the first real proof of whether or not sunlight kills ghosts and if it might also kill a trapped ghost. Sammy is ready, he tells Clara, because he never wanted to be a ghost, and never really liked it. Clara asks him if he believes they’ll both wind up somewhere else and Sammy is hoping for someplace with better weather.
Clara watched the first streak of light in the sky and then sees the first sign if orange looking over the horizon. Amy watches from the attic as Clara disappears and Sammy goes silent.