In all the myriad universes, there’s little I delight in more than a good old-fashioned barbecue. The backyard cookout is an opportunity to connect with your loved ones (and your liked ones, and your can-somewhat-tolerate ones) while gormandizing on hickory-smoked brisket, chili-glazed ribs and grilled slaw burgers.
As a world-renowned barbecue enthusiast, I’m often inundated by letters, emails and carrier pigeons with people asking me how they can take their meat party to the next level. I’ve decided to post my answer to that question here, on Tor.com, where people often come for barbecue advice.
The secret to a truly unforgettable weenie roast is to invite the dead. Yes, you heard me right. The answer was right under your nose the whole time. If you want to improve upon the awesomeness of brisket and coleslaw, you need to incorporate something just as awesome. And the only thing in the world as cool as a barbecue is a ghost.
In the mortal realm, spirits frequently get a bad rap, but they’re not all out to jump-scare you in the mirror or turn your head 360 degrees. There’s a whole dimension of friendly ghosts out there to hang out with. (And no, I’m not referencing Casper here. Despite his reputation, he’s actually a jerk, and he once stole my favorite titanium spork.)
What if you don’t know any fun party ghosts, you might ask? The following are five spirits who I recommend inviting to your next social gathering. These five enjoy hobnobbing with mortals, and they have a lot of free time on their phantasmal hands.
As we all know, Slimer (or Onionhead, as he was originally dubbed) has an insatiable appetite for hot dogs and other carcinogenic-rich meats. While it might seem counter-intuitive to invite over a guy who’s likely to grab your burger out of your hand when you’re about to take a bite, you need to consider the positives. First of all, in the course of the gathering, you might get stuck standing around with Uncle Steve as he waxes philosophical about a headline he half-read on Facebook. This is when you need a madcap dead man to step (or float) in to liven things up a little. Slimer might break some furniture, but he’s a crowd pleaser. And even if old Onionhead hogs all the food, he won’t actually digest anything. You can pull the hot dog right out of his floating potato of a body. Yes, your food will be covered with ectoplasm, but the ooze is actually high in omega-3 fatty acids and doesn’t taste too bad once you get used to it.
The Ghost of Christmas Present
I’m sure this goes without saying, but the specific Ghost of Christmas Present you should invite to your barbecue is the version depicted in The Muppet Christmas Carol. Every other Christmas ghost pales in comparison to this guy, and if you feel differently, I’m sorry but you’re wrong. Not only can this giant muppety man manifest a room full of cooked geese and parsnips with the power of his own thoughts (which would definitely come in handy if the party runs out of food or drink), he’s a natural born entertainer. He’ll be the first person to sing karaoke, and he’ll even inspire stuffy Uncle Steve to grab the microphone and have some silly fun for once.
Cathy Earnshaw Linton
Cathy might spend a good chunk of the barbecue tapping on windows, attempting to get into the house from the backyard. Once you get her attention, though, she’ll surely regale you with juicy tales about her life. She’s a bit of an oversharer, especially as far as her heart is concerned, but what’s life without a little drama? Fair warning: if she tells you, “I’m so cold,” over and over again, bringing her a blanket won’t actually help.
Honestly, what phantasmagorical party would be complete without an ethereal head encased in a crystal ball? As the spirit of a psychic medium, Ms. Leota could entertain guests by predicting their futures. However, I’m much more interested in Leota’s passion for causing furniture and musical instruments to levitate. I’m sure any kid at the party would enjoy flying around the yard on a floating patio chair. Also, live music can be quite expensive, and from what I hear, Ms. Leota is always happy to perform a musical seance in exchange for a few measly souls.
A spectral social gathering like this might be somewhat overwhelming at times, what with Slimer sliming your grandma, and an apparitional trombone blaring directly in your ear, and Cathy slapping an inebriated Uncle Steve after he suggests she’d be better off forgetting about her ex. Sometimes, you need a little time away from socializing with human beings. Sometimes, you need to grab a stick and play fetch with the dog.
Originally published April 2018.
Jeremy C. Shipp is the Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of Cursed, Vacation, and Sheep and Wolves. His shorter tales have appeared in over 60 publications, including Cemetery Dance, ChiZine and Apex Magazine. Jeremy lives in Southern California in a moderately haunted Victorian farmhouse. Two of his horror stories, The Atrocities and Bedfellow, are available from Tor.com Publishing.