Jenny walks in and gives me the look.
“She’s out there, now,” she says with a slight flip of her head toward the hall.
I smoothly glide forward with my work, saying, “As she’s been every day for the last three years. As she’ll be there for who knows how long.”
Jenny sits down, draws a pack of mint dentin sticks out of her purse, offers me one, and draws on hers contemplatively.
“I still think we should have a daily ceremony.”
I slowly shake my head, I’m focused on my work, I’m smooth.
“Since I’m still the one who’d have to participate in it, I still think we shouldn’t.”
“It would be brief,” Jenny encourages.
“I know the pitch, thanks.”
I’m making it physically and verbally clear that I’m not interested in this conversation. I’m sick of it, in fact.
Jenny is meticulously competent and that is due to her relentless pursuit of every task: she never gives up. The negative side to that is she fixates and pesters. As her boss I – otherwise – both Like Jenny and she’s Great at her job, but if either of those wheels fell off I’d fire her in a second.
I’d never find anyone as good, but her Won’t Take No For An Answer personality isn’t a positive in this context.
She presses on, “Make it a habit like a Japanese tea ceremony-”
“I’m past bored with this conversation before,” I say, scrutinizing my work. “And by the way, there’s nothing brief about a Japanese tea ceremony.”
“Why are you so stubborn?”
Why? Am? I?
Damn it. Damn it. Damn it!
“Jenny, come on! Three damn years! I gave three years of exhaustive research to that her/it/thing and we still know nothing about what it is or why she shows up.”
“She only responds to you.”
“No shit. So what if she does? How does anything I do make any difference? Every time I go through her… ritual… thing, she just comes back the next day. She loops! She’ll never stop coming back until she finally fades out!”
I pause because I’m getting angry. Anger makes the wrong words and actions come out and I’m not about to lose this fight over a technicality. I won’t react by mere brain chemistry. I’m not a reflex action.
Right now I need to think and not feel. Putting this load on my shoulders isn’t fair. This lab was built in a middle of a nowhere rural area. Certainly no human that dressed and groomed like Thing out there ever lived here. What was she doing out here before we began broadcasting?
“Speaking of which,” I continue in a calmer tone, “at her fade rate, I’ll be dead before she disappears.”
“Then you’ll be here together,” Jenny says. “What about that?”
Damn low blow.
“God damn, Jenny. I thought we were friends.”
“We are,” she says. “Now please just go out there and get rid of it.”
The It, the one who haunts this place, creeps Jenny out. After all of this time when is she ever going to get used to it?
I abruptly stand up, shoving my chair toward my desk because I’m upset.
“Duly noted,” Jenny says, and sits back in casual triumph. Her relief is already settling in.
I take the hairbrush from the drawer. “Solves nothing,” I say. “She’ll be back tomorrow.”
“I clean my cat’s litter box every day,” Jenny says. “There’ll be shit there tomorrow.”
I leave the office and walk down the hall. Down at the end, right in a shaft of sunlight beaming through a window, she waits for me. The One Who Haunts, as the staff has morbidly named her.
Who did she wait for before I ever came here?
Okay, I’m not going to feel sorry for myself, as I need a certain mindset for this to work.
I throw out my interior grousing and suppress my self-loathing for what put me here: studying the maths of Max Plank, Nikola Tesla, and so many others. Freshman and Sophomore stuff for most students, but it all excitedly inspired new directions in me. Those brain buzzing new paths got me to where I am today, but also where I am at this moment.
I’m here because I invented Broadcast energy. I’m here because I pitched my research and inventions to someone who knew a way to make “free energy” profitable.
Once my employer, 1st Baron Technologies, ignited my zero point free power and began broadcasting, the ghosts all materialized, across the country, in a matter of days.
While the transmitted energy remains invisible, we see its effect: The frequency required for safe broadcast ripples ghosts into the visible spectrum.
Suddenly, over three years ago, ghosts were real, and they were everywhere.
So did people react in mind-blown terror to suddenly seeing ghosts?
Not quite. There were initially millions who were scared, but there were billions who felt a joyful, planet-wide excitement. My watershed moment invention, my great technological leap forward for humanity, was immediately overshadowed by ghosts of the dead.
The world thought free energy was a “nice” thing to have. They thought it was “Nice”.
They thought that the undeniable existence of ghosts was a mind-blowing event unknown in the history of human endeavor.
1st Baron Technologies wasn’t sued. Instead, they were building more ground transmitters, satellites, and outfitting buildings to receive free power. And as technology continues to improve, 1st Baron continues to improve the hardware to handle it. Licensing our technology for material appliances was all wonderfully profitable, so they were happy with me.
Human industry, governments, and the world’s economy were revolutionized.
Yet if you ask anyone if they know my name or what I accomplished, they’d think about it for a moment, and then answer, “Oh yeah! Ghost guy!”
Isolated out here at my 1st Baron lab, there aren’t any ghosts except one.
We have no idea who she is or was, when she lived or how she died. And man, did we ever spend a fortune trying to find out.
What’s more, so far out of all the people connected to the research, perhaps out of all of the people on the planet, I’m the only one she responds to.
But she only responds to me when I’m calm. Otherwise it’s like she can’t see me.
Walking towards her, I find my calm, my center. I remind myself as always, that none of this is the fault of the manifestation. She can’t help it.
Rippling into our visible spectrum means ghosts can be seen day or night. And our guest (host?) seems to prefer floating directly in the sunlight. The apparition ends at the hem of her dress. She has no legs.
She looks up at me with her white smoky eyes. I never gave her a name, that brings her too close.
She’s expressionless, only mirroring mine. I smile at her and she echoes the smile.
It’s almost like a ceremony, a ritual. She holds her doll out for me. I put my hand out to it, though as always I feel nothing, and slowly bring my hand to me. With three years of experience I go through the motions of brushing her doll’s hair. If I closed my eyes it would feel entirely like pretend. There’s no pressure, no resistance, nothing to make me think that anything is there, except for what I can see.
The doll’s hair responds. And because of that, I know when I’m done.
I give her back the doll and she holds it tight to herself as if I’ve just done the most beautiful thing in the world a person could ever do for another.
Then she dissipates as if never there.
Alone in the sunbeam, I take a deep breath and walk back down the hall.
The noise of my shoes makes Dale poke his head out of his office.
“Ah! You took care of her! Good.”
I nod as I make my way toward him.
“Not that I’m weirded out or anything,” he adds with a forced chuckle.
“I know, I know,” I say walking past him, because I know he is.
I return to my office, open the drawer, plunk the brush in, and close it.
“Thanks,” Jenny says.
I try to return to my work.
“Why can’t you just accept this and do that every day?” Jenny asks.
“Because she’s there every day,” I answer. “She will be there every work day when I’m here and every weekend when I’m not. What I do doesn’t, doesn’t, doesn’t, matter.”
Jenny says nothing.
Some posit that Ghosts may turn out to be nothing more than nature’s chaff: a fading movie clip without thought or feeling, set into action by proximity or who knows what. Research continues without me: other people, other companies. Only a few have been identified from historical records. Then again, so few humans make history. For some people, identifying the dead fulfills their life. I’m not one to live in the past so interaction with the ghost in the hall whittles me away inside.
“It’s more than a waste of time. I have no more interest in being a Spiritualist than a chef has in being a plumber.”
Jenny still says nothing, but I did her bidding and now I’ll speak my mind.
“No matter what I do, I can do nothing for any of them. The girl in the hall is a stuck reflection of someone who once was. It’s kinda heartbreaking.
Jenny drags on her mint stick, but my last statement made her squirm a bit. It also has me thinking. When my emotions get the better of me I turn to reason, as I’d rather think than feel.
There’s also an oddness I’ve noticed that I’ve been keeping to myself.
‘Sometimes I feel that I’m making her stronger.’
“Have you paid attention to her fade?” I ask.
Jenny remains silent.
“There’s virtually no detectable fade with this one,” I continue. “What if she gets stronger from our interactions?”
Jenny removes her stick, savors her cool breath.
“You’re the researcher,” she says. “What if she does?”
A seed of thought is growing in my mind. It’s revelatory in a way and I should have thought of this before, but maybe I suppressed it?
‘What if she does?’ I think. ‘How can a ghost get stronger?’
This isolated lab was built way out here in the boonies for me and my research. I think of all I’ve set into motion and how quickly it rocketed so far beyond me.
“We could always,” Jenny pauses, defeat already in her voice, because she knows my answer. Still, she presses forward with her pitch, “pursue my idea.”
I’ll pursue any idea except Jenny’s Ghosts-Who-Haven’t-Been-Born-Yet, concept. The as yet unborn are trying and contact us.
She’s talking time travel.
So far, nothing in the tons of data we acquired from my years of research lends her idea any support.
The problem is, nothing refutes it either.
In addition to the ground beneath the lab and parking lot, we scanned a 1,000 cubic acre margin beyond our property. We sound scanned the ground. Not a single human body was ever buried here, and yet we have a ghost. So I stand on principle that time travel is so far-fetched it’s not worth considering.
It’s a principled lie.
The truth is, Jenny’s idea is more than a chilling question that I don’t want answered. It harrows me to my core because I know other people at other companies are working on the issue.
What if somewhere in the future they are testing a new technology that enables them to interact across time? They haven’t perfected it yet? Maybe it’s their first attempt? Their tech can’t pinpoint a single target, so their result is all over the place, appearing at the same moment of every single day across a fixed series of years in their past: scattering across a series of temporal moments at once. Could all the days of all the years I’ve gone out there be the same single event to them?
Such questions, such thoughts terrify me. The idea that somewhere in the dark beyond my eventual death, the far future is blindly coming back down through the years to find me.
Time travel means that she isn’t out there waiting for me, but that they looked into their past and saw the long dead me, alive and standing alone in the hall, waiting for something. They saw me inexplicably holding a little brush and gave me something to do with it.
Time travel means I am the ghost. I’m the One who Haunts.
Copyright 2013 by E.C. McMullen Jr.
About the image –
I have no idea. I’ve searched around using Google image search but came back with nothing. If you can prove you are the artist, please let me know and I’ll gladly credit you.
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