Ghost-4201

“Where do you think you’ll go when you die?”

The transmitter’s sockets are not aligning. Brent’s tongue is sticking out of the corner of his mouth. This is not a good time for stupid questions. Then again, with nothing between you and star-lit vacuum but a ten-mil layer of spacesuit electronics, who can blame the boy?

“I have no idea. Number three wrench?”

“I’ve always wanted to see the stars, you know? Here,” that’s the number three all right, but the joint is sticky. Frozen shut. “Try the heat-torch”, offers Reed. They work well together, despite all this chatter. “I know what they say, about the trips. I don’t care, I can take it.”

That’s easy to say. It’s a sixty-parsec jump to the nearest habitable. But the Ghost-squads are now jumping to places 200, 220 clicks away. Brent can’t even imagine it. “They say they’ve figured out the time thing. It’s two hundred actual years of subjective time. Two centuries, just you, yourself, and more you. Just to see another barren rock. Weld here, will you?”

Reed is a good partner, steady, quick. Brent’s had worse. But Reed is young. And stupid: “I’ve signed up, yesterday. Ghost-4201.”

Crap. “4201?”

“I signed limited, got pushed forward. Explorer class. Under 5000, you get earth-like, habitable. 3083 and 201 found life -“

“Microbes and depressed fish! Jeez, boy, limited, what’s that, forty?”

“Thirty eight. Look, it’s what I want!”

“You want them to come kill you in twelve years?“

“I want to travel to the stars! I don’t want to end up – “

The console lights up green. “Thanks, guys, you’ve got a real light touch”, says the transmitter. Jan Pieterse, engineer second class, deceased 2109. Ghost-180 390. Brent shudders.

Maybe the boy has it right.

Just another day at the office

Bob slouched into the staff room after his second shift in a row to see his friend and colleague crashed out a couch, staring glassy-eyed at one of the company-provided TVs. “Awright, Jeff.”
“Awright, Bob” he said, sitting up to shake his friend’s hand.
“How’s the family?”
“Can’t complain, can’t complain. Yours?”
“Good, thanks, mate.”
“You look comfy there,” Bob said. “You want me to bring you a cup of tea from the machine?”
“Brilliant. You’re a diamond, Bob, you really are.”
“Ah, shut it, you pansy,” he smiled. He slid over to the vending machine and punched in two teas, extra milk, extra sugar. Thirsty, tiring, work, this is.
Bob plomped down next to Jeff and passed him the drink. “What they playing?” he said, nodding up at the TV.
Jeff turned to him and glared. “You didn’t see the schedule?”
Bob shook his head.
“That one with Swayze and Demi Moore and the clay and the ‘Oooooh, myyyyyyy love.'”
“Really?”
“Yeah. I think it’s their idea of a joke,” he said, pointing a pale, slender finger at the ceiling. “A bit of seasonal humour. What with it being Halloween and all.”
Jeff sipped at his tea, stretched in his seat, then got up.
“Well mate, sorry to do this to you, but I’d better be off. Third shift’s up soon, and the living aren’t going to haunt themselves.”
“You back to Poltergeisting?”
“Yeah. Harder work, but the money’s better, innit?”
“Shake, rattle, and roll,” he said, giving Jeff a wink.
Bob glanced at his watch. Only another twenty minutes before next shift. He sighed and reached for the remote.

Home

Let me tell you my story – how I came to be here in this lonely place. The land stretches out, so flat and yet layered with muted sunset colours and the odd brilliant flash of green. This alien beauty was what drew me here initially; but I wish I had never come. I have been here for so long that my memories are fading. That is why I must tell my story, so that I don’t forget.

We’d planned the trip for months, my friends and I. It was our first adventure as adults. We were so excited to be leaving our childhood playgrounds and experiencing something different. And it was amazing, those first few days. We watched the countryside change from its familiar deep greens and blues and golds. I had always thought our mountains were arid and stark, with their cragged orange and brown peaks and hidden cool clefts. But then I saw the stretched out vistas and the endless sky of the plains.

I think that this landscape is why I am still here. If the accident had happened earlier, before we left the Cape, I think I would have gone to my end peacefully. I cannot rest here. I miss my home with what still feels like a physical ache: the rich colours, the industry of tilled fields and the towering mountains. But what I miss most are the sounds. It is rarely still or quiet at home – there are the winds and the breezes and the gusts, so strong that you can smell the sea kilometres inland. Here, there is just silence. So I tell my story again and again to fill it, and I moan through your dwellings to recapture the sounds of my home.

Settler’s Way

The road’s an arrow shooting at the land’s heart, an arm reaching out to grasp the north. It bears the ceaseless sweep and swish of tyres and the moulded gleam of metal bodies in the newest thrilling shapes. Once these were plodding hooves which trod the years’ ruts in the dust as the wagons creaked their northward way amid the rawhide crack of whips. Even now, in the steel and plastic rush whose tempo makes redundant the long days of stubborn toil, I still feel across the years the ceaseless tread which wore this conquering track into a continent.

There’s a break in traffic. With a sudden, sliding shift across my vision, the cushioned hustle of my modern life suspends. The century’s roar abruptly muffles, and the rasp of dust and heat invades my air-conditioned chill. Ahead, the dusty wagon shimmers in the gap, still slogging north, swaying while the stolid cattle twitch their tails at flies, or at the passing cars.

In my charmed and floating hush I draw abreast; our paces match. The child is silent on the wagon seat, her faded dress and bonnet wan under our modern sun. She turns her patient gaze to mine, but doesn’t smile.

I don’t know what exchange we make. The yoke pulls obstinately north, forever. The silent world resurges in a roar of sound. Child and wagon and their patient span dissolve and fade, frail as the smoke which rises from the shantytowns to drift to fragments in the hurtling traffic’s wake.

Love

He loves me. I know he does. I have seen the signs.

When I first saw him he was toying with his tie. Loosening it, tugging it, worrying it. The cop he played was in Miami and it was supposed to be hot and humid and sticky. But he was all style and class: that tie would never come off.

I knew what he meant by playing with it. I knew what he was telling me.

Last night when he put his fingers to his lips (contemplatively, gently) he was telling her that he no longer loved her. He didn’t want to be having coffee with her, didn’t want to be in the restaurant with her. But he’s too polite — he couldn’t just come out and say it. Still, she didn’t get the message. She should have. She should have seen the signs, read the signals. He’s not meant for her.

All evening he kept glancing over at me.

He knew I was there. We were in the same room and I couldn’t take my eyes off of him; his presence was overpowering. When he looked at me it was electric. When he walked up to me and shouted, I felt angry — but it was something he had to do, to keep up his heterosexual façade for her. The feeling of his clenched, taut fists hitting me — God. Oh God.

The waiter didn’t understand and threw me out. But the world can’t keep us apart.

Tonight I’m going to his house. His wife needs to be told. She needs to know. She can’t come between us forever.

Forever

Dear Mary,

Once we said our love would transcend time and space: that nothing could ever come between us. I promised our relationship would be forever but I confess I didn’t anticipate this. Things just aren’t the same in the last few months. I know it sounds shallow but I want that warm vibrant girl back; the one I fell in love with.

A candle-lit dinner and plum rich Merlot isn’t the same if your lover can’t eat and drink with you – our beautiful fireplace can warm only one of us. When it comes to sex, I’ve really tried, but your icy touch is too clammy for my taste: those familiar intimacies more terrifying than exciting.

Before your death you had friends and a job: something to do with your time. Now you just hang around the house all day moaning: I can’t get a moment’s privacy. And it’s stressful keeping up the charade of bereaved widower: our friends keep organising blind dates for me and I’m running out of excuses.

I want to thank you for the best decade of my life but things have changed: your constant presence is making me feel trapped, a living death, as if things will never change. So I have to get out.

I’ve sold the house to a nice young family with two young children (I know you always wanted daughters – so now you can watch them grow). I wish I could have told you face to face but I’m still having nightmares about your last tantrum and I can’t afford to replace the plumbing and electrics again.

Goodbye my love,

Charles

Ghost Hunter 2

The map did say ghost town.  But somehow, I thought it was just a really small town.  I glanced at the map again before I went in.  Ah, Ghost Town.  Oops, it’s little things like that that get you killed – repeatedly.

Being a ghost hunter is not all that easy.  You have make sure you have all that you need, you forget one little thing and you’re toast.  A misread is defiantly one of those little things.  So I don’t have everything I need.  The smaller ghosts are no problem, they are not that strong.  They are also easier to see – they let off a faint glow.  With some great timing and a handful of pre-emptive strikes I can vanquish them without dipping into my limited, so limited, supplies.

The bigger ones are a lot trickier, I need more than great timing.  I check my supplies as I hit the halfway mark and if I’m really, really crazily lucky, there will only be two large ghosts – it’s all I can handle right now.  But I’m only half way and I’ve already killed seven.  Everyone knows the second half is harder.  Maybe I can just run through the town and get out the other side.  But then I won’t be paid.  People only pay once you’ve finished the mission.  I also can’t level without clearing the town.  I see my own death before me.

I really need an item shop.