Suddenly I'm awake. At four thirty dark AM there was a crash in the kitchen. A falling wine glass
, perhaps. There were footsteps
I thought the blond-haired girl was up and walking around. But then it turned out she was next to me in bed, her face alight in iPad glow.
By the time I was awake enough to feel any sort of fear, she was out of bed, jetting toward the kitchen.
She was back in a couple seconds.
"It was just the paperwhites I'm starting. There are some bulbs in glasses and one of the shoots grew so high it went off balance and fell off the counter. The glass broke all over the floor. Don't go in there without shoes."
"But I heard footsteps," I said. And I got out of bed and checked the doors. All locked from the inside. And our windows don't open to the point someone could go in or out without a whole lot of cranking.
She swept up the glass. I got a shard in my foot anyway. She pulled it out with tweezers.
Now it was five AM.
"I heard footsteps. I swear."
She didn't say anything. They were loud footsteps. You could have heard them from anywhere in the house.
"Maybe one of the cats got loose," I said, even though the footsteps sounded heavy enough to have been a person. Not a cat.
"It's just the Winter Ghost."
"Since when do we have a Winter Ghost?"
"How do you know?"
"How could you not know?"
Then it was six AM and we had to go to work.
Before the kids arrived for Sunday dinner we were prepping in the kitchen. The big carving knife fell off the counter. I didn't knock it off and when I looked at the blonde-haired girl it was obvious she thought I had.
The knife point was embedded in the kitchen hardwood floor. The knife was vibrating from the impact.
"Good thing nobody's foot was there," I said.
She pulled the knife out of the floor.
Later I was working on the kitchen ceiling lamp. One of the #8 wood screws I was using fell off the ladder. It landed in the floor, point down.
I've dropped about two billion nuts, bolts, and screws in my life. I have never had one land point down so that it embedded in the floor.
Surely there's a greater-than-zero probability such things can occur. One just did. But you could try it every second for the rest of your life and it wouldn't happen.
"Look at that," I said to my wife.
"Winter ghost," she said.
"Why does it do that?"
"You should ask it. You're the one who's the fan of ghosts."
I said, "Why are you embedding sharp things in our floor?"
Of course, nobody answered.
I said, "Is there something under the floor we should be looking at?"
A steak knife fell off the counter. It landed point down, sticking in the floor.
"You could hurt someone doing that," I said.
I finished fixing the lamp. I pulled the knife out of the floor. We finished making dinner.
Then she went off to visit her sister in Fairbanks and I was alone for a week with the dog and cats.
Over the weekend I kept myself busy by riding my bike, walking the dog, cleaning out the cat boxes, and building a ghost hunting machine.
My machine talks. The theory is that the ghosts can manipulate the electronics in the box to make it say what they want. Really, though, it's the person holding the machine who interprets the talking. As has been proven since the invention of shamen that you don't need more than sticks and mud and rocks to talk to spirits.
But electronics doesn't mess up my home office as much as mud and sticks.
After a day of breathing solder fumes and reprogramming my Arduino controllers, I turned on my ghost hunting box for the first time to check it out.
It said, "Joe..." which is my name.
I said, "Hi. Are you the Winter Ghost?"
It said, "...for only $49.99..." It said that because this particular box makes noises by scanning through the FM broadcast radio band and randomly looking for signals and that particular signal was an auto repair store commercial I recognized.
"Should I be buying something?" I asked it.
It said, "...glucosamine..."
"Well, my joints are a little achy. The orthopedic surgeon who put the titanium plate on my collar bone said I could be getting arthritis."
"Now that's not very nice. I'm going to shut you off if you don't behave."
"Did you knock over the flower?"
"I got glass in my foot, you know."
"Well, it's ok now."
"Did you say you love me?"
"Who are you?"
"...McDonald's happy meal...."
"...own a Lexus today..."
"Are you still talking to me?"
"...California news update..."
"...shoppers prefer bargains..."
and so on.
Why aren't we clear about ghosts? We feel them. We see them. But the reproducible evidence is missing. Best we have are blurry photos. Strange sounds on audio recordings.
For hundreds of years we've been trying to record them. Materialize them. Make them predictable. It doesn't work.
The way you can tell if your ghost video is fake is by judging how "real" it looks. The clearer the image, the greater the possibility it was photoshopped.
It's as if there is a tacit agreement between us that the existence of the spirit world must always be a question. Because if it is real and if it can impact human life, then perhaps the wrong thing will happen. Perhaps we need some things to be dismissible so we can get on with the business of being meat, and they can get on with the business of being radio waves.
And then I made a couple more spirit boxes because I am curious and because I like creating physical objects I only previously imagined, and also because I am a needy person and was missing my wife. I made a spirit box that uses radioactive decay to trigger a speech module to say words that come from a 10,000 word dictionary. I had no particular theory in mind when I built it. I just figured it would be interesting to connect a geiger counter to a word generator.
For increased impact I added some multi-color RGB LEDs that change color from hot (red) to cool (blue) according to how much infrared radiation it detects. And because I had memory left over in the Arduino, I added an EM field detector and made that interact with the geiger counter and the IR detector to help select the words. Just because it felt right.
When I turned on my new box it said:
Then the EM field meter started going wonky and I realized a wire was loose. I opened it up and resoldered a couple things. When I turned it on again it said:
"Love - Close - Build - Open - Dimension"
Then the voice stopped speaking and I realized I had hooked up the power wrong to Speakjet chip. Reopened the box. Resoldered some connections. Turned it on:
"Son - All - Here - We're - Fine"
Then I realized the volume control needed some fine tuning, so I played with that and it said
"meatball - piston - weathervane - soup - tongue - fat"
And then I was ready to speak to spirits, but they seemed to be tired of talking to me.
When I write it down and read it back it seems like a SciFi movie. But when it was happening it was just stuff that was happening.
That night I dreamed I was back on the ice.
Over my toes I could see the blue glacier outside the tent. A great skua soared overhead and the radio crackled in the background, helo pilots giving landing zone ETAs.
And then I was kneeling beside a great crevasse peering downward toward the void at the center of the earth. I reached into it and the blond-haired girl grasped my outstretched hand and I was the only one who could stop her from falling.
I will get you out of this. We survive. We go home. I'm bringing you home.
Just when I thought the weight of her would drag both of us down, something tugged my parka and yanked me backward and so I was able to get her out of the crevasse. Then both of us were standing on the ice, brushing ourselves off.
"You almost fell," said the blonde-haired girl.
"You almost dragged me in."
"You needed help."
And I felt her guardian. Nothing could happen to her when he was around.
I turned and faced him. He was much taller than me, though a young man in his late 20's with dirty blond hair in tight curls on his head the way Michelangelo's David looks in marble.
He pointed a finger toward me. Accused me, I thought.
I tried to plead innocence, but I woke up. And sitting upward in bed, heard the footsteps in the kitchen coming toward the bedroom, then stop a foot from my door.
By the time I got enough guts to get up and face the Winter Ghost, he was gone.
When I first met the blonde-haired girl on the ice we went to the McMurdo greenhouse to lay on hammocks in the warm humid air. As I lay in my hammock I practiced some of the meditation techniques I learned at The Monroe Institute. I figured it might be good to try to contact spirits while down in Antarctica.
There was only one spirit who came to talk to me. He was a tall young man in his 20's, with curly light brown hair. I remember him because he threatened me.
"Do not break her heart," he said.
I said, "Huh? Who?" Because at that time I had no idea of where my future lay with the blonde-haired girl.
But he disappeared. And I thought he was gone for good.
On the ice she told me that when she was young she met an owl in the woods. It was standing on the trail and came closer as she felt frozen to her spot. It was the last thing she remembered before waking up on the side of the road with a dead owl next to her. When she tried to lift it, the wings came free. She wrapped them up in her clothing and took them home.
I told her about my owls, and how they had been with me since I was a child.
"How funny," she said.
It was 4:30 in the morning when I went into my office and turned on my ghost machine. My hands shook from the shivering, being startled so early in the morning, the dream, the ice so cold.
The heat was on in the house but I could see a cloud from my breath as I flipped the switch.
I said, "I love her. I would never break her heart. You don't need to protect her from me. Why are you here?"
The box I created said, "Cold. Will. Survive."
"I don't get it. I'm sorry. It's cold and I'm tired and you scared me."
"She. Affection. Home."
"Yes, this is our house. This is our home you're invading."
"Fortune. Listen." it said. Then:
"Our. Wonderful. Life."
And I remembered when she said that to me before she left for Alaska. Why she said them when she came back. Why we picked this place to live. Why those birds adorn our walls. Why we have those wings hanging on mobiles from our ceiling. The time in the woods. The time at the beach. When I saw them in the bunkers.
The wings I see every night before turning out the light.
I always thought we were the ones who chose them.