The Irritation of Undying

In the summer of 1938, I died horrifically. What is more disconcerting than this fact was that my consciousness remained behind in a disembodied form. As a rigid scientist and staunch atheist, the matter of me becoming a ghost rather irked me.

I had originally been visiting my great-grandmother on my father’s side in her quaint little coastal village of Blackpool Bay. I will not go into the details but the visit took a dark turn when I went for a midnight walk to the pier past the old Church and promptly stumbled on a strange ritual before becoming an unwilling sacrifice of sorts.

Even in this ethereal form, I still pride myself on rational thought and sound reasoning. Just because I was wrong in life about some elements of our universe, does not mean that logic and rational process are incorrect guidelines for one’s intellect.

After the initial shock of ghosthood wore off, I began to figure out what my new state of being meant for me and the world.

The world remained the same and continued operating without my physical body in it. As far as intellect went, I remained the same too. Eerily so. All my memories remained from life as well as any new memories gained whilst a ghost.

In fact, all things remained the same except four rather important facts.

Firstly, given my lack of physical form, I could not interact with physical objects. This included air and light and, thus, I was entirely silent and invisible. Try as I might, I passed right through physical objects, and they through me–with the sole and strange exception of the ground and the sky. I could not pass into the ground nor fly willy-nilly through the air.

In some weird way, a few of the old laws still applied to me: I had to walk upon the ground. Perhaps some residual quantum strangeness still respected these simple laws from the physical world?

But I was not physical, and that was also a fact.

Pondering this state of being, I could only assume that my ethereal form was non-atomic in nature. The question, though, was then what was it? My best theory was that I was stuck in some quantum-shifted gravitational field that held enough form for the electro-magnetic impulses that were my thoughts–in other words, my consciousness–to remain but not enough for any physical manifestation. In other words, I was little more than a self-perpetuating electric echo of my own brain.

Secondly, my ethereal form seemed tied to a radius around where I died. Yes, I was haunting a Church and its cemetery. A ghost in a graveyard, I hear you cry! Yes, I was aware of how painfully cliché I was.

As I wandered further afield, I encountered increasing “gravity”–it could not be gravity as I had no mass, but there is no better way to describe the effect–pulling me back to that spot in space. The spot where I died. Strain as I might, I could not go further than a couple of hundred yards from the Church and its cemetery.

Thirdly, I did not seem to age in this state. My form and its imbued energy neither decayed nor needed sustenance or replenishment.

Finally, I could neither find nor interact when any other ghosts. This may mean that there were no other ghosts in my vicinity, or it may mean that any other ghosts that exists were on other wave-lengths or spectrum than I was and, thus, we could not sense each other.

The lack of ethereal company was a small mercy as the fact remained: I was now a ghost and it was hugely embarrassing.

***

The years went on and I carried on quietly haunting that old Church and its attached cemetery while experimenting with my new state of being.

I grew tired of hanging around in the Church, listening to prehensile fairytales being worshipped by small-minded peasants. Blackpool Bay had grown a little over the decades but, isolated by the wild ocean on one side and the great mountains on the other, time seemed to barely touch it too.

Eventually, I found myself lurking more and more in the quiet, peacefully little cemetery with a brooding old tree covering most of it. The graveyard’s original name had long since been forgotten and its records lost in a church fire that had happened over a century ago. The locals now just called it the Old Cemetery and avoided it almost religiously.

For a while, a pretty young girl would come and sketch the Old Cemetery. She would sit on the old gravestones and sigh deeply as she looked around. I enjoyed watching her skilled work, although the strange things she muttered under her breath bothered me somewhat.

Eventually, though, even she stopped coming.

And so the decades passed and I began to formulate a theory.

What if all life was merely a game and our consciousness were the players uploaded into this simulation? What if when we died, we were merely disconnecting and returning our consciousness back from the game to our own reality and real bodies? What if ghosts were nothing more than a player’s failed disconnection, its consciousness trapped here unable to download back into the real-world? What if my purpose as a ghost was to find a way to end being a ghost?

Being a ghost is quite lonely and, yes, it did cross my mind that I may be going quite mad.

***

The original assessment of my state of being proved consistently correct, but as time passed I stumbled across two new and interesting facts.

The first odd fact was that cats could see me.

One warm, sunny day a black cat was napping on the crumbling gravestone of a certain Sigmond Athelard. Walking by the cat an old instinct–yes, even after decades my ethereal neuro-paths apparently still have these–pushed my left hand out to stroke the beautiful little creature.

While I could not touch the cat, the cat meowed and flicked a paw at me. I frozen instantly and bent down to look at it vis-à-vis. The cat lazily opened its yellow eyes and looked straight at me, its pupils following me as I moved around.

After experimenting by moving and talking and after finding a number of other cats and doing the same, I conclude simply that–although I could still not actually touch them–cats could see and hear me. Perhaps even, just ever so slightly, feel me.

This wholly and seemingly random coincidence made no sense whatsoever to my understanding of the world. Why were cats so special? Did any other animals share this ability? What was the point of this?

As I was pondering this newfound fact, I stumbled onto another, greater discovery: electricity. Or, more specifically, the huge amounts of electricity discharged by lightning!

On the side of the Church and earthing into the Old Cemetery ground, an old lightning rod was mounted. The rod was old and perhaps of Victorian design but quite effective against the brutal, raging storms that would occasionally blow in from the wild ocean.

One night shortly after my cat discovery, I was circling the Old Cemetery deep in thought and not paying any heed as to my surroundings. One such great storm had rolled it, its rain was lashing the ground, a great gale was tearing through the Bay, and peels of biblical lightning and thunder were exploding overhead, and it was all lost on me as it all passed straight through me…

Right up until the lightning hit the Church’s lightning rod while I was only a few feet away from it!

I had died in the summer of 1938 and this was some seven or eight decades later. Yet, not a single waking moment had I not been present. You see, ghosts do not get tired, hungry, sick or, pointedly, sleep. Oh, dear god, what I would have given for a mere moment of non-existence!

Yet, some days later, I opened my eyes. It was a crisp, early morning and the storm was long gone. The grass was level with my gaze, dotted by crumbling gravestones and covered by the brooding old tree.

I got up slowly and realized that I had been lying on the ground near the blackened, burnt lightning rod. There was even a faint outline in the dew of where I had lain!

While my present state of being may not have atoms, it obviously did have a charge. Perhaps it was the magnetic field or even just the quantum interaction of the lightning’s discharge–perhaps for the same strange reason that cats could see me–but for the briefest moment, the physical laws of the universe had applied to me.

This was the single greatest thing I had discovered in nearly a century of being a ghost.

And that was when I knew how I was going to disconnect my disembodied consciousness from this torturous loop that is ghosthood! Game or no game, the life of the undying was an irritation that I had now found how to end.

***

I had to wait nearly a whole year. The Winter had just ended, Spring broke, then Summer passed into Autumn and, eventually, the cold of Winter and its wild storms crept back to Blackpool Bay. The ocean grew icy, the days darker, the clouds heavier and then, finally, I saw the flash of lightning out at sea as an apocalyptic skyline began to blow into the Bay.

I had been planning for this day and rallied to the lightning rod mounted on the Church wall. The Church’s wall and stone masonry were breached by its twisting spire, and the old, iron rod and its blackened, weathered surface rose even higher than both to pierce that darkening sky that carried my promising fate.

This time I would not be a few feet away from the rod. No! This time I would be standing with the rod passing straight through my ethereal form, its cold, iron bar cutting right through my very ethereal, unbeating heart.

A smile spread across my ghostly face and I spread out my arms to embrace it as the storm and all its rage hit Blackpool Bay and the Old Cemetery…

***

Pastor Tom was a little later than normal that morning.

The storm the night before had hit the town with a particularly dark vengeance and, in the early morning, he had woken with a cold sweat to what he could have sworn was a man’s bizarre scream. Bizarre, you see, because it sounded like it was filled with both pain and joy. It was hard to tell because it had coincided with a blinding flash of lightning and a simultaneous deafening clap of thunder the likes of which had reaffirmed his belief in a higher power.

Eventually, he had drifted back to a lingering, uneasy sleep and woken a number of hours later to a thankful peace as the storm had blown itself out.

When he had stepped from his little cottage on the backside of the Church, he had found a couple of his old, heavy slate roof tiles torn off. Given that this time of year was prone to sudden storms, he thought it best that he immediately repair this damage before beginning his daily routine.

With his roof now satisfactory protected–he would get a repairman out here later to do a permanent job–he had a strong cup of coffee, threw on his pastor’s robes and walked out from his house, through the Old Cemetery to his beloved Church.

His small cottage was tucked around the back of the Church on a small, adjourning property. To reach the front, he slipped between the back of the Church, rounded it, and had a short walk through the Old Cemetery before arriving on Main Street where the front door of the Church opened to his needing flock.

The moment he rounded the back of the Church–a black cat scampering by him–and stepped into the Old Cemetery, he froze and gasped. The hair on the back of his neck rose and a wholly nonreligious word left his lips.

The storm’s lightning had obviously struck the Old Cemetery and the old lightning rod against the wall of the Church had caught it. It must have been a great bolt of lightning indeed, as the rod was still smoking, parts of it literally smouldering, and its form partially melted, warped and bent–which was no mean feat given the sturdiness of its old Victorian build.

None of these things was what froze the blood in Pastor Tom’s veins and made him mutter a quiet prayer of protection to Saint Christopher.

No, what Pastor Tom saw was wrought into the very masonry of that old Church’s wall. Blackened and burnt into the smouldering stone around the lightning rod, a singed shadow was frozen with its arms outstretched and in the unmistakable shape of a man.