:: Article

Four Studies for a Ghost

By David Hering.

I

I saw her shadow through the frosted pane. Her shoulders were shaped anxiously and held questions. By now I know something of them before I let them into the room.

She opened the door and entered. She was a kind of smart that doesn’t need to show itself. The light around her hands was blue. Her face had the wall behind it like some do. She saw the Glass on the table and got fixed on it. She was not the normal kind who wants to make contact. Most avoid looking directly at the Glass and maybe some feel its power before coming in and it makes them afraid. It was giving me its first words for her. I got Book for her mouth and Never for her blue eyes. Book can mean many things but I have a short list after all this time. Never is normal at the start before they see.

I asked her to turn to leave her coat. I saw her profile and there was an opening there by her right temple. The Glass said Focus on the Part that is Open. Then it gave three more words. The words were Boy, Door, King. These words were around her but not attached like the others. After a time they will settle and I can hang them as clothes on a peg. I forked the fire in the grate and she moved her chair over near me. This is when they try to explain themselves but by then I have what I need already. Not speaking is a way of thinking and seeing.

She put her hands to the table and I joined with the Glass to watch the first words take form. Book became a human arm. Never became a stairwell with a wooden banister. The Glass found its pitch. Lines of colour moved together in the air and circled the arm which shrank into a point and burned like a star. The star pulsed and with each pulse it gave meaning to the second words. Boy was what she had seen. Door was the object by which she had perceived. King was from the cover of a novel.  There were more words waiting in her neck. The Glass shone a black beam into her trunk and the third words got visible. Name, Home. These were her wants.

It is always like this. The first words come when they enter my room and are from fear or waiting. The second words are the elements of the seeing. The third words are the desires of the guest. Name is what she wanted so she could identify who she saw. Home was within a fog and was more elusive. It was not clear who or what was Home.

I made the child appear. It was a boy and he had suffered injury. His shoulder was emerald with light where he had lost the arm. His eyes were tired. I placed my guest’s hand on the Glass and beckoned the child with my own beam. Emerald is a hard light and will not tesselate easily. I have seen it done by others. Emerald and Violet take work to assimilate within a single Glass. The boy was at the Glass and placed his arm light near. The spectrum fluctuated as it does. It gave voices.

There is no such thing as silent light. These are my mother’s words. I was so young I was listening just for their sound. Later she taught me the beams. Showed how they can be woven and the colours which require experience. Blue is companionable as a small pet. Grey light is being astride a whale. The spectrum can be looked through slant and this is where the dead come. They are like raised print that catches the eye only when the book is turned to the window.

I knew that my guest had seen. Why, she said. But there is no Why when you can see down the beam and into the colours of being. Once they have seen the lights converge the Why will dissolve into nothing.

 

II

[…] while other subjects are known to report bright lights or a flash. Some experience a bodily sensation akin to numbness or ‘pins and needles’ in a particular area or a wave through the body as if they have been ‘walked through’. Recent trials have suggested that peripheral vision is also a major factor, as it allows for the incorporation of images or miscellaneous retinal activity that is then transfigured into an object with apparent agency. One subject reported the revelation of images in the visual field when half-closing the eyes. These were taken to be objects from a previously veiled realm or plane revealed only to the subject through a series of eye gestures that had the effect of invoking the phenomena.

Subjects have reported an oncoming sensation of these apparitions several seconds or minutes before they actually appear; several refer to an indescribable feeling or heightening of sensory perception throughout the body analogous to the visitation ‘gathering’ itself in order that it can be seen. Within this group, a sub-section of individuals find that a particular object acts as an invocatory totem to the phenomena. In these specific cases the subject was palpating the object or laid their hands on it by accident immediately preceding the initial experience and disclosed a belief that the manifestation is specifically linked to the item in question. Some have reported warmth radiating from the object or a sense of heat in the affected limb. We have found that these objects do not need to be old or have any significant emotional connection to the subjects. On one occasion when we attempted to recreate these experiences under controlled circumstances or for the subject’s benefit, the individual in question became distressed because the object had apparently lost its revelatory powers. This suggests that for some the configuration of object and environment is an important factor; subjects whom we have subsequently discharged have reported that the phenomena re-emerged when they were once again alone with the object.

Such items recorded here include a one-inch plastic army man, the lid of a disposable coffee cup, the end of a headphone cord, a blue towel, a dry drip of paint on a window pane, a steering wheel, a library door, a subway ticket, the stone border of a garden rockery, a radiator key, a lime-green plastic drinks coaster, a large black pebble, a child’s wooden building block […]

 

III

It was a part of the stairwell, the one between the second and third floors. There is a separate walkway accessible between the two floors which terminates in a door. The door is heating or cleaning or something but I have never seen it opened. The child was not visible on the mezzanine aside from a specific set of circumstances that I discovered by accident. There is a thing with my eyes, and I have a tendency to squint. It is a kind of compulsive thing and I am trying to stop it. I went through the third-floor door to the stairwell, and in the process I looked down at the mezzanine and involuntarily did my eye thing. I thought at first that it was the convergence of some items around me – the door, wall and stairs – that had conjured the shape. I have since considered that the door began the process, as when I touched the handle it was warm as if someone had been touching it. On the walkway there was an outline that existed for an instant, like an image you see in a car window going fast. I was carrying books to the stacks below and I dropped them. One fell into the stairwell and down the central shaft. It spun and hit the floor below with a clap, and I squinted impulsively at the noise and saw the outline again. It was a child from its height. Its hair was short and it seemed lopsided. All this happened in a second of a second. I stood upright and tried to conjure it again, but some combination of the elements were wrong. I tried again to retrace my previous actions exactly but the child wouldn’t come. I thought the missing book that had gone into the stairwell might be the crucial object, so I walked down and retrieved it.

I got concerned that my lateness would be noticed, though this has happened before and they may expect it now in some way. I am not sure we are all on the same page here, to coin my boss’s phrase. He said to me that a job is a matter of focus. Then he said we have all got our heads full of different objects but ultimately a job is about picking one and sticking to it. This has been my problem and I know it. I went back through the stairwell door with all the original books and waited some time for the elements to regroup, and then I walked back through the door and the child was maybe there again but much more briefly. At this point I got thinking that my awareness of the child was to do with not expecting to see it and that maybe it would appear more forcefully if I forgot about it.

I have discovered that it is very difficult to forget about something that is always on your mind, and that even moving through the same part of the library can lead to an anticipation of the event which will make the child diminish or disappear completely because of my expectation. There is also the matter of whether the child wants to be seen, and whether it appeared to me specifically. I have considered two scenarios. One where the child was seen accidentally going about its business and has tried to remain concealed from me, and one where it had not realised it could be seen until I saw it and is now trying to communicate further. At home I tried my eye thing in different ways because I wanted to see if the child was part of a second world that I could access through this combination of actions, and whether there were other people and places waiting or keen to be seen with the right vision.

Eventually I began to consider a third scenario, which was that I had witnessed a moment in a repeating cycle and that the child was nothing more than equivalent to an angled beam of light that enters your eye in a certain room at a certain time of year. I tried to acknowledge the possibility that what I was seeing was essentially an echo of something that was slowly fading out of memory, and that there was in fact no effort at communication taking place. In this situation I was simply party to a supernatural phenomenon that most people would dismiss as a trick of the light. The thought of this possibility went some way to freeing me of my anxiety over communication with the child, but also made me feel unhappy in a way that I could not name. It was sustained contemplation of this third scenario that eventually led me to make my appointment with the medium, as I felt that I needed a figure of some authority or expertise to fully assure me of what I was witnessing. I had of course considered that the medium might well be a charlatan, of which I understand there are a substantial number given the vulnerability of certain individuals who visit them in a moment of great emotional need. Nevertheless, I decided that I had become sufficiently fixated to require a sense of closure, and for someone to explain the how or why of my experience and to therefore bring this cycle to an end.

 

IV

My father told me a love that can only operate through fear is a broken kind of love. It is no less powerful and meaningful, and it can be as strong as any love, but it is also a kind of pain. And the pain will go in through the needle with the love, and the loved will imbibe the mixture, and they will always be doubled; two worlds.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Hering is a writer and academic based at the University of Liverpool. His work has recently appeared in publications including Los Angeles Review of BooksThe Quietus and Hyped on Melancholy. His first novel, Zealandia, was shortlisted for the 2019 Fitzcarraldo Editions Novel Prize. He is working on a collection of short fiction and has recently completed his second novel. Twitter: @hering_david

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, August 25th, 2020.