The pull was excruciatingly long. It felt like thousands of minibots were invading his body and tugging on every organ, every nerve, even every follicle of hair with needle like talons; trying desperately to pull them through his flesh an into the oblivion beyond. He wanted to scream at the dark but he couldn’t, not when his breath was being sucked from his lungs.
Then, everything stopped.
The pulling, the tingling, everything ended immediately and he gasped for air. He tried to focus his eyes on the figures before him but they where merely ghostly blurs of light and dark shadows fading in and out of his vision. They would not come into focus. But the figures saw him. He knew that instantly when they began to shout at him. They were alarmed by his presence and it didn’t take long for the figures to throw objects at him. The objects didn’t hurt though. They seemed to sail right through him, but the shouting, that hurt. He couldn’t understand what they were saying, they all sounded as though they were underwater, but the noise was so amplified, it shook his ears and his head was ready to bust apart from the sound waves reverberating in his skull. He ran away from the blurred crowd, he didn’t care which direction he ran since nothing seemed to be in his way. He ran through walls, through fences, even through other people until he was once more yanked back into that excruciating pull. The imaginary minibots invaded his body again and all the visions and the shouting figures disappeared. The shadows replaced them with darkness. Once more, he couldn’t breathe until it was over.
The experience never got easier. Every time was just as painfully long as the last. Every damn time it was like this. But he knew he would put himself through it again, and again, because it was a small price to pay for genius.
Eventually the pull faded from his body and the darkness once again faded from his vision. However, instead of seeing blurred figures, he saw a familiar woman peeking at him with a documentation tablet in her hand. She was smiling.
“Well, anything different happened?” The woman was wearing an ancient looking dress, complete with bustle under her stark white lab coat. A wireless communicator was embedded in her forearm. The flashing lights on the communicator told him she had three messages waiting for her, but he also knew she had a habit of ignoring incoming calls.
It took him a moment to shake the nausea from his mind and gut. He tried to step forward but had to brace himself inside the metal vestibule. Lights along the sides of the walls flickered out as the machine shut down.
“No, nothing different.” He managed to crumple into a chair beside the machine. “The same thing, every time. It is always the same exact reaction.”
“Could you at least hear what they were saying?” She handed him a metal bowl and although his stomach turned, he denied the bowl.
“Nope. Just the same reverberating speech.”
Disappointment wavered for a moment across her face before she smiled again.
“I think I know what will work this time.”
“I am not going back through that again today.”
“I’ll do it.” She began to take her lab coat off. “This time, I am going to use one of these primitive hearing aids.” She held a small flesh colored device in her hand and inserted it in her ear.
“It not only amplifies sound, it also filters out sound waves from extraneous noise. I believe it helped people during that millennia to focus on a single sound wave, for example one person’s voice in a crowd.” She paused before entering the vestibule.
"I'd be willing to try anything now." He said while rubbing his own ringing ears.
“See you when I get back.” She squeezed into the vestibule making sure every bit of her dress was tucked safely inside. Once she was ready, he closed the door and flipped the switch. The familiar high whine of the engine’s magnetic turbine vibrated in his ears and his brain. If he kept this up, he would need one of those archaic hearing aides…indefinitely.
The flash of light signaled she had vanished inside. He peered into the small peephole window just to be sure she was gone before opening the vestibule’s doors again. Then he waited while listening to the whine of the engine and making further notes in the documentation tablet. After ten minutes, the shadows of her skirt could be seen reappearing on the floor of the vestibule, then the faded image of her continued to strengthen until she was back to a solid form. She looked ill, but she was also smiling.
“Well?” He asked while grabbing the nearby bowl.
“It worked.” She managed the words just before emptying her stomach into the bowl.
“I heard them as plain as I can hear you.” She threw up again, but still managed a smile.
“Well, I could hear exactly what they were saying. It was the same word over and over. However, I have never heard this word before, and I’ll need to look it up.” She set the bowl down and slowly walked over to the data base system.
“What were they saying?” His curiosity peaked with excitement. Hearing their words was a HUGE step in their research. He was thrilled.
“Yes, ghost.” She typed the word into the database.
“What is a ghost?”
“According to the database, centuries ago civilizations thought a ghost was a spirit or soul of the dead that stayed visible to those who were still living.”
He furrowed his brows, “Um… ok. So what is a spirit or a soul?”
“I have no idea. I’ll need to look that up too.”
Jennifer L. Caddell is a published science fiction short story writer who is currently writing her first book in a space trilogy. Jennifer lives in the wet and wonderful Pacific Northwest with her superhero husband, stellar children, and two crazy chickens. Come and check her out at http://jcaddell.wordpress.com