Malcolm regarded the figure on the other side of his desk with distaste. Percival Principal was his name. A small creature with hunched shoulders and a large ego, he was chief investigator in the reports unit.
“You mean to say that you think you have proof?” said Malcolm in a voice struggling for neutrality.
“With respect, professor I know I have proof.” His eyes blinked rapidly as he met Malcolm’s gaze. “I have met the old man several times. I can play you the recording.”
“I suppose you’d better,” sighed Malcolm, flexing his fingers in one of the stress exercises Dr. Sandoz had recommended.
Percival produced a small box and pressed a button.
”Can we go over that again, Mr. Kilhooly.“ Percival’s unctuous voice emerged from the box.
”Like I already told you sir, I seen ’em. Great lumps of solid stuff just sort of walking around. I calls ‘em Lumpys. It was in the old cave at Spittal Point. I was all alone and then I wasn’t like. He were just there all lumpy like and I took a photo and there it is in your hand sir.”
”And what did the creature do when it saw you?”
”It let out this blood-curdling scream, sir. Made me go all cold, sir.”
‘And what were you doing in the cave at Spittal Point on your own with a camera Mr. Kilhooly?”
”Well Sir it’s sort of personal but. . .“ The tape hissed.
Malcolm raised his eyebrows. Percival coughed.
“I erased the rest of the recording. It was irrelevant to this investigation.”
Malcolm turned the photo over and over in his hand. The definition was poor, it was over exposed but there it was. A creature. Lumpy was the only word for it. Two arms and two legs, but undeniably solid and lumpy.
“So you will substantiate the report?”
“Absolutely Professor. I stake my reputation on it.”
Not much to lose then Malcolm thought.
“And it will be important for you Professor. After all, proof of the existence of Phenonmena was the reason the service was set up was it not?”
“Quite so, quite so.” Malcolm rose in dismissal.
“There’s much more I can tell you, professor.”
“Of course. Send in your written report.”
“But. . .”
“So good of you to come.”
When Percival had gone, Malcolm sagged back in his chair to contemplate the end of his career.
He thought grimly of the day the minister himself had confirmed his appointment as head of the Phenomenological Investigation Service, or PIS. He had sat there staring past Malcolm with his small piggy eyes, hands folded over his corpulent belly.
“Malcolm,” he had said. “This is a very important charge. This rumour of the existence of Phenomena is spreading alarm throughout our country. It is your job to show how ridiculous these rumours are. At the same time we must show that we are taking reports from our voters seriously. All reports must be subjected to rigorous scientific scrutiny before debunking.”
The last year had been easy, but now he was faced with Percival and his proof and his photograph. The old man claimed to have spoken to them for goodness sake. It was too much. There had to be a way out.
Jim Parker trembled with anticipation. He was sure it would happen again tonight and this time he was ready. Sound equipment, heat sensors and his precious Nikon ranged one wall. It wouldn’t escape unrecorded this time. He knew what he had seen. Damn the sceptics. He had waited years for this. Real proof of a ghost’s existence. He looked round the room again. It was the sitting room of a perfectly ordinary pre-war bungalow although unoccupied for many years, no doubt due to the spectral aura he had detected.
Jim felt his heart stop. He turned round very slowly. In the corner by the fireplace an apparition shimmered. A pale green figure outlined in vibrant yellow. A ghost, but not the one he had seen last week. He opened his mouth, but couldn’t force any sound out.
“Well, can you hear me?” said the ghost in a tetchy voice.
“Yes, I can hear you,” Jim managed to croak. His hands trembled.
“That’s something I suppose,” said the ghost. “And who are you?”
“Me?” squeaked Jim. “I’m Jim. Jim Parker actually.”
“Well Jimjim, I’m Professor Malcolm Kilhooly of the Phenomenological Investigation Service and I am not happy.”
“But. . .”
“Yes?” The ghost raised its eyebrows.
“Well, I mean you’re a ghost. Aren’t you?” Jim finished lamely.
“Ghost eh so that’s what you call us. Not very imaginative are you? One syllable lumpy are you? I might have known.”
“It’s not just me, we all call you ghosts.”
“We?” The ghost sounded alarmed. “How many of you are there for goodness sake.”
“Well about six billion I think.”
“Oh my Great Grafter, six billion. This is far far worse than I thought.” The ghost’s aura flickered white. “And are you all. . . here?”
“No, no, there’s just me here. The rest are all over.” He gestured vaguely.
“All over, incapacitated then,” the ghost mused.
Jim said nothing. He must get a picture. He looked hopelessly towards his camera.
The ghost spoke again. “You met a friend of mine last week.”
“Yes, like you, but long white hair, a beard.”
“That’s him. Did you speak to him?”
“Well actually no. I err. . .”
“Well I ran away. It was the first time you see. There was a blinding flash.”
“He got your picture.”
“The ghost took my picture?” Jim scratched his head.
“That’s what I said,” snapped the ghost tetchily. “Look I’m very busy. We have to come to an agreement.”
“An agreement?” said Jim blankly.
“Yes. Will you stop repeating everything I say? It’s very irritating.”
“Repea. . .” The ghost’s aura flared red and Jim wilted.
“There are political factors involved here which are completely beyond your understanding. To maintain stability it is necessary that you bugger off and don’t ever come back here.”
Jim’s mouth was hanging open. With an effort he tightened his sagging jaw muscles.
“Well is that understood?”
Jim had an intense desire to sit down, so he did, in the middle of the dusty floor. The ghost looked at him expectantly its aura pulsing pinkly.
“Well yes, I understand but. . . but I’ve been looking forward to this encounter for years.”
“What? To meeting me?” The ghost’s aura hummed gently.
“Well yes, I suppose so.”
“Gratifying, nevertheless you must go. A lot is at stake. The ghost you met last week has been dealt with. Now I have to deal with you Jimjim.”
The ghost seemed to expand and rear up. Jim rose hastily and backed to the wall.
“Look we can do a deal, honest.” He looked round desperately. “If I could just take your photograph, make a recording perhaps. I wouldn’t bother you again. It would look so good at the society.”
“And you wouldn’t ever come back here? Not that it matters since this access will be destroyed anyway. But just don’t try see.”
“Yes of course, but you mean to say this is an access point for ghosts?”
The ghost sighed. “It’s much more complicated than that. This is really confidential stuff, but I suppose it doesn’t matter if I tell you. We’re in two different worlds and that’s how it should be, but it seems that sometimes thin spots develop for various reasons and we start to see through.”
“You mean we see ghosts?”
“You see ghosts and we see you horrible lumpys. It’s pretty frightening the first time I can tell you. It’s my job to prove you don’t exist and if you keep popping up it makes my job difficult OK.” The ghost’s voice was rising in volume and deepening in tone. Jim nodded vigorously. “And it’s got to stop.”
“Yes, yes of course,” said Jim.
“This thin spot must be closed.”
“And never used again.”
“I’m glad to see we are in agreement then.”
“Well I’ll just be going,” muttered Jim. “If I could just get that picture.” He sidled over to his equipment.
“Right side if you don’t mind,” said the ghost.
“My right side’s my best.”
“Oh yes. Of course.” Jim made some adjustments. “Um if you could just smile or whatever it is you do.”
The ghost stared solemnly at him. “Yes that’s fine and if you could just make some ghostly noises for the recorder.”
“Noises? What noises?”
“You know. Whoooooo. That sort of thing.”
“Well maybe with a bit more feeling.”
“My God.” Jim staggered backwards. “Yes that’s it brilliant.” He started the sound recorder and fired off a dozen still shots as the ghost whoooed.
“OK great. Finished. That was brilliant.”
“Thank you,” said the ghost graciously. “We’ll have to destroy it.”
“What?” gasped Jim.
“This place. From both sides. I’ve decided. A small nuclear device should do.”
“I haven’t got one.”
“Not at all? Can’t you just buy one or something?”
“Absolutely not. It’s not allowed here.”
“Oh well. It’ll have to be a fire then. I suppose you can manage that can you? Not too much trouble?”
“A fire’s easy,” said Jim much relieved.
“Right it’s decided,” said Malcolm expanding to his full size which everyone at the institute thought very impressive. “You will destroy this side by fire in precisely twenty four hours. And be precise mind.”
Jim nodded vigorously, rewinding the film in his Nikon.
“Are you sure you understand?” asked Malcolm doubtfully.
“Fire in twenty four hours,” said Jim, dismounting the camera from its stand.
“Well, I’ll be off then,” said Malcolm.
“It’s been nice meeting you,” said Jim.
“It must have been,” said Malcolm and then he wasn’t there.
Jim looked at his watch. Time to check the film and then catch a few hours sleep. A few phone calls and he could get the whole society round here tomorrow night. Show the films and then wait. The ghost was bound to come again when he didn’t torch the house. He’d looked fierce, but what could a ghost really do except make a lot of noise? He rubbed his hands together in anticipation.
Malcolm stretched back happily in his chair, his aura shimmering green and clear. That would sort Percy. No more lumpys from that department. The nuclear device was sitting in the cave ticking down. He’d given it an extra hour before detonation just in case. That Jimjim lump hadn’t seemed too sure what he was doing. After all, the house had to burn first otherwise the nuclear blast would blow right through. Yes, an extra hour should be sufficient.
Eric McFarlane has written for as long as he can remember. He has completed three novels with others in progress. Genre fiction whether novel or short story length is his first love and he has written humour, SF, crime and horror. Comic fiction with quirky characters is a speciality.