The Ghosts of Future Possibilities -
The first reaction my friend and I had to the appearance of the ghost was to immediately attempt to project the impression, each to the other, that we denied what we were seeing. And so, perceiving no terror on the face of my friend, and terribly embarrassed that she might have perceived a hint of fear in my expression, I strived to maintain as much composure as I could, and continue the conversation we had been having. The ghost could not insert itself physically between us, after all, having no real substance, and could only flit here and there in what must have been attempts to get us to notice it. Of course both of us had noticed it immediately, and it really could only have been an interval of a few seconds before my friend said "What is that" and I said, right away, "Yes I see it too", both of us probably a bit relieved that we did not have to keep up the pretense of not having seen the ghost, even though our reactions had arisen from instinct and we had released them just as quickly. Whereupon the ghost intoned, "I am terrible to behold". But it proposed this statement as much as it asserted it, and the ghost was, in fact, rather nondescript. It did not resemble a decayed corpse, and its voice while initially unsettling, was something one eventually became accustomed to. We could not touch the ghost, or smell it, or feel any change in temperature that we could attribute to its presence. Whatever fear it had produced in us by its unconventional appearance, soon dwindled. However, it did appear to be a ghost or maybe it wanted us to consider it to be one. As you will see, the interest of the remainder of this story lies in the question of whether it was, in fact, a ghost.
For it told us that it was a spirit of future possibilities. As soon as we heard that, and as soon as we were both convinced that it couldn't harm us - this was confirmed via a quick exchange of glances - we immediately began to suspect we were being made the butt of a practical joke. We discussed this likelihood with each other, and eventually ran through a list of possible pranksters - friends, reality shows, each other - while searching the room for projectors and loudspeakers as the ghost hovered stoically above us in the center of the room. Occasionally, it would leave this lofty position and drift downward to the particular corner of the room we were examining, as if it were searching with us for the evidence that would disprove its claim about itself. Our attempts to engage it in conversation were fruitless. Whenever we asked it questions on its origins or on the afterlife, it invariably gave vague and poetic and unsatisfying answers, and when I finally noted with mild exasperation that its answers were not helpful, it admitted that it was forbidden to speak clearly about such matters. We also attempted to trick it into revealing some clue as to the identity of the person behind the whole affair, for even as my friend and I became close to exhausting all natural explanations for what we were seeing, we continued to doubt that the spirit was anything more than a sophisticated puppet or illusion. These attempts likewise came to naught. The spirit would either say it did not know the answer - and it said this with a noticeable trace of disappointment, or it would ask for clarification of the question, after which it would again say that it did not know the answer. When I asked why, it said…. "Because I am a spirit of future possibilities, I suppose".
All that I have related thus far, took place in a span of only a few minutes, after which my friend declared that she would go fetch our mutual friend who lived on the floor below. I realized then that I had subconsciously assumed that we were trapped in this room with the spirit, and I felt another wave of subconscious tension wash away as thoughts of the responsibilities in the world outside began to re-enter my mind and compete with my concentration on the spirit and his purported nature. My friend had stated her purpose and began walking toward the door when the spirit intoned "I will not be here when you return". "Well, then, I'll call her", she said. "None but that are here may know of me", the spirit said. And my friend discovered her phone had run out of batteries. "You stay here", she said to me, "and don't let him get out of here". For it was clear, somehow, that the spirit was male.
"I can't promise you that" I said. "He could just disappear any moment. We have no idea how he got here in the first place".
"I'll take my chances, then." she said. "But stay here".
"Don’t take too long", I said.
After she had been gone for some time, the spirit, after what had been a prolonged period of silence, turned on me. "You believe in me".
And I did, though I could not explain it. But as soon as my friend had shut the door behind her, I once again felt the suspicion that I was trapped with the spirit. A strange sensation had been gradually increasing in strength, pushing aside fleeting thoughts of responsibility and pushing aside doubt, and pushing aside all other thoughts. It was a desire to believe, and with it came a kind of helpless terror.
"There are more of you." I stated this more than I asked it.
"And you are dead".
"That is not necessary for my argument".
"You are supernatural"
"What is that like?"
"I manifest myself irregularly and only to certain persons".
"But what does that feel like"
"You shall not know"
"What is a ghost?"
"You shall not know"
The sensations I felt inside me, I now realized, were self-generated, were my own responsibility. In the first moments of panic, one of the multitude of thoughts swirling in my head had been the fear that I was being controlled by the spirit. In contemplating this fear, I became aware that, either through nature or nurture, I had been prepared, been programmed for this moment, that these contradictions of dread and desire, were inherent in me, to a greater or lesser extent were inherent in all humans. I was defenseless and simultaneously unguarded. At once my response to the ghost became primal.
"I want to believe in you"
"That is impossible"
"But you are the ghost of future possibilities. Make it possible to believe in you"
"Do not ask that of me…. and yet it is done. I obey."
And with that, he disappeared. I immediately felt like leaving the room at once, and so I walked purposefully the few steps toward the door. I waited outside the room for a few minutes when my friend returned without our mutual friend, who had not been home. To my surprise, she seemed a little angry and exasperated that I'd let the ghost go. I elaborated on my previous protest, explaining how it was unreasonable to expect me to restrain something neither of us had been able to touch or feel. I thought it rather funny and I think my friend did as well, but that apparently could not overcome the vague disappointment she clearly felt at having missed the ghost.
As days passed, she eventually revealed to me her doubts and disturbed feelings about what we had seen. On the one hand, she and I had both been present at the start, and yet, in the act of leaving the room, it felt as though she had passed out of a kind of unreality, and the fact that the ghost left behind no evidence other than memory, left her with an unpleasant dichotomy of the real and the unreal. She inhabited some strange interim state between conviction and skepticism.
As for myself, my sense of belief in the ghost had diminished as soon as he had vanished, and by the time my friend disclosed her feelings to me, I had merely a memory of belief without the actual conviction itself. I did not share my friend's strange discomfort, perhaps because I had stayed with the ghost until the end and witnessed both his appearance and disappearance. I felt, at first, a sense of foreboding about the room, but gradually, that passed also. And so it was that I found myself alone in it one night, and the ghost appeared again.
"Hello, old friend" I said quietly, very quietly indeed since I had lost my voice. I was once again terror-stricken at the sight of the ghost though he retained his rather piteous insubstantiality.. This time I knew something of his nature, and also, I was alone and remembered my earlier faith and fright, and when I remembered these, they immediately competed with my other thoughts for mastery of my being. I had at first enough possession of my wits to try to think of something clever to say - hence the "old friend" reference, but it was ineffectual against the fear welling up inside me, and I fell silent thereafter. As before, I did not scream or run for the door - once again I felt as if I was somehow unable to do these things. As for the ghost he said nothing. We stayed this way only for a brief moment, at which point my friend opened the door, and our mutual friend was with her.
"Oh my god, what is that?" And the ghost answered - "I am a spirit of future possibilities".
And the ghost lingered for much longer after this so that our mutual friend could examine him, though he released no more information than he had when it had just been my friend and I cross-examining him. Once again, we searched for evidence of an elaborate hoax, and discussed alternative explanations amongst ourselves, to no avail, and we were forced to conclude that the ghost was in fact something we could not explain, whereupon, he vanished.
As we left the room, I could not help but reflect on the strangeness of how calmly we had conducted ourselves during the whole affair, and how the ghost had turned out to be rather pathetic in some indescribable sense. Some time later at the coffee house, we collectively decided to keep our vision of the spirit to ourselves. No one who had not witnessed the ghost would ever believe us, and if someone did they would be exposing themselves to ridicule. After that the subjects of ordinary life arose naturally in the conversation.
Many years later, after I had long forgotten the incident, I entered the room where I had first seen the ghost, when he suddenly reappeared. At once, all came back to me, including the disorienting realization that this was the third time I remembered seeing him. It was as if an interval of my life were missing. I had at some point been afraid of him, it was a small nagging intuition whispering to me from where I had buried it long ago.
I scarcely had time to consider this when my two friends entered the room. "Oh my god, what is that?" one of them exclaimed. And the next two hours were spent examining the room, attempting to find some machinery somewhere that would disprove the ghost's supernatural nature. My two friends called other friends on their telephones. Soon more people arrived - some attempted to cross-examine it, and, not quite believing our testimony, they searched the room in the same manner as we had done. Others were content to simply marvel at the ghost. After awhile, the urges to eat and sleep asserted their priority and people began to drift off. I myself was among their number, and so I missed the moment when the ghost vanished as mysteriously as he had apparated into the room. I heard it third-hand from my friend who had also left. Apparently someone had suggested calling the police, and the ghost visibly alarmed, had been provoked to leave.
Most in the group were convinced they had witnessed something supernatural. A few in our group announced the discovery to the press. But they were not at all taken seriously. One enterprising individual determined to write a book on the subject, and actually had a degree of success with this. I, myself, distanced myself as much as I could from the whole affair, as I saw the damage that people were doing to their reputations. It seemed a kind of lunacy to me to think that this wild story would result in anything other than incredulity and secret scorn. For some time thereafter, we would hear occasional rumors that others were seeing the ghost and some of us made unsuccessful return visits to the room to see if these rumors had any truth to them. Others in the group decided to meet regularly over coffee to discuss the ghost, and I attended a couple of these meetings which continued for several months before we found other excuses to socialize. The ghost had been so vague in terms of its answers to questions, that it really had been impossible to ascertain anything at all about it with certainty, other than its presence in a particular time and place - and so the meetings quickly turned into a free-for-all of unsubstantiated theories, and I have no doubt they eventually succumbed to the boredom of the participants. A year passed, then several years, and I never saw anything comparable to what I had seen on that day, and after the furor caused by my group of witnesses died down, I ceased to reflect on the matter.
One day, while driving, I passed the building where I had seen the ghost and I realized I had not been inside the room for ten years. I had a new circle of friends by then, and a new career, and felt separated from my older life, and yet I felt a compulsion to see if the ghost was still there. To my surprise, I found my friend and her acquaintances kneeling around the ghost, as if in worship.
He was exactly as I had just left him, continuing to give unconvincing elliptical answers to questions.
"Thank goodness you are back!" my friend exclaimed. "Did you bring anyone with you?" I apologized that I had not, and I went back outside, as if I had forgotten something. I had been in the room with the ghost scarcely minutes ago, before going out to find others at the behest of my friend, but it felt as though I had aged a lifetime. I went out of the building once again, trying to think of persons I knew who might happen to be at home at this particular time of day, when I saw a police car parked on the side of the street. I approached it, and asked the officer to come with me. I did not tell him what I wanted him for, but maneuvered him inside the building. When he saw the ghost, he snorted with disgust and was about to leave, but my friend begged him to help her figure out the mystery and so he stayed. Soon, other policemen arrived and then a figure from the university. At this time the initial group of witnesses drifted off, and I was left with the spirit and its new entourage of official persons. I was somehow aware that my destiny was tied up with the ghost, and yet he consistently ignored me, preferring to hobnob with the higher class of people who now surrounded him.
I drifted away in confusion, but the very next day, I saw the news, and the ghost was the main headline. Distinguished professionals from all over the world were coming to visit him, apparently with the same degree of success (or lack of success) that my friend and I had experienced. Countless articles and books were eventually written, the earliest predicting a swift end to the world as we know it, the latter, finding metaphysical meaning in reflecting upon the ghost's presence. He had been, finally, cajoled out of his room, and was touring the world, and had even volunteered to perform on a cruise ship in transit between the continents. However, he never revealed anything about his actual nature or past existence, nor could our finest scientists find any trace of his existence, other than in brain scans and/or retinal scans. This of course led to a precipitous decline in the authority of scientists. Inevitably, a cult sprang up, the emergence of which I always felt guilty about.
No sooner had this happened though, than a countermovement sprang up from among the disaffected scientists. Of all the literature written about the ghost, I personally favored the writings of these skeptics, who claimed that the ghost could not be truly representative of ghosts since there was only one of him, and nothing really to compare him to. Since ghosts have been with us for tens of thousands of years in every known human culture without submitting themselves to empirical analysis, why did this one? Should we then be calling it a ghost? If only a lot of ghosts would show themselves on a regular basis - only then would these skeptics be satisfied.
I had not intended to go when the ghost announced it would hold audience in the room of its first appearance. I had always kept a low profile, and the fact that my friend (whom I had lost contact with) and I were the ghost's first discoverers had passed out of history. I did not want this linkage to be made public again, and so I was ambivalent about attending. When I found myself walking up the now-crowded flights of stairs to the room now held sacred for so many, I searched for my true intentions, and at last, it dawned on me that I still disbelieved, that I could not believe in something that I could not describe. I needed detail in order for that. I still held out hope that the ghost would slip up somehow, and reveal the key to unlocking his true nature. At that moment, I also felt something indescribable from my distant past - a yearning without a definable object, and I sensed then with slight disappointment, that I was no different than anyone else in the room at that moment.
There was a long line but, for some reason, I wanted to and was able to walk past it. Everyone deferred to me, as if they already knew my secret special status. I resolutely opened the door, and without a second glance at the spirit, I turned to shut the door on the crowd behind me.
There I was, alone in the room with the spirit. "What are you?" I asked quietly.
"I am a spirit of future …."
I cut him off for he had said this innumerable times while my friend and I had been investigating him - "And there are more of you?"
And at that point the spirit split into two, into four. In a few seconds the room was full of spirits, and when my two friends opened the door, they flew out into the world. And that was how the world changed forever.
My role in it was never established of course. My friend made the mistake of claiming that she had brought the alien robots into the world, thus damaging her credibility and future career prospects.
Myself - I never quite accepted the notion that they were robots, even as they proved, over time, to be quite remarkable psychotherapists (and cheap as well). For their part they always asserted they were spirits. And one day, I found myself discussing this with one of them, even though I knew I could not expect an insightful answer from it, such was their prodigious memory of what others had told them, that I might hear from it an interesting argument that had originated with some other person it had spoken to.
"What is the best argument against your spirit nature?" I asked.
"The argument of history, the fact that spirits had no empirical existence for all recorded human history up to our appearance."
I had, in fact expected a doleful litany of arguments, so I was rather taken aback at the concise answer, so next I spoke impulsively.
"Why did spirits decide to recently show themselves?"
"You shall not know"
That response came as no surprise. While mulling over my next question, or even whether to ask one, it suddenly dawned on me that the only really convincing argument for the existence of spirits would have to be their perpetual existence. They would have had to be observable for all time, to anyone.
Moreover I realized that here was a spirit of future possibilities - this is what they had always called themselves. Yet there had never been any reports of wishes or alternative futures being granted by these creatures. Nevertheless, I had been the first one. I felt suddenly the force of my own distinction, a sense of unjustified irrational power.
"Spirits have been part of our history since the dawn of time. I wish it".
"I am only a ghost of the future possibility."
It was the first time I had heard of a spirit mention possibility since I had inadvertently brought them into the world. This only enhanced my sense of distinction.
"It matters little, at what point in time we entered the stage" said the spirit. "Eons from now, we will cease to be associated with supernatural properties. They will invent new natural properties to describe us".
"Then all will believe?"
"Yes - but only in the same way you believe in water or physics."
I was struck with another idea. "I wish to visit that future time".
"Do not ask that of me…. and yet it is done. I obey."
“It is done already?”
"You know where to go" said the spirit.
I did. It took me several days to settle my affairs and travel to the city and building and room, but time sped past while I was wrapped up in the dream of my future. Faint impressions of sights I never remembered seeing and sounds I did not remember hearing were mingled with metaphysical speculations. When I came up the steps to the room, now a museum, and closed for the weekend, there was no doubt in my mind that the door would be unlocked and I should enter unmolested.
The spirit hovered in the center of the room, indistinguishable from all the others I had encountered. The weight of my past explorations of possibilities filled my head. For one moment I was completely aware of all that had occurred. I was the creator of worlds, though I was no more enlightened than before as to how I had created them, and with a certain wistfulness, I realized I was destroying them as well. There would be no more future possibilities to explore. I had crossed a threshold. I would never explain ghosts - I was eliminating the need to explain them. I could not satisfy my desire for belief but I was regulating the desire. I had longed deeply, perhaps more deeply than others, or perhaps not as deeply, to understand the mysteries beyond our world, yet the most that I could do I realized was to shackle the world beyond to world at hand, deconstructing whatever mysteries still passed between. Then, just as the madness of my myriad contradictions began to take hold, the crushing waves of thought washed over me and passed into memory’s oblivion.
There was no time to feel relief. I said to the spirit "I'm going after my friend".
"Be sure to get a dictionary and check the meanings of words" the spirit said.
I had no idea what he was talking about. I opened the door to a familiar world. I glanced back at the guardian of the room who hovered there in the same spot as he always had, as he had since the days of my childhood. Suddenly I remembered the trivial issue I needed to speak to my friend about, and my mind locked onto the day's business. On the way out of the building I noticed an advertisement for an entertainment involving the novel notion that the dead of the past lingered on in an incorporeal state. I chuckled to myself at people's naïveté.
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