Years ago I came up with the notion of what would happen if a psychic and a scientist came together to discover the method by which communication with the dead occurred. What if from this encounter, they designed a machine that could talk to the other side? What would the social implications of this be, if we could now talk to our deceased relatives and know there is a heaven? The unification of a church, the end to religious-based wars, and the decidedly absent emotion of grief.
I’ve been meaning to get back to working on this novel, but it’s one of those things I’d like to work with someone with more scientific knowledge to give input. When the idea came to me, it poured out very quickly and without editing, so it’s rough, but here’s a sample scene in a nutshell.
David is a top engineer who designs the communication devices for the other side. These machines are controlled and owned by The Unified Church.. A woman contacts him and wants to talk secretly. She is a psychic. Her mother was the psychic who helped invent the machine and her father was the designer of the machine. This is their clandestine meeting:
It wasn’t a good day for David to be caught in the middle of some intrigue. Admittedly, Erika was a very desirable woman in a classically doll-like way. Not the type that usually drew his attention. He tended more towards the exotic or plump and friendly, but her petite body seemed so tightly contained, a very base part of him wondered what it would take to soften her pose, allow herself to unfurl.
Christ! It had definitely been too long since he’d been in a relationship. He wasn’t the type to just ease his tensions with a strange woman. He believed in relationships. They just didn’t believe in him.
Erika Thorsen sat alone at a table on the balcony level of the coffee shop. The crowd below was light, but then it was the end of summer and a time when coffee wasn’t quite so popular in the desert. He saw her slender legs immediately from below. She sat near the railing above, looking down, as if hoping to have the advantage of sighting him first.
She’d changed her clothes and was wearing a sundress that was soft and flattering, even though it did show her collarbone more than he’d like to see. Perhaps she one of those women who held everything in, allowing for no pleasures. Predictably, she was drinking a mineral water. She probably didn’t let herself sing to music, eat desserts, watch television for hours on end, or even experience orgasms.
Not a thought you should be pursuing.
Erika gazed up at him almost innocently, as if she hadn’t expected to see him. In the bright lighting, he could now see she wore a sprinkling of tan freckles across her nose. It was nearly endearing, if her eyes didn’t look so dark chocolate and all-knowingly wise. She nodded him towards the seat across from her.
David set down his cup and cookie. He broke it in half, offering her a portion. She stared at it as if she had never seen one before.
“Here, I don’t eat alone.” He muttered.
Curiously, he wondered what she would do with the cookie. She daintily plucked it from him and set it on a napkin. He was betting 10:1 the cookie would still be there by the end of this discussion.
“I appreciate you’re showing up Mr. McKeeley.”
“Please, call me David.”
She glanced around at the people below. The balcony was theirs alone so far and a perfectly safe setting for this mysterious daughter of a famous psychic to explain her purpose.
“I’m representing a group of people from around the world who have similar concerns about the MetaNet system and its safety.”
“In your TV interview on the anniversary show, you voiced some concerns about why it appears people who’ve passed on don’t go to hell.” She prompted.
David blinked. “I like to keep The Unified Church thinking about all possibilities, but I assure you, I have no reason to believe we aren’t talking to spirits, if you will.”
“I agree. You are talking to spirits.” She smiled softly.
Like an eager teenager, he found himself smiling over her own softening expression. It was like a hard-earned reward from this oh-so-serious female.
“Do you know what happened to all the true talented psychics, following the launching of the MetaNet?” She asked.
He picked up his cookie, nervously nibbling on the edges of it.
Let her tell me.
“David, psychics aren’t allowed to practice anymore. Do you know why?”
“It’s my understanding the Unified Church is concerned about the possibility that people communicating with the spirit world would break the four rules.”
“That’s what they say.” She remarked. “Do you find that to be a valid point?”
“Miss Thorsen, Erika…” He ran a hand through his hair, leaving it scrambling across his forehead in a dark rumpled wave. “I’m not in the dark just because I work for MetaNet, a subsidiary of The Unified Church. I realize that people still seek out psychics on the sly. Are you concerned about releasing psychics from their hidden burden? I really wouldn’t have any say in that matter.” He pushed aside his napkin and drink, as if preparing to leave.
“No!” Erika slapped her hand on the table like a Catholic school nun. “There’s no easy way to say this, David, but there is one thing The Church overlooked in their urgency to move forward with the MetaNet.”
“More like a million things they didn’t consider, but tell me, what is the one you’re most concerned about?”
“It’s not just me. We’re a fairly representative group.”
“And you speak for them?” David asked.
“Yes, I do.”
He rested back in his seat now and waited for her to voice her group’s concerns.
“My mother, as you know, was a very gifted psychic.”
“So, life is much more difficult for you, isn’t it?” He asked. “Your mother was well respected, even revered for her skills, and you find yourself hiding in the shadows to practice your abilities.”
She nodded again. “I can’t practice, not officially. I’m a nurse.”
He smiled. The thought of this rigid woman as a nurse in a white uniform, giving comfort to people who were sickly seemed almost comical.
As if sensing his thoughts, Erika explained,” I work with the elderly in an assisted living facility. I focus my energies on healing.”
Studying the hard planes of her shoulders and her cheekbones, he wondered how someone so tiny and so angled could possibly give comfort. He imagined someone soft and easy to smile. But, what did he know of psychic skills other than it fascinated him that others could access postplasma without any devices. That kind of uncontrolled ability scared him as an engineer. He liked being able to contain and weigh and measure such exchanges.
“As I was saying, my mother was a very gifted psychic. She was so proud of her contributions to making the other side accessible to all people, and to finally proving once and for all that psychic abilities do exist and they’re accessing something very real. My mother, in her later years, just after the launch of the MetaNet realized a few things she wished she would have considered when embarking on this research with Salvatore. She had many regrets in her declining years.”
“Such as never telling Salvatore about his daughter?” He raised a brow.
Suddenly Erika seemed to shrink into herself even more, her gaze going down to her lap like a chastised child. She seemed so defeated, so beaten. How much of her concerns were about the system and how many were about the dynamics of her mother’s secret? It wasn’t until two years after Salvatore’s sudden death from a heart attack, did it get out to the public that a child was born from the union of the inventor and his psychic consult. A child in her vulnerable adolescence thrust into the spotlight of tabloids for a good few years. It was considered in many rag magazines that Salvatore was so caught up in his research after getting what he needed out of his psychic assistant, that he moved on to a jet-set life and never looked back to see what happened to the woman who was as much a part of his success as his own intelligence.
“I’m sorry, Erika.” He reached his hand across the table and attempted to scoop up her hand, but she withdrew her cold flesh quickly.
“It’s alright. I’m used to the talk. Regardless of my relationship with the creators of the Ouija One, I have some very valid concerns I’m representing. Why do you suppose The Unified Church should be so very frightened of psychics?”
He opened his mouth, but she didn’t allow a word.
“It’s really quite straightforward. They’re afraid because psychics can do something that apparently the MetaNet cannot do.”
“And that is?”
“Psychics have the ability to contact evil spirits, as well as benevolent spirits.”
David’s brow furrowed. He concentrated on her words. They were the missing piece. He wasn’t a religious man. Hell, he never stepped into a church, except for the requisite wedding or transition memorial. He felt something was wrong with the system and he always blamed it on the takeover by the Unified Church. It wasn’t until she hit him with this curve ball that it all began to make sense. Perhaps he was skeptical about the process of talking to the dead because it so reminded him of his sister he lost in adolescence. She had been lured by the Internet to meet a stranger. Her body was found weeks later along the border with Mexico. Years later, safeguards were put in place, but for a long time the Internet was an open prowling ground. He couldn’t help as an engineer comparing the MetaNet to the Internet and wondering what they would experience during these early years that could be cataclysmic.
“Christ!” He cursed under his breath, feeling the tension rise inside of him. He leaned forward on the table, his fists clenched.
“We’re concerned about purgatory.”
“Yes.” He nodded with nearly a groan, everything tumbling into place in his mind now.
“It would appear that people are unable to talk to those who committed suicide, but many good psychics have, indeed, contacted those in purgatory, and evil dwelling spirits locked into earthly locations or even earthly objects.”
“Yes.” He nodded quickly. “Purgatory doesn’t exist.” His voice was so soft, it barely came across the table and over the softly droning sounds of Muzak piping through the overhead speaker. He shouldn’t reveal the secret, but it tumbled from him without warning. “It’s church-driven. All people who die of suicide are on a lock-out list. They aren’t allowed into the system. Originally, it was to stop rebounding.”
After positive identification of consciousness after death, many elderly, sickly, and depressed people took their lives. The suicide count in the first three years was over 10,000,000 worldwide, so the church did what they had to in order to squelch the “rebounding” by announcing that those in purgatory could not be reached and to kill oneself was to remain out of contact with loved ones for an eternity. That solved one problem, but more unexpected things began to occur such as bleed-over voices that sounded angry and which The Church blamed on frequencies picking up radiowave signals. Of course, it was completely impossible, but it was just another secret David had to deal with when designing the communication devices.
“It makes perfect sense.” She sighed. “We knew they were lying about this, but we had no way to prove it without admitting we’re still practicing our skills as psychics. It was one of the main things that caused us to be so suspicious. We knew they were telling a giant lie. We’ve tested it many times.”
“So your concerns are in regards to evil spirits?”
“When you open up that world, you open up all of it. My mother, myself, many others, we have all encountered evil spirits, unpleasant ones, all the emotions you find in humans. We can warn people who live in a house that holds an evil spirit, we can get messages with ill intent, but MetaNet opens itself to that plane with no protections.”
Christ! We’re wide open!
“What evidence do you have that evil spirits connect with MetaNet?”
“Do you have a list of the people who murdered, led evil lives in the past?”
“Not in my pocket.”
She did not.
“People are talking to all their relatives, all the way back, many generations. Many people who did evil things; Cossacks, members of the SS, Hussein’s hit men, you name it.”
“Admittedly that’s true. Apparently, we can assume there’s some level of forgiveness if one asks upon joining the other side.”
“If that isn’t enough to make you shudder, consider this. There are evil spirits, demons that inhabit the spirit world.”
“Yes,” David interrupted. “That could very well be true if traditional religions are correct, but we certainly aren’t talking to these entities. I’d like to help you, Miss Thorsen, but-”
“Wait.” Erika insisted, pulling his hand, bringing him back down to sit, as he was trying to stand and leave.
“What about phantoms?” She whispered.
He eased back into his seat and pushed all his trash aside on the table so he could lean forward and clasp his hands in front of him. “Phantoms are glitches. We think it might be cross-talk.”
“You believe that?” She raised a skeptical brow.
He felt his face heat up as if he’d been caught in a lie he’d told so many times he believed it, that is until this woman looked into his eyes and seemed to realize his integrity was ulcerating his soul.
“They’re a rarity, but there’s no reason not to believe they aren’t just voices from this world bleeding through within a church’s visitation rooms.”
“From what I know of phantom voices, they bleed through and often contain angry messages, deep growling voices, and evil sounding intent. But, communications are cut off the moment any profanity or a louder than usual level of speaking is present on the system, so phantoms are brief and fleeting. Because of this, we really wouldn’t be able to better observe the phenomenon.” She told him. “We’d like you to observe it for us.”
“If you do nothing after leaving here, at least get yourself on one of your monitoring machines and talk to the other side. Wait for the phantoms to come through and don’t block them. I know you have the capability.” She begged.
Everything inside him tightened quickly. He, himself, had never spoken to the other side. He had observed it hundreds of times, but never partaken in it. It would be the last great sell-out to The Church.
“I, don’t think that would be possible.”
“For God’s sake, David, you’re in R&D, if you can’t have a machine to yourself and no limits on its use, who can?”
She was right there. He was allowed unlimited use if he required in order to make the best decisions and best innovations. But to actually speak to the other side, he’d have to find a family member he wished to speak to and he had been avoiding that at all costs. To bring someone back to life after having grieved so many years ago? It was an impossible consideration. Once he got back in contact with a family member, how could he ever stop? And where would it end? For the rest of his life he’d be compelled to keep them alive and not grieve all over again. They’d both be slaved to the stilted conversations allowed by the Four Rules. He’d be no different than the masses who were slaves to the system.
“Find a relative you’ve never known, David, someone you won’t miss.”
“What?” He was startled from his thoughts.
Erika reached over and squeezed his hand. Her hand was no longer cold now, but warm, unusually warm. He stared at it as if it were burning him. Her smile was warm and comforting, and he realized she did have the abilities to heal with her hands. It explained to some extent why her body was hard poised angles. She had drawn in others illness, and they had drained her, as well. How much longer would she have vitality to offer her elderly patients? His whole arm began to weaken and feel as if it were floating warmly above the table. It had become an almost foreign object, separate from his body.
“I understand you don’t wish to talk to your family. I feel much the same. I don’t use the system, either. Just choose a distant relative you never met, someone you more than likely wouldn’t miss because they’re so different than you, so foreign to you. Do you know a relative like that?”
David pried his eyes from her hand and back to her softening face.
“Yes,” He cleared his throat. “My mother’s older brother, Bartholomew. She said he was an alcoholic and left home when he was young and never was heard from again. Apparently, he wandered homeless for many years and was in and out of institutions. I never met him.”
“Except, he killed himself.”
“Would he be listed in purgatory and therefore blocked by the system?”
“That’s doubtful. He killed himself 25 years ago. They weren’t tracking those things back then.”
He blinked, wanting to remove his hand from hers, but unable.
Erika let go all at once, leaving his hand in a strange kind of limbo that was warm and satisfying, much like the aftermath of making love.
What an odd sensation for a hand to feel.
He rubbed his fingers together as if to breathe a life into them that would make them his own again.
“Your tennis elbow needs more help.” She smiled as she stood up.
David looked down at his arm. The hand she had been holding was on his right side, his tennis elbow side. The elbow felt as warm as the rest of the arm, and not stressed by the extension and flexion movements, as it usually was.
“I tell you what, we’ll heal that elbow when we meet again and you tell me what you’ve discovered. We should be more covert, however.” She lifted her fingers from her purse and handed him a card. “My cell phone is on there, my e-mail address, my home phone number, the group’s secret website and our password, the officer’s names and positions, everything you could need. This card is very important and very private. Please do not leave it lying around.”
“I have a place for it.” He assured her.
"Thank you so much for meeting with me, listening to me .I think you have some of the same concerns.”
He nodded, unable to think of how to thank her for giving him a place to go, people to speak to who admit the flaws in the system. Although Peter, his colleague, was certainly a good voice of reason, he also loved his job, was enamored of his work, and didn’t want anything to jeopardize that passion. And David would never ask him to pick sides.
“I’m glad that you came to me, Erika. Had you spoken to mostly anyone else in R&D you would have been either narc’d on, or disregarded.”
“I knew I made the right choice. I could sense you’d be the one.”
He studied her face with a bit of concern. Had she somehow psychically honed in on him? What did his psyche reveal to a person who could pick up such intimate information? Surely, she’d realize he was not boyfriend material. There he went again, letting himself get distracted by her elusive beauty and quiet insistent charm. She wasn’t his type and yet at the same time she was a type that was new and exotic. A challenge, a puzzle, and also terrifyingly able to see through him. He’d spent a lot of years working for The Church and keeping all his doubts and concerns to himself. What would it mean to trust someone? To give a voice to his worries? Somehow he knew this woman was much more than just intriguing, she was also dangerous to his mental and professional well being.
Still, when have I ever done anything that’s good for me?
He drew himself up into a protective shell, once again. “I’ll contact you when I have something. I’ll call from a public phone. We can meet at a place of your choosing, and perhaps I could meet some of your people, as well.”
She sighed in relief. “That is exactly what I wanted to hear. The others are anxious to hear what transpired and I think they won’t trust you just on my word alone, they’d rather meet you and see for themselves.”
She turned and left down the stairs in a graceful decent that drew the eyes of many men in the café below. She seemed to be completely oblivious to the attention as she glided through the glass door and out into the stifling air of the Arizona desert.
David dropped some change on the table for a tip and looked around him. A couple moved up the stairs to take a table up above, as the lower level was finally becoming crowded in the evening. He made his way down the stairs, with his ever-present amount of paranoia focusing on the faces of the strangers around him to see if any look at him with recognition. So far, it would seem, their encounter was nothing of suspicion, but if he accessed a machine at work, at any time someone could come into his office, wonder why he was communicating, something he had never done before, and begin to wonder about his habits. He would have to become even more circumspect than usual.
It was worth it if it meant no longer being the only person he knew who wasn’t completely enamored of the system and had so much emotionally invested in The Church for visitations with the dead that he couldn’t see it objectively.
As a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, David stepped outside and took a deep breath of the furnace-like heat. Just then he realized another weight had been replaced on his shoulders; he would have to get on the system and talk to an uncle he never met, carry secrets, and work with an underground group that might jeopardize his very livelihood. Hell, he was looking forward to this. A decade of holding everything inside and acting normal had lost him a marriage and his own self respect. Now, he was ready to take risks again and feel alive. No more zombie engineer.
The old David McKeeley is back.