Michigan Avenue seethed, boiling, nearly erupting with the hiss of expiring manholes. Normally, in non-emergency situations, it merely hummed with traffic and human progress. Not since the 1990s has there been such a scare that very nearly came to pass. Only this time, it did. Not a nuclear holocaust, as we feared in the past, but an electronic one. Resonance cannons had been perfected on a massive scale, and no one could have imagined the horrors they emitted. The brains of passersby evaporated, heads exploded, and decapitated corpses lined the streets until they eroded. The same happened inside homes. Even I expired horrifically under the pressure. Even those presumably safe in bunkers were likewise destroyed by the maddening boom. Only one nation developed these weapons, so they remained relatively unscathed. The rest of the world, crushed under the burden of perpetual debt, remained victimized by the threat of lopsided war. War set in the favor of the most advantaged aggressor.
They justified it as a ‘war against terrorism’ despite the fact that they blackmailed everyone to do their bidding after a beloved corporate leader took the helm. He had charisma, spoke his mind, and won the hearts and minds of those who couldn’t stand his opponent for any number of valid reasons. I lived in one of the first nations to feel this leader’s wrath. The Georgian people, we had our problems. Life was imperfect, as it was everywhere. It was different with us, though. We still wanted to go by the ways of Marx and Lenin long after the former Soviet Union embraced the organized crime element of Capitalism. They, too, fell after threatening to develop their own sound weapons. The carnage was instantaneous, and the dominant world power only wanted more carnage.
Well, some of them did. Part of the freedom of no longer having a body is that travel becomes instantaneous. I could move between the spaces and even inhabit the minds of some people. That’s how it works, to be honest. I never thought it was possible, but it is so. Thought and being require no body—only animate life requires a permanent home. You would be surprised just how many of us there have been over the lifespan of humanity. Although many of us can inhabit the same space, we feel rather crowded, especially since the War for Domination began.
It wasn’t only the large-scale weapons that were developed in this singular arms race. Resonance guns and rifles were created for simple, directed crowd control. When a mass movement of protest erupted after my small nation-state was ‘depopulated,’ each person who filled the front ranks of the marches were de-popped. Once their heads were rent into splinters, everyone fled. It was a simple way to keep the populace quiet. I watched in horror, a mute witness to this barbarous crowd control. It was then that I began to find out why people in this prosperous, yet somehow not fully prosperous, nation felt. Were they just too afraid, or did they feel a pleasure at the de-popping of the Leader’s harshest critics?
The only person I could find was a teenager, whose parents feared that her diagnosed bipolar would cycle so out of control that her utterances would make them all targets. Lucy tended to speak a truth that no one else would dare to say aloud, so she was given heavy doses of psychotropic drugs to keep her quiet. When that didn’t work, her parents immobilized her and duct-taped her mouth shut under doctor’s orders. She was fed through an IV, also under doctor’s orders. So I began communicating with her. She became a prisoner of her parents’ fear, so she welcomed the company.
“Why do my parents treat me like trash?”
“They are afraid of death. I know because I am one of the dead.”
“Why can’t I see you? Were you de-popped?”
“Did it hurt?” her thoughts asked.
“For an instant, it did. But there is no pain now.”
“I wish my parents would just kill me. They’ve done much worse than that, keeping me here against my will.”
“Everyone is a prisoner now. Your prison is just more obvious.”
“I guess you’re right. Why did they have to duct-tape my mouth shut? And my arms and legs as well?”
“Perhaps they thought you would rip off the tape on your mouth and remove the IV from your arms.”
“My butt hurts. No one bothers to put ointment on it anymore.”
“It must be awful.”
“Oh, god. Yes it is! Thank you for understanding.” Her thoughts paused. “What is your name?”
“It seems that I have forgotten that. Maybe I will remember in time. I haven’t been inside a brain in years.”
“Has it been years? I have no idea what day it is, or even what the time is now.”
I pondered without sharing. To be a prisoner, tortured by such wanton abuse out of parental fear…is this the oppression that my own parents fought against before their nation was free from Russian servitude? The irony of freedom, followed by de-popping, hurt my soul. Yes, even a body-less soul can feel a type of discomfort. It feels like electrical tingling more than anything, the same feeling that fear creates in the body. Or maybe I was feeling her fear. My energy was beginning to phase into her signal that it felt so hard to tell each other apart.
“Are they all like this? The parents of children, I mean?”
“I don’t know. I imagine they are, to some extent.” Her thoughts stopped for a moment. “Are there a lot of ghosts around?”
“Human life has been going on even before history was first written down. So, yes. We are more numerous now than ever before.”
“How many people have died in the war?”
“Nearly fifty million, I think.”
“That’s a lot of ghosts. I wish a ghost would invade our Leader and turn his thoughts around.”
“I think he’s being possessed by an evil spirit. But fear is a type of evil spirit, isn’t it?”
“That makes sense, but then again I’m crazy. Everyone tells me that.”
“So why do you make more sense than anyone else?”
“I don’t know. I wish I could understand why.”
“Why any of this has happened to me. All I did was say that I didn’t like how the Leader spoke.”
“My parents told me stories about what it was like under the Soviet Union. Your story sounds very familiar in that way.”
“I just want to be free. I want to eat food, drink water, move around, read stories…” She began to cry. It was the only thing she was free to do besides sleep.
“I will tell you a story. Would you like that?”
“Yes, please! I would love a story now!”
“Very well. I believe that the best stories begin with ‘Once upon a time.’ Is that so?”
“The very best stories begin that way.”
“Okay, then. Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess locked in a dungeon by an evil sorcerer. He kept the people afraid and under his spell so that they could do his bidding.”
“I don’t like how this story begins.”
“It gets better. All such stories begin with a problem. Don’t you want to know how this ends?”
“Is it a happy ending?”
“Yes. A very happy ending. But it gets a bit worse before that happens.”
“So the people, under this sorcerer’s thrall, did unspeakable things to their children to keep them quiet. They cut out their children’s tongues so they wouldn’t say harsh things about the sorcerer. They cut off their children’s feet so they wouldn’t run away from home. They cut off their children’s hands so they wouldn’t create any writing critical of the sorcerer or his ways. The princess could hear the wailing of children being silenced, but could hear no more. Word reached her as a form of torture; knowing what befell those who were as young or younger than she was grieved her heart.
“’Whatever I am enduring, it is worse for others!’ she quietly moaned. She knew that she had to escape, but how? Then, one of the servant girls came up to her to bring her daily meal, a bowl of tasteless soup and a crust of dry bread. The girl, who could be her twin, asked the princess if there was anything else she needed. She was so new to her tasks that she was unaware of the strict edicts concerning the threatened state of the princess.
“’There is one thing you can do for me,’ said the princess. ‘You can switch clothes with me and take my place. Your princess commands this of you!’
“Not wanting to upset a member of the royal family, the servant did as she was told. This was the one chance that the princess hoped for: freedom. She needed to escape this torment and find out a way to topple the sorcerer. It was then that…”
The bound-and-gagged Lucy fell asleep in the middle of the story. I sighed as only ghosts could do: it emitted as a soundless wail. But telling her this story gave me some hope of my own. I began to form a plan, but it would take other ghosts to come together in order to stop this mad Leader in his tracks before other nations and nation-states fell victim to his plans of domination. I left Lucy and signaled as many of us as I could. All were summoned. It was an instantaneous response, and I began to share my plan. They immediately understood. Some were filled with vengeance, but I warned them against lashing out by causing bodily harm. Our job was to scare, not rend asunder, those who held life so cheaply in their hands.
The national capitol had been moved to New York, residing in this Leader’s mansion. It was ornate, as gaudy as any dictator’s palace. Those with a mind towards violence were instructed to only destroy things, not people. This would, I reasoned, cause enough of a fright. I would occupy this Leader’s mind with images of the horrors that he created, the crimes against innocents that he ordered be carried out in his name.
“Am I going mad?” he screamed at no one.
“You were mad from the start,” I told him.
“I’m hearing voices!”
“You’re hearing your guilt and the cries of the slaughtered innocents.”
“What is all that crashing?”
“Your property is being destroyed by those whom you had de-popped.”
“I have to stop this now!” He reached for an antique revolver.
“No! You must not die! You must change things for the better!”
“I can’t live like this! I can’t be insane! I must not be!”
With that, I am sad to say, he eliminated himself by placing the revolver into his mouth and pulling the trigger. I didn’t want him to die. I wanted him to choose to make things right. I didn’t want yet another ghost in our midst.
“Was that me? Was that what I became?”
“Yes, it was. But now you’re one of us.”
“Somehow, I never really believed in ghosts.”
“Some never do until they become one. It’s just the way things are.”
“Why didn’t I find some clarity before so many died in my name?”
“I don’t know. I certainly don’t know how this mess will be fixed, nor by whom.”
But it did eventually get fixed. Those who had instilled themselves into power abandoned their positions for fear of being accused of murdering their leader for political gain. It was a clear-cut suicide, by all accounts. People stopped believing their cultural insanity. Parents, including Lucy’s, repented of their crimes and freed their children. Lucy was once more free to eat, and a year of physical therapy restored the use of her limbs. A leader emerged who began policies that benefited all the people, not just a few. I guess this is a happy ending, but not really. It’s not so much an ending as it is a new beginning. We know not how things will go on from here. Even after democratic rule is completely restored, there is no way to determine if it will last. Not one dead person will come back to life, but others will be born. There is already movement to restore those nations that were de-popped during the dark times.
As for me and the ghost legion, many are finally feeling rest. Some of us have even crossed over into a reprocessing center. Well, more like a reincarnation center. We will find a home in the new life that will be born into this world. Not so for me. There is a punishment for those souls that cause, even coincidentally, harm to a living being. This is as I feared, but it is a fair punishment nonetheless. Even describing it would be against the rules, but you are free to draw your own conclusions.
©2016 by Cynthia McGarvie
All Rights Reserved by copyright holder.