The Guest

by disperser

The Guest

By E. J. D’Alise (Disperser)
Copyright November 2012

James chokes on the last piece of buttered pasta, and immediately doubles-up coughing, trying to breathe.

By the time he stops coughing, his eyes watery, and throat hurting, she is gone.  Had he actually seen something?  Yes, he is sure.  A little girl in a torn dress.  A little girl in a torn dress, half sticking out of the wall to his den, watching him eat his pasta.

He stands, and walks around to the other side of the wall.  Nothing.  He performs some mental calculations, successfully recalls old passwords, the combination to his high school locker oh-so-many-years-ago, and his social security number.

He’s not dreaming, or losing his mind.  Standing at the center of the den, James looks about the room.  Nothing.  Whatever it had been, assuming it was not a girl in a torn dress hovering above the floor, it was no more.

He walks to the plate which had fallen to the floor, concentrating on his peripheral vision as he does so.  Perhaps a stray ray of light or reflection would replicate what he saw.  Nothing. He picks up the plate, looks for the fork, and finds it at the farthest corner under the hutch. How do objects do that?  How do they know to go to the most difficult spots?  Are they tired of their roles in life, and just want to escape?

James stands upright, looking at the fork in his hand.  He knows how they feel.  He had escaped.

He thinks back at his life.  Never married.  Not a single close relationship.  Many friends, both male and females, many more acquaintances, and a large circle of people he regularly interacted with on the Internet.  It should have been a good life.  He had changed.

The world had changed, and too many things bother him.  He is less, much less, tolerant of stupidity, selfishness, ignorance, better-than-thou attitudes, and even idealism.  Idealism, more than most things, drives him up the wall.  Perhaps because he too was an idealist.  Was, as in “had been”.

He saw the futility of wishing humans would change.  Sure, small improvements over the course of centuries, but things moved much faster now, and humans did not “up the pace” of their emotional and social evolution.

Tribes.  Humans had come from tribes, and while not called such in this new PC world, the majority of humanity never moved past the tribal mentality.  Be it race, religion, gender, nationality, sports team preference, political affiliation, or anything that could be used to differentiate one group of humans from another, people embraced it.  And demeaned each other over it.  And killed each other over it.  Sometimes overtly, sometimes in more subtle ways.

He closed his eyes, breathing slowly.  He lives in the middle of a thirty five acre plot of land, in a self-sufficient house next to a small pond.  He generates his own electricity, has his own water source, grows some of his own food, and hunts for other.  Rarely, he drives to town for the few essentials that occasionally need refilling.  Most contacts with the outside world are through his satellite hook-up.

He opens his eyes, and the calm he achieved is replaced by . . . well, curiosity.  Not two feet from him stands the apparition of a girl in a torn dress.  This time she is looking up at him, seemingly standing on the oak floor.  She has one shoe on, the other foot bare. More important, he can see right through her.

They look at each other for a few heartbeats, he forgetting to breathe, she not breathing at all.  Her eyes are difficult to see, but what he sees of them makes them look sad.  Or scared.  He squats to get a better look, but as soon as he moves, like a bursting soap bubble full of smoke, her image disperses.  She is gone.

He waits, but she does not return that evening.  She does not return the next day.

Sunday evening he falls asleep during the umpteenth watching of the Firefly episode, Out of Gas.  He wakes to the music, all too short, from the scene of Mal settling in at the pilot’s console, waiting for his miracle.  James does not move; he just opens his eyes.  She is there, sitting . . . appearing to sit on the floor, her arms around her legs, her chin resting on on her knees.  They sit there; she watching the story of Firefly’s crew, he watching her.

The episode ends, and she remains a few moments before pulling that smoke bubble trick.  Closing his eyes, he  ponders.

The next evening he pours himself a half glass of wine, loads the first disk of the series, selects the original pilot, Serenity, settles in his chair, and hits “play” on the remote.  As Mal downs the Alliance flyer, she appears, and disappears again when she sees him awake and staring at her.

He stops the episode, goes back to the beginning, and hits play.  After a few seconds he hits pause, sits back, and waits.  She does not show.  James turns everything off, and heads off to bed.

The next evening he does the same.  Puts on Serenity, starts it, pauses it, and then sits there sipping his wine.  Nothing happens.  Ditto for Wednesday.  Thursday he takes the first sip of wine just as she appears.  There, at the doorway.  He looks back to the TV, picks up the remote, and presses “play”.

He’s not sure she stayed to watch, but then sees her out of the corner of his eye.  She moves closer, and settles into her sitting position, just at the edge of his peripheral vision. She does not move for the entire episode, and neither does James.

. . . you could maybe find a place here.”  James presses the “pause” button immediately after Mal utters those words to Simon.

The girl looks to him, but he keeps his eyes forward.  A minute passes.  She gets up, and stands just in front of his recliner, facing the TV.  She sits, resuming her pose.  James presses the “play” button.  They watch the last few minutes of the episode.

Mal: We’re still flying.

Simon: That’s not much. 

Mal: That’s enough.

As the credits start, the girl looks back at James.  “Grr. Argh.“  The credits end, the girl is gone.  James sits, happy.

Friday evening, after supper, the girl is waiting in front of the recliner, facing the TV, rocking slightly as she hugs her legs while sitting on the floor.  James settles on the chair, and selects the second episode, The Train Job.  She does not disappear at the end of it.

He knows exactly how she feels.  He remembers his first viewing, staying up late on a work night, wanting to see just a few more minutes, knowing there were only so many, not wanting to rush the experience, but wanting to literally inhale the characters and stories.

James hesitates.  Bushwhacked deals with death, mentions ghosts, and there are some disturbing plot points.  He presses the “play” button.  When River points at the ceiling, she disappears.  He pauses the episode.

Damn! I should have gone directly to Shindig!

His thought barely formed, she startles him by appearing on his chest, curled up, with her head resting on his shoulder.  He feels nothing.  No cold,  no heat,  no pressure.  It’s as if she were not there.  She looks up at him.  He can make out more of her eyes now.  Sadness; definitively sadness.  He presses the “play” button.  When River smiles, looking at the stars while outside the ship, the girl points to the screen and looks at James.  He gets perhaps the best view of her eyes yet.  Hope?

 She looks at James for a few moments, then resumes her position, and they finish watching the episode.  This time she slowly dissolves as the credits play.

 James sits for a long while, thinking things through. When he finally goes to bed, sleep comes slowly.

They repeat the routine, watching each episode in turn.  Sometimes she sits next to James, sometimes she curls on his chest.  Early morning, after watching The Message, he wakes to find her curled up on the corner of the bed.  She had slowly drifted to the TV during the scene of the crew delivering the body to the family, mournfully beautiful music playing.

Do ghosts sleep?  She seemed to, but he could not tell.  He moves.  She rises, and dissolves.

Serenity, the movie, is another hurdle James worries about.  He remembers his own emotional jolt at the cheap plot point.  “Death makes it real”, or a similarly silly argument, had been put forth as an excuse.  What a crock!

Death made it hurt, and robbed the fans of a beloved character.  He’s not sure how the girl will react.

She buries her head in his chest, literally, and does not look up again until the crew barricades themselves, and Mal goes looking for Mr. Universe.  When Zoe prepares to defend the barricade against the Reavers, the girl suddenly disappears, and reappears next to the screen, seemingly wanting to caress Zoe.  She slowly drops her hand. Part of it goes through the screen before coming to rest on her leg.

She slowly rises, and turns toward James just as Mr Universe’s love-bot utters the words “Mal. Guy killed me, Mal. He killed me with a sword.” The girl’s head snaps back to the screen, then she looks back at James and points to the screen.

James hits the “pause” button, then rewinds to that line. “Mal. Guy killed me, Mal.” Gesture. Pause. Rewind. Play. “Guy killed me.” Gesture, pause, rewind, play. “Guy killed me.” Stop.

The girl sits on her heels, her hands to her face.  James hears no sound, but the girl is sobbing; he can see her little frame shake.  He gets up to go to her, but she starts to disappear even as he nears.  She is gone by the time he gets there.  It’s just him, and the image of the love-bot, frozen in mid-sentence, on the screen.

She does not return for two days.  On the following evening, James finds her sitting on the floor, waiting in front of the TV.  He turns it on, and they finish watching Serenity.  She leaves at the end of the credits, the acoustic guitar version of the Ballad of Serenity marking her leaving.

This time she does not return, and the days blend into each other as James wonders if she has gone for good.  Then, one evening, she appears, curled on his chest as he channel surfs. Not missing a beat, he continues his slow crawl up the channels.  The girl perks up when he lands on one of those idiotic ghosts-hunters shows.

He stops, unsure and unbelieving of her interest.  They watch for a few moments, then she points, her face stretched in a playful laughter, and disappears.  James watches the show, confused.  One of the cameras suddenly tips over, startling the “professional” ghosts-hunters.

The girl reappears, clapping her hands, and making standing hops as she watches the show. She appears to be laughing.  James presses the “Guide” button.  It’s a re-broadcast of a show from last month.

She stops, turns, and looks at James.  She disappears very slowly, all the while looking at him.

He turns off the TV, and sits bathed in the glow of the nightlight.  If he understood that correctly, she had gone back to the time and place of that recording, and . . . what?  Affected the time line?  Changed what had already happened?  Or was it already always like that, her action prescribed by the immutability of time?

James has no reference for this.  Causality appears violated.  Or was it?  James can’t wrap his head around it, and he doesn’t sleep much, finally drifting off just as dawn pushes slivers of light past the edges of his curtains.

He wakes in the early afternoon, and lays there thinking.

Evening finds him at the PC, waiting.  She appears, and he moves the mouse to wake the screen.  A column of children appear on the screen.  Kids that went missing in the past month within the state.  She stares.  He points to the query box.  It’s asking for a state.  He clicks the menu, and a list of states appears.  He slowly scrolls through the list . . . she motions.  Wyoming it is.  He moves the cursor to the year, and scrolls down the list of years.   She points up.  The list stops at the current year, and she still points up.

James grabs a pad and paper, and writes the next year.  She nods.  He begins writing months . . . February.  Days . . . 13th.

Turning, he opens Google Maps, zooming in on Wyoming.  He points at the map.  She points to the Casper area.  He zooms in.  She shakes her head.  James realizes it’s too much to hope for her to be familiar with satellites maps of where she lives.

Tediously, one letter at a time, one number at a time, he gets her address, name, and phone number.

The last question is the most difficult.  The sketches he uses to ask the question are difficult to draw.  He does not want to frighten her, but she appears willing to tell her story.

Who kills her?  She does not know.  A stranger.  There is more.

February 13, 2013 – It’s windy, but he does not feel the cold.  He waits inside his car.  He sees Clara leaving the school.  He looks at his Clara sitting next to him.  She looks both sad and hopeful.  As he watches, she dissolves.

He starts the car, and drives ahead of Clara walking her half-mile route home from school. James stops behind a car parked by the side of the road.  He gets out, and walks to the passenger side of the parked car, opens the door and slides in, his gun already out.  Within a minute, the car leaves, just before Clara nears it.

An hour later James walks back to his empty car, gets in, starts it, and leaves.  On his way back to Colorado, he stops at a rest area.  He’s not worried about anyone seeing him at this hour of the night. He removes the altered plates from the car, and replaces them with his own.

Early morning, and James sits, alone, in his recliner. There is much he does not understand. 

He misses her.

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