17 Feb

Josh Samson knew only one thing though, in truth, for seventy-odd years he’d known a great deal of apparently useless stuff.
For most of those seventy years he’d worked on complex theories concerning life, the hereafter, the spirit world, the likelihood of communicating with the dead and discovering what the unknown consisted of. He’d been on ghost-hunts, often on his own and often really enjoying the spine-tingling emptiness of crumbling buildings in which every creak of settling masonry or warped timbers spoke to him of a soul in agonised torment. He gained a delicious sort of thrill from the notion that the air around him was filled with the silent cries of tortured souls searching for their living loved-ones.
I’m not trying to suggest that all of his wide-ranging theorising was actual knowledge, but it had existed in his head up until moments ago. It was the stuff that goes on in the odd living brain that the gods would scoff at if, indeed, the gods existed.
He’d spent one summer (when his wife, the long-suffering Marlene, thought he’d been on a course in order to better his career) in one particular manor house at the other end of the country, a building that had been left empty for a century or more and which now badly needed some kind of roof or it would tumble down completely. He’d had a meter with him, one he was convinced would indicate the presence of non-living life-forces (though that home-crafted device was only an ammeter connected to a battery via a few odds and ends he thought might amplify the unknown) and he’d spent enraptured hours staring at it twitching.
On one occasion he’d thrilled at the prospect of meeting an apparition face to face and to his unmitigated joy there had been considerable movement in the only sturdy part of the building that seemed safe. There had been hissing noises, tapping and scratching, then dull thumps in the darkness, more than a stray rodent might cause. but his disappointment had been huge when he discovered that it hadn’t been the anticipated poltergeist but the barely-subdued antics of two young lovers with their underclothes in an untidy pile nearby, and he had snorted his anger invisibly in the darkness and thus filled them both with an explosion of fear. They had left in such a hurry that had he required new underpants he might have taken theirs quite freely. He hadn’t.
Josh had never actually seen a ghost, but that didn’t in any way dilute his conviction that there was a vast army of them waiting to be discovered and communicated with. He’d tried seances, small groups of like-minded people gathered together after nightfall and by candlelight, but for ages nothing of any value had happened and eventually someone usually started trying to nudge the spirits into saying something by cheating. Cheats never prospered, but Josh didn’t give up. The spirit world, he told himself, is a law unto itself and he’d better be patient.
Even failure at such events hadn’t discourage him, though, and as he grew older he hit on the one sure-fire way of proving once and for all that he was quite right when it came to the gigantic swirling of the hereafter. He was going to die himself sooner or later, and he would make sure that his own spirit, newly released into eternity, would return as evidence to some other ghost hunter. It was a plan beautiful in its simplicity and, what’s more, it would give him something to look forward to when he died.
After a great deal of thought Josh decided his adult son, who was, some said, as bonkers as his father, should be the receiver of good news clearly communicated by his own spectral self. They were like-minded, as could only be expected bearing in mind their shared genes.
The son, Jess, was in agreement. After all, he had lived in close communion with father Josh for all of his life and had soaked up so much of the older man’s theorising and, let’s face it, eccentric beliefs, that he was raring to have a go at communicating with a father he was both scornful of and in admiration of (in just about equal measures).
They worked out ways and means, and the ammeter with its assortment of electronic components and small battery figured in most of them. Eventually they were prepared with a plan that was beyond reproach. It was bound to work.
Jess would be summoned to his father’s home when it seemed he was on his deathbed, and he would attend to twiddling a knob that was attached to the battery-ammeter device, and at the same time the freshly released spirit of the father would do everything in his power to attract attention to his presence.
Then it was time to wait. They were prepared for the father to die and the wait seemed interminable. Weeks began to pass, weeks neither of them really wanted.
The first time Jess was summoned to the house it was a false alarm. Josh was lying and twitching on his bed, but he recovered. Indeed, he recovered to rude health so firmly and even managed to talk the now elderly Marlene into his bed and frolic in a sedentary sort of way with her.
The second time Jess was summoned to the house it was to find his father almost certainly at the point of death. His breath was rustling like crinkly autumn leaves and his face was grey. There could be no doubt about it. His time was up.
Which brings me to the very first sentence of this narrative, that Josh Samson knew only one thing though, in truth, for seventy-odd years he’d known a great deal of apparently useless stuff.
He knew, in that fraction of a fraction of a second before the synapses and connecting pathways in his brain turned into mush that he was dead. And he knew, scarily, that there was sod all he could do about it.
He knew that death means death.
© Peter Rogerson 17.02.16


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