In The Machine

This is a story I wrote inspired by a competition for a 2000 word story with a theme of “Ghost”. I got close to that figure…

The Storm

It was an electrical storm of biblical proportions, the newsreader had said.  “That’s a ridiculous analogy!”, JC replied from behind the wheel. To his certain knowledge no wires, plugs or sockets, nor any damn newsreaders come to that, had ever featured in the Bible.  Nevertheless fork lightning speared out of the tumultuous mass of torrential rain and thunder clouds overhead, lighting up the whole world in milliseconds of magnesium brightness.

lightningArriving home, he left the car grabbing his coat and bag, and pointed the key vaguely behind him.  Pausing only to wrench rain-sodden hair from his eyes, he ran through a deep puddle towards the house. Inside at last he dropped his bag fall like a water bomb on to a chair, and stalked into the wet room to peel away his clothes like snake’s skin.

Half an hour later he was in the kitchen in a grey silk kimono, putting sushi on a plate with wasabi, soy, and an Asahi beer disconcertingly warm as the fridge had gone out of action.  Now it only contained warm beer, soft margarine, and some unfrozen vegetables.  One of the film channels was showing Sansho Dayu by Tanaka, and JC had not only dressed for the part, he was living the life.

In the lounge he grabbed the remote off the table, pointed it at the media centre in the wall, and pushed the On button.  As he had got hold of the box he’d felt a slight thrill.  It was like the vibrating feedback he got with a game remote.  God knows JC needed a laugh after the day he’d had.  But as he pressed the On button, there was a loud report, the TV screen shattered and an acrid cloud exuded from the gaping hole where it had been.  “What’s going on, hey? Just what the hell is going on!?” he cried out to the house.  No one answered.

Some TV…  It was a 52 inch plasma thin screen with an integral satellite decoder, and an 8 speaker sound system that shook the floor like a jet was moving at speed through the house.

After clearing up as best he could, JC switched on the DAB and listened to soothing music, from a leather chair.  He comforted himself with the food and drink, and wondered the best way to get the TV fixed.

When the sushi and beer were just a nice memory, he left the room, waving his palm in front of the small metal plate by the door.  When a slight electronic chant had died away, the systems in the room had shut down for the night.

In the lounge the sounds of JC also shutting down for the night could be heard faintly from upstairs, then there was just silence.   JC slept fitfully for the first hour until with an eruption of guitars in the darkness, the stereo system in the bedroom blasted unbidden into life.  JC leapt bolt upright in bed and switching on the lamp, reached for the remote on the bedside table and stabbed at the Off switch.  A shaky kind of peace returned to the room and he lay down again, to try and shut out the bad day he’d had.

JC had lived alone since his wife had walked out on him 5 years ago.  His city job kept him away from home for up to 16 hours a day.  Often he was too shattered to take the train back to the suburbs in the evening, sleeping at a hotel or sometimes in the office.  At first Alicia had been happy with the money he earned, and she didn’t need to work, but gradually she became more and more lonely and had eventually moved back to her mother’s, from where she never returned.  JC then found out what it was to be alone, but only during the couple of wakeful hours he now spent in the house.

Making plans for JC

After JC had left the house at 6am, the DAB radio hummed into life in the lounge.  Under a screen of interference, an electronic burble manifested itself.  A glow appeared around the wall phone, and an eerie intermittent high pitched whine emanated from it, pausing every now and again as the radio swapped electronic pulses with the phone in between static.  The underfloor heating began to join in the conversation, emitting deep vibrations of its own.

Unaware of the life developing at home, JC was fixing bugs in a workflow system at his current work location.  Some MI reports were behaving strangely, replicating data in unexpected places.  The testers had reported the problem and he was delegated to fix it. The day went extraordinarily well.  He’d made the fixes by lunchtime and they were tested successfully prior to an emergency release in the afternoon.  “Hell, even the weather’s cheered up” he said to the development manager as he left for the day.

It was still daylight as JC drove over the swell of the huge bridge with its chicane and 6 lanes of traffic, towards home.  The indoor jump of the Ski Planet building soared away on his right, as the car swooshed along the motorway.  A young girl’s voice, speaking about the most beautiful little fluffy clouds scudding along the horizon in Arizona, echoed around the car, over layers of electronic music.  The sounds lifted JC and he began to feel as though things might be on the ‘up’ for him.

At 6:40pm, inside the house, a ghostly visage in profile, displayed on the small video screen by the front door, as JC punched the entry PIN. video-screen It was a sunny day but as he moved inside, he felt the house caused an innate dampening of his spirits.  He didn’t know whether the house had been built on a cemetery, but it chilled him to the bone sometimes.  JC considered himself to be very intuitive.  He’d certainly begun to realise when Alicia was planning to leave him.  That’s when he’d started telling people she was moving back to her mother’s house in Canada.  The fact that her mother had died in 1970 in a very small town near Caracas, Argentina wasn’t something JC had mentioned.  Call it intuition but he knew it wouldn’t go down well with the people he was working with.

JC still had the smell of singed hair and skin in his nostrils whenever he opened the door on what had been their en suite.  JC suddenly smiled when he remembered that she loved a bath, but maybe not one as warm as when the fan heater had hit the suds that night.  He devotedly remembered Alicia every time he drove over the bridge.  JC’s brother was in construction in the North of England, and had the contract for building the car parks at a nearby retail park.  And now Alicia rested in a very deep sleep somewhere under the chicane.  JC occasionally went to visit car park space 1005, to leave a small token of his undying love, but he’d had the oil leak fixed on the car now, he’d told his brother with a wink.  He still couldn’t use that bathroom though.


JC phoned his girlfriend Leanne, but there was no answer.  Maybe she’d left her place already.  She was a good girl who wouldn’t use the phone in the car.   JC walked downstairs to the wet room with his dressing gown open.  There was no one here to upset.  He was surprised that the bathroom light hadn’t come on as he passed a hand over the plate next to the door.  Maybe it was the damp.  JC pressed the button to open the electrically operated sliding door, and a funnel of water as tall as JC suddenly hit him, and he was thrown against the wall with amazing force.

When he came to, he was aching, coughing and spluttering like a drowning man.  Peering through his wet lenses JC made out what looked like a rag doll lying further down the hall.  Shakily he got to his feet, wiping a lens with each finger.  Before he’d knelt down by her body, he’d recognised Leanne’s soaked face, although all of her skin was wrinkled from the water. As he stroked her fair hair from out of lifeless eyes, the remainder of the hundreds of gallons of water the bathroom had held, was escaping under the hallway’s doors.

Eventually it dawned on him that he couldn’t leave Leanne here.  He was surprised to hear strange chattering sounds, coming from the darkened lounge.  Obviously he’d just left the DAB on. There was no other sign of life in there, just plenty of water.

JC climbed the stairs to grab some jeans, a t-shirt and trainers and quickly put them on.  Hauling a sheet off the bed he brought it downstairs and wrapped Leanne in it with some of his fitness weights.

He loved Leanne.  She really cared about him.  “I’m sorry baby” he whimpered as he wrapped her up.  “I’m really sorry… I’ve had a bad couple of days…  and now this… I don’t know what’s happening…” his sadness surprised even himself.

He didn’t know where to take her.  Maybe the huge bed of the Ship Canal might serve as a final resting place.  If he was lucky she might sink with all the weights he’d loaded in with her.

He went to the door and turned the handle but it was unyielding.  He tried again, but it remained firmly shut.  He went to the back door but it too would not open.  From somewhere in the house, an electronic hum turned slowly into a high pitched whine that got louder and louder until he was holding his hands to his head trying to shut out its intensity.  It stopped as suddenly as it had started, and all he could hear were echoes, like tinnitus in his eardrums.  At the same time as it ceased, the front door yawed open with a bang as the handle hit the hall wall.

Thankful at this intercession, he ran out to the car, opened the boot and ran back for Leanne.  The boot was full of the usual miscellany of computer hardware he ferried to work and back.  The shopping was still on the back seats from where he’d forgotten to bring it inside.  There was nothing for it, he’d have to put Leanne in the front seat next to him.

McrM60Cam4pm5Y18Exhausted, he started the car.  They raced down the slip lane onto the motorway and eased into light traffic.  After a few miles the sat nav started voicing directions.  He tried to turn it off but couldn’t, so tried to ignore it.   He knew he needed to get over the damned Bridge again into the darkness on the edges of the Ship Canal.

As the car approached the apex of the huge sweeping bridge, the voice said “In 200 yards, turn left”.  A few seconds later, although JC had hold of the wheel, the car lurched hard left, ploughing through the barrier. A wall of flames exploded in front of him.  A small voice in his head told JC he had arrived in hell as his eyes, hair and skin melted.

Later the burnt out shell of a mystery car was found by the fire services on a local retail park, close to space 1005. Local news reported no trace of any survivors.

When a slight electronic chant had died away, the systems in JC’s house had shut down for the night, and Alicia could take her rest at last.

© adewils






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