It started simply with two individuals sitting in a coffee shop. One was Brian, a young, not-all-too-handsome man, with a slender frame. The other was a woman, dark, also slender, but with a shrewd look about her. Brian gazed down at the freshly wiped glass of the table as his coffee cup leaked new stains onto its surface.
“Come on; tell me what you’ve got. It’s been months and you haven’t shown me a single page.”
“I’m nervous,” said Brian, taking a diplomatic sip from his coffee. “This could be it; this could be the one that finally takes me out of this shithole. No offense.” The woman moved her arms in a placating gesture.
“None taken. It’s rough out here, I know. I used to be here, and I’m doing my best to help take you out, but you’ve got to give me something to go on.”
“Alright, here goes.” Brian cleared his throat. “I look into the mirror with tired eyes, soft, bleary, and full of regret. The years have been kind to me and yet I have not. I have no right to feel this way. The world was handed to me on a silver platter, but still I stand, watching myself decay, slowly, but surely passing into the abyss. How many days more will I stand here? 5,000? Or 5? It haunts me to know that the years of my youth are now passed and I stand on the threshold of making a new life. One step out of the door lies disgrace, or greatness. If only I had the wanderer’s feet to move.”
They sat in silence, sipping their coffees. She stroked her long brown hair, staring out the window for a moment at the stream of cars racing by. Brian could not tell if she was impressed, bewildered, or perhaps both. For the most part, he had worried that his writing would come off as a bit too depressing. “Come on Shannon, give it to me straight. Is it any good?”
“It’s morbid, for sure, but I think you’re on to something. I want the first ten pages in my inbox this afternoon. None of that waiting three days shit. I think I’ve got a whole load of middle-aged mothers just unsatisfied enough to read it.” She reached for her wallet.
“No, please, let me,” he said in an attempt to be polite. In reality, the coffees would have just about broken his nearly empty wallet.
“Hey, you might be a big shot soon. Then you can buy the coffees.” She left ten dollars on the table and started to leave. “Listen. If any of that’s real, you might want to see someone. I can’t be losing my clients to ‘emotional outbursts’, if you catch my drift.” It was all too well known in her industry that writers have a tendency to overindulge in spirits and cozy up to the deceptive friendship offered by the barrel of a shotgun.
“No problem! I’ll e-mail it to you right now.” He looked genuinely excited. Someone liked his work; it was the beginning of a new life for him. People were going to notice him and hear his words. He hopped up from the table and bounded into the street, where he was promptly obliterated by a semi-truck.
A Scientific Martyr
Years later, Brian stood at the back of a crowded auditorium, watching in silence as Dr. Coulton’s prominent scientific career ground to a halt.
The white haired man standing behind the pulpit had no idea how close he was to committing academic suicide. “I have dedicated my life’s work to the field of quantum mechanics, but tonight I want to talk to you about something of a more fantastic nature. For eons, the human race has wondered what happens after death. Our final journey is both a mysterious and terrifying one.”
“What if death is not the end? What if there is a world beyond this one where we can live on if we so choose? Where ghosts are no longer a thing of mythology and fear, but rather a reality, and one that we must learn to accept, study, and live in peace with. Poltergeists and possessions should not be topics of fear, but of debate and scientific inquiry.”
The shocked looks of the academics in the audience brought a grimace to Brian’s face. The dark corner cast a sinister shadow over him, but he could not risk sitting out in the open. His attire was not suitable for a symposium. Holes and dirt adorned his long-faded jeans, and while his jacket may have at one point been fashionable, it was now torn and frayed beyond recognition. He shouldn’t have been in the theatre at all, but he had waited for this speech for a long time.
Brian fumed. Why couldn’t the community see how close to the truth Dr. Coulton’s theory was? Like many great minds before him, Coulton’s ideas were not met with applause, but with pitchforks. Brian scanned the audience. A few of them were still paying attention, but most looked as though they were sharpening their criticisms in the dark. Dr. Coulton was sweating profusely and fumbling with his notecards. His glorious opening was meant to be met with awe and wonderment, and instead there was only muted sniggering from the back rows.
“As we are all no doubt aware, the effects of quantum observers have long been debated. Can the mere act of observing an object or action change the outcome or meaning of said action? More simply: Does standing next to a falling tree affect the sound it makes? Through my research, I have come to believe that the world of the recently deceased operates on a similar principle.” Several of the chief university funders walked out of the lecture hall shaking their heads; Dr. Coulton was determined to continue.
“The existence of ghosts or specters is only possible through our own enabling. The mythos and energy we have created around death allows us to continue on afterward.” That was the turning point where Nobel Prize laureate Alex Coulton took a risk and found himself cast out. Ideas that may have seemed profound at the time of their conception, instead turned into tick marks on a pink slip.
He made it on stage for a full twenty minutes before the crowd began to boo. Brian was the only one who kept his eyes on Dr. Coulton the whole time, but unfortunately, the opinions of the deceased don’t count for much. In the end, the crowd erupted into a tempest of criticism, and Brian could no longer bear to watch. Maybe the next one will get it right. Everyone was so busy shouting and throwing bits of paper that none of them noticed the temporal disturbance at the back of the theatre as Brian faded from view, the theatre disappearing as he stepped back into the world between worlds.