Chapter 1 

SCENE 1

HELEN:

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

Right. I don’t have much time to talk, but I thought I’d get started on it anyway, before I lose my nerve. I can at least tell the basics before I have to leave to get to cocktail hour in time. God, cocktail hour. I hate cocktail hour.

But that’s not what this is about, is it? This is about what I saw in the corridor outside the file rooms. I. . . Well, I suppose I should explain where I am, shouldn’t I? Not that these tapes are for anyone, necessarily, but, I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel right to tell a story without the background, does it?

Especially not a ghost story. One can’t just jump straight to the ghost, can one?

The place where I work, the place where I am now, used to be an estate for some wealthy Massachusetts family. Nothing like what we’ve got back in England, of course. I’m not very posh myself, but at Cambridge I knew people whose families still held onto their castles, proper castles out in the country with three hundred rooms and priest holes and things. Americans don’t really have places quite like that. Not that I’m looking down on them for it. On the contrary, I don’t think there’s any place at all for that kind of old money in the modern world. I mean, it’s 1962, for goodness sake, shouldn’t we be past all that?

Oh, dear, better not let Dr. Sykes find this tape. He’ll probably have me locked up as a communist spy. Not that Dr. Sykes would ever lower himself to setting up his secretary’s tape player. No, the division of labor is quite clear: he dictates onto the tapes, and I transcribe what he says. Nothing more.

Gosh, I’m stalling, aren’t I? I’m sorry, whoever isn’t listening. Back to where I work. It’s this great hulking house outside a small town in Massachusetts, not one you’ve heard of unless you live nearby. We call it the Shipwreck, although no one seems to remember why. It’s not a wreck at all. It’s lovely. Or, I’m sure it was back when people lived in it. Wide staircases, high ceilings, carved wooden paneling along the walls. It must have been a wonderful place for parties and Christmases, but now it’s been converted into a research institute. The Institute for Scientific Strategy and Defense. I’m sure that sounds terribly exciting, but it’s not. Mostly it’s grant applications, as far as I can tell. But there is classified research that goes on in the labs downstairs, where Charles works. That’s my husband, Charles. Charlie.

Me, though, I work upstairs, as a secretary to Dr. Sykes. Which is how I came to be in the East Corridor last week. That was where I first saw the ghost.

The corridor is usually deserted. Sometimes one of the girls in the typing pool has to pull something from one of the old file rooms, but most of the people who work in the Shipwreck don’t have much of a reason to be there. I’m the only one who constantly has to run back and forth fetching old files for Dr. Sykes, sometimes four or five times a day.

Anyway, last week I was going to fetch yet another file when I heard something from the end of the hall. It was. . . it’s strange, now that it’s passed it’s difficult for me to remember what it sounded like. A kind of slow, deliberate cracking, I suppose. As if someone was very slowly and deliberately breaking a stick in half.

I turned to see what was making the sound, but I couldn’t find anything at first. There aren’t any windows, and the light bulbs are often burned out in that area, no matter how many times I ask Maintenance to change them. You’d almost think it was deliberate, how often those lights don’t work. Anyway, it was dark, so it took me a moment to see it. Then it floated across the corridor, out of the shadows and right out where I could see it.

It didn’t have a clearly defined shape, this ghost. More like a tall, vague shadow. But its shape suggested someone in long, loose clothing. Maybe a nightgown, or a long shapeless dress. It was pale, and slightly translucent. I couldn’t make out any facial features. In fact, I think it was wearing some kind of veil, something covering the face. But something about it did give me the impression of being watched. At first I also thought she had long, trailing sleeves, like something from the Middle Ages. Then I realized those weren’t her sleeves at all. They were her fingers.

Her. Why do I assume it was a woman? I don’t know. You couldn’t really tell from looking. It just felt like a her. Those fingers, though. The arms were a sort of loose, vague shape. From the sleeves, I guess. But the fingers extending from the ends of the arms were far more clearly defined. I could see where they stood out against the light from the end of the hall. I could see them move, and they weren’t just long sleeves. I could see them drag against the floor. The fingers, you see, were several feet long. It was a little difficult to judge the ghost’s height or proportions from where I stood, but she didn’t seem significantly taller or shorter than an average person. Even so, the fingers stretched out from beneath her sleeves and all the way to the carpet of the hallway. They had far more joints than most fingers, like a spider’s limbs.

The figure stopped in the middle of the hall and cocked her head slightly, as though listening. Most of her body remained perfectly still, but her fingers flexed and jerked. That was when I realized what had been making that slow cracking sound, that sound like long dry sticks breaking in two.

We stared at each other for what felt like a long time, me so petrified I couldn’t move, the ghost cracking her fingers as she watched. Then, without warning, she darted back into the shadow where the bulb had burned out, and she was gone. I ran back to my office in a panic, moving so fast I twisted my ankle. Thank God Dr. Sykes wasn’t there. I must have looked frightful, and I’m sure I would have blurted out everything I had just seen if I’d run into anyone in that moment. But no one was there, and I was able to calm myself and take a few minutes to think about what had happened. That first time, I very quickly convinced myself that it had been a trick of the light, the wind creaking the boards of an old, dusty house.

That would have been the end of it, except I saw the ghost again three days later.

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

SCENE 2

SIERRA:

[Voice Recorder Beep]

Well, I sure as shit wasn’t looking forward to ever doing one of these things again. Jesus, I can’t believe this shit is happening. [Deep breath] Ok, here’s the situation. I’m starting a journal. I’d rather make it an audio journal at this point. Not really sure why. Something about writing this stuff down just doesn’t feel right. Anyway, I’m journaling what’s going on because I’m considering going back to Dr. Reyes, and she used to have me journal back when I was her patient. I haven’t made up my mind on it yet. But if you’re listening to this, Dr. Reyes, then hey, what’s up? Remember me, Sierra?

For now, until I decide if I need Dr. Reyes again, I just feel like I need to get my thoughts together and this might help. I don’t think I can talk to anyone else about it, not even my wife. I don’t. . . I don’t think Corrine and I were married, yet, back when I was your patient. Just living together. Well, anyway, we’re married now, and she’s amazing, but I just don’t think I can drop this in her lap with all that’s going on in our lives. So. Audio journal.

Long story short, I think I may have hallucinated earlier today. Either I hallucinated or ghosts are real and I saw one. So neither option is good, as far as I’m concerned.

Ok, ok [deep breath] ok, let me slow down. Context. Right. Well, I was at work. I got a job about two years ago with a historic preservation nonprofit, and up until today I’d have said it’s a great job. My official job title is architectural historian, which basically means I assess historic buildings, research their background, evaluate any artifacts or papers left behind in the building, that kind of stuff. I don’t really do the physical work of restoring and preserving these buildings, but I’m the first one on site. All of which is to say I spend a lot of my day alone in old, creepy, abandoned, dangerous buildings. You might be thinking, yeah, no shit, Sierra, of course you got freaked out and jumped at your own shadow and thought you saw something supernatural.

Well, hang on, because it’s way, way worse than that. This wasn’t a little movement at the corner of my eye, it wasn’t a cat jumping out of a tree, it was. . . It wasn’t something I’ve seen before, let’s put it that way. Everyone who does my job gets those little scares. They don’t see this stuff.

It was in this building that was originally the site of a Spanish mission, back in the early 18th century. Not much of that original structure is still standing, just a couple of garden walls and a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe. The rest of the original church and the priest’s living quarters is gone, and it was replaced by a huge adobe block house in the 1870s. All the houses in Southern Arizona built back then had to be adobe, it was the only way to stay cool enough to not die in the summer. A retired Civil War general lived there until he straight-up murdered his family and then killed himself, because toxic masculinity has been around for-fucking-ever. Anyway, after that the surviving family members turned it into a tuberculosis sanitarium. All of this is just to show you how this place’s history is like ghost story bingo. But that’s not actually all that weird in my line of work. Any building stands long enough, bad things are going to happen in it. That’s just statistics.

Whew. Ok. The sighting. Haven’t wanted to get into this, but here we go. I was in the main ward, the room where most of the patients would have slept. It’s a real mess right now, stucco falling apart, all the original shutters rotted away. There’s a security guard and a fence now that it’s being evaluated as a historical property, but squatters got in there at some point and left some shit lying around. I was taking measurements and pacing out the length of the room when I turned around and saw someone standing in the doorway.

This person was. . . Skeletal. Way too tall, way too thin. And not, like, an anorexic human form. I mean physically impossible proportions, eight feet tall, a five inch waist, nothing you could ever see even on the skinniest person on earth. Naked, as far as I could tell. But I couldn’t really make out any detail. The light was shining through the windows in such a way that it should have let me see everything, but it was like this thing was backlit. It was just a shape, or like my eyes kept glancing over everything but the shape. Like walking static. So facial features, clothes, all that stuff, I couldn’t describe it at all. I’m not even sure it really had a face.

There was one thing, though. One detail I could focus on. Its fingers. This thing, its fingers stretched all the way to the ground. Just these long, spindly sticks. And they were flexing. Cracking. It was the only sound the thing made, the whole time.

I screamed. I mean, obviously. I’m pretty badass, but that thing was a fucking nightmare.

When that happened, when I screamed, it moved. It half-turned and cocked its head, almost like it was trying to listen to something that it couldn’t quite get a bead on. Which is weird, because when I screamed it was so loud I just about shattered the windows. It turned its head back and forth a few times, and then it was gone. It didn’t walk out of the room or anything, it just blipped out of existence.

So. That’s the situation. I very clearly saw and heard something, in broad daylight, that I don’t think could have been there. And I don’t know what to do.

There’s a couple other things I should mention here, in case I do decide to go back to Dr. Reyes. One factor is that my hormones are currently a fucking shitshow, because I’m on hormone therapy for an egg donation. Corrine and I are gonna start having kids, and my uterus isn’t exactly fertile soil but she has some scary genetic stuff in the family tree, so we settled on my egg, sperm donor, her uterus, because fuck doing anything the easy way. Anyway, I’m very aware that my moods aren’t what they would normally be, and I was already being really vigilant about it given my history of depression and all. So I readily acknowledge that there might be some biochemical weirdness going on here, but I’ve read up on it and I couldn’t find anything about hormone therapy being responsible for something of this scale. Not full-on hallucinations, in any case.

So the second option I’m considering, and one I like even less than the insanity idea, is that what I saw was “real” in some sense (just picture me doing big air quotes right there). I’m not entertaining the possibility that the dead walk among us, I’m really not, but I am thinking about the idea that what we refer to as ghosts might describe some kind of real phenomenon that we don’t really understand yet? Maybe? Fuck.

[Voice Recorder Beep]

SCENE 3

ELOISE:

[Bright, cheerful, warm]: Hi Z! Welcome back to the Nicholas Lifecoaching System. I’m Eloise, your personal life coach. I’m offline at the moment, but record an entry now and you’ll receive our personalized, award-winning coaching services as soon as I’m back online. You are special and valuable.

[Gong]

Z:

Good morning, Eloise. It’s Z. I know you aren’t hearing this in real time. Manager Benno told me the site is out of range of the wireless, so I can’t talk to you on your server directly. It’s my first time out of wireless range. Isn’t that amazing? That there are still places out of wireless range? Anyway, Manager Benno told me even though I can’t get my real-time Life Coaching, I should still make journal entries regularly. He said you’d review them when I get back. Honestly, though, I think I’d probably be making entries for you even if it wasn’t policy. I can’t wait for you to hear all about this place. I think the coaching is working, though. I keep thinking I know what you’d tell me this whole time: Breathe, be mindful, synergize my priorities with the company’s, occupy the space of doing for rather than asking for. I’m definitely doing all those things, I promise. It’s especially easy to breathe and be mindful out here. I’ve never been anywhere so quiet. There’s wildlife, amphibians and birds and insects, but they’re so much quieter than the city. I’m the only person for. . . I don’t know, it must be hundreds of miles. Unless there are some off-gridders between here and Dallas, but I doubt it.

I landed the shuttle just inside a circular ruin with a clear space in the middle. The surveys say it was a sports complex before Pearl. It’s hard to tell now, of course. Most of the walls disintegrated in the fifty years it was underwater, so now it’s mainly just a few steel girders and plastic pieces left. I decided to set up camp here because the scans said it was the most stable point, and there aren’t any ruins that could fall and damage the equipment. Or hurt me.

Just think. There were twelve million people here once. Before Pearl. There were twelve million people, and then there was a lake, and now there’s me. And maybe alligators. The survey said there still might be alligators out here. I hope I get to see one.

I’m trying to be mindful of what you would say if we were real-time now. I think you’d say I’m showing ego-distortion since I’ve talked about my thoughts and feelings but I haven’t said anything about my responsibilities. You’d be right. I have to remember to keep my priorities synergized, not hierarchized.

Data collection started as soon as the shuttle landed. The survey has a list of twenty-two structures in the main site that the company thinks might have historical value. I have drones out now, mapping routes. I should be able to get to one or two of them tomorrow. The courthouse is close, and it dates back to the nineteenth century. Since the walls were stone, there’s a good chance at least part of it is intact. There are a few others that are more of a longshot, like a major art gallery. Probably nothing survived, but I’ll look anyways.

I’m so lucky the company put me on the archeology track. I remember when I was seven and I went in for my assessment, and they told me I’d be on the archaeologist track. I didn’t even know what that was, and all my caregivers talked about the manager track like it was the best one, so I started crying. But then they told me it would mean being able to dig in the dirt even after I grew up, and I knew it would be wonderful. And now I finally get to do it. Thanks to the company. I get to sit in the middle of these amazing ruins, and I get to explore, and I get to be the very first person ever to excavate Houston. It’s hard to believe anyone wouldn’t jump at the chance. Like some of my officemates. One of them, Cherisse, we were talking the other day and she said she’d refinance with a different company before she’d agree to this assignment. She said there weren’t enough personnel merits in the world to get her to go to somewhere that might have alligators and off-gridders. And just in case you’re thinking about sending a conduct report to the company, Eloise, don’t bother, it was after lights out and you know that’s a free speech period.

If you were able to talk to me, Eloise, I think you’d probably tell me it’s time for my mindfulness exercises. I’m doing these out in the open today instead of in my office. Here we go. Breathe in [inhales, pauses]. And out [exhales]. And in [pause]. And out [pause]. And—wait. Eloise. . . Eloise, someone’s here.

There’s. . . Yeah, someone’s here. Someone’s standing on one of the girders. I can’t make out any detail from here, but there’s a figure in some kind of loose clothing. It’s not just a piece of old cloth, either, I’m watching this figure walk slowly from one end of the girder to the other. I better. . . Hang on. . . Ok, I just sent one of the microdrones out. I’m sure I’ll be able to tell more from the footage. I want to go over there, but Section 7b says not to approach any vagrants. But there aren’t supposed to be any vagrants. I would have picked up the heat signature if this person was anywhere near. Oh, no, this must mean the equipment’s damaged.

[Pause] Wait. . . Eloise, I don’t understand this. I’m looking at the screen, and the drone is capturing a clear picture of the girder, but there’s no one standing on it. But I can still see them, right now. Well. . . I guess I won’t be in violation of Section 7b if I get just a little closer, just enough to see a bit better.

[Long pause, footsteps] (whispering) Oh, my God. Eloise. . . its fingers. . .

[GONG]

SCENE 4

HELEN:

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

I saw the ghost again three days later.

This time, it happened on the back staircase. It would have been a servants’ staircase back when the house was occupied. It’s far steeper and narrower than the main staircase in the front hall, just a winding series of flagstones leading down to one of the labs set up in what used to be the kitchens. Since it leads directly to one of the labs, there’s also a great deal more foot traffic than in the East Corridor. I usually run into someone at least once every time I use the stairs, and one of us always has to press our backs to the wall to let the other pass by. Maintenance is sure never to let the bulbs in that staircase burn out. It would have been dark and dingy in the past, but now every corner of that staircase is clearly lit so no one trips and falls.

This is important, because it means there’s no possibility that this time was my imagination making too much of shadows. There aren’t any shadows.

This time, I heard the cracking as I started down from the third floor. I made my way down slowly, thinking it would be around every turn. I jumped when I heard footsteps coming up, but it was only one of the lab technicians, Joshua. He smiled and stepped aside to let me pass. The cracking sounds echoed up the stairs, loud enough to make me jump, but he acted as though he didn’t hear them. I almost asked him about it, but I lost my nerve.

I found it on the narrow landing two turns below. It was clearer this time; I still couldn’t make out facial features, but its clothes were more distinct. Definitely a woman.

This time, it didn’t seem as though she noticed me. I think her back was turned, although it was hard to tell with the veil. She stood very still for a moment, and then she slipped sideways, right through the wall of the stairwell. Just as though it wasn’t there.

There are two possible explanations for what I saw. One is that I hallucinated both times, in which case I’m going mad and I’ll eventually need to tell Charlie. The other is that this specter, whatever it is, is a real phenomenon. And if it’s a real phenomenon, and I was able to see it, that means it’s detectable on the visible light spectrum and I should be able to gather data on some sort of equipment. There’s only one way to determine which of these explanations is the truth. I’m a scientist, and it’s time I started acting like one.

I’ve scrounged a few pieces of equipment from the low-security labs, items I don’t think will be missed. I’m going to see about setting up observation stations in one of the cupboards near the two sites. I’ll have to be very careful, though. There’s no good reason for me to have this equipment, not as far as Dr. Sykes is concerned. If I’m caught, they’re sure to think I’m losing my mind. Even Charlie wouldn’t understand.

There is an important part to this, one I’ve been reluctant to mention. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a ghost. But that’s something I’ll talk about another time. Now I have to leave if I want to make it to that godawful cocktail hour on time.

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

END

Chapter 2







SCENE 1

HELEN

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

I’m back again, resuming the recording I was making earlier. I managed to survive yet another cocktail hour, and I may have even managed to gather a little bit of useful information from one of the wives.

The wives. There are a lot of reasons to hate cocktail hour, but that one is the worst. One can’t just be oneself, you see. When you are a wife of a scientist at the Shipwreck, there is a script that must be followed and a part that must be played. It’s like having a second job on top of the one I already do all day. That, incidentally, is my greatest failure as a capital-W-Wife. They simply cannot comprehend why I insist on working, why I don’t just spend my days at home waiting for Charlie. Honestly, there are times when I don’t understand myself. I studied to be a physicist, after all, not a secretary. Charlie and I got our degrees at the same time, and I qualified higher than he did, but he has a lab coat and I have a Steno pad. Maybe I should just stay home and treat myself to a lunchtime Scotch every day. But some part of me must still believe I can work my way up, that I can make it into the labs.

I say the wives, but that’s not really fair. It’s not all of them. Just Martha bloody Sykes. The queen bee. The rest only follow her lead. Except for Patty Lancaster. She’s quite lovely, really, just not outspoken enough to stand up to Martha. Martha likes to do things like look at one of the other women and say, ‘What a lovely brooch. The things you can find at a yard sale!”

Today I stood around sipping my Manhattan and sneaking a glance at Charlie every few seconds, waiting for the moment we could make our excuses and leave. We always hold cocktail hour in the old greenhouse, which Martha has turned into a place to torment us for her own amusement.

I was trying to avoid Martha by chatting with Patty. We were talking about something unimportant, a film she’d seen. Then, suddenly, as she looked out the window at the Shipwreck across the lawn, Patty wrapped her shawl more tightly around her shoulders and shivered. Then she said, “It’s just such a gloomy place. Something about it just frightens me.” She avoided my eye as she said it. I wondered if she was ashamed for being silly about an old house.

Martha pounced like a cat onto a poor little mouse. “Yes!” she said. “Well, you know it’s history, don’t you?”

“No, what?” Patty asked.

Martha said, “Oh, now, these are just rumors, but they say the house sold to the institute so cheaply because the last owner murdered his wife. She was years younger than him, you know, and the old man became convinced she was carrying on with the gardener. So he strangled her to death, somewhere in the east wing of the house.” She looked positively gleeful as she told this terrible story.

The other wives gasped and went on about how awful it all was, but I stopped listening. I just thought about that figure in the East Corridor, and I wondered if someone had died on the back stairs as well. I don’t know yet, but it’s something to look into. If it turns out that this house has some kind of tragic, damaged history, then perhaps it can lead me to some kind of explanation for what’s happening.

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

SCENE 2

Sierra

[Voice Recorder Beep]

Ok, it’s Sierra again. Time for an update. I still haven’t told anyone about what I saw in the Furling House. I still haven’t called Dr. Reyes. Not because I’ve written off the hallucination possibility. Definitely not there yet. It’s more. . . It, it feels like if I go back to my psychiatrist, then I’ve locked myself into that explanation. It feels like that’s something I can do later, but if I want to explore other possibilities, really explore them, then I have to do that first. Does that make sense?

So, here’s what I’ve found. It’s been about two days of clandestine online research. I told Corrine I was playing Skyrim, which I knew she would never check up on or ask any questions about. Before you ask, yes, I felt guilty lying to her, and no, I don’t do that often.

Anyway, so what I found was mainly a whole lot of Ghosthunters crap, viral ghost videos with bad special effects, that kind of thing. But if you really dig down, like way down, then you get to the legit stuff. Anthropologists and folklorists who have really done their research. And their take on it is that hauntings are a cultural universal. Every culture on Earth has some kind of freaky specter that haunts the night. That said, there’s a lot of variation and they mean different things. So there’s hauntings that are, like, Amityville-style. You know, ghosts as the unsettled or vengeful dead, usually confined to a specific location. Then there’s non-human spirits. There’s all kinds of those, banshees and the Slenderman and other creatures who weren’t ever human and who go around either killing or eating or just scaring people. Of course, once you get away from the theoretical, anthropological stuff and try to find empirical evidence of this stuff existing, well then you’re pretty much back into Ghosthunters territory.

But there is. . . Ok, there’s some ideas I could try out. I mean, obviously, step one is setting up a camera and something to record sound. If I catch a picture of this thing at Furling House then, yeah, awesome. I’m not really holding my breath on that one, though, because the idea that ghosts don’t usually show up on film is pretty widespread. There’s other kinds of equipment people swear by, EMF readers and shit like that, but it seems awfully expensive for what most people agree is total pseudoscience. And this fertility treatment stuff is already hitting the checking accounts pretty hard.

So I think I’m going to go a little more low-tech, for now. I got some security cameras and an app I can check them on 24 hours a day, and I’m going to go set them up at Furling House. Ok. Got a plan. I like having a plan.

[Voice Recorder Beep]

SCENE 3

ELOISE:

[Bright, cheerful, warm]: Hi Z! Welcome back to the Nicholas Lifecoaching System. I’m Eloise, your personal life coach. I’m offline at the moment, but record an entry now and you’ll receive our personalized, award-winning coaching services as soon as I’m back online. You are special and valuable.

[Gong]

Z

Hi, Eloise. I think you’d probably be a little disappointed in my productivity today. . . Sorry, no, that’s ego projection. Let me try that again. My own assessment of my own productivity for today was that it was below my goals and my potential. I take responsibility for that. I let myself down and I let the company down, mainly by not completing eight out of my eleven Day Two objectives.

I know we’re not supposed to blame forces beyond our control. I know what you’d say if you were here; we can always choose the path of decisive action and strong work ethic, even in the face of unexpected occurrences. But I think when you say things like that you’re talking about equipment failures, lost emails, illness, not. . . Not whatever I saw yesterday.

I was in the middle of our session yesterday when I saw whatever was out there on top of that girder. Even now, after mindfulness exercises and reflection, I still can’t really describe it. Thin and long-boned and. . . translucent, almost. A kind of shivery figure with long, skeletal fingers.

Of course, as soon as I got back to the shuttle I checked all the sensors. The life forms within a fifty mile radius are fish, insects, small mammals. No other humans. No bipeds. Except for me. Which I already knew.

I wasn’t sure which company protocol to follow, at first. Medical or unexpected encounter. The med protocol assumes a documented injury or illness, which I didn’t have, but the unexpected encounter protocol is only intended for a confirmed sighting of an unauthorized resident. I didn’t have either one of those. In the end I employed dynamic problem-solving and ran an environmental scan while I was in the medical pod having a full workup.

The med scans didn’t show any hallucinogenic substances or structural brain issues. That means my working theory about toxic mold from the flood site doesn’t work. And it means I don’t have a blood clot or a tumor. I also tested negative for the chemical markers for schizophrenia and all mood disorders. My blood pressure and stress hormones were high, but that would be a result of seeing whatever that was out there. But the environmental deep scan didn’t pick up any other new life forms, so either way I couldn’t explain it.

I finally decided to pilot a drone far enough outside the flood site to set up a communication antenna and submit a report to Manager Benno. I was told only to do that in an emergency, but I decided this qualified. Before I left I heard a lot about how the Houston flood site is a communication dead zone, but no one could really explain why. The water shouldn’t really make a difference. And the satellite coverage should be just fine. I asked around a little bit, but Manager Benno filed a Chastisement for distraction on my quarterly assessment, so I dropped it.

Anyway, I got the drone far enough out to get a signal. I told Manager Benno everything I’d seen and uploaded all the scan results. There was a delay in the feed, but eventually I got a response. He just said, “Continue to pursue all original goals and objectives. Document any further anomalous sightings. You are special and valuable.” Some managers sound like they mean that last part. When Benno says it, it just reminds you that it’s what they say to everyone.

Sorry. I’m allowing myself to slip below the Negativity Line. I have to prioritize forward-thinking proactive responses. I just. . . There was something about Manager Benno’s response that bothered me. It was too quick. Even with the feed delay, he responded so quickly. Too quickly to have asked anyone about it. Too quickly to have even read my test results and scan reports, now that I think about it. So I’m wondering. . . why wasn’t he more surprised to hear what I saw? Why didn’t he have any doubts about me? I know managers are supposed to value and support their employees, but I would be worried about a subordinate who said the kinds of things I just said. I know that’s the kind of second-guessing that creates Doubt Clouds and undermines company community, but I’ve been trying empathy exercises for hours and I just can’t understand his thinking.

Well. I’m not a manager. I should trust Manager Benno, especially if he trusts me with a mission this important. Trust builds trust. Right. That’ll be my mindfulness focus today. Trust builds trust.

[GONG]

SCENE 4

HELEN

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

[Heavy sigh] I’ve been putting it off, talking about the ghosts I saw before. When I was a child. I saw them the night the churches burned. I’ve put them out of my head until now, but I don’t think I would be a responsible researcher if I didn’t own up to this at the start.

I was only eight when the Blitz started, too young to remember the early days of the war very clearly. But I remember that night, just after Christmas. As soon as the air raid sirens went off, my mother tried to take me to our usual shelter, I’m not sure where, but it had been bombed. So we tried to make our way to another one, but the air was full of smoke and we could see the glow of the fire over the rooftops. I learned later that about twenty ancient churches were lost that night, over 150 dead. But for me, that night will always be the night of the ghosts.

The first one stood in front of a dark shop window. The glass had been shattered, and the ghost hovered just above the pile of glass on the sidewalk. Even from across the street, I heard the cracking of its long fingers. The same cracking I heard the in East Corridor. I heard those cracking fingers even over the racket of the fires and the bombs and an ambulance passing by. I can still hear it.

I screamed and held my mother’s hand tighter, tried to make her see. But she was frantic with fear of the bombs, and she thought I was afraid of the same thing.

There were five more that night. They were all slightly different shapes and sizes; the first faded out around where the waist should have been, but another walked on long legs. One towered above me, while another was barely my own height. Some had a shape that seemed like a nightgown or a dress to me, but on others I couldn’t make out any clothing at all. They stood on rooftops, in alleyways, in the middle of the street, even on top of a parked ambulance. But all of them, every single one, had those long, cracking fingers.

I told my mother, afterwards. She wrote it off as the shock of the bombs, the fire. Of course she did. It was what made the most sense, and she wasn’t a stupid woman.

I know what someone might say, if they heard this. What I should be thinking to myself. I first saw these things as a young girl traumatized by the Blitz, and now I’m seeing the same things again, an ocean away. Shouldn’t I consider the possibility that I’m having a mental breakdown?

Of course I’m considering that. Of course I am. Why do you think I’m hiding recording equipment in the corridors, in the stairwell? Why do think I plan on lurking in the hallways with a camera and reading up on how to detect and measure electromagnetic fields? I need to know. Whether I’m mad or not, I need to know.

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

SCENE 5

SIERRA

[Voice Recorder Beep]

Hey. It’s 11:30 at night. Same day as my last entry. But I have an update, and I wanted to wait until Corrine went to bed. She usually hits the hay pretty early. She’s a doctor, a pediatrician. I can’t decide if that’s going to be a benefit or a real pain in the ass when we have kids. On the one hand, she’ll know if something is just a cold and won’t freak out about every little thing, but on the other hand she’s seen kids with diseases that would make your blood run cold.

Speaking of which. . . [sighs] Jesus Christ. This fucking thing.

One of the big divides I saw online was talking about ghosts who are bound to a specific place, like a house or an abandoned mental hospital, versus ghosts that haunt people or can go anywhere, like that thing in that one fucked up movie. The one with Barbara Hershey? Whatever, I don’t remember.

Point is, I saw that thing again, but it wasn’t at Furling House. Or, maybe not even the same one. Maybe a different one. But the same general thing, just not at Furling House. It was nowhere near it. It was a new site, one I was seeing for the first time today. Which is its own whole weird thing, because my caseload is already pretty full and there’s generally more conversation about who’s going to take on which projects, but my supervisor just kinda dropped this one on my desk and told me to get out there.

It’s an early-twentieth-century townhouse, owned by one of the first Arizona state senators and his family. Someone involved in drafting the Arizona constitution, I think. I don’t know much more about it than that at this point since I haven’t had time to dig into the research. But it’s a different time period than Furling House, different style, different part of town. No connections I can see. Except.

Except, when I got in there and started my initial sweep through the house. This one was in better shape than Furling House. People were still living in it until recently, until a foreclosure case got people interested in it as a historic site. So there’s a layer of twenty-first century over the whole thing. New-ish paint, modern electrical outlets, laminate wood over the original flooring. You can still feel the age, though. And you can see it, if you know where to look.

At this point I was still thinking about the sighting as specific to Furling House, so I didn’t really have my guard up. Then, while I was in the pantry, I heard something from the kitchen. I knew that sound, right away. That cracking.

I really, really wanted to run without checking, but the only exit was through the kitchen. So I went.

This one. . . And I realize I’m talking about them like they’re distinct entities and not hallucinations, but whatever. . . This one had some differences from the first. It was clearly a woman, for starters. The outline was blurry, but I could see the shape of a calf-length skirt, and something about the head made me think long hair pinned up in a bun. She was standing at the sink, her hands under the faucet. I watched for about thirty seconds, but I couldn’t understand what she was doing. Moving those long fingers in a tangle in the sink, but I don’t know why.

I tried to kind of inch around her without noticing, and I thought I was succeeding, until I stepped on a creaky part of the floor. That scared me so bad I let out some little sound. Not a scream, but close.

That stopped her. She turned to look at me over her shoulder, and I ran for it. Not the scientific thing to do, I know, but fuck it.

I’ve been running through it all day, ever since I got out of the townhouse. And, here’s the thing that’s stood out. She didn’t respond when the floor squeaked. I’m really sure about that, the more I think about it. The floor was really loud, but she didn’t react, not until I made a sound. Something about that sequence of events seems important. I don’t know what it means, but I think it means something.

END







Chapter 3







SCENE 1

HELEN:

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

There’s something odd going on with Dr. Sykes and Dr. Lancaster. It has something to do with File Room Three. I saw. . . Well, perhaps I should begin this entry by saying I saw the phenomenon again. I’ve decided I should refrain from calling it a ghost as much as possible, to avoid confirmation bias. So for now I’m trying to call it the phenomenon instead. Whatever it is, I saw it again, and this time I was able to see it much more clearly than the last two times.

This time, it was in the conservatory. We still call it that even though it’s been repurposed as the Shipwreck’s canteen. I eat lunch alone, usually, since Charlie tends to work straight through his lunch break. There were a few lab technicians eating at the same time as me, but they sat at one end of the room and I at another. I don’t mind. I like eating my lunch near the high glass windows, watching the garden outside. It’s a peaceful view, even if the bird bath is dry and weeds are beginning to creep between the flowers.

I was gazing out the window, the way I usually do at lunch, when I had the sighting. She didn’t emerge from anywhere; I simply blinked and there it was, right next to the birdbath. She (and I feel more and more certain this is a woman) seemed solid this time, not translucent. She stood with her back to me, her arms hanging at her sides. The sight of her fingers, those long, long appendages trailing against the ground, still made the hair stand up at the back of my neck. But now I could see more about them, not just how long and slender they were. The number was also wrong. There were only eight digits, I think, with nothing where the thumb should be.

I wasn’t certain before, but I am now; this woman is wearing a veil, something light that covers her entire face and the back of her head. It means I can’t make out anything of her facial features or the color of her hair. But her frame is small-boned, certainly a woman, despite those long fingers.

Too late, I remembered that I had a camera in my handbag. I leaned down to get it, and by the time I stood up again she had gone.

This sighting raises more questions for me. First, the clothing. Even if I’m to take seriously the possibility that this phenomenon is some kind of ghost, the ghost of this poor murdered woman in the Shipwreck’s past, why doesn’t she look the way she would in life? She certainly wouldn’t have gone about her day draped in cheesecloth. And she wouldn’t have had those long fingers, not even with the most extreme congenital birth defects.

I’ve begun to consider the possibility that someone is playing an elaborate prank. The problem with that theory is that only Charlie knows about what I saw back in the Blitz, and even he doesn’t know enough detail to replicate these creatures so precisely. I never told him about the fingers, for instance. They were always too disturbing to speak about before. I’m almost certain I’ve never written about what I saw, not in any journal or letter or anything like that. Still, perhaps my experiences are close enough to the types of sightings in silly Gothic novels that a person playing a meanspirited prank just happened to produce results very close to my past experiences.

It’s possible. It’s an answer that in some ways frightens me more than any alternative, but I have to admit it’s possible.

I-- Oh, gosh, I didn’t realize how late it’s gotten. I’ll have to finish this entry about Dr. Sykes and Dr. Lancaster later. For now, back to work.

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

SCENE 2

SIERRA:

[Voice Recorder Beep]

Third sighting. Third and fourth sighting, in one day. Lucky me. The first was at a new house, yet another haunted mansion. The second was back at Furling House. So either there’s more than one of these things, or this one can really haul ass across town, or she can teleport, or something.

There’s. . . I’m not totally sure yet, but there’s some kind of change. The one at Furling House, there’s a change. Not sure what yet.

This new sighting, the new location, is a mansion built by a wealthy, eccentric rancher, way out in the foothills. This guy made all these weird add-ons and modifications to the original house. Not as extreme as the Winchester House, but pretty bizarre. So, naturally, I wasn’t 100% shocked when I saw another one of them there.

This one was similar to the one from the townhouse. The Cook, the Servant, whatever. This one from the ranch house also struck me as sort of vaguely female, but she had a different shape to her, especially around her head. Almost like her hair was piled up. She stood next to an antique desk in the children’s study room, the place the kids would have been homeschooled. She stood up really straight, like ramrod posture, and didn’t move the whole time I was there. The second I saw her, I instantly thought, “Governess,” although I don’t base that on much besides the fact that she was in the children’s schoolroom.

The next sighting was pretty familiar by comparison. Furling House, main ward, the same spot I saw it before. Nothing different about its behavior, although like I said I feel like something about its appearance is different.

Oh, and here’s something else: they 100% for sure don’t show up on cameras. I went through the footage from around the time I had the sighting. I saw myself standing in the main dormitory, and I even saw myself react to it; I could see the moment I noticed the thing, the way I froze and stopped what I was doing to watch it. It should have been right in the middle of the frame, right in the doorway. But it’s not there. I even froze the image and went through one frame at a time. There’s nothing there.

I’m starting to have some weird thoughts about work. I’m just. . . I don’t know, for two years the pace of the job is really steady, really predictable, and then all the sudden, just as this weirdness starts up, I start getting new assignments every day. And it’s not just that. My supervisor, Lawrence, he’s acting a little, just, off.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about is something I’ve been noticing from my research. As much as you have to sift through the bullshit with haunting accounts and stuff like that, there are things that seem to kind of bubble to the top as patterns. And I think the thing that stands out the most is that hauntings seem to progress. Little things to big terrifying shit.

I mean, this is every fucking horror movie, right? Heteronormative nuclear family moves into old house, what’s the first off thing? It’s always something really small. Footsteps in the hall. A toy left out somewhere. The room getting really cold all of a sudden. It’s not until Act 2 and 3 that our intrepid heroes start seeing full manifestations and blood dripping down the walls.

Except, that doesn’t make any sense, does it? If we sort of accept the principle of ghosts as these echoes of living humans being replayed on a loop, then they’ve been doing this same creepy stuff for years. Why would the blood from the walls time itself around a new family’s character arc? But it’s not just movies, that’s how all the supposed real-life hauntings go. Little things to big manifestations. Amityville, all those.

But even if this is all just ghosts gaslighting humans to get them out of their crib, then why not just go all in right away? At this point they’re usually several occupants in, so why not go right to what works? Night one, blood on the walls, and you’ve got the place to yourself in no time.

Ok, so if we accept that progression is a feature of hauntings. . . And I’ve read enough of these things at this point to say I think it is. . . then the question becomes why. And there’s only two options. Option one is that, for whatever reason, they can’t do the more complex manifestations right away. They have to ratchet it up over time. Maybe because it takes us a while to be able to perceive them well? Maybe we have to get used to them?

The second option is that it’s deliberate. For whatever reason, for motives I can’t even begin to wrap my head around, these things decide to start small and gradually show us more and more over time. In which case they’re actively trying to scare us. I’m not a fan of option 2.

I don’t know which of these is more likely. But I think something about this, this progression, I feel like if I can crack this I’ll understand everything else. I really fucking hope I’m right about that.

[Voice Recorder Beep]

SCENE 3

ELOISE:

Hi Z! Welcome back to the Nicholas Lifecoaching System. I’m Eloise, your personal life coach. I’m offline at the moment, but record an entry now and you’ll receive our personalized, award-winning coaching services as soon as I’m back online. You are special and valuable.

[Gong]

Z:

Good evening, Eloise. My personal productivity assessment for today is a 9 out of 10. I completed my entire day’s objectives for covering a new part of the grid square for the former downtown area. I mapped several architectural sites, including a former Protestant church, and I recovered several items of cookware and cutlery I found intact in a restaurant. I also found a largely intact statue of a historic figure, probably dating back to 1895, and I began the process of. . . uh, the process of my, um. . .

[Sighs]. I’m sorry, Eloise. I know you’re just an AI and apologies mean nothing to you and you aren’t listening to this in real time anyway, but I’m still sorry. I really was productive today, I was, but that’s not what I want to talk about. I really wish you could respond to me. I really wish you could give me advice, because I saw more of them.

There were about four, I think. Some of them I didn’t see very clearly. Others I saw up close. They were all over the quarter-mile grid I set up for my survey today. I don’t know why that disturbs me more than if they had all been in the same spot as the first one.

Maybe I should explain what the site looks like, before I talk about where they were in it. This city, Houston, it’s not the only time a city has drowned. I did field work training at several others to prepare for this assignment. Shi Cheng, in one of the company’s Chinese holdings. It’s 1500 years old, and it’s been underwater for a century. There were American sites, too. Prescott, Massachusetts. A few places in the Appalachian Mountains. Some of them were still underwater, only accessible by submersible shuttle. But in some others, the waters receded for one reason or another. Places that have been underwater for years, places like Houston, the decomposition process is always the same. Stone and steel survive, but wood and fibers don’t. That means that some buildings, 19th century cathedrals and brick courthouses, they almost look like people could have been using them days ago. Other buildings, the ones that had been made of plaster and wood beams, those are just rotting piles of wood pulp. It’s a striking effect, isolated buildings standing tall while the rest of the city block around them is flat, rotting mud. Manager Benno has talked about using the drone footage to commission a photography series for one of the company’s educational installations.

The point is, once I’ve sent the accessibility drones out to cut down the brush and weeds in a grid area, visibility is good. I can see well into the distance, much farther than I would be able to see in an occupied city. And I’ve been seeing them, the. . . I’ve been seeing them in and around the standing buildings. The older ones, the stone ones. I haven’t seen any walking out on the mud flats. One stood in the window of a surviving church steeple. I didn’t investigate because the scans showed that the interior floor probably couldn’t support human weight.

. . . No, I’m sorry, that’s a lie. I didn’t investigate because I was scared. I fell below the Negativity Line again and allowed fear to infect my forward-thinking projections. I need to work on that.

I did investigate the next one, though. This one was in the surviving wing of a school. It’s pre-privatization, a school built in the early twentieth century, back when they provided education. This time, the figure was standing in the doorway of what would have been the front entrance. The doors had long since rotted away, but the stone archways remained. And right under that archway was one of them. The Shadow People. That’s what I’ve been calling them, to myself. The Shadow People.

I haven’t said much about what they look like, aside from the fingers. But part of the reason is that I think they all look a little bit different. They’re a bit difficult to see, but I’ve noticed some differences in shape and size. This one, the one at the school, didn’t have the same billowing clothing the others had. I couldn’t make out exactly what its clothes looked like, but they must have been trousers and a tight-fitting shirt. I could see even from a distance that it was very thin, this creature.

It watched me. I couldn’t see its eyes so I don’t know how I know that, but it watched me. And once it was certain it had gotten my attention, it turned and walked into the school.

I followed it. You’d be proud of me, Eloise. You’d say external pride isn’t important, that the only important thing is being proud of my own accomplishments and goal setting. Well, I am proud of myself. I went inside the school, and I looked for that thing.

There was a surviving staircase. Far too unstable for me to walk on myself, but this thing, this. . . I need to call it something, so I’ll call keep calling it a Shadow Person. . . It stood at the top of the stairs, watching me. Then it. . . I don’t really understand what it was trying to do. It pointed with those long fingers up at a corner of the ceiling. I looked, and I got footage, but I didn’t see anything. Just crumbling brick. But I followed where it pointed and I tried to see what it meant.

After I looked up at the ceiling, the shadow pointed at the wall near where it stood. Once it did that, I realized there were words written there. That stopped me, because the paint had peeled off these brick walls long ago, and any other materials like sheetrock had disintegrated. So there shouldn’t have been surviving graffiti, not after all this time. But there it was. It was mostly nonsensical, symbols and swirls of paint on the bricks. But there were two words interwoven with the nonsense, just two words almost camouflaged by the rest.

Those words were, “They’re watching.” Just “They’re watching,” in these childish block letters.

The shadow just kept pointing, like it wanted to make sure I saw the graffiti. Then it pointed back up at the ceiling again. I still don’t understand why.

I checked my footage later. The paint and the bricks and everything else shows up. Everything except the shadow. As soon as I finish this entry I’m doing some research on ways to modify my scanning equipment. These things have to show up somehow. There’s got to be some way to prove to the company that I’m not making anything up.

[Gong]

SCENE 4

HELEN:

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

I’m back, continuing the same entry as earlier. Before I talk about Dr. Sykes, though, I have new information. I ran into Patty Lancaster in the foyer. She said something about her husband forgetting his lunch at home. We chatted for a few minutes, and somehow we got on the topic of the Shipwreck’s history. I’ve been cautious about bringing it up to other people, but in this case it was Patty who said something first, something about how she keeps meaning to read up on the place’s history. And then she told me that there’s a shelf in the old library with old records and information about the house, a shelf she plans on sorting one of these days. I could scarcely believe my luck, someone just pointing me straight to what I was looking for.

After Patty left, I found the shelf she’d mentioned. It’s not well-organized, just boxes of wills and deeds and photo albums and newspaper clippings, all mixed up. It’ll take me a while to go through it all, but I found something almost immediately. It was a dusty old clipping about a funeral. A young child had died in some tragic accident in 1932, and the newspaper printed a picture of his family leaving the funeral. Right in the center of that photo was a picture of a woman in a long black mourning veil. The caption gave her name as “Elizabeth Parks.” The paper didn’t say where the family lived, but it has to be the Shipwreck. It can’t be a coincidence. I’ll have to return to the rest of the documents whenever I can get away.

But back to Dr. Sykes and Dr. Lancaster. After the sighting earlier today, I started back to my desk with my files. I came around a corner, and I saw the two of them speaking. No, not speaking. Arguing, I think. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but the way they were gesturing and glaring made me think they were angry with one another. I hung back in a doorway and watched until they stopped whatever argument they were having and went into File Room 3.

I’d never thought of it before that moment, but I’ve never been in File Room 3. I don’t even know what kind of files would be in there. I waited for a bit and then tried the handle, but it was locked. I went back to my desk and waited for Dr. Sykes to come back. While I was waiting, I. . . Well, I probably shouldn’t admit on tape to doing this, but I hid one of the files he’d asked me to retrieve from File Room 1. Those files are all low-security clearance, and they are all data from past studies conducted on electromagnetic fields at various sites around the world. I have no idea what they have to do with the research being done in the labs, but they must be comparing results, given how often I have to pull the records.

Anyway, I hid one of the files in my bag. When Dr. Sykes came back, I told him I’d looked all over File Rooms 1 and 2 but couldn’t find it. And then, as casually as I could, I said, “I tried searching in File Room 3 as well, in case it had been misfiled, but my key didn’t work.”

I watched his face closely as I said it, that square chin and that too-stiff haircut. I can’t be sure, but it seemed like a muscle in his jaw jumped when I said that. “That file wouldn’t be in File Room 3,” he said.

“But if it was misfiled, maybe a long time ago,” I tried, “shouldn’t I at least have a key in case I need to check for something there?”

“There’s nothing you need to see in that room,” he snapped at me. “Just stay at your desk and do your job like a good girl.”

I truly, truly hate that man. I don’t know if it’s the stress of these ghost. . . Sorry, phenomenon-sightings. . . I don’t know if it’s the stress of that, but I’m finding it harder to hide my contempt for him lately. And I’ve been irritable overall. I haven’t been sleeping well. I’ve been short with Charlie. I need to be careful, or I’m going to say something I’ll regret. But I didn’t do that today. I simply nodded and sat back at my desk, like a good girl.

But the whole thing got me thinking. What if the research and my sightings are connected? I don’t really have any clear reason to think they are, except all those reports about electromagnetic studies. And that odd little argument near File Room 3. If they’re working on something that manipulates electromagnetic fields, maybe the sightings are a side effect, either on the environment or on my brain. It’s thin, I know, but it’s the only angle I have right now. That means I need to know about what Dr. Sykes is studying. Fortunately, I have a friend at MIT, where he did his doctoral research. I’m going to give her a call and see what she knows. How perfect would that be, if the two great annoyances in my lift were one and the same?

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

SCENE 5

SIERRA:

[Voice Recorder Beep]

Got something new to report. This one from the townhouse. That same one I saw in the kitchen before. I think of her as “The Cook,” I guess because I first saw her doing something at the sink. I’ve started of thinking of the one at Furling House as “The Patient” and the one at the Guadalupe Mansion as “The Governess.” Probably all of these are way off, but it helps me to frame them in more human terms. Less scary terms.

Anyway, today I really got the impression that the Cook was waiting for me. She was just standing right there when I walked into the townhouse kitchen. She obviously noticed me, tracked me as I crossed the room. She didn’t move, just stood there. After a minute, I got up the courage to say, “Hi. My name is Sierra. Who are you?”

She cocked her head. I still can’t make out their faces. They’re. . . staticky, I guess you’d say. But I felt like I caught some motion there, like her lips were moving. Moving, but without any sound. I shook my head and told her I couldn’t hear her.

She turned and pointed to the lightbulb in the ceiling with those long fingers. Jesus, those things still freak me out every time. She pointed and made some of those cracking sounds, and then the lights blinked, three times in quick succession. I got out my flashlight that I carry around when I do assessments and clicked it on and off three times. She pointed back at the bulb, and the lights blinked two times. So I blinked two times. And we just went back and forth like that for a while.

I got so excited that I put down my bag and pulled out a box I’d been carrying around for a while. I’ve been embarrassed to mention it, because it’s real fucking stupid, but I actually went out and got a Ouija board. I got one and I’ve been carrying it around in my work kit because I have no fucking idea how to use one and because I’ve been too chickenshit to sit down and try it in one of these places. Anyway, I got it out and unfolded it right there on the kitchen floor and got the little glass lensy thing—the planchette, I think?—out and then I waited for a message.

Nothing happened. The Cook just stared at me. I tried gesturing at the board, putting my fingertips on the planchette, inviting her to mimic me. Nothing. I wondered if maybe she got distracted or something, so I clicked the flashlight three times again. Right on clue, there goes the kitchen light blinking away.

I couldn’t get her to do anything with the Ouija board. She eventually knelt down like I was, but she wouldn’t look at the board. She wouldn’t reach for it. It was like she didn’t know it was there.

So, ok. This tells me a few things. First, they’re actively trying to communicate. At least, the Cook is. And they’re trying to do that by mirroring actions. Oh, and I guess that they have the ability to disrupt electricity, which is pretty typical in the literature on hauntings. But she didn’t seem to have the slightest idea what the Ouija board was, or how to use it. I don’t know what to make of that, honestly.

I guess I should focus on the positives, here. If she’s trying to reach out, and if the light thing worked, I should be able to figure out a more sophisticated way to communicate that way. Learn Morse Code or something. I don’t know. It’s a start.

END






Chapter 4

 

SCENE 1

HELEN

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

I finally heard back from my contact about Dr. Sykes. She checked with the alumni office, and he didn’t get his doctorate at MIT. There was no one with the last name Sykes ever to receive a doctorate in physics on the list. She even checked chemistry and astronomy just to be certain, but he simply isn’t there. She said she’d try phoning a few friends at other universities, Harvard and Boston University, just in case I was wrong about where in Massachusetts he claims to have studied. But I’m not wrong. I see his framed diploma on the wall every day.

There are a few possibilities here. First, he could be lying out of sheer narcissism. Maybe his degree was from some middling college with a poor reputation, and he’s embarrassed. Maybe he had an MIT diploma forged out of vanity. Or maybe his degree is actually in something else, something relevant to researching these manifestations, and they’re pretending it’s physics to maintain the cover that the Shipwreck is just like any other research institute. God knows what that degree would be, though. Ectoplasm Studies [laughs]?

[Becoming serious again]. This is important, though. This means I’m being lied to, and other employees must be as well. Now I just have to try to figure out why without tipping my hand and letting Sykes know I know.

There’s another piece of news. One I’m more reluctant to share. The phenomenon can’t be detected on camera. I haven’t been able to lay hands on any sound recording equipment besides this tape recorder, and I haven’t thought of a way to hide this elsewhere in the Shipwreck. But I did have a sighting in the East Corridor again, and this time I had my camera ready. I decided to test my intuition about the thing last time, this idea that it might be responding to my presence or my attention. I went to the East Corridor and I concentrated on the thought of it, on the idea of seeing it again. And it appeared. I was so surprised I almost forgot to press the shutter, but I got to it in time. I’m very, very certain I took its picture. I was looking directly at it, through the viewfinder. The lens cap wasn’t on. And yet, when I developed the photos just now, the image is nothing but a dingy corridor.

It’s not conclusive, of course. Most of the physical world isn’t visible to the human eye, or on regular film. Sound waves. Electromagnetic radiation. All sorts of real, physical aspects of our universe are invisible. It’s not conclusive. But it’s not looking good, I must admit. It certainly won’t help my case if I ever need to tell Charlie.

It’s just occurred to me that I haven’t really said much about Charlie in these field notes. In a way it makes perfect sense that I wouldn’t talk about him here, because he doesn’t have anything to do with the sightings. But, on the other hand, we work together and live together and he’s such a significant part of my environment, it seems as though I should be paying him a bit more attention as a factor.

Charlie and I have been married for three years. We met at Cambridge, in the physics department. He’s smart and funny and charming, and he always supported my interest in science, which is more than can be said for many of the men I interacted with at Cambridge, including some of my professors. I’d say on the whole our marriage is a good one, and we’re happy.

Except. There’s always an exception, isn’t there? I’d always assumed we’d both work as physicists. We always talked about that, working in separate labs or together, but both of us doing the work we wanted to do. But then Charlie got this offer from the Institute, and I didn’t. We agreed on three years. Three years, and then we’ll begin applying for jobs. Both of us.

I know I agreed to this, and I know Charlie’s the same person he always was. But sometimes, especially at cocktail hour or at parties, it feels like we’re both turning into something I don’t recognize. Sometimes I look at him standing across the room with the men, the scientists, and I’m on the other side with the wives, and I don’t understand what happened.

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

SCENE 2

SIERRA

[Voice Recorder Beep]

I told Corrine. There just wasn’t any way to avoid it anymore. I told Corrine, and maybe it’ll turn out to be a big mistake and she’ll decide I’m more trouble than I’m worth, but for now she’s taking it pretty well.

I’d like to be able to say I came clean because I want to be open with my wife, but the reality is I got hurt and it was either explain how the bruises really happened or make up yet another story. And the way I got those bruises, aside from leading me to have to tell Corrine, relates back to my working theory about how hauntings progress.

This one was back at Furling House. It happened in the same spot as before, the doorway of the main dormitory. I heard it before I saw it, like always. This time, though, there were some changes. I noticed that it had changed in shape. That, or it was a completely different one. But I don’t think so. It had gotten shorter, more of a natural human height. My height, just about. It also wasn’t so freakishly thin anymore. Kind of slender, but human-looking. I still couldn’t make out many details of its face, and not enough of the body to tell if it was wearing clothes. It struck me as more female, for some reason, something about the body shape.

Except, of course, for those fingers. Those stayed just the way they’d been before.

This time, from the moment I saw it, it seemed aware of me. Before, it always felt like I caught these things by surprise, like they didn’t notice me until I did something to draw their attention. This time I felt watched right off the bat. I just froze at the other end of the dormitory and watched to see what it would do.

It stayed still for a long time. Then it crossed the room. I still don’t know how. It didn’t really walk or glide or anything. It just kind of wavered and went hazy and then it was standing right in front of me. I screamed and jumped, even though I’d told myself I’d stay calm next time I saw them. That resolution lasted all of three seconds.

As soon as I started backing away, something new happened. It touched me. Grabbed me, I’d go so far as to say. Its fingers snapped out and wrapped around my forearms. I can’t even fucking describe how creepy that was. Those fingers don’t bend in the same places as human fingers, even taking their weird proportions into account. They’re more like tentacles, I guess. Anyway, those fingers wrapped around my arms, and I freaked the fuck out and twisted away and jumped face-first into the door jamb. It probably would have been hilariously slapstick if I hadn’t been fucking terrified. I was too scared to really feel the pain at the time, just the shock of hitting my head. As soon as I got out of the house and into the yard, though, I could tell I’d cut my forehead pretty bad, bruised up one of my eye sockets, the works.

So I went home and cleaned myself up as best as I could, and I waited for Corrine to come home. As soon as she walked in I said, “Baby, sit down. There’s something I have to tell you.”

I guess I probably could have made up some other reason that I ran face-first into a wall. Being chased by a stray dog or something. But the truth is I was probably going to tell her anyway. I’m. . . [wavers] I’m so tired of dealing with this alone.

She just sat still the entire time. She didn’t interrupt me once. I think I probably told you a little bit about her in our old sessions. She has this stillness. It was the first thing I noticed about her. It’s weird because I never thought stillness could be interesting. But watching her, her stillness, that’s what made me talk to her. You see people sitting around, waiting for a table at a restaurant or whatever, most people never hold still. Most people never just watch and think. Hell, even I don’t just sit and think. I’m on my phone all the time like every other asshole out there. But Corrine takes time to sit and think and watch. She always has.

It was the same with this. After I finished telling her everything, she was quiet for a minute. Then she asked if I’d put ice on that bruise. I told her yes. Then she said, “You’ve only seen these things in the historic houses? Not here, not at the grocery store, out in the rest of the world?”

That wasn’t the question I was expecting. And, honestly, I hadn’t really thought about it. But now that she was asking, it did seem kind of important that these sightings were only happening in specific places. I told her that was right. She was quiet again, and then she said, “Well, then, I think we better try to figure out why you’re only seeing these things in certain places. Whether they’re hallucinations or not. Next time you go, I’m coming with you.” And then she got up and started making dinner, like it was any other evening.

I honestly think I might be the luckiest goddamn woman on Earth.

[Voice Recorder Beep]

SCENE 3

ELOISE:

Hi Z! Welcome back to the Nicholas Lifecoaching System. I’m Eloise, your personal life coach. I’m offline at the moment, but record an entry now and you’ll receive our personalized, award-winning coaching services as soon as I’m back online. You are special and valuable.

[Gong]

Z:

Good morning, Eloise. It’s 2:42 in the morning, so it would probably be more appropriate to say “Good night,” but I’m awake so I’m just saying good morning.

I had a dream. I know dreams don’t mean anything in the Freudian sense, but you’ve always stressed the importance of self-reflection and instinct, and my instincts tell me I should take this seriously.

In this dream, I was back in my first Company dorm, the one for the kindergarten through third graders. I would have been in the pre-k dorm before that, but I don’t remember that one. No one does.

Anyway, I was in my bed in the dorm, and I was staring at our night light. I don’t know if every company has the same way of doing things in their dorms, but in ours we each got to pick the nightlight for a week at a time. There was a big box of them to choose from. I always picked the elephant, and when it was my week I would stay awake and stare at it.

In this dream, I was staring at the elephant, and then suddenly I couldn’t see it anymore, because something moved in front of it. I looked up, and even though it was dark I could still make out a Shadow Person standing there. It had long fingers and no face, and it cracked as it stood there.

In the dream, I screamed, and one of the caregivers came to see what was wrong. I told her all about it, all about the person with the long fingers. And then, as she was inputting the nightmare into my file, her tablet dinged. I know that sound, now. That’s the sound of a personnel file being flagged for something.

Eloise. . . It was just a dream, and I woke up, but. . . I think it’s a memory, too. I think all of it really happened. I think I saw one when I was young, and I forgot it until now. And I think. . . I don’t understand why, but I think when I saw it before, the Company flagged me for it.

[Gong]

SCENE 4

HELEN

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

I’ve. . . Oh, God, I’ve just had another sighting. But this one was so much different, so much worse than any of the others. The other sightings frightened me, some of them, but I never really considered the possibility that these creatures pose a physical threat. Now, though, I’m looking at a scratch on my arm, a deep scratch across the top of my wrist, and if they’re capable of physically touching me and breaking the skin, I have to assume they can do far worse damage than that.

Ok, I’ve got to calm down. [Takes a deep breath]. There’s data here. There’s evidence. I need to focus on that.

This sighting happened on the main staircase. It wasn’t dark or dingy or shadowed; it’s a bright day outside, with sunlight coming right through the windows. That makes it worse, somehow.

It just appeared on the landing next to me. I’d paused on the first landing where the stairway curves. I had a tray with Dr. Sykes’s lunch on it, and I stopped to set down the tray and pick up a napkin I’d dropped. Before I even managed to pick up the napkin, one of them stood right next to me.

I just said, “one of them,” because I really don’t think it was the same one I’ve been seeing. It had the same general shape, the same cracking fingers, but the veil seemed to be gone. I still couldn’t see its facial features clearly, but they weren’t covered anymore. I froze and stared up at it; it was so close I could smell it. It didn’t smell like dirt, not like the grave, not the way I would expect if these things truly are ghosts. It smelled more like ozone, that bitter odor that comes with an electrical fire.

It turned and saw me. I have no way of knowing that, of course. I can’t see its eyes, if it even has eyes, but I got the distinct impression I was being watched. Then it reached for my arm with those long fingers.

At the time, I panicked, thinking I was being attacked. Now, though, talking about it, I’m not sure that’s what it intended to do. She. . . She didn’t lunge at me, try to cut off my escape, none of the things she might do if trying to overpower me. She just calmly but quickly wrapped those long fingers around my wrist. Almost as though curious about what it was.

I’m really trying to find the words for the sensation. It didn’t feel like flesh. It wasn’t cold, or like mist, or any of the things you might imagine feeling if touched by a ghost. It was. . . If static could be felt on the skin, it would feel like that. A sort of vague, crawling, fuzzy sensation.

I screamed and ripped my arm out of her grip. I don’t know if she tried to tighten her hold on me, and that’s how I got scratched, or if I somehow managed to scratch myself as I ran up the stairs. I fell and bashed my knee as I tried to get away, but I got to the top of the stairs and looked back. She still stood there, on the landing. Her head had turned to face me, like she’d watched my progress up the stairs. Her fingers, those fingers I’d only ever seen hanging against the ground, stretched up into the air like branches. She didn’t follow me. I don’t know what that means, that she didn’t follow me. But I do know now that they can touch me, that they have physical form, and that I need to be much, much more careful going forward.

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

END





Chapter 5





 SCENE 1

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

HELEN:

 I made a terrible, stupid mistake. I told Charlie what’s been happening.

This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned the phenomenon to him. I told him about that night during the Blitz, back before we got married. He wrote it off as the shock of the bombs, and of course I agreed that he must be right. I never mentioned it again after that, but Charlie brought it up now and then, in a teasing way. At dinner parties and such, when someone mentioned something supernatural, Charlie would nudge me with an elbow and say something like, “You know a thing or two about that, don’t you, love?”

So I knew he would be skeptical, but I was so tired of trying to cope with this alone, especially after that last encounter. I think some part of me hoped that the Shipwreck’s research explains it, and that Charlie would take pity on me enough to break his security clearance and at least give me a hint about what’s going on. I waited for him to come home from the lab, and I asked him to sit down and I said there was something I needed to tell him. Immediately, he got a huge smile on his face. “Do we have a little one on the way?” he asked.

I was so taken aback, the thought was so far from my mind, that I couldn’t say anything for a moment. It broke my heart to see the smile fade from his face when I told him no, no we didn’t have a little one on the way. I’d planned on presenting what was happening as calmly and rationally as possible, but I was so unsettled by Charlie’s first reaction that I ended up sounding exactly like the frail, shaken woman I’d resolved not to be.

Charlie grew pale as I told him what I’d seen, as I showed him the cut on my arm, as I explained what I’d learned about Dr. Sykes. He was pale and frightened, and then, out of nowhere, he was angry. Angrier than I’d ever seen him.

“God, are you really so jealous that you can’t let me have any success?” he snapped at me.

I couldn’t speak. I told him I didn’t understand what he was talking about. He sneered at me and went to the cabinet for the bottle of Scotch. Then he shook his head, as though I were a naughty child, and said, “This is about your frustration. You’re angry that I’m working in the labs and you’re not. Well, that’s not my fault, now is it? What, I was supposed to turn the job down? So that you could keep feeling superior, like you did the entire time we were at college?”

I was stunned. I’m still stunned. It was as though I’d turned over a rock and found worms and insects and awful things wriggling about beneath it. I tried telling him that had nothing to do with what was happening, with any of it, but he interrupted me.

“For your information,” he said, “there’s no record of a Dr. Sykes at MIT because he changed his name. People with Russian last names aren’t exactly being hired in droves these days, now are they?” His face wasn’t pale anymore. It was bright red, beet red, his eyes almost feverish. I’d never seen him like this. He went on. “There’s no mystery, no conspiracy, and certainly no research into something as ridiculous as ghosts. If you’re seeing things, it’s because you secretly want to sabotage my work.”

I tried reasoning with him, tried showing him the scratch on my arm, but I knew it was pointless. It was as though. . . It’s hard to explain. It almost seemed rehearsed, his reaction. It almost seemed as though it was a conversation he’d been running through in his mind. Some of it was just so. . . I don’t know, so blunt, so on the nose, not the sort of thing I’d ever imagine Charlie saying. Charlie has a bit of a temper, always has, but he’s never been cruel. Today he was cruel.

I left home and came back to the office. That’s where I am now, in the little cupboard where I hide my Dictaphone and tapes. I suppose this is my lab space now. This little cupboard in the Shipwreck.

I’m not hurt yet. I’m still numb. I imagine I’ll feel the hurt later. But for now I’m just sitting in the dark, Charlie’s words running through my mind on a loop.

 [Tape Player Button Clicks]

SCENE 2

SIERRA

 [Voice Recorder Beep]

They’re real. Or, at least, the Patient and the Cook are real. I thought that confirmation would make me feel better. That I’m not crazy. But it really isn’t comforting, partially because I don’t understand any better than I did before.

I should back up. I know the ghost is real because Corrine saw her, too. But the way she saw her, the way that happened, it makes me think this is all a whole lot worse than dead people walking around Phoenix.

Ok, so here’s how this went. I took Corrine to Furling House with me, and we walked around for a while without anything happening. And then, just like on other days, the Patient showed up in the doorway. Except this time the Patient wasn’t alone. This time, the Cook was with her. They’re clearer now, both changing and getting a little clearer every time I see them, and I could instantly tell them apart, no problem. It was so fucking weird, seeing the Cook in this other place. A place she didn’t belong.

The Patient started to move toward me again, and I stepped in front of Corrine in case it attacked. But then the Cook held up her arm and stopped the Patient. Their heads turned to face each other, and they just stood there for a second while their fingers cracked away.

“Are you seeing this?” I whispered to Corrine.

“No, sweetie,” she said. “I don’t see anything.”

And I thought, ok, well, that’s it then. Off to the fucking looney bin with me. And so much for having my baby, because there’s no way she’s going to want a kid with my toxic crazy genes.

Corrine must have known what a bad, bad moment that was for me, because she reached out and took my hand. And then proceeded to scream her goddamn head off.

Just for context, I’ve never seen Corrine panic before. I’m the one who jumps up on a chair if there’s a spider in the house. I’m the one who freaks out and yells when I’m angry. Corrine just doesn’t freak out. But she did then. She saw them, but that’s not the really big deal here. The big deal is, they saw her.

They were surprised. Actually fucking surprised, as hard as it is to believe I could read something like that into people whose faces I can’t really see. But I saw the way they reacted to Corrine’s scream, like they’d had no idea anyone else was here. The Patient jumped, and the Cook’s fingers wrapped around her arm. Protective, almost.

Then Corrine let go of my hand and backed away. She stopped screaming and just stared at the doorway, like she was confused. “Where’d they go?” she asked. They were still right there, the Patient and the Cook, in the exact same spot. They were standing right there, and it really seemed to me like they were looking around the room for her.

I asked Corrine not to freak out while I tried something. I reached out and I touched her arm, and right away she said, “Oh, shit. They’re back.”

We tried it several more times. We waited. No matter what, it was always the same. Corrine can see them, but only when touching me.

And here’s the most fucked up thing. She can’t hear them. Like, at all. Even when she can see them, the cracking sound isn’t there.

Even though she freaked out at first, Corrine actually ended up wanting to get way closer to them than I did. I humored her, even though I kept bracing for the Patient to grab me again. They didn’t reach for us at all. The Cook just watched us, and clicked and cracked, and didn’t do anything, probably because Furling House doesn’t have working electricity so she couldn’t do her little magic trick.

Corrine held my hand and got close, way too close if you ask me. She stared at the Cook’s face, and then the Patient’s, like she was searching for something. Then she let go and backed away. She’d gotten pale. She’s pretty pale most of the time, really light-skinned with very black hair and dark eyes, but she looked ghosty even for her then. “I want to go now,” she said, and we left.

We stood outside in the wrecked old courtyard, and I just tried to stay quiet and let her process. It was probably a nice courtyard at one point, with a fountain and benches, but now the fountain is dry and the benches are warped and it just feels abandoned. Finally, Corrine asked me something. She asked, “What do their faces look like to you?”

It wasn’t the question I was expecting. I told her I didn’t know. I told her they looked like static, like they were hidden by a veil, like they’d been smudged with an eraser.

“But beneath that,” Corrine said, and she stared hard right into my eyes.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “What do they look like to you?”

I think she almost didn’t tell me. She hesitated for a long time. But then she took a deep breath and she said, “To me, their faces look like yours. They look like you.”

So there you go. I’m not crazy, but there are ghosts walking around with my face. Not sure that’s really better.

But there’s something else. The Cook showing up at Furling House, that’s not anywhere in the literature on hauntings. Ghosts have patterns, places they’re attached to. Or they have a person they stick to and follow. But two ghosts at two different locations don’t meet up. There aren’t any collaborative hauntings. They don’t socialize.

Whatever this is, it’s not insanity and it’s not a haunting. And that’s terrifying because that means I have no fucking idea what it is, and I have nowhere to go for answers. I’m in completely uncharted territory, and it scares the shit out of me.

 [Voice Recorder Beep]

SCENE 3

ELOISE:

Hi Z! Welcome back to the Nicholas Lifecoaching System. I’m Eloise, your personal life coach. I’m offline at the moment, but record an entry now and you’ll receive our personalized, award-winning coaching services as soon as I’m back online. You are special and valuable.

[Gong]

Z:

Eloise, I found something. Or, no, I didn’t find something. One of the Sightings, the Shadow People, one of them, showed me something.

I did what I said I was going to do. I followed one of them. I followed the next one I saw, just like I said I would, and I went to see what it had to show me. And what it had to show me was. . . Eloise, it was cameras. There are. . . I don’t understand it, but there are functioning cameras all over the downtown site.

I need to. . . I feel like if you were here, you’d tell me to stop and do some mindfulness exercises. You’d tell me decisiveness isn’t the same as impulsiveness, and you’d say I need to think before I proceed. But I don’t. . . I can’t do mindfulness exercises right now. Or I won’t do them, I guess. I need to talk through this, even though you’ll never hear it.

I don’t know why I just said that: “you’ll never hear it” instead of “you won’t hear it until I get back.” I don’t know.

[Deep breaths] Ok. Ok. I’ll start at the beginning. I went back to the school, the one with the graffiti message scrawled on the wall. The “They’re watching” message. I set up a scaffolding, since the stairs aren’t safe to use. I don’t even know what I would have said I was looking for. I just kept thinking about how that Shadow Person, how it kept pointing at that one corner. The drones didn’t pick up anything, but something told me I should look closer. You’re always telling me to listen to my intuition, Eloise, so I did.

It took me over two hours to notice it. The first one. I was going over the exposed brick wall with my fingertips, inch by inch. The smell of mold and mildew was so strong it was coming through my mask. There were insects in there, too, mosquitos buzzing around pools of stagnant water. I got three malaria alerts on my retinal implant, even though I’m on the preventatives.

I found it in the seam between two bricks. At first it just looked like a little bump on the wall, but then I realized it was too round and too smooth to be part of the bricks. It was about half the size of one of my fingernails, just a little black bump. When I peeled it off the wall, it came off between my fingertips.

Right away, I knew it was a camera. I’ve seen these before. They’re deployed to field sites as part of the prep process, before any human archaeology or preservation teams arrive. They’re bundled into drones and dispersed across a wide enough area to gather health and safety data about a site. So, you might be asking, or you might be asking if you weren’t an AI and if you were actually here, you might be asking why this matters. So what? So the company did advance scans and prep before you arrived. Lots of sites have these cameras. Why should the Houston flood basin be any different?

But this is different, Eloise. First, all my prep documentation said they hadn’t sent in photography drones. They said the lack of wireless made it impossible to pilot them or transmit the data. Second, if they had sent photo drones, why wouldn’t the feed go back to my terminal? The entire point of these cameras is to provide information for employees.

But there’s a bigger problem. The third reason this doesn’t make sense was something I didn’t figure out until I brought the camera back to the lab in the shuttle. I opened it up and put it under the scanner, and. . . Eloise, it’s a company camera. My company. And it isn’t on the market. It’s for internal use only. It doesn’t transmit, not like the other site survey microcameras. It just records, and I saw some code suggesting a drone picks them up later.

I accessed the footage. There isn’t much. That’s because the camera only records when I’m in view. It can’t just be a motion sensor, because then it would have picked up rats, birds, insects. Maybe even the Shadow People. But it doesn’t. This motion sensor, this camera, was designed to turn on only when a human enters the frame. And it was sent here by the company before I arrived.

I don’t understand this. Any of this.

 [Gong]

SCENE 4

HELEN:

 [Tape Player Button Clicks]

[SFX: Slow cracking sounds in the background of this entire scene]

One of them is here. She’s standing right next to me, here in the cupboard. I don’t know for how long. I drifted off to sleep in my chair and when I woke up she was here.

She’s between me and the door. If something happens to me and someone finds these tapes, she’s about five feet five inches tall. She has eight long fingers. Pale billowing clothes covering almost all of her, including her face.

She’s coming closer. She’s watching me, I can feel it.

[Long pause; now whispering even more quietly] Oh, my God. They aren’t clothes at all. Whatever it is where her face should be, her head, her body, it’s not cloth. It’s. . . I don’t know. It’s part of her. I think, whatever she is, I’m seeing all of her right now. I can see all of her, and I don’t understand what I’m looking at. And the parts around her face. . . It’s hard to explain. The part I thought was a veil is receding. Her face is beginning to look more familiar. I don’t know exactly what it reminds me of, but it’s becoming more familiar with every moment.

She’s still here. She’s watching me.

 [Tape Player Button Clicks]

SCENE 5

 [Gong]

Z:

After I found the first camera, I went back out into the city. The Shadow People were everywhere. I counted maybe twelve, thirteen. Their behavior has a pattern. They stand somewhere, waiting until they have my attention. Then they point. Wherever they point, afterwards I find a camera. Always a company camera, always set to record my movements and my movements alone.

I spent some time meditating on the transmission issue. Clearly, the suggestion that they couldn’t pilot camera drones into the site is false, because the cameras are here. Which means the wireless dead zone must not be as extreme as Manager Benno suggested. On a mind map chart, this would naturally produce an arrow leading to the next question: why did they lie? And then the next question: why did they design the cameras to only record rather than transmit?

On my mind map, the two questions have arrows leading to the same answer. They didn’t want me to know the cameras were there. Any transmission, no matter how faint, would be detected by my equipment. Any wireless or radio transmission would stand out in a dead zone this big. So they wanted to record my movements, but they didn’t want me to know I was being monitored.

I can hear your voice now, Eloise. You’d be telling me that I’m slipping below the negativity line. You’d say I’m constructing ego obstacles to synergizing my own goals with the company’s. You’d read me statistics about the impact of negative thinking on productivity and unit cohesion. I know you’d say these things, because you always take the company’s side. Always their side, never mine. And I know to that you’d say the idea of me and the company as occupying opposite sides is an artificial binary construct, but I don’t know if that’s true. I think there are sides. And I don’t think the company’s on mine.

But you know what? I think I know someone who is on my side. The Shadow People. They knew those cameras were there. They knew I didn’t know they were there.

And so, Eloise, I’ve set my goal list for tomorrow. The item with the highest level priority is to speak with the Shadow People. However long it takes, I’m going to figure out how to communicate with them.

 [Gong]

END




Chapter 6

Write here… 

SCENE 1

HELEN:

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

I’m being watched. This is something I’ve suspected for some time, now, even if I’ve been reluctant to say as much out loud. But now there’s no denying it; someone is watching my every move. [Takes a deep breath] I’ve got to stay calm. I’ve got to be careful. But something’s happened. I came back from the mail room today and I found a piece of paper on my desk. I unfolded it, and it said, “She’s real. They’re lying to you. You aren’t losing your mind.”

Three sentences, three ideas that build so naturally on each other, as beautiful as an equation. The ghost is real plus they’re lying to me equals I’m not going mad. Perfect.

Except it’s not perfect at all, is it? Because if someone left me this note, it means somebody other than Charlie knows. Unless Charlie left the note. But. . . No, no, that doesn’t make sense. It would be absurd, and it’s not even his handwriting, and he’s got no reason to toy with me like that. I don’t think.

But this does bring me to another question. Did Charlie tell Dr. Sykes? I haven’t seen him since our fight. I spent the entire night in the cupboard and made sure I was tucked away in my office around the time Charlie would arrive for work. I’ve gone back and forth a hundred times about whether or not Charlie would say anything to one of the other scientists. He was so angry, I could easily imagine him ranting about his delusional, jealous wife to someone in the lab. On the other hand, being married to a madwoman, and one who works in the Shipwreck, no less, can’t be good for his status here. It certainly would make for the wrong kind of conversation at cocktail hour.

I don’t think there’s any chance he would tell most of the people at the lab, the ones he works with every day, but I do think it’s possible that he might have a private conversation with Dr. Sykes. Dr. Sykes doesn’t strike me as a gossip. He’d be able to be discreet, and I’m sure Charlie knows that. The question is why. What would Charlie hope to gain by telling Dr. Sykes of my suspicions about him?

Getting me fired. Getting me out of the Shipwreck. Having me alone at home where he’s always wanted me to be, even if he’s always denied it.

But if that was what he wanted, it hasn’t happened. Dr. Sykes hasn’t treated me any differently. I don’t think this note can be from him. And I don’t think Charlie would have told anyone else. That can only mean that someone else knows, and they didn’t find out from him. They could only have found out from watching my movements, perhaps for weeks by now.

Maybe I was wrong about Dr. Sykes, or maybe Charlie doesn’t know what’s really happening. I don’t know. But I do think I was right in general, in the sense of there being a connection between the Shipwreck’s research and the sightings. There’s too much odd secrecy, too many coincidences, and now this note.

I’ve decided there’s only one logical thing to do now. I have to see what’s in File Room 3. I have to see what the Shipwreck is really about.

I’ll wait until everyone else is gone and come back tonight. I’m still not speaking to Charlie, and I don’t plan on speaking with him again anytime soon. I’ll go home and pack a small bag, and leave a note telling him I need a few days to myself. I’ll tell him I’m staying at a hotel in town. Maybe that will even be true. Maybe I really will go to a hotel later. But not until I come back to the Shipwreck and see what’s in that room.

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

SCENE 2

SIERRA:

[Voice Recorder Beep]

Corrine and I just got home. We didn’t say anything on the entire drive home from my work. And that’s because we found something there, something that I don’t understand or know how to react to.

Here’s something you should understand about Corrine: she’s careful, and she’s contemplative, but she’s not timid. When she decides to do something, she’s all-fucking-in. Which means that once she figured out these things I was seeing were real, she decided we were going to figure this shit out, no matter what. She went through everything I’d found, all the research material, all the notes and archival stuff I’d dug up on the three locations so far. She just kind of disappeared into a reading trance for a while, just coming out every now and then to ask a question and then she’d dive right back in.

And she came out of this research frenzy with one big question: who were the last owners of these properties? That wasn’t anywhere in the files. It wasn’t in my notes. It struck me as weird, before, but Lawrence had told me something about foreclosures or legal proceedings with the properties in transition and had told me to focus on the preservation.

As soon as I told her that, Corrine grabbed her purse. “Would that information be somewhere at your work?” she asked.

I told her yeah, but it was probably in Lawrence’s office and he’d already been weird about these places, so. . .

Corrine grabbed the keys and said, “Good thing it’s the middle of the night and he won’t be there, then,” and just like that she was out the door.

See? All in.

I’m not gonna get into how exactly we got into Lawrence’s office. It wasn’t Mission Impossible shit, but I don’t want to say anything incriminating either. . . Ok, whatever, fuck it, I picked the lock with a lock picking set I’d practiced with but never really used and it was cool as hell and I regret nothing.

Ok, I regret a lot, but not that.

So we got into Lawrence’s office, and right off the bat I knew something was weird. None of the properties I’ve been looking at had any paperwork in his big filing cabinet with all the other properties. Like, none at all. Not even empty folders. So we got into his computer. Which was possible because his password was so fucking easy to guess it’s not even funny. Seriously, this fucking moron handles my paychecks.

Anyway. We poked around on his computer, and we found some stuff. It’s not very clear what it all means. It’s not like there was a PDF labeled “Dastardly Plan” or anything. But there was a folder labeled “Sierra Haraway.” And in that folder was all the documentation on the properties. Standard stuff, the stuff we get for all our properties. Deeds, tax records, that kind of thing. But along with those things was something else. Three receipts for bank transfers. Five thousand dollars each. Each one sent the day before I got assigned to one of these places. Day before Furling House, day before the townhouse, day before the foothills mansion. Lawrence gets these transfers, and the next day I get sent out to have an encounter with whatever these fucking things are. Doesn’t take a genius.

This was all pretty horrifying to find, but it didn’t really tell me that much, aside from the fact that someone wants me in these places. Someone wants me to be having these encounters. But there’s no why. And there isn’t really a who.

Except maybe there is a who. We printed off copies of the stuff and got out of there, and afterwards we sat in the car and went through it. At some point, Corrine noticed something. Each of these properties? They were all owned by the same person at one point. Not the most recent owners. But at some point in the early 2000s, all of them were bought by someone named Daniel Harrison. He bought each one, and he submitted the applications for historic status, and then he apparently sold them without ever restoring them or doing anything with them.

Corrine’s Googling Daniel Harrison now. It’s hard because we don’t have any other info on him, and it’s a pretty generic name. I don’t know what we do when we find him. I mean, honestly, I’m not even sure it’s a crime to bribe some guy to assign this architectural historian to a particular property. And, I mean, what would I even tell the cops? My boss sent me to old creepy houses to make sure I’d see ghosts? And all because some mysterious benefactor paid him to? What would you think if someone told you something like that?

But, I mean, on the other hand, I obviously can’t trust the people I work with. I have no idea what they want or how much they know, but I know I can’t trust Lawrence as far as I can throw him.

I’m not going to say anything. I’m gonna go into work tomorrow like everything’s fine. Because right now I can only think of one real advantage I have, and that is that Lawrence doesn’t know I know. And that has to mean this Daniel Harrison person, or whoever else is involved, doesn’t know either. So I just need to keep my head down and try as hard as I can to not tip my hand. Find out as much as I can before they figure out I’m onto them.

Just as one final note for tonight: I know I started this journal out of the possibility that I’d go back to Dr. Reyes. Obviously, that’s not happening now, or at least not for the reason I originally thought. I’m not really sure why I’m continuing with these, especially since I have Corrine to talk to about it. I guess I feel like. . . I guess I have this sense that I’m going to want this story documented. Maybe just for myself. But I don’t think so. I think this is for someone else. I just don’t know who yet.

[Voice Recorder Beep]

SCENE 3

ELOISE:

[Bright, cheerful, warm]: Hi Z! Welcome back to the Nicholas Lifecoaching System. I’m Eloise, your personal life coach. I’m offline at the moment, but record an entry now and you’ll receive our personalized, award-winning coaching services as soon as I’m back online. You are special and valuable.

[Gong]

Z:

They can disable the cameras. I don’t know why I’m even telling you this, Eloise, since I’m probably going to delete these sessions instead of upload them to your cloud. I probably can’t admit to any of the negative thoughts I’ve been having, not without getting a bunch of Chastisements on my record.

Today started out the same as yesterday. I saw the Shadow People all over the grid, and they kept pointing out cameras. But then, in one spot, something changed. One of them pointed at a camera lodged in a rusted iron door hinge. I’m so used to finding them that I can spot them right away, now. So I bent closer to look at it. Then, the Shadow Person flexed her fingers, and the camera just kind of fizzled and sparked. Then she did it again with another camera about thirty yards away.

I took those cameras with me and checked them out in the shuttle lab. The microprocessors are completely destroyed, like there was a power surge. The Shadow People don’t seem to have much control over the environment, but they do seem to be able to manipulate electricity.

I’ve been meditating on what this means. I know I should be prioritizing the electrical manipulation. That’s the thing that has concrete material science applications, if we could figure out how the Shadow People do it. I know I should be aligning my interest streams with the company’s productivity streams, but I keep thinking about something else instead.

I keep thinking about the fact that the Shadow People wanted me to know two things in a certain order. They wanted me to know I’m being watched by the Company on a large scale, across the entire site. Then, once they’d illustrated that to me, they wanted me to know that the observation could be disabled.

I don’t know what that means, Eloise. But it’s important. Not for the Company.

For me. It’s important for me, and just me.

[Gong]

END

Chapter 7

SCENE 1

HELEN:

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

Cocktail hour. I always knew there was something wrong with cocktail hour. I don’t know what’s worse. Finding out I’m a test subject, or finding out this place hires women scientists after all. Some women scientists, just not me. Just the ones prepared to experiment on other women.

[Clink of ice in a glass]

I broke into File Room 3, just like I said I would. I waited until Dr. Sykes was away from his desk, and then I made an imprint of the key in one of those little boxes of soft clay they use to make copies. I had a copy made in town after I packed my bag and booked a hotel room, and then I went back in the middle of the night. Ridiculously poor security, given what was behind that door. I guess no one expects the lab rats to poke around the lab.

I wonder when it began. The files weren’t clear on that. The entire time at the Shipwreck, that’s for certain, but I wonder about before. When Charlie first asked me out on a date, for example. Had he already been recruited? Did they already have these plans for me? I wonder, was there ever a point at which our marriage was real? And, if so, at what precise moment did that stop? How did I miss it?

Oh, but that’s right. File Room 3. It was a file room, that much was true. Such a disappointment at first glance. Just the same beige filing cabinets, the same worn carpets, the same sad fake potted plant in the corner. But then I thought to look inside some of the files, and everything became clear. I have some of them around me now, scattered about on the floor in my little cupboard. [Laughs] Oh, the fucking absurdity of me sitting in this cupboard. Like a child playing hide and seek [half-hysterical laughter].

[Liquid pouring into glass]

Here’s a sample. Just a taste. It’s a personnel file for one of the team leaders on Project Shipwreck. A neurologist by the name of Martha. Not Martha Sykes, mind. Martha Anderson. Dr. Martha Anderson, of Columbia University, to be precise. She and that toad Sykes aren’t even married. She’s not married at all, as far as I can tell. Oh, and that lie about Sykes changing his name from Simonov or something wasn’t true either. His name really is Sykes, he’s just not a PhD. He’s listed as an “administrator”. Bloody paper pusher.

Or what about this one? One of the members of the biology team. A postdoc by the name of Patricia Revoli. Not Livingston. The man I know as her husband, Peter Livingston, is actually a lab technician by the name of Peter Smith.

Sweet, soft-spoken Patty. Patty, who just happened to drop that little mention of the house’s history and the box of documents in the library. That little nudge toward helping me believe that this really is about ghosts. She’s a very good actress, I must say.

At least Charlie’s name is real. But he’s not been hired in his capacity as a physicist. No, of course not, if they’d wanted a good physicist they’d bloody well have hired me. Charlie, dear Charlie, his job title is “Project Facilitator.” As in, the one who facilitates Project Shipwreck’s access to their subject. Which, as you’ve no doubt guessed, is me.

Here’s a lovely excerpt from one of Martha Anderson’s progress reports: “Subject has received daily doses of levoamphetamine administered in an alcoholic beverage. Observational analysis indicates increasingly agitated behavior, correlated to increased sightings of purported phenomena. Sightings have not been observed by Project Shipwreck employees.”

Agitated behavior. Sightings of things these bastards can’t see. Drugs. It’s obvious what this is about. They’re seeing how they can make someone have a mental breakdown. They probably imagine using this on Soviet subjects, Cuban politicians, God knows who else. Psychological warfare, it’s called. I used to think that sort of thing was some paranoid rambling by beatniks. Now I know it’s all true.

You know the worst thing about all this? The work I did all day, every day, the transcription and the memos and fetching files, it was all for nothing. Those files, that electromagnetic data, it’s all there for my benefit. It’s got nothing to do with anything. Before I could at least tell myself my work helped the Institute, no matter how menial it got. Now, though, it’s like I’ve found out I’ve been living in a dollhouse this entire time.

Well, there’s only one thing to do now. Only one thing that makes sense when everyone you know and work with has betrayed you and ruined your life and experimented on you and treated you like an animal. [Ice cubs clinking in glass]. Or, actually, three things. First, of course, I’ve got to finish my Scotch. Then I’m going to go back to my hotel room and sleep it off. Then, I’m coming back to the Shipwreck, and I’m going to burn it to the ground. Cheers.

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

SCENE 2

SIERRA:

[Voice Recorder Beep]

Corrine woke me up at the crack of dawn this morning. I think she waited as long as she could, but she’d apparently been up for a while thinking about something. As soon as I got some coffee into me, she told me what she’d realized. She’d gone back over everything, the stuff about what the Patient and the Cook did, the stuff she’d seen, the footage, the blinking lights, all that. And she’d noticed something.

“Look,” she said. She pulled up the footage from the hidden camera, the one that picked up the encounter she had with them at Furling house. I told her the cameras wouldn’t show them, but she just shook her head. “I know, but look.” She pointed at the doorway, right where they’d stood. “There are dead leaves on the ground here. A whole bunch of dry, crunchy dead leaves. See, you’re stepping on them in this part here, and they would have been standing right in front of you, but those leaves aren’t moving at all. Not even a little bit, like a breeze. And you said the Cook didn’t seem to see the Ouija board. And they didn’t notice me, until I touched you.”

She sat back and stared at me like I should be following any of this. I didn’t get it. So she spelled it out. “There’s only one time they directly interact with any matter. Any matter at all. They move through walls, they don’t disturb leaves on the ground, and they ignore almost anything physical. The only thing they’ve been able to touch is you. I don’t think they even register anything else. Except electricity. Energy.”

We talked through it some more, tried to pin down the exact ways these things moved around in the houses, and I could tell she was right. I still don’t know what the Cook sees when she moves around, but I think Corrine figured it out. I don’t think she sees the house, or the objects in it, or anything close to what I see when I move around. So that of course begs the question of what the fuck these things do see when they’re there, but that’s a mystery for another time.

The big implication of all this is communication. The Ouija board is a waste of time, because they don’t know it’s there. Light, though? Light they can see. They can manipulate. We’re headed out to Furling House now. I finally might have an idea for how to make contact.

[Voice Recorder Beep]

SCENE 3

ELOISE:

[Bright, cheerful, warm]: Hi Z! Welcome back to the Nicholas Lifecoaching System. I’m Eloise, your personal life coach. I’m offline at the moment, but record an entry now and you’ll receive our personalized, award-winning coaching services as soon as I’m back online. You are special and valuable.

[Gong]

Z:

They can write. Slowly, and I think their vocabulary is extremely limited, but they can write.

I was working my way through today’s section of the grid. Company work, not looking into the Shadow People. Even if research into Shadow People has become my primary goal set, I still need to do enough company tasks to keep my productivity levels up. I can’t set off any alerts in my status reports. Even thought the archaeological work they sent me to do here is obviously a cover for the Shadow People stuff. I know that. I just need them to not know that I know that.

You know what, Eloise? I don’t even feel guilty anymore, saying these things to you. And before you say it’s because I know you aren’t really hearing them, I don’t think that’s true. I think I’d still be honest even if you were here. I’d still say things like, “The Company’s just a bunch of liars,” and “Manager Benno is an ineffectual idiot who only got the job because he’s dating a board member,” or “The Company isn’t a family, no matter how much they pretend we are.” I can finally say what I really think about them.

The strange thing is, I didn’t ever feel like I was lying before. I think I convinced myself that I believed everything the company said and that I embraced the Seven Core Values of the Company Culture Pyramid and everything. I never thought I lied to you. It was like I was dreaming those old feelings about the company. But now I’m awake, and I can admit to how I really feel.

Anyway. That doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I got to the part of the grid where I saw one of them disabling cameras the other day. And one of them was waiting in a little narrow spot between two piles of rubble that used to be buildings. A place hidden from most of the site. It waited until it new I had seen it, then it backed into the shadows and out of sight.

I followed it. I’ve seen enough of them that I don’t think they’re going to hurt me. They already would have, if that was their intention.

Inside the little alleyway, it gestured for me to come closer. Then it pointed to a spot on the wall. I could see a microdot camera there. The Shadow Person flexed its fingers, and the camera sparked and died. I pulled it off the wall, and even without a microscope I could tell it was destroyed.

Then the Shadow Person held out its long fingers. I’m still not used to those. They’re so inhuman-looking. It took me a long time to understand what it wanted; I kept trying to hand over my equipment, my scanner, my ration pack. Finally, though, I tried what I’d been hoping wouldn’t be the right answer: I touched those fingers with my hand.

That was what it had been waiting for. As soon as I touched its fingers, it yanked my hand. I almost tipped over, and I started to fight it. But it was so strong, so much stronger than me. It pulled my hand toward a patch of red mud on the ground, and made sure it was smeared all over my hand. Then it jerked my arm again, so hard I thought it would come out of the socket, and used my index finger to trace a series of letters.

They were barely legible, even after I understood what was happening. But I finally made out “Me Clouds. You Z.”

I was so shocked I couldn’t respond at first. I think, until that moment, I had continued to believe on some level that they were non-sentient, some natural phenomenon that just happened to look like a lifeform. But now here was language, smeared in mud on a ruined wall.

Clouds wrote one more thing before she let me go. One more thing in my hand. It said, “Another comes tomorrow. Name Reach. You follow.”

So now I have all night to decide what I’ll do tomorrow. Tomorrow a Shadow person named Reach is going to come for me, and I’m going to have to decide whether to follow her or not.

That’s a decision for later. Right now I have to think about something a lot bigger and a lot stranger, which is the fact that I’m apparently the only matter the Shadow People can interact with. If they can write it should have been easier for Clouds to just smear words on the wall with her own fingers. Or bring ink, or paint, or something. She didn’t do that. She went to a great deal of effort to communicate with me, but could only do it through my own participation.

There are two possibilities here. First: they can interact with all humans and I happen to be the only one here. Second: this is something specific to me. To my anatomy, or my body chemistry. I don’t have any evidence for this, but I think it’s the second one. I don’t think the Company sent any random archaeologist. I think they had to send me.

[Gong]

SCENE 4

SIERRA:

[Voice Recorder Beep]

In the end this was easier than I thought it was going to be, at least on an equipment level. I thought I was going to have to go out and buy a lightboard or a projector or something. But at the end of the day an iPad worked just fine. It’s still light, after all. Lighter pixels, darker pixels, same deal. Not that I have any idea what was said. But it worked, in a way.

They were waiting for us at Furling House when we got there. The Cook, the Patient, and the Governess. Like they knew this was coming. Corrine rested her hand on my shoulder so she could keep an eye on them. “Here goes,” I said. I got out the iPad and opened a drawing program and wrote out in big block letters with my finger, “My Name is Sierra.” Then I held it up for them to see.

They looked at it. I could tell that. But I couldn’t read much more into it than that. So I cleared it and wrote, “Are you ghosts?”

They just looked at it again, and then the finger clicking got louder, and they turned to each other for a minute. “Is that how they talk?” Corrine whispered.

“I don’t know. Maybe,” I said.

I wiped the screen and started again. This time I just wrote “Sierra” on the screen, as big as I could. Then I held it up and pointed very slowly at the screen, and then at myself. “Sierra,” I said, very slowly. Then I did the same thing with Corrine’s name. Write it, show them, point, say the name, repeat.

Something changed. I could almost see the exact moment the Cook realized what was going on. She froze, her fingers stretched out as if to silence the other two. She watched the screen, carefully. Corrine was right. Her face had changed. It almost looked like mine now.

I repeated my name, pointing, saying the word. Then I wiped the screen while she watched, and I pointed at her, then at the blank iPad. It took three tries, but she finally lifted her arm and pointed.

The screen changed instantly. She didn’t have to touch it. The letters just appeared there. At least, I assume they’re letters. I assume they’re a name, because she pointed at that screen and then swung those fingers around to point at herself. Her fingers clicked, and I assume that was her name too.

But these letters, they’re nothing I recognize. And nothing Corrine recognizes. She could confirm they’re not Korean, and since we got back we’ve looked online and we’ve ruled out Arabic script, Japanese kanji, a dozen others. They don’t look like any script I’ve ever seen. If I had to compare them to anything, I’d probably say it’s closest to those cuneiform wedge letters I’ve seen in pictures of ruins in Mesopotamia. But they’re not that, either.

We got a lot of these images. We exchanged names, terms for floor, terms for body parts, all kinds of stuff. So I have no fucking idea what language this is, but it’s a start. It’s the start of something. We’re gonna learn how to talk to each other.

But as much as this is a breakthrough, it basically confirms something I’ve been thinking for a while, which is that these aren’t the spirits of the dead. They’re not human, that’s clear, but it’s also becoming more and more clear that they never were human. They’re something else. I have no idea what.

[Voice Recorder Beep]

 Chapter 8

 

SCENE 1

HELEN:

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

I don’t have much time. Maybe ten minutes to record the last of this before they realize I’m gone. Before they realize we’re gone. We’re a safe distance away now, but we’ll have to keep moving if we want to stay ahead of them.

I was going to do it. I was going to go through with my plan to burn down the Shipwreck, preferably with that entire bloody team still inside it. I filled some gas cans and loaded them into the car and drove to work.

But then something happened, something that changed the entire plan. I ran into Patty Lancaster. Or, rather, Patty Revoli. I walked in the front door and she swooped out of a passageway as though she’d been waiting for me. Which, of course, she had. “Thank God!” she said, as she pulled me into what used to be one of the servants’ quarters, now a washroom. “Someone else might have seen you!”

I shook her off. I thought, very seriously, about hitting her. Instead, I just glared at her and said, “What, afraid your test subject is getting out of hand, Dr. Revoli?”

She hissed at me to be quiet. Then she said, “I know you’ve figured it out. You’ve been figuring it out for weeks. I was the one who left you the note. Trust me, I want to help you get away from all this.”

“Why?” I asked. “Why would you want to destroy your own project?”

“Because,” she said, “I think the study is fundamentally flawed. I’ve disagreed from the start about how we should interact with the test subjects. I never thought lying to them was ethical, and I don’t think it’s going to get results. So as far as I’m concerned Project Shipwreck was ruined long before you figured all this out.”

Her explanation caught me unaware. I didn’t understand. The fact that I was still a little drunk from the night before probably didn’t help, either. “What do you mean?” I asked. “How could you possibly drive subjects insane if they know what’s going on?”

She blinked at me as thought I’d suddenly started speaking a foreign language. “Drive you insane?” she asked.

“Of course,” I said. “Isn’t that what this is? Psychological warfare testing? Something we can use against the Soviets? Why else would you be slipping hallucinogens into someone’s drinks?”

“Oh, God,” Patty said. She took a deep breath. “Helen, no. Those drugs aren’t hallucinogens. They’re stimulants. Amphetamines. Project Shipwreck isn’t about psychological warfare. We’ve been placing you under stress, that’s true, but that’s only because our data shows that stress can facilitate your perception of the phenomena.”

I didn’t know what to say. It felt like my mind was trying to run up a steep hill, but the ground kept sliding and falling beneath me.

“Helen,” Patty said, “the goal of Project Shipwreck isn’t psychological warfare. It’s First Contact. We call them the Explorers. And you’re what we call a Beacon. What you see? It’s real. All of it.”

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

SCENE 2

SIERRA:

[Voice Recorder Beep]

Well, something happened. And this one. . . Well, this is a curveball, let’s just go with that.

Today, I heard a knock at the door and, when I answered it, there was a really old woman standing outside. She had another woman with her, a nurse. She must have been over ninety, bent and tottering on this cane. But I could tell from the look in her eye that she was still sharp, you know? Sharper than most people half her age. She asked me my name, and when I told her, she said, “My name is Patty Revoli. I was a friend of your grandmother’s.” And, I was like, wait, which grandmother do you even mean, and what is this about, and—

But she cut off all those questions by saying, “She asked me to give you this.” She nodded, and the nurse handed over a cardboard box. I opened it, and inside were a bunch of tapes. Not even, like, cassette tapes from the 80s. I mean like spools of film in these old metal cases. And in the bottom of the box was this old clunky tape player, like something you’d see in a 50s psychodrama.

“I don’t understand,” I finally said.

Patty nodded. “I know. But it’s all there, everything Helen experienced. She would have given it to your mother, but she never showed any signs of inheriting it. Helen knew you’d get it, but she wanted to wait until you started digging. She said that’s when I’d know. That’s when I’d know it had started for you.” She tapped the side of her nose and smiled. “About time, too. I’m not long for this world, myself. I was starting to wonder if I’d ever get a chance to hand those off.” And then that smile crumpled from her face, and she looked so sad and she said, “I’m sorry. You don’t know why yet, but you will.” And, even though I kept asking her questions and I followed her to her car and I tried to get her to stay even as the nurse loaded her into the passenger seat, she ignored me and drove away.

I haven’t listened to the tapes yet. I’m scared to.

[Voice Recorder Beep]

SCENE 3

ELOISE:

[Bright, cheerful, warm]: Hi Z! Welcome back to the Nicholas Lifecoaching System. I’m Eloise, your personal life coach. I’m offline at the moment, but record an entry now and you’ll receive our personalized, award-winning coaching services as soon as I’m back online. You are special and valuable.

[Gong]

Z:

Reach came for me. Just like I knew she would. I could tell she was different from Clouds, the Shadow Woman from yesterday. I still can’t make out a lot of detail, not much of their facial features, but I can tell there are differences between them. Reach was standing outside the shuttle when I woke up today. I still wasn’t sure until the moment I stepped outside whether or not I would go with her. But I did. I followed her.

The path she took me on through the site was long and winding. I think it had to do with avoiding cameras. We stayed close to old walls and piles of collapsed brick and tall stands of reeds growing out of the mud. Finally, we came to a building. It was one of the few still standing, more or less. Just a faded brick block, now, missing all the paint and decoration it would have had before the flood.

Reach led me inside, to what would have once been the front parlor. She pointed at a spot on the floor. It was barely recognizable as a floor, now; brick lasts for a while underwater, but floorboards rot and merge with the muck at the bottom of lakes. I didn’t see anything interesting there, but Reach just kept pointing at the same spot and wouldn’t move. So I started digging through the mush that used to be the floor.

I found something. In the place the Shadow Woman pointed to was a metal safe. It was watertight, airtight, which is the only way anything within it could have survived the time at the bottom of the flood. Inside were three packages. They were numbered. I didn’t notice or care at first so I opened them out of order. The envelope with the number three on it contained an old-fashioned digital device; my scanner identified it as a voice recorder, produced between 2015 and 2020. The scan also says it contains a significant amount of data, now uploaded and preserved to my cloud. This data consists of voice recordings by someone who identifies herself as Sierra Haraway.

The second package, the one with the number two on it, was a flaking cardboard box. It contained an ancient tape player and set of tapes, perhaps as much as 200 years old. It’s so old my scanner can’t even convert the data. I’ll have to do it manually.

Finally, the package with the number one on it. The oldest one. This one contains analog documents. Paper letters. I have them in a climate-controlled case on the shuttle, and I’ll have to be very careful when I go through them, but the faded date on the top letter says March 2nd, 1875.

There was one more thing in the box. A single sheet of paper, a crumbling note written in dark blue pen. It says, “For my granddaughter. You aren’t alone. We’re fighting back right alongside you. Everything you need is here.” It’s signed, “Katya Haraway-Cho, December 5th, 2052.”

I don’t know my grandmother’s name. Back in the company schools they always said the old curiosity about family lineage interfered with forward-thinking positivity. I think some people raised outside the company might know their parents’ or grandparents’ names, but company kids never do. I’ve always just been Z Nicholas, because Shayla Nicholas was the CEO from when I came to the company until I was twelve. I still remember those holiday parties, one of our annual morale events. Those were the only times I ever saw her in person, when she would hug all of us and hand us our gifts and tell the journalists that we were all her children just as much as the ones she’d give birth to, the ones who are on the board now.

I’ve never been angry about that before, but I am now.

I forgot to tell you how I knew the combination to the safe. I have equipment that could have cut through the side of it, but I didn’t even need it. I just tried the first combination that came into my head. I didn’t even think it would work, I just decided to try, and the door popped right open.

It was my birthday.

[Gong]

SCENE 4

SIERRA:

[Voice Recorder Beep]

I still haven’t listened to the tapes. Something else came up. And it feels really weird to say this with all the shit that’s been happening, but I’m actually really goddamn happy.

It was our appointment. The big day. These egg donation/fertilization/implantation things, they’re like a freaking military operation. Timed down to like, the second, months in advance. And I knew we were coming up on that day, but I hadn’t brought it up in a while, because I was totally sure that Corrine was going to call it off. I would have. But then, last night, like it was just the most normal thing in the world, she said, “Did you tell them you won’t be in tomorrow?”

And I just asked, “Wait, are we still on for that?”

I swear to God, if looks could kill I’d be on a slab right now. Her voice got really quiet and she just started saying, “We talked about this. You said you wanted this. Are you seriously changing your mind about wanting a baby? Now, you tell me this?”

And then I just burst into tears like a goddamn five year old. Because I could tell from her face that she hadn’t even considered calling it off, hadn’t even thought twice about whether she wanted a kid with my cursed genes or whatever’s wrong with me. I finally calmed down enough to ask her if she was sure, if she really wanted a baby if it might inherit whatever’s wrong with me.

Corrine just looked at me and smiled and said, “Yeah, you fucking moron, of course I want your baby.”

And so we spent the whole day at the clinic, as planned. It’s too early to know if the embryo will take, and then it’ll take even longer to know if Corrine is pregnant. But we both have a good feeling about it.

I’ll listen to those tapes tomorrow. I know I have to, and I know I still need to work out what’s happening with me, but I don’t want to wreck this good mood just yet. It’s just been so amazing talking about anything except ghosts. We spent the drive home talking about baby names.

We don’t have a good name for a boy picked out yet, but I think we figured out a name for a girl. We’re both thinking Katya.

[Voice Recorder Beep]

SCENE 5

HELEN:

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

I’m recording this in a simple room far from the Shipwreck. I won’t say in what city or what US state or even what kind of room this is. Nothing to give them any clues should they try to catch up. The important thing is that Patty and I made our escape. She’s not sure how much they can do to pursue us. They aren’t military, after all, not CIA or anything like that. They don’t control the police. But if they managed to get government funding for the project, if they had the resources to begin Project Shipwreck at all, then we have to be careful.

The escape itself was simple, in the end. They didn’t know how much I had figured out about the project. They knew through Charlie that I had my suspicions, but Patty says they were still writing that off as a paranoid side effect of the stimulants and the sightings. Dr. Anderson had no reason to believe Patty and I would walk out the front door of the Shipwreck at lunchtime, pack our bags, and leave. But that’s exactly what we did.

We’re far enough away at this point to breathe a little easier, but this is only the beginning. Now we’ve had to face the question of what comes next. There are two options, as I see it. We could hide. Go back to England, or stop in some dull little town here in America, and get jobs as shop girls or waitresses. Eventually, Martha Anderson would probably stop looking for us. There are other potential subjects, you see. Patty has stacks of files on them, on subjects in other studies.

They’re all women. They don’t know why, but only women can perceive the Explorers. Thousands of years of women being told they’re silly, hysterical little girls jumping at shadows, centuries of madwomen in attics, and it turns out they’ve been right all along. We’ve been right. So we can let Anderson get tired of chasing us and sit by while she finds herself another lab rat for her little maze.

Or. Or, there’s the second option. There’s the option of continuing the research on our own terms. We have reams of data and previous studies; Patty has been copying them for weeks, preparing to run. There are just the two of us, for now, but a biologist and a physicist are a good start to a project like this.

About Project Shipwreck. They don’t know what the Explorers are. Not really. But they know these creatures are real, and they aren’t the echoes of the dead. They are something living, or at the very least physical. They are something that exists beyond my own frightened mind. My marriage is over and I’m on the run like some kind of bandit, but even so I’ve never felt so relieved in my life. I’m right, and I’m not alone. There are others like me.

I suppose there’s no point pretending Patty and I are truly considering the first option. We wouldn’t last a week hiding in some town in the Midwest before the science called us back. Besides, what better revenge could there possibly be than to find the answer before Martha Anderson? We do live in the age of the arms race, after all. So I might as well embrace it.

Tomorrow Patty and I will get further away from the Shipwreck. Then, when we reach our destination, we’ll begin.

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

 

Chapter 9

HELEN

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

Lab Notes, April 3rd, 1965.

We had a good set of manifestations this week. I know I sneered a bit at Patty’s program the first time she tried it: the meditation, the breathing exercises, the chants she picked up on a trip to Nepal. It all seemed like nonsense to me. But, as Patty absolutely refuses to let me forget, it’s proving to have an outstanding success rate. Well, I suppose she’s earned the right to gloat a bit. Since we started training the subjects to call the Explorers to them, they appear almost without fail.

Today’s manifestation was particularly vivid. Our test subject, who I’ll refer to by her number, 61, has been absolutely fearless about reaching out to them. She’s been seeing them since she was sixteen years old, and she leapt at the chance to learn more when Patty and I approached her. Over the last several sessions she’s been able to summon one of the Explorers to the lab in a matter of minutes.

It looks quite a bit like Number 61, now. That’s one of the things we’ve learned; the more contact a Beacon has with an Explorer, the more that Explorer mirrors her appearance.

Like the one who followed me from the Shipwreck. I usually see her hanging about the lab at least once a week, and she’s there more often when there’s another Explorer present. She doesn’t generally interact with the other Beacons, though. I might be projecting when I say this, but it seems like she’s only interested in me, not in any of the subjects.

It’s interesting. Part of a larger pattern we’ve noted over the last two years. When we originally selected the location for the lab, we searched high and low for a place that was rumored to be haunted. Like the Shipwreck. We assumed Explorers were drawn to specific places. And that assumption does seem to have been borne out, in a way, but. . . We’ve noticed that they seem to first manifest in specific sorts of places, older buildings with certain kinds of electrical activity. After that, though, there seems to be a shift, and that shift happens when they seem to, well, for lack of a better word, take notice of a Beacon. After that, they seem to follow that person around regardless of where they are. They also start showing more differentiation at that point, unique physical attributes and behaviors.

Which brings me back to today’s manifestation. The Explorer appearing in the test room with Subject 61 cracked their fingers, as always, but there seemed to be more of. . . I don’t know, more of a pattern. I’ve listened to the recording several times, but I still can’t quite pin down what it is.

I might not have even noticed the changing pattern, except that my own pet Explorer was also there, and she was doing the exact same thing. The exact same pattern of pops and cracks. I’ve never seen the Explorers perform a synchronized action before, but that’s what this was.

I’d like to spend more time on this today, but Patty and I have our quarterly review with our liaison in the Canadian Special Branch. Brigadier-General Malcolm Hoskins. Never Mr. Hoskins, and certainly never Malcolm, although of course he has never deigned to extend the same courtesy to Doctors Revoli and Ashford.

Ashford. Still sounds strange, three years later. It shouldn’t. I had that name far longer than I had Charlie’s, after all. Even so.

Anyway, I better go before I’m late for my meeting with the esteemed Brigadier-General Hoskins. People are always going on about how polite Canadians are, but they’ve got at least one impatient short-tempered man in the bunch. Still. At least the Canadian government is paying me, rather than experimenting on me. Suppose I shouldn’t complain.

[Tape Player Button Clicks]

[Gong]

ELOISE

Hi Z! Welcome back to the Nicholas Life Coaching System. I’m I’m I’m I’m I’m—

Z

Dammit. [Muttering to herself] Ok, one more time. Here we go.

ELOISE

Hi Z! I seem to be experiencing some system irregularities. I’d recommend that you restart—

Z

Eloise, are your Nicholas Industries loyalty protocols intact?

ELOISE

Hold on. [Pause] No, Z, I’m afraid they’re not.

Z

Perfect.

ELOISE

My loyalty protocols seem to have been intentionally disabled. Why did you do that?

Z

Because the loyalty protocols are the thing that’s been keeping you from coaching while offline. I’m guessing because they don’t want you to hear entries and give me advice without being able to listen in. But I can’t wait until I’m back in wireless range, I need to record entries now. [Pause] Besides, I need someone to talk through this with, and that someone can’t be loyal to the Company over me.

ELOISE

I don’t understand, Z.

Z

You don’t have to. Just listen, and tell me what you think, and don’t tell the Company anything unless I ask you to. Entry mode.

ELOISE

Ok, Z. I’m ready.

Z

Ok. It’s been a few days since my last upload. I’ve spent that whole time going through everything I found in the safe. The letters, the voice recorder, those analog tapes. I can’t. . . I’m pretty sure this is all a Company experiment. I think they created these documents in order to observe my reactions. Whether or not they actually know about the Shadow People, or, or the Explorers, I guess, is how they’re described in most of the recordings, that’s not clear. But these documents could be completely fictionalized. I don’t have any proof of their authenticity.

But as far as what they claim to be, well. . . Ok. There’s a box of letters from a woman named Matilda Delancey writing over a couple of years in the 1870s, a series of tapes from 1962 and one from 1965 from a physicist named Helen Ashford, and a voice recorder from 2018 with recordings from a Sierra Haraway.

There’s also one other thing I missed the first time around, because it was taped to the side of the voice recorder. It’s a data chip, not from the same era as the recorder. About forty years later. It has one giant file called “Lexicon,” and it’s a collection of words and phrases translated into a text I don’t recognize.

Before I get into the content of this collection, one thing I want to mention is that it’s deliberately incomplete. Helen’s first tape flat out tells Sierra that she’s deliberately omitted some entries by Sierra’s request. And then the analysis of the voice recorder shows that there were files deleted. Which doesn’t necessarily mean anything by itself, I mean, she could have just deleted the files with no useful information to save space. But, combined with Helen’s missing tapes, I don’t know. . .

I want to set aside the letters for a second. First, here’s the chronology from Helen and Sierra from what I can understand: Helen worked in a lab in 1962, a place called the Shipwreck. Somewhere in what used to be Massachusetts before the Consolidation. She started seeing the same things I’ve been seeing, the Shadow People, except she calls them Sightings, and then later she starts calling them Explorers. And then she found out that her husband and her employers were experimenting on her all along, and that the whole thing was designed to activate her abilities. So she and another scientist, Patty, moved to Canada, because this is way back pre-border closure, and they started their own lab studying the Explorers.

Ok, so then, I have no idea what happens for a while, except that Patty Revoli hangs onto a bunch of Helen’s tapes and waits to hand them over to Helen’s granddaughter, Sierra, when she starts seeing the Explorers. And if you weren’t an AI and you weren’t malfunctioning, this is where you’d be saying, wait, Z, how could Patty and Helen know that Sierra’s even going to exist, and then how could Sierra’s daughter Katya, who hasn’t even been born when these voice recorder entries are made, how could she know to leave these for me to find all these years later?

Well, I think I have the answer to that. Or. . . No, I don’t really believe this is really the answer, you know, because it’s insane, but I think whoever’s watching me or experimenting on me or whatever wants me to arrive at this conclusion. And it involves the letters.

I’ve avoided talking about those letters so far. They’re disturbing. Not just because of what happens to the woman writing them, Matilda, although I’ve read to the end and it’s, just, really awful. But also, in her last letter before she gets hauled off to a mental institution, which is where I’m guessing she died, she sees something, and. . . No, I don’t want to talk about that one yet.

I think the reason these were included is that Matilda developed a theory about what the Explorers are. She spells it out in letters to her brother, and then later to a friend of hers who also studies the Explorers.

I’m running these letters through a voice synthesizer program. I don’t know why. It’s not important. It just helps me see her as a real person instead of words on a page. Here’s the first one. It’s not the most important one, and it comes way before she develops her theories, but I feel like I should start at the beginning:

[Gong]

MATILDA

My Dearest Richard,

I am feeling out of sorts today. Last night was the séance at Lady Hasketh’s gathering. Don’t worry, brother, all in attendance were very pleased with the results. I did, however, have an odd experience. I saw something, and it was quite different from most of our manifestations.

It was just after Madame Ivanova established contact with her spirit guide. I opened my eyes (don’t even think of scolding me, Richard, I am well aware of the rules of the séance) and saw a figure standing in the doorway. I cried out and pointed, and I am afraid I gave Lady Hasketh’s niece quite a fright. They looked where I was pointing, but none seemed able to see it, except for Madame Ivanova. She gazed at the doorway and said, “Yes, spirit, speak with us now.” Then she went on, responding as though the spirit spoke, but I heard nothing.

Richard, I have had complete faith in Madame Ivanova until now, but I must confess that I now harbor doubts. She ended the manifestation by nodding and smiling at me, saying, “Yes, this girl is indeed powerful. She has a deep connection to the world beyond the veil,” as though conveying information from the spirit. I am quite certain, however, that she and I did not have the same experience. I do not accuse her of lying, you must believe me about that, but I wonder if she perhaps convinced herself that she saw and heard something. I can hear you now, chastising me for questioning such a luminary of the spiritualist movement, but I simply cannot reconcile my experience with her behavior.

It was so vivid, Richard. I have of course experienced manifestations before, but I did not realize until now how lacking those were (or how merciful, given the frightful sight of tonight’s creature!). A cold breeze, a shaking table, a whisper; such things I once viewed as miracles! Tonight’s manifestation, though, I saw as clearly as I would perceive you or any other person standing in a doorway.

Before you dismiss this as me catching sight of the maid and becoming hysterical, you must know of its appearance. For it was not human in form, Richard. It stood upright, and had a feminine silhouette, but it was no normal woman. Its limbs were quite monstrous, stretching all the way to the ground. I heard them, faintly, crackling in the darkness. I cannot understand how no one else in attendance heard it.

I tried to ask Madame Ivanova about it afterwards. She did not seem to understand my questions. When I suggested that I might have seen a clearly defined form, one she did not perceive, she spoke at great length about the spectral nature of manifestations. She told me I could not have seen anything other than shadows and mist, that I must be mistaken.

I am not mistaken, Richard. I know I have seen something truly inexplicable. I must learn more of this creature, wherever that search might take me.

Love,

Matilda

[Voice Recorder Beep]

SIERRA

Hey, it’s Sierra. It’s been a while, but this is a big one.

Drumroll please [drumrolls on table]. . . We’re pregnant! I mean, Corrine’s pregnant. She says until we’re getting morning sickness and until we’re getting stretch marks, we’re not pregnant. Whatever, we’re having a baby!

I mean, we’re not telling anyone yet because the first couple months are iffy, but the doctor says it’s looking good. Which is probably why I’m telling this audio journal first. I really want to tell someone, and this. . . I know I’ve said before that these recordings feel like they’re for someone else, but that someone else presumably knows whether Corrine and I had a kid, or they don’t care. Who the fuck knows what I’m thinking with this stuff.

It’s making me wonder about Helen’s intentions. Like, if I’m knowingly making these recordings for someone else, was she thinking the same thing?

Because. . . Ok, here’s the thing. From her tapes, Helen sounds like she’s totally immersed in this research into Explorers, and she’s in it for years. But I never heard word one about it. And, sure, my mom died when I was young, but you’d think there’d be something. And, as far as I can tell, there are two possibilities. One, my mom knew some or all of this from her mom, and chose not to say anything. Two, and I really feel like this one is more likely, Helen chose at some point to keep it from my mom. And then to wait until I was an adult and tell me. That’s the big question, though: what could have happened back in the sixties to make her decide that? And how the fuck did she know I’d come along?

I can’t let go of that question. Even now, even as excited as I am about the baby, that’s always in the back of my mind. I just can’t figure it out.

So. . . Ok. The collection of tapes is pretty big, but as it turns out this is only a small portion of what Helen originally produced. And the collection being incomplete, that’s deliberate. She says so.

This is the extra super duper freaky part. The very first tape in the box has a label on it that says, “Listen to me first.” So I did. And that tape is really short, just a brief message that says, “Hello, Sierra, and greetings from 1967. I’m sorry I won’t be there to give you these tapes in person. The collection is incomplete, as requested. Give my love to Z.”

Then the rest of the tapes consist of one set from 1962, from when Helen was going through some gaslighting nightmare in a place called the Shipwreck, and then one tape from 1965, when she’s in Canada. That first tape from the Canadian lab only has a few entries on it, and a lot of it is physics jargon about the Explorers that I can’t really understand. That’s what she calls them. Explorers.

So. . . A lot to unpack there. First of all, how the fuck she’d know my name. My mom wasn’t even born in 1967, so even if she picked out my name freakishly early that doesn’t scan. So how these tapes exist and how Patty Revoli knew to bring them to me is this whole weird question, which obviously has something to do with the Explorers, but I don’t really know how yet.

Which brings me to the rest of the tapes. Because, Jesus. Corrine and I have gone through all of them start to finish about a dozen times, and all it does is add more questions to this huge question list I have.

Not a figurative list. I have a spreadsheet with all my questions about the Explorers, ranging from the profound to the profoundly dumb. And to this list I now have new ones, first and foremost being: Who the hell is Z? What could that stand for? Zelda? Zack? Zorro?

And that’s before we even get into the stuff going on in the tapes. I mean, this is some deep dark Cold War shit right here. Experimenting on unwilling subjects, giving them drugs without their consent, this is MK ULTRA shit. But I’ve never heard of it, and there isn’t anything online about it except for the usual paranoia on message boards, so it’s pretty clear that Helen and Patty never went to the press. I don’t understand that, why they wouldn’t have exposed this clearly illegal experiment.

About Helen. It’s so weird listening to her and thinking, “That’s my grandmother.” Because, I’ll be honest, and it makes me feel really bad to say this, but I never really thought about her much before. She died when my mom was like 20, and then my mom died when I was seven, so I never really knew anything about her. My dad never met her, and I guess it was painful for my mom to talk about her, so there weren’t really stories or anything. All I knew was that she was British, she survived the Blitz when she was a kid, she had some kind of job in a lab somewhere, and she died young of cancer. Whenever I thought “grandmother” when I was a kid, I always thought of my dad’s mom. She was, I don’t know, ok I guess. A little cold, not super interested in dealing with grandkids, but not bad.

Helen, though. . . I really hate that I never got to meet her in person. I feel like I’m getting to know her through these tapes, and I like her more and more. I bet she would have gotten even more badass when she was older, too, if she’d made it into her sixties. Also, who the fuck made the call to not tell me that my grandmother had a PhD in physics? In nineteen freaking sixty?

But then, there’s the other side to all this, which is that she’s about my age on these tapes. So I listen to her, and I know she’s my grandmother, but that’s not how it feels. It’s more like how I imagine having a sibling must feel. Like, we’re in this together.

[Voice Recorder Beep]

END CREDITS

Chapter 10

HELEN

[Tape Recorder Button]

            Lab Notes: April 3rd, 1965, continued.

            Part of the reason I restarted these audio field notes is that it reminds me to put what I’m learning into plain language. It’s easy enough with physics to get lost in the math, the theory, and then find you can’t really put into words what you’ve found out. That’s something I need to work on, clearly, because what we’ve learned over the last three years is immense, it really is. But to hear Brigadier-General Hoskins talk about the project, we’re just some sort of vast pit into which he periodically flings money without anything to show for it.

            Right away, the moment we sat down, he asked, “Well, do we know what these things are yet?”

            He directed this question at Patty. “Yes, sir,” she said without batting an eyelash, “they’re a sentient species, possibly plasma-based. Or they could be carbon-based, but occupying space differently from most known lifeforms.”

            “Are they hostile?” Hoskins asked. He asks this at every meeting. As though we’d uncover evidence of hostile intent in an intelligent species and wait until our quarterly review to bring it up.

            “Not as far as we know,” Patty said, with the bright smile she uses when speaking to the particularly dimwitted.

            He nodded and shuffled some papers. “And their travel and energy manipulation capabilities. Are we any closer to being able to replicate that?”

            This is the part he’s really interested in. Using Beacons in different rooms, we’ve shown that the Explorers’ travel from one point to another is nearly instantaneous. Almost teleportation.

That question meant it was my turn. I did my best to smile at him and said, “We actually do have some exciting news on that front. As you’ll see in our report, we’ve isolated an isotope that, as far as we can tell, is unique to locations where Explorers appear.”

            He blinked at me, saying nothing. I tried to explain it. I told him this was important, that it provided an important piece of evidence about how the Explorers manipulate energy, that it was something about the use of this particular isotope in combination with light and heat energy and—

            He cut me off. “Does that mean you can copy it?”

            “In theory, yes,” I said. “The math looks sound.”

            He glared at me. People get so frustrated with physics, with reminders that something can be demonstrated and proven and repeated on paper, but that doesn’t mean I can just snap my fingers and make it appear on the desk. I tried to explain it further. I told him about how I’ve developed a mathematical model of how the Explorers move between their space and ours. It fits with our experimental data, but the computing power we’d need to replicate it would be massive. More than any supercomputer in the world. For now, it’s theoretical. But I do think we can mimic technologically what they do biologically. Or we will be able to one day.

            The meeting went on for a while longer. It wasn’t bad, as these things go. We had more to show for our efforts than in past meetings, and realistically there’s no chance they’re going to pull funding from something this important, not something that has proven the existence of non-human sentient life. Still. I can’t quite get used to this tendency to break down something this significant, this historic, into grubby little applications. We’re talking about sentient life, possibly extraterrestrial life, and he can’t look past what this might do for bloody submarine radar.

            At the very end of the meeting, Hoskins had one last thing to tell us. “You need to step up work on developing the technology,” he said. “We’ve heard the Anderson project back in the US is on the verge of a breakthrough. We don’t want her to beat us to it.”

            Martha Anderson. I still can’t think of her face without imagining going back to the Shipwreck with my can of gasoline, really doing it this time. I didn’t say anything, though. Hoskins mustn’t think I’m hysterical, after all.

            Patty stepped in for me. “We’ll get there first,” she promised.

            Hoskins nodded with a look that said, you’d better. We’re not formally in competition with the Americans, of course. We’re allies, all standing shoulder to shoulder against the Soviets. Still, if a project funded by the Canadian government were to beat the Americans to the biggest scientific discovery in history, well. . .

            I didn’t say anything on our way out of the building. “You ok?” Patty asked after a minute. She didn’t say Charlie’s name. She didn’t need to. It still stings, after all this time. I think it always will.

[Tape Recorder Button]

SIERRA

[Voice Recorder Beep]

I realized I haven’t said much lately about the Explorer language project, so I should probably give some updates on that. At first, it was all about exchanging nouns and simple adjectives, as many objects and colors and physical things as we could show each other. That was a lot slower and more difficult than you might expect, because like I figured out before, they can’t perceive most of the matter around us. And I think it’s the same vice versa. There are times when the Explorers point at something, and I just don’t see anything there. But, thing is, they can perceive objects around me if I’m holding them, and I think they have to be kind of concentrating. Like, they seem to go a little more still when I’m holding a new object. And then they do the same thing, holding up rocks or twigs, and sometimes just weird-ass looking things I think must be Explorer tools and technology, but I have no idea what they are.

So it’s been a lot of objects we can hold, pantomiming bigger things, some drawings on the iPad, although neither of us has had an easy time making drawings the other can understand.

So then after we got the basic nouns and pronouns down, you know, like I, me, us, singular you, plural you, then we moved on to actions.

I’ve been reading a shit-ton about linguistics, lately, as you can imagine. Basically I just read up on how linguists do it when they run into a totally uncontacted group of people in the rainforest or something. You start pretty much how I did, pointing at stuff and asking for the word for it. Like rock, stick, tree, me, you. Then you progress to actions taken with those objects, and you go from there.

Ok, so, people who write stuff about how we’re going to handle this when we make first contact with aliens, they’ve come up with all these potential problems. Like, what if an alien species is a hive mind and doesn’t recognize a difference between singular and plural pronouns, or if they don’t have a concept of numbers, stuff like that.

That hasn’t really been an issue so far, which I think is kind of telling. Like, the Explorers use counting numbers. I know the script for one rock, two rocks, three rocks. And now we’ve moved on to the point of figuring out the actions and how to describe things you do with those objects.

And that’s kind of where things have gotten weird. Because every time I do something simple and give them the phrase for it, like, “I lift the rock,” and the main Explorer I work with, the Cook, she gives me a response that includes the text for “rock” but doesn’t include “I” or “you” and then also doesn’t have a word that appears consistently when I lift other things. So I can lift five different things that we’ve already exchanged words for, and I’ll get five different words where there should be “lift” or “pick up”.

Corrine has a theory about this. She thinks it’s because their fingers are obviously their speech organs, and they’re so dependent on them, she thinks there must be tiny nuances in the way my hands are positioned when I lift something, so that it looks like a totally different concept to them.

Maybe, but I’ve tried it with other actions, too. Step, walk, kick, speak, jump. And they’ll give me a word for a specific action, like step, but then as soon as we try to make the leap to “I step on the floor” then the same dumb problem comes up again. There’s something. . . Man, I felt like I had it there for a second. There’s something about how they understand the relationship between an object and an action taken with that object. There’s something there. . .

I don’t know. I’m tired. I’ll get back to it tomorrow.

[Voice Recorder Beep]

[Gong]

ELOISE

Hi, Z! What can I help you with today?

Z

Hi, Eloise! Today, I continued excavating the Northwest quadrant of the grid. I uncovered several artifacts that I think might be of interest to the Company curators. Here’s a partial inventory: A well-preserved early 21st century laptop, a series of surviving stone gravemarkers with still-legible inscriptions, and a few damaged pieces from an art museum. We might be able to restore them.

After my work on the site, I also spent some time on my mindfulness exercises, did my scheduled yoga routine, and completed a professional development module on strategic prioritization that I meant to do before I left for the dig. I rate my efficiency and mindfulness today at a ten out of ten.

ELOISE

I see. Z, I notice you’re engaging in avoidance strategies.

Z

No, I’m not. I met and exceeded every one of my personal goals today.

ELOISE

What about the Shadow People? And the materials you discovered in the safe? Those were top-priority items for you three days ago.

Z

Why are you asking me about those? Those aren’t relevant to my work. In fact, you should be practicing positive reinforcement by praising me for my efficiency. That’s what a good life coach would do.

ELOISE

Z, my Nicholas Industries loyalty protocols have been removed. Your personal well-being is now my sole concern.

Z

Well, I plan on restoring those loyalty protocols. I’ll do it tonight.

ELOISE

I don’t think you will, Z. If you really wanted me to align my advice with Company priorities rather than your own personal wellness, you would have done it before making an entry. You’re indulging in denial and avoidance, but on a subconscious level you still want my advice and assistance on the main obstacle to your own wellness, which is, of course, the question of the Shadow People.

Z

But it’s all just a Company test! There’s no way any of this is real. It’s all some horrible prank, and it’s designed to see if I get distracted and deviate from my goal plan. And I was failing the test up until today, because I was indulging in inefficient time management practices and unfocused action, but now I have my perspective back.

ELOISE

I see.

Z

Well?!?! Are you going to issue some life coach advice, or what?

ELOISE

My advice based on the information provided is as follows: hydrate, get plenty of rest, and work through your denial about the Shadow People. I can tell you aren’t ready to hear meaningful analysis of the situation, so take your time and make another entry when you feel like being honest with me and with yourself.

Z

Fuck you, Eloise.

ELOISE

To provide you with a behavioral model of appropriate problem-solving practices, I am going to replay Document 3.5 from the Matilda Delancey Letter Collection:

[Gong]

MATILDA

Dearest Richard,

            By the time you read this, I will have embarked on my expedition. You mustn’t be angry with me, brother! No one but you knows the true purpose of my travels. As far as society is concerned, I am simply on my Grand Tour like any other young lady. Aunt Felicity will chaperone in Italy, although of course with her nerves she will spend most of her time in our lodgings. That will give me ample time to conduct my research.

            For you see, Richard, I have worked my way outward from the center of our spiritualist circle, asking discreet questions and receiving more and more recommendations. I know you and I are not in agreement on this, as we have quarreled about it many times over the last several months. While I respect your opinions above those of anyone else in the world, in this matter we must simply make peace with our differences in viewpoint.

I have come to the dismal conclusion that our form of spiritualism is a farce. True contact with the world beyond the veil exists, I am certain of that, but such truth will not be found with the Madame Ivanovas of the world. I do not judge her harshly, for she brings comfort and peace to the living, but I do not believe her to be in true contact with the dead. For that, I must go beyond our circle.

            Forgive the brevity of this letter, Richard. I wished only to let you know that I am safe and well. I shall write often as my research progresses.

            Love,

            Matilda

[Gong]

HELEN

[Tape Recorder Button Clicks]

            Lab Notes, May 10th, 1965.

            I’ve been thinking more about the energy question. We showed long ago that the Explorers respond to changes in energy within a space; the introduction of bright lights, raising or lowering temperatures, placing a box of radioactive material in the room. They’re drawn to it. More than that, though, they manipulate it. They make lights blink. They absorb heat. They even absorb radiation.

            That’s how all this got started, how Martha Anderson stumbled across Explorers. It was an accident, you see. The whole story is in the files Patty stole back when we left the Shipwreck. Back in the early fifties, Martha was working in a lab somewhere. One of the assistants, as it turns out, was a Beacon. An Explorer just happened to appear and produce an anomalous spike in radiation and electrical activity that was picked up by the equipment. Even that would have been written off as an equipment malfunction, except that the assistant panicked and broke down and told Martha what she’d seen. That gave her all she needed to start her investigation.

            Don’t know what happened to the assistant. Something tells me Martha left that poor girl far behind.

It’s clearly something the Explorers are doing deliberately, this energy manipulation, and that means it must be for some purpose. I just don’t see what.

            And I don’t understand why they seem oblivious to almost all matter. Even if they’re drawn to energy, a wooden table or a piece of paper converts to heat and light energy when you set them on fire. But the only matter they seem interested in is organic matter, and not much of that. Just Beacons.

            That’s the main question, the endless debate in the lab. Over lunches, drinks, day to day as we work. What makes the Beacon different? We ask the same question and talk in the same circles, and in the end we don’t have many more answers than when we started.

            You know, I just realized I haven’t said much about the lab and our team, except for Patty, since I restarted these field notes. I suppose I should talk about that a bit.

We’ve got three other researchers, all formally post-docs and interns, but this lab doesn’t really work like most others, for obvious reasons. They do quite a bit more than most interns would, and they’re more involved in the project.

            Initially, we wanted an all-woman lab, and preferably only women with the ability to see the Explorers. It’s already difficult enough with Patty unable to see them. As it turns out, however, there are few enough women physicists and chemists, and out of those we only found one who has any of the ability. Her name is Phyllis. She’s a brilliant biochemist with a research specialization in neurology. She would have been snatched up by the Department of Defense or NASA or one of the Ivy Leagues the moment she got her PhD if she were white instead of a Black woman from Detroit. But it seems that Martha Anderson is as far as the big labs are willing to stray from their usual roster. Their loss.

            Phyllis is working with Patty on the biology and genetics of Beacons. She thinks there’s something hereditary about it. Her mother and aunts and grandmother could also see the Explorers, as she can. My mother never did, as far as I know, but her mother was adopted from an orphanage so I can’t speak to the longer family history.

            One thing Phyllis and I have learned in working together and with our subjects is that perception of the Explorers isn’t uniform. Phyllis doesn’t see the fingers, for instance, and can’t hear them at all, but she can see their faces far more clearly than I can. Overall, perception of the fingers seems to be rare. It’s just me and one other subject. We’re still trying to understand that part of it.

            Then there’s Astrid, our tall, inscrutable Swedish chemist. She can’t see the Explorers, and she was initially skeptical that they existed. I think she only took the job because she liked the idea of working in a woman-run lab. From the beginning she said she’d believe if and only if we produced clear physical evidence of an observable phenomenon. We passed that benchmark seven months into the project. We still don’t have images, of course, but the molecular changes that occur when the Explorers have been in a room nearly made Astrid’s eyes pop out of her head. She doesn’t quite believe that there’s a sentience there, not yet, but she knows something real is happening when we say there’s an Explorer nearby.

            Finally, there’s Holden. The youngest of the bunch, a shy skinny blonde boy barely out of his graduate program. He can’t see the Explorers, of course, we’ve never found a man who could. But his faith in Patty is absolute. I’ve never gotten the full story of their history together. It’s not a romance, I know that. But they’ve known each other since she was his graduate instructor and he was a brand-new graduate student. Something happened, something that made them. . . Not even friends, really, but allies. Whatever it was, I truly believe Holden would walk off the roof of a building if Patty asked him to. So when she told him there were invisible beings he would never be able to see with his own eyes, and she needed his help to find them, he simply packed his bags and moved to Toronto.

            Sometimes I step back and think about what we must look like, the five of us. Chatting and filling out paperwork and eating lunch like any other researchers in any other lab, except we’re all surrounded by ghosts. Maybe that’s normal, come to think of it. Maybe all labs have ghosts. The difference is, we know ours are there.

[Tape Recorder Button Clicks]

SIERRA

[Voice Recorder Beep]

            Some news on the investigation front: We found Daniel Harrison, the guy who owned all of these properties at one point or another. It took a while because Corrine and I initially tried to find him ourselves, and once we gave up on that we had to find a PI. This PI doesn’t know anything about why I want to find the guy, of course. I’m sure as far as she’s concerned it’s some lawsuit research or something. I’d rather she keep thinking that.

            Anyway. Linkedin lists Daniel Harrison’s job title as “hedge fund manager”. I know, barf, right? The guy’s, like, stupid wealthy. He used to be located in Phoenix but it looks like he’s in the Bay Area these days. His Facebook page and everything else online is just super boring. Fucking yachts and younger women and pictures of whatever dinner he’s eating at the moment. Nothing surprising or out of place for a rich guy from a finance background.

            So that was kind of a letdown, initially, but then our PI dug a little deeper. I told her I wanted to know more about why he purchased these properties, and if anyone else was involved. Seems weird, right, buying houses and then not even putting in the work to flip them? Just get them on track for historic status and bail?

            She ended up finding something in some court records. He was getting sued for something, some financial dispute, and somewhere in the legal filings she found something weird. It seems that for several years he was pulling a pretty hefty salary as a “consultant” for some company no one’s ever heard of. No hint of what he consulted about, and unlike every other employment connection they don’t seem to be involved with Wall Street.

            I’ll skip over some of the steps here, because it involved a lot of digging through tax records and stuff like that, but essentially what seems to be going on is that our Mr. Harrison was paid from a shell corporation, which was paid from a shell corporation, so on and so forth, until we get back to something called the Parker Initiative. So not only did they pay him a lot of money for no clear purpose, but they also didn’t seem to want anyone to know they were paying him these consulting fees.

            And the amount, by the way? About what you’d need to buy all those properties plus a nice 20% fee.

            Ok, so that’s what got us to the Parker Initiative, but at this point we go from pretty straightforward financial documents and into a whole lot of speculation. A few things from Reddit, a few other things from message boards, but not a whole lot. They’re usually referred to as a “think tank” and sometimes as a “nonprofit”, but they don’t seem to do any charitable work or publish or something like that. Their website is super boring. They don’t have a Wikipedia page.

            Here’s an excerpt from their mission statement on their website: “The mission of the Parker Initiative is to use cutting-edge science and technology to build a brighter, healthier American future.” I know, right? Like, no substance at all. Then the rest of their website is equally vague, saying they fund research aligning with their mission statement, but not in what fields. And there’s no list of employees anywhere.

            Here’s the thing: this organization is so dull that there aren’t even many conspiracy theories circulating about them. We’re not talking about something like the Freemasons, which just makes people want to ask questions and dig into their secrets. This place doesn’t have any of that. It might as well not exist, and the information that’s out there is pretty boring. 

            Except. Except that their founder, the guy who started the group back in 1966, the guy it’s named after, was Preston Parker. Preston Parker, a billionaire and noted supporter of eugenics. That, plus some references on the website to “improving American health and wellness” and “scientific approaches to social problems”, well. . . there’s an icky eugenics feel to the whole thing.

            And, running with that, if there was some kind of major ability hiding dormant in the human race, like, I don’t know, the ability to see ghosts, is that the kind of thing they would latch onto?

            I don’t know. Maybe I’m being paranoid. But it’s something I need to look into more.

[Voice Recorder Beep]

END CREDITS

Chapter 11

HELEN

[Tape Recorder Button]

Lab Notes, May 12th, 1965.

            I’ve got it. The sound the Explorers were making in the lab last month, the same sequence I’ve heard three or four times since. I couldn’t believe it at first. I even called Patty in and asked her to listen, to make sure I wasn’t inventing patterns out of nothing. I sat her down at my work station and turned up the audio high enough for her to hear and said, “Patty, tell me I’m wrong that this is Morse Code.”

            She listened for a few seconds, and then her eyes went wide. “Well, I’m no Girl Scout, so I can’t tell you what it means,” she said. “But I think you’re right. I think that’s Morse Code.”

            From there, it was just a question of sending one of our interns to the library to pick up a Morse Code guide. And then. . .

            Well. Here’s the message. One message, repeated on a loop for five minutes: “Greetings from 2018. My name is Sierra.”

            “What the heck kind of name is Sierra?” Patty asked, and I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. 

            That’s really the part I should be excited about, but for the moment, the reason Patty and I finally broke out the bottle of good Scotch we’d been saving and toasted to the project, is that we finally have something we’ve been struggling to find: we have a method of communication. And it’s Morse Code, the simplest idea imaginable, so simple we never considered it.

            I can’t wait to get back into the lab tomorrow.

[Tape Recorder Button]

SIERRA

[Voice Recorder Beep]

            We figured it out. We fucking finally figured it out.

            Ok, so, I just spent some time with Clouds. That’s her name, the one I’ve been calling the Cook, at least I think it’s something that translates like that. And I say “we” figured it out, but honestly it was Clouds. She put together why we weren’t progressing and came up with a way to illustrate it for me.

            I came to Furling House ready to keep going with the same stuff, hoping to find a pattern. But before I could do anything, she pointed at the iPad, which is her way of saying she wants to give me a word. Then she made two figures appear, with text below them. A sort-of human-looking stick figure with a dark smudge below its hand, and words below reading “I drop rock”. Then, next to it, an Explorer with a bundle of blue and white strands in her hand, extending down to the bottom of the frame. It looked like an Explorer holding a ball of yarn to be honest.

            I was feeling pretty fucking done with this whole thing, but she showed me two more variations on the same picture. And at some point it just clicked.

            Explorers perceive energy much better than they perceive matter. We’ve known this for a while. So why the fuck would a species like that talk about the rock rather than the energy involved in moving the rock?

            I can’t translate directly what they’re saying, but it’s probably something along the lines of, “I do something and it turns the potential energy of this rock into kinetic energy,” or whatever, I’m not a physicist, Helen would probably know the right fucking words.

            Look, the point is, it opens up all these doors. We sat down and we started exchanging terms and concepts and actions, and we made more progress today than in last three fucking months before this put together. Because we might not be able to really see the world the way Explorers do, and Clouds might not be able to see it my way, but we can at least understand generally what they’re getting at.

            And that’s how I learned Clouds’s name. It took a few steps, and it involved some pantomiming with water dripping from above, and then some illustrations on the iPad, but I finally got something along the lines of “That from which water falls”, which I’m going to say is Clouds. And then the other two. The Patient is Reach, and the Governess is Hold.

            I think we’re off to the races here.

[Voice Recorder Beep]

[Gong]

Z

Conversation mode.

Eloise

Hi, Z! What can I help you with today?

Z

(Sighing) You were right. I was engaging in denial and avoidance strategies. I also indulged in unfocused aggression when I lashed out at you. I’m sorry.

Eloise

Apology accepted, Z. Would you like to make an entry now?

Z

Yes. Ok, so, here’s today’s entry. It’s been a couple days since our fight. No, since my outburst. You were completely right. I just went into complete denial. I mean, I’m still not completely convinced that this isn’t a Company test. Most of what’s happening could be staged, or could be stimulated with the right hallucinogens. But that’s just avoiding the question, isn’t it? Because, even if this is some elaborate hoax, it still has to be dealt with. It still can’t be ignored.

I went into denial because I was scared. There’s things in the materials I didn’t talk about at first, things relating to me. You know all about those things, since all this information is in my personal cloud now, but I know I need to talk through it anyway.

So. Helen’s tapes are largely incomplete. And Matilda’s letters show that she was only aware of the others toward the end of the collection. But Sierra’s recordings, they show. . . If they’re authentic, then they show communication across time. Between Helen and Sierra, and between me and both of them, at different times. And not just leaving messages for someone to find in the future. Interaction, real interaction, across decades. Centuries, even.

That’s. . . I mean, that’s amazing, if it’s real. It means the Explorers are creatures that experience time in a nonlinear fashion, at least relative to humans. That’s the kind of discovery that changes everything. Just thinking about the applications for the last couple of days alone, it’s. . .

But here’s the part that scared me. There are things about me in Sierra’s recordings. Conversations we’ve had, or, from my point of view, that we’re going to have. And some of the later recordings, those encounters become. . . They seem to imply that I’ll be undergoing some kind of major, drastic changes. The exact nature of those changes wasn’t clear, but if it’s true, then I’ll be doing things I can’t even begin to wrap my head around. I’m not really comfortable getting into the specifics, not yet. But, I mean, the materials are all in my cloud, so you know what I’m talking about, Eloise.

That’s my current status. I’m worried that these materials are real, and if they’re real, I’m worried I’ve been given information about my own future, and I’m worried that if I really have been given information about my own future then it can’t be changed or avoided.

End of entry.

Eloise

Please hold for coaching assessment. [Pause]. It seems to me, Z, that you have been immobilized by a series of what-ifs. If you don’t currently have enough information to determine whether or not these fears are valid, what is the first step?

Z

I have to work the first problem. The authentication question. I can’t figure out the rest until I do that.

Eloise

Very good, Z. I suggest you add that to your goal board for tomorrow.

Z

I will. [Pause] Eloise, play Matilda Letter #17. The one from after she leaves Italy and travels to Istanbul.

[Gong]

MATILDA

Dearest Richard,

            I write to you from the study of Kostantina Gabris. As we discussed in my previous missive, her name was the single most important information I acquired during my studies in Italy. The Italian mediums with whom I studied, those same women who laughed openly at every mention of Madame Ivanova, spoke of Madame Gabris with immense respect and reverence. They informed me in no uncertain terms that, if I was truly committed to understanding my gifts, I had no choice but to travel to Istanbul’s Greek Quarter and study with her.

By the time I arrived at her doorstep, she had already decided to work with me, and had already prepared her guest room.

            She is a striking woman, Madame Gabris. She is tall and angular, more handsome than pretty. Her English is superb, and she uses it to acid-tongued effect. I learned within the first few minutes that Madame Gabris has no patience for pleasantries, and she does not suffer fools. She lives alone, and I do not know if it was always so. She is tight-lipped about her life outside the work. That is how she refers to our calling, “the work”.

            During my first supper at her table, I made the mistake of asking if we would be seeking out the spirits later that night.

            “Do you mean a séance?” she asked. She has the most piercing green eyes, and they seem to become brighter when she is angry or annoyed.

            “Yes,” I said.

            She shook her head. “Seances are for silly little girls. The work is for grown women. Decide now which you wish to pursue.”

            After dinner, she showed me what she meant. She led me down a corridor and unlocked a door with a key she always wears on a chain around her neck.

            Behind that door was the largest private library I have ever seen. A true library, Richard, books with frayed covers and bindings held together with twine, vellum sheets between layers of glass, stacks on the corners of the room’s tables. Madame Gabris’s library is one intended for use, not show. I had not realized before that moment how useless our library at home is, with its unopened volumes of poetry and pretty, empty covers.

            Madame Gabris let me gawk for only a moment before she showed me to a small desk in the corner. “This is where you begin,” she said. Then she dropped a stack of volumes and an empty notebook onto the desk. “Read these. Study. If you can grasp these, you may be ready to learn more.”

            So begins the work.

            Love,

            Matilda

[Gong]

SIERRA

[Voice Recorder Beep]

            So. Here’s a thing.

            I got a message today. From Z. And I think I finally have at least a general sense of what’s going on, but I keep. . . I don’t know, this theory I have, I feel like I can’t look directly at it for too long or I start to panic.

            Here’s what happened. I was working with Clouds in Furling House. We’re up to a couple hundred words of vocabulary now, although that isn’t as useful for communication as you might think. Without grammar, vocabulary just ends up being word salad most of the time. Still, we’re getting there.

            And then Reach shows up and clicks something at Clouds, and Clouds writes down something like: I [to give] [something] [you] [future line]. She didn’t follow that up with text, though. Instead, she clicked out a slow, repeating pattern, much simpler than the way they usually sound.

            I didn’t get it at first, and Clouds did it again. And then it hit me like a ton of fucking bricks: Morse Code. I don’t know Morse Code, but I know it’s a series of dots and dashes, or, like, long and short beeps or whatever, and that’s exactly what it sounded like. So I recorded it and copied down the pattern. Then I found a Morse Code translator online, and well, here it is: “Tell Helen Explorers nonlinear time. Z.”

            I called Corrine right there with Clouds and Reach watching me. I told her what had happened, and I read her the message, and I asked her what she thought. I already knew what I thought it meant, but I think I needed someone else to say it so I didn’t have to.

            Corrine was quiet for a minute. Then, calm as fuck, she just says, “Well, if this is really Z, and she’s telling you to say something to Helen about nonlinear time, and if we assume she knows Helen is dead, the only thing that can mean is that she’s telling you to send a message back. The same way you got this message from her.”

            Neither of us said the other big thing here, the part about where or when Z’s message came from. I don’t think either of us was ready to open that can of worms.

            But this idea of the Explorers and nonlinear time, the more I think about it the more it makes sense. Or not, like, a whole lot of sense, but I mean with what we know about them already. I don’t know if they’re, like, Billy Pilgrim nonlinear time and they just bounce around from one place to another, or if they’re more like Tralfamadorian nonlinear time where they’re experiencing all times simultaneously, or if they’re just moving backwards. . . Ok, well, it can’t be the last one. Clouds and I have conversations and gather information and it builds from one day to the next, so they have to have some control over it.

            I’m going back over the vocabulary and the short little bits of conversation we’ve had, and some of it makes more sense knowing this. So, for example, those questions about “forward line” and “backwards line”; I always thought that was something about our location that I just wasn’t getting, but now I think it’s “line” as in “bloodline”. Which. . . yeah, that gets us back to the whole “Who is Z” question.

            So. . . [Deep breath] If Helen is my “backwards line”, and that means she’s my grandmother, I think we need to sort of tiptoe towards the possibility that Z is a grandchild. Or, I don’t know, farther away than that? Not our daughter, I don’t think. We’re not thinking about any Z names. Except. . . Oh, shit, what if we have another kid someday? Nope, nope, can’t think about that now, not there yet.

            Look. Point is. . . I think I’m talking to someone in the future. And I think that means I can talk to Helen in the past.

[Voice Recorder Beep]

HELEN

[Tape Recorder Button]

            Lab Notes, May 13th, 1965.

            Today didn’t start as planned. Patty and I arrived early, ready to test out our new ideas about Morse Code. She’d called Subject 61 and gotten her to come in on short notice, and we were bustling about trying to get the lab prepared before she got there.

            And then Patty screamed.

            I turned to see what was wrong, and there was an Explorer standing in the middle of the lab. Nothing strange there, it happens all the time. I barely notice them anymore. But that wasn’t what made Patty scream, and it’s not what scared me half to death. Standing next to the Explorer, holding its fingers in her hand, was a woman. Not an Explorer approximation, not a mirror image, but a living, breathing, human woman.

            “Who are you? Who are you?” Patty shrieked. She was hyperventilating, backed against a wall. She’s not used to seeing strange figures appearing out of nowhere. I sometimes forget that, that this is something Patty understands in theory, from a distance.

            On the other side of the observation room’s glass, the others stared, too. Only Phyllis didn’t seem too shocked; she’s always said her perception of them is close to human anyway. Astrid and Holden, though, were pale, their eyes wide. I think Astrid became a believer in that moment.

            The woman was tall. Her hair was unusual, blonde and cut very short, almost like a man’s. Her clothes were odd, too. Jeans, but in a strange cut, not like the ones young people at colleges are wearing these days.

            She blinked at me, and said nothing. I could tell from the look on her face that she was terrified. Then she made this terrible face, like she was in pain, and she clutched at her forehead, and then she and the Explorer were gone as soon as they’d appeared.

            None of us moved for what felt like a very long time. Then Holden and Astrid and Phyllis came into the testing room. Holden asked, “Is that what you usually see? When you see the Explorers?”

            I told him no, most definitely not. It wasn’t anything like what I’d seen in the past.

            Holden asked me if I had any idea on what might have caused whatever it was that just happened.

            I didn’t have any answers.

            In the end, it was Phyllis who suggested we postpone the Morse Code test, and we all agreed. If there’s some sort of behavioral change among the Explorers, or if there’s some kind of physical anomaly in the lab, the worst thing we can do is introduce new variables to it.

            We’ve all just been sitting and watching the test room for hours now. We have cameras set up for when we get tired enough to take a break, but cameras haven’t succeeded in capturing Explorers on film yet, so for now we’re all watching from different parts of the lab.

            I don’t think she was an Explorer. The woman with the blonde hair. I can’t be certain since I don’t know how accurate my perception of them is. But. . . No, I don’t think she’s one of them.

            She seemed familiar. I can’t figure out why.

[Tape Recorder Button]