Chapter 1 



[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]



[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]



[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.



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. . .




[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]


Chapter 2



[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]



[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]



[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.



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.




[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]



[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.


Chapter 3



[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]



[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]



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.



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.




[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]



[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.


Chapter 4




[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]



[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]



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.



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.




[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]


Chapter 5


[Tape Player Button Clicks]


 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]



 [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]



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.



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.




 [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]




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.