Saturday, January 29, 2005

Meet Joshua Wander, Part Thirteen

Art by Sherlock, adapted from an early draft of Rani's portrait.
Joshua Wander's story is too long to summarize here. Please see Part Seven for the story up to that point, and Part Twelve for the rest. Links to earlier installments are now on the sidebar.

Part Twelve: Chris/Josh insists on going to see Professor John Grayson. He and Rachel both think he's probably at the lab rather than the funeral home. Indeed he is. Josh and his friends find Officer Hennigan unconscious outside the lab. Leaving his friends behind, Josh goes through the door to confront Grayson.

Part Thirteen: Experiment

Cindy Farrell was in Rachel’s old chair. She was tied to it with a thick orange extension cord. RCA cables bound her wrists to the arms of the wooden chair. Three large electrodes were taped to her forehead, already surrounded with red burn marks. Her eyes were open, and she looked frightened. Her head jerked slightly as she saw me come in, but she said nothing.

John Grayson was standing precisely where I had stood the day before, during the final, fatal experiment. In one hand he held a small control box, its leads running toward Officer Farrell’s head. With his other hand, Grayson was playing with flashing blobs of light, dabbing at them as if they were finger paint, making them flare out of sequence with the strobes from which they came. He was facing Farrell, not me, and he was laughing.

“Let her go, Professor,” I said.

He looked at me, angrily but without surprise. “Ah, there you are, Stein.” His tone was half snarl, half mock welcome. “Returning to the scene of the crime?”

“There was no crime,” I said. I nodded in Farrell’s directions. “Not until now, that is.”

“Oh, no? What about the murder of my wife?”

“You must know by now that it was mostly epilepsy that killed her, not me. That’s why I’m here, to make sure you know that I didn’t murder her.”

“Oh, no?” he said again. “I saw what you did, Stein. I have it all on videotape.”

He flipped a switch, and a video tape recorder whirred. Images appeared on a large tv atop a metal stand. There I was with Rachel, reenacting the last moments of her life in miniature through the miracle of the new technology. I hadn’t even known that the experiments were taped.

“You were playing with light, like this,” Grayson said by way of narration. He illustrated his point by matching my recorded movements, creating nearly identical lighting effects. “My wife went into convulsions, but you kept on doing it.”

According to the tape I had indeed kept going—for all of two seconds before I noticed Rachel's alarming jerks and twitches, and scrambled for the off switch.

Grayson stopped the tape. “Your light show killed my wife.”

“I really don’t think so,” I said. “I’m sorry I didn’t react faster, but I really think it was the strobes that did it.”

I agree, Rachel told me.

“Let’s just test that theory,” Grayson said. “This young lady has sat under the strobe lights for at least ten minutes, with no obvious ill effects. Let’s just see what your light manipulation does to her.” He resumed playing with the lights, but he kept one finger on the button that would fry Farrell if she tried to get away.

“Are you crazy?” I said. It occurred to me that Grayson shouldn’t be capable of doing what he was now doing, not unless he’d already conducted the same experiments on himself as he had on me. “Never mind; I see that you are. Let her go, Dr. John, while you still have solid hands with which to untie her.”

“In the middle of my experiment? I think not,” Grayson said.

“The experiment is over,” I told him. “Officer Farrell won’t die as Dr. Rachel did, because she doesn’t have Rachel’s condition. You don’t, do you?” I asked Farrell as an afterthought.

Farrell shook her head.

Sounds were coming from the other side of the door. I guessed that Farrell’s partner was finally awake.

“If you keep on like this, Dr. John—assuming they don’t arrest you first—you’ll be like me, unable to exist materially in this world,” I said. I thought it best not to mention other worlds. “Is that what you want?”

“End up like you?” Grayson asked scornfully. “That won’t happen. I’m not like you. You’re just the guinea pig. I’m the scientist, and I’ve already moved on from what I learned from using you. My abilities are far more advanced than yours. See?” Like Gary Mitchell in the second Star Trek pilot, he shot a bolt of coherent light from his fingertips, aiming it over Farrell’s head. Wisely, she kept her head down, but she gave a little yelp of fear.

“Your madness is far more advanced than mine, too,” I said. “I could do something like that, but I wouldn’t. That’s the difference between us.” It occurred to me that I should be able to use the light to free Farrell somehow, to burn though the cables or something. But after my antics with the phone lines, I didn’t think I had the power—or finesse—to do it.

“Jealous, Stein?” Grayson said. “Because I don’t believe you could do it. Poor guinea pig, you’re looking mighty sickly. Perhaps it’s time to euthanize you.”

He aimed a bolt at me. I could have ducked, but I took a chance and didn’t. The energy hit me square in what should have been my chest. Somehow, I felt it. It felt good.

“Thanks, Grayson,” I said. “You’ve just given Popeye his spinach.” I looked down, and saw that I had feet again. I still wasn’t solid, though. How was I going to help Cindy Farrell?

Perhaps I wouldn’t have to. Outside the door, Harry and Jerry were pounding and shouting. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I heard Tim Hennigan’s voice, too.

First things first, though. I could at least make it harder for Grayson to shock Farrell. Remembering the way I’d once turned Jerry’s radio on from across the room, I concentrated on interrupting the power supply to Grayson’s equipment—in effect, turning it off. The light that Grayson had been manipulating disappeared instantly. The hum of the equipment took a little longer to fade, perhaps a second. At the end of that second, I heard the sound of gunfire. A second after that, Hennigan. Jerry and Onclemac burst into the room.

Well, I've managed to avoid ending this thing for another week. Next time (again): possibly the end of the serial, or almost the end, or the week I get stuck and it all comes to nothing. John suggests the following gambit if I get stuck:

Meanwhile, fifty miles away, a small duck sat on the back of a hippopotamus.

Yeah, that'll work.

Joshua Wander in Musings:
Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six
Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine
Part Ten Part Eleven Part Twelve

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Meet Joshua Wander, Part Twelve

Art by Sherlock, adapted from an early draft of Rani's portrait.
Joshua Wander's story is too long to summarize here. Please see Part Seven for the story up to that point. Links to all installments are now on the sidebar.

Part Seven: Joshua (a.k.a. Chris Stein) introduces Harry (a.k.a. the wizard Onclemac) to his friend Jerry, and explains his current predicament. Jerry tells them that Professor Grayson has accused Chris of killing Rachel. Unable to touch anything in the world of his birth, Josh asks Harry and Jerry to collect some of his clothes. First, however, Josh must distract the police who are searching his dorm room.

Part Eight: Josh freaks out the cops, explains why he can't ride in a police car, and leads the two officers into a nearby stairwell. As they try to get a straight answer from him about whether he killed Rachel, a new voice enters the discussion: Rachel's, coming from Josh's mouth.

Part Nine: Rachel's ghost (spirit, whatever) reveals that she had an unreported family history of epilepsy. She figures she died of a stroke, and blames no one else for her death. Knowing the police can't rely on her or Chris for evidence, Rachel suggests alternatives. Chris corroborates Rachel's story, and then walks away through a wall.

Part Ten: After a short, private conversation with Rachel, Chris/Josh makes his way back to the dorm room, where Jerry and Harry have just about finished collecting some clothes for Josh. Armed with change from the dorm room, they call Chris's father from a pay phone in the hall. Dr. Stein is worried, and understandably skeptical about his son's explanation. Josh drops the human shape of his incorporeal existence in his home reality, and launches himself through the phone lines toward his father in Maryland.

Part Eleven: Chris/Josh arrives at his father's apartment via telephone, and they have a brief conversation. When he returns, Josh's friends notice that his appearance is a little indistinct, just as the world seems that way to Josh. Despite Harry's warning, Josh visits his mother the same way. This time when he returns, his form is even more nebulous. Nevertheless, he's determined to talk to John Grayson before he loses contact with his original reality.

Part Twelve: Finding Grayson

“We could try calling him,” Jerry suggested.

“Not if Josh is going to ride the phone lines again,” Harry said disapprovingly.

“I won’t,” I said.

“No, I mean, just to make arrangements to meet somewhere,” Jerry said.

“You mean, discuss his wife’s death over a beer at Hungry Chuck’s, while Cranberry Lake plays Ain’t Nobody’s Business?” I said. “That’ll work out well.”

“Jeeze, Chris,” Jerry said. “Don’t be so cranky!”

“Call me Josh,” I said.

“Fine. Don’t be so cranky, Josh.”

He’s right, Rachel told me. You are being unreasonable.

“Okay, I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m under a bit of stress right now. But there’s no point in calling him. He’s not likely to be home.” I turned away from the pay phones. “Come on, let’s go,” I said. I started down the hall, back toward the stairs.

“How will we know where to find Dr. John?” Jerry asked.

“His wife died yesterday,” Harry pointed out. “If the coroner’s done with the body, then he’s probably at the funeral home by now.”

“Oh, right,” Jerry said.

I doubt it, Rachel told me. He’ll be at the lab.

“I don’t think so,” I told Jerry. “He’s probably at the lab. Unless the police have it locked off or something.”

Harry frowned. “Why would he be at the lab?”

“He’ll want to find out for himself what happened to Rachel,” I said. “He’ll need the lab for that.”


Jerry pulled open the door to the stairwell, and held it open for Harry behind him.

“But the coroner’s report is probably done by now,” Harry pointed out. “At least the cause of death, if not the actual formal report. What more does Grayson need to know?” He looked at me as he held the door open behind him. I shook my head, and he let it clang shut as I walked right through it.

“He needs to know whether I killed her,” I said. “I remember his face when he saw me with Rachel’s body. He’s not going to just accept that it was a medical fluke.”

If you can’t convince him that it’s not your fault, he’ll carry that grudge forever, Rachel warned.
And he’ll act on that grudge.

I found myself wondering whether Rachel’s marriage had been an unhappy one.

Yes, it was a bad marriage, Rachel told me. This was a surprise, because I had not consciously communicated the question to her. But I was trying to stick it out anyway.

No wonder she didn’t mind being dead.

Still, this was no time to think about Rachel’s marriage, or even our ability to communicate without the spoken word. I had two living human beings to pay attention to as well. They clattered down the stairs ahead of me. I could see the sound waves they generated as I followed behind.

Jerry glanced back up at me as he reached the second landing. “What will Grayson do if he decides it was your fault?” he asked.

“Try to kill me, I assume.”

“You really think so?” Jerry asked. “I mean, he’s a professor and everything. You make him sound like a dangerous loony.”

I had to smile at the choice of words. “Like me, you mean? Yes, I really think so.”

“And this is the man you want to see, is it?” Harry said. “Are you trying to destroy yourself?”

“Not particularly.”

Another floor down. “Then why do you want to see this man?”

“I owe him an explanation.”

“If you’re right about his state of mind—and I don’t see any particular reason to believe that you are—then I don’t see how it helps him much.”

Another floor.

“And it certainly doesn’t help you much,” Harry continued. “You should let me take you back to Angland right now, while there’s still enough of you for my spell to find.”

“How are you going to do that?” I asked. “You can’t even touch me. Besides, I thought your spell number one went to random worlds.”

And another.

“True, but spell number seven moves any well-defined subject to a well-defined destination,” Harry said. “I’ll get you there.”

“Perhaps you will,” I said, “but not just yet. I have to do this, Harry.”

Harry paused at the fifth floor landing. “All right. If you’re that determined, we’ll see it through.”

“Good. Thanks.”

“Speaking of determined people, we saw those cops again while you were with your mother,” Jerry said. “They came out of the stairwell, locked up your dorm room and left again.”

Fourth floor.

“Did they say anything?” I asked.

“Not to us,” Jerry said. “We didn’t draw attention to ourselves.”

“Where did they go?”

“Down the elevator. The slow one.”

Third floor.

“You know, even if Grayson blames you, I don
t think there’s much he can do to you,” Jerry said. “He can’t touch you, any more than we can.”

“Maybe not here, he can’t,” I said. “But what if he follows me?”

Harry looked back at me and frowned. Second floor. “Follow you? How would he do that?”

“I’ve been thinking about these experiments that made me, well, whatever it is that I am. Unstable, let’s say. He designed those experiments. What’s to stop him from duplicating the results?”

“You mean, on himself?” Jerry asked. First floor. He held open the door again, and we stepped out into the dorm lobby. Through the glass doors ahead of us, I saw Hennigan and Farrell drive away in their police car.

“That’s what I mean,” I said. “Quiet a second. I want to try something.” Remembering the times I’d accidentally heard radio signals without a radio, I looked off in the direction the police car had gone, and “listened.”

“…break-in at the lab where that professor died,” said a voice.

A returning signal crackled into life. “On it,” said Cindy Farrell’s voice. The sound was distorted by the low-quality signal, but still recognizable. I wondered whether I’d been distorted in transmission myself.

“He’s at the lab, for sure,” I said. “I heard it on the police band.”

Jerry shook his head. “You are seriously weird, Chris—uh, Josh,” he said. “But I believe you.”

We started across campus toward the physics building. This time I had to angle myself uphill instead of downhill. It made no difference to me, but Harry was puffing by the time we reached the Quad.

“What gets me is that you’ve been a wizard, or at least an affront to the laws of physics, for less than a day,” Harry said, “and you already have a mortal enemy. What will you do if he does try to kill you?”

“Try not to get killed, of course.”

“Would you kill him?”


You’d better not, Rachel said.

“I don’t want to hurt him,” I said. “I just want him to know what happened.”

“Maybe I’m naïve or something,” Jerry said, “but I just can’t believe that Dr. John would try to kill anyone. I think you’re projecting all this on him, because you feel guilty yourself.”

“I hope you’re right,” I said.

We got to the corridor outside the lab a few minutes later. The sight of Hennigan unconscious on the floor told me that Grayson was still here, and that Jerry was wrong. Flashing lights could be seen beneath the locked door, and I could hear the familiar hum of equipment.

“Make sure Officer Hennigan’s okay,” I told my friends.

Then I walked—or floated, or flowed—through the closed laboratory door.

Next week: possibly the end of the serial, or almost the end, or the week I get stuck and it all comes to nothing. Be sure to stop back next Saturday night to find out which!

Joshua Wander in Musings:
Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine
Part Ten Part Eleven

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Meet Joshua Wander, Part Eleven

Art by Sherlock, adapted from an early draft of Rani's portrait.
Joshua Wander's story is now too long to summarize here. Please see Part Seven for the story up to that point, and Part Twelve for summaries of the later installments. Links to all installments are now in the sidebar.

Part Eleven: My Son, a Bundle of Energy

Less than a second later, I emerged from the Ericafon (the modern-looking one-piece phone, dial on the bottom, a relic of my childhood) into my dad’s sparsely furnished apartment, and resumed my prior status as a Christopher Stein-shaped bundle of light and other energies. Briefly, I wondered whether I had a material body at all anymore, and if so, where it was. (And if not, how could my mind function without matter? How could Rachel’s?)

Some ride, Josh, Rachel commented. Apparently she preferred my adopted name to the original, at least when I’d just done something weird.

My dad stared at me with dropped jaw and fear in his eyes. As an electrical engineer, he probably knew for a fact that I was impossible. Yet here I was.

“Hi, Dad,” I said. “Please tell Jerry that I’m here, and to hang on the line until I return.”

“But…” my dad began. He didn’t find any words to finish his objection, but trailed off to stare at me some more.

“Please. Just do it.”

My dad obeyed. This struck me as an interesting role reversal. Being, well, whatever I was now had made me bolder than before, and more bossy. I wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing or not.

When he finished the message to Jerry, my dad stared at the phone for a moment, and then back at me. Then he reached out to me, much as Jerry had done, and touched nothing but colored air. “What are you?” he managed to say.

“Your son,” I said firmly. “Beyond that, I can hardly begin to tell you. I don’t understand it yet myself. I think I still have a real body, but not in this version of the world. I’m alive, and apparently well, but I can’t live here any more. So I’m going away. Just know that I’m not dead, I’m not a murderer, and I’m not a fugitive. I’m just a freak of physics and magic.”

“Magic?” Dad said sharply. Even with what he was seeing, he still sounded skeptical.

“Well, not so much here, but elsewhere in the multiverse, yes.”

“Where will you go?”

I shrugged. “A place called Angland to start. After that, I have no idea where I’ll be. I probably won’t have much control where I go, at least for a while, over which versions of reality I inhabit.” I didn’t mention that I was already feeling more disconnected from the world I was in than I had been up to now. Reality was starting to look a little vague and unreal to me.

Dad shook his head. “I don’t know how you expect me to accept all this, or even understand completely what you’re talking about. What about your education?”

“It’s about to become much less formal,” I said. “I already have more practical knowledge of physics than most college graduates, and I’ll learn more as I go along. Besides, it can’t be helped. There probably won’t be any good curricula available in most of the places I’ll be going. But at least you’ll be saving a bundle in tuition.”

“Chris…” my father began, only to trail off again.


“Are you all right? You seem very different, and I don’t just mean physically.”

I shrugged again. “I probably should expect some kind of a nervous breakdown or something at some point, but I’m fine for now. I know I’m acting differently, but I think that’s to be expected. It’s even been suggested,” I added with a sudden grin, “that I’ve gone a little nuts, but I’m not going to worry about it. You shouldn’t, either.”

“But I do. I wish you well, Chris.”

“I appreciate that. Thanks. You too.” Again I noticed that the world around me was looking less real. Colors seemed a little washed out, shapes a little blurry. “Dad, I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go. Jerry’s waiting, and I’d like to see Mom if possible before I slip from this world completely.”

Dad looked frightened again, but all he said was, “I understand. Will I ever see you again?”

“I hope so. Bye, Dad.”


I could feel my Chris-shape dissolving again as the world tried to reject me. Rather than let that happen, I channeled myself back into the telephone lines. Jerry and Onclemac stared as I reconstituted myself in visible form as best I could.

“My God, Chris, what did you do?” Jerry said. “You don’t even look real now.”

“In what way?” I asked.

“You’re all pale and blurry, like a bad photograph.”

“Yeah, well, so is the world. Call my mom next, will you?”

“Are you sure that’s wise?” Harry asked. “The way you look now, I’m not at all sure you can get away with that trick a second time.”

“I’ll be all right,” I said. “I’m going to be with you for three weeks, remember?”

“Yeah, but what if you spend two weeks of that as a small blob of blue light or something? Just be careful. That’s all I’m saying.”

“I’ll try,” I said.

Despite Harry’s misgivings, I had Jerry dial my mom in Satellite Beach. I won’t go into details, even now, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience. She had no trouble believing me, but she was angry--about what I'd allowed to happen to Rachel, about what I'd allowed to happen to myself, about what she saw as my "relationship" with a married woman, about my general irresponsibility, and about my having contacted my dad before going to see her. Even Rachel, hidden away inside me, was shocked by my mom's words. I was very glad that I couldn’t stay long.

This time when I returned, Jerry and Harry looked even more worried than before. “I knew this was a mistake,” Harry said. “You don’t even have feet now.”

My first inclination was to shrug, but I wasn’t sure I could still do it. “I guess I’ve been losing my illusions,” I said. My voice sounded hollow and whispery. “Good thing I don’t really need feet. Not here, anyway.”

“You’ve been expending too much energy,” Harry said. “If you exist here as nothing but energy, that can’t be a good thing.”

I was a little annoyed that he hadn’t mentioned this before. “What do you suggest?” I asked. “I’m not quite done here.”

“What more do you need to do?” Jerry asked. “What more can you do, without a body?”

“I want to see Dr. John. Maybe not want, but I need to see him.”

If you do, he’ll probably try to kill you, Rachel warned.

“I really don’t think that’s a good idea,” Jerry said.

“I know, but I’m going to do it anyway,” I said to them both. “Let’s go find him.”

Joshua Wander in Musings:
Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine Part Ten

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Meet Joshua Wander, Part Ten

Art by Sherlock, adapted from an early draft of Rani's portrait.
Joshua Wander's story is now too long to summarize here. Please see Part Seven for the story up to that point, and Part Twelve for summaries of the later installments. Links to earlier installments are at the bottom of each entry.

Part Ten: Phone Home

I said, as I made my way upward and to the left, “what you said before about the effects of the experiment… were you implying that I’m crazy?”

A little bit, yes. Unstable and erratic would be more accurate terms.

I didn’t know whether to be offended or amused. “So I’m unstable – but you’re real?”

If you believe René Descartes, I am. I think. Of course, I’m not sure exactly what I am.

“A ghost?” I guessed. “A spirit? A soul?”

More likely a collection of engrams, imprinted on your brain during the bioelectric shock you gave yourself while trying to save me.

I remembered the way the electricity from my CPR attempt had arced upward into my body. Was that what had done it? “You’ve got to be more than a side effect of electric shock,
I said. It’s obvious there’s magic involved, even if I’m not sure where science leaves off and magic begins.”

I agree, and it’s a question I look forward to exploring. If it were just a matter of mundane science, Emergency Room doctors would be haunted by any number of dead patients. But just adding the “magic” label doesn’t really explain what I am or why I’m here

“You don’t seem too upset about being dead,” I said.

I think I was more confused than upset at first, Rachel told me. Unless it has yet to hit me, my grieving process mostly took place while you were asleep in that hayloft.

“You were with me then, and aware?”

Much of the time, yes.

“And you weren’t angry or depressed about what happened?”

Not as much as one might expect. There are certainly things I will miss about being alive, but mostly I see this as a great opportunity, to learn much more about the nature of reality than I ever could as a University professor.


I think this is your floor, Chris.

She was right. I walked through another wall and found myself in Dan’s room, two doors down from mine. He wasn’t there, so I walked through that room and the next to reach my destination. Jerry was going through my drawers, Harry through my closet. Neither saw me come in.

Don’t mention me, said Rachel in my head. I assumed that she meant the existence of her ghostly post mortem self. That was fine with me, at least for the moment.

“How’s it going?” I asked my two living friends.

Jerry turned so quickly that he tripped over a pile of (presumably) rejected clothing. “Where’d you come from?” he asked.

“Just now? The other size of that wall,” I said, pointing. “Find anything decent for me to wear?”

“Most of this won’t pass for normal or even wizardly clothing in Angland,” Harry said, “but I suppose you know that.”

“What, is there a dress code?” I said.

“Not exactly. Don’t you want to look the part?”

“Not especially,” I told him. “What about my Beatles records?”

“What’s the point?” Harry said. “There are no record players in Angland.”

“Yes, but I won’t be there that long, if your prophecy is correct.”

“He does prophecies?” Jerry asked. I wondered how much Onclemac had told him in my absence. “Hey, can you tell my fortune?”

“That’s not really the same thing,” Harry said
. He sounded a little annoyed. “Besides, I’m not sure that particular spell works in a mundane world like this one. Josh, what are we doing here? What are your plans, exactly?”

“I’m not making plans, exactly. I want some clothes, if only as a souvenir of home. I want my parents to know I’m alive, and not a murderer. I want a way to listen to the Beatles, in whatever world I end up in. And I should talk to John Grayson before I go.”

“The clothes are no problem,” Harry said, “even if I don’t approve.” He pointed to a stack of clothing, already neatly folded on the bare mattress. I noticed that my wizard costume was in the pile. “The records you don’t really need, not if you can generate Hendrix music in my wood stove. I’m not so sure about the other two items.”

“We can call your parents from the pay phone in the hall,” Jerry suggested.

“I can’t hold the phone,” I pointed out.

“I can,” said Jerry.

“What if they can’t hear me?”

“I think they will,” Harry said. He shrugged. “Let’s try it. The worst that happens is Jerry gives them a message from you, which they may or may not believe.”

Fair enough. I told Jerry where to find my address book with the phone numbers: the left hand drawer of the study carrel. I was half-surprised that the police hadn’t taken it as possible evidence, although it would have told them nothing. Also in the drawer was a bowl full of loose change, mostly quarters for laundry. We wouldn’t have to call my parents collect, and I wouldn’t have to owe Jerry money for the calls—forever.

Jerry grabbed the address book and all the change—I figured I had no more use for it myself—and we headed down the hall to the pay phones. I had Jerry dial my dad’s number first. “Hello, Dr. Stein? Hi, this is Jerry Cronin, a friend of Chris’s. Yes, I have. Yes, he’s right here. Yes, he’s okay, sort of, but, well, it’s complicated. I’ll try to put him on, but there’s a chance you won’t be able to hear him. No, he hasn’t lost his voice. He’s lost his whole…how much do you know about physics? Yes sir, here he is.”

When Jerry held out the phone for me, I rushed to stand next to it. In my hurry, I accidentally passed my head through Jerry
s on the way. This startled Jerry so much that he nearly dropped the phone, but there were no other odd effects. I placed myself an inch from the receiver and said, “Dad? Can you hear me?” I could almost see my words traveling down the phone line, headed for Maryland.

“I hear you just fine,” my dad said testily. “What’s happening over there? What kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into?”

“How much do you know?” I asked.

“Only what the police and the University and the reporters told me. Tell me the truth. What happened?”

“Dr. Rachel Grayson had an epileptic seizure, followed by the stroke that killed her. I was the only witness—the only one that counts, anyway. I tried to save her, but I couldn’t.”

“God, Chris. I’m sorry you have to go through this. You need to call a friend of mine up there, a defense lawyer. His name is Bob—”

“I don’t need a lawyer, Dad, but thanks. The autopsy will show I didn’t kill Dr. Rachel, and there’s nothing a lawyer can do about what’s wrong with me now—well, except maybe set up a trust fund or something.”

“What exactly is wrong with you?” My dad sounded worried, even alarmed.

“I’ve kind of gone all incorporeal with respect to this universe. I only have a solid presence in other worlds.”

“Chris, if this is a joke….”

“You know what, Dad?” I said, suddenly losing patience. “I knew before Jerry dialed the phone that you wouldn’t believe me. I ca
n’t prove it to you, but—wait a minute. Maybe I can.” I turned to Jerry. “Don’t hang up,” I said, emphasizing every word.

Then I deliberately put my hand through the telephone’s handset. It wasn’t exactly a visual impression, or even a tactile sensation, but I became even more aware of the telephone signal, making its almost instantaneous connection between Syracuse and Potomac through at least a thousand miles of cable: trunk lines and feeder lines and switchboards.

Hang on, Rachel
, I thought, not knowing whether she could hear me. We’re going for a ride. Then, dropping the last vestige of illusion that I still existed corporeally in the world of my birth, I sent the bundle of sentient energy that was Joshua Wander leaping along the telephone wires.

The Real Joshua Wander
Joshua Wander: Two Fragments
Joshua Wander Lives (the history of the character)

Joshua Wander on BlogSpot:
Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine
Or click on Archives from November 2004 on. (June-October 2004 are mostly Mâvarin entries)

Joshua Wander in Musings:
Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight
Part Nine

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Meet Joshua Wander, Part Nine

Art by Sherlock, adapted from an early draft of Rani's portrait.
Joshua Wander's story is now too long to summarize here. Please see Part Seven for the story up to that point, and Part Twelve for summaries of the later installments. Links to earlier installments are at the bottom of each entry.

Part Nine: Rachel Speaks

Ironically, the impossible sound of Rachel’s voice shocked me out of my go-with-the-flow, nothing-is-real state of manic equanimity. “Rachel?” I whispered. It was the first time I had ever called her that in her hearing: not Dr. Rachel, not Professor Grayson, but simply Rachel.

“Yes, Chris. Let me talk to the police officers for a moment.”

Without any conscious volition on my part, I turned to face the two cops. Still standing two feet above a step halfway between the tenth and ninth floor landings, I was now angled upward, relative to the world, so that the police were in my direct line of sight. “I realize it’s inadmissible, but I’d like to make a statement too, if I may,” Rachel said.

“Oh my God. It is her,” Hennigan said.

“How can it be her?” Farrell asked. “She’s dead. We saw the body ourselves.”

I glanced down at “myself.” I saw a pale green blouse over a dark green skirt. It was the last outfit Rachel had worn. My hands were Rachel’s hands. I trembled inside, but the hands hardly moved.

“You’re both right,” Rachel said. Her voice had the same forceful but dispassionate, matter-of-fact quality I had heard a thousand times before. “It is me, and I am dead. But I still have something to say.”

“We’re listening,” Farrell said. Her voice sounded nervous, a little quavery as it had not been before.

“Chris Stein didn’t murder me,” Rachel said. “Neither did my husband. It was my fault, not theirs. They didn’t know that the strobe lights of our last experiment would cause me to have a seizure, let alone a stroke. I didn’t tell anyone about my family’s history of epilepsy, because I’d never had a problem myself. I didn’t think such a simple experiment would affect me so."

I felt my jaw go slack as Rachel finished her statement. “Rachel,” I managed to say. “When I did what I did with the lights, did I…did I cause…?”

“We’ll never know, will we?” Rachel said, with a touch of annoyance. “But I blame myself, not you.”

“But if I’d just—“

Rachel didn't let me finish the sentence. “Just what? There’s probably nothing you could have done differently that would have saved me. In a way, you did save me, because here I am.”

“If I hadn’t been showing off with the light effects—”

“—you would not have been complying with the experiment’s parameters. Let go of the guilt, Chris. Be Joshua, and take me with you. This world isn’t ours any longer.”

“What about Dr. John?”

“I’m not haunting him,” Rachel said. “I’m haunting you. Or co-habiting; whichever. John will never understand that, or forgive; but that’s how it is.”

“He deserves to know what happened,” I said.

“I agree. That’s why I manifested now, so that I could help to tell our story to the people who need to know it.” We looked through a single pair of eyes at the two cops on the stairs, each silent and frightened as they observed the flickering images of a dead woman and her accused killer sharing the same insubstantial body. “Although, on second thought, these two are unlikely to be much help in getting the word out,” Rachel added.

“She’s right,” Farrell told her partner. “If we file a report containing interviews with a couple of ghosts…”

“…they’ll have our badges,” Hennigan finished. “Probably send us to Hutchings while they’re at it.”

“I understand your difficulty with this,” Rachel said. “Fortunately, you have an alternative.”

“Which is?” Hennigan asked.

“Physical evidence. On my desk in the lab, you should find full documentation of the experiments my husband and I conducted on Christopher Stein. If it’s not there, then you’ll know John’s been hiding or destroying evidence.”

“Would he do that?” I asked.

“Maybe,” Rachel said.

“We’ve got that file,” Farrell said. “What of it?”

“Look on the pages labeled Observations and Subjective Reactions. The notes there should provide evidence that the experiments had profound biochemical effects on the subject, causing, among other things, mildly erratic behavior. The truth is that Chris has become physically incompatible with the world you know, but it shouldn’t be hard to find an expert who will use our data to derive a more acceptable conclusion.

“Second. If the coroner is any good at all, he should discover that I died as the result of a stroke, brought on by an epileptic seizure. We were using strobe lights in that last experiment, as my notes will show. Chris didn’t cause my seizure; the lights did. Chris tried CPR, but that didn’t keep me alive. The autopsy should be consistent with this sequence of events. You don’t need the word of a ghost to close the case. The physical evidence should be sufficient.”

“All right,” Hennigan said. “Let’s say we accept that you’re the ghost of Rachel Grayson, not an optical effect created by a clever physics student who murdered his professor after a series of dangerous experiments drove him crazy. Let’s further say that the lab notes and the autopsy prove that disco lights caused your death, not anything that Stein or John Grayson did. That still doesn’t solve the question of Stein’s disappearance.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry too much about that,” Rachel said. I couldn’t see her amused smile, but it was there in my memory. “Nobody will expect the Syracuse Police Department to provide a definitive, rational answer to something so obviously paranormal. After a Fortean event, scientists, conspiracy buffs and other crackpots will find as many explanations as you could possibly want. My advice is to pick a theory that’s getting popular support in the press, and go with it. As long as nobody is accused of murder or manslaughter, I’ll be satisfied. Don’t you agree, Chris?”

“Well, I certainly don’t want people to think I murdered you,” I agreed. “But I’d also like my parents to know I’m not dead, even if they never see me again.”

“We’ll take care of that,” Rachel promised. “Are we done here, officers?”

Cindy Farrell folded her arms, as if to block our path back up the stairs. “Stein still hasn’t told us his version of events,” she said. “I’d like to hear what he has to say on the subject, even if we can’t present his words as evidence.”

“You don’t need me to tell you what happened,” I said. “Dr. Rachel had it right. We were working with strobe lights. I was manipulating the wavelengths of the light produced when she had her seizure. As I tried to shut it down, we disappeared out of this world into another one. I tried to revive her, but she died anyway. I managed to get her body back to the lab, but my own body proved less cooperative.”

Tim Hennigan shook his head. “That’s it? That’s your statement?”

I shrugged. I was back in nothing-is-real mode. “Well, I could tell you about an interrupted battle between serfs and nobles, a telepathic horse and a multimedia fire, but I can see you don’t believe me as it is, so let’s not. Can we go now, Dr. Rachel? I’m tired of this game.”

You don’t need my permission, Rachel said in my head. Just go. I was so startled by this new form of communication that my head whipped backward, pulling me into a back somersault in mid-air.

“What are you doing?” Hennigan asked. My latest behavior must have startled both cops, because their guns were out again.

“Gymnastics, apparently,” I said. “Did you hear Dr. Rachel answer my question to her just now?”

The police officers shook their heads.

“Good,” I said. “Bye.” I launched myself through a wall and into a supply closet. I don’t need stairs, anyway, I thought, and started walking upward again, disregarding the brooms and mops, concrete and conduits between me and the eleventh floor.

The Real Joshua Wander
Joshua Wander: Two Fragments
Joshua Wander Lives (the history of the character)

Joshua Wander on Blogspot:
Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight

Joshua Wander in Musings:
Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight