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