Her Impression
A Short Story by Jim McCollum
Written using the suggestion "Pride"
Originally featured on 10-12-2007
As part of our series "A Funny Thing Happened To Me on the Way to the Fall"

Oren first felt his wife’s return approximately one month after he buried her in the ground. The house had descended into disarray and Oren mostly lived on the couch in the living room, eating in the kitchen, showering in the guest bath, and keeping his laundry in the three large cardboard boxes. He avoided the bedroom until the night he heard a sound coming from inside. A long whistle, a clear G, the first note in “Moon River,” Sarah’s most beloved song. A slight breeze through a window? Sarah is that you?

The note ceased when Oren closed the window. He began to prepare the house for her return; he threw out old pizza boxes and Chinese take-out containers. He washed the laundry and put fresh linens on the master bed, meticulously tucking in the sheet and fluffing the pillow on Sarah’s side. He lit tea lights and placed them throughout the house. If her spirit returned, she might only have the strength to touch one of the tiny flames.

Three days went by, but she did not come.

 

“You're acting weird,” said Donald, one of Oren’s co-engineers. “You're kind of freaking people out.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” said Oren, “all I said was that perhaps the barrier that separates this world from the next is not as firm as once believed, perhaps it only is comprised of a thin veil, not a wall of concrete.”

“See, that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about,” said Donald, “maybe try taking a breath in between sentences.”

A week later, Oren’s boss called him into his office. “How are you feeling these days, Oren?”

“Fine, I’m feeling well.”

“Ah, well, here’s the thing,” Oren’s boss looked out his window, “you just still seem to be taking things pretty hard—now, I understand you’ve been through a lot. I just think you need some more time off. You still have vacation time left. Why don’t you take a month off?”

“Oh, I don’t know, I like working. It keeps me busy—“

“Oren, I really think you should take the time off.”

Oren left the office early that day. He walked out into a particularly warm, sunny day. He sat down on a bench outside his office, and sighed.

“No one believes you,” a strange man sat down beside Oren, “it can be a troubling realization.”

The man wore a burgundy shirt and a striped tie. He was slightly balding, with streaks of gray in his short black hair. He had a long, thin face, but smiled at Oren.

“Do I know you?”

“No, you probably don’t. I work on the sixth floor.”

“I’ve had a pretty hard day, Mister…”

“Mr. Erlingbender.”

“Right. I have to go, Mr. Erlingbender.”

“Here,” Mr. Erlingbender handed Oren a card with an address on it, “Come to this address tonight at 8pm sharp. You're in good company, now.”

The card simply had an address printed on it in raised gold type, and below it, an image of a flame.

Oren drove by the building with the address from the card two or three times. The building had significant water damage and deterioration on it’s exterior, and from the outside, looked like a warehouse or some unused storage facility.

Timidly, Oren knocked on the door. A slat on the door opened and Oren could see a face, dark behind the grill. The slat closed and a heavy clank came from inside the door. The door swung open and Mr. Erlingbender greeted Oren.

“Come on in! I’m glad you decided to come.”

“I hadn’t planned on it this afternoon, but something about the flame on the card—you see I’ve taken to lighting candles around my house.”

“Oh, I’m quite aware of your activities.”

“I’m not sure I understand your meaning.”

“Hup, hup,” Mr. Erlingbender put his finger to his lips, “no more now, all will be answered within minutes.”

Oren followed his guide down a long passageway, lined with cardboard boxes until they came to a large open space. A large digital display covered most of one of the smaller walls inside, flashing numbers and addresses. On one of the longer walls in the rectangular room a map of the region hung with flags stuck into it. People on rolling ladders were removing and placing the flags in place. Oren walked into the center of the room, people carrying sheets of paper walked past him, handing the papers to the people placing flags on the map.

“What’s going on here?” Oren said, staring at the commotion around him.

“We’re ghost trackers,” said Mr. Erlingbender, “we track ghost sightings and attempt to recreate them. We’re called Life After Death.”

Oren noticed his own house on the map, a flag had been placed upon it.

“We look for patterns,” Mr. Erlingbender continued, “you see, we all have lost someone important to us, and, like you, we’ve all decided that is unacceptable. We’ve decided to take things into our own hands. We’d like to help you, Oren, and we’d like you to help us.”

The next night found Oren and some of the L.A.D.s attempting to contact Sarah. They placed microphones and video cameras throughout Oren’s house.

“What’s so exciting about your case is that it’s relatively recent,” said Erich, a young man who’s mother had died three years earlier, “some people theorize that the dead’s power to communicate diminishes with time. Of course, any contact with a live ghost will provide clues, and possibly our communication tools will advance enough that we can talk to people who’ve died one or even three years prior.”

“How many ghosts have you contacted?” Oren asked as Erich screwed in the mounting platform for a microphone and camera.

“Well, I’ve personally recorded hundreds of ghosts.”

“Wow,” said Oren, rubbing his hands together.

The process of communicating with the dead is rather simple, Oren found out. With the equipment recording, one merely asks a question, or begins to interact with the deceased person as if they were present. Oren talked to Sarah about what had been happening to him at work, he told her about a movie he had seen recently, and made dinner for two, setting her plate at the spot on the table she preferred. He felt a warmth inside himself, but also felt tears just behind his eyes; he wanted to see Sarah, to touch her, to hear her respond to him.

Midnight, prime ghost recording time, came and past. At approximately one o'clock in the morning, Oren became too tired to continue. He had been talking to a bathrobe of Sarah’s with “Hers” written on the back, and he took the bathrobe into the bedroom and fell asleep beside it.

In the morning, he woke to find Erich very excited.

“I think you will be very excited to hear this,” said Erich, who pressed a button on one of the recorders.

Oren heard his own voice speaking, “…and people have begun to look at me strangely at work, of course, but I…I miss you Sarah.”

Static and crackling followed.

“I don’t hear anything,” said Oren.

“Ah, but wait,” said Erich, “you see, with some selective filtering, a band pass equalizer, then let me boost the mid-range,” Erich pressed buttons on a small display, “and we have it.”

“…and people have begun to look at me strangely at work, of course, but I…I miss you Sarah.”

The static seemed thinner, and as Oren strained his ears, he could hear each click and pop.

“SsssssssssssIaaaaaaaaaaamissssssssssyoutooaaaaaaaaaaaaaa,”

“Do you hear it?” Erich grabbed his shoulder, smiling.

“Barely,” said Oren.

“Let me loop it.”

“SsssssssssssIaaaaaaaaaaamissssssssssyoutooaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.”

“SsssssssssssIaaaaaaaaaaamissssssssssyoutooaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.”

“SsssssssssssIaaaaaaaaaaamissssssssssyoutooaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.”

“The evidence is right there,” said Erich, “your wife’s presence is here, in this house. Isn’t that amazing?” He clapped Oren on the back.

Oren smiled, he wanted to hear the noisy voice again.

Erich had said something that Oren had not hear, but he continued, “You know, we really need an engineer. We would like to begin to design our own equipment, not just re-purpose this existing technology. I know Erlingbender is going to ask you to join us, but we wanted to make sure you were a believer first, wanted to—”

Erich talked excitedly, but noticed that Oren looked uncomfortable.

“You do believe don’t you?”

Oren thought about his wife, and a specific day not long after they had met. They had gone out for a picnic up on a hill overlooking Sarah’s home town. It had been a steep drive up the dirt road, the car tilting as it rolled over the ditches and narrow passes up to the top, which the locals had nicknamed “Top of the World.” When they got there, they spread a blanket out on the grass field. The sun set over the town, and the warm light caught in Sarah’s hair. She smiled, and they ate. They held each other. They rolled on the grass and kissed.

“Don’t worry,” said Oren, “I believe.”

Erich let out an exaggerated sigh of relief, “Whew! I didn’t mean any offense, but I just had to make sure. You wouldn’t believe the number of die-hard skeptics out there, people who refuse to believe even in the face of such irrefutable evidence.”

Oren listened, but walked over and pressed the play button. He listened to the static, the hissing pulsed with the rhythm of the machine’s motor. Oren wanted that voice emerging from the void to be his wife’s, but as he listened, the word’s sounded less distinct.

“I believe,” Oren said, shutting off the playback machine. He smiled at Erich, “I believe. What can I do to help?”

Read More By Jim McCollum

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Portland Fiction Project

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