But Ghosts Don’t Exist

Jonathan had been walking for hours, trying to convince himself that he didn’t need to make his next move and assume his next identity–just because that morning a man had stared at him in amazement, recognizing Jonathan from years ago. Perhaps something else had been behind that stare, other than the certainty that he was looking at a man whose face had not changed, while everyone else had been cloaked in wrinkles, but from bitter experience he knew he could no longer risk staying in his apartment and work place.

Feeling the exhaustion that pulling up roots always inflicted on him, and doubly exhausted with the fatigue of walking aimlessly since early morning, Jonathan stopped outside the entrance to a coffee shop. He suddenly felt compelled to enter and order a café latte and an apricot Danish. The impulse to enter this particular restaurant and order those particular items felt different than the usual sensation when some thought or feeling led to a shift in direction.

Jonathan felt himself gripped by a compelling force that reminded him of the sirens calling out to Odysseus, as that celebrated Greek General wended his way home after the Trojan war. Except that Jonathan was not wending his way anywhere, home or elsewhere, for the simple reason that he had no idea where he came from and why he did not age like all the human beings among whom he had lived for thousands of years.

No sooner had he taken a seat in the corner of the Range Restaurant with his large café latte and his apricot Danish, relishing the support of the chair against his aching back, when he was joined by the unwelcome companion that had been dogging his steps all day. He had hoped that being among real people would push that hallucination out of his consciousness–after hours of trudging along roads and alleyways with no destination other than a desperate desire to outrun his own thoughts. The worst thing was that this hallucination kept insisting he was a real being, rooted in a reality completely independent of Jonathan’s own mind.

That’s right, I’m a spirit who used to live on this planet. I don’t know why you’re so convinced that spirits don’t exist. It’s posing a huge problem for both you and this world. I’ve been sent back to Earth to help you remember who you are and convince you that you are uniquely in a position to help this planet.”

When a couple several tables away looked his way, Jonathan realized that, in his desperate effort to drown out this voice, he had been humming to himself. Their disapproving glance clearly included a judgement that Jonathan was the victim of mental illness. Maybe they were right.

He took a deep gulp of his creamy coffee and a bite of his Danish; then tried to compose his face into a semblance of a relaxation he didn’t feel. The specter kept talking.

There’s a man in the booth to your right, sitting by himself. He’s writing on a yellow legal pad. I need you to give him a message. Tell him that his son, Patrick, has rediscovered his reason for being and that he doesn’t have to worry about me anymore.”

Jonathan knew better than to start talking to hallucinations–or to do their bidding. He wasn’t about to draw further attention to himself now that he had already attracted the glances of other customers. And he refused to allow this would-be ghost, who claimed to have a relationship with some stranger sitting in a nearby booth, to . . .

Damn it. You made me think of you as a ghost, didn’t you?

Jonathan could only hope that this emotional outburst had stayed within the silence of his own mind. His nerves were so frayed that he had been unable to contain himself. Hoping that his lips weren’t moving within view of anyone who might be watching, he forced his eyes to focus on the plate with the half-eaten Danish. Then—even though he was appalled that he was succumbing to the claims of an imaginary figment of his imagination–he confronted the hallucination, “You’re no ghost because ghosts don’t exist.”

Jonathan was sure he hadn’t spoken out loud, but that provided little comfort as he watched himself justifying his religious beliefs to a fragment of his own mind.

See, you have powers that you have forgotten you have. That’s why I’ve been sent here to talk with you: it’s vital that you stop cowering in the shadows while this world is in flames and expiring beneath rising seas. I’ve been sent here to remind you who you are so that you can use your powers to help this dying world.

Jonathan knew it was time to get up and leave this restaurant. Abandoning the coffee and Danish which his exhausted body and mind still craved, it was now clear that he would have to return to the life of a homeless man. He really had little choice but to collapse among the marginalized masses of men and women who spent their days and nights bobbing along in terrible destitution and loneliness. He pulled out his wallet, took out a $5 bill to leave a generous tip, in the hope that he might thereby be seen as a successful member of society, and laid it on the tabletop.

The apparition spoke again, this time in a voice stripped of its cajoling invitation for Jonathan to pay attention. This new voice insisted on compliance.

If you don’t deliver my message to that man Richard, who is my father, I will knock your cup of coffee over. It will spill across the table top, over your lap, and onto the floor. Then good luck slipping out of here like someone who just remembered an appointment.

Jonathan did his best to shut out the voice with its idle threat that it had the power to manipulate the physical world. Since it had no physical existence, this mental trope claiming to be an entity independent of Jonathan’s mind, had just made a tactical error. For the first time that day, Jonathan smiled to himself. He stood up from his chair, confident that this hallucination– which couldn’t exist because no-one survived the death of his body—couldn’t possibly carry out its threat.

As he watched in horror, his half full cup tilted towards him and a small spill of coffee poured onto the tabletop, before righting itself. Deeply shaken, Jonathan returned to his seat. His certainty that after death there is no continuation of consciousness, was shaken in a way that believers over the centuries had failed to do. As he sat down, he felt a misgiving in his deepest being, far too deep to be swayed by his belief structures. He only knew that the belief he had carried for as long as he could remember–that when embodied life ends, awareness is utterly erased from the ledgers of time and space—had just been given a death sentence.

Out of the turmoil of his floundering mind, a faint feeling of hope lapped against the terrible isolation in which he had lived for so long. With an unaccustomed feeling of calm, he spoke in the silence of his mind to the figure standing next to his table.

I’ll deliver your message to this Richard. Then will you leave me in peace?”

Yes, for now.”

Jonathan, still doubtful that the man writing on his legal pad was really called “Richard” or that he would have the slightest interest in hearing about a deceased son, who claimed to be doing OK, walked over to the booth and waited for the stranger to look at him.

When their eyes met, Jonathan was gripped with a recognition that they were both deeply alone in this world. As they looked silently at one another, Jonathan felt himself awash in the waves of a deep sea that was doing its best to drown both of them.

Please sit down,” the man said, gesturing towards the bench on the other side of the booth.

As if lowering himself into a tub of warm water, Jonathan sat down on the bench and laid his cup on the table. Uncertain what he was doing there, he began talking to this stranger.

I don’t want to project my own mental issues onto you, Sir. But if you’re name is Richard, I think I have a message for you.

The man eyes widened. Then he nodded, confirming that his name was Richard.

I must have hoped that it wasn’t your name and that I just needed to struggle harder with my own loose screws. But now I realize that I need to give you the rest of the message which the semblance of a man who called himself Patrick just gave me.”

The man across the table turned pale when he heard that name. Then his expression returned to the composure of a man avidly interested in what would come next. Jonathan couldn’t be completely sure whether this attentive interest was that of a therapist regarding Jonathan as a patient who needed help, or the longing of a father who had lost his son. When Richard spoke in a trembling voice, Jonathan knew it was the latter.

What did Patrick want you to tell me?”

“He wants you to know that he is finally living out his destiny. He said to tell you that he has found his reason for being and that you don’t have to worry about him.

When Jonathan looked up, Richard’s eyes were closed and tears were running down his face.

With a mixture of regret and amazement, Jonathan said, “I’m so sorry Richard. It was not my intention to inflict pain on you. I’ve experienced psychic energies before, but they were always about things I could trace to the world around me. This is new for me and I still can’t quite believe it is real.”

Is Patrick here now?”

Jonathan looked toward his original table where he had last seen the specter, then noticed that Patrick was sitting on the bench beside Richard.

Yes, he’s sitting beside you.”

Richard turned toward the empty half of the bench, tried to smile, then turned back to Jonathan and said, “I don’t know what to believe either. I’ve never been at this coffee shop before. I live on the other side of town and had no reason to drive so far for a cup of coffee. But I couldn’t stop myself from coming here, as if I was being led by another force than my own. Let me read a bit of what I was writing before you came over here.”

Richard picked up the pad of yellow sheets, still attached to its cardboard backing, thumbed through several pages, and then read from what he had written.

I’ve been thinking of Patrick a lot today, from the moment I woke up. It would have been his 29th birthday today, his second here without him. That might explain why memories are besetting my mind and heart. But I’m not sure it explains why I came here this afternoon and why I have this terrible sense that being here is crucial for my future happiness.

Looking directly at Jonathan, Richard said, “Is there anything else that Patrick has to tell me?”

Jonathan turned to Patrick and they held one another’s gaze for a long moment. Finally, Patrick responded.

I have a lot to say to both of you. But not here. Tell Dad that I need him to drive you back to his place. There are others waiting to talk with you, Jonathan, and you’ll need my father to be a witness so that you can be sure you’re not just imagining it all. His knowledge of me will be the touchstone for the coming together of two realms whose existence is under deadly threat.”

One comment to “But Ghosts Don’t Exist”
  1. Love reading the tales of Jonathan the time traveler. They seem to awaken a seemingly dormant awareness that the state of our planet, and our humanity are gravely threatened by that same veiled awareness.

    More time traveler tales please…

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