A GHOST OF YOU

I’m sitting in front of the T.V, dumb ads playing and it might as well be a regular, normal day, with you beside me, commenting and ridiculing the stupid shit they make the viewers watch. Only it isn’t anymore, is it? It will never be, because you’re not actually here. Or maybe you are and I just can’t see it.
After you were gone, I waited. Because I had promised you, I’d wait and you’d promised to do whatever it takes to come back to me. I waited, even after it was a year, two, gone. And then came the letter, the men in uniforms, telling me you must be gone, that there was no way you weren’t. because if you’d still been alive, still been here, you’d have reached out, or they would have found you. That even with all their satellites and their drones and their spybots, they had seen no sign of you anywhere. Not in our territory and not in others.
I still waited. Because I’d made a promise, and maybe if I stuck by it, you would too, and you’d come back and we’d be happy again. You’d come back, with sweat and grime across your face, teeth gleaming against dirt-blackened skin and say, “So? What’s next?”
After the fourth year, after screaming at and ignoring everyone who said to move on, to get past even I was starting to lose faith. And then came the letter, with the discreet address and the obvious, illegal and dubious air about it. I wanted to get away from the smarmy man with the greasy smile, who delivered it, wanted to throw away the paper that had to be full of lies and false hopes. But I couldn’t. he told me it was your last request and he was sorry it was two years too late, (funny, he didn’t look very sorry though), but these things take time, and it was to be very, very discreet.
And how could I throw it away after that? If he had given me poison and said it was from you, I would probably still have rejoiced to have a last piece of you with me. So, I sat on the sofa that only reminds me of you and how you’re not there anymore. I sat in the house that was once ours and not only mine, that was once a home and something beyond mortar and blocks of concrete and read the unintelligible chicken scrawl that I knew could have only been yours. With each sentence I felt more disheartened and disappointed. If losing you was torture, then this, reading your confession and your death sentence felt like death itself. I hated how vividly you described the threats against me and the suicide mission they sent you on. And in this new light all those speeches about letting go seemed even more morbid and two-faced than they had before.
I read further as you assured me, that you would stay with me till the end, and how your scientist acquaintance had told you about a new project in whispers in the community. And as I read the last few lines, I felt horror and hope creep in, as entwined as your memories and your loss felt. I knew you promised and I hoped you’d keep it, but this? this was science and myth and moral and immoral all thrown together and lit on fire.
A virtual sentience? How is that even possible? Would it be a shadow of you? With data and memories uploaded into it and stringed together with code to be an echo. A haunting, empty echo of who you were? Or would it be like you? Like you but just in spirit? Your conscience, your brain, your heart?
How was this possible? And why didn’t you tell me about this? With questions in my head and hope in my heart, I agreed to sign the documents and the non-disclosures. With shaking hands and dripping eyes, I waited, I waited as they brought the machine home and started what I assumed was the process of bringing you back.
In hindsight, I should have asked more questions, made sure it was really our benefit they were seeking and not just, desperate, willing test-subjects. But the thought of having you back, in any capacity, with any condition just felt so surreally good, like a second chance, and a boon, miracle all in one, that I …… I agreed to whatever they said without a second thought.
No telling anyone, or leaving any proof of your resurrected conscience, and to immediately come to them in the case of any problem. And as I waited with trepidation and fear as they were finishing up, I saw you. Or what looked like a hologram of you anyway, smiling at me. You looked just like you did before you left, the same, cheeky smile and same clothes. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry because you were back, and you were here, but you were so different and so ethereal that I couldn’t relate the idea of you to this angelic, glowing apparition.
As soon as they left, you turned to me and some quip about promises. We laughed and we talked and I broke down in tears, because you were back and you were here again.
You had always been a bit of a mother hen, so I didn’t realize the badgering and the protectiveness was escalating, till it was too late. Don’t go out after dark, soon became don’t go out at all. And honestly, I didn’t mind, at the beginning. It was hard, having to go outside and pretend that you were dead, and that I was grieving, when I knew you were at home, floating around the house, watching from the drapes as I came home. As it was, whatever we needed could easily have been delivered to our doorstep. And whatever few friends we’d had, were pushed away and aliened in the months after your death, as I raged and grieved.
Slowly, but surly, I became dependent on you. But it wasn’t you at all? was it?
I noticed the small discrepancies. How you’d make reports of things despite having no job at all. How you’d just observe sometimes, taking in the surroundings as if you were still looking for something to attack you. And then one day, I realized that I hadn’t stepped out of the house in almost six months. As I jokingly mentioned it to you, I saw you turn around and laugh. It sounded so maniacal, forced and entirely unlike you that for a moment I felt shaken and unsure.
I still remember the words you said “Why would you need to go outside anymore? you could stay here. I have to stay beside you. I promised, didn’t I? I kept my promise, I came back, why do you need to leave then?”
In that moment, you sounded so confused and unlike your usual self, that I felt a shiver go down my spine. I think that was the starting of my doubts. I started asking questions after that, something I should have done months ago. Slowly I began to notice that no neighbors called anymore, and the door was always locked, with a digitally encrypted password. All of the windows had tinted sheets on them and all delivery records seemed from shady, suspicious sources.
When I tried to access the call records, I saw that the services were discontinued a long time ago, and all of the social media was monitored and filtered, as were the search engines. I had ignored it till I couldn’t, and I decided that something was definitely wrong.
But when I raised any concerns, you were there, or rather that thing was. It wore your face, and talked like you, but I had begun to doubt what it really was. Each time I tried to leave, I was firmly blocked or distracted, at the beginning with honeyed words and requests to talk about our life, but then with suspicion, and finally, with threats.
Gadgets stacked in front of the doors, and the thing that wore your face screaming in increasingly loud tones about operation corrupted and core algorithm violated. Toasters whirring, oven steaming, the shredder making increasingly horrifying sounds, all the while I hid wherever I could, around the house.
Somehow, I managed to get to the machine and locate the core server. And as I smashed the server, the hologram, (because it wasn’t you anymore, was it?) flickered and kept repeating what seemed to be digitalized codes in an utterly human-like and broken tone. I watched, with tears as the image of you flickered for the last time, a furious expression on the face of that thing, that was you sometime ago. As I sat there horrified and in shock, I guessed I should have been more careful, more vigilant. As I called the helpline the men had given me, I couldn’t help thinking I shouldn’t have been this stupid. I should have seen this coming, after messing with things I had no idea about. Just as I probably should have seen the gun in the coat of the men who came to collect the broken server.

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