by James Robert Smith
At first, there weren't any ghosts.
This was for a time after the machines stopped working and the fuels everyone once depended upon had become useless. People went into a panic, I've been told. They were like animals for a while, and then everyone learned that life was no worse than before, only different. People died because they were far from help and travel was slow; but the world was bigger. Images couldn't be sent through the air to homes all over the land; but books were precious again. No one could climb into those metal boxes and be transported at great speeds; but the air was clear.
The Old Vicar had stood on a hill in the day and had pointed at the brilliant, cobalt blue sky and had done his best to explain how dingy the sky had been. It's hard to believe. At night, he had stood on that same hill and we had all looked up at the numberless stars twinkling in the velvet, those untold bits of diamond light scattered, scattered. Before, he had told us, one could not see the stars for the dirty lights mankind had planted all about. I do not think those faded wonders of man could be as great as what we see in a clear night sky.
Then, the ghosts came.
The first one arrived when I was a child. For a while, I thought that I had brought it in somehow. I had been trapped in bed with the fever, and been delirious for days. The doctor came to offer medicine and to make sure that water and broth were poured down my throat. On the fourth day of my sickness, when the fever was beginning to break, I saw it come into the room, passing like tobacco smoke through the wall. I had thought that my eyes had fooled me and that it was my mother in there with me. For I saw that the figure was a woman; but my mother would not have come like that into my room. My mother would not stand over my bed and leer at me in such a manner, as if drooling over my misery. When the ghost opened its mouth...rather, when the thing's jaws became unhinged and its tongue settled on my chest, I screamed.
When the others had come, the thing had not vanished. It had hovered over me, and it had seemed to delight in the fear of the others as they wanted to come to me but could not because they were too afraid. Even my mother had been unable for a while and only when she, too, screamed and raced to take me up in her arms did the thing retreat. For weeks my mother was obsessed with what the ghost's face had done as it went away. Soon, however, she came to see much worse than that and it that first apparition faded to the least of her nightmares.
For a time, the ghosts came rarely. And they did not linger, usually only long enough to instill fear into those who saw them. No one knew why they were there, for no one could recall them from before. The Old Vicar said that there had been no ghosts in the world before mankind's contraptions ceased to work. Mankind's works had kept them at bay for at least two hundred years, he had told us. Perhaps the ghosts had returned because they now could. Perhaps, he had told us in that mature, but powerful voice, the ghosts had grown weary of being held impotent and now we knew why motors no longer ran, why no fuel other than wood would burn. Perhaps, and maybe not, for the Old Vicar never claims to have all answers.
So he says.