Professor Danvers stepped out into the center of the library. She held her sound detector high as she turned around in place. The lights were on; the old oak that furnished the house gave the impression of a cavern. She felt like an explorer, lifting a lamp into the darkness.
“Tell me,” she said, “are there any ghosts that walk this place?”
The house’s owner had not exaggerated the presence of the phenomenon. At once, a rumbling came from each corner of the room, so sudden that it caused Danvers’ teaching assistant Parker to jump in place. The sound was as though the walls were taken in hand and shaken, like a child’s rattle. The leather-bound books hopped up and down on their shelves, and all the wing-backed chairs crept inch by inch towards the center of the room. Mixed in with the clamor around them was a low hum, almost an echo that seemed to say “nooooooooooooooo.”
Danvers and Parker exchanged a credulous glance. The Professor looked to the corners of the room, where the noises had come from, and said, “So you’re telling me no, there are no ghosts in this library?”
There was a few moments’ pause before the rumbling returned. This time it had the sound of a low hiss, almost like a gas leak, which said, “sssssssshoooooooooot.”
“Anything is worth a shot, I guess,” said Parker.
The rumbling died down. Danvers lowered her detector close to her hip, but kept looking from corner to corner. This call and response here was promising. She had gotten vocalizations before, but so disjointed that the apparitions may not have even known she was there.
“Now that you admit yourself and your presence, tell me: why are you here, spirit?”
“We, uh, gathered that.”
“theennnnnnn whyyyy did you aaaaaaaaaask”
“Well, to establish what happened to you, scientifically speaking. To see if the cause of this phenomenon is linked to the manner of your death, or to something else.”
“whyyyyyyy issssss thaaaaaaat yoooooooour bussssssinesssssss”
In all of Danvers’ years of studying the paranormal off the books, no one living or otherwise had ever asked her that question. There had been comments, of course. People had called her a fraud or a madwoman. Her peers even threatened to bring it up to her tenure committee if she didn’t pay them off. But no one had ever asked her why she actually went to the trouble, and if it had to do with the thoughts she clung to while sitting for long stretches in hospital waiting rooms. No one had ever asked, and never in such a way that made her feel like she was imposing.
“Well,” she said, then fell silent. The hand that held the detector fell even lower to her side, like she now held a large stone.
Parker looked over his employer, wondering what to do next. He had never seen her go silent before now, especially not with a ghost. She had years of experience with them, but it was all still new to him. Seeing her silent and confused at a moment like this was the last thing he needed.
“Uh, Professor?” he said.
“Aren’t you going to answer… it?”
“Oh, right. Well. Uh.”
“taaaaaaaaake yooooooooour tiiiiiiiiiiiime”
Danvers stood quiet, and focused on breathing freely.
“I asked,” she started, “because I want to know if you are here for a reason.”
She chuckled. “I just wanted to know if there was a reason for you to be a ghost, or if it just happens to some people.”
“Yeah, some people, for a certain reason. If there’s a cause for ghosts, if it can be avoided or prevented in some way.”
There was a pregnant silence. Then, a low rumbling accompanied the sound of “noooooo iiideeeeeaaaaaaaaa.”
Danvers shifted her weight between her feet.
“Really? Your death wasn’t traumatic? There isn’t anything you wish you had gotten around to while you were still alive?”
“noooooo mooorrrre thaaaan the nexxxxxt guuuuuuuuy”
“So, it’s just,” Danvers said, and stopped again. There was another rumbling in the room, but no vocalization from the ghost. It must have been anticipating her response.
She had dreamed and prayed for someone, or something, to tell her why spirits walked the earth. She was curious. She was a little hopeful, and mostly afraid, and she wanted to know. But here she was, standing face to face with a vocalization, and she was told it was all random. All just as arbitrary as an inoperable tumor deciding it had had enough of ruining her life and making a quiet exit. It was either an afterlife stuck screaming in a dusty old room, or nothing.
“Right,” Danvers said. “Of course. Thank you for your time.”
“oohhhhhhh iiiiiiii diiidnnnnt meeeeean—”
She motioned to Parker to start packing up their equipment. “You’ve been very helpful, spirit. I guess, uh, we’ll just leave you to it, then. Try to keep it down, if you can.”
She turned off the sound detector, and handed it to Parker who placed it back in the old duffel bag with the rest of their kit. All finished, he zipped it up and slung it over his shoulder as he walked out of the library. Danvers followed up to a point, but hesitated before crossing over the threshold of the room.
Danvers smiled without meaning to, and followed her assistant down the main hall. She found both him and the house’s owner waiting for her at the front door. He was an older gentleman, who even wore a tweed suit and bow tie to greet a crackpot ghost hunter into his home. He carried himself like a sleep deprived solider on patrol, and practically pounced upon Danvers when she arrived.
“So, Professor?” he said. “Please, tell me, what is it? What is doing this?”
“Oh,” she said, and considered. “Just the foundation settling. Nothing to worry about. It is an old house, after all.”
Jon Tyktor writes in Central Virginia, where he lives with his lovely wife and many notebooks.