short stories

Ghostin’

RADCLIFFE felt a vibration on his thigh. Someone was texting him.

“Did you RSVP yet??” The text read.

Two seconds later, his phone chimed. A new email.

“Dear Members, Please make sure to blah, blah, bladdy blah…”

RAD could not bring himself to read further. At what point in the day did he not have to react to some notice? At the notion of “notice,” three notification icons appeared instantaneously on his idle screen.

YOUTUBE: “Watch this video of owls attacking hawks.”

INSTAGRAM: “Someone you barely know anymore has just posted an update after a long time of not posting. Why this is news, we don’t know.”

EBAY: “A message from someone watching your item: ‘Does it come in plaid?'”

Complete drivel, he thought.

They say, if you put a frog in a frying pan and turn up the gas ever so slowly, he’ll grow accustomed to the heat on an unconscious level. He’ll reach the temperature for boiling and won’t even know it, by then it’s too late.

That’s how RAD felt in this day and age. Except it wasn’t the heat that was turned up; it was the information. WiFi radio waves permeated every 3-dimensional corner of the world. No node was left untouched. We were all swimming in a supersaturated slush of memes, updates, beeps, notifications, emails and other digital bits.

Our reality became synomymous with this omnipresent grid. It happened so gradually–first computers, then laptops, then smartphones and other mobile devices, then mass adoption to the point that you could barely function in society without one of these tools.

And now? In a moment of clarity, suddenly RAD became aware to it all. He could feel himself boiling.

‘I must escape,’ he thought. Way easier to dream such a notion.

You see, the comprehensive Snapchat digital video database, aggregated from virtually every smartphone owner on the planet, contained quite the complete user list. In other words, we were all tagged as individual pixels that comprised the Grand Internet projection. To truly GHOST (disappear) from this digital net, he would have to scrub all traces of his identity from the mother database.

He knew this because he worked for the NETWORK.

He had heard of one man who had accomplished this Herculean feat. Aptly named the GHOST. It was one of his first assingments reporting for the NETWORK. The guy had appeared in a few people’s Snapchat stories, in the Olde Neighborhood, within a short time window. This spike in spectre activity prompted the NETWORK to send its local correspondent, RAD, a native of the Olde Neighborhood, to interview its witnesses.

The NETWORK landed just outside our neighborhood like a spaceship. The futuristic architectural design from I.M. Pei resembled no earthly idea of an edifice I had ever imagined.

The intention of the NETWORK was world-class broadcast journalism, ignoring no corner of the globe, however miniscule. To appease their local neighbors, they had appointed RAD as their ambassador.

Nearly all of the Neighborhood residents’ personal accounts were identical. Mary LoGrasso who ran the local laundromat recounted quite lucidly, as she folded clothes amidst the whirring of washing machines:

“It was the strangest thing. I was snappin’ a video of myself, right here at work. I was going to send it to my girlfriend. When I went to add a filter in the playback, I noticed this shadowy figure in the background. I immediately looked up from my phone, but no one was there. It was as if he appeared and disappeared out of thin air…”

Then, Mary looked off in the distance, as if to relive that shocking moment more than remember.

“Or not that he was physically present in the shop. It almost felt like he was stuck in my phone.”

RAD corroborrated Ms. LoGrasso’s account with three other store owners on the block, who had encountered similar Snapchat intruders to their screens.

RAD titled his piece “The Snapchat Ghost Haunts Olde Neighborhood,” but nothing more came of it after the story hit print. Perhaps the publicity had scared the GHOST away.

RAD rode his bike through the city to clear his head.

The streets seemed empty, as he weaved through them by the power of his pedals. Graffitied snapcodes painted the sides of abandoned brick buildings and in the dark alleys between faceless concrete skyscrapers. He paid them no mind. They had always been there. They were like the maple tree shadows cast by the Sun at dusk. Natural fixtures.

Snapcodes were the physical gateways into Snapchat’s digital world. They resembled Braille patterns–a seemingly random mélange of dots–but aiming a phone’s camera at them would link that user to the associated content at the other end.

‘What if these were the key?’ he thought. Just because they had always been there didn’t mean they couldn’t provide some link to the elusive GHOST.

Picking up his pedaled pace, RAD started snapping every code he could find. First, he hit all the known spots. He snapped the one in the alley way behind the laundromat. Nothing. It was an old advertisement for Tide detergent. He snapped the code hidden under the highway overpass, just outside the Neighborhood. Nothing. It was some punk’s personal account. Over the next few weeks he spotted and snapped a total of 320 snapcodes and all brought him no closer to the GHOST.

Then, one day, when RAD thought he had done snapped every damn code this side of the Mississippi, an odd friend request appeared in his Snap queue. The advantage of cataloguing 320 bunk codes availed RAD the knowledge that this new request contained a code he had never seen, online or in the real world. He quickly accepted the request of this 321st code.

Instantly, a story from the anonymous user appeared. RAD looked down at his phone in anxious anticipation. It was from a man’s point of view walking up a street that looked to be in the Olde Neighborhood. RAD knew it was a man walking, because he began to talk:

“OK, if you’re watching this story, then you’ve accepted my friend request. I’ve noticed you’ve been scanning a lot of the breadcrumb snapcodes that I’ve laid throughout the city. Look, I don’t expect you to understand this right now, but we need to arrange a live chat through this channel. Exchanging stories back and forth simply won’t fly. In order to do this, I’m going to need you to do exactly as I say, at exactly the precise time I say and in exactly the precise place. We’re going to link our phones.”

RAD listened intently to the man’s instructions. He tried not to let the fact that this may very well be the GHOST distract him.

The next afternoon, RAD followed the man’s cleanly laid out procedure to a tee. He arrived at the Prado at precisely 3:20 p.m. He aimed his phone at the exact angle specified, in the direction specified, with the statue of Saul Revere standing proud in the foreground. When the second hand on his wristwatch ticked to exactly 3:21 p.m., RAD snapped the shot.

At first, RAD thought he had accidentally cued a filter to appear in his Snapchat screen. A man was walking around in the space by the statue where RAD’s phone was focused. But, when RAD looked up, away from his phone, his naked eye on the statue, no one was there. He glanced back down at his phone screen. Now, the man was looking directly at him.

“Can you hear me? Can you hear me?” the man beckoned to RAD from the small rectangular screen.

‘Yeah, yes. Yes I can.’ RAD said. Was this really happening? I am talking to an augmented reality within my phone, he thought.

“OK, I don’t know how long this signal is going to last. So I’ll be quick. The year is 2033. Your current experiment with the 3D-recorded show, ‘get weird.’ will initiate a rift in the spacetime continuum, once it hits a mass audience. Right now, with your minimal, but growing, audience, you’re merely creating minor gravitational ripples. Those ripples are what allowed me to detect your dimension’s signal, in fact. I then planted all of the ancient snapcodes all over the city, via Snapchat’s historical database. They would appear very old to you, but they’re actually from the future. I need you to do two things: (1) Don’t release your opus episode on the NETWORK’s prime-time slot. I know it’s a masterpiece. I know it all too well. But that grand exposure will set a series of events into motion that ultimately usher in a post-truth era. Nothing. Not even reality itself can be trusted. Fabrication technology has surpassed the discernment of the human lens. Needless to say, this awesome power has been exploited–”

STOP. Hard cut. OK, let’s back up a bit. One thing you need to know about RAD is that he’s the producer of a revolutionary segment presently, called ‘get weird.’ The NETWORK is overwhelmingly a multimedia news outlet, but they let RAD release his weekly, well-produced, well-edited segments–a documentary series on the people of his Olde Neighborhood. It was a hobby, turned professional identity. And now RAD had been approached to bring his quaint little segment to the big stage. The NETWORK was starving for ratings and views and they believed ‘get weird.’ would get them there.

Back to this inter-dimensional Snapchat:

RAD tried to simultaneously listen to the GHOST’s explanation of his origin, while also attempting to wrap his mind around what was actually happening right in front of him, inside of his phone.

The man continued.

“…and No. 2–”

RAD finally interjected, if at least to catch a moment to process this.

‘Wait, wait. So you’re from the future? The Snapchat GHOST is from the future. Of course. OK, so don’t air my episode. I am quite proud of it, but OK. I can do that, I guess. Dare I ask what the second thing is?’

“I need you to find, well, me, on your side. I’d be about your age I think, 27-28?”

‘OK, why?’

“I need you to find my counterpart in your dimension. I need you to find him so that we can complete the retinal sync.”

‘What is that?’

“If I can sync retinas with my past self (in your present), I can complete my leap. I can enter your dimension and release myself from this drab prison over here. Post-truth is no joke. It’s terrible.”

‘Where do we find… you?’

Suddenly, RAD’s screen became blurry. The projection vibrated, like liquid waves, and the phone shut off. And he sat there, under the Saul Revere statue, dumbfounded. And he hoped and he prayed that the GHOST would send him another Snapchat story.

Standard

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