GOOD GHOST, BAD GHOST
GOOD GHOST, BAD GHOST
“Excuse me, what’s the next lecture?”
Matt Anderson looked up from his laptop. “It’s a special lecture by Hans Shultz.”
“Hans Shultz? The famous photographer? Are you serious?”
“Yes. He’s giving a special presentation today at three PM. It’s not three yet, is it?”
The young man checked his wristwatch and shook his head. “No, not yet. Ten more minutes to go.”
“He’s never late. He’ll be here by three,” Matt said. They were in a lecture hall filled with students.
The young man nodded. He sat down next to Matt. “I hope you don’t mind if I take this seat?”
“No, that’s fine. Are you new to this class?”
The young man smiled and offered his hand. “Yes. My name’s Edward Shultz.”
“I’m Matt Anderson. Did you just say Shultz? As in Hans Shultz?”
“Yes, he’s a distant uncle of mine.”
“That’s great. Distant uncle indeed! No wonder you didn’t know about his special lecture today.”
Edward chuckled. “Actually, I’ve been busy with my registration. I just came to find out if there was a lecture on.”
“Well, welcome to Photography class. I bet you don’t have the timetable yet.”
“Are you kidding? I don’t have anything.”
“You better get it, so you don’t miss out on your lectures,” Matt said, turning his laptop towards Edward. “You can copy mine.”
Edward nodded as he unpacked his laptop. “Thanks.”
While Edward was copying the timetable, a tall slim man with white hair and a white beard walked briskly into the auditorium. He was accompanied by an equally tall woman with long flowing blonde hair. “Good afternoon, class,” he said, as he mounted the podium. The woman pulled out a seat and sat in front of the class.
“I trust that you are ready for my presentation,” Mr. Shultz said. The students nodded. “Great. For this presentation, I want you to analyse famous landscapes from around the world.”
“He came with his wife?” Edward whispered to Matt as the woman who had come in with Mr. Shultz began to unpack her laptop.
Matt nodded. “Yes, he always brings her, I think it’s more like a partnership. She’s a famous photographer too.”
“Sure, but shouldn’t she be doing something else?”
Matt shrugged. “Who am I to judge? Maybe you could ask her afterwards. She is your aunt, isn’t she?”
“Distant aunt,” Edward corrected. “She might not even remember me.”
“There’s no harm in trying to re-establish the relationship.”
“Maybe. Maybe later I’ll go to them and say hi.”
Mr. Shultz picked up a remote control and pointed it at the wall behind him. A display panel began to slide down from the ceiling.
As the window blinds shut, the overhead lights in the auditorium dimmed until the only light was from the students’ electronic devices.
Mr. Shultz clapped his hands. “I need everyone to turn off their devices and concentrate on the screen.”
The students’ followed Mr. Shultz’s request. In the now dark auditorium, Mr. Shultz pointed the remote control to the screen behind him. The blank screen came alive as a projector began to display pictures on it.
“I know you’ll be familiar with some of these,” Mr. Shultz said, as the pictures appeared one after the other. “What I want you all to do is to take note of the elevation and the angles at which the pictures were taken. Take notes because we’re going to discuss them in detail afterwards.”
As Hans Shultz spoke, Matt sighed and looked away.
Matt nodded at Edward. “I already have those shots in my personal collection. I can describe the angles without even looking.”
“You’d better focus,” Matt warned.
Edward turned back to focus on the presentation, while Matt allowed his eyes to wander around aimlessly.
As Matt scanned through the auditorium, something drew his attention to the main door. It was closed, so he couldn’t understand why he felt the need to look at it.
And then he saw it.
It happened so quickly and so naturally that he wondered if anyone else had seen it. A man had come in through the closed door.
Matt opened his mouth in disbelief.
The man had come in. Through the closed door.
Through the closed door?
Matt sat back, trying to remember if he had seen the door open.
He was sure that it hadn’t, because it would have thrown a flood of bright light into the dark auditorium.
As he sat there perplexed and bewildered, Matt noticed that neither Edward nor any of the other students had turned to see who had come in. And neither did Hans Shultz or his wife.
Could they have all been too engrossed with the presentation? Matt wondered.
Or was he just seeing things?
He shook his head.
No, I’m not imagining things.
There, continuing calmly on his way, was the same man walking.
Matt watched curiously as the man walked towards the front of the auditorium, unbothered by whether his sudden intrusion would distract any of the students.
Matt could see that the stranger was a tall man with blonde hair. He was wearing a plaid jacket and walking with a bold gait in his steps.
Matt frowned as he rubbed his chin in curiosity. That man knows exactly where he’s going, Matt thought, as the man walked right up to where Hans Shultz and his wife were seated. Matt saw the stranger stop behind them, place his hands on the back of their seats and bend down between them. He turned to whisper something into Mrs. Shultz’s ear. After a while, the stranger stood up, and turned to walk out the same way he had come in—suddenly vanishing through the closed door.
Matt sat upright in his seat. He could not believe what had happened.
He hadn’t heard what that man had said to Mrs. Shultz, but he was sure of one thing: no one else in the auditorium noticed what had happened. And if anyone had noticed, they were not bothered.
Even Hans Shultz himself had been looking directly at the presentation when the stranger approached his wife. She had not even flinched when the man whispered into her ear.
How could they both have not reacted to that man’s presence, or what he had said? Matt wondered.
“Are you alright?”
Matt spun around to see Edward watching him intently.
“What?” Matt said.
“You’ve been acting weird. I saw you looking around all worried. Are you alright?”
The image of the stranger walking into the auditorium and whispering to Mrs. Shultz flashed though Matt’s mind again.
Matt glanced at the screen in front. The presentation was still going on. He leaned closer to Edward. “Did you see the man?”
Edward frowned at him. “What man?”
“The man that came in through the door a few minutes ago.”
Edward peered in the direction of the door. “What?”
“A man came in, but he didn’t use the door. He just walked through it.”
“Are you sure? No one could’ve come in through that door without disrupting the presentation.”
Matt shook his head. He looked around the auditorium, but everyone was still engrossed with the presentation. He turned to Edward, who was frowning at him again. “I know what I saw. He came in through the closed door, then vanished.”
“What are you talking about?” Edward asked.
Before Matt could say anything further, the lights in the auditorium came back on and Hans Shultz stood up from his seat. As he began to address the class, Matt grabbed Edward’s arm. “You’ve got to believe me,” he whispered. “I know what I saw. It was a man. He came in through the door, then walked up to Hans and his wife and spoke to Mrs. Shultz. Then he turned and disappeared.”
Edward regarded Matt for a while but said nothing.
As soon as the presentation finished, Matt watched Edward hurry to the front to greet his uncle and aunt. They seemed surprised and both shook his hand before hugging him. He then spoke to them a while before pointing at Matt. Hans’ wife beckoned him to join them.
Feeling nervous, Matt went over to meet them.
“Hello,” Hans Shultz said. “You’re a student in my class?”
“Yes, sir. My name is Matt Anderson.”
“I see. My nephew was telling us that you saw someone come into the class during the presentation? That the person spoke to my wife?”
Matt raised his two hands in surrender. “Look, I know it sounds crazy. But it’s true.”
“Can you describe the man?” Hans’ wife asked.
Matt nodded. He carefully described the man with his blonde hair and plaid jacket.
Hans’ wife reached out to touch Matt’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, my dear. We believe you.”
“You believe me?”
They both nodded. Hans’ wife brought out her phone. She opened some photos in a folder and showed one of them to Matt. “Is this the man you saw?”
Matt gasped. “Yes, that’s him! He was the one who spoke to you.”
Tears welled up in Hans’ wife’s eyes. As she pulled out a handkerchief to dab her eyes, her husband wrapped his arm around her shoulder in comfort.
Matt felt embarrassed. “I’m sorry.”
Hans’ wife shook her head. “No, you don’t have to be. That was my brother.”
Matt was now more confused than before. “Your brother?”
“That’s what I was about to tell my nephew here. You weren’t seeing things. It was my wife’s brother, no doubt about it.”
Hans’ wife nodded. “Other people have described similar situations to us. It’s always the same thing: a man comes in, he talks to me, then leaves.”
“Disappears,” Matt pointed out. “He came in and then disappeared. He didn’t leave. He just disappeared.”
Hans’ wife smiled. “Yes, disappeared. That would be the most appropriate way for him to go.”
“The most appropriate way?” Matt repeated. “I’m sorry, why do you say that?”
“Matt, the man you just described is my late brother, he passed away two months ago.” Hans’ wife explained. “How else do you expect a spirit to leave after paying a visit to those they left behind?”
“I’m so sorry,” Matt apologised. “I really didn’t know.”
“No, please, don’t apologise. Everything’s alright. Really, it is. And don’t be bothered about what you saw. It’s just his way of telling me that he’s doing fine.”
“So you mean I just saw the ghost of your late brother?” Matt asked incredulously. “Are you sure? For real?”
Both Hans and his wife nodded.
Matt was still staring agape as Edward accompanied his uncle and aunt out of the auditorium. Matt was flabbergasted. He didn’t know what to make of what he had seen, or the explanation he had just been given.
A year later, Matt was driving home from work. He was waiting for the traffic light to turn green so he could enter the expressway.
He sighed. This is the only thing I don’t like about my job, he mused.
He had graduated a few months ago and successfully secured a job at a publishing house, which was located about an hour away from his apartment. This meant that he had to commute both ways.
He didn’t mind driving to work in the mornings; it was the return trip that was tiring. He was always exhausted by the end of the day. It was a demanding job, one that required him to be on his feet for long hours.
Matt squeezed his temple and checked the traffic lights again.
It had turned green.
While he drove, Matt made a mental note to review the new shots for one of their publications when he got home.
He sighed again. He couldn’t believe that he had to still go over work at home, but that was the reality of the job. Anyone starting out in any career had to deal with long hours and bad conditions.
Bad conditions? He thought.
Matt shrugged. It wasn’t that his working conditions were that bad, he conceded. He knew some of his former classmates were still searching for work, so he should consider himself lucky.
But am I lucky, really?
Matt sighed again, this time out of exhaustion.
He just kept his eyes focussed on the road ahead. He didn’t bother to speed, he took his time. There was no point rushing. He had tried it before. No matter how fast he went, he would meet some form of obstacle—his journey home always ended up about an hour long. If he hoped to be home sooner, he would have to get an apartment closer to work. Or maybe change jobs completely.
Change jobs? No way!
He hadn’t even completed six months at this publishing house yet. Perhaps it wouldn’t be a good idea to start hopping from one job to another so soon, he reasoned. He would put in more time, maybe a year or so, before he considered moving elsewhere. Hopefully, that new job would have better working conditions.
Better working conditions! Matt smiled to himself.
He continued driving for a while without focusing on any one thought. After a while, he turned on the radio. He stopped on a channel that was playing light music. He couldn’t tell which station it was, but he liked the melody. It was a jazz tune and seemed to relax him as he drove.
Matt felt himself sinking deeper into his seat.
He didn’t know how long he’d been driving when he felt a sudden grip on his shoulder. Blinking rapidly, Matt struggled with the steering wheel as he veered from side to side, trying to regain control of the car. He was swerving across different lanes, back and forth in front of the other cars. Eventually, he was able to stop the car by the curb.
Matt’s heart was thumping furiously. He turned to look back and saw the huge ditch that he had narrowly avoided. He wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand.
He didn’t know what he found more frightening—the accident he had almost had, or the grip on his shoulder that had jolted him awake.
He felt his shoulder again. He could still feel the pain. He peered around outside the car. He then turned on the interior light and looked around. He couldn’t really explain what he was searching for. The truth was that he had felt someone grab him with a vice-like grip. That was what had woken him from his slumber at the steering wheel.
He glanced at the ditch again. That grip had saved him from an accident. He would have definitely crashed otherwise.
Closing his eyes, Matt muttered a short prayer of gratitude. He shot a glance at the seat next to him. His laptop was still there, although it had shifted a little too close to the edge of the seat. He repositioned it, then exhaled. He couldn’t imagine what would have happened to him if he had driven into that ditch.
Matt turned on the ignition of his car but didn’t drive back onto the expressway immediately. Rather, he allowed the engine to run for few minutes. Satisfied that the car was running okay, he shifted the gearstick and drove onto the expressway.
As soon as he had arrived home, Matt went to check his shoulder in the mirror. There, he could see the undeniable imprint of a person’s fingers. He could not imagine how fiercely they had tried to wake him up.
Matt shook his head and sighed. He couldn’t blame himself, he had been extremely tired. He knew that no matter how roughly it had been done, the person who had woken him up had done so for his own good.
If anything, that person cares about me, Matt mused.
He looked at his shoulder again.
He rubbed his chin as he sat down.
He tried to recall the events of that night. He had finished work late, tired and exhausted as usual. On his way home, he had almost driven into a ditch. The saving grace had been the yanking of his shoulder by an unseen person.
Matt rubbed his chin again.
Involuntarily, he shook his head. It wasn’t a person. It had to be a spirit. A ghost.
Matt slapped his head and gasped.
Matt shook his head again and glanced around his apartment. His mind was wandering, pondering the possibility that he had an encounter with a spirit being—a ghost.
He sat down heavily on his settee. The realisation of what had just happened to him was a burden, one that was too heavy for his mind and body to bear.
But is it really a burden, or a blessing in disguise? Matt wondered.
It had to be a blessing, because if he hadn’t been jolted awake that way, he might’ve been dead by now.
He could feel his nerves begin to relax. Yes, it was a ghost that had saved me from a fatal accident.
He could not explain how or why it had happened. All he knew was that he was alive and sitting in his apartment because a ghost had saved him.
This must have been a good ghost, he thought.
He had heard stories in the past of ghosts appearing to people, to haunt or torment them. He knew that those were usually because of some evil the victim had perpetrated, perhaps to the ghost while they were alive.
Matt couldn’t remember anything evil he had done. Rather, he was sure he had generally been nice to people. Maybe that was why this ghost decided to save him, alerting him to an impending accident.
I have been saved by a good ghost.
A good ghost!
Matt remembered the encounter he had in his photography class with Hans Shultz back when he was still in school. What was it that Hans’ wife had said—that the ghost of her brother was always reassuring her that everything was alright? That meant that he was watching over her, like a guardian angel.
The late brother of Han’s wife was a good ghost too.
A good ghost.
Matt felt his shoulder again. Even though he grimaced as the pain shot through him, he was grateful for the experience. It was a life saver for him. He wouldn’t mind encountering good ghosts.
Matt unpacked his laptop and went to have his shower. After a hot meal, he settled down to work on his pictures.
At work the next day, he mulled over the thought of sharing his experience with someone, but ultimately decided against it. He was sure that no one was going to believe him, and the last thing he wanted was to become a laughing stock.
He busied himself with work for the day. Hoping he would encounter the same good ghost again.
Weeks passed, but Matt did not have any other ghost encounters. As the weeks turned into months, he began to feel that maybe his experience with the good ghost was not supposed to happen again.
Several months later, Matt climbed into bed after another hectic day in the office. It wasn’t long before he dozed off, snoring loudly as he drifted deeper into sleep.
Then he felt a weight on him. At first, it felt just like a pillow, so he chose to ignore it. He felt the weight on his body grow heavier, so he thought he was dreaming.
Soon, the pressure on Matt’s body became unbearable. He found it difficult to sleep, but more importantly to breathe. He was gasping and trying to move. But something seemed to hold him down completely and he couldn’t move a muscle.
Gasping, coughing and spluttering, Matt tried to kick his feet. They were pinned down hard. He tried to move his hands. Those too were immovable.
He coughed and struggled to scream. But it was as if his windpipe and throat were clamped shut. Matt was blinking, straining his eyes through the darkness to find what was tormenting him.
He was struggling to take in air, and whenever he did manage to breathe in, he would struggle to exhale. It was a terrible tussle for him, as he wrestled with himself and with whatever it was that was holding him down so forcefully.
It wasn’t long before Matt was sweating profusely and could feel dampness on the bed. The sheets were completely soaked.
He couldn’t tell how long he struggled and tried to break free. He kept struggling, hoping that the pressure would stop and his captor would leave.
As he struggled, he heard a loud and eerie voice say, “I’ve had enough of you.”
Matt was shocked at the sound. He didn’t know whether to be more frightened of the mysterious voice or of his present predicament.
“Did you hear me, Matt?” it hissed. “I’ve had enough of you.”
Matt shuddered and tried to respond. He wanted to say something, anything, if only to catch the attention of the being, ghost or whatever it was.
Now that he knew that something or someone was responsible for his torment, several questions began to flood his mind: Who was it? What have I done? Why won’t it leave me alone? Is it going to kill me?
He tried to open his eyes but couldn’t. He fought harder, but his efforts did not yield any result. His eyes would not open.
Matt’s thoughts continued to whirl around his head as he struggled to breathe. Just as he felt his strength start to ebb, the weight suddenly left him.
It happened without warning. One moment Matt thought he was going to die, suffocated in his own bed by a ghost. Next moment, it was all over.
Matt rolled and tumbled off his bed.
As he struggled to his feet, he felt dizzy and uncertain of his whereabouts. He knew he was still in his room. He could recognise his surroundings. But the encounter had made him doubt if he was really in his own apartment.
He sank to the floor, trying to regain his breath and energy. It dawned on Matt that he had never experienced something like this before. Not even in real life had anyone ever tried to choke him. And now he had experienced it while he was asleep.
As his breathing evened out and his heart stopped thumping, he gazed at the bed. It was all rumpled and still glistening with sweat. He knew that he wasn’t getting back in there to sleep—not just because it was all damp, but because something made him imagine that the bed was the cause of his predicament.
But was it?
Matt was not ready to find out. He decided to go to the living room instead.
Matt got up, still feeling dizzy and weak, and noticed that he had to lean against the wall to keep himself upright.
Slightly annoyed, Matt staggered slowly towards the living room, trying to clear his mind by shaking his head vigorously.
He caught sight of the bedroom. He shook his head. There is no way I’m going back in there again. At least not tonight.
Once he made it to the living room, he slumped onto the closet sofa and tried to catch his breath. He was still breathing heavily as his heart thumped loudly inside his chest. He shook his head again and took in deep breaths, hoping it would relax him. Sweat broke out across his body.
Is that ghost coming back again? he wondered in horror.
But he was wide awake this time.
Eventually, his breathing relaxed again. He frowned as he gazed around the living room. He felt exhausted, as if he had just ran a marathon.
The ghost said it was tired of me, it’d had enough of me.
But who was it? And what did I do to make a ghost say something like that?
Matt sighed. He had another hard day ahead of him, and all those questions without answers were not going to do him any good.
Rolling over, Matt curled up on the sofa. He closed his eyes and listened for a while, as if expecting to hear a movement or a voice.
He heard nothing.
His mind was wandering.
He recalled his previous encounters with ghosts. The first, back in the photography class. The second, when he almost drove into a ditch. And now, this one, when he was nearly choked to death.
The first two had been encounters with good ghosts, Matt reflected. But tonight, that was not a good ghost. It wanted me dead, or severely frightened. Or maybe both. This one was a bad ghost.
Strange, very strange indeed.
The next morning, Matt woke up feeling tired and sluggish. He fought the temptation to skip work.
What excuse could he give?
Matt struggled to get himself go to work.
While at work that day, he kept looking around and watching everyone with suspicion. He didn’t know who to trust enough to confide in about what had happened. After long moments of paranoia, Matt struggled to get back on track.
But as he worked, the events of the previous night kept on resurfacing in his mind.
He hadn’t been dreaming, had he?
He had been deep asleep. He had been choked, almost to death. And the being—the ghost—had spoken to him. It had had enough of him; it was tired of him.
Matt sighed. Who was it? What had he done to deserve such animosity and hatred?
He had never wronged anyone. He hadn’t. He was sure of it.
“When are you going to submit your final proofs?”
Matt almost fell off his seat when he heard the voice. It had been sudden and unexpected.
He struggled to regain his balance as he gripped the edge of his work table.
He did not have to spin around to see who it was, but he did anyway. It was his boss.
“The final proofs?” Matt repeated, as if he hadn’t heard her clearly the first time.
She gave him a quizzical glance. “Yes. The final proofs of the pictures for tomorrow’s printing.”
“Yes, I was just about to send that over. I just need to make some more amendments, to get them perfect for print.”
“More amendments? But it’s past twelve already!”
Matt nodded as he fiddled with the mouse and his keypad. “I know, but I’ll have them ready soon.”
“But it’s almost half past twelve, Matt! Have you forgotten when we’re supposed to send our proofs to collation?”
“By eleven thirty,” Matt replied, fiddling with his mouse.
“Yet you’re still working on them?”
“I’m already done.”
“I’ll send them over right away.”
She did not budge. Rather, she folded her arms and continued to watch him. “Are you alright, Matt?”
Suddenly, he began to sweat. He felt as if he was being choked. It was as if the air around him was being depleted. The work cubicle was big enough for at least three people. But now, with her standing close to him, it seemed as if he was crammed inside a tight closet. He wondered how his boss could be standing there so calmly while he was suffocating.
Matt struggled to breath and opened his mouth. “What?”
“Are you alright?”
Matt nodded and glanced at the monitor in front of him. “Yes.”
“It doesn’t look like it.”
“Are you sure? I’ve been standing right behind you for the past five minutes and all you’ve done is stare at your monitor. Yet you say you’re busy making those pictures perfect.”
Matt checked the pictures on his screen. He could barely recognise them. His mind was disoriented.
“You’re acting weird, like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Yes, Matt. A ghost.”
Matt nodded and cleared his throat. Now he felt his heart beating rapidly. “It was a ghost.”
“What did you say?”
“You said that it was a ghost?”
“I did. Yes, I did. It was a ghost.”
“What was a ghost?”
Matt’s mouth clammed shut. He blinked and stared at the screen, suddenly realising that in his panic, he’d said something he hadn’t meant to. “I’m sorry,” he sighed. “I don’t know what I was doing.”
“Well, you’d better figure out what you’re doing here, Matt Anderson,” she said firmly. “Otherwise we’ll have to find someone else who does. Do you understand?”
“I do. I really am sorry. I’ll send the pictures right away.”
“They should be in my email before I get back to my seat,” she announced flatly before turning to leave.
Matt’s fingers moved quickly over the keyboard as he attached the pictures and sent them to her email.
Then he held his head in his hands and sighed.
Her words echoed in his mind again—as if I’d seen a ghost.
Of course I’ve seen a ghost.
In fact, I’ve seen many ghosts.
Both good and bad.
But I’m not ready to see any more.
At least not soon.
Maybe not ever.