The Ghost in the Machine

I have a haunted cellphone. It sits in the very back of the very top drawer of my chest-of-drawers in the very back room of our apartment. I have not turned it on in years. Not since I brought it, and the ghost inside of it, back with me from Japan.

The cellphone has a certain character. It’s a relic of my past life. Dangling from its side is a string of plastic pearls given to me by a ferryboat captain. Stuck to the back are print club pictures of me with three friends taken in a department store in Fukuoka. We have cartoon poop and duck bills superimposed on our heads.

I haven’t kept it for the plastic pearls or the print club pictures, though. I could have taken those off and put them in some binder or box full of other pictures and keepsakes. No, I keep it for the ghost.

In the memory of my cellphone are three black and white photographs. They are grainy, fuzzy, the product of a 2004 freebie cellphone’s camera. As a thumbnail in the photo gallery, they don’t look like anything at all. Just a blur of gray and white and black. But click on them, open them wide, and you’ll see it. The outline of a nose. The whisp of bangs. The soft curl of a mouth. And very clearly there on the lefthand side, the unmistakeable image of a human eye.

These pictures were never taken, but they exist. The person in them–the impression is of an Asian child–does not exist, but there he or she is.

I found them a few days after they were supposedly taken, on a Thursday afternoon when I was sorting through and deleting pictures to free up precious memory. The ghost pictures were the most recent ones in the gallery. More recent even than the last picture I remembered taking, one from the aftermath of a drunken work party when a few of us teachers broke into the junior high where we worked and drank cheap beer on the concrete floor of the shop class. That had been on Friday, before I’d taken the ferry to Fukuoka for the weekend with a friend.

The time-stamp on the photos was 3 a.m., that Sunday morning. I knew, I still know, exactly where I was and what I was doing at 3 a.m. on that Sunday. I was on a ferry in the middle of the Korea Strait. I was sleeping. My cellphone was in my pocket, and it was turned off.

The ghost pictures were never taken. They could not have been taken. At the time of the time-stamp, the phone was off and we were in the middle of the sea. They are impossible, and yet they are there.

Somedays I think of the ghost as a guardian spirit, a sort of superstitious good luck charm like a shrine amulet. Other days I wonder if the ghost is the spirit of some vengeful child, haunting my cellphone like the girl in the videotape in The Ring or all the other ghouls in J-Horror movies. That one day he or she will slip out of the cellphone and reek horrific, unholy violence upon my person.

Whatever its purpose, however it got there, the ghost is still lurking in my cellphone, still waiting, still staring out from the dark with that vivid, impossible eye.

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7 Comments

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  1. I think I’ll quote Strongbad here and say (while shivering)…
    jibblyjibblyjibblyjibblyjibblyjibblyjibblyjibblyjibblyjibbly

  2. Ok Austin, so I was just heading off to bed, in my empty apartment, with no one here but me, and the dark, and I was just going to turn off the computer and this jumped out at me.
    That was actually chilling. Unless, of course, the images are not of a little Aisan girl…? Tell me they’re just fuzz from a strange mechanical problem so I can get a proper nights sleep, please.

  3. AHHHHH!!! That’s beautiful and creepy and mysterious and very literary, all at once. Perfect post. Please PLEASE put this little Japanese ghostie in a story someday!

  4. @Doug: I may name the ghost that (it will help, I think): Jibblyjibbly-chan.

    @Yazz: Sorry, it’s real! At least you live in Istanbul, a city whose history is so short and uncomplicated that there probably aren’t any ghosts anywhere for miles.

    @Lara: That’s a great idea!

  5. my first thought was that just as austin h. gilkeson spoke from the future to say that cheesy thing that made you famous among the wiccan interweb crowd, maybe this is your 8 year old japanese girl…

  6. @Oline: Oh, I hadn’t thought of that! Also, I like how your comment will sound utterly insane to anyone who is not you, me, or the Dane.

  7. I did make some guesses about what the cheesy thing could be but so far all I got is a “wotsit” crisp and…er…some other stuff that I really don’t care to mention.

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