In all, Nico Mastorakis has written 2 novels and 37 screenplays, produced 19 features, wrote and directed 15, edited 12 and mixed the sound for 17 of them.
He is considered a "Renaissance man", a filmmaker who goes from story to script to the actual movie to post to the tag line to the sales and marketing campaign. As a great promoter and salesman, he revolutionized the way independents promoted and sold their product, with impressive yet inexpensive campaigns in Cannes, MIFED and the AFM. For a long time, in the independent sales community, anything that was a cut above the ordinary, was labeled as "The Mastorakis style" and, justifiably, GQ Magazine wrote that "Mastorakis can sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo".
MY LIFE AS A GHOST A novelette
It was raining. Hard. The right windshield wiper had stopped working months ago and the heater had quit. The windows were seriously fogged over. She took her hand off the floor-shift and tried the radio. Nothing but static. Strangely enough, the hissing sound made her feel less lonely, so she left it on. There was an incoming call flashing on the cellphone, next to her on the passenger seat. The radio static drowned out the vibration. Besides, her eyes were glued on the rain pummeling the glass, struggling with the lack of visibility, squinting to focus on the blurry road ahead. Thick sheets of water cascaded down the right side of the windshield, diffracting traffic lights like an insane collage of flickering octagons in green, amber and red. Red? The windshield was filling quickly with -- Red!
Stop on red! Brake!
Didn't push the clutch in on time and the car jerked to a stop, the engine dying in repulsive spasms. And as she reached toward the ignition, she painfully realized two frightening things. One: she was stuck in the middle of an intersection and two: blinding headlights were flooding the interior with a harsh white glare. Before she could react, she saw the word SHACMAN coming into focus, looming, the huge black letters jumping out of a white background.
She had thought many times that death had the color white.
The gigantic eight-wheeler hit. Time suddenly decelerated, like the discordant, dying notes of an unwinding music box.
Gemma's car, was instantly a flattened pile of mangled steel in a cloud of billowing smoke.
Out of the fumes she emerged, unscathed. Dazed, disoriented, gasping for breath, strangely calm, she walked away without looking back, oblivious to the cacophony of sirens and car horns in the distance. She didn't even notice that the raindrops were suspended in mid-air, no longer descending, as if frozen in time; however, her eyes snapped open as she turned the corner and stepped onto a brilliant, sun-drenched street, busy with pedestrian traffic.
Gemma, a beautiful, slender, blonde blue-eyed girl in her twenties, smiled.
If one could see - and feel -- through her eyes, they would detect a limitless exhilaration, the euphoria and delight of total freedom and 360-degree vision, things that Gemma herself had not yet recognized as exceptional; as if all these extraordinary gifts were something normal, a given. Absorbed by the colorful crowd, she walked amongst total strangers, yet was certain that she knew each and every one of them. She even waved "hellos," albeit with no response from anyone. As she turned a corner, a huge, ominous-looking man being chased by a gang of thugs, loomed, catapulting towards her. Six feet away. Four feet. Two feet. She shut her eyes, bracing for the horrific impact. Only inches away. And then, a sort of a miracle happened: the man didn't crash into her, instead, passed right through her. Yes, through her. She felt a comforting breeze caressing her face and in a millisecond, she had seen his entire life, felt his anger, shared his desperation. His thoughts immersed Gemma in darkness; a hellish place, distorted, grotesque images, the name Daudladia and the phrase "Save the children," repeated like a deafening echo.
"Something is not right" she mumbled, instantly realizing that what wasn't right, was simply... her!
And then her mind was flooded with waves of awareness -- the calm realization that she had died and now, in spirit form, was in this magical world -- where she could still co-exist with the living, yet was endowed with so much more than the mortals, and totally free of the burden that plagued them all -- the burden of being alive. There was no sense of time, distance, pain, heat, anxiety, jealousy, hunger, thirst, fear.
"So," she whispered, "I'm a ghost?"
The notion made her smile. Her face lit up and she added, "Never thought it would be so much fun being a ghost."
Overwhelmed with excitement, she didn't pay attention to one vital fact: she couldn't remember who she was!
Another thing she didn’t notice was the strange slim man, standing in the distance, watching her every move. Narrow yellowish eyes, deeply set into a frail skull, thin lips, long, bony fingers, no brows, no eyelashes. A Stringbean Man!
Gemma, now free from the restrictions of the physical world, she felt elated, an urge to experiment with her new reality. Alright, talking directly with passersby was no longer possible. What about walking up to them, making faces, gesturing wildly, teasing and mocking them? She was contemplating stripping naked and parading through the crowds, when something suddenly caught her attention: a powder-blue, strapless dress in a store window.
She stood there, admiring its ethereal design, when her eyes drifted to the wall-length mirror at the rear of the display. There she saw the reflections of everyone except herself, which was, strangely enough, getting to be the norm. "Ghost or not," she thought, "I'd look fabulous in this dress." And in the next instant -- she was wearing it. "Wow," she said aloud, "stealing in the spiritual world?" However, the original of the blue dress she now wore, was still in its place in the store window. She didn’t realize that this was the first test of duplexity, the ability to copy things and perhaps, herself. Gemma sensed someone staring at her. She started to turn then she remembered her 360 degree vision and saw a six-year-old boy, a look of amazement on his face, nudging his mother.
"Mom, I saw a ghost."
"Sure you did. What was it this time? A man, a woman, or another monster?"
"A pretty girl in a blue dress."
Gemma smiled, gave the boy a "thumbs up," and left. "Eat your heart out Charleze," she whispered, unaware of the store's name, discretely engraved on a brass plaque: "Tempus Fugit."
It gradually dawned on her that she hadn't encountered a single other person who was like her; another ghost. Was she all alone in a world of mortals who couldn't even see her?
She took to roaming the labyrinth streets of the city, the Eiffel Tower looming on the right, the Statue of Liberty on the left and the great Pyramid of Giza directly ahead. And her idea of fun was to cross the street from the sandy Saqqara side to the cobblestones of Piazza Navona, passing unnoticed through people, immersing herself in their thoughts and feelings, getting to know a mosaic of different lives -- a newly found game of indiscretion only ghosts can play. At the end of this bizarre tour de force, oh, the secrets she knew!
It was then that Gemma spotted a tall, handsome, familiar-looking stranger. He was not just handsome. He was stunning. Someone she really wanted to get to know. "Sure," she thought, "I'll definitely go through this one. He won't even notice." However, the stranger seemed to be looking at her too. And though she knew it was just an illusion, she crossed her fingers and wished that he wasn't a living person. “Please, please God, let him be dead.” She chuckled at the ridiculousness of her wish.
Now, he was heading her way. When they were separated by less than ten feet, she picked up speed then made her move to pass directly through him. Instead, she slammed into him -- hard, bouncing off of his chest. The sudden impact nearly dropped her to the concrete. He reached out and steadied her gently. Dazed but not confused, she didn't ask any questions. She didn't have to. She already knew the answers. She said:
"Hey Ethan, I'm so glad you're dead too!"
In a split second, the handsome stranger was no longer a stranger.
"Hey yourself, Gemma. Wanna hang out?"
It seemed natural to them that they knew each other's name while not knowing their own!
They embraced with a century-old familiarity, a warm, comforting feeling for both. They were no longer alone in a senseless dimension, both too excited to realize yet that they were reading each other's mind -- the magic of telepathic ability.
“So, we died and we’re in heaven, uh?” Gemma said. “Where’s everybody else – the ones like us?” Ethan shrugged and grinned at her. “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”
He grabbed Gemma’s hand and they started running through the crowds of the living, shouting “hellooooo, can anyone see us, can anyone hear us?” No one acknowledged them, and when they ran into traffic, the cars never stopped, instead passing right through them, Gemma and Ethan feeling the heat of the engines, and hearing every stroke of the pistons. It was a frantic ride that ended in some quaint rural neighborhood, the houses adorned with manicured lawns and white picket fences. Gemma and Ethan raced from house to house, banging on door knockers, each knocker producing its own unique note, the percussion continuing, increasing in volume as they moved to the next house, creating a strange metallic symphony; then:
One door creaked. They turned. The door opened.
They froze. Success? They held their breaths, eyes wide with anticipation. A pretty blonde girl in a blue dress, identical to Gemma’s, came out, but when Gemma and Ethan tried to get her attention, she just walked away, their excitement fading into sober defeat.
No one had responded. However, barely visible behind the lace curtains of a nearby house, the tall slender man with yellowish eyes was watching, a malevolent grin spreading across his skeletal face.
Near the River Seine, at a crowded cafe overlooking a Formula One race at the Monza race track, Gemma and Ethan spotted the only available bench with room for two – in addition to the eight-year-old redhead, already occupying the middle of the bench, working meticulously on her ice cream cone. They glanced at each other, nodded in agreement, then sat left and right of the unsuspecting girl.
“I have a zillion questions dancing insanely in my head” Gemma said. “One of them is, can we eat ice cream?”
“My guess is -- there must be rules in this dimension,” Ethan grinned. “And we don’t even know what this dimension is anyway.”
“If there are rules, then there must be someone who makes sure they’re enforced.”
“So, there’s gotta be some kind of -- supreme force.”
A third voice suddenly interrupted their conversation: “There is, although I find the title really pompous.”
They gasped. It was the little girl who spoke, the expression on her freckled face, deadly serious, her attitude, all business. Gemma and Ethan were too stunned to notice that the freckles on the girl’s face were slowly moving to form some kind of astral pattern.
“Are you the supreme...” Gemma started to ask.
The ice cream girl cut her off. “I’m your probation officer.”
“Are you a ghost, too?”
The girl shook her head disapprovingly and pointed at the ice cream, which instantly melted and vanished. Then she laid it all out for them. “You’re in a global transit station,” she said. “You still have residual life. That’s why you’re connected to the living.” Gemma said, “So why is it that only Ethan and I can see each other?” The girl nodded emphatically. “Only people who died at the same nanosecond can interact.“
“A nanosecond?” Ethan asked. “A billionth of a second? What are the odds of that happening?” “One in one trillion, sixty billion, a hundred and twenty- five million, eighty-two thousand and some change,” Gemma said calmly. The ice cream girl frowned. “Smart ass,” she muttered wryly and concluded: “Otherwise, with even just two people dying every second, there would be an infinite number of spirits populating a sort of hell.” When Ethan asked, “Where are they now, those zillion spirits?” she simply pointed the perimeter and said “some of them are here, unseen to you, alas visible to me... too much work every day. Most have reached their final destination, as you will, soon.” She used a long pause to give them time to think; then she explained that Gemma and Ethan were not only capable of normal human feelings and retaining some subliminal memories of their lives, but soon would learn how to interact and communicate with mortals, as well as discovering their own kinetic abilities; in essence, two spirits of high intelligence, newcomers to a dimension of perplexing, intricate questions. “A dimension that seems, you know, almost perfect,” Ethan said. “Is this heaven, then?”
The girl muttered, “Heaven, Hell, Afterlife, The Other Side, blah, blah -- so tired of hearing trite and trivial questions for thousands of years.” She got up to leave.
“Don’t go yet” Gemma protested. “There’s so much...”
“... that you need to ask me, and so little time that I have. You’ll figure out most of the answers. We may meet again. I’ll be there when it’s really needed.”
The girl locked her eyes on them, the depth of her gaze, unsettling.
“How long will we stay here?” Ethan mumbled.
“As long as it’s good.” The girl chuckled at her own joke. “I’m joking.” She got serious again and added, “Time in this transit state is different from the physical dimension. It’s a reverse time lapse if you will, slowed down or sped up by the careless way new spirits tend to manage it. There are rules, but you’ll only know them if and when you violate them. Though it may seem unfair, it’s a small price to pay for the infinite wisdom you’re granted.”
“What about evil entities?” Gemma asked, hesitantly.
“Spirits, you mean? Evil spirits?” Gemma nodded. “Better watch out for them” the girl responded, “just as you would in the world of the living. The nanosecond rule doesn’t apply to stranded spirits. They can see you and you may have already seen them; they can easily be mistaken for mortals and you should avoid contact. She leaned over and whispered in Ethan’s ear, “Evil is contagious,” then stood up.
“Gotta be going. Explore your newly acquired abilities. You can move at the speed of thought, but don’t get carried away. And always watch for the signs.”
“What signs?” Gemma asked.
The girl dissolved into thin air, leaving behind the only proof that she had, in fact, actually been there: two fresh drops of melted ice cream on the bench.
"Since we can move at the speed of thought, where would you like to go?" he said, quickly adding, "No, don't tell me. I already know. You and I think alike. Fantastic music and amazing lights, right?"
A warm smile and a consenting nod from Gemma.
"Hong Kong it is," said Ethan.
The world behind them was instantly transformed to the Shanghai Symphony of Lights. Things were as they saw them, not as they were. The couple found themselves aboard the Star Ferry. Having seamlessly bypassed the crowds, they now sat atop the ship's narrow railing, a precarious perch where no sane human would dare go. Unnoticed by them was the obscured image of the tall, bony man, standing behind the ship’s captain, his eyes riveted on them. Out of the corner of her eye, Gemma caught a fleeting glimpse of him when --
Fireworks exploded overhead. All eyes turned to the dark skies which came to life on the first note of the Philharmonic Orchestra, a cataclysm of light beams dazzling the night, with some forty skyscrapers accenting the brilliant palette of colors.
She touched his hand and, as their senses were now And the music swelled to an electric crescendo unbelievably heightened, love flowed between them. And the music swelled to an electric crescendo. Later, at daybreak in Ipanema, Gemma and Ethan walked along the endless black and white mosaics of a Copacabana now devoid of crowds. They had developed a duality of consciousness that fascinated them; as if the one was inside the other's mind.
They shared what they had started to recall from their lives and deaths. Gemma spoke about the years of misery in her dysfunctional family with an abusive stepfather and the critical night she tried to skip town and seek freedom; Ethan told her of his first three years of life, when he was born in his mother's prison cell. She had been locked up for a murder she didn't commit. Gemma had died instantly, painlessly in the car crash; he met his unglorified death from cardiac arrest. That's all they could recall from their mortal lives, yet no names, no details, no places, no faces. They determined that this was a result of death, the total loss of consciousness and that in this new life they'd have a freedom based on a new infinite knowledge.
A fraction of a second later, they were in rocking chairs, on the porch of a farmhouse in Wyoming. The old lady across the yard squinted at the sight of the two empty chairs rocking in sync.
"It's that damn wind" she murmured.
Ethan broke the silence in an attempt at lighter conversation. "Since we're not bound by any bodily restrictions, we can do what would have been physically impossible."
"Right. Our speed won't be slowed down by flesh, bones and luggage" she joked.
"True," said Ethan, "we can travel light."
And travel they did. Always at the speed of thought.
On a cruise ship sailing the Virgin Islands, they danced a passionate waltz, and laughed and teased, and had more fun than they'd ever had as mortals.
And they ran with the bulls in Pamplona, thrilled as the raging, 1300-pound beasts stampeded harmlessly through them, amazed that they could actually read the bull's minds. Next, they boarded Formula One race cars in Abu Dhabi, melding unnoticed into the bodies of the two drivers who finished first and second. Just a coincidence? They teased each other over who was the better driver, laughed, and had a blast.
In Hawaii, they surfed the monster waves at Waimea Bay, hot-dogging and mocking the other surfers.
They played "catch the sunset." First in Japan, walking hand-in-hand beneath cherry trees in full bloom, then in Rio De Janeiro atop the Corcovado. In only seconds they were in the Maldives, the rocks of Sedona, Puerto Viejo. And everywhere they went, there was music. Myriads of octaves. Poetic sounds. It was as though the colors themselves could sing. Note upon note of breathtaking, crystal clear musical thoughts, almost inaudible, yet their immensity seeming to extend to infinity.
As the disk of the setting sun touched the Mediterranean's blue horizon, they were in Santorini, sitting on a low stone wall, holding hands.
Darkness came. Under a full moon at the Acropolis, he kissed her and the moon glowed brighter. They didn't joke now, and they didn't laugh.
They fell in love. Aboard a red, hot air balloon, they glided smoothly over the “fairy chimneys,” the tall, cone-shaped rock formations clustered in Monks Valley of Cappadocia. Mesmerized by the orgy of mother nature beneath them, they watched a newlywed couple kissing openly, among older tourists. “Get a room” Ethan said with a smile. Gemma’s smile was more provoking when she said “maybe we should too” and winked. The balloon gently touched down at the Three Doors Hotel in Ortisahar where Ethan, the master of all cons, found an empty suite. He and Gemma passed through the walls and now, freed from all physical and spiritual inhibitions, and knowing that there was no tomorrow, they made love, desperately, so fiercely that the rest of the mortal world slowed down and came to a complete stop. And they would have gone on, except for the sound of the door opening and the laughter from the suite’s new guests barging in. They only had time to get out of bed, which nevertheless remained immaculately unused. And as they were leaving, they came to a silent agreement; that the slavery of being carnal was indeed the most undervalued, ultimate delight. On the red carpet, as they were exiting the Academy Awards, Gemma found herself puzzled. It was something about all of the acceptance speeches; while they sounded profound, she had read a few of the winners' minds, only to realize that their speeches were vapid and pretentious, nothing more than narcissistic, poorly written scripts, a soft blanket to cover drugs, alcohol, infidelity, violence, greed, abuse.
"I do love our new utopia," whispered Gemma, "not only because it gave me this brand new life. Because it gave me you. And though I'm having more fun than I ever had in my other life, my heart tells me that you and I, together, have perhaps other options, maybe using our incredible gifts to make the lives of the living a bit better? like becoming good Samaritans for a while?"
"Hey, I lived my whole life trying to do the right thing. Don't I deserve a little "bad-boy" time on this side? Like scaring the shit out of unsuspecting mortals?"
"If that's what you want, you're not gonna like what I have in mind."
The female always wins.
Their first few interventions were simple, rudimentary experiments. Training ground for greater things. First, an American tourist, hopelessly lost in the crowded, maze-like streets of old Marrakesh. Without a smartphone, he was entering stage-one of a major panic attack when suddenly, somehow, the route back to his hotel just seemed to pop into his head. And as his panic waned, he congratulated himself on his astute sense of direction, oblivious of the fact that it was a couple of ghosts who had dictated the directions.
In a classroom where middle school students were taking a test, Gemma spotted one confused little girl who was clearly on her way to getting an "F." She sidled up to her and guaranteed her an "A” by whispering the correct answers into her ear -- thus redefining how sudden ideas, theories and solutions really come to the living.
The world of the living. Ah, so passé!
This kind of thought transmission made them hungry for more. And at a much higher level; for instance, the desperate scientist struggling to solve a complex mathematical equation in a dark and empty NASA lab. It's not that they knew the answers. Being spirits they could clearly see the faults and read behind the numbers. They left hoping that their corrections to the equation wouldn't bring some rocket down in the future.
Then they cheered for the underdogs in a soccer game where the underdogs won for the first time in their history and the fans were so stunned, that nobody noticed the ball which seemed to have a mind of its own.
At 7:00 in the morning, inside a Coffee Bean cafe, a grizzled old composer was bending over a couple of music sheets, jotting down musical notes, struggling to complete a song he'd never finish. Ethan slid in next to him, inhaled the aroma of the old man's coffee, then leaned in closer and whistled a simple melody he'd heard in the music that played everywhere in the transit dimension; a haunting six note phrase that seemed to hit the old man like a sudden flash of inspiration. He hummed the notes a couple of times, then excitedly put them on paper. It appeared that the guy already had a smash hit on his hands. Better yet, he wouldn't even have to think about paying Ethan any royalties.
Ethan and Gemma considered all of this, concluding that they had probably discovered the true origins of inspiration -- Ghosts whispering in people's ears! “You know” Gemma said, “there were others like us, before us, who inspired people, saved lives, stopped wars. They were the source of what the living call coincidence, luck, or chance.” “Sometimes things go wrong so that you’ll appreciate them when they’re right. Good things fall apart so better things can fall together. Yes, the truth is, everything happens for a reason.” “So, you think that others like us, thousands of years ago, could have whispered ‘be kind to each other’ in Jesus’s ear?” “Blasphemy,” he said mockingly. “Jesus didn’t need advice, he was the Son of God.” “And what if an evil spirit had whispered “kill all the Jews” in Hitler’s ear?” “Hitler didn’t need advice either. He was a self-made psychopath.”
They laughed and decided that it was time to test their duality by temporarily splitting up. He went to the Capella Sistina and she invaded one of Steven Spielberg's grandiose sets. Ethan managed to stop a young anarchist and vandal-to-be from damaging an exhibit. Gemma provided Spielberg with a brilliant alternative line to replace one that was troubling Tom Cruise. After trying out Spielberg's new line, Tom looked up at him and said "you're a freaking genius," a high compliment that Gemma took personally. Excited, she applauded her own creativity - and it was almost audible.
"Shhh," Ethan reprimanded her from the Sistina. She chuckled.
Gemma was the first to arrive back in their faux reality. She felt a slight wind of loneliness blowing; the crowds seemed to walk slower than usual; huge clouds drifted overhead. From a nearby restaurant, she could hear Bing Crosby singing:
"I'm free as a wondering breeze, I'm free to wander any place I please and yet I can't escape from you..." In a nearby alley, Ethan picked up the pace as he too heard Crosby's voice.
"I could ride away and hide away, where we were miles apart, but when I got there I'd find you there, right in my heart."
"I can't escape from you..." he hummed to himself.
They saw each other at the same nanosecond. She ran and wrapped herself around him. If the living could hear more acutely, they'd be listening to two hearts beating in perfect sync.
That's if spirits had hearts.
Ethan kissed her and kissed her again, proud of her, proud of them. "We're certified Good Samaritans. Now let's go scare some mortals and have a good laugh."
"You're such a child" Gemma said disapprovingly.
"And you're so unforgivably mature for a young girl" he teased.
She recalled one of her "see-through" voyages into the minds of living people. The hellish images from earlier were still vivid in her mind, as was the cry "save the children."
"This is where we're going next," she said softly. Ethan shrugged and nodded his hesitant approval.
They were in the Daudladia district of Bangladesh, an appalling place, one so vile it proves that Hell, does in fact, exist. For this was the largest brothel in the world, housing some 2,000 prostitutes. Congested, foul-smelling lanes and rancid alleyways, their gutters and drains clogged and overflowing with used condoms, empty liquor bottles and dogs' rotting carcasses, a village populated by madams, pimps, drug-dealers, bootleggers, food vendors, shopkeepers, laborers and the 951 children who live within the walls of the brothel. Gemma and Ethan didn't bother taking the scenic route. They spotted a loaded truck, coming up a hill, carrying a sinister cargo: some 60 young girls, the oldest pushing 12. They were being brought here against their will, to become prostitutes.
Using Gemma's kinetic abilities, which by far exceeded Ethan's, they managed to jettison four armed thugs off the vehicle, then hacked into the driver's brain, intercepted his thoughts and his decision-making process, made him turn the truck around and head down the dusty road and back to freedom. They had just saved sixty innocent souls.
It was dark when they returned, yet they felt no exhaustion. On the contrary, they were both energized and Ethan hadn't given up on his plan to "scare some mortals." So, when a group of teenagers, loaded with boomboxes and such, appeared and entered the deserted building of an old library, Ethan felt up to the challenge.
"Aha," whispered Gemma, sarcastically. "A party in a haunted house. Booze, drugs, and rock'n'roll."
"Yeah. And the only thing missing is a couple of nasty, malevolent ghosts."
He turned to her and grinned. "Come on, you can be malevolent. Why don't we give them some real adrenaline?"
They walked to the door. Behind them, hidden in the deep shadows of a nearby cove, was the silhouette of a man, his gleaming yellowish eyes locked on Gemma and Ethan.
Once inside, there was nothing but bleak emptiness; room after empty room. They swiftly slid up the spiral staircase, managing to manifest the bait: some frightening, otherworldly squeaks and creaks. They heard whispering voices coming from the huge reading room. They didn't enter through the doors, instead making their Grand Entrance by passing smoothly through the wall.
It was at that moment a wave of nausea and pain flooded them, followed by tortuous ultraviolet light and 18.98Hz of deafening infrasound frequencies so intense it made them gasp for air. The teenaged ghost hunters also gasped when the ghostly images of Gemma and Ethan popped up on their Kinect Camera screen.
"There they are! Hit them!" one guy shouted, and the others cranked up the volume on their equipment. White and pink noise immobilized Gemma and Ethan, who suddenly felt disoriented and, writhing in pain, were too weak to resist the overpowering magnetic force now sucking them towards an electronic ghost trap.
Gone was their 360-degree vision, and images became fluorescent and smelled of death. They were freezing and helpless. The young ghost hunters were no less terrified.
“Give me malevolent." Gemma hissed. "We've got to stop them.” This was no longer some enjoyable metaphysical game. It was war.
Ethan and Gemma grasped each other tightly, then through clenched teeth, let loose deafening screams that instantly transformed into a raging wind; it blasted people and equipment; dislodged and sent flying across the room, where they were pinned against the walls.
Gemma and Ethan morphed into hideous apparitions, now just inches from the terrified teens' faces, shrieking at them. With the last drop of courage the kids could muster, they clawed their way down to the floor, crawled to the front door, then ran. Equipment exploded and burst into flames. And in seconds, it all was quiet and swimming in a comforting darkness. Ethan and Gemma collapsed on the dusty floor.
"So much for scaring the mortals" Gemma said teasingly. "Happy now?"
Ethan nodded, and with great effort, chuckled.
Later, lying on the warm sand of a beach, Gemma suggested that maybe what they needed now was some sleep. "Ghosts don't sleep," Ethan said. "True, nevertheless, shutting our eyes for just a while might be soothing. We're still in trauma, you know. Malevolent my ass." She was also suspecting that with closed eyes, they might be able to see better. Their energy and strength had dwindled to an incredible low, proving that ghosts are, ironically, vulnerable to electronics. High tech vs spirit. High tech wins.
They did eventually close their eyes and drifted into a strange kind of lethargic unconsciousness. And then they saw what, perhaps, was some version of the future.
Gemma found herself in a swirling symphony of colors, colors which hummed some otherworldly tune. In the background rose two beautiful, round-topped, snow-capped mountains. And though they appeared to be at least 15 miles away, individual flowers could be seen growing on their slopes. To the left was a shimmering lake containing a different kind of water: clear, golden, radiant and alluring. It almost seemed to be alive. The entire landscape was carpeted with grass so vivid and green, that it defied description. Gemma, now standing on the grass, was somehow drawn along an invisible path, a path that only turned visible with every step she took. She suddenly sensed warmth, and appearing in front of her was a pleasant old black woman, smiling and whispering. Gemma leaned forward to listen. The old woman was saying "Come back to me, baby... come back to me... Please Gemma, come back to me..."
What Ethan was seeing was dramatically different; endless rows of dead, wicked skeletal trees, their crooked limbs reaching for the sky like arthritic fingers. A blue-streaking electric rain pummeled a barren valley. Every inch of the land was covered in ice. The two rusty sections of a bisected broken steel bridge lay half-submerged in the river below, bubbling with thick, foul green vomit. As far as the eye could see, there were billions, trillions of people in layers, suffocating in the sulfur-filled air, shivering, trembling, shaking badly in the insufferable cold.
Ethan heard a cacophony of psalms and an intense monotonous metallic sound -- some convoluted funeral of which he couldn't see details.
When Gemma and Ethan came out of trance, it was no longer night and they were no longer at the beach. They were now in the countryside and it was late Autumn.
A sudden cold wind made them shiver. A warm rain washed the blood-red color from the leaves, forming a tiny crimson stream. An ominous dark cloud, passing overhead, reflected in Gemma's translucent eyes.
What was wrong? Dark thoughts. A bad feeling. A threat.
The pitch-black cloud that loomed overhead dissolved into thin air, revealing the rise of a sinister looking sun. The gloomy afternoon turned into a blinding, bright morning. Tree branches turned green and flowers began to bloom in a magical time lapse. However, all the metaphorical rainbows couldn't remove the tension that they had just felt.
"You wanna talk about it?" Ethan asked, without knowing what "it" meant.
"No, let's not. Not now." Gemma grabbed his hand and led him towards the glittering lights of the city.
They strolled arm-in-arm down an isolated country road, lined by trees of purple and pink foliage, and the sun a brilliant blue, yet looking normal to them. Ethan stopped to inhale the perfumed air of his own perceived version of their new world: a rain-soaked city street, and the distant sounds of live jazz music.
As they turned a corner, Gemma stepped into her own version of their world: the interior of an immense barn, awash in the glow of candles atop large, upended wooden cable spools serving as tables, and a stage where a Led Zeppelin cover band was performing "Stairway to Heaven." Ethan's experience was far different. He saw the awning-covered patio of an outdoor restaurant, where a jazz quintet, looking and sounding identical to Miles Davis' combo, played "Time Fugit."
Entranced by the jazz, Ethan suddenly heard a deep, threatening rumble, felt the ground sway, and watched customers' drinks skittering across tabletops. He desperately clutched Gemma's hand as the music and conversations faded into barely audible, whispering snippets of sound.
Then, nothing, only a calm and deafening silence. What the hell was that? A premonition, a kind of warning that only Ethan felt?
The music and sounds gradually faded back in. Baffled, Ethan tried to put the pieces together, couldn't, then turned to Gemma.
"Where are we? Right now, what is this place?"
"It's a barn, silly, and that Zeppelin cover band is..."
Ethan's eyes and ears told him otherwise. "Time Fugit," he whispered to himself.
"A what?" Gemma asked.
He shook his head "nothing, just me..." while he fought his instinct to discuss with her the very first dichotomy of vision, his own visions of hell, the trembling ground, the shaking wine glasses, the significance of the jazz tune -- perhaps a reminder that they both were fugitives of time? “You know, you’re both right” said a raspy, deep voice. They turned to see the Miles Davis lookalike, smiling, still holding his trumpet, as he pulled up a chair. They didn’t notice the odd freckle astral pattern on his face.
“You haven’t been watching the signs,” he said and shook his head. “Not many do. Tempus Fugit valut umbra, time flees like a shadow, times flies, time escapes, slips like sand between your fingers. A reminder that there’s a Ticking Clock, counting down your stay in transit.”
A sudden realization filled Gemma’s face. “You’re no longer the ice cream girl...” she cooed. The Miles Davis guy nodded. “We are what we want to be, just like you.”
He ignored the question and went on to explain that they’d soon have to split up, as their funerals would mark their departure to the next, the final level. To stay together ad infinitum would require that they be buried at the exact same nanosecond, a feat almost impossible by all physical laws which, unfortunately, applied in the mortal world. Another ticking clock -- their energy dissipated with time. They were running out of steam.
“If I was you, which sadly to say I’ll never be -- you know, in love, in transit, in trouble -- I’d go back home and see what magic I could work out.” “Is that the key to Heaven or Hell?” Ethan asked. “Heaven and Hell are an archaic concept. As you’re nearing the departure for the Afterlife, you will be remembering more as to who, where, when, how...” He stood and played the final ten notes of “Tempus Fugit” on his trumpet. The music grabbed them hard and didn't let go until the last note had sounded. And then he was gone. Gemma suddenly turned serious. Abruptly. Like the click of a switch. "I have to go. Right now."
"No, you don't - we don't know where home is."
"We haven't looked hard enough. I will find my home. Find yours"
Ethan stood up.
"You don't need to come," she protested.
"I don't need to. I want to. Wherever you go, I go."
"Not always. Not now. I have to do this alone. I know how to find you. So when I ask ‘where are you?’ I expect you to answer."
He took a step forward to follow her yet she had already vanished into thin air.
"From a blink to eternity," Ethan said to himself, bitterly. He walked aimlessly for a while, disconnected thoughts and images suffocating his consciousness. He felt like sitting down, hoping it would help him think more clearly. He spotted a short rectangular mile stone, a perfectly symmetrical cube. The engraving looked fresh. "Mile 0." His eyes drifted from the stone to a piece of paper the wind had blown to his feet. That too looked brand new. And it smelled strongly of fresh ink.
He squinted trying to read it. An obituary. "Our beloved father, brother, grandfather, friend Ethan..." He gazed at the small photo above the print and choked. The face of an old man; it seemed vaguely familiar. And the name -- Ethan? Perhaps his grandfather? He had seen that face before, yet he couldn't remember when or where. "A Christian Mass officiated by the Reverend James Cowan will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday, at Hogg Funeral Home." He looked back at the face. The photo's fine lines had started to fade.
"You will live on in our hearts," the final line of the print read like a nail in the coffin.
No distance is enormous.
Night, a solid dark, consuming night in a drab, blighted neighborhood of Elkhart, Indiana. A run-down apartment building. Gemma looked at it sadly. This was home? She swiftly flew up the stairs to the second floor, the two-bedroom apartment. Her abusive stepfather had passed out drunk on the bed, snoring. And her mother - the same old black woman seen in her vision - sleeping restlessly on the couch. Gemma drifted around her room, feeling the coldness. God, she hated this room and all the memories she'd tried to erase. She lay down next to her mother, thinking she might somehow be able to comfort her. Still she got tangled in the old woman's thoughts, filled with sadness and anger for Gemma's loss and also vague sparse hints of hope that Gemma would come back.
"Oh, mama" she whispered "if you only knew."
A tear from her eyes dropped on her mother's cheek. A real tear from the spirit dimension able to cross borders, a kind of breach of boundaries between the dead and the living.
Ethan had traveled too. He was in front of a marvelous colonial house in Leavenworth, Washington. He walked in through the wall and found nothing more than pretentious sadness and an aggravating calm, which angered him. No grief for him? On his desk, he saw scattered documents. One of them, from the funeral home. He focused on the date and time: his funeral was in two hours. In the blink of an eye, he was transported to the chapel of the Hogg Funeral Home, looking down at his lifeless mortal body, lying in the casket. An austere-looking old man, he thought - then again, all dead people looked austere.
The chaotic encounter with the young ghost hunters must have triggered some weird reasoning skill, as he could now think at astonishing speeds and stunning clarity.
He needed Gemma. Only together could they control their fate. To stay together. To depart together for whatever awaited them. "Tempus Fugit." Time flees. The clock was ticking. And the ticking clock -- was their funerals!
Gemma suddenly felt a nauseating emptiness in her old home. She missed Ethan. She had no one to share her feelings with. And she sensed the urge to see her mortal body before the burial. Why was there no funeral in her mother's thoughts? Why did her mom keep thinking of a hospital? The thought struck Gemma like an arrow: No funeral arrangements. Hospital. Get there now!
As she emerged onto the dead-end street, she whispered "where are you?" yet wasn't sure if she was trying to find Ethan or the location of her mortal body. Sixty feet away, the thin man had heard her question and repeated it in a barely audible whisper: “where are you?”
Ethan was at the funeral parlor when he heard Gemma calling. Instinctively he started to respond when a thought froze him. In his vision he had seen what resembled hell. What if Gemma was destined to go elsewhere, a different dimension known as heaven? What if he dragged her to an eternity of torment? Do the right thing, he thought. Leave her alone, she doesn't belong where you're going. "Where are you?" he heard again, louder. He clenched his teeth. The decision was made. He and Gemma were a match made in heaven, not in hell. And he would never drag her there. He refused to answer her. Gemma called and called.
In the small, confined ICU, Gemma parted the opaque curtain that separated her from her dying body. Her hands were trembling as she saw her physical self the way she really was in life: a forty-ish black woman, connected to tubes and wires and one leg recently amputated. She looked at the chart, which stated that the patient, Gemma Hanson, was not only comatose; based on test results, she was assumed to be brain dead. "Oh mama," she thought "I won't be coming back," and the thought pained her. If the mortal Gemma was ever resuscitated, she'd be limping along the same miserable life she lived for forty some years. Ethan would be buried and transition away from her. "No, no, not fair," she murmured and felt compelled to reach and touch her body, caress her hair. Torn between sadness and hope. At the funeral parlor, a handsome 36-year-old Ethan Maddigan was looking at his deceased self, inside the metal casket which would soon be lowered into a grave.
"You will live on in our hearts - my ass" he mumbled sarcastically.
Gemma made a last effort to find Ethan. "Where are you?!" she screamed and the blood curdling shriek resonated like a second death in Ethan's ears. He felt it was useless to resist and didn't hesitate for a second. "I'm watching my funeral" he responded, then rushed to tell her his theory about heaven and hell, the timing of their burials, and their impending separation: Her to Heaven -- Him to Hell. So many thoughts transmitted in a millisecond. Their duality, back to work at hyper-speed. Gemma refused to accept the separation. She was determined to follow him, wherever he'd be going.
"Better an eternity in hell with you than a day alone in heaven" she said.
The ticking clock was now counting seconds. Reverend James Cowan was talking about line 284 of book 3 of Virgil's Georgics, and "fugit inreparabile tempus" -- "it escapes, irretrievable time".
Time which they had and spent foolishly, both in their mortal lives and their ghostly existence. Time to correct what they did wrong in both dimensions. Time to be together. Ethan said:
"I have to concentrate my thought for a moment and I can build up a duplicate of myself, send that speeding to you."
"And I can do the same for you," Gemma countered.
In an instant she was holding his hand at the chapel and he was grasping hers in the ICU. “Looks like a close call” he said. “Pretty soon I may be buried and you’ll still be lying there, stubbornly clutching to a few traces of miserable life.” It was now that they should use the duplexity of their existence to the fullest. Harness the time that was flying. Synchronize the forthcoming ending. They noticed murmurs. “Only a few of us will be at the cremation,” whispered a young man to his wife. Cremation? The word reverberated like a gunshot in Ethan’s mind. Cremation? His eyes snapped open. So, his body was not heading for the cemetery? Gemma read a wave of thoughts and they were both bombarded with scattered yet synchronized, similar notions. Could Cremation mean that Ethan would stay in transit forever? How soon could Gemma’s burial be arranged? First, she had to die. And together they had to stop the cremation. They quickly got into action. First, they chose some vulnerable minds of key relatives and planted doubts about the pending cremation. A split second later they roamed the Crematorium where everything seemed ready. The furnace was already fired up. Gemma and Ethan split up. He scanned the computerized equipment, she surveyed the furnace. They came to one conclusion: the only way to halt the process was to sort of incinerate themselves! A convoy of four cars tailed the black Rolls Royce hearse.
Back in the ICU, the two looked down at Gemma’s comatose body. The beeps of the life-support machines sounded like a different, threatening ticking clock. “It’s your choice,” said Ethan. “It’s your life, your death.” He took her hand and placed it gently on the respirator’s master switch then asked: “Are you sure about this?” She turned, gazed into his eyes, gave him a quick nod then: Gemma’s ghostly fingers grabbed the switch, tried and tried with all the force she could master.
Rapid beeps on the monitor. Some LED’s flickered. The switch moved halfway to “off.” The beeps got frantic. The shrill buzzing of a distant emergency alarm abruptly echoed throughout the hospital. Gemma clenched her teeth and gave it all she got. The switch clicked firmly into its off position. The final sustained beep echoed like the haunting last note of a sad ballad.
The monitor flatlined.
The mortal Gemma took her last earthly breath. No death rattle, just a peaceful sigh of relief.
Past, present and future became one, creating a sense of infinity not only in time, also in space and thought.
Reverend Cowan and a handful of close relatives, listened to Mr. Jeffrey Mangas, head of the Flagship Crematorium, give his routine speech, which was a kind of ex machina for Ethan and Gemma, since they immediately took control of the relatives’ thought processes and imposed unsettling visuals of cremation, as Mr. Mangas described the process:
“During incineration, the body is exposed to a column of flames produced by a furnace burner. The deceased is placed in a casket and it’s what burns down first. Next, the heat dries the body, burns the skin and hair, contracts and chars the muscles, vaporizes the soft tissues, and calcifies the bones so that they eventually crumble. Finally, the dried bone fragments are further ground into a finer sand-like consistency we call "ashes."
By the end of Mangas’ speech, each and every mourner had been transported inside the furnace and had witnessed the horrifying reality of the cremation process. The drama was not over yet. “I don’t know about this,” Gemma said as the cardboard and wood casket was rolled on a steel gurney to the incinerator. “I don’t know about this,” one granddaughter whispered to her mother. “Grandad should be buried,” Gemma added. “Grandad should be buried,” the granddaughter echoed her. Although the doubt had been planted, the toughest challenge was still ahead: Gemma and Ethan slipped inside the furnace as the casket was rolled in. Metal gates were shut. A motor started. Amber flames wooshed, roared, blazed around the casket -- and engulfed them. Gemma screamed. A reflex of her residual life ties with the living. “Think cold!” Ethan shouted. Ghosts are not supposed to feel pain, friction, temperature. Emma chilled. Some 1,500 degrees didn’t bother the two. Their breaths instantly turned into ghostly vapors that shrouded the casket and caused the burners to stutter. Gemma and Ethan exhaled forcefully and a transient frost began forming on the tile walls. “And they say ‘when hell freezes over’...” Ethan chuckled, only to get a venomous look from Gemma. They kept blowing icy vapor against the blaze until, one after another, the burners hissed and shut down without even discoloring the casket. They looked at each other and nodded, relieved. Just then the alarm started blaring, but to their senses, it sounded like an ethereal symphony. Desiring a grand finale, Ethan activated all of the facility’s fire sprinklers. It rained over the just and the unjust. Though Ethan wouldn’t admit it, it was really a bit of mild revenge against his family.
They passed a group of panicked employees and walked through the relatives, dictating their thoughts: “Was that an omen? Maybe a proper burial in twenty- four hours?” Mission accomplished. However, Gemma and Ethan couldn’t resist the temptation and decided to lie comfortably in the back of the Rolls hearse, which was about to depart empty. Or so everybody thought.
“We’ve got 24 hours,” Gemma said nonchalantly, still lying next to Ethan in the back of the hearse. “Now I must work on my mother’s thoughts for my burial.” “Sure” said Ethan, putting his arm around her, “at the very same instant as mine. That’d take a lot of goddamn precision”
In the frantic activity of the ICU room, Ethan left. Gemma gazed at her dead body one last time and, at the speed of thought, she was once more in front of her apartment building. “Girl,” she heard. A cold, hissing voice, like razor blades scraping against each other. The Stringbean man detached himself from the liquid darkness of a nearby cove and took a timid step forward. “Girl,” he repeated, “don’t talk, just listen.” Gemma tried to intercept his thoughts. He blocked her. “My name is Babyface Morgan, an alias I chose to compensate for my physical ugliness. I’m the stranded spirit of a child killer, sentenced to death when I was only 13, but not executed for another twenty years. I haven’t been buried yet because I donated my unclaimed corpse to science and will likely be dissected soon. That means I’ll be staying in transit forever, so I will avoid hell, whatever hell is, and continue to do my evil deeds for the pitiful mortals.I’m a misanthrope. Yes, I’m an evil spirit and if you’re wondering how an evil spirit can roam freely in this makeshift world, I’ll tell you. Where there’s a god, there’s a devil. Where there’s good, there’s evil. You and your imaginary lover have embarked on good deeds. “Angels,” people will call you. Good deeds? I will counter with vile deeds and real death. It’s called restoring balance. I’ll hurt innocent people; stop the two of you from what you’re planning. Besides, he’ll soon be going to hell because he has killed – something he never told you. And you, girl, you can go to the Afterlife alone, or you can stay here with me. I can arrange that, you know. I have friends in low places.” He wiped greasy sweat from his forehead. “Oh, I didn’t let you speak, because interrupting me would give you access to my thoughts. Yet, I’ll grant you a glimpse.” For one horrifying instant, Gemma was thrust into his mind, a grotesque, howling void, where a chorus of discordant voices were chanting over and over again, “Save the children...! Save the children” She saw red. Lots of red, like the red which had once filled her windshield. Fragments of that memory signaled danger. Then a three-digit number appeared -- one number -- the number 217... which vanished as Babyface spoke again. “Synchronizing your funerals is really difficult, you know. In fact, I’ll make it impossible. I’ll give you the gift of a dreadful, tortuous dilemma. That’s not a threat. It’s a promise.” Gemma smirked. “Know what’s wrong with you?” “Enlighten me.” “You were born with perpetual malcontent syndrome.” “And what’s that, doctor?” Morgan attempted unsuccessfully to smile. “You were only content when you were upset. You never experienced joy, or friendship, or laughter.” “I laughed when I killed those kids, you know.” He imitated a bitter chuckle and kept talking as he walked off down the cobblestone street, his thin, razor blade voice blending in with a cold, whistling wind that arose suddenly then abruptly faded into nothingness. Gemma’s mother was no longer alone. Ethan was sitting next to her on the couch, quietly angry. Gemma told him that she knew all along. “I heard everything” he said. ”You know, this duality connecting us works miracles. Though I did feel a tinge of guilt eavesdropping.” He explained, that while Morgan was shielding his thoughts from Gemma, he was unaware that Ethan had full and undetected access. So Morgan’s secrets were now exposed. Ethan walked Gemma through the man’s turbulent past and together they saw the horror he was capable of. Most importantly, they saw what he had already set in motion. Morgan was planning to derail the Glacier Express, the red train carrying 217 school kids, on a special trip through the Solis and Landwasser viaducts and the spiral tunnels of the Swiss Alps. “Was it true, what he said? The men you’ve killed? One more tinge of guilt -- for knowing that you may be dragging me to hell?” Ethan nodded. No, Morgan hadn’t lied. He’d simply distorted the truth to drive a wedge between them. The men he had killed weren’t innocent victims. It had been during the war. They were enemy combatants. If that meant eternal hell for him, there was only one option: go separate ways. Gemma sat gently on his lap, draped an arm over his shoulder, and gazed into his eyes. “At the risk of repeating myself, better an eternity in hell with you than a day alone in heaven.” Then they started mapping the road ahead. First, she’d enter her mother’s subconscious and plant the date and time of her funeral. As for news from the hospital -- “The phone will ring any second now.” It rang. Gemma’s mother sighed and reached for the receiver, instead brushing Gemma’s hand. Instantly overwhelmed with joy, she whispered, “Gemma, my baby?” By the time she’d opened her eyes, Gemma and Ethan were gone. They chose the noisy Souk El Hiraj of Allepo, so that the noise might drown out their thoughts, in case they had been followed. They sat inconspicuously on a huge roll of plush carpets, hidden behind endless rows of caftans, their whispers muted by the shouting and commotion filling the air. They were here to strategize, far from Morgan’s contagious presence. They calculated the hours, the minutes, the seconds -- the time needed to avert the train tragedy and still make it to their funerals. However, time was no longer their friend, it was quickly turning into a lethal enemy. To beat the ticking clock, they had to give up the duplexity solution, as this would make them weaker and slower. And there would be no further communications between them, as they knew that Morgan would be trying to intercept their thoughts. “Morgan will be on board that train” Gemma said. “I’ll take him.” “No, that’s a man’s job.”
“Even when the man has limited kinetic abilities?” She shook her head and through clenched teeth said, “You’re not his match. I am.” When Ethan had dug into Morgan’s mind, he had discovered the where’s, when’s and how’s of his execution. So now, while Gemma would save the children of the Glacier Express, Ethan would do some of his own magic in South Carolina’s Kirkland Correctional Institution. And since Ethan and Gemma had no watches to synchronize, they would have to synchronize their minds. “It scares me to think that you’ll be on your own.” Ethan said. “The scary part is that I won’t be there to save your ass when you need it” she joked. They wrapped their arms tightly around each other, embracing as if they might never do it again. Then, after a long kiss, they made the jump to their separate destinations. Their journey against time had begun. At exactly 11:21 AM, Ethan was at 4344 Broad River Rd, Columbia, home of the Kirkland Correctional Institution. Passing through its fortified walls at the speed of thought, he was instantly roaming the endless corridors, reading the guards’ minds for directions to the penitentiary’s morgue. At 11:22 AM he was inside the cold, gray room, its only living occupant, a groggy middle-aged security man. And though Ethan could not physically open the metallic cadaver drawers, he could look inside. And they were all empty, row after row, shelf after shelf. “Where are the bodies of executed inmates?” He planted the question in the guard’s mind and that triggered an immediate subconscious response. “Drummond’s Funeral Home.” Determined to use both her mental and kinetic powers, Gemma boarded the Glacier Express at Davos. And when the train started its smooth climb, she raced unseen past the hundreds of children filling every coach. As she gained speed, the world around her shifted, first into slow motion and then a freeze frame. Guided by her heightened sense of danger, she headed for the engine room. Name of the train driver? Yes, Gerard. She sensed Gerard’s sudden confusion and his intention not to use the brakes during the train’s rapidly approaching descent. At 11:23 AM Ethan entered the funeral home and found more than what he was looking for – not one, but two refrigerated corpses. Which one was Morgan’s and – who the hell was the other? Reading the barcodes on each drawer, Ethan learned that the unknown man was one Samuel Jones, killed in an auto accident, unclaimed for a week, and scheduled for burial... damn, at 12:00 today. Morgan’s barcode read, “Will be claimed by Shultz Scientific Research Facilities.” And through great effort, Ethan managed to switch the bodies’ barcodes. He smiled devilishly as he watched the funeral home’s workers enter, scan the two barcodes, then transfer Morgan’s corpse into the simple casket intended for Samuel Jones. Mission accomplished? Not yet, Ethan had to make sure that Morgan was buried and done with. No risks. The first thing Gemma saw after kicking open the engineer’s door, was Morgan, his hand clutching Gerard’s shoulder. He gave her an ugly smile. “Well, look who’s here. Where’s your boyfriend?” Before he could react, Gemma had catapulted herself across the cab, grabbing him by the throat. “I have kinetics too, you fuckin’ shit,” he cried. “Thanks for the warning,” Gemma growled, gouging her fingers deeper into his flesh. She was strangling his thoughts, trying to free Gerard from Morgan’s lethal hold. As the train started its steep descent, Gemma could already hear the driver’s determination about not using the brakes. The distance separating all of those children from death, was the 3.2 miles down to the viaduct in the valley below. At 11:43 Ethan was already at the cemetery. Morgan’s casket arrived in the back of a pickup truck. If spirts had nails, Ethan would be probably biting his. Instead, he followed the workers carrying the casket to a far corner of the graveyard. Gemma was weakening; knew it was impossible to keep Morgan under her control much longer. He fought back viciously. The train barreled into the pitch-black darkness of a tunnel. That’s when Morgan made his move, slugging Gemma, who lost her grip on his throat, and stumbled back against the wall, Morgan’s hand now clamped around her throat. Dazed, she desperately tried to send her thoughts to Gerard: “Gerard, the brakes. Your kids. Your wife. The children. Save the children. The brakes!” Gerard stared vacantly into space, a silly grin on his face, confused by the voices in his head, oblivious to the disaster waiting a thousand feet below. As the speeding train raced into a sharp curve, its wheels screeched, white-hot sparks showering the tracks. “Use the brakes, Gerard!” Gemma mentally screamed. Morgan’s grip was already choking out her thoughts, making them incoherent in Gerard’s head. Now on the verge of losing, Gemma gave up trying to communicate with Gerard, an effort that was only dwindling her physical ability to fight off Morgan. Instead, she said to herself “think hot, think fire!” A huge flame appeared out of nowhere, licking at Morgan’s face. Startled, he released his hold on Gemma and Gerard, stumbling backwards, tripping, and falling towards the floor. In that instant, Gemma attacked, charging him, driving him to the floor with such force, that the floor planks splintered, then cracked wide open, revealing a gaping hole, the tracks whipping past below. Before he could react, Gemma was on top of him, pinning him down, his head arching back into the hole. “You know you’re going to hell,” Gemma hissed in his ear. “That’s what you think, you stupid bitch,” Morgan retorted, struggling violently to free himself. “I’ll stay in transit forever, I’ll never be buried.” She hit him hard and shoved him further into the gap. “That’s what you think, you fuck,” she shouted. “Ethan has already arranged your burial.” Morgan froze for a moment and that was all the time Gemma needed. She took control of Gerard’s mind as the train was now racing down the steep grade towards the viaduct. Children’s panicked screams were already rising in nightmarish intensity. At 12:00 noon sharp, the casket holding Morgan’s corpse descended unceremoniously into a freshly dug grave, as a priest rushed through his recitation of the last rites. Still, the two workers with shovels, feeling no pressure to complete their task, sat on a nearby tombstone having a smoke. The priest shook his head and left. Ethan was becoming agitated. And angry, since every second could mean trouble for Gemma who, he knew, was confronting Morgan on the train. Combining all of his powers, Ethan managed to move a sizeable pile of dirt, which dropped down onto Morgan’s casket with a loud thud, the noise startling the workers. They exchanged spooked looks, got up, grabbed their shovels, and got to work. Suddenly, compressed air hissed, brakes squealed, and the sounds of grinding steel filled the cabin. Yet, the train barely slowed. Gemma shoved Morgan further into the gaping hole. He screamed, desperately grasping at the splintered planks, his fingernails breaking, snapping off. Gerard, oblivious to what was happening in the ghost dimension, stared in utter confusion at the gaping hole in his floor. At that moment the train careened into a hairpin curve, all cars now teetering on the edge of a cliff. Suddenly aware of his predicament, Gerard shook it off and slammed on the secondary set of emergency brakes. At the same time, Gemma launched a massive thought to the panicked children on the train. ”All of you, move to the left side! Now!” As if they were obeying a command, kids scrambled across the aisles to the left side of their cars. Their combined weight counterbalanced the train, setting its wheels back on the tracks with a cold metallic moan. Gemma snapped her focus back to Morgan and, with one last effort she managed to dislodge him. He plummeted through the hole, disappearing in the void, shrieking, as simultaneously, back at Morgan’s gravesite -- Dirt was still being shoveled on Morgan’s coffin. Ethan exhaled with relief then rushed to the Swiss Alps to be with Gemma who probably needed help. Morgan gripped the rails, the wheels running over his hands leaving him unaffected. He laughed and started crawling back towards the last railcar. As it passed overhead, he reached up, grabbed the railing, and started to pull himself up, when something caught his attention: his hand first became transparent, then began to disappear. Then his left leg turned to dust and he fell backwards, sucked by an invisible vacuum, watching in horror the beginning of his journey to eternal hell. “Hello, gorgeous.” Gemma was still sprawled on the floor when she heard it. Ethan gave her his hand and helped her up. “What took you so long?” she whispered and kissed him. “What’s for dinner, honey?” he returned her joke. Behind them, the passenger cars were resonating with children singing. A split second later, Gemma and Ethan were standing on the tracks, watching, as far below, the train disappeared across the long viaduct. “Rails,” Ethan said. “Rails?” Gemma echoed. They exchanged a worried look and thought in total sync, “what if Morgan didn’t want to de-rail just the train, but de-rail us too? What if we were supposed to be somewhere else, but were intentionally diverted?” She locked her eyes on Ethan. “What if he let you read his mind deliberately?” Gemma said that their own funerals were approaching soon. Time fugit. There was no more time. In mortal terms, some ten minutes or less. Still the “what ifs” kept dancing in their heads. “Come on,” Ethan said, and in a split second they were at the St. Moritz train station where awaiting passengers had gathered in front of a large screen TV. Ethan and Gemma joined them. The chyron scrolling at the bottom of the screen read, “Middle East crisis erupts out of control.” And the horrifying images from the screen spilled into the room, becoming frighteningly real. Images of war. Fire and destruction waiting to happen. U.S. carriers with jet fighters warming engines. Russian S-400 missiles pointed toward the sky. A serious conflict at sea, in the air and on land. “We need to be there” Ethan said. “You realize it’s either or. It’s them or us.” “What if...” “There goes that damned “what if” again.” “What if we can do both. We have ten minutes and we still move faster than any mortal. “We’ll blow what’s left of our energy.” “Worth trying. Let’s go stop a war.” “Even if it means we never see each other again?” Gemma said. But before she could finish the sentence, they were already at Tahrir Square in Istanbul, watching a crowd of hundreds of thousands and a sea of red flags and “Death to America” banners. No time to be wasted on debates. They instantly realized that Altan Remir, Turkey’s self-proclaimed Sultan, a ruthless dictator, was about to declare war on the U.S. and its European allies. With nearby Syria becoming a potential tinderbox for World War 3 and Iran already arming its nuclear arsenal, this lunatic was planning to become the key player and set the Middle East on fire. Altan stood tall and rigid in front of the microphone. The crowds cheered and chanted. “Hero, hero” from the masses. Gemma and Ethan took center stage, behind him. “Follow my lead” Ethan said. “Where?” “We’ll hack his brain. Total control. Remember what we said about Hitler? He’s no different, another psychopath -- and we’re the only ones who can stop him.” They clasped hands. Eyes closed, tense, focusing their powers. The dictator opened his mouth to speak. But instead of Turkish, his words came out in English. “I love America,” he said and the stunned crowd fell silent. He too was stunned, as he heard himself say, “I love America more than I love Turkey.” An angry murmur started to spread, quickly turning to rage as the red flags of war were lowered. Gemma nudged Ethan, reprimanding him. He smiled. The two concentrated hard on the dictator. Switching back to his own language, Altan admitted that he had been nothing more than a tyrant, sentencing thousands of his opponents to death, working with terrorists, stealing billions, bankrupting the country and planning to start a catastrophic global crisis. “You will all die for Turkey” he shouted and the threat echoed over hundreds of speakers, numbing the crowd as he added, “but I will not die for Turkey.” On allied warships surrounding Turkey, fingers eased off of red launch buttons and jet fighter engines wound down. Back at Tahrir Square, the crowd screamed and shouted curses at their leader. They now had a new enemy to hate. “A hate-filled crowd” Ethan smirked, “will do our job for us.” Concluding his admission of a thousand guilts, Altan offered to be handcuffed and taken to jail. Angry armed soldiers were already marching onto the podium. For Ethan and Gemma, the clock was still ticking, only two minutes away from their burials. Yet they wouldn’t leave until Altan was completely done with. He was already in handcuffs, being led away, when Gemma said “I feel weak, let’s go,” and Ethan responded, “You go first, I need to do something and will be there, no worries. Wouldn’t miss my burial for the world.” As Gemma vanished from the scene, Ethan focused all of his attention on a huge, enraged Turk in the crowd. In a split second Ethan was next to him and whispered in his ear, “Our leader is a traitor, an assassin, a murderer.” Suddenly overcome with bloody outrage, the Turk started shouting: “Traitor, assassin, murderer!” His rage surged like wildfire through the crowd, who started chanting those same three words, the bloodthirsty mob now moving in for the kill. “Lynch” Ethan muttered, a hellish look in his eyes. But then he remembered what the ice cream girl had said. Evil was contagious. Now in front of her own gravesite, Gemma saw her coffin ready to be lowered. “No, no” she muttered in agony. She focused on her tearful mother standing nearby, and said “not yet, not yet,” though this time, Gemma’s transmitted thoughts had no effect. She didn’t wonder why. She already knew the answer. So close to the end, her abilities were dwindling. Time had ran out. Snapping her focus to Ethan, she cried, “Where are you?” Then she heard the first metallic click of her casket’s lowering mechanism. In Istanbul, as a full-blown riot erupted, Ethan too heard the dreaded metallic clicks. Gathering remnants of energy, he left the scene. Gemma felt the warmth of his embrace as he showed up behind her. “Let’s have our duplicate selves attend my funeral. Ready?” She nodded. Gemma and Ethan appeared at his grave. “Oh no,” Ethan said, seeing that his coffin was already half way down. “Jam the mechanism!” she shouted, although she already knew the physical impossibility of what she was asking. At her own burial, the clicks of her coffin’s lowering mechanism continued, albeit her coffin had descended only a few inches into the grave. Back at Ethan’s funeral, Gemma felt helpless and cried. Ethan noticed the tears in Gemma’s eyes but he was too desperate and confused to realize that ghosts don’t cry. He simply clenched teeth as they both prepared for the worst. And it was then that the clicking stopped. The mechanism was jammed? How? A coincidence? If they couldn’t do it, who could? “Guess the old man doesn’t want to be buried” sneered one of his nephews, his comment met with glares and shushes from his mother and sister. Gemma and Ethan clung to each other, shivering from an unseen cold wind which seemed to be tearing the very molecules from their spirit flesh. And as their preternatural powers began to disintegrate, they were replaced by intense physical pain. So was this to be the end for them? They looked around in confusion, as everything started to move in a lethargic slow motion. The funeral home crew was already working on the mechanism. From where they stood, they couldn’t see her, standing in the distance behind a tombstone, watching them -- the familiar, redheaded ice cream girl. She was smiling now, her astral freckle pattern magically rearranging itself. Click! The deafening silence of no synchronicity. The two caskets, miles apart, still only breaths away from each other. Click, click. The casket’s lowering mechanism was fixed. Click, click, click. Then an uncontrolled descent, which made people gasp. Ethan’s casket landed with a thud at the bottom of his grave at the same instant, the exact nanosecond that Gemma’s coffin touched the bottom of the six foot grave. The first few grains of soil landed on Gemma’s casket. Shovelfuls of dirt, on Ethan’s coffin. More moist soil covered Gemma’s casket. The tear she had left on her mother’s cheek, glowed briefly then turned into a birthmark. A white rose landed on the dirt. Tapping sounds from a shovel. It was then that Gemma's image started to flicker and fade at her burial site. By his graveside, Ethan's image faded to transparency. Gemma too was turning translucent and when she sighed, all those mortals around her felt a strange but comforting breeze which only lasted as long as a breath. The tidal volume. "Together again," Gemma whispered with a luminous smile. “Inseparable.” The air smelled of sulfur. There was an abundance of chilling silence, weighing heavily over their souls, a sense of strangulation, as if the environment was constricting around their throat. They were back in their world -- the one that was what they made it -- only this time their world was devoid of life and movement, it just stood still like a monochrome facade, unsafe, uncertain, almost made of liquefied materials. Their ears started to once again register sound. A painful realization hit them: they were shifting, being transitioned back into the physical world, and suddenly aware of a need for oxygen, their lungs now being drained of air.
A translucent, white eight-wheeler crossed the intersection with just a whisper of a noise. The word SHACMAN jumped out in black bold letters and crashed on the steaming asphalt.
The truck faded at a short distance, then an ambulance with its siren muted zipped by in close proximity, followed by the black Rolls Royce hearse carrying an empty transparent casket. Far away, on serpentine flaming tracks, a red train was rolling lethargically uphill, in reverse.
Gemma and Ethan exchanged looks of awareness. Their temporary stay in the spirit world didn’t exist anymore. They were being stripped of all their ghostly qualities, in preparation for the final journey. At least the supreme power was upholding its self-imposed rules. They were together and that mattered more than all the magic in the sinister universe they had briefly inhabited.
And as they started to run, their cardboard world began to collapse around them. Buildings crumbled silently, roads twisted and were swallowed by a vindictive, lava-like ground, sea water froze and shattered in smithereens and ahead of them there existed nothing, a void with only one uphill road. A road in seductive golden hues, perhaps retrieved from their Oz memories, with its incline rising dramatically to a cruel verticality as the two continued their unstoppable frantic run. There was no way back, since every inch of the road they left behind, burned and turned to ashes and dust.
At the very end of their climb, there it was: a razor-sharp narrow threadlike cliff, made of eroded limestone rocks, with just standing room for two people, its sides cascading without interruption to an unseen valley floor, countless miles below.
"Life on the edge, uh?" Ethan said, clearly out of breath. He held Gemma tight, almost melting into her.
"Are you ready for this?"
"Even if I wasn't - it's a bit too late."
"I may be dragging you to hell."
"Even worse, I may be dragging you to the boredom of heaven, singing colors and all."
"I meant to ask. Do you believe in God?"
"Of course I do."
"Right now, whoever is available."
Ethan looked down and inhaled deeply.
"It has to be like Butch Cassidy."
"An old movie."
”Ah. We never had cable."
He looked at her lovingly and sighed.
"When I look in your eyes, it feels as if I'm looking into my soul."
"It's natural. We're soulmates."
She pointed to the void, nodded. He motioned "yes."
They let out their last breaths. The final tidal volume. They spread out their arms with the hands interlocked.
They slowly tiptoed, leaned forward --
Into the nothingness below. The Deep Unknowable. They fell and fell and fell until they became two bright dots in a darkening horizon.