The ghosts watch me from the shadowy corners of my workroom. I work better unattended. I told them this when we struck our bargain, but they said they would rather I not forget they were here. That I not dismiss our bargain as some dream.
I wouldn’t have done that. I know what my dreams are. They are not filled with ghosts or monsters but with cogs and springs and the working of machines never seen before. These images fill my waking days, too. They are how I earn my keep.
I guess the ghosts are used to being forgotten. Besides, most days it’s like they aren’t even there. You can’t see them in full sunlight, and while there’s no sunlight in this room, the lamps are bright enough for it to have the same effect. I made those lamps. I made everything here. I’ve made things for the Emperor and the army and the princesses across the sea.
This will be my greatest project. This will bring the dead back to life.
Not completely. Not even the ghosts wanted that. Poor things. They are bound to this earth until they fulfil their purpose, which as they have pointed out, is bloody hard to do when they aren’t corporeal. This machine should give them a voice and a pair of hands, if nothing else. Then, I suppose it is up to them. They will have to convince other people to finish the rest of their task.
I found the ghosts quite by accident. I was looking for my own way to defeat death, and I found this instead. Now I suppose I could outlive death if I gave myself an unfulfilled purpose, but that seems to be a sorry existence. I would rather find another way. After I have made them visible to the general population.
I smile to myself. The city will have quite a shock once I am finished. I wouldn’t be surprised if they riot. It will be fun.
I slip the last cog into place. “There,” I say. “It’s done.”
Is it on? The ghosts do not speak words that I can hear. They whisper in my mind. It has made my dreams unsettling, of late.
Well, what are you waiting for?
The ghosts, who had been becoming restless, grow still.
“You said you would pay me with knowledge. Your stories. You’ve told me some but not many.”
One spirit slithers up to me. I will tell you a story, inventor.
“Does it have information I can use? Useful information?”
Of course, of course. With this, you can do all you like. I know where gold is buried, you see. Enough gold that you will never have to worry about a commission again. You can make what you like.
“I’m listening.” I didn’t have much of a choice.
Once, I was an outlaw. I went into the hills with my men and hid the money, but we also found more there. Gold mines, real gold. But before we could use it, we were hunted down by the King’s men and captured. But they never saw the mine.
“All right,” I say. “Where is it?”
First, turn the machine on.
“No,” I say. “You’ve not paid me. I don’t even know if you’re telling the truth. Not that I don’t trust you. But you have to give me a location.”
Fine. The ghost describes the hills, vividly enough that I see them in my mind’s eye. I remember that area of land. I had lived there, once. Is that enough for you, inventor?
I can find the gold. “Enough for now,” I say, and flip the switch.
Electricity fills the workroom, bars of lightning. None touch me, but the ghosts become filled with a dim blue light. They stir and mutter excitedly.
The one beside me says, “I have not yet finished my story.”
“Oh?” I’m not watching him. I’m watching the other ghosts leave on their errands, thinking about my own. I’ll have to pack for a journey…
“When the King’s men caught us, they caught us because the one of the townsfolk gave us a way to track them. A tricky way, an unfair way. Not with animals or woodcraft but with gadgets. When I died, I swore I would not leave this world until I had made my revenge on that townsman who gave them that means. I swore I would find who gave them such a gadget and I would kill that man. And now I have found you.”
I turn, my mouth opening to protest, but before I can make a sound it has its blue hands around my throat. And it squeezes.
I bet you wanted to title this “Ghost in the Machine”.