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Leiden Jar

By John Zaharick

Alvin was tired of seeing his daughter.  He wanted to sell the house and get away from her, but no one was buying in the current market.  Worse, rumor had gotten out that the entire street sat on top of a quartz deposit.  No one would want a place where the old residents kept reappearing.

He checked the weather forecast for the predicted high and low nanotesla levels.  The solar flare was less than an hour away, and the rise in geomagnetic radiation would trigger an apparition storm.

He had found Kendra's body and the pills when no one answered his knock on the bathroom door and he entered.  Hitting the wood, yelling, "Come on, I gotta go."  The situation was routine until he opened the door.

Limestone and quartz trapped spirits.  That's why Gettysburg was so haunted.  He had been to the replay of the battle once, watching the energies of the soldiers fight each other in endless repetition.  He felt sad for them.

He didn't feel much for his daughter anymore.  At the time, picking her off the floor, there had been panic.  There had been confusion when the EMTs told him they couldn't do anything.  Later, there had been hope that her mother might return for the funeral, but after all these years there was no one he knew to contact, and if word on the street had reached his ex-wife, she hadn't been interested enough to come.  He felt sad at one point, after his family left him alone in the house, surrounded by flowers he didn't want to be responsible for watering.  That was when the loss first became real to him.

Then Kendra returned.  About a month after the funeral the Sun sparkled the Earth, and she appeared.  He shattered a cup in his hand at the sight of her.

There was no need to grieve as she wasn't really gone.  He saw her on a regular basis, so he didn't feel loss.  But he couldn't interact with her much, so he didn't feel joy either.

The TV animation showed spirals coming out of the Sun.  They were the same symbols for wind, but yellow.  The picture switched to a NASA video, fire curling off the surface of larger fire.  Orange and black spiked fibers composed the star, like molten carpet.  The storms altered Earth's magnetic field, the radiation stimulating the pineal gland, which in turn released endogenous DMT and increased psychic phenomena.

Kendra's ghost didn't speak, but Alvin didn't have to hear anything she might say.  The pressure in her eyes was enough.  He hadn't noticed her pain in life, and but now he would be reminded of it in death.

She arrived first in sound, then in image.  Footsteps descended the wooden stairs.  Alvin stared at the noise.  If he ignored her, she would appear when he wasn't looking.  Alvin watched instead, determined to keep her away by paying attention.  The sound stopped at the bottom.

He leaned back in his chair and took in the living room.  On television, cartoon spirals hit the Earth and transparent people appeared over it, like restroom signs.  From the kitchen, Kendra walked into the room, casually, like she used to.

It was depressing how little control he had over his own mind.  Giant forces conspired to control him.  Kendra was always present, but invisible.  The Sun forced him to see her.

One of the women at church gave him an article about a link between solar activity and depression.  Magnetic fields disrupted circadian rhythms controlled by the pineal gland and were tied to increased rates of psychiatric hospital admission.  The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.  Maybe the woman thought the article would make him feel better, like it wasn't Kendra's fault she killed herself.

Electric waves pulsed through Alvin's neurons, instantiating consciousness.  Electric waves pulsed from the sun, disrupting it.  His own mind was a puppet.  The idea of the Sun controlling his emotions made him sad.  Or maybe the coronal mass ejection did, and tomorrow he'd feel pretty good about life.

Kendra sat on the maroon wing chair and looked at the television.  Alvin needed a sinkhole to open, or to drill his way down to the quartz, insert dynamite and fracture it, releasing the energy.  He closed his eyes, and the afterimage of the weather report glowed before him like aurora.

Others received comfort from their departed.  They knew their loved ones still existed, somewhere, somehow.  Alvin was tired.  He wanted to be left alone.  He had failed as a father and didn't need to be reminded of it.

He thought he had done his best to raise Kendra after her mother, unable to handle the stresses of life herself, left them.  But obviously his attempts weren't good enough.

Other people set up shrines with pictures of loved ones.  They were gathered in their homes right now, waiting for apparitions to appear and assure them that all was well as the Sun poured forth over the Earth.  Alvin didn't care for such culture.

Kendra looked at him.  The second time she had appeared to him, he spoke to her, told her to pass on, go into the light, whatever it was supposed to be.  She kept appearing.  He stopped trying to talk to her.

The television distorted, lines cutting through the picture and noise crackling from the speakers.  He walked to the set and picked up the antenna.  The storm was interfering with the signal, but sometimes moving the pieces around or bending the wire helped.  In the corner of his eye he saw Kendra shift.  Her body slid into the chair and she looked scared.  Alvin wondered what was wrong and stepped towards her, still holding the black rectangle.  She passed through the chair and stood behind it.

"Are you afraid of this?" he asked, holding the antenna up.  It caught on the wire connected to the television, but she still flinched.  Alvin tugged on the cord, pulling it around the side of the entertainment center, gaining more slack.  He looked at the device while Kendra cowered behind the chair.  He then shoved it towards her as fast as he could.

She didn't react in time and static fissured the air like firecrackers.  The current passed through Alvin in a wave of tingling warmth and he tasted hot sweetness, like licking a 9-volt.  His eyes clenched shut in momentary pain.  When he opened them again, Kendra was gone.

The television turned to full static, blue screened, and then the power went out.  Blue-green glowed outside.  Alvin dropped the antenna and went to the window.  People on the sidewalk stared at the aurora in the sky, rare so far south, phosphorescent silk scarves shimmering against the dark empyrean.

Maybe he had short circuited the haunting, grounded her, discharged the energy through the wiring.  He looked back to the living room.  No one around.  Alvin laughed through his nose.  It was that simple.  Maybe she would come back, but he doubted it.  She was afraid of the antenna for a reason.  Hopefully, she'd never bother him again.

He felt the sinkhole open first in his throat and then run to his heart.  His innards drained into the crack.  His limbs went weak, their quartz bones fracturing, releasing pent up energy.

Alvin began to cry.

About the Author

John Zaharick grew up in coal country Pennsylvania, among forests and mine fires. He has worked as an assistant editor for a weekly newspaper and recently earned a master's degree in ecology.  His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Apex, AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Stupefying Stories, The Colored Lens, Not One of Us, and Allegory and his poetry in Strange Horizons and Silver Blade.  He can be found online at www.johnzaharick.com.


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