by Marilyn K. Martin
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
She turned to confront him. “How could that be, Johan? How could my work continue to be cataloged and stored if... if I was really dead?”
“Simple,” answered Johan with a tense smile. “Snarky little Robert Podly’s been taking credit for it. When we died, the lab took a few days to lock up our computerized data until they could sort everything out. But Podly, who has always been jealous of your success, spent the entire night after we died hacking in to transfer all your data to his files.
“He was always a lazy and unimaginative little jerk.” Johan gestured angrily. “He didn’t delete your pass-code, since he thought you were dead. That’s how you’ve been able to continue accessing the data — your data. Podly kept pretending to initiate new studies based on your brilliant ideas and experiments. It was all your hard work that let Podly get a ton of grant money, Tarivan. Hope you’re happy with that.”
Tarivan looked away, clenching her fists. Memories she’d blocked cascaded through her mind now, and she felt stung, furious, helpless. She spun around to confront her eternal love again. “So answer me this: if we both died that day, then why am I still here? While you went away, Johan?”
“Because... it was your slip during that rock-face bypass, clutching my hand, that sent us both down that steep mountainside, Tarivan,” answered Johan softly, walking over to stand and stare out the picture window. “We loved each other so much, Tarivan. You couldn’t bear the idea that you had accidentally killed me.” He glanced back at her. “What did you call me once? The only unsolvable equation you’d ever let into your heart?”
He looked back out the window. “That and the fact that you had worked long and hard for your career,” he continued softly. “It’s probably a good thing we never met until you were in that PhD program, Tarivan. Or I wouldn’t have had a moment of your time, amid your undergraduate collection of odd jobs and all that extra research in exchange for tuition.”
“You came from money, Johan,” added Tarivan thoughtfully. “A lot of things came easy for you. I’ve worked and battled my whole life for everything I have. You were the only thing in my life that ever came easy to me, Johan. The easiest. The best.... “
She wrapped her arms around herself, feeling chilled and lost. “And now the only man I’ve ever loved follows me around as a ghost. Telling me that I’m a ghost too. That my entire career is gone, over. That all my hard work will only add up to just... footnotes for future researchers.”
Johan looked down, pained. She was right, cruelty wasn’t in his nature. Still... “You came back here after you died, because you thought your career could save you,” he murmured dreamily, then looked up. “You wanted to bury yourself in your work, Tarivan. Thinking the normalcy of routine could give you back a sense of meaning through continuation. But this building — and your half-life — has only become your tomb.”
Tarivan’s head was spinning as she turned around, looking at the empty Eco-Physics lab where she had shared so much laughter, so many different kinds of stimulation with her beloved Johan always at her side. She then turned to focus on Johan, who seemed to be glowing slightly in the sunlight pouring in the window, in stark contrast to the dismal, nearly lifeless scene outside.
“I loved you beyond all reason, Johan,” she said loudly, trembling. “I was passionate about my career, yes. But I was always crippled with hesitation and doubt that I wasn’t good enough. And yet whenever that insecure little girl inside me surfaced, you were always the one to convince me that I could do it, must do it. That my talent had to be shared. I had to continue, I had to go on, I had to finish.
“And yet... here you are, Johan” — she choked up — “telling me now I have to stop, I have to leave things undone, I have to cease doing what you always told me I had to do.” Even the air in the room seemed to grow heavy with sadness, as she looked down. “Is that what death does, Johan? Does it trivialize things? Even true love?”
She looked up to see that Johan had stepped directly in front of her, those unfathomable blue eyes boring into her. “I’ve loved you before. I love you now. And I shall surely love you in future lifetimes, Tarivan,” he said forcefully.
“But... we’re trained scientists,” he cautioned. “There are certain inescapable scientific truths that we must accept. And even if the data points to an unexpected conclusion, we still have to face it and deal with it.”
Tarivan shook her head angrily. “I’m tired of all the riddles, Johan! What are you saying? You always said this to me when I got excited over something, but now I’m saying it to you: be clear!”
An angry Johan marched back to the window, and pointed outside. “Look out there! Do you want to know why there is no spring? Are you ready for me to... be clear?
“There is no spring because of you, Tarivan!”
She froze, blinking. What was this nonsense? “What are you talking about?” she answered with irritation. “How can I be blamed for a delay of spring growth? Especially if, as you insist, I’m dead?”
Johan turned to face her, back-lit and glowing in front of the window. “Not delayed, Tarivan. There will be no spring at all, as long as you are here! You are a spirit now, Tarivan. But you have refused to cross over into the dimension of the dead with me.”
She shook her head, confused.
“So tell me,” he challenged her. “What fuels your... rage to work, Tarivan? How can you have enough energy — as a ghost — to continue interfacing with a telepathic computer program?”
Tarivan felt a shimmer blast through her body. “I... I’m strong, Johan. You know that. And I’ve always worked hard. So how can I be blamed because nothing blooms out there?”
“Because you are pulling in all the life-force, Tarivan! Pulling in all the energy things need to grow out there!” Johan enunciated carefully, raising his voice. “You are sucking that landscape dead, Tarivan! All so that you have enough energy to continue your work, in a physical dimension you no longer belong in.”
He stepped toward her and angrily pointed at the computer. “You can interface with that computer, Tarivan, because every living plant and unborn animal out there, for hundreds of miles around, starts to grow — and then abruptly dies. Because its life-force is being pulled, yanked into this laboratory by you — a ghost!”
Stunned, Tarivan froze, staring at the floor. Could this be...?
Johan again stepped directly in front of her. “I was never as brilliant as you, Tarivan,” he continued in a gentler tone. “I was better at following-up, making sure the research stayed on track, that all possible angles were covered with our experiments. And that the final results were interpreted correctly.”
His ice blue eyes bored into her. “I’ve run the figures, Tarivan. I’ve spoken to other scientists in the spirit world, and I’ve analyzed the stats myself for weeks now. My results are inescapable: You have seriously unbalanced the environment. And jeopardized more than just killing a season — all so that you can still think you are alive and working.”
Trembling, Tarivan put her head down. She could feel her Perfect Man’s chilled breath on the top of her head. “I... I couldn’t bear to think I’m killing unborn life, Johan. I couldn’t live with the idea that I’m capable of doing something that terrible!
“I just...” she hesitated, collecting her thoughts as she looked up. “I guess I need some definitive proof. You know how stubborn I get, Johan, about demanding enough proof when— ”
In a split second, Johan had stepped foward and embraced her, his strong arms enveloping her. When she looked up with surprise, he bent down and kissed her with a passion that had been sorely missing in her half-existence since the hiking accident. She suddenly wrapped her arms around him too, feeling the soft ebb and flow of the muscles under his shirt. God, how she’d missed her Perfect Man!
Suddenly he pushed her away, his hands gripping her upper arms. “Could a ghost kiss a live person like that, Tarivan? Do you realize that you’ve never reached out to touch me, in all these times I’ve been visiting you as a ghost? Because, on a subconscious level, you know the truth!” he announced with a slight shake of her upper arms for emphasis.
Tarivan reached toward his ribs, grasping his shirt as if to stop him from ever leaving her again. “You’re right, I must have known I was dead on a deeper level. I just... I couldn’t let go of what I’d worked so hard to achieve. And, very deep, I... I think I was terrified you secretly hated me, Johan. For causing the accident — and your death.”
Johan pulled her roughly to him again and embraced her tightly. “You have your proof, Tarivan,” he whispered in her ear in a trembling voice. “And I again have the only woman I’ve ever loved. I can’t leave this lab without you, Tarivan. Not again. Please — come with me this time.”
Tarivan’s trembling hands felt the sinewy muscles in his lean back. “And if I go with you,” she asked softly. “Will Colorado get its season of renewal, its life-force back? Will spring finally arrive?”
“Oh, yes!” Johan pulled back, his face suddenly radiant with joy. He cupped her face gently in his cool hands. “And I can’t wait to show you how the universe really works, my precious Tarivan!
“How the planets and moons spin an orchestra of such beautiful sounds as they orbit. While the forces of Time gather and eddy with the palpable fears and hopes of those long dead — and yet to be born,” he enthused. “We can play pool with meteorites, and dress up in the spectral colors of exotic gases. You will love it, my darling Tarivan. Cosmic Science has a dazzling beauty and rhythm no one can fully grasp on this puny planet!”
She pulled him toward her again, holding onto her one true love with a strength of longing no soul should ever leave unanswered. She put her head on his cool chest. The absence of a heartbeat didn’t bother her in the least.
When she pulled back, a smiling Johan brushed a lover’s fingertips through her hair, as the walls of the lab seemed to melt away. “Colorado needs its spring,” she announced, her hands on the hips of her Perfect Man. “And I can’t wait to see where you’ve been doing all this research without me!”
Copyright © 2013 by Marilyn K. Martin