The Ghost Machine
by Renée Elizabeth Mineart


  


Part 1

Echoes of the Past




Chapter 1


The three ghosts appeared, not suddenly, not in a silent *poof* out of thin air as one might expect, but rather, they just walked into view. As if they were actors on a pitch-black stage and casually walked into the path of a spotlight ready to say their lines.
Professor Jon Yo Fung’s very first thought, as he had only noticed them out of the corner of his eye, was that they were just new-comers to the small crowd of people that had been slowly gathering for the last couple of hours. In fact, it was more the crowd’s reaction to their appearance that made him look up from his mug of steaming hot-chocolate than the presence of the ghostly nuns themselves.
For the crowd, who had been more attentive than Jon, expressed their surprise through a collective, and unmistakable gasp.
Once the Professor did give the nuns a proper look, it was clear to him that they weren’t human. Well, obviously they were human, just not alive ones. What he was seeing, what the twenty or so people gathered on this cold night between three stone bridges were all seeing, was something very different. 
A hush, almost as audible as the gasp, stifled the crowd as the ghosts set foot on the first of the three bridges. This caused several people to take a few steps back from the road as if to give them more room to pass. 
Jon, however, moved closer. 
The translucent beings seemed oblivious to everything around them. The crowd, the cold night air, the full moon; nothing seemed to catch their notice in anyway close to how they had captivated the attention of the crowd. 
As they crossed the bridge and neared the point to where Jon stood, he could easily make out their faces, the flowing fabric of their habits, and even a rosary one of them held loosely in her hand, rolling bead after bead between thumb and forefinger. The ghosts themselves were a shimmering blue colour that gave off a faint, turquoise hew. It was easy to tell the black in their habits from the white by the intensity and darkness of the blue light they were emitting.
The three women seemed lost in rapt conversation with one another, and although no words were discernible, it was clear to see that they were talking about something very funny, if not downright scandalous. One of the nuns would giggle while another put her fingers to her mouth and gasped, eyes growing wide in surprise in whatever was being said. Then the three of them would huddle close together again to share another secret with each other before giggling some more.
As the apparitions neared the crowd, a low, muffled sound seemed to emanate from the bridge behind them. Many of the onlookers would, later that very evening, while sitting next to a warm fire in a pub nursing their third pint of beer, describe it as an eerie moan. Although Jon thought it sounded more like a motor straining to lift something heavier than it was capable of.
There was a large, open area between the first, Southernmost bridge and the next one along the road. This flat grassy area was where the crowd had chosen to gather, some on either side of the narrow lane. Being the largest opening between the bridges, it made an ideal place to stand as the grass was short and it gave a clear view of the first two bridges with plenty of room for a large number of people. Additionally, the fog was thinnest here, making everyone feel slightly less damp. 
As the nuns traversed this gap, the intensity of their light faded considerably, and they become mostly translucent. So much so, that Jon could see people through the ghosts on the other side of the road taking pictures and capturing video with their phones. As the spirits approached the second bridge, they became brighter once again and more solid. Also, the low frequency sound became louder, this time emanating from the bridge they were approaching. Or at least, that’s how it seemed to the always sceptical Professor. 
The crowd, almost as if on cue, closed in onto the road behind the three spirits and started to follow the trio across the second bridge, being careful not to get too close. Beyond the second bridge, the road dipped down a little and was flanked by two stone walls leading a short distance to the third bridge. And this is where the nuns appeared their brightest and most solid. 
Further on the spirits walked – for they did indeed walk, they did not float as one might expect ghosts to do – and further on the crowd followed. They were about half way across the third bridge, with everyone now standing on the second bridge, when a car rounded the corner up ahead and its bright headlights flooded the area, and the ghosts vanished. 
Everyone quickly scurried backwards, nearly tripping over one another to get off the bridge and out of the way of the car, and almost as one, they seemed to find their voice. Shouts of ‘car,’ ‘excuse me,’ ‘please back up,’ and ‘car coming’ filled the air and the magic of the night, just like the ghosts, was spirited away in the bright lights of an oncoming car. 


Chapter 2


The bright headlights of a car turning into the small car park forced Sue Edwards to look up from her phone, and then immediately regret it as the high-beams lit up the inside of her BMW, blinding her for a moment. She had been sitting there for a full fifteen minutes already, watching car after car pull in off of the narrow road.
She knew that this many people gathering in the same spot, especially in a village of this size, meant everyone was going to the same place. There were only two other cars and a large van here when she arrived, and now the carpark was nearly full. 
But why?
Something had triggered her spidy-senses and she found herself slipping back into investigative reporter mode from days long past. She wasn’t sure if it was the darkness of the night, as the days were starting to get noticeably shorter, or the fact that she’d been invited to a tiny village in the middle of nowhere with no explanation as to why.
Despite Richard’s stellar reputation, she had only had dinner with him once, and for their second date she was asked to meet him here! The village was called Lydford, and it was situated on the edge of the Dartmoor National Park. She had of course Googled Lydford, and found the ruins of a castle, which was really nothing more than a 13thcentury keep. 
Apart from the castle, there was of course a church dating back to before the 13thCentury and still in use today, but nothing exciting there. The car park in which she was sitting actually belonged to an Inn, with a decent enough reputation, but probably not enough to warrant the hour’s drive from Exeter. Lastly, there was the Lydford Gorge, which although beautiful, according to the pictures she found online, it wasn’t really a night-time activity.
Drawn back to the castle, she found herself flipping through the National Trust’s website looking to see if any event was planned there for this evening, when the last car to come in had finally settled into a parking bay. 
Sue wondered aloud to herself, ‘just what is going on?’ 
Then she saw Richard getting out of his car, and Sue hurried to undo her seatbelt, grab her bag and get out of her own car. When she stood up, she noticed Richard had a young woman with him. Puzzled, she called out his name. ‘Richard!’
‘Ah, Sue, glad you made it.’ He replied as they closed the short distance between their two cars. Richard was quite a bit taller than Sue, and he seemed to tower over the young woman walking next to him.
Richard went in for a hug, but Sue leaned in for a kiss on the cheek. Then they backed up for a brief moment of hesitation and awkwardness before trying again. This time, Sue tried for a hug while Richard attempted a kiss. They ended up in a sort-of-a-hug and sort-of-a-kiss scenario that resulted in embarrassed giggles and Richard with Sue’s hair in his face. 
‘Wait,’ said the young brunette standing next to Richard, ‘is this a date!?’ 
‘No.’ ‘Yes,’ said Sue and Richard together. ‘Well, maybe after the presentation.’ Richard said hesitantly. 
The young woman gave Richard a disapproving look and a slight shake of her head and said, ‘Dude, I know you’ve been out of the game for a while, but this isn’t how it’s done.’ She then stuck out her hand, proffering it to Sue, ‘Hi. I’m Megan. I’m one of the Professor’s grad students working on my dissertation.’
Sue took her hand and shook it. ‘Hi. I’m Sue.’ Suddenly feeling a lot more comfortable.
‘Nice to meet you Sue.’ And with that, Megan wrapped her arm into Sue’s and the two of them marched off towards the castle. ‘So, did the Professor tell you why you’re here?’
‘Nope. I have no idea.’
‘Yep, thought as much. Look, we’ve been trying really hard with the Professor, to get him up to scratch for the whole dating scene, but it’s a work in progress. Be patient with him. But tonight, tonight you’re going to be in for a treat if what I hear is true. Are you afraid of ghosts, by the way?’
Sue laughed; it was starting to make sense now. ‘No. No I’m not. I am a TV producer, and I was producing the Real Ghost Huntersuntil it got cancelled last year. So, I’ve been on more than my share of ghost hunts.’
‘And have you seen any?
‘What, ghosts? No, not really. A few lights, sparkles in the air really, probably just dust. And of course, spooky vibes. There are always spooky vibes.’ Sue made a waving motion with her fingers along with the imitation ghost sound of ‘oooooo,’ before continuing. ‘Honestly, I don’t think ghosts exist, despite producing the show for three years.’
‘Well. If what the Professor tells me is true, get ready to have your view of the world totally rocked.’ 
Sue liked this girl. From her short black hair and boyish charms to the dozen or so friendship bracelets around each wrist and bright purple nail polish. She was cool. And probably too cool to be straight.
‘Richard mentioned a presentation. So, this isn’t a ghost hunt?’ Sue asked.
‘No, well yes’ Richard answered as he followed behind them. ‘Not as such. My good friend, Jon Yo Fung, he’s the Head of the Physics Department at Exeter, is putting forward a request for funds to the board for a project he’s working on. God that sounds boring. But it’s not, I promise. Tonight, is a demonstration of that project so the board members get a proper feel for what he’s doing and why he needs money.’
‘Gosh, doesn’t that sound exciting. Good thing it’s not a date.’ Sue said while giving Megan a look that had incredulous written all over it. ‘Glad I’m not going to miss a ghost hunting physics professor.’
‘And this is why I didn’t try and explain it over the phone. But trust me, you will be impressed.’
Megan nodded vigorously. ‘I have to agree with the Professor on this one Sue. My best friend’s boyfriend is working with Professor Yo Fung, and although he’s been sworn to secrecy, I can tell, this is something interesting. The rumours going around campus are that they can generate a ghost sighting on demand.’
‘No way!’ replied Sue.
‘Way.’ Answered Megan. 
As they neared the castle entrance a young man in a black suit stepped forward and politely asked, ‘passes please?’
‘Ah yes, I have those,’ Richard said as he moved forward. He unlocked, then passed the man his phone, who quickly scanned the screen and handed it back. 
‘Thank you. Please go in,’ the man said with a smile. 


Chapter 3


Sue, Richard and Megan filled into the largest room of the keep along with about a dozen, mostly older, couples. Now that Sue had some context to the gathering, she surmised that the presentation was limited to just board members and their partners. At least, most everyone there had the look of a board member, if there is such a look.
  A glance at a plaque on the wall when she entered the large hall told her this was once the courtroom, and she momentarily wondered how many people were sentenced to death or imprisonment here over the centuries.
  At one end of the rectangular room a portable projector screen had been set up with a projector on a nearby table. Displayed on the screen was the following poem:
The Three Nuns
When the fire demands another log,
And the land is covered in fog.
Beware of the bridges three,
Where two rivers meet for tea.

In the sky the wolf shall be,
Then three sisters, you may see.
Across the bridges they do walk,
But to you they will never talk. 

  An older, white haired man stepped forward and stood next to the projector. ‘Good evening. I think everyone is here who has agreed to come, and we are going to make a start. I want to thank you for agreeing to this rather unusual presentation for funding, but I’m sure that afterward you’ll agree it was worth the journey.
  ‘Everyone is of course familiar with Professor Jon Yo Fung’s work. He is considered a world leader in the field of Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics and has published many papers that have elevated the University of Exeter in the eyes of the world. He often works closely with his long-time friend and collaborator, Professor Adam Halesworth, who has published a number of papers on the subject of Electromagnetism and is considered an expert in the field. 
‘So, when they came to me and said they was working on a new, pet project, I sat up and listened. After hearing what they had to say, and seeing a demonstration like the one you’re about to see, first hand, I knew this was the only way to clearly explain their project to the board. 
‘We are men and women of science, of history and seekers of the truth. And despite the unusual nature of this request, I ask that you give Jon and Adam your fullest attention. Professor Fung.’
With that, he stepped aside as a man of oriental descent, in his late 40s, stepped forward.
‘Thank you Vice-Chancellor Monroe.’ Jon gave the chancellor a polite nod before turning his attention to the small group of people. ‘Thank you everyone for coming to this rather unusual request for funds. I would like to mention, that in addition to myself and Professor Halesworth working on this project, we could not have accomplished what we have, nor done this presentation without the help of Jimmy Stalt, our computer programmer.’ Jon indicated to a young man sitting alone in the back of the room with a laptop precariously perched on his knees. 
Upon turning, Sue took in all the equipment set up along the wall next to him for the first time. She had glanced at it before, but now that everyone had moved closer to the projector, and they were no longer blocking her view, she could see it more clearly. There were three large travel crates with cables connecting them together, several smaller devices dotted about the area, one of which she recognised as a smoke machine, and four shoebox sized boxes mounted high up on three-legged poles. She had a slightly weird and skewed memory surface from when she went to raves in her youth, and local bands would set up their equipment in a large tent, with similar crates and cables strewn about everywhere. 
‘For centuries there have been stories of ghost sightings and hauntings.’ Jon was saying. ‘Ghosts permeate our culture, and whether you believe or not, ghost stories fill the pages of thousands and thousands of books, films and TV shows. Real or not, they are often the things of nightmares.
‘Nearly two years ago, my sister came to me with this poem:’ Jon turned and read the poem out loud.
The Three Nuns
When the fire demands another log,
And the land is covered in fog.
Beware of the bridges three,
Where two rivers meet for tea.

In the sky the wolf shall be,
Then three sisters, you may see.
Across the bridges they do walk,
But to you they will never talk. 

‘The poem of The Three Nuns dates back several hundred years, we think, and it isn’t too difficult to decipher. “When the fire demands another log, and the land is covered in fog”, that part is simple enough, it refers to winter. “Beware of the bridges three, where two rivers meet for tea.” This is referring to three small bridges in the market town of Thetford, which is on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. Two rivers join up in Thetford, the Little Ouse River and the River Thet. I suppose ‘come for tea’ is another way of saying they join together. There is a road in Thetford called Nuns’ Bridges Road, which goes across these two rivers by means of three small stone bridges. 
‘The last half took a bit more effort to decode, “In the sky the wolf shall be, and three sisters you may see.” The wolf in the sky is from the Anglo-Saxon lunar calendar and indicates the first full-moon of the year. Which is January on our calendar and coincides nicely with the need to place another log on the fire and fog. The “three sisters” are a reference to the ghosts of three nuns that can be seen walking across the three bridges, as indicated in the very last sentence. “Across the bridges they do walk, but to you they will never talk.” 
‘The locals call these bridges the Three Nuns’ Bridges, but no one is sure if they are named after the road they are on, or if the road and the bridges are named after the ghosts that, supposedly, haunt this area on cold and foggy nights in January. 
‘After years and years of my sister trying to get me to go ghost hunting with her, she knew that even this riddle, although tantalising, would not be enough to get me out on a cold night in January. However, she had given me this poem shortly after her car had failed MOT, and after considerable pestering, she convinced me to drive her and her best friends all the way over to Norfolk to go ghost hunting.’
This was followed by a barely audible groan coming from the crowd, and Sue thought then it might be a good idea to keep the name of her last TV show to herself for the evening.
‘Yes. That’s exactly how I felt about it as we set off early one Friday morning. I won’t explain just yet what I saw that first night, but I will say that it piqued my interest enough to stay for a second night, and on that occasion, I came equipped with a few small video cameras and other equipment. 
‘The short video I’m about to show you was recorded on the second night. The video has not been altered or changed, other than the video feeds were spliced together to form a coherent and seamless series of events.’
Jon pressed a button on a remote in his hand, and the screen changed to one of a dark night with the shadows of naked trees in the background. As the video began playing, it was easy to make out a crowd of people, numbering in the 40s, standing in some grass near an arching stone bridge. Then, three glowing figures faded into existence at one end of the bridge, and they proceeded to walk across it. 
The response from the crowd in the video was instant and unmistakable; they were in shock, scared and elated all at the same time and in equal measure. Which was nearly identical to the reaction of the people standing near Sue. 
The ghosts of the three nuns proceeded to walk along the narrow lane, apparently lost in conversation with one another and ignoring the crowd that was closing in behind them. Sue noticed they started to fade in colour a bit, which had started out to be a bright blue/turquoise blend, but then it got brighter again as they neared the 2ndand 3rdbridges. 
The video ended when the ghosts faded from sight after the third bridge and cheers went up through the crowd. Sue looked around and noticed it wasn’t just her rubbing goose bumps off of her arms. 
The video projector went dark, and the handful of lights in the room started to dim slowly with only a couple lights near Jon staying bright as he began to speak again.
‘What I noticed in particular on the second night, the night that video was made, was that the actions of the ghosts were absolutely identical to what I saw on the previous night, right down to one of the nuns rolling the beads of her rosary through her fingers. 
‘This, combined with the poem, got me thinking. What if ghosts aren’t spirits of the dead, but rather just recordings of the living made in stone that are played back in 3D when the atmospheric conditions are just right. 
‘That theory launched me on a project to figure out how to recreate those conditions and generate a playback of a recording from any stone surface. I eventually got Adam involved, and what I’m going to show you next is the result of our work thus far. 
‘If I can ask everyone to now please turn and face the other wall. And, if you brought a jacket with you, now would be a good time to put it on.’
Professors Fung and Halesworth then walked around the edge of the crowd and stood next to where Jimmy Stalt was sitting. As they did so, the remaining lights in the room dimmed down to being barely on. 
‘Jimmy, activate Mini Moon.’
‘You got it, Professor,’ Jimmy replied as he typed several commands into the laptop. 
Two small air conditioning units, spaced out on either side of the room, started up and began blowing out cold air towards the direction of the wall everyone was now facing. The air quickly caused a chill to flow out and across everyone’s ankles. 
This was followed by two short bursts from the smoke machine, generating just enough smoke to fill the area in front of the crowd, but not enough to obscure anyone’s view. 
‘All set Professor.’ Jimmy said once everyone was starting to properly feel cold. 
‘Good,’ Jon replied as he was slipping on his own jacket. ‘Run the first event we found last night.’
Jimmy typed on the keyboard some more, which was followed by a short blast of even more cold air and the four shoebox sized boxes on top of the long poles began to glow slightly.
A bright blue image started to take shape before the crowd. What appeared to be a wide, slightly raised bench took shape, as if it were flowing out from the far wall and growing upwards from the floor. Sitting behind the wide bench, that nearly spanned the entire wall, were three men dressed in dark medieval clothes. The image was brighter at one end of the room than the other, which was quite transparent and more turquoise. At the bright end, and slightly forward of the bench, a large square box, or cage, began to form, and a man stood inside of it. 
His wrists were bound with shackles and his clothes were literally hanging from his half-starved body. There was a groaning, or moaning sound coming from the scene which got louder as one of the men behind the table said something, indicated to someone out of view and then began writing on a parchment. Two more men then walked into view, as if they had just stepped out from the crowd watching the ghostly scene play out. 
They approached the docks, opened a door on one side and pulled out the man being tried. He was trying to resist and was shouting something, but because his head was darting back and forth between the men and the magistrates behind the desk, it was impossible to see what he was shouting.
He was led forward, towards the small group of onlookers, causing two people to step aside and make room for them to pass. But instead of going between them, the three men vanished. 
The whole scene then quickly faded away. 
‘Right Jimmy, play the second one.’ Jon said in a clear voice. It was clear to see he was enjoying this.
Another blast of cold air filled the small courtroom as a new scene seemed to grow up from the ground and out from the wall. This time, a smaller table stood on its own about a metre from the wall with a single man sitting behind it. Standing in front of it, facing the magistrate, was a man and a woman. The magistrate said something, and it was clear by the hand gestures that the man was answering him. This was immediately followed by the woman turning to the man, jabbing him with her index finger and shouting at him. The man then began shouting back and reached up to slap her, but before he could, two men stepped forward from out of scene and pulled the woman back. As these men led her over to one side, the brightness and focal point of the scene seemed to follow her, although the magistrate, and the man Sue presumed was her husband, were still visible, just not as bright. 
The woman was still shouting and flailing her arms towards her husband who was now talking calmly with the magistrate. After a minute or so had passed, the magistrate nodded at the husband and indicated to the two men holding the woman, who finally stood up straight, brushed down the front of her dress and calmed down. Then the entire scene faded away. 
‘Questions?’ Jon asked turning to the stunned board members.