An exhibit at the BYU Library

Christopher McAfee

Still Here

You might know this author as the creative genius behind:

"The Machinations of Angels," a short story published in All Made of Hinges: Being an Anthology of Mormon Steampunk, ed. James Wymore

“It’s happening more often now,” she thinks, “that feeling that I’m not alone.” She resists the urge to look over her shoulder.

The feeling that someone’s with her persists through everything she does. Standing beside her when she brushes her teeth. Waiting in the living room when she returns home. Resting their hand on the nape of her neck as she sits at the table eating.

“But there’s no such thing as ghosts.”

  

Billions Report Hauntings, Experts Suspect Vaccine as Cause
WASHINGTON, DC (AP) — Billions worldwide are reporting being haunted. Medical professionals suspect the SANS-Par-2 virus vaccine is causing a phenomenon known as “feeling of presence” (FOP), the feeling that a person is being followed or watched. Before the SANS-Par-2 virus, FOP was believed to be caused by lesions in the brain. Medical researchers are exploring whether the vaccine causes such lesions.

 

Patient Zero sits across the table from the angel. “I assume you know my story?”

“I do,” the angel replies. “You were Patient Zero and the first person to die from the SANS-Par-2 virus. It’s been, what, fifty years since you came here?”

“Forty-nine.”

The angel turns his eyes upward as if remembering. When he looks back at Patient Zero, he says, “We haven’t seen you around very much for the last several years. Is everything OK?”

“Actually, no. Things aren’t going so well. Not for me or the near half billion souls who died after me.”

The angel shows visible surprise but catches himself. “I’m sorry. That look that just crossed my face may have seemed unsympathetic. I’m just not used to hearing that from our residents.”

“I understand. I wouldn’t expect very many of the people here to complain. Under normal circumstances, this would be a great place to live, but I think this is an unusual situation. You know about the cure for the virus that killed me?”

“I do.”

“The big side effect of the vaccine—the immortality—means…” Patient Zero pauses to gain control of a rising emotion.

The angel finishes his sentence. “It means nobody’s dying from illness or old age anymore.”

“Right,” Patient Zero continues. “Only the ones who are fatally injured die, and not even all of those, since the vaccine has also improved healing abilities.”

“And you miss your families.”

“We do. We miss our spouses and children. And grandchildren. I miss my wife. And it doesn’t help that our space here overlaps theirs over there. We’re right here with them! We see them, hear them, even feel them, but they don’t even know we’re here. The reason I haven’t been around, or the others, is that a lot of us stay with those family members wherever they go. We just want to be close to them!”

 

Under the covers, drifting toward sleep.

It happens most when she’s alone and lets her mind rest. She becomes aware of subtle shifts in the air, the hint of a voice, the drift of a shadow.

A figure moves through the darkened doorframe!

 No, it’s nothing.

Still, she feels someone in the room, watching her, moving toward her bed, lying down.

She tells herself it’s not real.

She pulls the covers to her chin. She stays there, staring at the darkness. She feels her heart beat fast, then slow. She stares through the darkness, watching the shifting texture of the ceiling until the morning sunlight outlines the bedroom curtains. She turns to what was her husband’s side of the bed.

Nobody’s there.

“FOP again,” she thinks. “It gets stronger every year.”

 

Hauntings Not a Deterrent for Taking the SANS-Par-2 Vaccine
NEW YORK, NY (AP) — The SANS-Par-2 virus has been eradicated but the vaccine is still in demand for its immortality effect. Reports of hauntings, or feeling of presence (FOP), linked to the immortality drug haven’t deterred the public from getting booster shots. This was the topic for this year’s National Council for Religious Leaders Conference in New York City. In her keynote address, Rev. Elizabeth Brown said, “FOP is not a physical phenomenon, but a spiritual one. Death should not be feared, but we should be eager to reunite with our beloved dead.” When asked for a response, Dr. Kyle Roberts of the American Psychiatric Association told reporters, “There is a correlation between the immortality drug and FOP and several possible causes are being explored.” Polls show a majority of the population will continue receiving the SANS-Par-2 booster shots while awaiting solutions to FOP.

 

They sit in silence for a while. Patient Zero has tears in his eyes. The angel, not wanting to be insensitive, stays quiet. When the time seems right, he speaks. “There are ways you can reach your loved ones on the other side. In fact, you’ve already started.”

Patient Zero looks questioningly at the angel.

“By being near your loved ones, you give them an opportunity to sense your presence.”

“But what about the veil? Doesn’t that keep them from perceiving us?”

“Yes and no. The veil is a barrier primarily to the five main senses of touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste. But there are things the veil lets through more easily, provided the individual is open to them. It’s possible, for example, for them to perceive the energy of your presence. The veil also lets feelings through. By being around them, you may be giving them the opportunity to feel your love. Once they begin noticing these things, they may also be able to open the veil to other sensations.”

“But we’ve already been around them for so long and I’m not seeing any changes.”

“It’s possible you won’t. Their minds have to be open to it. There’s nothing we can do to make them notice us. We can’t force it to happen. But I suspect there are changes happening that you haven’t noticed. If you’re persistent, I think you’ll start to see something. Share your thoughts with them. Talk to them. Inspiration, ideas, even at times words, can penetrate the barrier. What do you want to tell your wife?”

“I want to tell her there is life after death. That I’m waiting for her. That I want her to stop getting the booster shots and allow nature to take its course so she can join me here. That though I can still see and hear her, I miss her.”

 

She comes home from work.

Alone but still feeling she’s not alone.

She prepares a simple meal and sits to eat. A fork in her right hand and a book in her left, she tries to read.

She’s distracted.

Her eyes scan the words, but their meanings don’t reach her brain.

She repeatedly glances at her husband’s old seat, feeling a presence there.

  

FOP Accompanied by Acute Hallucinations
NEW YORK, NY (AP) —Vivid hallucinatory experiences are being reported worldwide in conjunction with FOP, the haunted feeling associated with the immortality drug. Individuals experiencing FOP report seeing or hearing loved ones who have passed on. Researchers from the American Society for Psychical Research assert this is not a medical condition. Spokesperson for the Society Maya Williams said, “The messages individuals are sharing are remarkably similar from one side of the world to the other, indicating FOP is paranormal in nature.” Renowned scientist Elliott Hill disagrees. “Of course the messages are the same,” he says. “They reflect universal expectations of what our minds believe loved ones would say to us after death.” Public opinion polls show people would rather live with hallucinations of loved ones than give up taking the immortality drug.

 

She sets the fork and book down. She stares at her husband’s chair.

“I wish you were still here.”

I am still here.”

She gasps. “And so begin the hallucinations.”

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