Steve Griffin sat sullenly at his parent’s dining room table.
Steve was a thirty-one-year-old YouTube celebrity wannabe.
He had spent several years rooming with various friends who were also trying to become on-line personalities. They had created a number of channels, none of which gathered many subscribers. Their current focus was on creating ghost hunter-style videos. While Steve had been focused on the technical aspects of contacting the dead, his friends were more focused on making the channel “entertaining”.
But they didn’t make it entertaining enough to pay their rent.
So, now Steve was back at his parent’s house, in what he expected to be a temporary living arrangement with a makeshift bedroom in their basement. Temporary because of what he had accomplished the previous night.
Steve was turned sideways so that he was facing the kitchen, where his mother was preparing dinner for the family. He had been working through his head how he was going to make his announcement to his family, knowing full well that they would be full of disbelief and ridicule. Disbelief from his parents and ridicule from his younger brother. He wasn’t sure how his younger sister was going to react. She had been against the whole ghost-hunting thing from the beginning.
But Steve would not be able to hold back what he had to say forever.
He decided that he would share with his mother first, as she might have the most exaggerated reaction.
“I think I’ve discovered a way to actually communicate with ghosts,” Steve said. “And I caught it on camera.”
Although Steve had prepared himself for a variety of responses, what his mother said next was not at all what he was expecting.
“Martha down at the post office said that her brother died.”
Mrs. Griffin moved about her dining room table, putting down platters and bowls filled with the evening’s dinner of pork chops, mashed potatoes and green beans. As she circled around the table she adjusted the plates, the place settings and the centerpiece of fake glass balls and pinecones which was an eternal reminder of her tacky taste.
“If the rest of you want to eat warm food, you better come to the table now!” she hollered.
Steve had taken up his usual seat at the dining room table with his back to the living room, where his father had been watching the evening news. Steve was trying to figure out whether or not she actually heard what he said as she chattered on.
“He had the diabetes for all those years. But that’s not what did it.” Mrs. Griffin was relating the facts as she had heard them, adjusted ever so slightly with her own editorial style of telling a story. “He caught an infection in his lungs. They say you can’t get that from diabetes, but I wouldn’t know.”
“Who are we talking about?” Mr. Griffin asked as he waddled into the room and pulled out a chair at one end of the faded, chipped dining room table. Years of working up and down an assembly line had made a mess of his hips at age 59.
“Martha’s brother,” Mrs. Griffin repeated. She put her hand on her hip and stood behind her chair near the kitchen, waiting for the other two to come along. She refused to sit before everyone else had gotten to the table and asked for things they needed for the meal.
“Martha who?” Mr. Griffin asked with a puzzled expression his face.
“Martha down at the post office!” Mrs. Griffin answered with an exasperated voice. “Her brother’s been sick for a while now. I’ve told you about him.”
“I can’t keep all your friends and their relations straight,” Mr. Griffin objected.
Tommy strode into the dining room, swinging around to sit at his father’s right side. He was followed by Liz, who slid by to sit on her mother’s left side.
“Any bar-b-que sauce?” Tommy asked.
“It’s right there on the table,” Mrs. Griffin pointed out.
“Butter?” Liz asked quietly.
“Ah!” Mrs. Griffin exclaimed as she went back into the kitchen.
“What’s with you?” Mr. Griffin asked Steve.
“I just told mom that I’ve created a way to help ghosts appear on camera. Actual, full-formed ghosts.”
The room was quiet for a second.
“Ha!” Tommy laughed. “As if.”
“You’ve been doing those video tricks for years now,” Mr. Griffin replied unexcitedly as he stabbed the largest pork chop on the platter and brought it to his plate.
“This is no trick,” Steve asserted as he tried to remain calm. “I did a completely new set up to try to… ‘collect’ is the word you could use, I guess. To collect spiritual energy.”
“Can we not talk about this at the dinner table?” Liz begged. “Please?”
Mrs. Griffin sat down and started serving herself some green beans, which no one else had touched.
“Oh, c’mon, Liz,” Mrs. Griffin said. “Steve’s just talking about making one of his videos. It’s not real.”
Steve could only shake his head.
“If you could just… see the video. See what I saw last night. It’s going to change… so much… so much of what we think we know. What we believe.”
“So, what’s this new set up you claim to have,” Tommy asked in an amused voice as he heaped mashed potatoes on his plate. “Did you get some new EVP equipment? You know all those devices are a rip-off, right?”
“No, no.” Steve stared at his empty plate. “It started when I realized that the sort of equipment that you’re talking about was just trying to detect electrical charges in an open space. So, I created a confined space.” Steve took a deep breath while his family tried to continue with their dinners. “Knowing that spirits aren’t supposed to be able to cross running water, I set up four stands with hoses running up them. I put caps at the end of each hose, but punctured holes along the length of each hose, facing towards the next hose, in a square pattern. So when I turned the water on, the spray sort of created four walls. On a bar hanging across the open space in the middle of all this, I hung some thin wires, or filaments, or whatever you want to call them. Those were hooked up to a battery, to sort of super-charge the air in between the poles. On the ground below the wires I placed some lodestones to act as a magnetic base. And…” Steve hesitated to admit this part. “And I also put some stuff on the ground that is supposed to help invite spirits.”
“You said you wouldn’t do Ouija boards anymore,” Liz said with a tremble in her voice. “You promised.”
“It’s not like that,” Steve insisted. “When people use the Ouija board, it was like second-guessing yourself. ‘Did I move that, or did something guide me?’”
“Steve,” Liz pleaded with quivering lips. “You promised.”
“Ok stop, Steve,” Mrs. Griffin said in a reprimanding voice. “You’re scaring your sister. All of this hokey-baloney ghost hunter crap was supposed to stop. You put up some scary little videos and got a little money from advertisements or what have you. So now what? You went bigger to make more money?”
“No!” Steve replied. “I swear, if you just watch the video…. Those early videos were crap. Just us getting all excited about devices going off, or words being deciphered out of static radio signals. They proved nothing. They showed nothing. Not like this!”
“Yeah, I would love to watch your video,” Tommy said through a mouthful of pork. “Should be good for a laugh.”
“This is why you haven’t gotten yourself settled down,” Mr. Griffin chimed in. “Playing around with these videos and your ghost hunting friends. When I was your age, I had a decent-paying job and I was married. What did you spend all that time in school for? You were supposed to get a good job in a contractor field so that you didn’t end up on a line like me.”
“At least I finished college!” Steve blurted out while staring at Tommy.
“Yeah?” Tommy said as he leaned over the dinner table. “Well, I’m not the one who wasted time getting useless community college degrees in electrical engineering and theology.”
Steve clapped his hands to his face and then threw them out again in a fit of exasperation.
“I literally just told you that I FOUND A WAY TO COLLECT SPIRITUAL ENERGY!!” Steve struggled to keep himself composed. “I saw a woman last night, in some kind of dress from the early 1900s. And she reacted as if she could see me!”
At this point, Liz stood up and bolted from the table.
“Now see what you’ve done?” Mrs. Griffin chided. “You know how this sort of thing upsets your sister. She’s had so many nightmares since you started doing those ghost videos.”
“Actually, she started getting messed up when he had her play with a Ouija board,” Tommy reminded them.
“Enough!” Mr. Griffin hollered. “Steve, I want you to give up on this nonsense. It’s too much!”
A vibrating buzz could be heard. Steve pulled his phone out of his pocket.
“Hey, no phones at the table,” Mr. Griffin insisted.
“Just a notification,” Steve murmured.
The family ate in silence.
Steve’s phone buzzed again. He stared at the pork chop which he had absent-mindedly added to his plate.
“Can I just make a clarification?” he asked. “This wasn’t just a dumb video with my friends. What I realized, and they never did, was that spirit energy, if it existed, just needed a boost to be detectable. And a space where their energy could be concentrated. If there was spiritual energy hanging around, I wanted to be able to interact with it.”
“That’s just nonsense,” Mrs. Griffin. “Our spirits go to Heaven when we die.”
“Or the other place,” Tommy teased.
Mrs. Griffin stared at him for a moment.
“I don’t know what you think you were messing around with,” Mr. Griffin said to Steve. “But I don’t think there are any spirits wandering the world for you to talk to.”
“But as I said when I first started looking into this,” Steve countered, “people around the world have been telling stories for thousands of years about seeing and hearing from the spirits of the dead.”
“You don’t know what people think they see and hear. It’s all in their minds,” Mr. Griffin said in a tone where he clearly did not expect to be contradicted.
“Steve,” Mrs. Griffin said in a more sympathetic voice, “Why do you keep doing these videos? What do you expect to get from all of this? Fame? Money?”
Steve paused for a moment. His phone continued to buzz in his pocket.
“What if we could contact Corey?”
Mrs. Griffin froze.
Tommy’s mouth dropped open. Liz could be heard weeping in the living room.
Mr. Griffin looked over at his wife for a moment. Then he turned on Steve.
“Why would you do that to your mother?”
Steve’s phone began a new round of vibrating. He took it out, clicked to silence it, then put it face down on the table. It immediately started buzzing again. Then Steve looked around at his family.
“Why do you think I’ve been trying to understand what happens to us after we die, to our souls? When Corey died - ”
“When Corey died!” Mrs. Griffin cried out as she slapped the table. “We had a funeral, and then a police investigation, and then a disinterment, and then another ceremony at the cemetery, and then a trial, then a memorial mass.”
Mrs. Griffin gasped briefly to catch her breath.
Mr. Griffin held Steve with a stern gaze in his eyes.
“We were all put through too much with your brother’s death. Why do you feel the need to tear us all up again about it?”
Steve had tears in his eyes as he tried to explain himself.
“I know that mom and you took it the hardest. But I just… I felt like… when I lost my little brother in a senseless, stupid way like that, I just couldn’t accept it. No way could I accept that he could be gone because of something so stupid. I wanted to know what really happened. I want him to know that we love him no matter what.”
Then, Tommy’s phone trilled out a little notification sound. He pulled it out to look at the screen.
“What did I just say about phones at the table?” Mr. Griffin demanded.
Tommy looked up at Steve with a queer look on his face.
“What did you do?” the younger brother asked quietly.
Steve hesitated, then took a deep breath. His phone started vibrating yet again.
“I already formatted and uploaded the episode which shows what happened last night. I set it to go ‘live’ a few minutes ago. I wanted to have the chance to tell you all about it first….”
Steve’s phone kept vibrating.
Tommy’s phone chirped again.
Mrs. Griffin’s phone started ringing from the kitchen. She could only stare at her husband, ignoring her phone in the background. Mr. Griffin sat there shaking his head, a deep frown forming on his face.
Tommy couldn’t help himself and began scrolling rapidly through his messages.
“Well,” Steve said softly. “My secret’s out. I’m about to become very, very famous.”
“Or very, very haunted,” Liz whispered from the living room, tears rolling down her cheek.
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I really, really enjoyed this! Great characters, rich backstory, interesting concept. I'd love to see where this story goes next.