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art by Steven R. Stewart

Persistence

Kurt Newton's fiction runs the gamut from horror to science fiction to fantasy and everything in between. His stories have appeared in Weird Tales, Space & Time, Dark Discoveries and Shroud. His horror novella, "The Brainpan Concerto," will be published by Sideshow Press this summer. He also recently sold a novel to Sideshow Press, a science fiction thriller called Powerlines. He lives in Connecticut.
The figure emerged inside the three-dimensional matrix. My brother, the mathematician, looked on as if he had never had a doubt the algorithm he devised would work. Using our own energy signatures as an identifying marker was pure genius, even if the probability of success was equivalent to locating a specific speck of dust on a landscape the size of planet Earth. But we never gave up. After years of searching, using an etheric energy detection and capture system I designed, at last we had him, our very own Shroud of Turin. Only this one was made of energized plasma. He wasn't Jesus Christ, but he was God to us.
"Dad? Can you hear us?" There was a slight crackle as I locked in the coordinates. I stared at the image of our father floating before us in the lab.
Our father opened his deep-set eyes, as if awakened from a long sleep. There was bewilderment and fear in his gaze. His mouth opened, speechless.
"We needed to see you again. We wanted to tell you everything is fine. We're fine."
My brother nudged me.
"And the accident wasn't your fault. It's okay. You can stop blaming yourself."
I smiled but I wasn't sure if we were getting through to him. I increased the gain and tweaked the resolution. The look on his face began to soften. He appeared to acknowledge us. His eyes brimmed with joy.
My brother stepped forward. "We just wanted to say thanks for being a great dad. We've got everything we've ever wanted here, and more. It's a true heaven, Dad...a true heaven."
Before I could tell my brother, "Not too close," our father's image flickered. I adjusted the gain to compensate for my brother's proximity, but it was already too late. The image began to waver then wink out one pixel at a time. Like dominoes, in a matter of seconds, the entire matrix went dark. Our father was gone.
"Dammit! So that's it?" My brother knew the odds of recreating the experiment were virtually nil.
I stared at the space where our father had been.
"Do you think he understood?"
I turned to my brother. "For his sake, I hope so."
I shut down the equipment and we left the lab. When I turned off the light I thought I was seeing things. Where our father had appeared there was a very faint ghost image.
"Persistence," my brother said, a technical term used to explain the phenomenon. But even then I believed it to be more than that.
The image stayed for weeks, then months, then for years afterward. My brother gave up trying to explain it away. Me, I didn't want it to go away. There was comfort in having our father looking over our shoulder while we worked, even if he was just a ghost, and our thoughts of him just memories.
After all, here in the afterlife we get to have everything we've ever wanted and more.
Except the living.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 11th, 2011


One day I was looking up the word "persistence" and discovered an alternate definition, a scientific term used to describe the length of time a phosphor dot remains illuminated on a television screen (the old cathode ray tube type). Long-persistence produces ghost-like images. Of course, when I read that, a story began to formulate in my head about ghosts and memory and that unquantifiable thing called love.

- Kurt Newton

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