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The second ghost I met called himself Pedro Sinclair. He lived under a flyover between Junction 1 of the North Circular, and the office supplies wholesaler at Staples Corner. He had built himself a home of scaffolding and tarpaulin which cast geometric shadows in the setting sun. He welcomed us and offered us tea, from a pot of water suspended above a small fire by a tatty school tie.
I explained that we were making a documentary. He was happy to talk on camera.
Ghost (noun. informal)
A person whose central records have been deleted, rendering them unable to live in civilized society. They cannot interact with systems--automatic doors won't open for them, public transport will not stop for them, and without active credit chips they cannot pay or be paid. Ghosts do not exist.
He spoke for three hours, without pause. The cameraman had to change batteries twice. Most ghosts lived in packs, he said. Clustered around a source of food and warmth--near recycling plants, food banks, or large and wasteful supermarkets. Staff would notice rustling in the night, disappearing stock, and things not being quite where they left them. But it was always dismissed as foxes, or superstition. He spoke of the things that he missed. The things that he craved. He spoke of murder.
Murder (noun. Informal).
The act of removing someone's name from the central database. It is suggested that there are central records employees who will commit this act for the right price. These are unsubstantiated rumors. There is no such thing as murder. There is no such thing as ghosts.
As the traffic died down, he began to get philosophical. "I'm one of the lucky ones," he said. "I know who did this to me." His girlfriend, ex-girlfriend, had worked in records. He explained that it was worse for the others. They would lie awake at night. Wondering. "In a way, it's funny," he said. "In stories, ghosts haunt the living. In real life, the living haunt the ghosts. You find yourself asking 'Who?'"
"'Who could I possibly have hurt enough to do this to me?'"
We showed the broadcaster a rough cut of the documentary. We wanted more funding. To interview more ghosts, and get a statement from the bureau of records. The boss nodded, and said that he'd call them for a statement himself.
When I got home, the doors of my apartment didn't open.
Regret (noun).
A feeling of sadness and desire to change past actions. A feeling common to all ghosts. Or it would be. If ghosts existed. Which they don't.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

Author Comments

This story was inspired by two things: (1) A prompt to write "a non-traditional ghost story," and (2) A bureaucratic black-hole my brother fell into, where he was sent an activation code in the post which expired three days before it arrived. Watching him try to navigate automated phone lines with a problem that wasn't supposed to exist was equal parts hilarious and terrifying.

- EA Levin
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