American(USA) Ghost Stories
Dit dit dit, dit dit dit, dit dit dit dit…
What the heck is that? The silver-haired African-American wonders and looks towards the window. He swings his legs down from the bed and drags his feet to the opening in the wall. With his novel and dark-framed reading glasses held at his back, he bends forward and peers down into the street.
“Just what the hell is making that sound? I’m so tired of it!” The sixty-one-year-old utters and then turns around and heads back to bed.
Rodolfo is his name. He is a retired English teacher. For months, a continuous ticking sound that seems to come from nowhere torments the old man. He has looked high and low, but the source of the annoyance still eludes him. He has tried many ways to distract himself from the ever-present ticks that come at midnight and do not cease until the wee hours of the mornings. He has tried winter muffs; they help with sleep but are uncomfortable. The other is meditation, but it means lying to himself that the sound is not a bother. He finds one that works—soft music. The slow sway of Jazz drowns the knocking sound and relaxes the old teacher. It is a no-brainer; Rodolfo adopts listening to soft Jazz as he lies down and closes his eyes. Tonight, he cannot allow the ticks to disturb his sleep; he has an appointment with a children’s book publisher in the morning—he writes short stories, fables and rhymes. He lets the music sink him down into his mattress.
With the lazy saxophone blowing in the background, his mind wonders the various possible causes of the ticking sound. Woodpecker? No, there aren’t any woodpeckers here. A water hammer? Who’ll be working at this hour of the morning? And every morning? Naaaah. What the heck is it? A toy of some kind? Yeah, that makes sense. A toy running automatically every morning. Hmm, wouldn’t it bother the parents? Gosh, I give up.
“Sleep, old man, sleep. You have to get up early,” he slurs the words and sighs.
The many days, weeks, and months that the retired teacher bears with the annoying knocks has made the man immune. Now, he cares no more to be bothered, and because of his lack of concern, he often finds sleep comes without difficulty with or without music in the background. But he is aware the ‘dit dit dit’ sound is still there.
Rodolfo’s new children’s book project has him ambling into a computer store and looking at the many portable computers on display.
“That’s a Thinkpad, sir, an IBM. It’s the latest model, sir. Selling like hot cakes. It runs on Windows 95, Sir. That’s the latest operating system. Say goodbye to the slow MSDOS and Windows 3.1, Sir,” a young man in a red jacket says with a wide grin on his face.
The silver-haired gentleman looks at the salesman, afraid to ask a question. He nods in agreement to hide his nescience in computer technology. He has heard about WINDOWS, and he is curious; unfortunately, remembering his last experience with a computer leaves him in chagrin. He had sworn never to touch a ‘thinking’ machine again, but being left behind in a world fast advancing in technology brings worse fear to the ex-educator.
“Here, let me show you what this baby looks like.” The preppy young man turns the laptop to face him and begins to push his finger on a red button in the middle of the keyboard. Push, and the cursor on the screen moves. Click, click, click, and a few rectangles pop up on the screen. “Voila! Look, a word program right in there for you. No more green alphabets and boring black and white screens, huuh. How ‘bout that, Sir? You can work in dazzling colours too!”
Rodolfo is intrigued. “I heard you can write a full book using one of these,” he asks, pinching his chin with thumb and forefinger.
“Oh, are you a writer, Sir?” Without even waiting for the six-footer customer to answer, the store employee goes on with his sales pitch. “Well, sir, a laptop like this then would be an indispensable tool for a writer like yourself, won’t you agree? What I’ll do for you, sir, is I’ll install a word processor for you so you can get right on to working. What d’ya say to dat, Sir?”
Rodolfo squints and casts his eyes on the persuasive salesman, who stands a head shorter. As a retired teacher with money to spare, Rodolfo buys into the young man’s offer. “Yes, I think this is exactly what I need.”
“Fantastic!” The preppy man slaps his hands together and leads the lanky teacher to the cashier. “And, Sir, while we are at it, it so happens that we have a sale on some of our printers. They are selling at an unbelievable seventy percent discount! Worry not, sir, I’ll fix it in such a way that all you have to do is plug the cables in and you are ready to go.”
With a thumb tipping up the brim of his baseball cap, Rodolfo nods. “Sounds good, young man,” he says, lips curling down at the ends.
“Cash or plastic, sir?” The man in the red jacket grins.
Rodolfo unpacks his new purchases and reads every word on the instruction manuals. He flips the pages and realises there isn’t much else to read; most pages of the manuals are in non-English languages. He puts the books down and plugs the cables in. All set. Printer to computer, computer to power, power to printer. Hmm, have I missed anything? He then searches for the power button on the IBM. With a light push, the laptop starts up. He switches the printer on and it runs with a few clicks and cranks.
Hmm, my very first personal computer, he muses with a satisfactory smile.
A soft electronic tune plays as the computer completes its power up process. Rodolfo peers close to the screen with his spectacles almost at the tip of his nose. He pushes the red bud in the centre of the keyboard, the little arrow on the screen responses with a slide here and a slide there.
“Hahaa, this is kinda’ fun. A three thousand dollar toy,” he says shaking his head. “It takes some getting used to, old man. Just needs time, and time I have. Haha, time I have.”
Rodolfo gets the hang of opening and closing windows and is even able to do some typing. He gets to work on a few letters he had meant to write but had not gotten around to.
“Evonne, my dear, I hope you will pardon your dad if he prints a letter rather than write one today?” Rodolfo says aloud.
After four hours on his new gadgets, the teacher becomes very comfortable typing, saving, and printing documents. His last glance at the clock on his bedside table showed 1 A.M. He looks at his clock again.
“Gosh, it’s 2:45. I better get some sleep. How do I shut this machine down now? Wait, I know. The young man said I should go to ‘Shutdown’ before switching the laptop off manually. How do I get to ‘Shutdown’? Hmm.”
After some meddling and reading the manuals again, the tired elderly runs his cursor to the bottom ‘Windows’ icon and a ‘Shutdown’ pops up. He releases his touch on the red stub.
“What the?” Rodolfo recoils in his seat. He can’t believe what he hears.
Dit, dit dit dit dit, dit dit dit, dit…
“What? It’s coming from my computer?”
Rodolfo had not noticed the annoying sound for quite a while now; he had successfully learnt to ignore it. But what he hears now is the direct consequence of his computer shutting down. The hard drive’s read-and-write head moving back and forth over the magnetic disks creates the ticking sound, the familiar ticking sound he has heard night after night.
Was there a computer like this somewhere in the building that was making this knocking sound? “No, that’s impossible. The sound is too soft to be heard from anywhere but right by the computer.”
Rodolfo walks away from the computer and stands at the window. He does not hear the ticking sound from there. He returns to the table and hears the final three seconds of the ticks before the hard drive finally rests and the screen prompt says, “SAFE TO SWITH OFF POWER”
How is this possible? Was I hearing my own computer ahead of its time?
The next midnight, Rodolfo lies still on his bed with his novel in hand. He does not have music running in the background, which he had played every night. He waits for the ticking sound, but it does not come. He waits and waits until he falls asleep.
Rodolfo concludes that he had been hearing his own IBM doing its ‘shutdown’ every night for a year ahead of its time.
“What else could it have been?” he says, sighing.
*Do you believe there is something out there that belongs to you? Perhaps, like my laptop? Your item may be giving you a hint right now, ahead of time. Just be on the lookout for it.
Rodolfo B Martin. USA