Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The laboratory is quiet at last. Carrie crouches down to retrieve a champagne bottle. As it’s not quite empty, she drinks the rest and stands up, pausing to let a lightheaded moment pass. Dropping the bottle into the bin, she turns and utters a little scream on finding a grey-suited woman standing there.
“Who are you? What are you doing? Where’s your ID?”
The woman smiles.
“I’m Linda. I’m here to talk about the necrophone. I don’t need one, I’m not with the faculty.”
“Oh, alright. You should really be talking to Professor Dangmar, he invented it.”
Linda plucks a half-empty bottle of whisky from a table, wipes the neck with a corner of her jacket, and takes a swig before offering it.
Carrie grins and takes it. Resting her butt against a desk, she takes a swig and, coughing, passes it back.
“Whoa.” She gasps.
Linda nods and settles next to Carrie.
“Tennessee fine. Never a dull mouthful. So, before I see the professor, I thought I’d talk to the people who work with him. Get a picture, you know?”
Carrie nods: “He’s lovely. So keen to help the world by getting rid of humanity’s preoccupation with death. Starting from finding non-fraudulent, non-delusional incidences of Ouija board use and similar, it took him a decade to understand what happens, then another to build a machine that does it without the silly rituals.”
Linda nods: “It’s almost unbelievable, being able to talk to the dead. How do you find the number for each person?”
Carrie laughs and takes another swig: “It doesn’t work like that. You pick up the handset and press the ‘receive’ button. You’ll usually speak to your most recently deceased relative. In a few cases, it’s a recently dead close friend. One of our interns hasn’t lost anyone close yet and had a strange, rambling conversation with his great-grandmother, who died just before he was born. He said it was like she wasn’t all there. Professor Dangmar proposed that maybe souls fade over time.”
“What about heaven and suchlike?”
“No mention has been made.”
Linda stops with the bottle partway to her lips: “Really?”
“Not a thing. That’s confidential information, by the way. Professor Dangmar wants a much bigger sample before drawing any conclusions.”
“Good idea. Who did you speak to?”
“I didn’t. Guess I’m a down-home girl at heart. Something about it doesn’t feel right. For all that I support the concept, I couldn’t bring myself to make a call.”
Linda smiles as she puts the bottle down: “I can appreciate that. Right, I’d better get going, let you finish.”
Carrie takes another swig, then turns back to clearing up. Linda spends a while watching her, then nods and leaves the room.
Standing outside, she makes a call: “Carrie Cutler is clean. Sweep completed.”
“A lone survivor, but from what?”
She smiles: “I spiked her drink. She’ll be vomiting before dawn and poorly for the day, which supports a story about drunken interns mixing drugs in the punch that resulted in it becoming poisonous. A tragic accident at an impromptu party, not a mysterious cover-up.”
“Nice. We’ll go with that.”
Linda walks away.
Carrie cleans for a while longer, then heads for home when she starts to feel nauseous.
As she walks, she remembers the prickle of goosebumps up her arms when she heard her mother. The voice had been faint, but unmistakably the dear heart she lost five years ago.
“They’ll kill anyone who uses this, my girl. Deny. Lie. Never tell. I love you and we’ll meet again, I promise.”