The Ghost in the Computer
As Experienced By R.R. Stark

At long last I experienced the legendary ghost in the machine phenomenon and that's when I realized beings from the Other Side had a formidable access to modern technology.

         I have always had a tendency to scoff at the idea of "a ghost in the machine." Don't get me wrong, I do believe in the supernatural, that the "other side" does exist, and that strange things do go bump in the night, and sometimes during the daytime. But something appalling occurred several days ago convinced me that ghostly entities can indeed access or manipulate machinery. Yes, I have heard of radios and televisions being used for contacting the dead, or entities from the other side, but in the beginning this always gave me a chuckle. Now I find myself staring gravely into the computer screen, wondering if some bizarre apparition is going to flash across it.
         Last week, the first week of October, I was intensely writing yet another spooky story; strangely enough it was a harrowing tale about ghosts. In fact, anytime I would type the word "ghost," it would disappear. That's when I realized something eerie was amiss. Alright, let's back up a tad. Before that happened, I just kept having unexpected document freeze-ups, so I would have to reboot my computer before returning to whatever document I was in. One time I went into a folder, and all of the files in it were missing! Again, I rebooted my computer and found the files. A temporary glitch obviously. Then the cursor began mysteriously jumping around without me even moving it. Each time something strange like that happened I would reboot my computer. This seemed to have a tendency to end the peculiar phenomenon.
         That's when the disappearing "ghost" began. Four times the ghost disappeared when I attempted to type it, so to speak. Frustrated, I rebooted the computer once again. Returning to the document again, I typed the word "ghost" again. It remained there, but only for about ten seconds -- then it vanished! As an experiment, I typed in the word "apparition." In a few seconds, it too vanished from the screen. Then I tried the word "specter," but that too disappeared from the freaking screen.
         "Damn it!" I swore.
         Suddenly, what I just said appeared on the screen.
         "What the hell?" I cursed.
         And that too appeared on the screen.
         "What in the name of--"
         Yes, that too appeared on the screen. I decided to keep quiet after that.
         I shrugged and decided to continue writing the story - if humanly possible without interruption. This time, instead of writing the words that kept disappearing, I wrote totally unrelated words and planned to use the Replace mode at a later date, hopefully sometime after this freaky glitch ran its stupid course. So I used the word "dog" instead. The word held. Then I chuckled at the sentence I just wrote:
         "The eerie dog suddenly soared out the open window, then swooped up and flew away into the night."
         Three times I used the word dog with nothing eerie happening. Then things started really getting creepy. I heard a barely audible groaning sound. Perhaps it was coming from outside. I looked out the window right next to me, peered out, but saw nothing but the shrubberies and trees in the side yard. Returning my gaze to the screen, suddenly I saw something flash across it, only for a split second. What the hell was that? I tried to continue writing, although I was being distracted now, and found it hard to focus. The next time I wrote the word "dog" in place of "ghost," I not only heard the strange groaning sound, but a freaky ghostly face appeared in the screen! It looked like one of those Halloween masks with dark eyeholes and a horrible grimace.
         Then it spoke in a gravelly gruff voice, the jagged lips moving eerily, "I am not a dog!"
         I lurched back in my chair, almost falling backwards. Then the creature began rubbing its white ghostly hands on the screen from the other side - pun intended. Then the groaning grew more aggressive as the specter began pounding on the screen from within -- and the glass actually vibrated! I tried to close the document, as if that would stop it. That didn't work. I tried shutting off the computer, but it remained on. Then I unplugged it from the wall socket, and although the little ON light flashed off, the screen was still lit and the ghost still persisted to pound on the screen!
         Then I pressed the "Escape" key - which was a horrible mistake, because I realized I was not the one able to escape from this plight, but the ghostly apparition became the one trying to escape, as it reached out its pallid ghostly hand from the screen and quickly gripped me around the neck, squeezing it tightly as I began choking to death. There was a baseball bat on the floor next to me. I struggled to reach it, finally gripped it and slammed the cudgel down across the arm, but I had to strike down several times to force the hand off my neck. Then I quickly pulled away. Standing up, I began clobbering the outstretched arm with splayed fingers, but the ghost reached out further until its head was almost out of the screen. I proceeded to pound at it violently as I swore insanely at it, until I finally busted the screen itself, glass shattering onto my desk and keyboard, and spilling onto the floor. The ghostly creature which had manifested physically had abruptly disappeared entirely now. This drastic measure I had taken obviously worked, but at the cost of destroying my computer. And why? Because some prankster ghost was offended that I called it a dog? How absurd!`
         I decided to take a well-deserved break. I ran down the stairs of my upper level apartment, got in my '97 Chevy Blazer and took off down the street, heading for Taco Bell for lunch, only five measly blocks away. I had to decide whether or not I should buy some cheap computer here in town, or go online and order a deluxe customized version from Mega-Tech Software. Although I would be able to pay it off gradually this way, unfortunately, it would take a week for delivery, and I didn't want to wait that long. I had stories to write! And also my well-researched articles for Zones Unknown. Perhaps I should go to Best Buy instead, get a Dell or something. But I didn't feel like it today. I needed a break from that insane computer anyway. Talk about ghosts in machines, I was a believer now - a stark raving scared one albeit. Maybe I'll do the cowardly thing and revert back to a typewriter -- not an electric one either!
         So I went to the drive-through of Taco Bell and got myself a chili cheese burrito, two hard shell tacos, a cup of refried beans, and a large Coke. As I drove down the street, I decided that when I got back home, I would avoid my Study, where my busted up, ghost-infested computer sat. Instead I would sit in my dining room, eat Taco Bell, and read my new H. P. Lovercraft book, The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Yeah, 'tis the season to be scary. Halloween and all that rot.
         However, when I actually got home, as I entered my apartment, I decided that I would peek into my study, just in case I could detected some eerie sign of my computer still being haunted. Either that or I would have to go in there anyway and clean up the glass from my broken screen. When I did peek in, I definitely noticed something strange. The computer was completely intact! The screen was unbroken! Yikes! Had I imagined the whole bizarre incident? Had I experienced a freaky nightmare, having fallen asleep at the computer? Or had I enter some alternate reality where it did in fact take place, then I unknowingly returned to my own reality? Or - what exactly? It had seemed too real to be a nightmare or just my imagination. Besides, my neck still felt sore. Something did in fact occur here.
         I shrugged it off, leaving my Study. Realizing the bag of Taco Bell didn't have napkins in it, I went to the kitchen and grabbed a handful of my own. Then I caught a glimpse of something in the microwave. I looked again, and the ghostly creature was somehow in there, pounding on the freaking glass - yes, from the Other Side!

Back to Harrowing Tales