24 October, in the year of our Lord 2020
Saturday, in the evening, and Mr. M. Jones hath confided in me his plan, devised, he hopes, for the benefitte of our Amazonian deliverer. At the appointed Hour, which is eight a-clock, we seat ourselves at the magick screen.
‘The conceit is that I shall provide the voice of the spirit of the young man’s Father, all the while remaining hidden from sight,’ says Mr. Jones, one more time. ‘The contrivance will reassure him that all is well on the Other Side, and he will be relieved of the despond that hovers over him.’
‘What is this Zoom anyway?’ say I.
‘You will see! We must log in, for we will have only forty minutes.’ With which prods he the magick screen to make it shine, and sets it upright like a Landscape before me, whereupon comes a dis-embodyed voice.
‘Hullo. Is anybody there?’
‘You have started too earlie!’ says Mr. Jones.
‘No,’ comes the voice of Dr. S. Francis, ‘is there anybody there? My screen is blank. Do I need to press something? Oh, there we are! Something happened!’
Our screen springs into life, and Lord! but her image is made visible to us, which was a thing I did never expect to see in my entire life, only that she is rotated through a right Angle, so I turn our screen to the position of a portrait, except that she follows it and is now upside down.
‘Stop fiddling with it!’ says Mr. Jones, snatching it from my hands and replacing it.
‘Why do I have to wear a head Scarfe and sit behind Martin’s goldfish bowl?’ says she in the magick screen.
‘It is a kind of deceit, and a deceit of kindness,’ says Mr. Jones. ‘You will just need to follow the script.’
‘Well, alright,’ says Dr. Francis. ‘I’ve never done anything like — ’
‘Quick! We must begin. He has logged into the Meeting.’
Whereupon lights up a further square on the magick screen, and in it our animated young friend, the Amazonian delivery man.
‘Hi-yuh!’ he greetes us, breathlesslie fanning himself with a hand. ‘I am so excited! Do you think it will work?’
I clean a spot off the screen with my finger and begin to speak my lines.
‘I would like to welcome everyone,’ I say in a hushed voice, ‘to this Virtual Sitting, and especially to introduce Madame Psychic, Shady Frances — ’ (at which throw I to Mr. Jones a withering glare, he mouthing back that it was the best he could come up with) ‘ — who will now procede to guide us on our journy into the Shadow World — ’
‘I cannot hear anything,’ interrupts our client.
‘You mop-stick!’ hisses Mr. Jones to me. ‘In cleaning the screen you have muted us!’
‘Sorry, sorry, sorry! My fault!’ call out I to everyone, and then proceed to un-mute us.
We start again and reach the point of true departure, only Mr. Jones is now hissing at me again. ‘You must snuff out the candle, for effect!’ says he.
‘I cannot see a candle-snuffing icon!’ hiss I back, crossly.
He gesticulates wildly. ‘Use the candle-snuffer, addlebrain!’
Our room darkened accordingly, we procede as scripted.
‘I sense somebody there,’ says our Psychic in the screen. ‘Can you make yourself known to us?’
‘I am here,’ intones Mr. Jones, off screen. ‘Who calls to disturb me in the Afterlife?’
‘I am not sure those are the tones of my father,’ says our young man, troubled by a little doubt.
But, as Mr. Jones takes breath, all of a sudden is made manifest from nowhere a new window on the magick screen! and within its preternatural frame an image — indistinct, so we can make out naught save the vagueness of a man, seated, but an image neverthelesse — and with it a voice so distant and so muffled we can barely make out its words. Astonished, we sit bolt up!
‘What artifice is this?’ hiss I, aside to Mr. Jones.
‘It is ectoplasm on the screen!’ he gasps.
‘It cannot be. I have just cleaned it!’ say I, in a loud whisper.
And then we make out the crackly words.
‘Round three as usual is the music round, and for two points I want the title and the name of the performer…[distorted/muffled]…anybody want to play a joker?’
I frantickally signal Mr. Jones to mute us again.
‘It is not ectoplasm! It is Mr. Radford’s weeklie On-the-Line quiz!’ exclaim I. ‘It is neare half past eight on a Saturday! He must have started afresh for the new Lock Up, and we have intercepted his transmission in the æther!’
But it matters not a flea, for our sweet friend is all a-gog, and he stares enraptured at what he thinks he sees and listens entranced to what he thinks he hears.
‘My father is still doing his pub quiz!’ sniffs he, wiping away tears of happyness. ‘It is all I wanted! To know that he is there, that he is unchanged in spirit. I cannot thank you enough. I am overcome.’ He finds no further words but his silence says it all. And when after a few minutes the aether heals itself, and draws a curtain across that singular Window and all it holds within, and it leaves the screen as miraculouslie as it came, he bids us an emotional farewell with gratitude as effusive as any I have ever seen, and in excellent good cheer, and we too for we still have free minutes in which to discourse with our ersatz clairvoyant.
‘Well, I didn’t see that coming!’ says she. ‘That wasn’t in my script!’
‘I felt we must risk Spontaneity to heighten the suspense!’ fibs Mr. Jones. ‘How are you, anyway?’
‘Well, I’m all right,’ comes the reply. ‘But I still don’t understand what happened there! Oh, I’ve lost you again! I don’t know where you’ve gone! I think I might have pressed something!’, whereupon the image of Psychic Shady Frances drains prematurely from our screen.
I think she has unwittingly logged herself out, but am uncertain. ‘Is there anybody the-e-e-re?’ say I to the blacknesse left behind, thinking to be humorose. It appears there is not, but then of a sudden comes a loud thump in the darknesse, as if a presence unseen has knocked the ferniture! My eyes bulge and my skin freezes! ‘OHMYGODWHATWASTHAT?’ The candle springs to life, and within an inch of me in a terrifying chiaroscuro is the visage of Mr. Jones. ‘Who-oo-hoo-oo!’ cries he. ‘It was the cat jumping from the bed above us.’
Later, over a pint of wine, say I to Mr. Jones, ‘Well, that was a remarkable event,’ and congratulate him for his efforts.
‘Not bad,’ says he, raising his glass, ‘for a man with a fatal disease of the Xylem.’