Monday, January 20, 2014

True Story: When my Dead Friend Emailed...

2013 was a sad year for me because I lost two friends. Fortunately, both were writers and left a legacy of books that will ensure they will never be forgotten, or so I keep trying to convince myself. Since this post is not intended as a memorial, I will mention only events not names today. I have to admit, just thinking about those events still leaves me with goose bumps.

In 2012, I received a call from a New York author, let's call him Sam Samson. He asked if I would be willing to help him flesh out a supernatural idea he had been toying with. The project sounded fascinating, so I said yes. We called our untitled collaboration Ghost Story.

For many months, emails flew back and forth and our story slowly came into focus. We had fully developed what felt like a unique premise and had written up to the third chapter about an imprisoned man with a supernatural illness when I suddenly couldn't get my friend to respond to either phone calls or emails. After several days, I became concerned and searched for some contact, any contact.

Unfortunately, after a few days, I learned my friend and cowriter had died of a massive heart attack that took him permanently and instantly away. He will be missed.

Six months had passed when one morning I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of emails in my box. I immediately assumed I had been struck by a spam bot, but as I perused the names and subject lines, I realized that these were real messages. Why had everyone tried to reach me multiple times during the night?

As I was stewing on this puzzle, an email flashed in the preview box at the bottom of my screen. Sam Samson was emailing me about GHOST STORY.

Eyes wide, I tried to understand. I had read Sam's obituary. I had personally spoken with his daughter after the funeral!

Fingers trembling, I clicked on Sam's message.

"How are you making out with your rewrites?" he asked.

How do you explain to a dead friend that you abandoned his story out of...I don't know, confusion? Respect? Anger at losing him?

This was crazy! I was debating how to answer a dead man. I knew that ghosts didn't exist, no more than my neighbor could speak with aliens over his ham radio. Someone was playing a sick joke.

Refusing to play along, I deleted the message. Nevertheless, I felt as though my entire world had been tilted about ninety degrees to the right and retreated to the porch to feed the fifty or so ducks that typically hang around in the brook beside my house.

Slowly, I calmed down enough to realize that some computer glitch must have occurred. Obviously, Sam's email had been stuck in a digital file somewhere, and had only recently been discovered, not unlike one of those decades-old postal letters we hear about on the news from time to time.

I ignored the whiskey in the kitchen cabinet and returned to my office to find dozens of more spam emails had come in. I skipped right past them, however, because my eyes were glued to a second email from Sam!

I opened his email and felt heat rise to my cheeks.

"Tim, I don't think we should let our readers know the protagonist is dead. Maybe he shouldn't realize he's dead either."

"That's it!" I exclaimed, slamming my finger on the delete key.

I jumped up from my seat and grabbed the phone. I'm not sure if I imagined the local police or state troopers would have a Ghost Busters division, but my fingers hovered over the 9-1-1 keys, ready to dial.

As I stood there, my eyes flicked between the computer screen and the phone. Computer, phone. Phone, computer. At any moment, I expected Sam to send yet another message from beyond. Though more emails poured in, neither his name nor the subject line Ghost Story appeared.

I probably remained in that position for only a few seconds to a minute, but it seemed like forever. Suddenly, everything I had ever believed, everything I had ever known, was being challenged. Was the existence of ghosts possible? And, if so, what else had I been missing? Vampires? The Easter Bunny? The validity of online Bachelor's degrees?

Then, as though being struck by a cold spray of seawater, I jolted out of my sluggish thoughts. Slowly the panic receded as a suspicion began to grow: for some reason, all of my emails from months ago were coming back. Sam having been dead and the subject line Ghost Story may have been--no, were--spooky coincidences, but the more I thought about it the more certain I became that these were old messages being fed back onto my screen.

Ultimately, a call to my mail hosting company confirmed my theory. A recent change in service had caused the system to resend old emails. There seemed to be no solution except to erase the old messages as they came in, being careful not to erase any new ones mixed in.

And so that's what I did. For the rest of the day, every half-hour or so, I erased hundreds of duplicated emails. That also meant seeing Sam Samson: Ghost Story, Sam Samson: Ghost Story repeat itself over and over again.

As I look back, I am ashamed of how gullible I had been. I am also surprised by how strongly, in retrospect, that I wish it had been true. It's not that I want or need to know that ghosts exist, though that would be fabulous to learn--from a distance--its just that I miss my friend, and communicating with even a residual part of him might soothe the wound I'm certain will be with me to my last days.

Here's wishing all the spirits in this world, alive and otherwise, a wonderful 2014!  


  1. Thanks for sharing your story. Who knows? Maybe it was fate that the emails came when they did :)

    1. Thanks for the note, Suzie. Fate certainly seems like a more powerful word since I encountered those emails. 'Hope all is well in your corner of the world :-)

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I believe it was Aristotle that told the story of a farmer who found a three-horned goat skull in his field as he was ploughing. It gave him the creeps, so he consulted both a philosopher and an oracle.

    The first told him that brain matter must have slipped through a crack in the skull and solidified, thus creating a pseudo-horn. The latter told him that it was a very bad omen, and that he would die within the year.

    The farmer did die within the year. Does this mean the philosopher was wrong? Not, just that he explained how; not why.

    I suggest you get back to editing that untold story. Besides, with a back story like that, you probably have a best-seller in your hands anyway! :)

    1. Thanks for the note, Nicholas. I have definitely been thinking a lot about doing just that. I probably should commit to that before more "omens" come my way :-)


Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment! :-)