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Calls from the Afterlife
Brad Smith

Thursday, showtime

It really wasnt what he had expected. The floor was concrete and his chair was the sort of cheesy seventies art deco piece usually associated with government offices. Nothing about his surroundings seemed remotely glamorous. He had expected to have someone sit him down and brush makeup on him or something, but instead he just sat in the cluttered backstage area, trying to control his nerves and waiting for the producer to come and get him. Waiting was the worst part.

He couldnt sit down for long; his natural tendency to pace took over. He strode around the area in slow, deliberate steps, examining the various bits of show business equipment. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of a full-length mirror, leaning up against a wall. Without hesitation, he walked over towards it, eager for reassurance that he was still presentable.

For the occasion, he had chosen somewhat more subdued clothes than he was used to: dress pants, an off-white shirt with the top button undone and a smart-looking new jacket. All of it had been altered to fit his slim build and broad shoulders. An inordinate amount of time had been spent that morning in properly arranging his hair, especially considering how short it was. But it all came together to project the desired image: that of an intelligent, confident, knowledgeable individual.

How did I get myself into this? he asked himself. It was a pointless question to which he already knew the answer. It had all begun with a phone call, just two days ago

* * *

Tuesday, two days before

The shrill ring of the cordless phone yanked Jim out of the book he had been reading and into the here-and-now. With a stifled groan, he sat up and took the phone from the end table. He held the ringing phone in his hand and yawned, before pressing the talk button.

Hello? he said wearily.

The voice on the other end seemed to be talking to someone, but Jim couldnt make out what was being said. After a few more seconds, the voice clearly said, Yes? Hello?

Hello. Jim repeated.

Im calling for Jim Sayles. the voice stated.

Youve got him.

I have a few questions for you. Have you ever had a paranormal experience?

Paranormal experience? Who is this?

Oh, Im sorry. the voice said without a hint of apology, Im Martin Holland. Call me Marty.

Okay, Marty. Do I know you?

Probably not. Im the producer of the TV show Paranormal Universe, and your name was mentioned in a newspaper article I read. The article suggested you were quite a skeptic, so I thought Id call and find out what you think about psychics.

Oh, I dont know if I qualify for the title of skeptic. I dont know anything about psychics.

So you think they really can talk to dead people?

Well, I wouldnt necessarily say that. I mean, Ive always thought that a power like that would be so easy to test. If a psychic can talk to dead people, a scientist could just teach people a special code-word before they die, and when they do, ask the psychic what the code-word is. The fact that nobodys ever tried this kind of

Youll do. Marty interjected, So do you want to be on the show?

Be on the show? You mean that Paranormal World show you mentioned before?

Paranormal Universe. Yeah, we need a skeptical kind of guy to be the counterpoint for a debate episode were doing.

Is this a joke?

No, Im serious! Well pay you.

But why me?

The Amazing Randi couldnt make it.


No, Im just kidding. But seriously, youre a local guy so the studio isnt far. Youre not a celebrity so we can pay you next to nothing. Ahhhh, Im kidding again. Pay no attention to me. Really though, our show isnt nationally syndicated or anything, but Im sure an up-and-comer like your self could use a little bit of exposure. Am I right?

Ive never really thought

And I thought that maybe a hip, twenty-something like yourself might do better on camera than the other guy.

What other guy?

The guy whos our usual skeptic on these debate episodes, Dr. Jenkis. Thats why Im calling you. I want to give someone new a shot.

So what would I actually be debating about? Jim still thought it might be a joke, but decided to play along anyway.

You know, the usual stuff. Are psychics real? Can they talk to dead people?

And who would I be debating against?

Our psychic guest that night would be the Lady Andromeda.

So whens the show?

Ah, yes, right, about that, well, you know how show biz can be. Sometimes things move pretty fast and thats just the way things work. Im sure its nothing you cant handle, but you realize that sometimes

Just give me a date.


This Thursday?


Thats two days away!

Its not as if you have to build the set. Just show up and well have a friendly little debate. You wont even notice the cameras. Were hardly more than public access, really. Itll be fun.

Just the thought of staring into a TV camera caused Jims stomach to twist into knots. Millions would be watching his every move. If something went wrong, it could conceivably be the most humiliating experience of his life. Sure. Why not? he croaked.

* * *

The stage was set. Jim sat nervously on the left branch of a boomerang-shaped table. The host was standing at the front of the stage, chatting with a few people in the studio audience. It was a small studio, which could probably fit only a hundred audience members, and tonight it was packed. He hoped he could give them a good show.

Just then, the Lady Andromeda appeared on the other end of the stage. She was middle aged, yet graceful, and she projected an air of confidence. Her costume was an elaborate affair; her bright red hair was mostly tucked under a complicated cloth head-wrap. It was just the sort of thing that a stereotypical fortune-teller would wear, but at the same time, the outfit worked well. She was definitely dressed in her best. The host finished his conversation and walked back up towards his seat, stopping to courteously pull the chair out for Lady Andromeda. Jim noticed that the cameras all had little red lights that blinked intermittently, and wondered if that meant they were rolling. The three of them sat silently, each preparing themselves for the spotlight. Marty, the producer, called out the minutes as they ticked down. Soon it was time. The lights over the audience dimmed, and their voices hushed. Five, four, three

Welcome to Paranormal Universe. Im William Atkins, and we have a very special night for you tonight. Joining us is the Lady Andromeda, world famous psychic and medium. Her new show, Afterlife, will be premiering early next year, and her new book Eternal Secrets is in stores now. She will be facing off against Jim Sayles, a skeptic from right here in California. I would like to begin tonight by asking you, Andromeda, about the message that you preach. Could you tell us a bit about it?

Certainly, Will. she answered, with a disarming smile, I want everyone in the world to know that death is not the end. When we die, its only a transition to a new phase of our existence. Theres nothing more liberating than being freed from your fear of dying. Even a skeptic like yourself must admit that its at least possible, right?

Sure, anythings possible, he replied readily. But when he heard some murmuring in the audience, he decided he should clarify his position: But even a believer like yourself must admit that its at least possible that youre only deluding yourself into thinking youre psychic, right?

Ive been a psychic for more than twenty years. How could any psychic stay in business that long if there werent some real powers involved? You think people would just keep coming back to a psychic who couldnt tell them anything?

I think we can all agree that people go to psychics because they need to. People who are grieving for a lost loved one are very vulnerable. They need to believe that the spirit of their loved one lives on, and theyll keep coming back to anyone who tells them what they want to hear, psychic or otherwise.

So do you actually believe that every single one of the thousands of psychics in this country are frauds?

No one has ever done a completely controlled scientific experiment proving that psychic abilities exist. Why not? Maybe all their psychic revelations are just comforting fairy tales. Dont you want to know for certain?

You bring up an interesting point. Not to say I agree with you at all, but still, maybe there are a few psychics out there who just make up their predictions. Im sure such an operation would never become more than a little one-room agency, but still. Is the crime of a fake psychic really so bad that you would have us ban all psychics?

In fact, the host interjected, Ill ask you an even broader question. Whats wrong with fake psychics at all? I mean, sure, they make up a few stories, but the grieving family comes away feeling much better, thinking that their family is still alive somewhere. Whats the problem with that?

A fake psychic isnt just making up a little story in some kind of mutual role play to make someone feel better. Its a lie, a con. Some psychics charge hundreds of dollars an hour just to lie to people. And as if that werent enough, ask yourself this: how do you think this sort of thing affects the grieving process? Maybe they feel a bit better for a while, but what they really need is to get on with their lives, not feel that their loved one is still watching over their shoulder.

But maybe a last bit of communication could help the grieving process. It could give them a chance to say goodbye that they may not have otherwise had. William countered.

On the other hand, it could also lead them into something more dangerous. What if a fake psychics client got cancer and decided to forego medical treatment, and be healed by the psychic instead? That person could die needlessly for want of proper medical treatment, and those happy stories would be partly to blame.

And how many people do you really think are going to go and join a suicide cult because of their fondness for psychics? Andromeda asked doubtfully.

Any number is too many.

Alright, so weve done the fake psychic thing to death. But thats not really what were here for. This debate is about whether psychics are real or not. How about I do a reading, and then well see what you think.

Excellent idea. William agreed, Afterwards, Jim, youll have to tell us all how it was done.

Jim nodded gravely, and began mentally reviewing the lessons that he had learned the day before

* * *

Wednesday, the day before the show

To Jim, every hallway in the University looked exactly the same. It was as though the whole place was built of nothing but concrete cinder blocks, painted beige. He was walking along a hallway on the third floor of Knudsen Hall, a building with its architecture straight out of the sixties.

According to the faculty directory, room 313 of this building was the office of Robert E. Jenkis, Ph.D. Jenkis was the name that the shows producer had mentioned as being a previous debater on Paranormal Universe, and Jim hoped he could answer a few questions. Normally, Jim would have called and made an appointment, but the show was tomorrow and there was no time, so he decided to just stop by after work. Room 313 was right at the end of the hallway.

The door was closed, so Jim knocked lightly on the frame. From inside, a muffled Come in could be heard. Jim opened the door and peered inside. An old man sat in front of a computer in the cluttered office. All of his hair, including his bushy eyebrows, was silvery-gray. Wearing a white lab-coat and worn brown pants, he gave the impression of a stereotypical mad scientist. But he smiled nonetheless, and his eyes revealed the life within.

Im Jim Sayles, Jim said.

Robert Jenkis. What can I do for you? Robert asked expectantly.

Im here about a television show called Paranormal Universe

Oh, no! Ive already told you, Im not doing it. Youre coming here doesnt change a thing.

Im not

You may as well scratch me off your list. Theres nothing you can say to change my mind.

I dont know what youre talking about. I got a call yesterday from a guy named Marty something-or-other, who wanted me to be on his show and I hoped you could

Oh, I see! Im so sorry. I thought you were here to try and convincewell, never mind that. So youre theyre next target, eh?

Target? They just want me to be the skeptical side in a debate about psychics. The show is tomorrow, so I havent had much time to look into it.

Thats intentional, I think. It keeps you from doing enough research to be effective. You see, they want you to lose the debate. Everything is stacked against you from the start.

They told me that they wanted me on the show because I would be good on camera.

They want you on the show because Ive already refused. Being booed off the stage once is more than enough for me.

It didnt go well?

I didnt stand a chance. So youre actually going to do it?

Why not? I cant believe everything is as hopeless as you make it sound. Maybe I can put out a few well reasoned arguments, win a few points, and itll come out a draw.

I was once like you: so young, so idealistic, so nave.

Maybe you could help me. Give me the information that they wont expect me to have. Give me a head-start.

Youre crazy, you know that? Robert smiled and shook his head, but Jim stared back, undeterred. Alright, fine. Where should I begin? What dont you know?

Jim thought for a moment and said, Well, for starters, how do they do it? Psychics, I mean. How do they make their predictions? Whats their trick? Hidden microphones or something?

Oh, brother, Robert said, rolling his eyes. You really are starting from square one. Okay, where to begin? I suppose I should start by telling you that a sophisticated apparatus like hidden microphones is rarely necessary. Most of the time, everything a psychic needs to know, is revealed by the person being read.

And why would someone reveal this information?

They dont do it intentionally. So called psychics are expert at reading expression and intonation. They ask provocative but vague questions and watch the response carefully. Years of experience teach them the subtle responses that reveal when theyre right or wrong. So they take the initial responses and continue to make educated guesses based on the person theyre reading and common sense. Do you understand?

Jim nodded enthusiastically and stared at Dr. Jenkis for a few moments, before letting his eyes slip down to the floor and ruefully shaking his head. No, I dont get it, he admitted.

Robert Jenkis smiled charitably and continued, Okay, Ill try to put it another way. The psychic will start out with something vague. The victim would then fit this guess to something real in his or her own life. For example, a psychic could say You or someone you know has recently moved. If a family member, friend, co-worker, boss or even their accountants boyfriends pet-sitter had moved any time in the last five years, then the prediction is correct.

So they cant be wrong.

Exactly. That statement could even be interpreted to suggest a change in career, a vacation, or any other change in that persons life. So if the victim then reveals that its her brother who bought a new house, the psychic could make a few more educated guesses. If the brother had bought a house, it would be reasonable to assume hes in a committed relationship, because single people rarely buy houses for themselves. If the psychic sees from the victims expression that this isnt correct, then before anything is said, the psychic can double-back and quickly suggest something else.

But would people really fall for this stuff?

Yes, you wouldnt believe it. If you watch a psychic, youll notice that they hardly ever say anything spectacular. If theyre really talking to someones dead father, then why doesnt the psychic just reveal, His phone number was this. His address was that. He had the name Bertha tattooed on his butt. Why bother with all the vague mystical stuff? People believe so strongly that they always manage to find some tiny sliver of truth buried in horribly inaccurate readings.

From what youve been telling me, its going to be easy to poke holes through this psychics predictions.

Thats true, but it wont help you. Never underestimate how powerfully people will latch on to a belief. No amount of evidence is going to shake some peoples faith.

Jim took a moment to muster his courage, before asking the question that had been bothering him for some time: What happened on the last debate episode?

Robert winced and sighed. I knew you would ask eventually. I dont believe that I could adequately describe the events, so instead Ill give you this tape. Robert stood up from his chair and plucked a videotape from the top shelf. They gave me this after the show. Ive never felt any urge to torment myself by watching it, but I think it might help you. I dont even know why I kept it. I cant throw anything away, I guess. He reluctantly handed the tape to Jim. Be sure to smash it, burn it, and throw it in sulfuric acid when youre done.

Thank-you. Maybe I should call the psychic that Ill be debating as well

Robert chuckled heartily and said, Sure! If you think you can afford it. After all, she charges $200 per hour.

* * *

The show went to a three-minute commercial. Jim was rather surprised when Andromeda stood up and strode gracefully towards the audience. She stood silently for a moment, looking from person to person, before closing her eyes and lifting her hands up to touch her temples. In a low, mysterious tone, she stated, Im receiving something. I see a name beginning with the letter M. The Lady Andromeda then opened her eyes and let her hands fall to her sides. Jim wondered if she realized that she wasnt on the air; the host didnt seem surprised, and watched her intently. Several members of the audience had their hands raised. Andromeda pointed at one of them and said, You sir, you are the one. Will you come up to the stage?

The man nervously stood up from his chair and began working his way to the aisle. He looked about fifty-five, with a slim build and brown hair just turning gray. His brown dress pants and Arnold Palmer sweater made him look like a grandfather, which he probably was. As he walked up to the psychic, he nervously began, I want to know about my grandmother Maria. Thats why Im here.

All right, come up to the stage with me, dear. We need to put a microphone on you. she said. Two chairs had been quickly placed in front of the debate table, and a stagehand waited with a clip-on microphone. As the two of them sat down, the stagehand clipped the microphone onto the shirt of the volunteer and set the battery-pack on his lap. William stood up and moved over to one of the cameras. When the commercial had ended, he said, Welcome back to Paranormal Universe. Joining us now is a volunteer from the audience, who will receive a reading from the Lady Andromeda. The cameras all shifted to face her.

Now then, Andromeda began, youre grandmother Maria has passed over to the other side.

Yes, two years ago. the man added, looking down at the ground.

I get the feeling that her death was very sudden, that nobody really expected it.

Yes, thats it exactly. She had been in the hospital for two years at that point, and when the day finally came For a moment, the volunteer looked like he was about to cry.

The cause of death was something in the chest area.

Thats right, she died of a heart attack.

Of course. I can see her face. Sheshe was an older woman, but still lovely in her own way. I see that she had an angular face, and fairly high cheekbones. Her hair was gray, cut short.


She had bright eyes. I think theyre brown eyes. Her jawline was very straight. Regal, thats the word that occurs to me when I look at her.

I suppose.

Right now, shes trying to tell me about her hobby. Lady Andromeda appeared to listen for a few seconds. She was especially fond of it while she was in the hospital. It was one of those handcrafts, like macram. You know?

Yes, she did a lot of knitting to pass the time when she was sick. At this, the host gasped. The man continued, Please tell me, is she okay?

Andromeda smiled kindly, and took the mans hand in her own. Shes fine. She watches down on you from heaven every day. And she wants me to tell you that she loves you very much. At this point, most of the audience applauded, and a few shouted cheers. Andromeda and the audience member stood up and returned to their respective seats.

That was a pretty impressive performance. the host commended.

Was it? Jim asked.

Now this is just ridiculous! I said right off the bat that his grandmother Maria had passed over, how do you explain that?

Ah, you did guess the passing over part, but I would like to point out to all those at home that she had actually spoken to him while we were on commercial. He was the one who first mentioned his grandmother Maria.

But while we were on commercial I selected him to be read because of his grandmother, remember?

You just said that you saw the letter M. Lots of people raised their hands and you picked one.

Andromeda seemed utterly shocked that anyone would question her astonishing performance. Her hands were spread apart in a defensive gesture and her mouth hung slightly open. But I even told him the exact circumstances of Marias death! she said, seemingly exasperated.

You said that the cause of death was in the chest area. And honestly, what else would Maria have died from? A wrist injury?

But I was right, she did die of a heart attack.

If someones going to die, they die of something in the chest or something in the head. Those are really the only options.

How could I have described her face?

Your description was general enough to apply to pretty much any old lady. What we should do is ask the volunteer if there were any distinguishing features that you missed. Maybe she had an obvious birthmark or scar that could uniquely identify her. Do you want to try that?

No, the spirit has left the area.

Cant you just call the spirit back?

No. spat Lady Andromeda, offering no further explanation. Jim took her foul mood as proof of the effectiveness of his debunking. Alright, maybe you have some arguments about those things, but how could I know about this womans hobbies? That is something personal, unique to every individual.

You were told that this woman had been in the hospital for two years before her sudden and unexpected death. If she were in the hospital, it was probably because she wasnt doing very well. If she couldnt leave her bed, then what other hobbies are available? Rugby? Video games? All of your predictions are just educated guesses. Why dont you tell us something really convincing about her, like her Social Security number?

Im not omnipotent. I dont know everything.

Thats the first completely true statement youve made all night.

* * *

Wednesday, the day before the show

Jim sat in his apartment, watching the Robert Jenkis tape for the third time. It was very late, the night before the show, but Jim couldnt sleep. Nerves and a nagging sense of impending humiliation kept him in a state of total alertness.

As he watched, it became all too clear why Dr. Jenkis had trouble keeping the audience. The good doctor seemed a bit too obsessed with science. At every turn he would point out how this and that didnt prove anything, and how none of this was a proper scientific study on which anyone should base any conclusions. He seemed, on the show, to be a bit stuffy.

But the real blunder came right near the end. Jim fast-forwarded to that point and watched. Dr. Jenkis was giving a mini-lecture to everyone on the importance of controlled conditions in an experiment. Jim could appreciate the effort. Dr. Jenkis was merely trying to speak to the scientific mind lurking inside each audience member. Unfortunately, some peoples scientific minds are buried too deeply.

At one point in the video, Robert asked Andromeda, Can you read minds?

Andromeda replied, Yes, absolutely.

So Robert continued, Then maybe youre not speaking to dead people, but just reading information out of their minds and spitting it back at them.

Reading their minds? I would never do that!

You may not even be doing it intentionally. How do you know for sure?

I know.

All Im saying is that if you havent probed youre powers scientifically, then you dont know anything about them. I dont actually believe you can read minds either, Im just trying to show you the need for scientific validation in another way.

Nothing will ever convince you.

If I was presented with compelling evidence, then I might be.

I can speak to the dead. I can locate lost persons. And I can read minds! She emphasized the last sentence by leaning forward and placing both hands flat on the table.

Well then prove it! If I think up a six-digit number, can you just read it out of my head? Hmm? Id like to see you do that! That would convince me! Robert smiled triumphantly at her and crossed his arms.

She stared him right in the eyes, and before he knew what had hit him, she blurted out, Six - three - two - eight - four - nine. The smile drained from Roberts face, leaving behind an expression of blank confusion. The audience took his confusion as a sign that Andromeda had correctly guessed the number.

But waitthats notI mean he sputtered.

Are we convinced yet? she asked caustically.

That wasnt the number. he finally managed. But even as he said it, he realized that he had absolutely no proof.

What? Not the number? she inquired, feigning surprise.

Lets do that againexcept we should

Ah, you see? Its just like I said, nothing will convince you. Nothing at all.

But that wasnt the number! You just made it up! This remark elicited several negative responses from the audience.

Now, now, professor. Theres no need for this sort of behavior. Accusing me of lying! How terrible!

Jim stopped playback. From that point on, the audience got pretty ugly. Dr. Jenkis just wasnt prepared for such a trick. It seemed that being a good scientist wasnt always enough to be a good paranormal investigator. Jim hoped to be better adapted.

* * *

Look, Andromeda. The solution to this debate is perfectly simple. If I remember correctly, you have many psychic powers: detecting disease, foretelling the future, divining information about objects by touch, even reading minds.

Its Lady Andromeda, and yes I do.

Then can you read my mind?

Lady Andromeda was silent, searching Jims poker face for some hint about his intentions. She appeared to be a bit suspicious about Jim, but at this point there was nothing to be done.

Yes. she stated.

It must be a terrible burden, reading minds. How could anyone else relate to you when you can hear their every thought? Jim asked philosophically.

I dont do it all the time.

Anyway, are you reading my thoughts right now?

This question appeared to catch her off guard. She watched him solemnly, contemplating the consequences of each answer.

Jim didnt wait for her answer, and continued, Ill think of a sentence, and you tell me what it is, okay? Its a simple demonstration of your powers, but it should do the trick. Again, she didnt answer, as though she could tell that he was planning something.

Go on, show him! someone called from the audience. Murmurs of agreement trickled down through the seats. She realized that she would have to go along with it to keep the crowd.

Hesitantly, she began, Fine

Terrific! Jim interrupted, Well, then, well just get right to it, wont we? He plucked a small piece of paper from a pocket on the inside of his jacket. Without missing a beat, he continued, William, I was hoping that you could help us a bit in this demonstration. I need you to hold this paper in your hand out in front of you where everyone can see it. The host dutifully took the piece of paper and held it up.

What do you think youre doing? Andromeda asked, with a slight tremble in her voice.

Jim ignored her completely and said, Now I want you to unfold the paper and read what it says, but dont read it out loud. William unfolded it, conscientiously keeping it hidden behind his left hand, and read the text. Both of his eyebrows lifted, but he didnt say anything. When he was finished, he nodded and refolded the paper, still holding it in plain view.

Finally turning his attention to Andromeda, he said, The rest is simple, Lady Andromeda, either use your mind reading skills to read the words from my brain, or use your divining skills to read the words from that folded paper. You choose.

Andromeda stuttered, But but I shouldnt just I mean your mind is your own

Hes given you permission, William stated, I dont think you have to worry about that. The host leaned closer to her, smiling, and said, Lets show him what youre made of, put him in his place. Sporadic applause and a few cheers of encouragement came from some of the die-hard fans.

Whats the hold up? Jim asked.

The Lady Andromeda sat silently, confused and trapped. Eventually, she admitted, I cant read his mind. His mind is closed up tight, totally unable to accept new ideas.

Well then William, would you please read the correct answer from that paper? Jim inquired sweetly.

The host glared at Jim, but unfolded the paper anyway and began reading: The Lady Andromeda is a fraud, and will claim that she cant read my mind because Im somehow not enlightened enough. Rumbling laughter burst forth from the audience. Only a sprinkling of true believers sat with grim, angry expressions.

Wouldnt you know it? Jim announced, Im psychic! Again, the crowd lit up with chuckles and quite a few groans.

Andromeda stood up from her chair and hissed, This is an outrage! It is your skeptical mind that is keeping me from reading you! The negative energy from disbelief is dampening my spiritual abilities!

Really? It must be a terrible problem for someone in your profession. I would hate to have to tell an audience, Oh, sorry, I have to stop the performance. My psychic powers just cut out; there must be a skeptic somewhere within ten yards. The crowd laughed riotously at Jims amusing impression; even some of the believers couldnt help but smile.

Andromeda was furious, I told you, already! I have psychic powers! This is your doing!

Wow, thats amazing! Jim exclaimed, I can nullify your power with my very presence. Perhaps I should hire myself out to people who are afraid of psychics cursing them or reading their private thoughts. Jim sat straight up and continued in a bold heroic voice, I received my power when I was bitten by a radioactive tarot card reader after getting an X-ray at the dentists. My negative energy field is so powerful, it can even thwart psychics who charge $200 per hour. Im a superhero! I AM SKEPTOMAN!

Jim stood up and struck a valiant pose. The audience was literally rolling in the aisles. And all that the Lady Andromeda could think to do was to curse Jim, but not in the way that one traditionally associates with psychics.


Copyright 2002
Brad Smith
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