The Swingin’ Man

a collection of short stories

Brian J. Jarrett

Copyright © 2017 Brian J. Jarrett

Elegy Publishing, LLC

All rights reserved by the author. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted by any means without the written consent of the author.

This book is a work of fiction. Any names, people, locales, or events are purely a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any person (either living or dead), to any event, or to any locale is coincidental or used fictitiously.


For Larry, wherever you are now.

* * *


By the time I got to him, he was already dead.

I found him strapped to the machine, his eyes wide open and staring. Blood trickled from his ears. Light-pink bloody tears had run down his face and dried on his cheeks, looking like crimson streams. His fists still clutched the handles of the machine on which he sat. I wondered if rigor mortis had set in or if maybe simple inertia kept his lifeless body in place.

I should have been surprised, I suppose, but I wasn’t. Maybe that’s because nobody knew Jeffrey Simpson as I did. Not the precious few friends he had at the university and probably not even his mother, who’d passed away two years earlier.

To be honest, I’m not even sure how we got to be friends in the first place. It wasn’t like we had much in common. I listen to heavy metal; ear-splitting shit that’ll make your balls crawl up into your stomach. Stuff that makes those limp-dicked hipsters piss his pants and cry for Mumford to come and save them.

In contrast to my decibel-heavy tastes, Jeffrey listened to classical music. I gave him shit for it, riding him hard about being a stereotypical science geek.

In was in jest and he knew it, but I sort of regret that now.

I liked Jeffrey. Of all the science geeks I knew—which, admittedly, numbered in the few—he was my favorite. Fucker was uber smart. Nothing short of genius level. I have to take my shoes off to count to eleven. I’m a word guy; spelling and grammar seem to be encoded somewhere in my DNA. Jeffrey always appreciated that about me. Brilliant as he was, he struggled to spell anything longer than eight letters.

We hung out from time to time. He drank beer on occasion, but not too much. Can’t say the same for me. I’m not an alcoholic, but I’m not going to pass up a beer when it’s handed to me. Jeffrey never appeared affected much by alcohol. It was like the stuff just had a hard time working on him. That, or he just kept his shit in order like nobody else I ever met.

I think it all started last year, two years into my tenure at the university where we both taught. I’d been there for a while by then, long enough to be comfortable with the place, but Jeffrey had only been there six months, tops. He’d joined the staff mid-way through the year, taking over for Janet McKensey after she decided to divorce her husband and get knocked up by a Starbucks barista ten years her junior (and not in that order). They moved to Portland or some such place. I never liked her, so I never really cared enough to follow up.

One day I walked into the faculty lounge, frozen lunch in hand, ready to nuke that fucker and skedaddle before I got trapped in some inane conversation about the students or another faculty member or the burden of state-required professional development. Teachers…they always bitch about the same shit. Makes me crazy.

I slipped into the lounge and got my frozen pasta and noodles cooking before anybody realized I was there. I quickly noticed that was because they were all watching an exchange between Jeffrey and one of the other science geeks, a prick by the name of Steven Waltrip who thought he knew everything.

Like the other lemmings in the room, I watched the discussion with interest while I waited on the microwave to take care of business.

“There’s no proof of anything outside of this life,” Waltrip said, thick glasses perched on his bulbous nose. “No heaven, no hell, and certainly no ghosts.”

Jeffrey glared at Waltrip. “They’re real.”

Waltrip chuckled. “The burden of proof is on anyone making a claim that defies the laws of science. Where’s your proof? If you’d have us believe you, you’ll provide evidence.”

“I have evidence,” Jefferey said. I could almost hear him gritting his teeth.

“Then produce it,” Waltrip countered.

“It’s early still,” Jeffrey replied. “I can’t share it yet. Besides, I don’t want you stealing my research and publishing it as your own.”

“You have nothing to worry about there,” Waltrip said. “I’d no sooner publish your drivel as I would cut off my own head.”

“They’re real,” Jeffrey argued. “They just can’t be seen by the naked eye.”

“Of course,” Waltrip said, grinning. “How could I have missed something so obvious?”

“The same way everybody missed bacteria until Van Leeuwenhoek came along,” Jeffrey said.

Waltrip huffed. “Not the same thing.”

“They’re on another plane of existence, something outside of ours,” Jeffrey continued, unaffected. “But they occupy the same space at the same time as we do.”

“How would something like that even work?” Ken Cole asked. He had a half-eaten sandwich clutched in his hand and a cowlick on the back of his head that for some reason annoyed the piss out of me.

“Consider how DSL works,” Jeffrey said. “The phone line conducts signals that run at certain frequencies. That’s what carries your voice over the line. But the signals that carry data operate at different frequencies. They do it, however, at the same time and on the same line, which allows you to use your phone and the Internet simultaneously. Two different types of signals, existing in the same place at the same time but on different planes and unaware of each other.”

“Not exactly unaware of each other,” Amy Randall said. She taught economics and wore a pantsuit every day. Every fucking day. She reminded me of Angela from the eighties TV show Who’s the Boss?

“You have to put a filter on your phone, or else you get static,” Amy continued. She smiled weakly, as if unsure whether or not to be proud of herself.

“Exactly!” Jeffrey exclaimed. His eyes lit up like a mad scientist. “But, you see, that filter is already on! That’s why we can’t see them. There’s a filter on our human senses that’s making the Others invisible to us. Like the filter on the phone line, you can’t hear the data signals while you’re on the phone. But take that filter off and—”

“And you hear the static,” I said, unable to stay out of the conversation now. The rest of the group looked my way, suddenly aware of my existence. Great. So much for flying under the radar.

The microwave beeped behind me and I ignored it.

“You hear static on the line, yes,” Jeffrey said. He seemed to be reveling in the attention now, a showman with a message to deliver. A rare event for him. “But that static is just how our primitive ears perceive it. Put a computer on the line with the right hardware and software and that static is now information. It’s a text document or maybe a spreadsheet. It’s the Google homepage or it’s an instant message from a friend.”

“Or a cat video,” Ken said, chuckling. The rest of the group laughed along with him.

Jeffrey paused as if to determine whether or not they might be laughing at him. He decided to continue, but it seemed without the same conviction. “Yes, or a cat video.”

“Sounds far-fetched,” Amy said.

“That’s what they said when Galileo told everyone that Earth wasn’t the center of the universe,” Jeffrey said.

“And these are your so-called ghosts?” Waltrip said.

“Not ghosts but creatures, yes. Occasionally, for reasons I don’t yet understand, that filter gets temporarily removed. We see them or hear them, and they see us. Sometimes they’re figures in the night and sometimes they’re a sound from the basement or the attic. Sometimes they move things or knock something over. But they’re gone in a flash, once the filter is back on again and we can only see the things we’re used to seeing.”

“So you’re saying that these ghost hunters are actually on to something?” Amy asked. “Those gadgets they have are really able to detect Grandma’s spirit?”

“Not Grandma,” Jeffrey said. “They’re not seeing humans. They see the Others.”

There was that word again; the Others. Something about the way he said it caused goosebumps to ripple across my skin.

“So they’re actually seeing aliens then?” Ken asked.

“Of a sort, yes,” Jeffrey said. “But they’re not little green men from above. They’re right here with us. Probably always have been. I’m not sure you can call them aliens if they haven’t arrived here from somewhere else.”

“It’s good science fiction, Waltrip said, “but we’ll need a little more proof than a story. I’m sure as a scientist you understand.”

“My research will prove it,” Jeffrey said, glaring. “As sure as I’m sitting here.”

“Can we be sure you’re sitting here?” Waltrip continued, unsatisfied. “I mean, maybe the filter will go back on again, and you’ll disappear.”

A few chuckles came from the crowd, but they sounded like forced workplace niceties. Most of the staff was afraid of Waltrip.

I wasn’t.

“Maybe you should disappear, Waltrip,” I said. “You made your case, and now we’re all tired of hearing it.”

Waltrip looked at me with an odd expression of surprise on his face. He opened his mouth as if to say something and then closed it just as quickly.

“Go on,” I said. I motioned with a flick of my head. “Get out.”

“I have to be going anyway,” Waltrip said, getting to his feet and scurrying out of the lounge as quickly as he could.

The others looked at me in concert, like I was either a hero or a monster. I decided that I didn’t care which, but I’d now committed myself to finishing lunch with the group. Jeffrey even scooted over a bit to make room for me to sit. Apparently, nobody had ever stood up to that pretentious prick before I rolled into town.

When I look back at it all, yeah…that’s where our friendship began.

Standing in Jeffrey’s basement with my eyes locked onto his lifeless body, I tried to process it all. I’d seen the basement plenty of times before, (that’s where he kept the beer for when I came over) and although it was a strange and surreal place with all the machines and equipment scattered around, it never struck me as sinister.

Now, however, I had a chill running through my spine. The lighting was off kilter. The cold and uncaring fluorescent lights burned normally, but something about their glow seemed different, dulled, maybe.

The low hum of the strange equipment sounded like a faint dirge down in the cramped space. A machine beeped dutifully in the corner. An ancient monochrome monitor showed a scrolling map of lines making up a chart. Occasionally, a blip would flash on the screen, sending a pointer up high before it came crashing back down again, a trailing line behind it like the contrail of a jet plane.

All around me, laptops and nondescript beige computer towers filled the room, with the centerpiece being Jeffrey’s machine. A large metal box sat beside the machine, its surface covered by scrap sheet metal. Tubes rose from the top, criss-crossing each other like Medusa’s snakes.

It occurred to me then that I had no idea what any of the stuff around me did, if it was dangerous, and just what in the hell I would do with it now that Jeffrey was dead.

I suppose I should have called the cops right then. Any normal person would have done that, but maybe I’m not a normal person. Maybe I’m the type of guy who doesn’t know when to quit or when to keep my nose out of something.

I walked over to Jeffrey sitting in that seat, his bleeding eyes wide open and his hands still clutched on those handles, and found a note pinned to his shirt, just below the breast pocket.

On it, he’d written my name.

I unpinned the note, recoiling at the way Jeffrey’s still body felt on my fingertips. Even through the shirt, he felt like an old statue. But he wasn’t a statue, he was a person, and he was dead. I was tampering with evidence, my better judgment told me, but I ignored good sense as I had so many other times in my life. Like the day when I married my first wife.

I thought for a moment that maybe I was holding a suicide note in my shaky hands, but only for the briefest of moments did I entertain that possibility. Jeffrey wasn’t the mopey type or mentally ill. My second wife was bipolar, and I at least had some of those signs figured out in my head. I’m no psychologist by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m also not some backwoods redneck unwilling to accept that a person’s brain can be ill in the same way their heart, their lungs, or their liver can be.

It turned out I was right, but it wasn’t a suicide note.

It was an instruction manual.





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