He stood at the podium, looking out at the multitudes of faces staring back at him. The lights were dimmed in the grand lecture hall. The brightest light emanated from the slide projector, its luminescent life splashed across the giant screen behind him.
Lucas Mitchell shuffled through his notes while adjusting his glasses to the bridge of his nose. The glasses, of course, were just for show; his eyesight was no worse than people half his age. He felt they made him appear more distinguished, accomplished, and respectable. He quickly straightened his paper pile and looked out at the more than 200 expectant faces.
He took a breath and leaned in to the microphone. For reasons he couldn’t explain, today’s speech made the palms of his hands sweat and his heart beat a little faster. He had made this speech several times before, but today for no apparent reason he was clammy and rigid.
He wore a dark blue blazer over a red wine dress shirt. Seeking comfort, he opted for a pair of blue jeans and black tennis shoes over his more business-oriented striped slacks and black leather loafers. His brown hair was tousled as if he had just been awakened from bed and went directly to the lecture hall.
“Do ghosts exist?” His voice filtered through the PA system as the small bustle of students and teachers in the seats below came to a quiet halt.
“That is the real question. This is why we have all gathered here today, to explore the feasibility of such an existence. If they exist, where is the proof? If they don’t exist, why are there so many people practicing in this field of the paranormal?” he continued, “The Paranormal, a common misconception is that if something goes bump in the night, then it must be a ghost. What is the difference between something that is paranormal and a ghost? If a door closes for no apparent reason, does it mean that the only logical conclusion is it must be a ghost?”
A small murmur of voices emitted from the crowd. He watched them shuffle in their seats, readjusting their positions.
“My name is Professor Lucas Mitchell, and I am a Paranormal Investigator. I am sure most of you already know this, which is why you are here today. But let me be direct here, let me tell you about some of the experiences I have had in the field, and I will let you be the judge. What is the Paranormal? Do Ghosts actually exist? Or do we let our imaginations get the best of us from all the books and movies we are exposed to?”
He continued with his speech, captivating the audience with his personal experiences. He spoke of the group he founded, the Society of Paranormal Research, with colleague Scott Bornstein. The group was going on its tenth year, but it wasn’t until two years ago that his team had gained some notoriety and a little recognition for their approach to investigating the paranormal.
“Research through scientific means is essential to proving the existence of paranormal phenomena. I’m 44 years old but have been fascinated by the subject most of my life. I, like the rest of you, want proof. In the years that I have been a paranormal investigator, I have seen and experienced many things. Some things I experienced simply could not be explained while others were the result of bad plumbing, faulty wiring, or overactive imaginations. But I do press on in the hopes that I can find the truth, document it with irrefutable evidence, and finally be able to give answer to the question: Do ghosts exist?” He took a sip of water. “Does anyone have any questions they would like to ask? There is a microphone towards the middle of the floor.”
He took off his glasses and with his hand, dabbed at the beads of sweat that formed on his brow. He had felt a growing sense of hopelessness in the past few months, that his work, his passion, was unfulfilled. Perhaps his expectations were set too high. He knew the events that haunted him as a child could not be duplicated. Now he began to question whether those events actually happened or if they were part of his overactive imagination. It was so long ago. He had trouble remembering everything that had happened and the parts that he couldn’t remember came to him in his dreams. He always knew they were more than just dreams but lately he had begun to question them.
A young man stepped up to the microphone, acne scars plagued his face making him seem younger than the college age he most certainly was. With a striped black and white shirt and cargo shorts, he stood with one hand in his pocket, the other on the microphone. His voice cracked as he spoke.
“In all of your experience and the evidence you and your team have gathered, can you say that ghosts exist?”
The question seemed to hang in the air for a few seconds, the words dancing around each other near the speakers from which his voice rose. Lucas looked at the crowd and then back at the young man.
“I believe that there are paranormal events that I have been witness to. Were they ghosts per say, I can’t really tell you that. The hardest thing about being a Paranormal Investigator is being unbiased in your interpretations of situations. Most people in the field believe in ghosts. They just haven’t found any yet. Me, on the other hand, want to believe, but I require proof. That is the only way I am going to be fair with myself and the field of Paranormal Research.”
Another person stepped up to the microphone and posed another question similar to the first. A third person asked a question that was similar to the second. The problem, Lucas felt, with understanding the Paranormal was that people never knew what questions to ask so they usually asked questions in similarity.
Lucas stated he would only take one more question, and it came from a young woman probably in her early twenties with glasses and curly red hair.
“You have said before that your childhood experiences turned you on to the paranormal. What happened in your childhood that turned you on to ghost? What did you see? What did you experience?”
Lucas expected the question but was not prepared to answer it. He had a hard time talking about things that happened in his childhood, especially the events that he believed had changed his life. He looked back at the woman expressionless. A lump in his throat and the dryness in his mouth was all he had to offer her. If words were ready to come out, they were taking their time rising to the surface because he couldn’t find them. He took a sip of water and cleared his throat.
An image came to mind when he was sixteen, sitting in his room assembling a model airplane when he heard his mother scream. He sprang up out of his chair and quickly ran out of the room. He remembered looking down the dark hallway leading to his mother’s room and stopping.
He looked out to the crowd. A small murmur of voices arose among them. He shifted back towards the woman at the podium below, who met his gaze.
“I...I,” he stammered, “have always been fascinated with the paranormal since an early age. I knew there had to be something else out there, and wanted to find a way to finally put facts to so many claims, which is why I started the SOPR -- to help me find answers to the questions so many of us have.”
He evaded the question. He quickly gathered up his notes and turned to the control booth, “Lights please.” The ceiling lights slowly illuminated.
“Thank you all for your questions and for attending today’s discussion. If you have any further questions for me, please feel free to email me. My email address is on the brochure you received when you arrived.”
And with that he was done. The crowd began to rise and head for the rear exits. No sooner had he finished his last sentence then he slipped his glasses into his blazer pocket and was quickly moving off the stage with briefcase in hand. He wanted to avoid any more questions from people who may be lingering around.
He knew someone would ask the question. It happened every time, and every time he had the same reaction. The question always led him down the path to his past. The path in return led him to a locked door he no longer held the key to. He either didn’t know how to find the key or chose not to look for it. In either case, he considered the door was better left closed.
When he reached the side exit and pushed through the door, he found her waiting for him.
“You are a hard man to get a hold of,” she exclaimed. “Three days I have been trying to get a hold of you and nothing. If you don’t want to talk to me just tell me. But I thought we were beyond that.”
He stopped and rubbed at his forehead with his free hand. “Katelyn, I’m sorry. It’s just been really busy with this seminar. They sprang it on me at the last second and I had no time to prepare. You know how focused I get sometimes again, I am sorry.”
“Focused isn’t the word for it. Try obsessed.”
“Okay. I deserve that.”
“Avoiding the question again, I see. You know, at some point you are going to have to come clean with it.”
He exhaled, “I haven’t reached that point yet. I make one remark for some stupid magazine years ago, and no one can let it go. Why can’t the fact that I am interested in this field be good enough?”
“Because it seems like you are hiding something and that is what gets people curious. Secrets are everybody’s business. You know that.”
He walked up to her and kissed her on the lips. “Mind if we walk and talk.”
She pointed her hand down the hall, signaling him to lead.
“So since this lecture is over, does that mean we get to see more of you?”
He looked down at his watch as they reached the end of the hall and exited the building. The harsh sunlight stung his eyes as he waited for his vision to adjust.
“I do have one more thing to take care of.”
She stopped, which made him turn and look back at her. She was beautiful. Her black hair shined like silk in the daylight, capturing the angelic features of her sensuous face. Sapphire eyes gazed upon him, but he could see the frustration in them. He set his briefcase to the ground and walked up to her. He put his arms around her neck with his nose inches away from hers.
“I have to see my mom. I heard she is driving the nurses’ nutty.” he stated. “But after that I am all yours.”
She smiled and touched his cheek with her fingertips.
“Tell your mom hi for me.” She paused, “You know why I love you so much, Lucas?”
“It’s because I am irresistible, charming and great in bed.”
“You should come with your own warning label: ‘Words spoken from this man may be considered bullshit and highly overrated’.”
They both laughed. He found her looking directly at him, her eyes cutting deep into his soul. She excited him.
“It’s because you are true to yourself and in turn true to me. You lead with your heart. The way you have built SOPR, and the way you handle the investigations, this is why clients seek you out. They trust you.”
He wanted to pick her up and hold her close, but all he could offer her now was a smile and a kiss on the cheek.
“Thank you. That means a lot to me.”
He didn’t dare tell her of the doubts that swirled in his mind, doubts about the same investigating that she had so sweetly complimented him on. How could he tell her, after ten years of investigating, that he may want out? He couldn’t.
“You’re welcome. So hurry back because we were just approached by a new client who needs our help. I have Jennifer doing some background research as we speak. Scott and Bobby are going to meet us back at the office around seven, which should give you enough time.”
He started to object, but she had already turned and walked away. She knew how to play him and he loved it. He picked up his briefcase and started walking towards his car. The prospect of a new client didn’t fill him with delight as it once had in the past. The last investigation his team was on was over four months ago. He knew his team was getting anxious to get back into the field, and he felt responsible for the delay.
He realized at some point he was going to have to face the feelings that had been eating at him, which meant that confronting his team was inevitable. Perhaps this new investigation would spur the motivation and recapture the confidence he once felt. Maybe this was a sign that things were beginning to change and all he needed to do was get back in the field. Or maybe this would be his last investigation with SOPR.