Remember when life shifted slowly as the generations passed? People hung on to habits and fashions, took time for meditative moments. Went to the cemetery, communed with the dead. Now the ghosts are in a hurry, even evil spirits are digital. The world spins into new shapes within a decade. Take architecture: we build monster houses now, ugly and brutalist.

            The newest in my neighbourhood towers sharp-angled over the old garden-encircled bungalows, built quickly, violently, ground-splittingly. Who moved in? Lights within go on and off automatically and garbage is mechanically ejected at precisely 8:00 a.m., but no one is ever seen coming or going.

            On Halloween night I ring the front doorbell anyway, wanting to meet the new neighbour’s. Halloween’s the night you can ring strangers’ doorbells, although I wasn’t looking for any treat but the treat of satisfied curiosity. I stood back from the CCTV camera so any inhabitants could see I was harmless. Then: a click, as if someone had unlocked the door from the other side … but it doesn’t open.

            “Anyone home?” I call. Someone breathes behind the door. A guard dog? An otherworldly hound? Overcome with curiosity I try the handle and step inside. “Hello?” No reply.

            Eerie silence settles as the door shuts behind me with a firm click. But wait: it’s not silence, a hum comes from … everywhere. The air is strange, charged, yet empty. I go to a window, which won’t open. Air enters here via secret passageways known only to itself.

            I’m not trapped, I tell myself.                                                                                                             

            I glance around, locating doorways, and notice portraits on the walls, abstractions that may or may not suggest faces. These distortions do have eyes though, which follow me as I cross the room, and I realize with a start that these are the eyes of security cameras.

            Soft whirs emanate from another room. I tip-toe into a vast high-tech kitchen, alien in its starkness, the corners of its ceiling unnaturally empty of cobwebs. Vacant and sterile; whatever presences haunt this chamber aren’t living. No spiders, no bats … but muffled moans of digital devices intrude. Is someone lurking? I hear a shaky voice: my own. “Who’s there?”

            A disembodied voice replies in crisp and measured cadences.

            “I AM AVLEA, HOW CAN I HELP YOU?”

            I utter a strangled shriek. It’s the digital “Help”, replying robotically. Not a murdered housemaid whose spirit has haunted the passageways for two hundred years, but just as disembodied. This help hovers with menace. Other presences lurk in the refrigerator, the microwave, the heating system. I hurry from the kitchen in retreat from techno-ghosts and enter a vast hallway. A staircase rises to unknown regions. Bedrooms? Offices where someone sits spying on me? Or where robots monitor mindlessly (however intelligent their artifice), using some spooky witchcraft of sensors and biometrics? I hear nothing and see no one, but does someone see my ghost-face on a hidden screen?

            I move into a cavernous dining room. Under a murky pall of oncoming dusk I go to the window to adjust blinds and let in light. As I reach for them the blinds snap shut and the room becomes black, in an instant tomb-like. Then, these blinds being light-triggered and light-triggering, the room springs into new brightness, ablaze with harsh rays radiating maniacally from a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Shadows lurch across the room and pool darkly in corners.

            My movements have triggered more clicks and whirs. I’m stalked and watched by GPS, smartphones, devices recording my every move in a Doomsday E-Book. I flee the room. How did I get in here? I re-discover the front door, press a green light beside it, and finally remember to breathe again as I exit this manor of reverberating dis-embodiment.

            There’s a soft click as the door shuts itself behind me. Inside, the watcher-robots complete their notifications, recording my time of entry and exit for all eternity. Still hearing their obscure digital moans I walk fast along the street. Then I break into a run, deeply inhaling cool night air. Oh happy happy outdoor air, I chant as I run, the words matching the beat of my feet. I brush my hand, ritually, against the trunk of every tree I pass, drawing in fresh green life.



Flora Jardine writes plays, dialogue, humor and satire from the west coast of BC, Canada.