Well, hello there. Yes, you're in the right place. Come on in and take a load off. When you called I wasn't quite sure how much time I had for a survey, but now that you're here, I see that I have all the time in the world. My boss? Oh, he's fine with it. He was a little concerned about any publicity that might arise, so I need you to be discreet. Some of the other faculty members have a name for him. It's quite cruel, really, but given his line of work, quite understandable. No, I don't think so. No, really, I can't tell you. My, you're cute as a little button when you're pouting, aren't you? Okay, okay, don't get your shorts in a wad, I'll tell you. They call him Dr. Pervert. His real name is Pruitt, Dr. Ed Pruitt, so you can see how they get Dr. Pervert out that that. He's an important man, doing important work, so it's really quite unprofessional of his colleagues to call him that. What does he do? I'm sorry; I thought you knew. Well, he, uh, we all, well, to be blunt, he studies sex. That's right. And I help him.
My name is Nora. I'm an administrative assistant here at the University. No one really knows we're even here, and we like it that way. We get small grants from various governmental agencies, most of which I apply for, and then Dr. Pervert, I mean Dr. Pruitt, spends the money on cameras and videotapes and computer disks to use when he studies sexual acts and takes notes. Oh, believe me, he would absolutely die if he knew I was telling you this, but you said this was confidential, right? Only for your little survey? Where are you from again? Oh, yes. Well, remember that I'm only telling you this for the sake of science. After all, we are in kind of the same field of work, right? You at the, what is it? Center for the Advancement of University Support Staff and me here at the Institute for the Sexual Study of Metaphysical Beings. We have to stick together, us science people.
Actually, I don't want to give you the wrong idea. Dr. Pruitt, or Dr. Ed as we usually call him, is doing some really important work, and he needs our help. There are two other people who work here, support staff, as you say. Frank is the mathematician and Millie is Dr. Ed's assistant. That's right, his assistant. No, it's not what you're thinking and if you ever saw Millie you would get that thought right out of your head. It's not like we're the ones doing the sex, you know. Millie is our clairvoyant. Without her we wouldn't be here. She is the only one who can find the ghosts.
I see by your expression you're surprised. What did you think the Institute was for? We study ghosts, of course. You know, supernatural beings? Now, most of it is quite interesting and a real benefit to our society. What's wrong? Don't you believe in ghosts? I sure didn't when I first came here. I was a real skeptic, but Dr. Ed and Millie convinced me otherwise. I was pretty young when I started here. Never you mind how many years ago that was. Anyway, I answered an ad in the paper for an administrative assistant. When I called and explained my experience, Dr. Ed hired me on the spot, sight unseen. On my first day, I almost turned around and left, let me tell you. It was a mess in here. Millie and Dr. Ed didn't know what they were doing with the computers and the phones and all the papers. The paperwork was a disaster, spread out everywhere, and Millie, who is a delicate creature and prone to bad headaches, just couldn't handle it. When I walked in the door, Dr. Ed just about pounced on me.
"Nora?" asked Dr. Ed. Only I didn't know that was his name at the time.
"Yes," I answered. I was a little scared, to tell you the truth. The place looked like a cyclone hit it, or at least a little dust devil. And I didn't even know what kind of work they did here. There was no sign on the door, only a number posted to tell a person where they were. I sure needed a job, so I decided to stay and find out what was what.
"I'm so glad you came," said Dr. Ed. He got up from behind the messiest desk I had ever seen and came to shake my hand. Now I don't mind admitting that Dr. Ed is very easy on the eyes and since he was about my age, I was quite intrigued by the thought of working with him. I've since changed that opinion, mind you, but at the time I was very intrigued, indeed. Well, I don't know exactly why; there is any number of reasons. He's always had some very peculiar habits. For one thing, he's a slob. He leaves things everywhere and I just can't abide that. I prefer my men to be neat and clean, to take pride in their appearance. Like you, sweetie. You look so cute with those suspenders and that bowtie. Oh, your mother does your laundry? Aren't you the lucky one to be still living at home. Got a girlfriend? No? Good-looking, well-dressed man like you, I would think the women would be all over you. Anyway, back to my first day. Dr. Ed was shaking my hand, all excited that he had hired me.
"Hello," I answered, looking around. I didn't know where to step since there was strange-looking equipment all over the floor.
"Oh, don't mind this stuff," he said. He started pushing things aside to make a pathway for me to walk. "Your desk is over here." He gestured right toward that messy desk and I was so surprised I stopped in my tracks.
"What?!" I asked. "You expect me to work here? What's my job going to be, anyway?"
Dr. Ed started hemming and hawing, then talked a lot about the importance of the Institute's work, how they were pioneering metaphysical studies as it pertained to the sexual needs of ghosts, but I wasn't listening real closely because in the middle of all that talk Millie came out of the other office and smiled at me. I wish she were here to introduce you because that woman has the best smile of anyone I have ever met. She just lights up a room with the smile, but you know what? It's better than that, because she smiles with her eyes, too, and it warms you all the way down to your heart. Anyway, she smiled at me, and I stopped listening to a word Dr. Ed was saying. I really didn't care what my job entailed; I just put my purse down and got to work.
Well, you're right, yes, you are. I should have listened more closely to Dr. Ed that day. Yes, I surely should have, because then I would have heard his opinions about the ghosts and their sexual needs and how it's our job to study those needs and I would have been out of there so fast, my girdle would have been all that was left of me. Now, don't blush, you don't think I come by this figure natural, do you? You silly thing. How old are you anyway? Really? That young? Okay, back to my story. So the way it was, Millie smiled at me and I was hooked, and I've been here ever since.
Yes, I was getting to that. To explain what I do, I'll have to explain what the Institute does. Now at first, Frank wasn't here. We had to hire him later when we started doing more studying and had to measure things and tabulate statistics and stuff. I don't know too much about that end. My job is to keep everything organized and running smoothly, and that's no small thing, let me tell you. When I first started, as I told you, things were a mess. Dr. Ed is like any scientist, and I've worked for a couple so I know, that scientists are organizational idiots. Now you would think otherwise, wouldn't you, since they have to organize data and numbers and ghosts, in our case. I've thought about this quite a bit, and I've come to the conclusion that scientists have only so much room in their brain to keep things organized. Since they have all those numbers rolling around in there, not to mention the things that defy nature, like ghosts and other spiritual beings from the netherworld like Dr. Ed has to keep track of, there's just no room in there to keep things neat and clean. That's my job.
But that's not the only thing I do. I make appointments and answer the phone and type up documents and letters and that kind of thing. When I first started, Dr. Ed and Millie would go out on a call and then bring home all the documentation, the video footage and the audiotapes and the interview paperwork and just leave it any old place. Then I got hired on and realized that we needed to organize, so I created a filing system for all that stuff. See that filing cabinet over there? Go ahead. Open it up. See all the files in alphabetical order? I did that. Wasn't easy, though. And look over there at that shelving unit with all the videotapes. Don't they look great? I made Dr. Ed buy me one of them new-fangled label-makers and now they are so much neater. What? Really? I thought we had more recent footage than 1994. In fact, we had six cases of metaphysical sex just last year. I'll have to check around and get those filed.
Sure, I'll tell you more about the ghosts. Like I said before, I wasn't really listening when Dr. Ed told me about the Institute and its business. The very first day I was here, before I could even begin to tackle this big mess, he brought me into the office to quote explain the Institute's business unquote. Well, I knew I needed to understand what was going on before I could get stuff organized, so I was all ears. We went into his office and moved some files around in order to sit on the little brown sofa he keeps in there. Sure, you can see his office. Go on in there and look around. Wait, I'll come, too, and show you some pictures he keeps in there. There you go, sit right there on the same couch I was sitting on my very first day. Comfy? Good.
Anyway, on that morning, Dr. Ed and I went into the office and he started talking. "Nora," he said.
I waited and that's all he said, so I answered. "Yes, Doctor," I said.
"Nora," he said again. I could tell he was thinking what to say, so I kept quiet. He sat at his desk and fiddled around with some of his little measuring tools, and then he started tapping his Casper the Friendly Ghost ruler absent-minded like against the palm of his hand. I just waited while he collected his thoughts and looked around. Oh, it didn't look like this back then, how many years ago has it been, I just can't seem to recall. What? No, I'm not going to answer that question. Young man, didn't your mother ever teach you not to ask a lady her age? It's rude and impertinent. All right then, I accept your apology. Let's see, where was I? Oh, yes, my first day on the job in this very room.
Dr. Ed cleared his throat while I was contemplating the stack of photographs lying next to me on the couch. Although I really wanted to decipher the strange wisps of fog intertwined in the pictures, I tore my gaze away and gave the doctor my full attention. "Nora," he repeated. "Nora, this Institute is a unique place. It's unique in that we study metaphysical phenomena."
Now I had no idea what metaphysical phenomena was, but I nodded like I did.
"In our studies," said the doctor, "we have found that certain spiritual beings still possess a desire to retain some of their human experiences. Sometimes this can be a desire to eat food, sometimes a desire to feel pain, and sometimes a desire to have sex. Now, don't be alarmed, dear, it's perfectly safe and poses no danger to any of us working with them."
I had risen from my spot on the couch and must have looked as shocked as I felt. "What are you talking about?" I demanded. "Just what kind of business are you in? I feel a complete explanation is in order, sir."
"Yes, yes, I completely understand," nodded Dr. Ed. "Of course, this would be somewhat upsetting to someone as genteel as you, so let me explain our scientific research."
I sat back down. It was science, after all. And I really needed a job.
"The thing is," said Dr. Ed. "Well, let me put it another way, Nora. We study ghosts. You know, spirits of dead people? Now, don't look like that. I can tell you that they really do exist; we've seen them. Actually, Millie is the one who sees them, then she directs me to take their pictures and then I can see them as well. Look at those pictures next to you. See the ghosts, those white fluffy cloud things? Well, do you?"
I looked down at the pictures next to me on the couch. I could see some wispy things and something else, but I couldn't quite make out what those other things were. I squinted my eyes and picked up one of the pictures to look closer. Why, those other things looked like, they resembled, oh, my! All of a sudden I knew what those things were and what those ghosts were doing and I blushed as red as a just-spanked baby's bottom. But I was a young thing then, never you mind how old, and easily embarrassed. I stammered out something to the doctor and put the picture down in a hurry.
The doctor continued. "Yes, my dear, I see that you understand now. Let me explain why this is so important to research. In my studies of this phenomenon, I have discovered that these spirits have sex lives. Not only has this discovery greatly impacted the field of metaphysical research, it has greatly affected human sexuality studies as well. It seems that spiritual beings have a more, uh, evolved sexual encounter than humans do."
Well, I was young, as I told you, and not very experienced my own self, so I didn't know how to respond to this. I wanted to ask some questions, but I sure didn't want the doctor to think I was too interested in this topic, so I just made sure to keep looking down, or at the desk, anywhere but at the pictures or at the doctor.
"Do you have any questions?" he asked me. I met his eyes, then, and held his gaze so he would know that I wasn't afraid of working here, that I could handle anything. And I could, I did handle all sorts of things, things you would not believe. Oh, sure, I don't mind telling you. But first let's just dip into the doctor's desk drawer here for a little nip of something to keep us warm on this cold autumn day. Why, you're absolutely shivering, aren't you? Yes, the doctor likes to keep it a little chilly in here, I've noticed, but I've gotten used to it. Here you go; bottom's up! Now, wasn't that nice? That'll warm you right up. Oh, no, I'm feeling fine. Sorry about the cold hands; my circulation's not what it used to be.
How's your little survey doing; have we finished all the questions? Maybe you would like to see some of the pictures Dr. Ed and Millie have taken over the years. Dr. Ed has published some fascinating articles about the sexual lives of ghosts. Would you like to see them? Well, if you're interested in the kind of sex the ghosts have, that would be the best place to start. And here's a recent discovery he's made: some humans and ghosts have had a few isolated encounters together. I know! Isn't that remarkable? Well, honey, that's very confidential. Dr. Ed hasn't even published his findings about that yet. I understand the Journal of Metaphysical Studies is looking at the article right now, so I really shouldn't discuss it further. Oh, are you still cold? Come over and sit by me and I'll give you another sip of this brandy. That'll warm you right up. Here, let me rub your hands. Doesn't that feel nice?
Oh, you want to hear about the ghosts again? Or maybe it's the sex stuff you want to hear, you devil, you. Don't worry; we'll get to that by and by. The first time I saw ghosts with my own eyes was my second day on the job. I didn't really care about going out into the field so soon, but when the call came, Dr. Ed insisted. I was more interested in tackling that mess in the office, to tell you the truth, but I went along. I was awfully glad Millie came also, since Dr. Ed made me nervous with all his talk of spiritual sex. He seemed a little too enthusiastic about it, if you know what I mean. No, no, he never made a pass at me but he still gave me the creeps back then. Now that I understand the scientific importance of his work, I feel more comfortable with it. Dr. Ed? I'm not sure where he is today. Probably out in the field. Well, you're right, it is a little dusty in here. I'll have to call housekeeping. What a strange question. Of course the doctor still works here. He comes in every day. Why do you ask? That old thing? That coat has been hanging there for years; the doctor just keeps forgetting it. Here, have another little drink and I'll finish telling my story.
We had gotten the call around nine in the morning. I answered the phone and heard a hysterical voice on the other end, screaming about ghosts in the library. I know, I know. Everyone thinks their library is haunted, what with books moving around on the shelves so that no one can find them, and I know haunted libraries have been in movies and such, but this time it was true. I told Dr. Ed about the call, and he got real excited. He said that Millie has sensed a presence in the campus library but never could pinpoint where it was. He went into her office, it's that closed door over there, and then they loaded up all the equipment to try and capture the ghosts on film.
Since I was new at this, I had no idea what was going on. When we got to the library, loaded down with microphones and cameras and videotapes and clipboards, I was pretty much in the way, so Dr. Ed told me to hold the video camera and follow him. He was following Millie, who kind of goes into a trance when she's tracking ghosts. She almost looks like a ghost herself when she's in that state. The first person we encountered was the librarian,
"Over here!" she yelled at us. We started to head in her general direction, but then Millie stopped. She had her head raised with her nose quivering, kind of like a dog on a scent. The librarian, well, she was getting pretty hysterical, screaming that the ghosts were on the third floor, in Special Collections. Now, I hate to talk bad about anyone, especially a librarian who has one of the noblest professions in the world, at least in my opinion, but this woman was laced so tight she was about to bust a vein in her head. We headed up the stairs to Special Collections, third floor, and she followed behind us, telling us to shush, that people were studying and needed quiet. I wanted to ask why she was screaming so much if that were true, but I kept my mouth shut. That old biddy needed something to relieve some of that tension, like a massage or maybe a good shot of tequila, but I let Dr. Ed deal with her.
"Ms. Maxwell," he said. "It could be dangerous. I think you might want to evacuate the building."
"Really?" she asked. "Is that necessary? Maybe we could just close off the third floor. I would hate for you to chase the, the thing around and damage any library materials."
Dr. Ed paused to consider the options. "No," he answered. "We have no idea as to the level of excitement these spiritual beings may be experiencing. I think you should have everyone leave the building. As quietly as possible."
We proceeded up the stairs to the third floor, me following the doctor, who's following Millie, who's tracking the ghost. When we reached the third floor, we approached the doors to Special Collections very cautiously, Millie still in the lead. We looked in the windows and saw books flying around, the photocopier lid opening and closing and the microfilm reader spinning like crazy. "Wow," I whispered. "What's going on?"
Dr. Ed stopped taking pictures enough to look at me. "Sex," he said in a low voice. I about fell over I was so surprised. "What?!" I asked. "How can you tell it's sex? Maybe they're having a big fight or something."
"No, it's sex. I can tell by watching Millie. When ghosts are having sex, her trances are more intense. Ghosts experience sex at a much higher intensity than humans do, so she becomes more involved in the spiritual aspects of it. Watch her."
We both looked at Millie, who was not really looking directly at the ghosts, more at the room's ceiling. Her nose is still raised, as though she is sniffing the air, but as I looked at her delicate neck more closely, I saw that her pulse was rapid and her skin was white and clammy.
"Is she all right?" I asked the doctor. He nodded and aimed his camera once again to take more pictures. "The video?" his muffled voice asked me. I had forgotten I had a job to do myself. I started the camera but didn't know where to aim. Should I follow the books circling the room, whirling about with pages flapping? Or maybe I should concentrate on the photocopier, which was lighting up and making copies every ten seconds. I shuddered to think of what the ghosts were doing with that. Or maybe I should concentrate on the shelves themselves, which were swaying back and forth in rhythmic time, quite in danger of falling over.
"How many are in there?" I asked the doctor, who shrugged. He was madly taking pictures of the microfilm, which was stretched out across the room, tied to two chairs like it was awaiting a ghostly Congo line. Just then, the lights went out. Dr. Ed and I looked at each other, and then at Millie, who closed her eyes and fainted. The doctor managed to catch her before she hit the floor. I put down the video camera and got some water from the bathroom down the hall. When I came back, Millie was conscious and smiling at Dr. Ed.
"Wow," she told him.
"Shush," he said. "Here, drink this."
"It was absolutely fantastic," she said. She had a faraway look in her eyes, and her heart was still beating rapidly. Her face was so ecstatic, I had to turn my eyes away. Dr. Ed took the cup of water from me and gently held it to her lips. "No," she told him. "I must go in the room. I have to see if they're still there."
The lights in the room were still off and it was dark as night in there. The doctor and Millie slowly opened the door and went into the room. I stayed outside, taping through the window. Not that I could see anything once the door closed, however. I just stood there, pointing the camera into blackness, hearing nothing but the hypnotic whirr of the machine. Well, sure, I wondered what was going on in there. I was a curious as the next person, but remember, I was a newbie at this and there had been ghosts in that room. I was not too keen on running into a ghost at that point in time.
After what seemed like an hour, but was probably only ten minutes, Millie and Dr. Ed came out. They looked slightly rumpled, to tell you the truth, but I just figured it was from the static electricity in the room, what with all that metaphysical energy going on in there. No, I told you, there was never anything between those two. They had a very professional relationship. But I had to admit they sure looked happy for being exposed to a spiritual presence.
Well, that was about it. My first ghostly encounter. It made a believer out of me, yes, sir, and I've been here ever since. But what about you, have you ever sensed a spiritual visitor? No? No dead relatives with unfinished business, or, perhaps a feeling that you were not alone? That's a shame. It can be very enlightening to experience a supernatural phenomenon. Sometimes it can phenomenal, so to speak. Ha ha. That was a joke, you know.
Why are you so tense? Come on over here and I'll show you something. Remember those pictures we talked about earlier? I have some right here. Don't be shy; sometimes human and ghost interactions can be quite stimulating. Oh, are you still cold? Let me warm you up, honey. That's right, just relax. Sometimes ghosts need some human warmth to get things moving, if you catch my drift. Doesn't that feel nice? That's right, baby, we can experience our very own metaphysical sex right here in the office. Don't be afraid. It'll be lots of fun, you and me together here on the couch. What? I'm sorry; didn't I tell you that part? Oh, sweetie, I thought you knew. I died two years ago and now help Dr. Ed and Millie with the Institute's research. Don't worry; I promise you'll like it. Metaphysical sex is out of this world.