Like Leaving A Cocktail Party (Short Story)

He was often left to ponder, during dull moments, his course in life. Like some sentient ship he knew the formidability of the direction he was on, his efforts to get there, etc. As is often the case with people who are successful beyond their understanding he felt guided like a ship by a captain.

But, it was cosmic irony that he felt steered his helm. One day, he’d been floating in a shipyard. People walking all over him without his permission. It made for a very angry state of affairs, for he knew he deserved better. And all of a sudden, as if his thoughts were truly heard by Fortuna or some such deity, he left that shipyard, he left the worries, anger behind for something better-ish. Was it the juxtaposition between the freer state and the one before that pleased him or this freedom in-and-of-itself?

There are times in people’s lives when they look back to see how they’ve arrived at what seems like a destination. He did this often. It had been a mere three years since he’d started making videos about Chemistry and posting them on YouTube. Three long years in which he ranged from self-loathing to self-aggrandizement. It was not bipolar or irrational, though. He possessed a few flaws which made life difficult no matter the success that came his way. He was awful at holding his tongue which resulted in a bevy of issues when he was young and people watched him closely. When he’d applied for a Bachelor in Chem, he was as volatile as a lump of Lithium thrown into a lake.

It was why he’d liked the lab, the equipment, the quiet of the halls of the science buildings on campus. They were contained, cut off in such a way as to make uncomfortability a rarity. Sure, there were times he was a little too strong-headed, calling a fellow undergrad stupid for asking the difference between a chemical and a physical reaction. But, on the whole he was isolated from those he viewed as lesser – and this was still when he held such pig-headed thoughts. When he would approximate a person based on certain aspects of their personality, dress and manner. It was easy. In the end though, he lost the first love of his life to his selfishness.

He’d been a very awkward kid, and somehow had developed into a rather handsome man at 18. This coupled poorly with his family’s intellectual arrogance. With a doctor for a mother and a father in Mensa it was easy to see yourself as outclassing others, regardless of reality. And all this besides, he was a loner. He read too much, thought too much, and didn’t act enough and this made him bitter for he worried the world, the ambitions and pride inside his head would never be matched in the ‘real world’.

He recalled with significant pain the description of a totally insane boy in a Stephen King novella. This youth saw his descent into madness in the amount of talking-to-himself he did in the book. It was scary, his own inner and outer monologue was as strident as a Clydesdale. On these reflective moments he often recalled the moment he saw a ghost. It was a few weeks into his second semester of his first year at school. He was in the lab, titrating some acid or other.

“Hello, kid,” a voice had said.

He’d stayed quiet for a moment, trying to recognize the voice. Was it his prof? Some older student?

“Hi?” he’d said finally looking up from the beaker, shutting off the burette.

“Whatcha doing there?”

“Um, testing pH…wait what? Who are you?”

“So is it basic? Are you basic? That’s what the kids say these days right?” He had finally stared at the voice, which he’d since concluded must’ve emanated from a ghost. The ghost was wearing a lab coat and goggles but no pants – thankfully the coat descended to the knees or thereabouts. Its exposed toenails were old, yellowed like an old person’s.

It had struck him, all of the sudden, that the entire lab was empty. The hallways outside the lab, which were exposed via glass walls, were similarly empty.

‘Am I in a dream?’ he’d thought

‘Surely, not’ another thought had answered.

‘Am I telepathic?’

‘Surely, not’ a thought had answered again.

Like a novelist, unsure of what next adventure to throw his characters he had simply waited and waited – until inspiration struck.

“Can you help me?” he’d said aloud.

“With what, my child?”

“What do you think I need help with?”

“Happiness? Satisfaction, or something like it?”

“Why are you asking me, aren’t you a ghost?”

“Something like that…but how does that relate to you and your current predicament?”

“That makes sense. You must have some, I don’t know, wisdom?”

“Indeed I do.”

The kid had waited again. But this time nothing happened, the ghost was gone without his realizing it. He walked out of the lab, he remembered, and was confronted with an early November snow. Usually, he would’ve returned straight home and opened a beer, texted his girlfriend if he’d been in the mood. On that day though, as he remembered, he went in the literal opposite direction of his house. That is, he went towards the waterfront which ran along the University’s southern edge. It was empty, deserted might be the word you would use – had it not seemed out of place given the snow and the abundance of water.

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