Sympathetic Sam

A short story by Betty Billingham

The manager of the Allied & Northern Bank Plc, Southern Branch, held open the swing door as Samantha glided her electric wheel chair into the vast computer room.

"We put your desk by the door. Can you manage? Your colleagues are all men - Head Office gave your name as Sam Samuels - didn't realise for a moment." He fussed around trying to help but effectively embarrassed everyone.

"I've never been so lucky" said Sam, "so many handsome Goliaths at one time. Don't worry Mr Pother, I'll not let you down because of my sex."

"I didn't mean... Oh dear no.....I'm sure not...." He looked up thankfully as a tall blond young man stepped forward. "This is Mr Finleyson, head of this section. He'll look after you" he said, and hastily retreated in a cloud of confusion.

"Call me Frank. We're informal here. No good introducing you round, you'll never remember, but you might like to meet Dick here next to you."

"Hello, interesting chair you have there." Sam was grateful that he took her handicap so casually.

"Technology has been good to me" was all she said.

Frank guided her round the computer, showed her what she was expected to do, and left saying, "I'm just over in the corner. Give a shout if you need me."

Sam breathed a sigh of pleasure. Her first real job, and an exceptionally good salary too. Her break had come with her introduction to the world of computers. Later, her own little machine, generously bought by the family, had helped further her studies - and now she was here. The road had been hard and she had further to go. Determinedly she set about learning all this office had to offer.

Absent-mindedly she reached for a sweet but, as she removed the wrapper, the sweet appeared to fall from her hand. It did not traverse directly to the floor as anticipated however, but took off in a horizontal direction towards the door which seemed to open itself to allow the sweet safe passage.

Sam watched in astonishment, then quickly glanced around to see the reactions of her colleagues, but nobody had noticed.

Sam's initial impulse was to speak out, but reflection cautioned her. What would they think of such an unlikely story?

Shaken, but determined, Sam turned silently back to her terminal and buried herself in her work. An alarm startled her and she looked in surprise as simultaneously her colleagues dropped their work to head out.

"Tea time" said Dick as he paused to hold the door.

Realising an implied command, she somewhat reluctantly left her complex problem to follow the stream. The tearoom was bright and airy, though small for such a crowd. She noted with surprise that no other departments joined them.

Dick moved a chair from the head of a long table. "Milk? Sugar?" And in no time Sam found herself with a cup and two biscuits before her. Then the questions began.

Once her credentials as a knowledgeable computer operator had been established, stories of passed members and their mishaps were scattered between more personal questions, but Sam was quick to see that they were just friendly interest from old colleagues to a new member, and bore no hint of pity for her plight. Incessantly fussed over by a loving family, she revelled in being treated as an equal, not appreciating that, but for their concern, she would never had acquired the courage to venture forth.

The days passed in a kaleidoscope of pictures and she felt fulfilled and happy. One particular set of dancing brown eyes in a round cherubic face always seemed to be flashing by her side and she found they shared her sense of fun.

"I'm just the technician responsible for keeping this baby running smoothly," he told her one day.

It was during her third week that she happened to pour herself a second cup just as the return bell rang, so she decided to carry it in with her.

"I wouldn't do that" Frank said as he passed her in the corridor.

"Oh, why not?" she asked surprised.

"Well..." he answered with a certain hesitation, "you can try it. But don't say I didn't warn you," he continued somewhat enigmatically.

"Warn me of what?" but Frank had already disappeared round the corner.

Perplexed, she hesitated but a crowd was approaching and to turn the wheelchair, would have only caused confusion - and probably spilt her cup of tea into the bargain. She shook her head and continued with her original plan.

Her desk was already cluttered. She cleared a space next to her keyboard for the cup. As she reached for her handbag, she was surprised to see the cup and saucer rise smoothly into the air and head for the door. Again it opened unaided and her tea disappeared. She glanced at Frank's desk and noticed from the sardonic grin, that he had watched the whole incident.

"My tea..." she pointed, as he came over to her desk.

"Meet Pedro, our pet poltergeist. Did management forget to tell you? Guess everyone has grown too used to him."

"Do you mean this place is haunted? I thought spirits only came out at night?" In spite of herself, Sam shivered, and was disconcerted as Dick chuckled and said: "Not Pedro, he's always on duty. But don't worry, he's quite harmless so long as you don't try to bring food into this room."

"He's the reason we all go to the tearoom," added Frank.

"Surely ghosts can be driven away, can't they?"

"Management has tried everything from priests to weirdies; anybody who claims an ability has had a go at exorcising him, but to no avail."

"Poor thing," said Sam, her sympathies roused. "Who was he?"

"No one knows and management isn't telling," said Dick.

"I'm glad you're taking it so well," said Frank. "A lot of people won't work here; that's why management was forced to offer higher wages."

"I'm going to find out who he is and help him Rest in Peace."

"Don't do that; we have a lot to thank the guy for" called Donovan from across the passage, and Sam noticed the entire office had stopped to watch her reactions.

The next day, Sam declined the tea-break, pleading a problem she was loath to interrupt. It was the first time she had been alone in the room and she spent it calling to the ghost, pleading with him to talk to her. Silence greeted her every effort.

"I'll make you talk to me if it's the last thing I do" she threatened out loud, as she heard the returning footsteps of her colleagues.

All that night, Sam tussled with the problem of communicating with a ghost and it was not until the old church tower struck two in the morning, that the germ of an idea came into her head.

"A bottle of iced coffee?" Her mother was surprised at Sam's request because she knew Sam did not like coffee and had never been known to drink it cold.

Hiding her treasure in her bag, Sam waited once more till tea-time and the chance to be alone in the office. Tentatively she withdrew the bottle, but as she reached to unscrew the cap, she felt a sharp tug. She had been expecting it and hung on tightly.

"I've been puzzling all night who you are," she said, "and I've come to the conclusion you must be the spirit of the computer."


"I think you are afraid someone might spill something into you. Who else would be afraid of food in here?" she asked.

Still silence. Without loosening her grip, she reached for the cap of the bottle. She felt another pull, and it was nearly wrenched from her fingers. "Talk to me" she demanded. "If you don't, I'll pour this coffee all over the Central Processing Unit!"

Instantly the pull on the bottle was released. Sam turned to her keyboard and typed in the words 'Who are you?'

For a few seconds nothing happened and Sam feared her ploy had failed. Slowly letters came up on her screen and Sam breathed a sigh of relief: 'Will you promise not to hurt me if I tell you?'

In answer she returned the bottle to her handbag, and waited.

'My name was Pedro.' The words were laboriously typed with several mistakes and hesitations, as of a person looking for the key to hit. Sam ignored the use of the past tense and all it implied.

'Why do you haunt the computer room?' she entered. It was a good thing she had learnt patience she thought, as, painfully slowly, more letters appeared.

'My spirit is trapped in the computer and I will be sent into limbo if it is ever switched off. I don't want to die like that so I have to guard it all the time.' Sam had been so absorbed that she had not heard the others return.

"Busy?" asked Dick as he passed behind her chair, but when he paused where he could read her screen, Sam quickly erased it. Miffed, he added a warning: "You will make yourself unpopular if you work during tea-breaks. We fought hard for the privilege" and moved on.

Sam flushed at the criticism. 'Thank you Pedro' she typed; 'I will talk to you later' and was surprised at her depth of feeling as 'OK' flashed on her screen.

Working furiously over the next few days, Sam finished her job well ahead of schedule. She felt no guilt as she finally keyed in the words 'Pedro where are you?' and felt a rush of relief at the double sized 'Hello'.

'I was wondering how you became trapped Pedro.'

'I was helping the installation of the main CPU when the chain on the crane broke and the whole thing fell on my head.'

'How terrible, that must have hurt.' Sympathetic Sam did not notice the incongruity of her words. 'How can we help?'

'I don't know, Sam.'

'Let me chew your problem over.'

Eventually she had a glimmering of an idea but realised she would need technical assistance. Hesitantly she approached Willie with the deep brown eyes.

Finally Pedro consented to the experiment. Late one evening the now inseparable friends, Willie and Sam, removed a small board from the interior of the computer and connected it to a battery.

'In you get Pedro' said Sam, before sealing it in a box. At the cemetery, they buried it in the grave marked Pedro Gonzales and covered it with an ornate new headstone on which the letters RIP were engraved below a small solar panel.

1995 © Betty Billingham