The Ghost of Dr. Ekhardt

I’m an electrical engineering technician and work for a small but well-funded community college. In just a few years, the campus had nearly doubled in size with new buildings  sprouting up almost seasonally. This allowed a greater diversity of classes to be offered which meant more money for the school and, thus, more growth.

At first, I was tasked with maintenance work, but a retirement granted me an opportunity for advancement. Soon, I was installing power systems in the new buildings and eventually I was overseeing them. Most of the buildings were identical in their power needs with the electrical and mechanical engineering building being an obvious exception.

I was surprised when the latest building called for a system which dwarfed even that. This single building was designed to use almost as much power as the entire campus.

Naturally, I was curious about what would require so much power and asked the head of this new department, Dr. Ekhardt, what would be going on.

He was, as I already knew from gossip, a rather unpleasant individual. True to the rumors, he tried to ignore me as if I wasn’t worth the time. When I failed to take his cue and leave, he sighed impatiently and condescended to inform me that I simply would not be capable of understanding. I took the insult as best I could, but I made it my business to find out what was going on.

This new department was a mystery unto itself. No one was willing or able to define it, not even some of the administrators I knew. All I managed to learn was that Ekhardt was personally responsible for very large donations to the college. I could only assume this was why he was given a building to “play” with and why his abrasive personality was overlooked. In an age where a student’s hurt feelings can result in the disciplining of an instructor, he seemed like a large liability. As to his field of expertise, all I could glean was that he was a physicist.

My inquires became known to him at some point, and he sent word for me to meet him at his office. He was reading a paper when I arrived and didn’t take his eyes from it as he informed me that his building was for research and wouldn’t be available for general classes. He then turned away from me and continued to read. I was also nudged away from further investigation by one of the deans who tried to laugh off Ekhardt’s lack of social skills as though it was an endearing quality.

There was little more that I could do but continue overseeing the installation of equipment. This was no small task as the machines were unknown to me and I was provided with only the information that was absolutely required. Keep in mind this is not like plugging a home appliance into the wall, it requires an understanding of the inductance and capacitance of the individual components in order to ensure things are running at peak efficiency. At one point, I discovered an error in the overall design and drawing this to the doctor’s attention, I actually managed to earn a small compliment from him. Later I would discover that the entire building was his design and that my observation had embarrassed him somewhat.

He was still aloof and haughty, though he was somewhat more communicative. As we neared the completion of the building he was notably excited. He didn’t even seem to care than many of the offices and storage rooms weren’t finished at the time, he was impatient for the equipment to be in working order. Though I assured him I was pushing the crew, I did no such thing. I wanted them to be careful in their work as the huge amount of power that would be in use was more than a little intimidating. A single mistake could cause untold damage and end up burning down what was an unthinkably costly effort.

We finally reached the point where things were almost ready, but the crew had already been working overtime and it would have been technically illegal for them to press on. I also wished to delay things as I intended to conduct a thorough final check before applying power to the titanic installation. Dr. Ekhardt was so excited, so impatient to see months of our work (and possibly years of his) drawn to a conclusion that he became incensed at the news that we were stopping for the night.

I remember the amusing and somewhat alarming shade of reddish-purple he became. He trembled visibly and said nothing as he stormed off and out of sight. At the time, I didn’t think one more day, just for safety’s sake, would be so much to ask. I had no idea how recklessly desperate he would become.

I’ll spare you the technical details, but it should suffice to say that all that was left to do was install what you might think of as a fuse and turn the power on. The “fuse” was nothing more than a thick bar of copper. The “fuse box”, so to speak, was operated by a ratcheting mechanism which extended two mechanical arms. The fuse would be placed into the arms and, with the press of a button, the arms would retract and set the bar in place, gradually applying power.

For whatever reason, he bypassed this safety feature and manually inserted bar. I had been outside in the parking lot joking with the crew when I saw the entire building light up in a brilliant flash that instantly went dark. Every machine in the building drew current at the same time and it all went through that bar. The solid block of copper essentially vaporized directly in his face. The effect it had on his body was a horror that will never be purged from my mind. I wish I had known what he was going to do, perhaps I could have saved his life.

The building stood unused for some time. Other experts came but couldn’t quite make sense of whatever Ekhardt had in mind. Some were sure he was a genius, others were certain that he was insane. His custom machines were removed, one by one, and sent to recycling centers, as the state forbids school equipment from being sold regardless of its condition. The building has remained largely empty except for occasional adjunct classes sometimes held on its upper floors.

The lower floors are avoided and for me there is a haunting memory to explain why. But others openly speak of an odd and creepy feeling in the halls. And though the building can supply far more power than it will ever need, there are unusual failures of electronic devices and an occasional odd flickering of the lights. Rumors claim that these events are accompanied by a sickening smell described as burning meat.

Sometimes they report a sight caught briefly from the corners of their eyes. They describe a man in a long white lab coat, whose arms, chest, and head are darker, as if scorched and charred.

 

Joe Stanley

story by Joe Stanley

The Ghostly World Fictional Ghost Stories

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