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I have a character in my story (set in 1998) who has been magically altered in three major ways:

1: She cannot be remembered for longer than 60 seconds without continuous exposure to her by one of the five senses. By the time the 60 seconds of not being in her presence are up, all memory of having ever encountered her will completely vanish.

2: Any second-hand direct recreation of her image or voice (photos, videos, tape recordings, etc.; drawings don't count) are impossible to acknowledge. If she's in a group picture, you simply won't notice her. If she's the only person in the picture, you'll think you're looking at a picture with nobody in it. If she makes up most or nearly all of the picture, you won't even be able to recognize you're looking at a picture at all.

3: She can, at any time, transform into an invisible, incorporeal, flying phantom form that can see through walls. She cannot be selective about this, and thus can't "ghost" anything through walls with her, and in fact leaves her clothes completely behind too and has to get new ones wherever she chooses to re-manifest.

This, naturally, has made it basically impossible for her to properly participate in human society. She can't get a job, can't go anywhere that requires a photo ID, can't even go anywhere where it would be weird not to recognize someone. My initial idea was that she'd live out of a stolen RV near a small Idaho town, until I discovered I had been grossly overestimating what the internal battery of an RV is capable of powering without being directly plugged in to a power source at an RV campground, which I suspect she wouldn't be able to use without arousing excessive suspicion. This is a problem, because one of the things I want her to be doing in her copious amounts of free time before the plot starts is playing video games, including home console games that she'll obviously need a proper power source to use. So I thought I'd check here if there's a more obvious solution.

Given her above abilities and limitations, what is my heroine's easiest method, legally or otherwise, of securing a source of power with which she can, bare minimum, play video games undisturbed?

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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recreational_vehicle $\endgroup$ Sep 19 at 0:06
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    $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg Writing doesn't disappear, and as long as the memories aren't connected to a face to face encounter with her, or a recording of her appearance or voice, they aren't forgotten. So if this in were the modern day, she could, say, have a discord account no problem as long as she didn't voice chat. $\endgroup$ Sep 19 at 0:44
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    $\begingroup$ My 2¢: Most people are prepared to tolerate much weirder habits than "refuses to be seen or heard in person," if the weirdo happens to be filthy rich. As everyone has already pointed out, she can basically steal whatever she wants. So your real problem is this: Why hasn't she already made herself into a fabulously wealthy recluse? $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    Sep 19 at 6:23
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    $\begingroup$ Please clarify. If she were to disguise herself heavily using make-up, face-mask, wig to have a totally different appearance than her natural self, would people be able to remember the disguise? In other words: Is the forgetting spell tied to her image or to the person. That fact she isn't visible in photos indicates to me it is purely a visual thing and a disguise should work. I'm reminded of the Whoopi Goldberg movie "The Associate" were she successfully disguises herself as a middle-aged, white, male. That might work for your ghost too. $\endgroup$
    – Tonny
    Sep 19 at 11:17
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    $\begingroup$ Great framing of the question, +1 :) $\endgroup$
    – Enthu5ed
    Sep 19 at 14:47

14 Answers 14

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People remember account numbers:

She's not in as bad of a place as you might think. semi-normal life (and the electricity she needs) is not so far away. Just because you can't remember meeting someone doesn't mean you can't remember them. Letters, notes, and documents are permanent. Email was a thing in 1998 (but not so prevalent), and she could have relationships with folks she didn't meet in person (that they remember). She could talk to people, learn things about them, and then connect with them using those details - all by mail and letters.

Your character can get really good at paperwork. She can enter any business or administrative office after hours and mess with the files of anything (as long as the office isn't too chilly).

First off, she really needs to find someone who looks a lot like her. Get pictures of this alternate person to use in documents. Identity-theft the crap out of them. She could create an entire alter-ego of the person, or use the image to make a completely new semi-legal entity.

People may not remember your character, but they certainly can acknowledge that a hotel log says room 13 is occupied by Jane Dough. If someone goes to room 13 and checks on who is in 13, she tells them to go check the log at the front desk. They'll see 13 is marked as occupied by Jane Dough (probably wondering why they were checking).

Similarly, a bank account #3456732 can have money deposited in it by anyone. If a young woman has the bank card, she can fill out the paperwork for a credit card from the bank. If they need a driver's license, they'll find she has one for Jane Dough, the account holder. They don't give a crap about who "Jane Dough" is, or what she looks like; only that she matches. The deed for a house or car can be filed with an agency, and no one looks at it except to fill out forms. If you have the deed, it's yours.

  • Similarly, she needs a job (assuming she doesn't just steal like crazy, which would be really easy) that has flexible employment in a large bureaucracy. Their records show Jane Dough is an employee, and the work gets done. So what if no one remembers hiring her? Someone punches in every day, and punches out. Admin delivers a check to bank account #3456732. And there's a girl with an ID badge that kind of looks like her but the hair is different. Some jobs pay by how much you produce - so if you log work done, it gets paid for. Do more work, and as long as someone verifies this "Jane Dough" person's work got done, who cares?
  • She might also manage doing door-to-door sales. If she sells products that she delivers immediately, then people may not recall her, but might have a vague memory of buying a vacuum cleaner that is obviously sitting in their living room. The less reputable version of this is selling stuff out of the back of a van/truck: it might be legitimate or not.
  • Your mystery woman could also be an outstanding freelance reporter. As long as she can establish a "deep throat" identity (where the editor doesn't know who's providing the articles), she can funnel articles to a newspaper that pays money to her bank account. She could follow people and be immediately forgotten. She ghosts into the police station and reads classified documents or case files, then sneaks out. Even if she's detected, she ghosts away and they just forget. How did she get that exclusive in the New York Times where she reveals secret documents from the Cuban embassy? The most forgettable woman in the world could have a world-famous alias and yet remain perfectly forgettable.

An apartment is sub-let by a Jane Dough who always pays her rent. She sure must keep to herself, because she drops off notes to get the sink fixed, but no one can recall seeing her. She's not Jane Dough the famous reporter, is she? Whoever she is, it sounds like she's playing video games.

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    $\begingroup$ Is "Dough" instead of "Doe" a joke or a typo? $\endgroup$
    – Kreiri
    Sep 20 at 8:57
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    $\begingroup$ Also on the more unsavory side of jobs, she can be a first-class spy and saboteur $\endgroup$ Sep 20 at 10:09
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    $\begingroup$ I... can't remember. Strange... $\endgroup$
    – xryl669
    Sep 20 at 16:52
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed, I've only met a representative of any of my service providers when I made the contract. I pay them online (or in the times before internet you could have paid them by cheque through mail), they don;t even have to know or remember anything about me, they just notice that the money for account x arrived, they book it as payed, and that's it, they don't care about my existence at all. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Sep 20 at 18:51
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    $\begingroup$ Jane Dough was meant as a funny take on Jane Doe, as she seems amorphous and featureless. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Sep 20 at 23:03
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Become a Real Ghost

Other answers work if our hero can still communicate in written form. In that case she can still maintain a job, home, and access to electricity. This answer is in case you want to turn her powers up to eleven, and make even her bank account number subject to the 60-second rule.

In that case her best bet is to live in someone else's home and use their electricity. Ideally someone who poses no physical threat for when they run into each other, and who is amenable to things moving around in their house without explanation. The first can be accomplished by a home owner who cannot run or move quickly. The second by them already believing their house is haunted.

So she should play the role of a real ghost. For example there was once a family family that lost their child son. The family broke up due to the emotional trauma. The mother still lives in the family home, and has entered the delusion that the house is haunted by the spirit of her son. She keeps the room locked and rarely enters. But she often notices her son's spirit has moved things around since last week.

Since she has claimed the house is haunted since years before the protagonist moved in, no one believes her now that the house is actually haunted.

Additionally, the home-owner has a trick hip, and has installed a stair lift elevator. She mostly lives on the bottom floor and the protagonist mostly lives on the top floor. This makes it easy to avoid the occasional encounter, since the stair lift is very noisy and takes a few moments to reach the top. Enough time to vanish into another room.

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  • $\begingroup$ "someone else's home " made me think - there was a movie when wife had some sort of memory disorder or something, and husband (or wife, didn't watch it) needed to remember the other half about things. Here to - who are you?! Chuck I'm your wife, remember. 60sec bum gone. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Sep 19 at 12:51
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    $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg There is of course 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Sep 19 at 12:59
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    $\begingroup$ This is a fine idea. She is a ghost. She does not need to avoid encounters. She can help the old person who lives in the house. This person might think he or she is living with the family that was once there but is no longer - just your character. Your ghost plays various roles. Your old person does not remember your character, but does remember her family. If someone asks where the food in the fridge came from the old person will say "my daughter brought it" even though her real daughter lives far away, This interaction by itself would be a moving story. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Sep 19 at 17:44
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Inspired by Daron's answer, live with someone elderly who has a somewhat shaky memory anyway. Rather than never be seen, you can pop in to the living room and have a nice chat if you want some human company - just tell them you have been sent by the council to help them. Rather than just "stealing" electricity and food from them you can check on their welfare, make sure they've turned the oven out, sit and talk them through those confusing letters from the council or stop them from answering the scammer on the telephone. Sitting with them while they use the phone or call a handyman for example you can easily ask them to add in a couple of extra electrical sockets in the study while they also fix the drip in the tap in the spare bathroom. When the workman comes the elder might not remember exactly why they requested something but there's a good chance they will just accept it. Similarly if you sit with them while they order food from the nearest supermarket you can suggest they get extra, then reappear to help them unpack when it arrives. The outside world just sees a slightly eccentric old lady and forget about her helper after they leave.

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    $\begingroup$ This would be especially easy if the elderly person is already used to having carers coming to the house in the first place. Since the carers change between days, you can just appear wearing the same uniform as them "Good morning Mary, how are you today? I brought you some groceries. Ready for breakfast?" $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Sep 19 at 18:45
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Theft

She is the perfect thief. She stole the vehicle, why not steal the electricity as well ? Just plug in the console's batteries reloader at the nearest neighbour. Even if the victim sees her, he will forget her presence very quickly, when she vanishes with her magic, or runs away and hides near the house, somewhere.. and try again.

She can also easily steal another car. Suppose she would, the owner could even witness the event, no problem. After one minute the owner would remember someone stole his vehicle, but he cannot remember what that person looked like. He would be of no help to the police.

(I replaced the text of this answer, thx @E Tam for the remark)

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  • $\begingroup$ Teft is problematic, because of external objects, which can be traced anddo not escape attencion. Establishing representative and legal channels is a better way. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Sep 19 at 1:41
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    $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg her properties would be perfect to commit any crime.. she may kill the victim.. suppose she would be chased by police, she can go up in smoke.. suppose she would be arrested, anyone present would forget all about her, without direct visual contact. Escape is very easy, there are no usable "legal channels" to do anything against a person like her. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Sep 19 at 2:46
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    $\begingroup$ Not any crime. Imagine character stole fighter jet - no legit pilot or mission registered, everyone sees it on radars, everyone can shoot it down, end of story. She not invincible, so making anything leading to shooting with police is bad idea. Etc. A police officer sees stolen car, stops it, usual things license all that, goes back to check, forgets about driver, but again sees the car, and not necessarly forgets he was asking driver for something, or if he repeats there will be access logs, search requests. Overall it godly ability for sure, but it does not mean one can be stupid using it $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Sep 19 at 3:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Molborg as I understand this question, there is no material object, she needs electricity. She just wants to play Tetris on her game console and needs electricity, to reload the batteries. I think that a person with her cloaking abilities is able to reload batteries anywhere, unnoticed.. and even when she is spotted, she can try again 1 minute later. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Sep 19 at 3:55
  • $\begingroup$ Upvoted your last remark.. I did mention material theft leaving a tracable object (the vehicle), so I have added a sentence. There is no trace pointing to her as the subject. Her advantage is less, when stealing a car, but I think catching and putting this woman in jail will be.. a challenge.. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Sep 19 at 4:09
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Why can't she just use solar panels to get enough power for her games?

As for money, she can slip into almost any place--this could be used for good (bugging mob bosses and the like), evil (theft) or in between (espionage.)

To use for good: Bug a mob boss. Send an e-mail to the FBI giving the location and frequency--put $50k in such-and-such a place and you'll get another such e-mail.

To use for evil: Get a safe deposit box, put tools in it. Go back when it's closed, use those tools to rob other boxes.

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    $\begingroup$ "just use solar panels" is a bit of a meme at the moment. Where does she get the solar panels? $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Sep 19 at 9:24
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    $\begingroup$ if she can steal an RV she can figure that out, even if it means stealing one already equipped. $\endgroup$ Sep 19 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ How would the "go back when it's closed" part of the safe deposit box plan work? Safe deposit boxes normally have two keys: your own, and the bank manager's(?) key. If you ghost into the vault, your tools will be locked in a box you can't open unless you also manage to steal the bank's key. And of course you'd have to pass any keys through / under closed doors that you ghost through to get in after hours. $\endgroup$ Sep 19 at 18:11
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterCordes The bank manager's key is something of a problem, but if she can find out where it's kept then just make a copy and find a way to squeak it out through gaps under doors and whatnot while ghosting through. Then rent the largest box available and stash it full of tools. Hide the key and the manager's key copy in the vault room somewhere. Ghost in, retrieve keys, retrieve tools, open other boxes. Take valuables, put them in your box. Ghost out. Return during normal hours and retrieve valuables. Seems like a lot of work though unless she's stealing something specific. $\endgroup$
    – Perkins
    Sep 20 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ 1998 solar panels are very very different from 2021 solar panels $\endgroup$
    – neph
    Sep 20 at 20:24
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I'm going to assume that she wasn't born this way, since having your parents forget you exist when you're dependent on them for your survival is a little tough.

This means she already has a legal identity of some sort. She probably has a bank account, maybe a social security number, driver's licence and so on. She can use these things to get goods and services through the internet, no problems. Doesn't matter if nobody can remember her if they never actually interact with her.

Depending on her skills she could also get a job online, without ever having to interact with a real person. Online trading, jobbing sites, whatever. She could hire herself out in a variety of specialist jobs, although most of them are pretty shady. If she used her abilities well she could become one of the most well-known investigative journalists in the world, even though nobody could pick her out of a lineup.

If she can build up a reasonable income then she can hire people to do the rest, without ever actually having to meet them.

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Perhaps try to find a friend? Establishing any kind of relationship in this state is hard, but I don't think it's impossible. I think quite a few people would appreciate having a sort-of imaginary friend that actually comes around once in a while - perhaps she should try meeting some science-fiction writer?

While people can't remember her, they should believe things that they wrote themselves and that they said, right? So she might come once, tell her story, make the writer write it down, and than say "in order to proove what I said, I'll leave the room now, and come back in 5 minutes. You will experience me as a new person, but I will know the password that you give me now, please write it down for verification". A curious person will be willing to make an experiment, and hopefully will believe the story after a few repetitions. Of course, one day experience, no matter how convincing, may be shrugged as a dream, but show up every day for a week, always remembering some password or secret to authenticate yourself, and with a properly chosen patient you will get a believer, not remembering you specifically, but remembering of your existence (they have written about your existence every day in their diary for a month, right?), and expecting a "new" person showing every day before their door and greeting with "how are you doing, old friend".

If she's willing to show naked in front of that person (perhaps picking a female to befriend is preferrable anyway?), a quicker and perhaps more convincing experiment is to simply dissappear in front of the person and appear a short while later - before being forgotten.

Oh, actually, there may be people even more interested in meeting her: some doctors and psychiatrists working with people with amnesia and dementia may just want to try having a similar experience.

Hopefully no one will go mad from that.

Anyway, it's probably not the shortest way to get the electricity, but I think that's an interesting one, and I think there is a lot of place to play with finding loopholes in this memory-vanishing.

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I dont see why she couldnt participate in human society.

Yes she cant get photo ID, but photo ID is a gatekeeper. Its not a participation blocker. Three examples:

  • photo ID is needed to get to work? Not really, its needed to get in the door, past security. Once inside, photo ID isnt needed. Even if someone challenges her for not having it, she can vanish through a wall, and 60 seconds later they wont remember a problem.
  • But its needed to get a job? Again no, a file record of ID is needed, at HR. But she can visit through the walls, to fake it, as in other answers.
  • Its needed for a bank account? Again no. She can get her "2 forms of ID" easily, because a utility bill or rent bill is common, she can watch for postal deliveries or letters sent by a homeowner, and slip through a wall to intercept or modify them, and get a bank account with that and some silent file manipulation....

But that aside, what exactly stops her from entering places with electrical cables, and adding a couple of her own to draw on them? That's how I'd do it.

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    $\begingroup$ There are numerous measures against electricity theft, but, besides removing the illicit connection, no one is going to prosecute her. $\endgroup$
    – Trang Oul
    Sep 20 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ "needed to get a job? a file record of ID is needed, at HR. But she can visit through the walls, to fake it" I foresee recurring problems with payroll & accounting constantly deleting the records because they don't remember any such person ever working there & when they question others in the office or section she's supposed to work for neither do they, even in a larger company where everyone doesn't know everyone else it's liable to happen every few months & at every audit, to keep those pay cheques coming is going to be a royal pain in the bottom if she's actually been at work or not :) $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Sep 20 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ But payroll and accounts dont know most people in most businesses! They dont ever see them! She only needs one, where its easy. Out of all the businesses she can find in the entire area. Easy. $\endgroup$
    – Stilez
    Sep 20 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ Vanishing through a wall is a bit of a problem, as the OP stated, she couldn't bring her clothes with her. So A.) She'd be naked on the other side of the wall, which would certainly garner some attention even everyone forgot about it a minute later, and B.) What are these clothes doing on the floor here? $\endgroup$ Sep 20 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ Every office has a junk room, lockers, store room, space for odd things. She can walk straight in there and change, nobodyll remember her naked. $\endgroup$
    – Stilez
    Sep 20 at 19:10
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Find a translator

So maybe this isnt quite in the spirit (heh) of the character but given:

She cannot be remembered for longer than 60 seconds without continuous exposure to her by one of the five senses. By the time the 60 seconds of not being in her presence are up, all memory of having ever encountered her will completely vanish.

and

Any second-hand direct recreation of her image or voice (photos, videos, tape recordings, etc.; drawings don't count) are impossible to acknowledge.

This doesn't mean people cant remember being told about her.

A lot of the other answers seem somewhat nefarious or high effort but if she finds a couple of spiritual people she could use one person as a speaker or mouth piece. It doesn't even have to be the same person every time). So a group of people could be aware of her existence around them and even have somewhat convoluted permanent relations with a small group

It really depends on how far down the chain of interaction the memories are lost and if a primary interaction with this method removes all previous associated memory (which could be a pretty tragic romance plot)

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  • $\begingroup$ It's a good point. If someone is repeating back everything she said, you can remember what THAT person said. Or you could even remember repeating back the things that person said yourself. Of course, remembering yourself talking to yourself as if talking to another person could be a little schizophrenic-seeming. Imagine an employee hired to carry a camera and repeat everything said to them through a microphone. Since drawings don't count, the employee could even wear a mask in the girl's likeness. At the end of the day, the employee won't remember a thing, but everyone else will. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Sep 21 at 14:45
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I'm really quite surprised that no one has thought of using a gas-powered generator. If she can steal an RV, she can steal a generator and a jerry can. Then she can walk up to a gas station, fill up her jerry can, and either sneak off, or provide a big enough distraction to be able to just walk away.

A very brief Google search tells me that a generator with a gallon of gas in it (or 4 litres) will run for about 5 hours. Apparently, you're not supposed to run them for more than about 8 hours at a time, so she'd probably need two generators (since she wouldn't need either while she sleeps).

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    $\begingroup$ "Hey, why does pump 3 say there's a bill? No one's used it." $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Sep 21 at 14:49
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I like the idea of making her an actual 'ghost', but if you are willing to bend your second rule a little bit, you can also go the other way and make her participate in society like a normal person.

You said that

Any second-hand direct recreation of her image or voice (photos, videos, tape recordings, etc.; drawings don't count) are impossible to acknowledge

but I would change that to

Any second-hand direct recreation of her image or voice (photos, videos, tape recordings, etc.; drawings don't count) becomes impossible to acknowledge at the same time that the memories from her actual presence vanish (#1).

And perhaps expand it a bit to include

Any recreation of her image or voice matches her current appearance.

So she could get her photo taken, get an ID and anyone she will show it to will see that the person in the photograph matches the person in front of them.

Even if she leaves her ID lying around, as soon as she disappears from someones memory, they will not recognize her on the photo as per your original rule.

The main consequence -- since you said she is not able to take even her clothes with her when she disappears through a wall -- is that if she wants to go somewhere with her ID, she will have to physically carry it there without doing the ghost thing. That may open up new possibilities in your story too (e.g. she really wants to 'fly' through the walls of the secret government base, but she's going to need proof of identity to go into the main control room which means she can't use that ability).

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Touch is a sense

Wait until her hair is longer enough. Cut it. Braid the clippings into string. Dye some of the strings different colors.

She trims her grown out fingernails, and the polishes them (as in sands them smooth, not puts on nail polish). Integrate the nail clipping into the string. Make fancy, organic friendship bracelets.

Give the bracelets to people to wear. Congratulations, she is now in constant physical contact with the person. Continually stimulating their sense of touch with a piece of her own body. So long as the person doesn't take off the bracelet for more than a minute, they will remember her.

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  • $\begingroup$ Using the hair may start bending the rules a bit too far, but if allowed she could have a significant other or close friend this way. Be a sad day if the bracelet is somehow removed, though perhaps recoverable. $\endgroup$
    – Kezat
    Sep 24 at 5:43
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Just steal it the same way lots of people do in real life, hook into a street lamp.

She might need to befriend an electrician or you can give her the skills to do it herself. Worst case she may have to move around every now and again if the city keep disconnecting her connection, but as they won't remember her she won't be getting into trouble for it

stealing power

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Electricity can come from an RV park. Hear me out. I currently work at one. And there are residents that we see, and residents that we don't see (because they work night shift or some such). Some people check in after dark.

As long as the vehicle slot is paid for by check or money order she can stay in a park. in the 1990s electronic transfer isn't so much a thing, and while it CAN be paid by credit card, in those days this wasn't accepted as payment for rentals as much, depending on the place.

You're saying that ID is a problem. But...you fail to see the advantages of being a "ghost." It means you have infinite do-overs to gather information. And that means that you CAN get anything. Including fake IDs with a picture of a girl who kinda looks like you.

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