The car crawled up the little wooded dirt-track. The forest floor was plastered with decaying leaves. Verno House loomed ahead of me. I had lived here most of my life, but it seemed far bigger, far more impressive, after two years away.
I slid my invitation out of my jacket pocket. The All Hallow’s Eve séance.
I glanced up, and slammed on the break. A beautiful young woman was walking just in front of my car, headed for Verno. She would ruin her expensive gown tracking it through the mud.
I got out of the car, but she had gone. I was suddenly cold, and the hairs on the back of my neck began to prickle. I got back in the car, took out a packet of pills from the glove box, and swallowed two dry.
“Hold it together,” I muttered to myself.
The doorman took my coat, then my father was pushing his way through the crowd towards me.
“William!” He boomed, and grabbed me in to a hug. “How are your studies?”
“Refreshing. There’s only one correct answer in mathematics. No room for imagination.”
“You always had such a wonderful imagination,” my father said.
“These days I don’t even dream, and if I did, it would be of equations.”
He chuckled, and his big belly shook. “And your health?”
“Like I said, I don’t dream. Asleep or awake.”
“That is good to hear.”
“I noticed you sent the invitations this year,” I said. “Don’t tell me she’s finally fooled you.”
My father sighed. “It’s her passion. It gives her,” he paused, “purpose. There are no ghosts in Verno, but you must play along. For your mother’s sake.”
“Thank you.” He checked his watch. “We start in ten minutes. Go see her.”
My mother was sat at a table, draped with a black velvet cloth; the letters of the alphabet were arranged around the edge of the table. A silk scarf was over her eyes.
She looked up at my first step. “William. I knew it was you.”
I went over and stood beside her.
“Where’s your hand?” she asked.
“Here.” I clasped hers.
“Have you come with an open mind?”
“I don’t believe in ghosts, mother. Not any more.”
“The reason you don’t see is because you don’t believe.”
“The reason you see them is because you don’t have pills like mine.”
“Ah, but if I didn’t see them, I wouldn’t see a thing,” she replied calmly.
“Good luck with the séance.” I said, then walked back to the door.
Her voice rang out in the empty room. “Try to open your mind, William. You might be surprised.”
The lights went out, the crowd hushed, and the séance was ready to begin. My mother and the table were illuminated by the lamp. She had her hand on an upturned tumbler. “Is there any one who wishes to speak to the dead?”
A quiet voice said, “I would like to speak to my husband.” The lady was elderly, perhaps in her nineties.
My mother nodded, and the lady took the other seat at the table.
“Do you have anything that belonged to him?” my mother asked.
The woman nodded, and gave her a gold signet ring. As soon as she touched the ring, my mother said, “His name was Frank White.”
The lady put her hand to her chest. “Yes.”
My mother placed her hand over the tumbler. “My name is Evelyn McDougall, and I would to speak to Frank White. Are you there, Frank?”
The glass jumped and an audible gasp rang out through the room.
“Your wife is here. She would like to speak with you.”
“Frank,” the elderly lady began. “I miss you every day. You were the love of my life. I’m so sorry I never had the chance to say goodbye.” There were tears in her eyes.
A small shaft of light split the room. The door on the opposite side to the crowd opened slowly, then slammed shut. Several ladies screamed; whispers and mutters rippled through the crowd.
“He is here, standing beside you,” my mother said to the lady.
I suppressed a sigh. My father would have been behind the door, opening it then slamming it shut. I glanced behind me, and saw him at the back of the crowd. He had snuck in quickly. He caught my eye and winked.
Beside him stood the young lady, the one who had been walking beside my car.
She looked at me, and smiled.
By the time, the séance had finished, the elderly lady was crying, convinced she had really communicated with her dead husband. The room was set up ready for dancing.
I found the young lady again. She was standing by herself, gently swaying to the music.
“Are you here alone?” I asked.
“Don’t suppose you’d like to dance?”
She smiled. “Tell me who you are first.”
“I’m William McDougall. I’m a mathematician.”
“My name is Claire.” We shook hands. “Is your house really haunted?”
I laughed. “Of course not.”
“So you’ve never seen a ghost?”
“No,” I lied.
“Do you believe in them?”
“Nobody has ever proven the existence of ghosts,” I said.
“Has anyone ever dis-proven it?”
“Not yet,” I admitted.
Claire was looking at me with an amused expression. “There is evidence pointing to their existence. All of those people who have seen or heard them.”
“Seeing things, hearing things… it’s all part of an overactive imagination. I think, if I can touch it, then it’s real. You can’t touch a ghost.”
She took my hand and led me to the dance-floor. We did an easy box-step.
“You can touch a ghost, or be touched by a ghost, if their energy is strong,” she said. “Didn’t you feel it? The energy in the room, during the séance. You can feel when they’re near. The hairs on the back of your neck prickle and it all goes cold. Haven’t you ever felt that?”
I hesitated. I had that feeling now. “No.”
Claire laughed. “You are so determined not to believe.”
I sighed. “In the countryside, people believe in ghosts, but in the city, we call it schizophrenia.”
“How do you know you’re schizophrenic?”
“I used to see them. Ghosts. Then I got some pills. Now I see nothing.”
We lapsed in to silence. “Shall we go for a walk?” she asked.
We walked around the gardens. It had turned freezing. “Aren’t you cold?” I asked.
“I don’t feel the cold,” she replied. She paused, and looked upward. “Look at that. Isn’t it beautiful?”
The sky was full of stars. A breathtaking sight, after two years in the city. “It is,” I said softly, “and so are you.” I suddenly had the urge to hold her hand. I closed my hand around hers. It went straight through.
I froze, and looked in to her eyes. She smiled sadly. “Either your pills aren’t working, or you’ll have to start believing in ghosts.”
“I’ve never seen you before,” I said. “I would have remembered you.”
“I’m not able to be seen very often, and I haven’t been able to touch any one before. Thank you William. It’s nice to feel like a normal girl again, going dancing with a handsome young man.”
She kissed me on the mouth. I didn’t feel a touch exactly, just a breath of cold. Then she slowly faded in to the night.
Georgie Bull is a freelance writer and published author living in Worcester, England.
Author: Georgie Bull
1. You Can Go Home Again
2. A Beautiful Dream
5. Let Me Tell You A Story
6. The Haunting Of Verno House
7. The C Word
8. A Ghost Story
9. Father's Son
10. Time (poem)
11. Poems - Unheard and Silent Musician
12. The Ultimate Dystopia - part one
13. The Ultimate Dystopia - part two
1. The Desert - Peregrin Jones
2. The Being Verse - Peregrin Jones
3. Who Will Feel The Rain Now? - Leena Batchelor
The Blue Hour by Dreena Collins
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