Chapters:

Spirits, We Seek You

The White Crow

The Tracking Board’s 2016 Launch Pad Manuscript Competition

LOGLINE:

In 1863 Manhattan, a socially outcast young epileptic has a ghostly vision of her brother’s death. Desperate to contact him again, she follows a charismatic medium into his Spiritualist commune where she struggles to find the truth in a faith built on séances and sleight of hand.

SYNOPSIS:

There’s a strong fascination with the Victorian era in America—the lush dresses, the drawing room manners. But there’s a side to Victorian life that doesn’t sit so strongly in our memories as high society or the violent slums—the world of Spiritualism. This is the world of séances and spirit cabinets, of dark parlors where heavy wooden tables levitate and spin, where ghosts appear as glowing disembodied hands or a splat of ectoplasm across a lush carpet. Of course, behind each of these phenomena were ingenious mediums with tricks to conjure spirits at will, and provide ever more spectacular “proof.” And that’s the world of this story: The White Crow.

We open in the world of Victorian high society, in the lobby of a theater right before the show. Our protagonist is ANNA ABBOTT, just 19 years old—she’s intelligent and a little too plain for this world, a sheltered type who hasn’t come into her own yet. Although Anna is the only daughter of a prestigious family, she is outcast because she is epileptic. After a series of public seizures, she’s been cloistered away in the family home. Tonight, at the theater with her mother, is her first time out in months. But it’s a tense night for another reason—it’s Anna’s first time without her best friend—her only brother Wes, who is fighting in the Civil War. She wears his picture on a locket around her neck, needing to feel that he’s close.

So Anna navigates this snake pit of people whispering about her, treating her like a freak, until she and her mother finally take their seats in the balcony. Just as the play is about to start, Anna sees someone down in the floor seats. It’s her brother Wes, and he’s waving to her. Excited, Anna leaps up and waves, but her mother can’t see Wes. Anna races down the stairs, rushes out into the middle of the theater where she sees Wes is there—but he’s there as a vision. Only Anna can see him. He tries to speak to her, but she can’t hear him. She’s hysterical, causing a huge scene. As Wes vanishes before her eyes, Anna passes out.

When she wakes, people are crowded all around her in the theater, including a very striking man who leans in and whispers to her, “I know you’ve seen a spirit because I’m a medium.” This is FRANCIS BROOME (28), the medium we’ll follow throughout the story. Broome is silver-tongued and gorgeous. He gives Anna his card and ducks away into the crowd, just as Anna’s mother and a doctor carry her out of the theater. Anna knows her vision was more than another seizure, but no one believes her.

The next day, Anna wakes desperate to understand her vision. She slips out of the house and ventures into Manhattan alone to find Broome. She is completely out of her depth—she tries to hail a cab but hasn’t brought enough money. She gets lost and has to duck into a seedy

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bar for directions. But the bar patrons can tell she’s high society and mock her. Finally she pleads with a carriage driver to show her the way to Broome’s address and he agrees to just let her walk in the street behind him as he heads that way. This is all totally new for Anna—she’s been so sheltered all her life, and as she walks she’s exposed to sides of Manhattan she’s never seen—working class people and free African Americans, street children and all the filth and crowding of the city. This is where we start to see some of Anna’s grit and independence come out—where her character will change.

So Anna finally makes it to the address on the card. When she does, Broome is in the middle of a séance for another client. The curtains are drawn, only candlelight flickers against the velvet wallpaper. Broome is commanding the room, channeling a spirit by making a flower vase seem to float along a mantel. The room of women is stunned, eyes glued on him. But when Anna enters, Broome’s attention snaps to her. Suddenly, Anna is the center of the séance, and Broome starts to channel Wes. His messages are eerily accurate, with details he could seemingly never know, including the locket she wore that night, the locket with Wes’s picture.

Convinced Broome can contact Wes, Anna demands more séances and in private. But Broome tells her it’s too late. He’s leaving Manhattan for his Spiritualist commune upstate, his true passion project. He leaves Anna, saying she will have to find another medium.

Anna is crushed. She returns home, only to find that a telegram has arrived—it’s confirmed. Wes was killed in battle. Anna’s mother is despondent, and she’s lost her best asset—an eligible son. She tells Anna that given her latest fit she is unlikely to ever be married. The best place for her is an institution. With nothing left to lose, Anna slips out in the middle of the night, steals a carriage and runs away to join Broome at his commune.

From here, the story unfolds. Anna is in the colony, she has left Manhattan society behind, and she is now poised to get close to Broome. The story tracks three main questions: Is Broome real? Will Anna reconnect with Wes? How will her loyalties shift once she is inside the colony with other believers?

At the beginning we’ll see Broome through Anna’s eyes as he works to make the colony a success—How does he attract new mediums? How does he ward off non-believers? How does he control his flock?

Within the colony, we’ll meet a gruff but sincere doctor, DOCTOR COLE (30s), who takes a shine to Anna because of her intelligence.

By the midpoint, we’ll see Anna get closer to the colonists, and see a few of their arcs as they seek their loved ones. Anna will also get closer to the men at the colony—eventually falling in love with both Broome and Doctor Cole. But as Anna grows closer to both men, she also gets drawn into their separate ulterior motives. Broome, with his desire to control the colony and gain power, and Cole—who we learn is at the colony as a secret debunker, eager to prove Spiritualism fake.

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The climax comes with her loyalty torn and tested between them in the ultimate questions: whose side with she take? Rationale or faith? This question is complicated by one last revelation before the story ends: Anna’s visions are back. She might be a medium herself.

(Excerpt 1. Opening)

New York City, 1863

Tonight the whispers were different. Anna watched the jewelry box gowns and inky top

hats swirl around the theater lobby in front of her. Her body shrank into the clench of her heavy

dress, aching for a wall to press against or a nook to hide behind as if for a phantom limb. A

lone bench called to her from across the room, but the crowd was too dense, to barbed, to

traverse that far unscathed. Pressing through bodies would mean eye contact and ear shot,

would mean hearing the words she could already feel thickening around her in the air. She was

marooned in the sea of people, her mother already carried off on a wave of polite kisses and

strategic compliments.

Frosted gas lamps lit dim halos along the burgundy walls. Anna watched the amber glow

catch in the diamonds and silks and polished curls that had been marshaled to capture the weak

indoor light—as if to pull the very room into the spark of a necklace, and therefore control it.

Women she knew and ones she didn’t swept frothy skirts around her in movements as dark and

dangerous to her as ocean currents. Occasionally eyes snuck glances at her—scanning over her

girl’s high collar on a woman’s body, her hair folded in simple braids, her plain face—then

quickly darted away like startled fish. She knew tonight would be difficult, but in the moment,

alone in the moment, she felt impossibly small against her fear.

She tried to set a stony expression, jut out her chin, keep her deep-set eyes fixed on some

abstract point among the crowd. A smile cracked into the corners of her lips. Wes would have

called this her “thunder face,” laughing at how his sister’s soft, tender insides could look so dark

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and cloudy on the outside. “Storm’s coming!” he’d tease, and would draw his features—already

so close to her own—into a mask of her expression. Round cheeks suddenly heavy as stone,

light eyes fixed under long, dark brows that furrowed in a perfect V over a small nose and

pursed lips. He’d stare, still except for the twinkle in his eyes, until she’d smack him back into

his usual smile. Of all the ways she’d been mocked, this was different; from Wes it was an act of

love. Because he knew the secret—that the real storm was within her, and only he could clear

the clouds.

She smoothed her pale blue skirts and began her ritual. 1...2...3...by the time I get to ten,

no, twenty, this will all have passed. She drew shaky breaths within her corset, willing her focus

onto the welcome darkness of her theater seats. She tried to let these benign and happy numbers

drown out the obvious math of just how long it had been since she’d been out of her

bedroom—since she’d worn anything other than dressing gowns and medicinal wraps.

7...8...9... Because of course she, and everyone there, knew exactly how long it had been since

Anna Abbott, of those very Abbotts, had been seen in public: five months. Five months since

the last time it happened.

She dug shaky hands into her purse, running a finger along a vial of liquid—cool even

through her gloved touch. It was a small comfort, more of a reminder of how her body might

betray her without the numbness the medicine inside would provide. Her figure already felt

unknown to her tonight, and her dress more costume than elegance. Her wide shoulders and

round breasts molded into immobility, feet pinched into tiny jeweled canoes, and soft belly

cinched into a fraction of itself, Anna wore herself like a scarecrow fixed to its poles. As a child

she’d always assumed that growing bigger would make her feel bigger, and one day she would

wake up seeing her world eye-to-eye. Now grown, she still struggled to see over the wall

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everyone else seemed to have crossed.

It all started to outgrow her after her first public spell, when she’d flailed herself bloody at

Cordelia Collier’s birthday party. The bruises had healed quickly on her young pink skin, she’d

learned of epilepsy, “imbalances in emotional purity” and vials of potassium bromide, and

eventually, she’d received another invitation. But it soon became clear that an invitation to Anna

Abbott would bring more than just Anna Abbott. Because as she grew, her seizures grew, too.

The time she wet herself through her skirts in a church pew, the time she gurgled a bloodstain

into the schoolroom rug, the porcelain she shattered, the candles she overturned, the guttural

animal words she moaned and the twisted frozen faces she made. As her frilly girlhood dresses

changed to long skirts and corsets, the sight of her only brought whispers from behind hands

like disturbed flies. The eyes that stole glances at her only shone with fear, and only turned away

with dread.

Anna spotted Cordelia Collier chatting in a circle of pretty women, all as natural as roses

on one vine. Glance-by-glance, their bright, round eyes flashed at her, then quickly lowered

behind fluttering fans and closed ranks. Anna flinched under the flickering gas lights. She

watched her mother laugh, slipping beside an older man. The domed frills of her skirt echoed

the puff of grey whiskers on his cheeks. Anna inched closer towards the potted palms lining the

staircase. Lily Abbott’s thin elegance was the cruelest mirror to Anna’s stout frame. The

resemblance between them was clear, but the loser in the comparison was just as evident. Where

Lily’s dark hair curled like artist’s lines to her high cheekbones and arched brows, Anna’s

corkscrews always scribbled out of her pins and into her eyes. Where Lily’s wide round eyes

were naturally open and blue as a clear lake, Anna’s greyed and narrowed at the slightest ripple.

In her soft fleshy frame and preference for a book over a banquet, she took after her late father.

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Yet as a woman, she had only her mother’s small and delicate footsteps to follow, and Lily never

gave up trying to guide her there. Anna shifted her purse, feeling the vial of potassium bromide

roll around the satin. “Just in case,” her mother had said, pulling it out of her bag and slipping it

into Anna’s empty one as their carriage rolled away for the theater. The medicine only offered

the drowsy dimness of a drugged state. Tonight she was braving everything to indulge her

senses. The chance to see her favorite play performed was too great to let a hazy mind dampen

the lines that had sparked in her heart on countless lonely afternoons. Isn’t a stupor what they

expect of me anyway, she thought, and why give them that?

She pulled the vial out of her purse. As if snapping her fingers, she freed the cork and

lodged the open tube between her fingers. She reached for a nearby palm frond, letting the

medicine run down the stiff stalks as she leaned closer, pretending to admire it. A wave of

chemical smell burned away the earthy palm scent and stung her eyes as the last drops poured

into the leaf and she tossed the vial into the mossy pot. Tonight she didn’t have any real armor

anyway. She didn’t have Wes.

Anna glued her gaze to the hem of her mother’s skirt as she followed her up the stairs to

the balcony boxes. The progress was painfully slow. Her mother overcompensated for Anna’s

condition by working through social events like they were contests to be won. Every velvety red

stair she climbed brought her level with another elegant couple, another grey-haired maven,

another cog in their social system that might give Lily and Anna Abbott some momentum. As a

wealthy widow, Lily offered some clout along with her lithe beauty. But now the war had made

widows of many women besides Mrs. Abbott, and commandeered her most covetable asset—an

eligible son in Wes. Until he was back, the most noteworthy thing about her family was again

her sullen, sick, if still quite wealthy, daughter.

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Whenever Lily paused to chat, Anna stopped too, bobbing uselessly in her mother’s

current like driftwood. She watched her volley the same smiles and snippets to each set of faces.

Sometimes Mrs. Abbott spoke of the country’s war.

“I do keep your Daniel in my prayers, and trust you do the same for Wesley.”

“He’s in officer’s quarters, at least, and we had a letter from him just last month.”

Sometimes she spoke of Anna’s fight.

“Yes, she is feeling recovered; how kind of you to ask.”

“This may well be the season we resume her debut, so I do hope you keep your calendar

free.”

Anna twisted her hands, wrinkling her gloves into hurricane whorls. She eyed the winding

staircase, a red-carpeted gauntlet of poised New York elite. She was so close to the theater box.

There the darkness would block the sight of herself, and the perfect words on stage would cover

the worn out script of real life that spun endlessly in her mind. Her mother advanced a step and

she followed. Suddenly she was face-to-face with the ringlets and round eyes of Cordelia Collier,

herself. Anna’s throat clenched around any possible hello as the young woman grasped her

hands. A large sapphire ring sparked over her lacy white glove. Of course Cordelia was engaged

now. Why wouldn’t she be? It had been Anna that cried out mid-debutante ball and foamed

over lips still crumbed with maple cake, not Cordelia.

“Anna, I’m so happy I found you.” The girl hooked a slender arm into Anna’s elbow and

pulled her away from the crowd. “I just heard and I had to warn you. Apparently tonight’s play

is terribly upsetting.”

“Hamlet? Yes, you could say that.” The earnest, watery concern of Cordelia’s eyes surged a

wave over Anna’s defenses. “Shame on whoever told you, though, because isn’t it more fun to

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be surprised by what happens?”

“Well, I just,” Cordelia’s face pinched. “Ophelia has a fit,” she whispered as if the words

burned her mouth. “She becomes hysterical, and it’s terribly sad, and I thought it might be too

distressing for you to see it, given your condition.” She pulled Anna closer. “Maybe you could

feign a headache and retire early? We’d all breathe easier if you were safe and sound.”

Anna pulled her arm away. “But I feel fine and—“ Bells chimed to signal the patrons

inside. Cordelia blinked one last wide look of caution and turned away in a swish of ruffles and

silk. Anna spotted her mother lingering in nods and small kisses of her hands—a gauntlet she

couldn’t brave. Her reply fluttered, unsaid, and now soaked into her chest like a stain on an

evening that had barely even begun. She grabbed her skirts and slipped up the rest of the stairs

unescorted.

Anger squeezed its hot vise around her temples. She tried to channel it toward Cordelia’s

slack, simple face, then her mother’s socially expedient neglect, but as her feet stomped up each

carpeted step, her venom flew past these decoys. She was mad at her selfish and small heart, at

its greedy insistence that Wes should never have left her. She was mad at her need, and she was

mad at Wes for abandoning it. Why did he actually have to enlist; why didn’t he just take the

paid replacement like everyone else in their circle? What was he fighting for when he should

have been there fighting for her? This was why she needed the soft crook of her brother’s elbow

to steer her through this hornet’s nest. This was why she relied on his joking whispers to pad the

sharp edges of her thoughts. His freckled face and opening-flower smile—he was her moon that

kept her from drowning in the tides of a society that didn’t know what else to do but quickly go

on without her. Without Wes, she had to simply be where she was. And that was never

anywhere she wanted to be.

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“There you are!” Her mother caught up with her as the usher opened the door to their

box. “Don’t let all the new brides upset you, dear. Maybe you’ll feel up to making your debut

this season, after all. Late is still better than never.”

“I just can’t—,” the huge number of ways she could finish that sentence swelled in her

throat. The usher flashed a weary glance at her over grey whiskers—a mirror to how hysterical

she must seem, how repetitive, how colorless in the well-worn treads of all the other fainting

women in fancy dresses whose dramatics filled his nights. She took the usher’s hand, gathered

her hoop, and lowered into her seat. “I just want to wait until Wes is back.”

Lily wrinkled her straight nose. “Well, that’s a good thought. With young men so scarce,

it’s a little too competitive right now for you to find a match.” As the lights lowered, she felt her

mother’s hand slip over her knee with a dainty squeeze. “They’ll all come back, exhausted for

comforts, and some young man will be absolutely thrilled to set his eyes on you.”

Anna let the darkness draw a curtain around her tensed body. Now she was safe. No

matter what had happened, she’d finally made it to the delicious hours of peace. Now she was

the one watching, not being watched. She pulled her opera glasses from her skirt pocket. The

flickering stage lamps licked at the heavy velvet draped over the stage. She watched the nameless

people fill the small red chairs. A thin couple in dishwater-colored clothes held hands. A woman

in a hat crowned with a taxidermic bird settled into a chair in front of a small, balding man. He

shifted, frowning and gesturing at the feathers as his equally bald companion stroked a frizzy

beard and nodded. Anna may have memorized the play, but she savored this theater, too: the

theater of another life. She scanned to find someone else to watch. Then she saw a figure she

knew. There, sitting amidst the sea of strange faces was the wavy brown hair and sloped

shoulders that had been beside her at countless lessons, the slight frame tucked into the bed

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beside hers, the face that dodged a million snowballs and melted her secrets, the large round

eyes so like her own. Wesley. He looked up into their box; his light eyes shone at her. How had

she overlooked him?

“It’s Wes!” she cried. “He’s here!”

“Where?” Mrs. Abbott leaned over the edges of the box. “I can’t see him.”

“There,” Anna leaned over the balcony, pointing down into the air. “Mother, he’s

looking right at us!” She rolled her eyes and signaled to her brother that their mother was, as

ever, slow to understand. Wes nodded a soft smirk; I know. Anna waved into the air, gesturing

him to come up, before her mother tugged at her skirt.

“For pity’s sake, everyone’s looking at you!”

Wes shook his head. He held his arms crossed tightly over his chest, waiting. He tipped

his chin at her; Come down.

“Anna, you’re mistaken. How could he be away from the army, anyway?”

“They give them furlough, don’t they?” Anna tugged her stiff dress in place. Her

heartbeat rode faster into her chest. “All I know is he’s right there.” Wes watched her. Arms

crossed, legs still, round face calm and fixed on her like a beacon. Cold dripped into her belly; an

emptying of the air prickled her skin. She dropped her opera glasses to the floor and pushed

open the doors of the box.

She ran for the stairway in a blur of burgundy carpet, black tuxedos, and bright,

ballooning dresses. Gasps punctuated the thump of her heels as she raced down the broad,

winding steps. Heat spiked into her neck, curling into her armpits in a wet crawl. He’s here. A

darkness tugged at her, but she pushed it away. He’s here. He’s here. For me.

The curtain raised over a glowing stage as Anna burst onto the theater floor. She ran

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down the aisle, fighting the twist of skirt in her legs. Wes stood, moving toward her. He’s here.

He’s here. Arms still crossed over his chest, he faced her.

“What are you doing here?” she cried as she reached him; his face orienting her like a

compass, the soft unlocking inside her at the sight of his shape. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Wes’s lips quivered into a smile. He was dirty, streaked with mud and gunpowder across

his smooth cheeks and crayon nub nose. Trails of pale, wet skin wept from his eyes. He opened

his mouth but she heard nothing. She heard herself say his name, heard the syllable fly from her

chest like a shot and snuff out the noise of the actors and the crowd until only the sight of him

fuzzed in her ears. He’s here. He’s here. He opened his arms.

His blood was a dark circle, a drain in the flat blue across his chest. He reached his arms

to her. His eyes flashed white halos around their brown. His mouth pulled around the silent

words. The blood soaked and spread. She watched his legs buckle. She felt her knees drop to the

floor. Her arms flew to him, and her fingers closed empty in the cold fog of his body. She

watched the blue of his uniform purple like a bruise as his form flickered, fell through the velvet

chairs and started to fade against the red carpet. She crawled to him, arms on either side of the

bloody heave of his chest. His mouth still twisted around syllables she couldn’t hear. She

hovered over him, pleading his name and tracing his thrashing with her face until his rolling eyes

found hers and caught on. His look softened. His eyes shimmered. His mouth went still.

She saw his blood turn dark. So dark it turned black. So black it opened a hole in the

center of Anna’s vision. A gaping cavern into nothing, it flared out from her brother’s chest.

The blackness grew. It expanded like the lungs it covered. Now the darkness was moving, and a

cold echo told her that her brother wasn’t anymore. The cruel black spread into her vision, it

spread, it spread until it swallowed the blood and the brass buttons and Wes and the hands

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reaching out to grab her as she fell, headfirst, against the empty floor.

(Excerpt 2. Anna finds Broome in Manhattan for her first séance.)

A man stood in the middle of Mrs. Summit’s drawing room of respectable women. His tall

frame towered over the braids and bows of his gathered audience. Anna slunk into the plush

room, skirt hems crushing against the striped wallpaper as if to sink inside it. The other women

were unknown to her, and she watched as the man twisted their eyes towards him yet, hands

clasped neatly behind his back, barely moved himself. His build was long and lean with

shoulders that lilted slightly forward, giving him the appearance of scholarly absorption in

whatever was before him. His hair was a muddied blonde, full and grown into thick waves that

he swept back tall above his forehead. Dark brows and soft lines framed his deep set eyes in a

mournful serenity, while a thick, darker beard obscured his expression like a shadow cast by the

glow of his high cheekbones. His gaze flashed to Anna, and over a slight twinge in his beard, his

eyes sparked with a tiny nod.

“Miss Abbott, my dear, I was so afraid you wouldn’t come!” Bertha Summit approached

her, ruched skirts shining and low voice booming across the room with the force of an emerging

sun. Anna staggered, rattled by seeing the powerful woman’s wide-set eyes and banquet hall

smile fixed on her with such warmth. “Watch out, dear!” Mrs. Summit reached out and pulled

Anna’s stiff pose out of the way of a maid carrying a lit candelabra. Two grim-faced servants

trailed her, one holding a silver tray with framed pictures of a very old woman and the other a

schoolroom slate, tin trumpet, and crystal goblet filled with sticks of chalk.

Anna turned to her host. “What is this?”

Mrs. Summit’s powdered cheeks colored and the greying curls around her ears quivered

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with delight. She clasped Anna’s arm like she was about to deliver a prize. “Consider yourself

fortunate, my dear. I’ve invited you to one of my séances.”

The servants turned down the gas lamps and lit more candles around the drawing room,

as each doily-covered surface and socially sanctioned sculpture faded into amber semi-darkness.

Next to each candle, they placed either a picture of the old woman, or a small personal effect

like a yellowed hairbrush or empty perfume atomizer. They heaved oak and velvet chairs away

from desks and artful tête-à-têtes into a large circle in the center of the room. The tall man had

slipped behind a folding screen, though Anna could see the curls of his hair catching the

candlelight above the panels.

“I was at the theater last night, you know,” Summit intoned as she hooked a thick arm

around Anna’s shoulder and led her into the circle of chairs. “I saw what really happened.”

Anna’s knees wobbled beneath her dome of skirts. “You saw him, too?”

“Your spirit visitor? No, but then why would I?” Mrs. Summit spoke casually as if

discussing draperies. “Yet given the happy timing that I’d arranged a sitting for this very night, I

just had to add you to the—,” she whirled a hand as she paused, sending sparks from a stack of

jeweled bracelets. “I’ve come to believe that grief is the most powerful magnet for spirit energy.”

Anna’s mind fuzzed out the unknown words, intent on the meat of her meaning like a

starving dog as Mrs. Summit pulled her into a chair and sat beside her. “You believe me?”

“That’s not the right question.” Anna watched the woman’s heavy face cloud over, her

thin and chewed lips twisted in distraction. The wrinkles around her eyes and mouth seemed

deeper somehow in the darkness, as though the light had been as thin and false as a foil

wrapper. A servant’s shadow fell across her, and Mrs. Summit reached out to take something off

the silver tray. As the maid left, the candlelight sparked on a thick braid of grey hair tied with a

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black ribbon that Mrs. Summit twisted in her short fingers. “I know my mother continues to live

on, although outside our realm.” She turned to look at the painted folding screen panels as the

candlelight flickered over her lined face. “And I’ve seen him bring her to me in ways as real as if

she was sitting before us right now.”

As though responding to herself, Mrs. Summit gave a small start and tucked the braid into

her skirt pocket. She clapped her hands and raised her voice back to its typical bark. “Take your

seats, ladies, it’s starting!”

The ladies averted their eyes from each other as they took seats within the tight circle,

embarrassed. They were a perfect dozen of Victorian womanhood, lavishly dressed, all grown

and guided to be as silent and decorative as flowers in a vase. But tonight, they were showing the

dirt that clung to their roots. Not one of them had been spared a death in the family. Not one of

them didn’t sit absentminded in her anxiety, fidgeting with a mourning brooch as the lock of

hair inside caught the firelight, or twisting a black jet ring on hands raised protectively to their

breasts—each afraid to disturb the soft, swollen flesh of her heart’s deepest wound, but even

more terrified that there might not be a reason to try.

Of course, it’d been fashionable to dabble in parlor games about mental powers and “the

spirits” since Anna was young. As a child she’d watched the adults play “Secret Suggestion,”

always a little frightened by their squeals of delight when the player would re-enter the room

carrying the candlestick or whatever item he’d been drawn to select by the telepathic will of the

group. But in recent years, the games had ceased to be games, at all, because after the

devastation of the war, “the spirits” suddenly had names. Séances were no longer a flashy trend

to get anyone, living or dead, to break the monotony of dinner parties. Instead, they became a

desperate hope—the latest bait on the millions of hooks bobbing in empty bedrooms, beds

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suddenly too big for one, and under-populated dinner tables across the country.

A bell rang from behind the screen. Mrs. Summit rose and began smoothing her hair and

skirts as the man emerged back into the visible room. He wrapped long fingers around the arms

of the one empty chair, moved it out of the circle and stood in its place—the space right next to

the hostess, and only one chair away from Anna.

Bertha cleared her throat. “For those of you who are new to our circle, allow me to

introduce Mr. Francis Broome, spirit medium. Please honor my invitation by following his

instruction to the absolute letter, and if you have any negativity or doubt in your heart, do us all

the favor of leaving right this instant.”

No one stirred, though Anna noticed that more than a few of the ladies were fanning

themselves and keeping wide eyes fixed on the carpet or their laps or very much not on the way

the candlelight danced against the man’s burnished tan cheekbones and stormy blue eyes.

Mrs. Summit nodded. “As hostess, I reserve the right to invoke the spirit we wish to visit

us tonight, and I call upon my beloved mother, Mrs. Constance May Johansson Edwards.” At

that she took her seat and clasped Anna’s hand in her warm and slightly doughy grip.

Broome’s beard darkened with a small smile. “Beautiful,” he said in a soft voice. “I thank

you for that blessing,” he continued, each slow word forming like sap on a vine. “And so do

they.” He raised his palms and Anna followed them to look toward the seemingly empty corners

of the room. A maid disappeared as she shut the door, creating a reversed gasp of air being

sucked out of the small parlor. Broome stepped into the center of the circle and swept his

glowing blue eyes around the women. Anna watched him rotate at their center, his attention

coveted and full of promise, like a trophy to be handed out to a lucky winner. Then he was

looking right at her. His eyes were clear, not clouded by an agenda or a heavy meal or

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condescending boredom like most men who looked at her. His eyes searched her. They saw her,

fresh, like she was new. And his gaze was much too much for a man to impose in this setting.

Anna’s face burned as though he was looking through where she sat in front of him in this

strange, frozen moment. As if instead of seeing her now, he was seeing her drugged and

swaddled in blankets just hours before, seeing how she’s sobbed so hard into her pillow that it

filled her mouth and she chewed through the cloth. Seeing how she’d pushed the bulge of her

breasts over her corset to fit into the outgrown mourning dress that strained over her body.

How she’d never seen a man look at her like this. Francis’s angular face softened. “Don’t be

frightened,” he whispered, as he drew his eyes from her slowly, as if through water.

Then, with a blink, the intimacy was broken, and he said to the group, “Let’s begin by

joining hands.” Soft, pink hands found each other around the circle with prim efficiency. Mrs.

Summit tightened her grip to the point of pain, but in Anna’s other hand, her neighbor’s small

knuckles felt as fragile as a bird’s nest. Francis closed his eyes and extended his arms, palms

facing out into the open air. “Spirits, we gather today in your honor. We seek you, humbly. We

seek your truths, the answers with which you left this world, and which we so humbly crave. We

seek your voices so sorely missed, and we seek your love, a love which, for us, never followed

your earthly body away from us.”

A few ladies broke the circle to dab at shining eyes.

“Spirits,” his tone deepened to rattle into the pit of Anna’s stomach. “Spirits, we seek

you.”

Anna felt the silence slowly crawl into the echo of his voice and up her spine. She was

familiar enough with ridicule and disappointment that she liked to know what was coming next.

She’d developed a way to pre-measure her emotions, even the good ones, and then simply meet

17

the inevitable without drowning in an unseen flood. In this case, she had no idea what would

enter into the quiet tension, only that it continued. And what she truly couldn’t stomach was the

small, shimmering oil slick of hope floating on the surface of her dark anxiety, and how one

word rang out in her mind over and over through the swirling jumble: Wesley.

Francis gave a low hum, as if coming into tune. “I see a spirit. It is coming through very

faintly, though. A man? A young man?”

Anna felt every woman in the circle sit up, lean in, or give a small gasp at his last words.

Mrs. Summit tensed as if she’d been struck. Francis’s arms groped in front of him and he

squinted against a glare no one else could see. “The spirit is being blocked somehow. I...I feel

so very tired, so heavy and...” his voice thinned, and he staggered backwards, arms searching

for a support that wasn’t there.

“Oh, help him!” cried one of the ladies.

“Get him a chair!”

Someone stood and pushed her chair into the center of the circle, where Francis wavered

on seasick legs. With one weary eye cracked open, he nodded at the offered seat, then pulled a

handkerchief from his coat pocket, dabbing his brow as he stumbled to sit. But it was too late,

he collapsed, thin arms and legs buckling, toppling the chair, and triggering Anna’s tight nerves

as she jumped to her feet at the clatter. Several other ladies leapt up with her, pulled into a chain

overreaction from their clasped hands, and their swinging skirts knocked more chairs to the

ground with sharp bangs and gasps. Mrs. Summit flashed furious eyes flashed at her, arrows

tipped in a poisonous question, “Are you causing this?”

Francis spoke in a hoarse whisper from his tumbled posture on the floor. “Oh, this spirit

is most insistent to come through.” He raised one arm to his forehead, shielding his eyes and

18

still clutching the handkerchief, as, with the other hand, he pulled at his necktie with trembling

fingers. His coat fell open, and his black vest silhouetted his slender build against the shining

blue lining. He lay at their small, pastel-colored shoes, displayed for his audience to see from a

height they didn’t usually experience. Francis gave a weak wave, motioning the women to sit

down. “I’m afraid the spirit finds something in the room objectionable.”

Anna’s eyes darted around her. Dark wallpaper painted with round roses. Modest doilies

over carved wooden table legs. Fresh bouquets punctuating the complete statement of gentility.

There was nothing; she saw no forms, no specters, and no signs of anything out of the ordinary.

Anna’s meek neighbor tugged her arm to sit back down, and she saw that her fist had gone

white, still clenched the woman’s tiny hand like a shell.

Brushing off his coat, Francis drew himself from the floor and kneeled on his long legs,

hand clasped at his chest. His blonde hair tumbled into loose curls around his flushed face. He

closed his eyes and murmured softly through his beard. “Yes, Spirit, show me what is troubling

you and we shall remove it!” He rose. “Please don’t be alarmed, my delicate observers.” He

tucked his handkerchief back into his coat, and rubbed his hands together as if warming them

for work. “Spirits can be blocked if an object in the room holds a painful remembrance from

their earthly life.” His voice was back to its normal tone—rooted, firm, but softened by a

dancing hint that wove through his words. “Once we remove it, this young man should come

through. He certainly wants to very much.”

Francis paced slowly around the edges of the room, hands clasped behind his back. He

stopped in front of a small bookcase, and peered at the cracked leather spines. With a nod to the

women, all steady in their stares if not their breathing, he extended his hands to either side of

the books, floating over them like parentheses. In a low voice, he intoned, “Spirit, do the

19

subjects in these books trouble you?” Silence met his question. With a knowing murmur, he

withdrew his hands and resumed his strange search around the room. He approached a painting

on the mantel—a portrait of a noble Summit elder giving an enigmatic smirk under a gleaming

white wig. “Spirit, do these paintings, do the persons or scenes depicted in these paintings

trouble you?” Again, nothing sounded or stirred.

Francis crept forward in his slow hunt, casting his glance around the room as he dropped

each deliberate footfall. His eyes caught on something just to the left of the mantel and he

paused. Anna stretched to see it, but the other women blocked her view. Broome’s bearded face

drew into a frown. Anna shoved her chair back from the circle. There, held in his gaze like a

jewel, was a small vase of flowers, just two stems. Lilies. Hope and fear fluttered into her heart.

The flowers often filled their home given her mother’s name, but it took years before anyone

thought they might be the source of Wesley’s boyhood coughs and rashes. “Wesley can’t be near

these,” Lily would say to every new gift, ushering maids with brimming arms into far corners of

the house. But Anna liked their strong smell, and she knew where the flowers were kept. One

day she stole away to Wes’s favorite hiding spot in the library, just in the patch of afternoon sun.

She cozied herself in the nook, and piled at least a dozen lilies around the edges as a fence. Of

course, he’d found her, and braved the barrier to snatch the book from her hands—shrill voice

shouting his vexing battle cry, Tally ho, Tally ho!, as he tossed it across the room. Howling, she

flung one meaty stalk at him, hitting him square in the face, and he had swollen red welts across

his cheeks and lips for days.

Francis extended his hands on either side of the vase like floating bookends. He tucked

his head to his chest, closed his eyes and gave a low moan. “Spirit, do these flowers trouble

you?” A loud knock broke through the silence. A deep crack like wood popping as it’s thrown

20

on a fire. RAP! Anna and the other women startled at the noise. Francis nodded as if he’d just

heard a kind word instead of the sharp rap. “Spirit, is there something you wish to communicate

about these flowers?” The sound knocked again. RAP! The noise jarred a surge into Anna’s

body—too much air filling her lungs, too much blood rushing her head, too much for her heart

to keep pace with as it raced, aching, to catch her hope and outrun her fear.

Francis drew himself tall with a long, deep breath. He closed his eyes and flexed his

hands that hovered around the vase. “Spirit, guide me.”

The vase began to move, slowly, away from his open hands. It crept along the mantel in

an unearthly glide. Anna blinked against her shock. The tall, full flowers barely quivered. The

smooth porcelain slid along the polished wood with all the effort of a whisper. Broome kept his

hands in their position, fingers splayed, palms facing the vase, floating several inches above the

shining surface as it moved. She craned her neck to look into his open hands, but saw nothing.

“Move through me, Spirit, and I will do as you wish,” he said softly, the way one might guide a

new horse. The vase continued forward with slow, smooth confidence. Francis walked with it, as

though being led by it, until it approached the edge.

“Bertha, your vase,” said one of the ladies into Mrs. Summit’s ear. She waved away the

thought.

Anna braced herself against the image in her mind—the vase would levitate, floating

through the air, landing at someone else’s feet, laying a welcome mat for the medium to enter

that world and walk away from hers. Instead, the vase dropped off the edge of the mantel as

straight and suddenly as if fell from a cloud. It crashed to the floor, shattering into slivers and

water and broken flowers. Francis kicked the lilies away from the mess. As if they were on fire,

he swept down to grab the stems with pinched fingers. He winced in pain, gritting his teeth with

21

blazing eyes. He ran to the window. Water flew off the petals to skirts and faces. Francis thrust

open the pane and threw the lilies out. With a bang of the windowpane crashing down, as if he

was afraid the stems might leap back in, it was all over. Francis exhaled a great breath. His body

drooped, his angular face hung to his chest. “There, spirit,” he said. “We’ve done as you asked.

Please join us.”

Francis re-entered the circle, dabbing his face and neck with the handkerchief. He looked

around the silent, shaken circle. Again his eyes stopped at Anna. He held her gaze in a searching

sadness. “I see a spirit in trauma. A spirit that has passed very recently.” He brought a hand to

the center of his chest, shirt sleeve still wet from the flowers. “I feel a tearing, deep here. A

terrible pain.”

Mrs. Summit’s breathing grew faster and she shifted in her seat to bore an angry stare into

Anna.

Broome lifted his gaze upward, closing his eyes. “This young man, very young, he comes

to me in great terror. He’s showing me an unfamiliar place...a field, running and looking for

something, someone...but he’s hurting. He’s losing life.”

Tears stung into Anna’s eyes. The candlelight that glowed on the medium’s features

blurred and spilled into warm wet on her cheeks. He’s here. He’s here. For me.

“Now I see a crowd...an audience. He is showing me curtains, a stage...the pain is almost

too strong, but he’s found her now. A young woman. He needs to say something to her.”

Anna felt the chair beneath her soften, and she slipped to the ground as though simply

poured her out. Dizziness spun into her temples. She sank into the cushion of her black skirts,

knees to her chest, ribs and breath crushed under her swaying weight. Mrs. Summit tried to tug

her upright through their clasped hands, but Anna stayed as if underwater. She kept her gaze

22

fixed on Broome. He blinked his eyes open. One of the women from the circle thrust a vial of

smelling salts in Anna’s face, and she tore her hand from the meek neighbor to swat them away.

The women gasped as the vial spun the salts across the carpet.

“Does anyone recognize this spirit?”

Anna grabbed for the thin woman’s hand again and steadied herself. “Yes. He’s my

brother. That’s Wesley.”

“That’s impossible,” Mrs. Summit’s voice reached Anna’s ears like a distant echo. “No,

this spirit must be blocking Mother somehow.”

Francis rose and approached Anna. He crouched in front of her, face just inches from the

black crepe that covered her knees.

“Say his name again. His full name.”

“Wesley Archer Abbott. Wes. Wes. Can you hear me?”

“He’s showing me medicine. A small bottle, clear fluid spilling out. He’s laughing about

it.”

“Now I had an accident with my rosewater just last week! And it’s the brand that Mother

always wore—“

Without taking his eyes from Anna, Francis addressed his hostess. “No, this spirit is for

her. He comes with great love for her.

“Mr. Broome, I—“

Quick as a lightning bolt, Broome reached for Anna and wrapped his hands around her

ankles. She felt her muscles open, release as his soft hands looped warm against her stockings. It

was the shortcut of touch, but her mind spun with the sudden contact. Thought flared away

from her as she stared into the medium’s open face. “His love fills this room with light all

23

around you.” Broome’s eyes brimmed. She was close enough to him to see the rose-colored

whisper of a smile on his lips. “How I wish you could see it.”

Sound slipped from her throat. “What was he saying to me?”

“It’s difficult—his energy is very unstable.”

Mrs. Summit tried to tug out of Anna’s grasp but she held on. “Whatever he wants, just

tell me.”

“He needs something. Something only you can give him.”

Pain prickled into her palm where the woman’s nails bit into her flesh. “Please, please.

Anything.”

Anna’s arm pulled away as Mrs. Summit stood with a heavy sigh. She beckoned the other

women to stand, and they rose in a daze, eyes locked on Anna and Broome until the movement

jarred them all into remembering themselves, their place, and their required embarrassment over

such a display. They dropped their eyes and told themselves the burn in their cheeks was

nothing more than righteous humiliation. They clustered away from the circle with whispers as

Anna and Broome stayed locked together on the floor.

Broome’s grip tightened, squeezing pain into her shaking body. His voice started to buzz

in a shrill whine. He opened his mouth as if to speak, then shut it. His eyes widened and

clouded, far away from this room and this moment. He shook his head and the words rang out

in the silent room. “Tally ho, tally ho!”

Anna caught her breath in her chest. Hours ago she’d been immobilized by blankets and

doctors and the shame they swaddled around her. And just a day before, Wes had still been in

the world—which was to say that a day ago, so had she. Now every sight and sound around her

paled against the raw ache in her chest and the tremor in her limbs. This was all she was. She

24

was a tiny, searing pinpoint of loss and hope, simply tethered to a body like an antenna, and

surrounded by darkness. Her life had split—everything that had filled her before had been

scooped out and cordoned off in the unreachable past. From now on, she was empty, and in the

depths of the blackness, the only thing she saw was how far she would go to feel anything,

anything but the terrible truth that ached inside the hollows.

Broome jerked open the door at her first timid knock. “Really, you’ll see it’s just a short

ride away—“ he blinked at her and his eyes hardened from pools to polished stone. He hooked

an arm around her shoulders and pulled her into the room, easing the door silently shut. “What

are you doing here?” He sprang back, angling his body in front of her—not blocking her view

so much as inviting her gaze to him instead. His eyes flashed around her as urgently as if

searching the French blue rugs and draperies for flames.

“Find him for me, it was really him. I have to know. The lilies, the words you said.” The

half-logic spilled out of her in a brittle jumble. She pushed her palms into her corseted waist, as

if panic could simply be kneaded out like dough. “He was saying something to me. Did he see

me? I have to know whatever he needs so I can—“ her voice caught on a ragged breath. Her

heart swung open like a screen door. Gaping, gaping, banging shut, gaping—exposing all her

courage for the hollow and hungry force it was.

“Try to stay calm.” Broome lifted the bedside chair and placed it in front of her. “I know

it’s intense.” He took her elbow and lowered her into it. He pressed a half-finished glass of

water into her hand. Anna drank; watching him. His hands fluttered to smooth his hair, and

sweat darkened the curls at his temples. Broome was different than before. Now he wasn’t

wearing his dark jacket or a vest. His linen shirt hung open—and where she’d seen Wes’s pale

skin taut over laddered bones, Broome’s skin was soft and honey colored under a swirl of dark

25

hair. He fumbled to fasten the buttons up his collar, covering a scarlet bloom and sheen of

moisture across his collarbones. He rolled down his shirt sleeves as he kneeled in front of her

for the second time that evening. “Just tell me what you’re seeing.”

“Nothing, not now.” This time, his eyes were steady. Calm. His own. Now Broome wasn’t

channeling Wes, but her brother flashed in her mind all the same. What little she’d seen of his

teenaged body on swimming trips or the reflexive observation of the bored and confined—it

was the only male form she knew, and it was nothing like this man’s lean strength.

Instead of wrapping around her ankles, he reached forward and cupped his hands around

her shaky fingers. “But Spirit is with you,” he said. “I can see it.”

(Excerpt 3. Anna has run away to the commune and forces Broome to give her a private

séance.)

The evening sun whispered through the stained glass, cloaking every surface in a jewel-

toned disguise. A few candles flickered in the corners of the room. Anna took a seat at the table.

“Ready, Miss Abbott?”

She hesitated then reached into the pocket of her skirt. She placed a small, framed picture

of Wesley into the blue-red light in front of her.

Broome took his seat. “As we have a very small and less experienced circle tonight, I

must request a few more intimacies than at our last sitting,” he said, holding out his hands for

her. “Gloves would only place more physical distance between our mortal bodies and the spirit

world,” he explained. “It would heighten our connection greatly to remove them.”

Anna poised her fingers on the tips of her glove, and glanced at Wes’s portrait as if for

approval. Finally, she had Broome to herself. Even if she only had gotten here from stealing

26

Mrs. Summit’s note, she didn’t want to simply be another member of his colony, shrugging into

the circle like the milk-water women at the Summit séance. I’m different, she thought. I’m like

him, and he sees that. She wanted his recognition, his attention—what he had shown her with

Wes was special, and he had to feel that, too. After all, his gift was only as good as the person

there to hear it, to summon the energy, as he’d told her. Now here she was, and she wanted to

watch him welcome the goodness that meant for both of them. Wes was gone, but Broome was

her vessel. Her lifeline, even to the dead. And maybe, in some small way, she could be his.

Francis made a small, impatient rock in his chair. “Don’t worry about causing offense,” he

said. “Once spirits leave our realm behind, you’ll find that these sorts of social rules and

restrictions just melt away as if they never existed.” The low light made dark shadows hug his

steady gaze, and traced a draftsman’s dark smudge into the hollows of his high cheekbones. He

gave a small smile. “Because, you see, at our spiritual core, such rules simply don’t exist. Not in

our true nature.”

Anna folded her gloves on her lap. She slipped her fingers into his palms. Francis closed

his eyes and slowly pulled her hands close, resting his arms on the scrolled chair. The red-violet

light diffused over his angular face like a shroud. Only flickers of candlelight licked at the blonde

wisps and curls behind his overcast expression. His dark beard obscured the bottom half of his

face, blending almost completely into the shadow of his black suit. He was a floating gaze,

focused at her, and though Anna could feel her whole body and the tremble that churned

through it—she could see almost nothing of his.

“Spirits, we seek you through the power of our Eternal Creator. We ask you to transcend

your realm, so filled with light and love, and deign to visit us so we may learn from your wisdom

and generosity.” His low, musical voice warmed in her memory, easing the tiredness of just how

27

far she’d traveled to hear it again. “Spirits, although our worlds are separate, we are united

through our invisible creator. Cross the dark divide between our realms and bring your light like

a beacon into our earthly vessel so that we may learn...” He spoke without pause, and she let his

words melt into pools, forming an even, tidal noise behind her mind. This was the beginning to

what she’d come for. This was the church organ, vibrating every particle in the air with sweet

resonance to call everyone to listen a little closer, watch a little closer, because as soon as the last

echo faded, the world would be different—the world would be blessed.

She cracked open her eyes and watched Broome’s face, the flickering lashes of his closed

inward gaze. She let her breathing expand, let her racing heart to slow to match the steady

rhythm of his words. She was here now, and soon Wes would be too, and the world would again

be blessed. Only now instead of a changed course, a lightning bolt, her blessing would simply be

a world returned to the fuller, softer way it spun just days ago.

Francis stopped his prayer with a sharp breath. “Spirit.” He tightened his fingers against

her knuckles. “Spirit, we acknowledge your presence with sincere earthly gratitude,” he said

softly. “Tell us, who has descended the spheres to grace our circle tonight?”

“Wes!” Anna’s voice broke into the dark. She clutched Broome’s hands and pulled their

clasp towards her chest. “I need you to know that I saw you, that I—“

“No.” The word was a hard spark into the soft dark. “The spirit is a woman, of some

advanced age.” He twisted his hands to loosen her grip, and lowered their arms back to the

table. “Perhaps a grandmother? Her spirit is very troubled.” He moaned softly, a hush of air

whispered through his lips. “She tells me she has been working to bring you here.”

“But I wanted to be here. For Wes. Where is he?” Anna whispered to the tall shadow

across from her, aware how pathetic the words sounded and unable to stop them from tumbling

28

out of her. “I don’t understand.”

“Please, Miss Abbott, we must focus our energy when the spirit is so agitated.” Broome

leaned in to the flickering light with softened eyes under his dark brows. “It may better orient

the spirit if I call you Anna.”

She nodded her head in silence.

“This spirit has been waiting for you to call upon her, because she sees your Wesley. She

sees his journey through the spirit world and she is troubled.”

“What is his journey?”

“When a spirit crosses over, he must travel through a number of spheres. He must

progress as a spirit, leaving behind his earthly hatred or jealousies, even his joys and attachments.

A spirit has to let go of his hold on his bodily identity to move into higher and higher spheres,

until finally he is open and can receive universal love.”

His words washed over her, slipping through her fingers as she grasped for the one name

she wanted.

“Then he enters the Summerland, where the love of the creator and the universe flows

through him and with him. He will become part of eternal light—a beacon of great love to guide

all souls. Forever.”

“I just want to speak to my brother. Please? Can you bring him through like you did

before?”

“I’m afraid it’s not quite so simple. The soul can progress, or not, in the afterlife. Spirit

tells me she’s been watching over him, but he’s still attached to something—or someone—in

our world, and his presence in the spirit world is weak. He’s vulnerable to base spirits—I’m

afraid some never progress at all.” Francis drew a quick and shaky breath. “He could become

29

trapped.”

Anna shook her head as if to jostle his words into a kinder, more agreeable pitch. This

wasn’t what he was supposed to say. Her thoughts moved only on the twin grooves of fantasy

and denial, sticking to the tracks like a terrified child that only steps within the glow of mother’s

candle. To close the gap between what she wanted and what was happening meant slow, scared

footfalls into silence, it meant taking the risk that she might never find her way back to light or

movement ever again. She felt a pleasantry slip through her lips as a reflex. The sound of her

own voice barely cracked her thoughts. If Wes was trapped as a spirit, then he would be more

accessible; he would be closer to her. If he moved away to that higher sphere, wouldn’t that just

make him farther from her? Now he was held close. He was in one place. Now I can find him.

“Tell him I’m here,” she said. She struggled to keep the adrenaline shaking her veins from

rattling into her voice. She never knew how hope could hurt. “Tell him I came to speak with

him.”

“In this state, that’s much harder. It takes a certain sustained effort.”

“Anything, whatever he needs. I’m here.”

Francis squeezed her hands with a soft sigh. “Wes needs a great deal more than that. He

needs regular contact from a very high energy. With my ability to access the Summerland, I

could establish a strong spiritual bond, and guide him to redemption in the higher sphere.”

Anna pulled a palm loose from his grasp with an impatient wave. “Fine. When can I talk

with him?” She twisted in her chair, inspecting the telltale candles that still burned in the

corners. Was Wes here? Why couldn’t she see him as she had before? When would she feel him

with her again?

Francis reached for her. His fingertips grazed the softness under her chin, as he lifted her

30

eyes to his. He leaned into the candlelight. “Eventually, Miss Abbott, you could.” Anna kept her

head still, afraid to break his stare and release the terrible truth she saw there. “I must be clear, in

this state spirits often lose their ability to verbalize, and they certainly cannot materialize until

they’re made stronger.” She watched his mouth slowly twist into a frown and a smile, teasing

words behind a pink promise. “I can do that for Wes, but it may take many sessions of reaching

him on my own before you’re able to hear from him. Weeks, even months.”

The threads of hope and risk that had held her upright through the exhaustion snapped

at his words. Months? Blood throbbed into the pain that had shadowed her back since the

carriage ride. Her mind threw weight in all directions to stay the course. It’s fine, just a slight

delay, but I’m not going anywhere. I can wait. She shrank over her lap. The fold in her corset

pushed breath from her like a blow from a board. She managed a nod at him to go on.

“I would keep you informed of the progress, of course, and we could establish a lump

sum to cover the daily fees in advance, for your convenience.”

“You want money?” She had never paid for church, never deposited coins to open up a

pew or produce a kneeler. Why would this be any different?

His face flickered with confusion. “Well, yes, Miss Abbott. It may not be of use to the

spirits, but unfortunately we depend on it very much. You’re also welcome to take lodging and

meals here at the colony, and that monthly fee includes a reading by any of our visiting

mediums.”

In numb silence, Anna pulled her purse from the folds of her skirt. The crumpled bills

inside suddenly seemed smaller and more insignificant than she remembered, as if they’d

withered off the vine the farther away they traveled from her mother’s bureau. She pulled out

the roll and offered it to Francis. Bills flashed in his fingertips, and she realized she didn’t even

31

remember how much it was. She was counting them as a child would, 1-2-3-4. She didn’t know

how much a hot meal would cost, or how many she had just handed over.

Broome tucked the money inside his velvety coat pocket. “Thank you, this is most

generous. I’ll have my secretary send you a bill for the rest, say two months to start?” He rose

from the table with a smooth flicker of the candles.

Anna stood, screeching her chair against the floor. She reached him without thinking, as

if the floorboards simply folded like paper. She gripped his arm and squared her feet in his path.

“No.” Broome’s face flashed. She had genuinely surprised him, and she charged into his shock

with the full force of her hunger. “I’ve given you all the money I have, now you have to help

me—to continue that bond, as you said.” Now Anna couldn’t keep her voice from shaking if

she tried. Humiliation burned into her, and she released it like a dragon. “Or else you’re a liar, no

better than a dog doing tricks for table scraps.”

Francis kept his eyes on her, calm and dark as if still listening to her through the silence.

Her chest chased breath with wild, plodding fear. She stared into the stony face she’d followed

here—green eyes and high cheekbones, always darkened by a thought held just inside the fences.

It felt surreal how disastrously it was all unfolding, this moment she had longed for only hours

ago. Now the very air was spiraling out of her control, wrapping a drunken arm around her one

plan, careening off her only bridge and plunging her toward disaster.

Broome covered her grasp on his arm with a long, heavy hand. “Miss Abbott, before we

let such things as that pass between us, please recall that I’ve seen your home. I don’t have to

use any perception to know that this,” his eyes narrowed, “is not all the money you have. I can

give you what you want, but it comes at the cost of my work and my gifts, so it is my right to set

the price.”

32

He capped his hands over her round shoulders as if to lift her, then simply stepped

around her like she was a stone. Anna grasped for thoughts between the cold clatter of his

footsteps walking away from her, leaving her alone. “I can tell my mother! Everyone in society

will know that you’re a charlatan, an imposter just after money. And then who will receive you?”

Francis spun on long legs. “Do you not see where you are?” His shoulders hunched over

his lean frame towards her, curling his body like an incoming wave. “You’re not in your cozy

circles of Manhattan money anymore. The people that fill this house value something more than

your last name. This place exists so that I never have to kneel in front of the self-anointed

sanctity of your set ever again.” He raked a slow gaze across her too-tight mourning dress, the

sweat-crusted hair that corkscrewed from her braids, her sunken eyes swollen and stiff with

tears. Her impulse throbbed to cover her arms over her chest, turn her cheek, shield herself, but

her heart lacked the fight to do anything more than keep her breakable limbs upright. “So, Miss

Abbott, by all means, runaway for a second time today. Go back to your mansion and tell them

all what’s happened here. Just make sure I’m the only one that’s shunned for it.”

Anna heard her voice before she heard her thoughts. “I can go home whenever I like.”

“Then I expect you’ll be gone by morning.”

The newness of the room, of the house, of the countless strange acres that surrounded

her swirled into her thoughts and dizzied her vision. Blackness blurred the edges of her sight,

and numbness sickened her awareness. Where was she now? Where could she go?

(Excerpt 4. Anna is inside the colony, searching for Wes.)

A sharp rap woke her. Like popping wood in a fire, the sound was deep, animated. She

jolted up onto her arms, skirts spread over the still-made bed. The room was black as she

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blinked the sting from her tear-crusted eyes. Nothing stirred; no one made a sound. The window

above her bed was still open. She could hear whispers of the nocturnal world outside the house.

She ran her hands over the nightstand, fumbling. The dinner tray was gone, and so was the

lantern.

Crack!

Another rap split into the silence. It seemed closer this time, as though a hand was knocking

on one of her bedposts. She jumped to her feet. She expected the other women to startle, cry

out and wake as she had done. But nothing made another sound. She squinted into the darkness.

The silence told her the colonists must be asleep, but any blanketed shapes in their beds were

invisible. She had to take it on faith that anyone was there in the room with her, at all.

“Is it really you, Anna-bear?”

She spun into the dark. A soft summery warmth, the friendly twist of music inside the

words: Wes’s voice. Her throat clenched around a cry—her own voice was gone. She moved

into the shadowy room on bare feet, her mouth pulling and stretching to try and say his name,

draw him to her, but she managed only scratchy breaths. I’m here, I’m here, her body ached

with the signal she couldn’t send. Let me see you.

“You’re right where I wanted you to be.” His voice seemed to be coming from her center,

radiating from within instead of simply being heard. “I knew I could count on you to find me.”

She felt pulled on a track as her feet flew down the aisle of beds and her arms pushed

through the door. Moonlight filled the empty hallway. A figure waited at the dead-end outside

Broome’s bedroom door. Slight with sloping shoulders; a familiar form that cast no shadow in

the blue brightness. Wes.

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She ran to him. Her feet were bare—someone must have removed her boots while she

slept—and she was less thankful for the kindness than for the silence that cloaked her padded

steps. Every other door in the hallway was darkened and closed, including Broome’s. Wes was

alone. He was hers alone. His face seemed to swell in her sight—pale skin almost white in the

moonlight, round eyes that glowed like mirrors. His form was slippery, where her eyes landed on

it, the shape coalesced into an arm, a shoulder, a face, bright and translucent, holding the sight

of the walls and shapes behind him as in a bubble. Beyond her focus, however, his form went

cloudy—blurred into a shimmer of light that hinted at some presence in the empty air.

He turned his whole body to her, as his figure rippled with light. This time, he saw her.

This time his face wasn’t stained with dirt or tears. No blood crept across his chest, and he

wasn’t in uniform, just a simple shirt and trousers. He was restored; here was the Wes she

remembered. She placed her hands on his chest and his figure condensed beneath her hands.

This time his form was solid—her fingers didn’t push through him as they had in the theater.

She laid her head against his shoulder. He was cold to her touch, chilled from within like stone.

She wrapped her arms around his back, willing her heat into him. She still couldn’t speak, but

she didn’t need to. She felt a cool pressure on her neck as he wrapped a hand around the back

of her head. As if by instinct, her body calmed under this protective gesture—the simple

stillness that used to be part of her daily life. To be touched by him was to be touched in her

memory—it lit the comfort of how he would wrap an arm around her as she stood alone at a

party, or pick her seizure-wracked body up off the floor while everyone else stared.

She opened her eyes and looked at the still surface of Broome’s bedroom door, near enough

she could reach out and open it. Francis Broome, the only other person she knew who could

connect with Wes, was just behind it—was this why had Wes drawn her out to this spot?

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Wes leaned away, looking into Anna’s eyes. “I have so much to tell you,” he said. “So much

I couldn’t put into my letters; things I was saving for when I was back.”

She watched his mouth form the words. Such a simple sight—a loved one speaking, a voice

embodied, a want made known. Now it felt precious and rare. “You can tell me now,” she said,

her voice suddenly restored.

A light spilled into the hallway behind them. Anna spun toward it.

“It’s the doctor,” Wes’s whisper rushed into her ear.

The room where Everjoy had given the disastrous séance glowed through a swinging door.

“How do you know?”

“He was in there before, remember—with all his equipment. He must have come back for it

now that everyone is asleep.”

Anna imagined herself through Cole’s eyes. Her barefoot, teary and seizure-addled self,

standing in a dead-end hallway in the middle of the night, whispering to someone he might not

even be able to see. A shadow crossed behind the lit doorway.

“He might catch you!” Wes hissed.

“Maybe it’s okay,” she whispered, watching the light waver as the figure paced inside the

room. “Maybe he could see you like I do, or he could see that I see you.”

Wes was suddenly in front of her—his translucence like a fog across the hall. “No, Anna!

You can’t!” He moved in bursts, disappearing then appearing whole in a new spot, without

transition or movement. A flicker and a blink, and he changed—as stuttering but urgent as the

dots and dashes of Morse code. “If he knows you can communicate with spirit, then he’ll want

to test you.” In another flicker, his eyes were dark, face drawn with worry. “Do you really want

another doctor prodding you, treating you like a curiosity—a specimen?”

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The gas lamps inside the room turned off. A single candle shone in the gloomy threshold.

“Hide!” Wes flickered around her in a frantic circle, as though making a fence. She shrank

into the shadowy gap between the dresser and the corner. There was the window high above

her, and only walls surrounding her with just one door—behind which was Broome. Wes’s face

was contorted, scared. This was a familiar look to her now, familiar from the theater, and her

stomach lurched with fear. If her protector felt pain, there was no one left to shield her. She

tucked her trembling legs and skirts tight to keep them out of the moonlight. Her body felt

impossibly large, swollen by dread. Wes crouched beside her, even though the space was much

too small for two. He flickered not beside her, but around her—his limbs seemingly pulled apart

and glowing over her arms, over her legs as a kind of spiritual shadow to her body. She held her

breath.

Cole stepped into the hallway. In the dark, he was even less solid in her sight than Wes. Just

a floating hint of shadowed eyes and sharp cheekbones over a dancing point of flame. He turned

towards Anna. She had no idea where anyone was assigned in the house besides Broome and

Everjoy. Cole could walk toward any of the doors that lined the hallway between them. If he

found her she would have to lie, blame her wandering on a spell—once again be the poor,

diseased girl. But even as she turned the lie over in her mind, it felt wrong, like it would snap

whatever spiritual grace had connected her with Wes, with a world that felt whole.

Cole stood in the hallway, staring towards the moonlit window. He ran his hands through

his curling hair and sighed with thought. Then he turned his back, eclipsing the candle with his

body, and retreated away from her in a faint amber trail. He opened a door and slipped inside.

He was gone.

37

Anna stood on shaky legs. Wes stayed huddled in the corner. Now he was again in his

uniform as she’d seen in the theater. The blood stain on his chest glistened with the tortured

heave of his breath. "Please don’t leave," he rasped. "Please don’t go."

Anna cried out, her voice piercing the quiet. She fell to her knees. “I’m right here, right

here,” her shaky words tumbled out between racing breaths. She reached for him, but her hands

fumbled through him like he was vapor. He was fading, he was slipping away from her again.

“I’ll stay here all night. I’ll never leave you.”

"No, this colony." Wes raised a faint blue arm to Broome’s closed door. "Please stay with

me. Stay here."

Nothing stirred in the hall as her sobs laced through the quiet. "I won’t let him turn me

away. I promise."

Wes closed his eyes and his face relaxed into a smile. The blood on his chest lightened,

fading away on the Union blue wool as his form gathered shape and color. He nodded. "Good,"

he murmured, "that’s good." He hovered a finger over the bottom right drawer in the chest.

"Look in there."

She tugged the small brass knob. Nested in a red silk pocket square, a small silver bell caught

the moonlight.

"Ring it, Anna-Bell." His eyes sparked over a crooked smile. "Don’t tell me you’re scared?"

Luminous as crystal, she was afraid to even touch the perfect object. "Everyone would wake

up, dodo," she whispered.

"I’ll make it so they can’t hear it." His flickers steadied. In his clean uniform, he looked more

grown than she’d ever noticed. She’d never seen him as a soldier, never glimpsed this way in

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which his life was unfolding without her. She picked up the bell, pinching her fingers around the

heavy ringer inside to keep it silent.

"Trust me, Bear. Ring it."

She took a steadying breath in the silent dark. Broome would find her. Cole would come

back. The idea made no sense but she pushed her thoughts to find a foothold within the

confusion. What did make sense in this moment, suspended between life and death? Nothing,

no one--except Wes. She closed her eyes and shook the bell. Clear melodic pings echoed into

the hall. A second passed. Then two. No one stirred. She looked at the bell--it was perfectly

normal. She rang it again. Loud, clear, so hard that her arm strained against her tight sleeves.

Nothing.

"See," his voice was seamless with the silence, like an echo of the metallic music. "I can still

protect you." She spun, reaching for him, but he was gone. No more flickers of light, no

shimmering body or sweet face. The walls seemed drained of color and false, as though she

wasn’t actually standing in a house, at all, as though she could knock them down to reveal thin

beams and glue holding it all together. She knew he wouldn’t appear again that night. She

tucked the bell into her skirt pocket and crept back into the bedroom on chilled tip-toes. She

passed the bodies sleeping in their beds. Now she could see them—wool-covered lumps, blind

to the miracle she’d just experienced. She pulled back the covers on her bed and slipped inside.

She was right where she needed to be, and everything was happening as it should.

* * *

Hands shook her awake. “Miss Abbott, we should get started.”

39

She blinked into the sunlight, too dim for morning. Every other bed was empty and neatly

made. Doctor Cole stood at the foot of her bed holding a plate of roasted potatoes and chicken.

He set a golden brown roll on the blanket next to her.

“Eat that, at least. You know hunger can bring on a spell.”

He’d taken back his jacket and draped it over his arm. In sleep, her skirts had become

kneaded into a tight coil around her thighs, exposing the pale skin on her calves over stockings

that puddled around her boot cuffs. She twisted and tugged the dress straight, her muscles

aching back to life. She dug into her skirt pockets. Empty.

“Where’s my bell?”

“What?”

“Last night, I...” her words shrank under the doctor’s inquisitive gaze. “I couldn’t’t sleep

and I walked around a bit. I found it in the hallway and put it in my pocket.”

“Impossible.” Cole pushed aside the lantern and set the plate on her nightstand. “I was in

the library all night preparing for tomorrow. I didn’t see you, or anyone.”

Her eyes caught the lantern. Someone must have replaced it. “I saw you," she said, "But

you didn’t see me and you didn’t hear me.”

Cole sighed and placed a hand on her forehead. “No, Miss Abbott, I’m quite sure I was

alone. Solitude is a feeling I recognize."

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She wriggled away from his touch. The pity in his eyes was clear enough, but there was

something more--the oily slick on the surface of every doctor’s eyes that had ever looked at her.

He wanted her to be sick, wanted her to be something he could explain and use to show off his

own knowledge.

"You know that dreams can be disturbed after a seizure." He picked up her wrist, fingers

against her pulse.

"It wasn’t a dream!" She knocked his hand away. Unfazed, he picked up the bottle of

potassium bromide, holding it to the light to check if she’d taken any more. She bent forward,

hands clasped behind her head, blocking him from her sight as if shutting herself behind a door.

How many questions like this had she endured from doctors? Questions that weren’t really

questions at all, but statements worded in such a way to overpower her. Questions where the

only thing truly being asked was how dare she doubt her inferiority. Ignoring him, she dropped

to her knees and looked under the bed. No bell. She stood and swept her hands over her empty

bed. No bell. She scanned the clean floor. Then she noticed them. Her boots. Perfectly laced

and knotted, still dull with a layer of dust from her travels, still on her feet as they’d been the

night before. Dread dropped into her bones like lead weights. She sank back onto her bed.

"Don’t be disheartened," said Cole, squeezing her hand. "You’ve had a confusing

experience and you’re in a new place. But I might increase this medicine, just for now."

She nodded, feeling the realization wrap around her senses like wool. He was right; she’d

slept through the night. The bell was gone, the lantern and her boots were just as they’d been. It

was too clear. Shame threatened to flood her mind, carried on a wave of all the voices she’d ever

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heard tell her she was mad, possessed, broken. She called into her memory for Wes’s voice, and

centered on the soft but steady hum in her heart. She’d never had a dream so vivid in her life.

Maybe spirits could appear in dreams; it seemed natural enough to her. And Wes had seemed so

real--felt so real. His joy at seeing her here, his way of protecting her--that was him, her spirit

would recognize his anywhere. She nurtured the spark of hope, directing all her energy to

making it grow, making it burn through the anxious fear that threatened to swallow her whole.

She recalled Wes’s warnings about Cole, his instant distrust of the doctor so like how he had

questioned the ones at her bedside in life. Dream or not, this had been Wes. This was her

beacon. Maybe he was appearing in dreams to spare her a public spectacle like at the theater. He

was there to protect her, after all.

(Excerpt 5. Anna meets with Dr. Cole)

Cole opened his bedroom door, and checking for anyone who might see them, shuffled

Anna inside. She hesitated as he shut the door behind her. “Can we—“

He laughed. “Can we be alone together without causing a scandal? You’ll find that if it’s

not happening from beyond the grave, not much causes a stir around here.” In the light of day,

his features felt less harsh to her. His stockiness seemed softer, his intensity almost energizing.

“I just don’t want them to associate us together, just in case.” Anna felt her color rise at the

suggestion. “The lack of decorum is rather nice, actually,” he said. “Nothing wrong with being a

little more free.”

He leaned under the bed and drug out a wide wooden plank with various shapes poking

up through a heavy cloth. Back on his feet, he began drawing objects out of the boxes and

42

placing them on the bed and at her feet: a spool of black string, a large tin trumpet, a long

collapsible rod with a feather at the end, chalk and several slates, and, lastly, a small silver bell.

Anna gasped and pointed. “Where did you get that?”

“This? I’ve always had it. It belonged to my grandfather from the Revolution.” He twirled

it in his hands and handed it to Anna with a tinkling chime. “Supposedly it was forged by Paul

Revere, but tall tales were something of an art for that gentleman.”

Up close, the bell was engraved with elaborate, curling letters praising the bravery of

Captain J. H. R. Cole. The handle was bumpy with filigree and floral clusters—not at all what

she had held in her hands with Wes. Still, the idea of being a spiritual messenger twinged in her

thoughts. She handed the bell back to Cole.

“Satisfied? No funny stuff?” He smiled as his fingers brushed hers. She watched his dark

brows furrow over his eyes—round and rimmed with long lashes. He surveyed the arrangement,

then seemed to remember the covered wood plank at his feet. With a cloud of dust, he pulled

off the cloth to reveal various sizes of test tubes, wires, forceps, and a jar wrapped tightly in

burlap. Cole scooped up the jar and handed it to her. “Unwrap it,” he said.

It was just a pickling jar, and even wrapped in thick fabric, it fit easily in her hand. Still, her

nerves fluttered as she untied the strings that wound it tight. The burlap fell away, and inside was

a waxy white brick of substance, half submerged in oil. He took it from her and opened it. “Give

me your hand.”

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She held out her palm and he poured a small pool of oil into the center. It was thin and

slick, quickly coating her skin as she curled her fingers in the cool substance. He shrugged off

his suit jacket and held it over them like a tent. In the darkness, her hand began to glow a cool

greenish white.

“Phosphorous oil,” he said in the shadow between them. “If you were still wearing black,

it’d be better." His comment twinged inside her--by custom she should still be in full mourning.

But, she corrected herself, Wes wasn’t really gone. He was suspended, both with her and not.

Wearing black felt like a betrayal of his visits to her in spirit--another misstep that might snap

the thread that still connected them beyond her understanding.

Cole sighed. "Just imagine you are and it’s so dark we couldn’t’t see your dress at all.”

She opened and closed her hand. The glow was an exact replica of her skin. All the

familiar lines that crisscrossed her palm were there, but instead of being shadows they shone

brighter, oil pooled thicker in the creases. The square shape of her palm was undeniably hers,

and though she could still feel the blood swirl in her hand, she felt made of different matter. She

gave off light.

“We’d only see a floating hand,” said Cole. “A disembodied spirit, waving hello.” He

whisked his jacket from above them, and the sunlight returned her to soft, pink flesh. “And

you’d believe it.”

Anna curled her oily fist shut and brought it close to her heart, feeling protective of her

miracle, however manmade. She knew her hand wasn’t a disembodied spirit, yet seeing it glow

had still been magical. It had still cracked a light into the dull grey of routine life.

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Cole wrapped up the phosphorous and slipped it under the bed. Anna saw that he was

sweating more now, and his unruly hair was sticking to his forehead in dark curls. “Have you

ever heard of slate writing?” He spoke quickly, almost without breath, as he grabbed the small

chalkboards, placed the piece of chalk between them and tied them together with the string.

“What word would you like Spirit to write for you?”

Anna recoiled in surprise. She didn’t want to hear from Wes with this man around, not like

this. “No, stop,” she said.

Cole sat on the bed and laid the slate flat on his lap. He placed his fingertips on top of the

lower corners, thumbs underneath the boards. “This part takes practice, but I can replicate it

well enough. Again imagine we only have dim candlelight.” He met her eyes with a small smile.

“Watch closely.” Without moving his fingertips, he slipped his right thumb between the boards.

If she hadn’t seen him do it, if she wasn’t sitting so close, she wouldn’t know his thumb had

moved, at all. She heard scratching on the slate. “Now, imagine that took a long time, and we

said some prayers or sang a few hymns to set the mood.” He lifted the slates and untied them.

He handed one to her. In the corner were shaky but clear letters, Wes.

Heat flooded her body. It was terrible to see his name in a spindly scrawl by this coarse

man in this strange room.

"The simplicity of their methods throws me sometimes," said Cole, holding out his hand

to her. A loose string around his thumb held a stick of chalk like a parallel bone, whittled to the

thinness of a matchstick. "And like that," he rubbed his fingers over his thumb joint, as if

snapping and the tie loosened. The chalk fell into his waiting palm. "I’d deposit this back into a

45

pocket or a handkerchief." He held the chalk and string out to her. "Pretty clever, you have to

admit."

She kept hold of the slate, and traced her fingertip over the lines, smudging the doctor’s

scrawl into smooth letters. Just seeing his name written in the world--on a new surface in a new

place, like he was still visiting new ground--made her want to secret the slate away to her

bedroom, curl her body around it like a pet. "Have you ever lost someone?" she asked.

Cole’s thick chest shuddered. He wrung the shock out of his face, then closed off his

expression with a scholarly glare. "What do you mean? Of course I have."

"Who?"

"My grandparents," he said. "And my mother has recently taken ill."

"What about your father? Siblings or friends?"

"I never knew my father, I have no siblings, and before you ask, I’ve never married and I

suppose I don’t have enough friends to have been touched by the probability of their deaths."

Less than a dozen years older than her and unburdened by close death—she felt a wall rise

between them. His luck sickened her. It twisted into her battered heart and filled the wounds

with bitter black. "You can’t possibly understand this place," she said. "You stand in the same

rooms as us, see the same things we see, but you’ll never know what anything means, no matter

how many times you measure it."

46

“In science, we call that being impartial, and it’s essential.” His face twisted into a frown,

measuring the words behind his lips. “If you want something too badly, Miss Abbott, you’ll see

it even if it’s not there.”

Anna swept her arms over his array of strange objects. “So all of this, this is how you think

the mediums bring through the spirits?” She grabbed the nearest item, holding it up in a shaky

hand. “A tin trumpet? Black string?” She threw the trumpet on the floor with a jarring clatter.

“What if the message is just words? How does a jar of oil make someone know my nickname, or

know what flowers he was allergic to—things only Wes would know?”

Cole wouldn’t meet her eyes. His round face drew long, seemed to ripple with a fleeting

tenderness. “There are ways,” he said, quietly.

“Yes, there are,” said Anna. “Ways of the spirit that you can’t begin to imagine.” Cole

tucked his face away from her, shoulders drooping. “Why do you even care? Why are you trying

to take away something beautiful?”

Cole paced away from her, balling his fists and letting his rough shoes fall on the floor

with heavy thuds. “I’m trying to preserve beauty, actually,” he said, keeping his eyes off her.

"Oh really?" Anger flared out of her, uncontrolled unfocused and deep. “Then why does

everything you’ve done make me feel so terrible?” Her words flew without thought. “And why

are you doing it at all, except to be a hero to the poor souls like me?”

“You’re vulnerable,” he said softly. “A weakened heart can’t make strong decisions.”

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Anna laughed his words away. “Oh I see,” she said. “I mean as much as I can as a practical

invalid. And why would you take on this noble quest?”

He stood in front of her, close enough to touch. He set his jaw, his eyes burned at her

over his silver glasses. The very whiskers along his jawline seemed to bristle in anger. Yet he

stayed silent.

“Why?” She was yelling, letting her voice hit him like blows, letting the swirling anger

inside of her out. “Why are you doing this?”

"So I know there’s more to it all than this pathetic, miserable parade of nothing!" Cole’s

face filled with red, his dark eyes gleamed with wet. "This? This is our great cosmic gift?

Gossiping and drinking and earning and shopping? And if you don’t want to do any of that then

you spend it alone, with books whose words are as lifeless as their authors, and your only reward

is another set of hours to fill come morning."

His words broke her anger in two and her posturing fell. Anna snapped back to where she

stood, face inches from Cole’s olive cheeks, her body trembling but squared in front of him. His

words had echoed in her memory—not her memories of Wes, but of herself. The hours alone in

her room, the escape into novels, the blankness of her future without a husband or social status.

He knew this about her. He felt it too.

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