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Authors: J. P. Hightman

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BOOK: Spirit
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Five nights earlier,

A cemetery, Salem, Massachusetts

CHAPTER TWO

T
hey had come on a mission to aid the dead, but the Goodravens instead discovered an angry, disoriented phantom. Her ghostly form, bones visible under skin, glided through the rainstorm, mist upon mist, whispers within whispers. She—it—emerged from the blackness, and then lost all shape and definition, dissipating into nothingness.

The wraith-woman reached out for Tess Goodraven, who stood before her, straining to see the vanishing likeness. Tess stumbled back. In the stabbing rain and blinding flashes of lightning, she could not be sure she had actually seen the wraith approaching amid the gravestones.

Tess twisted her body, her boots firmly set in the mud. In the thunderstorm's white pulses, she could see the whole Salem graveyard lit up, and there behind her, the comforting figure of Tobias.

He stood staring ahead like a man mesmerized by a magician. Had he seen it? She had no time to speak before she felt the unmistakable touch of a spirit. Tiny pinpricks of ice fell upon her neck, and her heart seemed to stop for an instant. Mist gathered sleepily around her, swirling in the gusts of wind.

Around the muddy hem of her dress, the mist slowly spun, low and thick, with Tess in the center of its motion.

She stared at Tobias, who watched with blank fascination, perhaps even jealousy. The fog had a quality, an indefinable life within it, an
intention.

The mist, the spirit-creature, closed in around her, and suddenly Tess perceived the wraith's urgency. It was not just anger she was giving off. It was need.

Tobias's hand thrust into the mist, and he pulled Tess out of the rising column before the wraith's aim could be fully known.

“Step clear of the grave,” he said. Tess fell back behind Tobias, and watched in the scatterlight as he confronted the empty fog: “Mary, stop—we've not come to disturb you. I've brought back what was stolen….”

Perhaps at the sound of its name, the Wraith halted, the mist seemingly frozen in the air.

Tobias reached back, pulling from the darkness a small cedar box. He slid it open, revealing a collection of skeletal fragments.

“They're your bones, Mary.
Your
bones. I've found them,” Tobias called.

For just an instant, the thing near the open grave became mortally realized and took on a female appearance, almost an innocence: a Puritan lady in tattered clothes. But at that instant Tobias slipped on the dirt mound where he stood, and suddenly the box slid loose from his fingers, the skeleton pieces tumbling
into the grave
, falling past the Wraith-woman, who seemed to feel the passage of her very bones through her. And then she was gone, as if obliterated by the shock of it.

Tobias recovered, perched on the edge of the gravesite, and turned to see that Tess was safe. She looked down, wide-eyed, into the darkness of the pit below.

“Bury it,” Tess uttered against the rain.

Within moments, the grave was covered in earth. Finished with the work, Tobias slammed a thin weathered headstone back into place that read:

MARY SUTTON
VICTIM OF THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS
DIED YOUNG 1692

And Tess exhaled with relief.

The bones, stolen ages ago by souvenir hunters, and tracked down with great difficulty by Tess and Tobias, had at last returned to their final resting place, precisely two centuries since the woman's death.

Exhausted, Tobias rose to stand by Tess, amid the rain-ravaged, broken gravestones. For a moment the storm calmed, and Tess heard water pattering off the ivy hanging on the forlorn statues of the marble angels. And then the calm was shattered as the headstone before them squealed and cracked, and gave out something like a breath.

A bluish mist emerged from the grave and instantly gathered body and fullness, the Puritan girl's spirit soaring free. It was the soul of Mary Sutton, reaching for the heavens, and as the phantom crossed through her, Tess again felt a deep chill, as if a frost had settled in her veins.

For an instant, their minds were one, Tess and the Puritan girl, and then the spirit moved on, passed into Tobias, and then lifted
itself, or was lifted, upward, higher, faster, departing the living world.

Tess felt warmth return to her blood. The couple looked at each other, sharing the terrible awe and fear of the moment. Exhilarated. Stunned.

Tobias reached for Tess's hand.

“She is quieted,” he said.

 

A few minutes later, huddled under an umbrella, Tess and Tobias stood near the cemetery's entrance and signaled their horse-drawn coach. Tess stared off into the distance. “She spoke to me. As she passed.”

Tobias nodded, mulling it over. “She said there were others, others who weren't innocent. Fascinating, really. She had a stench to her, though, didn't she?”

Tess shut her eyes at the memory. “Decidedly.”

“You there!” yelled a voice. A bearded, barrel-chested man carrying a lantern was rushing over the muddy field behind them. “What were you doing here? It's past midnight!”

Tobias calmly took a sociable tone. “That it is. And cold, too, in the rain. Offer us some warm spirits?”

 

Tobias had a way of getting what he wanted without being particularly charming. People simply yielded to him, Tess thought. He had shown her these past few years that often you get what you desire in life by bluntly telling people what you need and not asking at all.

But she was thankful for his forwardness as she sat in the
gravetender's warm cottage. Hard to call anything so small a house, but cozy it was, despite the presence of the dead who surrounded it.

The gravetender sat with Tobias and Tess at the table and the man's loneliness nearly drowned them, with much the same intensity as the downpour outside. His words spilled from a hoarse throat, seldom used.

“And you say you have a sickness?” he asked them now.

“I feel that's the brightest word for it,” Tobias answered. “But we wouldn't want to burden you with the particulars of our unhappiness.”

The man rubbed his beard with the tips of his dirty fingers, his eyes showing great concern. “Would it make me a braggart if I said I may be of help to you? Many's the time a visitor brought low by the facts of death has found comfort here.”

To Tess's surprise, Tobias began to relate to the gravetender the circumstances of their life and history, lifting the curtain on their entire past. Both orphaned at thirteen by a terrible theater fire in Manhattan, the two had met in a church. For over a week they ate charity food, and slept in donated beds, among a dozen other unlucky orphans, overseen by dour nuns and clergymen while their families were notified. Tess had clung to Tobias, as there was a priest with a most disagreeable manner who seemed unduly interested in her whenever she found herself alone. And the other children seemed greatly disturbed, staring at her with a chilling dullness, hour after empty hour.

Tobias seemed the only one alive.

But they were destined to part. Eight days after the fiery
tragedy, an aging uncle from Maine came for Tobias, moving into the family home in New York. Tess was sent to live with her grandmother in Pennsylvania, watched by a governess in the echoing upper halls and lost rooms of the great house, where wallpaper dripped like the peeling skin of a corpse.

It was an unhappy time. Tobias was left alone for weeks on end, as his uncle spent every moment tending to business matters, while seemingly an eternity away, Tess's moody governess kept her from anyone who might bring her friendship or solace. Miss Lilly was an unmarried Southern woman who enjoyed the power of her position, and took up the management of Tess with fierce strictness. Perhaps due to this, Tess grew into a young lady of great composure—with a tendency to dislike restraint.

During that time, Tobias's letters kept her afloat, and her messages to him became warm conspiracies of escape.

Tobias narrated this story with great flair, the whole thing seeming as grim and dark as a dime novel. He couldn't help but embellish a few flavorful elements (the uncle keeping him in a tower next to a frothing idiotic cousin who smelled of urine was a complete invention on his part). But the tale came to a relatively happy ending: the uncle became senile and Tobias, with the help of a worried butler, had stuffed the old man away in a rural home under supervision. Tobias Goodraven thus became his own man, so to speak, at the age of sixteen.

Tess and Tobias had kept up their correspondence intensely for three years after the tragic fire in New York, until they met again at a séance. It was held in Manhattan at the request of a lawyer who'd lost his wife in the theater that night, and who felt the
gathering would be more powerful if other survivors participated in trying to reach their lost loved ones. Few agreed, but Tess and Tobias—having experienced strange and growing sensitivities ever since the fire—were eager to see a true expert in the occult who might summon real results.

At the séance, their contact with the spirit realm was momentary but dramatic, a wave of invisible energy that fell upon them like unseen hands, followed by an intense heat. Faces appeared in the dim room. Then, astoundingly, the fire restarted itself right there in the psychic's chambers, sweeping up the curtains and nearly engulfing the medium as everyone fled the house. That touch with death had changed their lives almost as much as the theater fire itself, Tobias often said.

After this, Tobias enjoyed five long days of courtship with Tess, as she and her grandmother recovered from the séance. Miss Lilly had disagreed with the occult project from the start and remained at the hotel that night, but Grandmother had developed an interest in such things, missing Grandfather more and more over the years since his death.

It was at the end of that heady week, with her governess's willful disapproval, that Tess accepted Tobias's marriage proposal and began a new life in New York City. Certainly they were young, but such marriage was not unheard of, nor unlawful, nor unwise, if the match was a good one. Tess told herself that she and Tobias fit together, hand in glove; or cello by cello, for she took it as a great omen they both played the instrument. Everything had fallen into place, Tess thought now, as she sat in the graveyard house. She did miss Grandmother, so far away, but certainly not
her retired governess; Tobias was all she needed. She could hardly believe it, but their anniversary would be in just weeks.

All of this Tobias told the gravetender, prattling on. Meanwhile, Tess was terribly aware of the rainwater in her stockings and boots, a dampness stubbornly unmoved by the gravetender's fire, and her impatience was growing. This mattered not a bit to Tobias, who seemed to have met his equal in late-night conversation. He was completely toying with the man, enjoying his reactions.

“The séance to find our parents was largely a success, and the ultimate result of this spirit visitation was,” as Tobias put it, “a sickness that came to both of us. A shameful, unstoppable thirst for the
worst
that the world can offer.”

The man at the table leaned back, a worrisome riddle in his eyes. “What is it that has a grip on you?”

“It's most unpleasant.” Tobias sighed.

“I knew something was awry. There is a hollowness to your gaze. And the color of you both, like white ash.”

Tobias nodded, looking regretful and wonderfully lost-lamby.

The man accepted his shame. “You poor wretches. There's no getting free of this sickness?”

“It is relentless. Our very blood begs us for satisfaction.”

“And what is the name of your poison? Opium?”

“Worse than opium, sir.”

“It has led us to this very place,” interjected Tess.

“To a graveyard?”

Tobias leaned closer. “The digging up of graves is part and parcel of our sickness. We yearn for darkness. We…have a great love of phantoms, sir.”

The man came in closer, as if his hearing had gone faulty. “What?”

Tobias answered him plainly. “We seek contact with the dead. We hunt lives lost.”

“Your jesting is ill-mannered, sir.”

“This is no joke, my good man. If you know of a way to be free of such wanting, I should be glad to hear your remedy.”

The man still looked confused. “You came here to disturb ghosts?”

“And found one, I should say,” replied Tess. “A ghost of Salem, and the old witch trials here.”

Tobias leaped in, detailing his new interest in Salem after visiting the Boston Spiritualists Society. (Bostonians were always going on about the witch trials, and in gruesome detail.) “Our sort of crowd,” said Tobias. “Corpse-lovers, every one of them.”

“Do you realize the wrongness of meddling out here? I should call the police to snatch you up,” said the gravetender distastefully. His words held a sadness, as if he wished to keep the couple from leaving, crazy or not. Tobias and Tess knew. They always had a strange, sharp awareness of the people around them. To say they were good judges of character would be an understatement. They had a
sense.

“That dead woman had her bones stolen by some vile collector. We simply returned them. We did you a good turn,” Tobias said, rising. “It's clear you have no sympathy for people in such circumstances as we find ourselves, so we will take our leave. I'm sorry we wasted our time. I thought you might have some wisdom to impart. Nonetheless, thank you for the…hospitality.”

Tobias took Tess's arm and guided her to the door. For a minute it had seemed to her Tobias sincerely hoped the gravetender could help them in some way. But what wisdom could anyone have for such as they?

“Off with you, then,” the gravetender grumbled. “You disturb the peace here. I've heard the spirits warn of terrible death for such as you. They whisper it, they howl it, these nights—
‘Those who seek truth in the blood of Salem dead will find nothing but torment in their head…. From their loved ones, they shall be torn and severed, lost in hell, now and forever.'
Do you hear me?”

BOOK: Spirit
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