Photo from JSTOR Daily, Grant Shreve, “When Women Channeled the Dead to Be Heard,” 2 February 2018. https://daily.jstor.org/when-women-channeled-the-dead-to-be-heard/
All Hallows Eve: A Saint Maggie Short Story
Chapter 4: The Séance
Mrs. Knightsbridge took a breath. “Now… let us be in absolute silence.”
One minute passed.
Mrs. Knightsbridge finally spoke up. “I feel the veil opening. I call upon the spirits of this place. Come forward.”
Frankie shifted uneasily on her chair, while Eli wondered how long he could put up with this balderdash, Josiah looked around the darkened room, Lydia wished she could be with her husband, and Maggie felt a chill go up the back of her neck.
“Is anyone here who would like to speak with us?”
“Are any spirits in this room with us?”
Something thumped the bottom of the table enough to make it jump.
Frankie gasped. “Is… is that a… a…”
“I think the word you’re looking for is ghost,” Eli replied. “And no, it’s not. It’s a device under the table.”
With a more powerful bang, the table tipped to one side, forcing the séance participants to push it back down.
“Yes,” the medium intoned, “I feel the presence of a spirit. I know there is an unbeliever amongst us. But show yourself so that he may believe.”
Somewhere in the dark something shook a tambourine.
“Thank you! I am glad you are agreeable to proving your existence.” Mrs. Knightsbridge closed her eyes. “Will you come to us now? Materialize so that we may see you.”
A low moan issued from a corner of the room.
“Who dares disturb me?” a male voice lamented.
“Seekers,” the medium replied. “Seekers who want to speak with you, who want to see you.”
“So be it.” In the corner where the voice had come from, something white and filmy emerged.
“With whom are we speaking?” Mrs. Knightsbridge asked.
“Why are you a wanderer?”
“I did something wrong. Something terrible.” The shape began to float around the table behind the participants’ chairs but just out of their reach.
“What did you do?”
“I took a life.” It glided past Mrs. Knightsbridge.
“Years and years and years ago.” It was moving past Josiah now.
Frankie leaned toward to Lydia. “Do you think it’s Mr. Ma – ”
“Shh!” Lydia commanded. “Don’t say anything.”
The wraith passed by Maggie’s chair.
“What is your name?” Mrs. Knightsbridge inquired.
The women all gasped, some repeating his name.
But Eli reached under his seat, grabbed his cane, and stuck it in the path of the shrouded figure just as it reached his chair. He felt a leg make contact, heard a strangled cry, and then a loud thud.
“Lydia,” he barked. “Grab whoever that is.”
Lydia leapt from her chair and lunged for the person on the floor, landing on the alleged ghost and sending her hoops in the air.
“Stop it,” Mrs. Knightsbridge cried. “Stop it this second! You’re scaring them away! You’re scaring…” With an abrupt gasp, she fell back against her chair, and said nothing more.
“Spirits never were here to begin with.” Eli dragged himself to his feet.
“Liddy!” Frankie hopped up and, hitching her crinoline cage, plopped down onto the mysterious figure’s back just as Lydia rolled off.
Thankful that the room was quite dark, Lydia stood and rearranged her clothing. “I’m afraid we’ve been made fools.”
“Get up,” Eli ordered to the figure on the floor.
A man rose, removing his shroud as he did so. He was small in stature and balding.
A chill swept across Maggie’s shoulders. No windows were open. Why was she so cold? She wrapped her arms about herself and shivered.
“Mr. Knightsbridge, I presume?” Eli was asking.
The man nodded.
Josiah was on his feet now. “Fraud! How dare you?” He turned to Mrs. Knightsbridge. “And you!”
But she sat silent, head lolling forward.
“Do you not hear me? Speak!”
When she said nothing, Josiah touched her hand. “She’s cold! Someone light more candles. Quick!”
Maggie was freezing now. And the room felt like it was closing in on her, as if to push her out of herself.
Frankie leaned across the table, took the single taper and lit the two others on candelabra. As light grew in the room, she saw Mrs. Knightsbridge. “Liddy! Look.”
Lydia immediately went to the medium’s side. “Mrs. Knightsbridge?” She gently patted the woman’s face. “Mrs. Knightsbridge!” She took hold of her wrist and felt for a pulse. “She’s alive.”
“What’s wrong with my wife?” the little man asked.
“I don’t know.” Lydia patted the woman’s face again. “Hello. Can you hear me, Mrs. Knightsbridge? Are you able to speak?”
The medium’s eyes fluttered open.
“Very good,” Lydia murmured. “That’s the stuff. Can you speak?”
The woman looked anxiously from and then in a breathy voice said, “I… I…”
The woman gasped for air. “Where am I? Why am I in here?”
“You were conducting a séance, Mrs. Knightsbridge and – ”
“Stop calling me that name.” Panicking, she glanced around at the others. She appeared terrified. “No. No! No, not now!”
Lydia was concerned. “What do you mean?”
“Her,” she breathed. “She is coming. She will… she will…”
“Who is she?”
“Her! You opened the door. She’s on her way.”
Mr. Knightsbridge hurried around the table to be near his wife. “Can this be?”
Lydia looked up at him. “What?”
“Can she be… possessed?”
On the other side of the table, Eli rolled his eyes. “Bunkum! She’s faking.”
“She isn’t,” the little man barked. “I know my wife. She’s never done this before.” He stopped by the medium’s chair and, taking on of her hands in his, knelt before her. “What is your name, my dear?”
A pair of confused blue eyes locked onto his. “My name? Why, it’s Leah.”
Maggie’s hand flew to her mouth. “It can’t be.” She was beginning to feel light like a feather.
“But Leah is…” Frankie began, but stopped.
Josiah spoke up. “Who is Leah?”
“Our cousin. She… she was murdered in 1861. Poisoned.”
Using his cane, Eli thumped over to the medium. “Come on, Knightsbridge, you and your wife knew what happened Leah all along, didn’t you?”
Maggie was beginning to feel as if she were floating, somehow outside of herself. Peculiar, she thought. Why do I feel so peculiar.
The little man stood up. “We read about the murder in the papers. But…” He glanced worriedly at his wife. “For the life of me, I’ve never seen this. It’s not an act, believe me.”
Mrs. Knightsbridge suddenly flew to her feet, her face ashen. “She’s on her way! She’s almost here. God help us! Good help –”
The candles blew out and the room was swallowed in darkness.
“Damn,” Eli hissed. “Damn, damn, and damn! Has anyone got a match?”
A wild wind blew through the chamber. It was followed with a wicked, high pitched laugh.
Eli felt something fly past his shoulder, so close it nearly touched him. Whatever it was hit the floor with a crash. It sounded like a plate. “What the?” he muttered.
“Hold on, Smith. I’ve got matches.” There was the sound of a match tip striking a surface and then light broke the gloom once again.
No sooner had he shaken the match out, than Josiah alerted to something moving toward him. He ducked as a wine glass flew over his head and shattered against the wall.
Hands trembling a bit, he straightened up and took a candle from the holder. “There are some lamps on the serving tables.” He tried to sound in control, but his voice had a tremor to it.
“Papa?” Frankie’s voice small, like a child’s. “What’s going on?”
Eli gimped over to his stepdaughter. “I don’t know, but if this is some kind of trick, someone’s going to pay.”
Josiah managed to get two oil lamps lit, which pushed the darkness into the corners now.
“It’s not a trick,” Mr. Knightsbridge was insisting. “I swear it. We never intended any of this madness.” Suddenly his face grew pale. “Look!”
They all turned in time to see an oil painting crash to the floor.
Mrs. Knightsbridge began shrieking, “She’s here! She’s here. My murderer!”
Wicked laughter echoed in the chamber and bounced off the walls, ceiling, and floor.
Maggie abruptly found herself on the other side of the room. She wondered how she got there. She could see the group gathered around the table. But who was that other woman? The one wearing the same dress as she.
Then a horrible thought came to her. No. This can’t be, Maggie argued with herself. But it was. She was on one side of the room, and yet she was on the other side, except she was without her mind and her soul.
“Get out,” a disembodied voice boomed. “Get out!”
Angry now, Frankie stiffened her back and shouted, “Is that you Carrie Hillsborough? The one who killed my cousin? The one who nearly killed my mother?”
The laughter cackled again.
That was when the other Maggie stepped into the middle of the room, put her hands on her hips, and shouted, “Now see here! I will not stand for this nonsense in my house, do you understand?”
The laughter ricocheted off the walls.
“Leave my house this instant, you troublemaker!”
“Make me,” the voice hissed. “Go ahead.”
“You bad, evil girl,” Maggie snarled. “Do you think I don’t know who you are? Do you think I wasn’t around long before you showed up, making sure my house was safe? Did you not think that I wouldn’t see you seducing that young minister? Putting ideas in his head about poison? You are not welcome here. Now get!”
The laughter reverberated once more, but it did not sound quite as arrogant and threatening as it did previously. In fact, there was a touch of fear in it.
“That is right, missy! I will not stand for this nonsense. I call down God’s angels and the forces of heaven to chase you out of here and into the darkness an unrepentant soul like you deserves.”
“No,” it whispered.
Maggie shook her fist. “I say, yes! May God’s angels fill this room with light. Now, scat! Go to the darkness and stay there until you ask for forgiveness. Go!”:
Suddenly the room blazed with a flash of light so bright that it caused the others to cover their eyes until it was safe to look around again.
Candles and lamps now bathed the room in a comforting yellow glow. There was no sign of broken glass or china. Even the painting was back on the wall.
Josiah managed to say, “What just happened?”
“Your land has been cleansed,” Maggie told him.
The voice did not belong to his wife. Concerned, Eli hurried to her side. When she gazed upon him, it wasn’t Maggie that he saw behind her eyes. It was someone else. For a moment, he lost his voice and was only able to croak, “Who are you?”
She smiled. “Letty.” Then her eyes rolled back, and she fell forward into his arms.
Lydia ran over as Eli worked to set his wife onto a chair. Once that had been accomplished, Lydia took Maggie’s arm and felt for her pulse. “She fine.” She looked up at her stepfather and smiled with relief.
“What was that I just saw?”
“What do you mean?”
“That… that wasn’t Maggie. I mean, it was Maggie’s body, but her eyes… someone else was looking at me.”
Maggie suddenly sighed.
“Sweetheart! Are you all right?” Eli took her hand, brought it to his lips, and kissed the back of it. When she opened her eyes, he saw with relief the Maggie he always expected to see. “What happened?”
She tried to recollect her thoughts. “I don’t know. For a moment there, I imagined I was on the other side of the room, watching everything as if it were a play.”
Mr. Knightsbridge said, “You were possessed “ He glanced at his wife, whose hand he held. “So was my wife.”
At that the medium came around. “Whew!” She put a hand to her head. “That was a bit forceful.”
“Are you all right now, my dear?”
“Oh, yes. Quite fine now.” The plump woman stood, although she wobbled a bit, something that was corrected when her husband put his hand around her upper arm. “How are the rest of you?”
Frankie replied, “I don’t think I’ll be sleeping much tonight.”
“Oh, you’ll be fine. Don’t worry.” Mrs. Knightsbridge took a deep, cleansing breath. “Yes. Apparently, all this commotion was just a bit of bad business between two spirits.”
Eli turned to Josiah. “It’s time to come clean. We didn’t tell you that a Methodist minister, Jeremiah Madison lived in the boarding house from 1860 to 1861. He flirted with my wife’s niece, Leah, and had to marry her. When the marriage didn’t work out, he found solace in the company of her maid, Carrie. Carrie was a bad sort and brought poison into the picture. Because Mrs. Smith got too close to the truth, Carrie tried to kill her with arsenic. But she did manage to kill Leah. Eventually the truth came out. Madison was brought to trial, but before Carrie could be arrested, she took her own life.” He grimaced. “The reason I limp today is because she shot me three times. One of the bullets lodged in my leg. Haven’t been the same since.”
Gathering up her skirts, Mrs. Knightsbridge walked toward the others. “And because of the suffering and distress caused by the situation, Leah and Carrie’s spirits remained attached to the property. But they are gone now and shall not return.”
“So my hotel is safe?”
“Completely.” At this the medium held back a smile. “Well, safe from the activity of the dead, that is. As for the living… well, that’s your problem, is it not?”
Josiah managed a weary laugh. “I believe that is something we can handle.”
Mrs. Knightsbridge turned her attention to Maggie. “And you, my dear, a spirit momentarily inhabited you.”
“But I don’t believe in such things.”
“It doesn’t matter. It found a momentary home with you. Do you know who it was?”
“Letty,” Eli answered for her. “It was her Aunt Letty.”
Maggie’s eyes widened.
“She was protecting her property.” He gave her a loving smile. “And her family.”
Worried, Maggie frowned.
The medium took her arm. “Don’t worry. It won’t happen again.”
“How do you know?”
The other woman lifted an incredulous, blond eyebrow. “My dear Mrs. Smith! Do you need to ask me that?”
Maggie laughed tiredly. “No. I don’t imagine I do.”
Maggie’s Journal, 31 October 1864
Like Frankie, I don’t believe I shall sleep tonight. When we returned home, I spent a good hour on my knees, searching for God’s love and light until it filled me and held me close.
I believe Grandpa is right. The veil is the thinnest between the living and the dead on All Hallows Eve. And I believe Emily is right, too. Such things as spirits and ghosts should be left to their sleep – or whatever it is that they do – and are not to be trifled with.
Lydia and Frankie both seem shaken by the experience, as were we all. But I know the two will comfort each other and talk long into the night until they finally fall asleep.
As for Eli… well, he got the bottle of whiskey down from the cupboard. Instead of giving him my usual talk, I simply told him not to drink too much, kissed him on the head, and went upstairs to our chamber, so I could nurse our little Faith.
I hope Josiah’s hotel truly is free from trouble. When we left him, he was quite disturbed by the evening’s events, as were we all. It may be that he will not think of this ever again. But perhaps he will. And perhaps he will realize that there is something out there greater than money and hotels, mills, and factories. But I will let God and time see to that.
As for me, I think I shall tread more thoughtfully next All Hallows Eve and shall stay home in the company of my household.
I hope you enjoyed this special Saint Maggie short story. Happy Halloween, everyone!
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder