The Last Séance
by Leona Preston
'You should try, just one more time.'
There it was again, the familiar twinkle in my companion's eye, ever present when he was confident he had the better of me.
'You've waited years and here, now, how fond you are of your own stubborn nature. How comfortable is that despairing perch where you have willingly placed yourself... good fellow, this could be your last chance!'
Wryly, I turned toward his rounded countenance, one questioning brow raised.
'Sir, It would seem that we are destined to bitterly contend yet again, you and I, for you know how deeply I feel about this subject. I am adamant'.
The look upon my face must have said otherwise, for my companion laughed; that infuriating laugh that denotes a light-hearted flippancy and unwavering belief in this damned delusion, as he brushes the seriousness of my statement aside.
'Here,' he motioned toward a darkened corner of the room, 'I took the liberty of preparing the effects... and now the setup is all yours.'
With a heavy sigh, I resigned myself to the inevitable. My insatiable desire to be proven wrong won out.
'I shall wait until midnight, when those of your particular following say the conditions are right. Until then, I shall seek repose, for I believe it would require some exertion to discover even the faintest tidings of her.'
My companion, seemingly satisfied with the meagre assurances I proffered, gave a curt bow and now motioned to take his leave, but just as he reached the door, he paused. A shadow seemed to pass over his face, but within the space of a moment, it was gone.
'Just remember', said he, 'as has always been your own conviction; take away all that is false and what remains, must be the truth.'
Alone now, I could not help but fall into a state of thoughtful melancholy. It was the easiest of illusions; to recall the moments of my life where true happiness could be found, concealed in mystery, in my element, revealed to an astounded audience, relief in light of the ultimate prestige. The moment when I truly knew I had made it, was when I saw her face again. She was always by my side, had always been with me when I had thought myself alone, or worse, lost. In a stack of cards, she was the queen of my heart and always at the top of the tier. All too soon, however, those fragile memories are lost again, and it is hard trying to claw my way back from that dark, cascading place. Heavier than the deepest waters. Shackled without a key.
The midnight hour came at last, pointedly announced by the chiming of the old clock, obscure in the darkness. Leaving the relative comfort of my scuffed leather chair that had seen better days, I turned my weary attention to the aforementioned 'effects'.
It was a table, round and of an old-fashioned style, carved from rosewood and covered with a black, gaudy material, embroidered with silver flourishes. Upon it were arranged my instruments for the night's proceedings; an unlit candle in an ornate silver holder, a box of matches and a simple wooden frame containing a photo... a symbol of hope in the form of a gentle embrace. How happy we once were. Hesitant, I pulled a sturdy wooden chair out from under the table and took my place.
For a long moment I did nothing but gaze into the infinite darkness of the room, focusing intently on my own breathing, as I had done many a time during the once daring exploits of my life. Control, focus, resolve. With one steady intake of breath, I lit the candle.
Time passed, and I became aware once more of the ticking of the old clock. Was it slowing down, or just a figment of my addled imagination? Focus. With my hands planted firmly in front of me upon the table top, I waited. Before long I called out, somewhat hastily, 'are you there?'
'If there is someone present who wishes to speak with me, please make your presence known. Am I alone
in this room?'
A movement, out of the corner of my eye. Perhaps? Or a trick played by the dim light? Then again, am I
not already familiar with trickery? I should know, for we are old friends, he and I, and I know him as a brother.
Again, I appealed to the darkness before me. 'Is anyone here present?'
A noise now, faint and indistinct. I was sure of it.
My voice was a tentative whisper, 'hello?'
In an instant, diaphanous forms began to manifest themselves before me, circling the edge of the table like draped sheets of residual smoke. In shock I registered the spectral figures, gently illuminated by the candlelight. Each was holding the other's hand and, at the head of the table, so faint and delicate as to be a wisp of silk carried on a breeze; a woman.
She is more defined now and I begin to make out the features of her face; the kind lips, the sleepy eyes, her delicate chin and gentle, curling locks. Time seems not to have passed for her, for her beauty is unfading. She is a vision of how I once knew her. Finding myself in her presence, I felt both elated and aggrieved. I was never one for anything other than a show of strength, but here and now, I could hardly see through stinging eyes. Again, I attempted to appeal to her, to reach her, to finally make contact.
'Be...' but I am cut short. She is asking the questions but they are distant and indiscernible. I see weariness etched onto her face now. She seems tired, perhaps tired of this, as am I. But now I am so close, so close, as never before. She asks another question, muffled, and I am unable to answer. My protests go unheard. She cannot hear me!
In desperation I utter the word... 'Rosabelle'.
In that moment, she appeared to pause, as if something had registered, struck a familiar note. She raised her tear filled eyes to meet mine, but, coldly, they look right through me. I was singing now, softly, the delicate song we had shared between us, all those years ago. I moved my hand to hers, passing through the space where warm flesh should be.
'Please... Rosabelle, believe!'
Sadly, she lowered her head, shook it and appeared to mouth the word 'enough', and snuffed the life from the candle.
The darkness was cold, heavy, all-consuming. A weak wisp of smoke arose from the still warm candle wick. The photo frame lay face-down. My painful solitude was interrupted by my companion re-entering through the door whence he had retired; a pillar of light flooding before him to highlight my anguished face.
'Harry! What on earth happened? Did you make contact? Did you make contact with her, your wife?'
Wiping the tears from my face, I arose from the chair, stern, indifferent. More myself.
'No Sir Arthur, I did not.'
I knew. I had always known. There was no contacting the living from beyond this veil of death. This was the one place, the one certainty, from which I could not escape.
You can read more about the creation of Leona's Houdini illustration at her Behance blog. This illustration was published in The Ghastling Magazine - Book Three.