Years and an Ocean by Jo Noelle Going to a séance was supposed to be a harmless diversion in Victorian England, but for Delia Spencer, it was life altering. Since that day, she has been plagued by fainting spells, while her consciousness visits Elle Thomas more than a century in the future. In modern-day New York, Elle has kept secret the dream-like memories of Delia’s life. As the visits have become more frequent, Elle is confused about what is her life and what is not. Back in England, Delia’s father is determined to marry her off to any marginally suitable man before her illness becomes known to society. But will Delia consent, now that she’s had a taste of Elle’s independence?
Moth holes in the threadbare velvet curtains wink with the last western rays of sunlight as Mrs. Aggret, a medium from America, excuses herself to prepare the chamber.
“Delia, we’ll go to hell for this, won’t we?” Madeline whispers terribly close to my bonnet. The image of a fly buzzing in my ear comes to mind, but I acknowledge her comment instead of shooing her away. She’s sure we’re consorting with the devil—or at least his minions—and has mumbled a constant sermon into my ear from the time we sat in the carriage, crossed town, and climbed the stairs to this upper apartment.
But there’s no such thing as divination, and mediums are just actresses with a steady income. Instead of announcing my opinion aloud, I press my lips together so I don’t ruin the outing for my friends. Really, it’s kind of a brilliant trade for a woman who has to live independently and doesn’t have a conscience about stealing. They probably think they sell entertainment, and tonight, I’d agree. Any diversion would be better than sitting at the academy or packing to return home in a few days. Though the other girls seem excited to return to their families and be presented to society, Saint Helena’s Academy for Girls has been a godsend to me.
Who would have thought that this group of debutants would sit in a shabby apartment, bubbling with fascination at the prospect of visiting with spirits? Truthfully, each face carries its own level of comfort, from Janey’s look of amusement to Charlotte’s expression of boredom, and Madeline looking a little sick. My expectations are low—if this distracts me from thinking more on my family, I’ll call tonight a success.
Ruth leans closer to the group. “Could we contact my grandmother? Does our spiritual guide take requests for which ghosts will visit?”
“We didn’t come all this way to talk to your senile grandmother.” Charlotte doesn’t even notice the shock on Ruth face. “I’m hoping for a murderer or his victim—someone who died in this very building, maybe.”
“Do you suppose the spirit of the victim will be battered and bloody?” I ask, trying to look sincere, but a secret smile passes my lips and calls Charlotte’s attention.
“Of course they are,” she answers with a serious countenance. I jab her lightly with my elbow, but she continues, “Well, what do you expect from someone living on Marylebone Lane? I’m sure our medium contacts only the seedy types for our enjoyment. Perhaps on the way home we can stop off at a fistfight or a bear mauling.” Though her voice is dull with mock nonchalance, I have no doubt she hopes to see one or the other—maybe she already has.
Madeline takes a deep breath and whispers again. “This is sacrilegious. I know it is. We should leave before we’re possessed by demons.” She bites the corner of her lip, her eyes scanning the room as if a ghost will pop through the wall right into her body.
Janey removes her gloves and drops them into her reticule. “It isn’t sacrilegious, and we’re not going to get possessed. It’s spiritual. They are spirits. We have spirits. And we’re just going to chat. Now take off your gloves so we can get a better connection with the table.”
Obeying Janey’s suggestion, Ruth tugs on her calf-skin gloves. “It isn’t spiritual. It’s science—another part of the world science is discovering. I suppose that the spirits still maintain their ability to choose. If they are present tonight, it’s because they choose to contact us.”
I wish it were magic. Then I’d have the medium transport me anywhere else and as someone else who wouldn’t have to go home next week.
Our medium parts a curtain and reenters the parlor, candlelight flickering behind her. Silently, she makes eye contact with each of us, her gestures bidding us into the next room, arranging us around a wooden table, seating herself between Janey and me. The night is clear, but the air smells of dust with the static charge of a lightning storm, though it didn’t feel like this a minute ago. If this isn’t a well-staged theatrical as I’m expecting, then I hope Janey has the right of it and not Madeline. I survey the faces of my friends, smiling or grimacing, as Mrs. Aggret begins snuffing the tapers in the center of the table. It takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the dimming light.
“Many spirits linger near tonight. Keep your palms against the wood to thwart the malevolent souls seeking entrance.” She presses her own hands to the table, nodding to us to do the same. Madeline’s hands press the table hard enough for her fingernails to whiten.
With only one small candle lit and glowing red embers in the fireplace, the room is nearly dark. The medium begins to hum, her head lolling from shoulder to shoulder, her eyes closed. A flicker of anticipation courses through me, part excitement, part fear. When the table shifts back and forth under our hands, I’m close enough to see our medium’s palms resting lightly atop of it, and I realize she isn’t moving it. The feeling of icy sparks wraps around my arms and spills down my spine. I want to shake them out, but I dare not remove my hands from the wood.
The table rocks sharply to the side and drops back, then tips away again. The hair in my clip rises in a breeze. When I peek around the table, no one else’s hair is moving. A cold presence brushes across my back and neck, and my eyes fully open, looking for whoever was touching me, but there is no one in the room with us. I feel it again and gasp, then raise my hand to rub the sensation from my skin. A warning voice whispers fear to my mind. “There’s nothing there. You’re imagining it.” I tell myself with much less confidence than I wish, my warning voice whispers fear to my mind.
Mrs. Aggret’s voice sounds shaky and frightened. “Who’s there? What do you want?” Then she moans, slumping toward her hands, convulsing then stiffening, her head skewing to the side and her chin rising. When she grabs my hand, lightning riots through my body, scorching through my blood, blasting across my skin, and writhing against my heart in palpitations. Though I try to rip my fingers from the table, they don’t respond, and neither does my voice. I’m frozen in place from an electric charge gnawing through me. Gray shadows of myself convulse in and out of my body. I feel as if my flesh, my mind, my very spirit were fighting to remain together. Panic swells in my chest.
The medium’s mouth opens for each word, but it is not her voice I hear. “An altered creature you have become—two lives, a time-ripped soul, from one.” As she finishes, two things happen at once—an arctic breath of wind chokes out the final candle, and the embers in the fireplace explode with life.
My friends leap from their chairs and back away from the fire, their mouths wide with shock, but I hear nothing. The sound in the room is completely white and blank. And it appears that I am the only one incapable of escaping my chair.
Looking down, I will my hands to move, but they stay firmly attached to the tabletop, my thumbs anchored to the edge with ghostly white knuckles. Crimson drops splatter the front of my dress, falling from my nose. Janey’s eyes are wide as she rushes to my side. From deep within my chest, a rip travels up my body, bisecting me, burning away the cold, scalding my heart, searing reality from my sight.
Author Jo Noelle Jo Noelle grew up in Colorado and Utah but also spent time in Idaho and California. She has two adult children and three small kids. She teaches teachers and students about reading and writing, grows freakishly large tomatoes, enjoys cooking especially for desserts, builds furniture, sews beautiful dresses, and likes to go hiking in the nearby mountains. Oh, and by the way, she’s two people— Canda Mortensen and Deanna Henderson, a mother/daughter writing team. They began writing separately several years ago but found the process much more fun when they started collaborating. They are debut authors, with Lexi’s Pathetic Fictional Love Life as their first completed work. Other titles include Newbie and Damnation. Deanna attended college before marrying and starting her family. Canda received a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, a Reading Specialist endorsement, and a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership. Her day job focuses on teaching teachers and children about literacy.
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