Mobile, AL, 1883
As the horses’ hooves clopped heavily on the dry, red dirt road, I tugged on the black thread that I had tied around my finger. My eyes gazed past the driver of the carriage, but he was not my focus at all. I was seeing beyond this moment in time into another world. There were many interesting things to see here past the veil. Oh yes, the air was thick with sorrow on both sides, the atmosphere so saturated with grief and loss it was almost tangible. And I felt power. Slowing my breathing, I stared intently into the beyond—I had to see more! Yes, you could feel it with your fingers and taste it in your mouth. I could see it all now, all except them, the dead who hid from me. Why would they? But I would wait, I would remain focused. They could not hide from me forever. No, not forever.
Ah, the sorrow. Yes, the air was heavy with regret, and just like dew on the morning grass, it would fall upon someone sooner or later.
“Almost there, ma’am,” the driver said with a friendly smile, but I paid him no mind. I gave him no answer, no sign that I valued the information he offered me. I knew exactly where I was—I was no stranger to Seven Sisters. My late husband had been in the employment of the Delarosa family, a fact that he had taken great pride in.
You should have listened to me, Max. I warned you that Death wandered the halls of Seven Sisters, but you didn’t believe me. You never believed in my powers, and now you are gone. But I am not gone. I will see you again, my clever one. You spun your web too quickly, Max, my darling. Too tightly and too quickly, and you snared yourself. I have real magic, my poor husband. Watch and see.
Although our marriage was legal, it had not been widely publicized. Max and I agreed upon this. It was rather scandalous for a young man to marry an older woman, but the difference in our ages had not mattered to either of us. We had been like two old souls, born for one another. Max had been my fourth husband—I’d been widowed three times—but he was the one I had loved the best, despite his moral turpitude. His scheming repelled me at first, but Max had a rare elegance about him; he was a charismatic spellbinder, and I could not help but fall under his power. But he became too ambitious, too sure of himself in the end. He was not the purest of souls, but he had been my husband, and upon learning about his death, I realized just how much I loved him.
Through some difficult spirit work, I delivered a kind of justice for Max, but my dead husband was not satisfied. Oh, I can feel such power here! Yes, there were many restless spirits associated with the grand old home. I tugged the thread tighter, my gray eyes focused on the space in front of me. Contrary to what the driver might believe, I wasn’t watching the road rise up ahead. I wasn’t studying the flickering amber lights of the fine home that welcomed her arriving guests. Although the sound of the creaking oak boughs above me briefly caught my attention, as did the occasional cascade of leaves and Spanish moss that flitted about, I saw none of it. Only sensed it.
Tug tighter. Feel the pain. Endure it. Pain frees you, Margaret. It is the catalyst.
Dr. Maxwell had been an excellent mentor, a patient teacher and a student of the emerging world of spiritualism, but in the end, I had grown past him. In all ways. I had not realized how true that was until the day I left the institute. I’d been so young when I came under his wing. He’d treated me like a daughter, but his refusal to acknowledge my emerging gifts had frustrated me beyond words. In the end, I had to leave. But even today, as the sun beat down on my face and the air chilled my bones, I could hear him coaxing me on, instructing me.
Still your mind. Focus on the veil. Feel the pain, Margaret. It is the key.
I tugged harder on the black silk, so hard that I was sure my finger was bleeding. Suddenly, the air moved and I gasped at the double sight that appeared before me. No, he couldn’t hide forever! I could see the road, yes, but also a dark figure. A shade, a ghost. It was as if the two images were superimposed on one another, the figure and the road. And as we moved, he moved. A man! Like an arrow from a taut bowstring, he raced ahead of us now, his black hair fluttering about his face. He paused and hovered at the crux of the road where it turned to the long drive that would lead me to Seven Sisters. I did not question the vision, for I could see Jonatan Delarosa clearly. And I smiled at him.
I whispered, “Oh, yes. You remember me, don’t you, Jonatan? But you are dead now, dead like my Max and like Memphis. Tell me, Jonatan, does she haunt you? Can a ghost be haunted by another?”
The carriage driver cast a glance over his shoulder and asked, “Ma’am?” but I didn’t break my focus. I waved him silent with my bloody finger, and he moved the carriage along at a more hurried pace, but the damage was done. The change in speed broke my trance, and I unwound the black string and tucked it in the pocket of my black dress. Smothering the wound with my handkerchief, I shot the driver a look of disapproval, but he did not look back again. No, he wouldn’t look again. Oh, but he could feel me. I stared at his back and imagined raking my fingernails across his flesh. I smiled as he shivered briefly and then popped at the reins.
Jonatan was gone from my vision now, but he had not gone far. He’d faded into the background of falling leaves and was carried away on the icy, late-fall breeze. I smiled as I watched the tangle of red, brown and gold leaves scurry toward the house as if they too wanted to shield the Delarosa family from my arrival.
But it was too late now. I was here.
I didn’t smile and clap my hands as I so wanted to do. I kept my composure as the carriage came to a halt in front of the house. The driver made no move to assist me, which was just as well as I did not like to be touched by strangers. I shoved my mossy green bustle behind me and escaped from the carriage as smoothly as possible. I had not brought my trunks with me. Not yet. But they were packed and ready to go at the hotel if I should need them, if the work here took me longer than expected. I could send for them later, at the appropriate time.
Jacinta Delarosa alone came to greet me. Her once-handsome face was pale except for the bold red patches on her cheeks. This color came not from rouge but from liquor. Was she drinking now? Oh, that would work in my favor. With a false expression of concern, I climbed the steps and offered my gloved hands to her. She clutched them like a drowning man would clutch the hands of his rescuer. Then she kissed them, and I bit the inside of my lip to keep from smiling.
“Thank God you are here. I have so wanted you to come, Madam Serena. Welcome to my home. Welcome to Seven Sisters.”
“I am glad to do so, Mrs. Delarosa. I am happy to be of service to you, my dear, and I have good news. I have already seen your son; he greeted me on the road. A handsome boy with long, dark hair. He waved me down the driveway.”
My half-true confession drew a gasp from Jacinta’s pale lips. “My Jonatan! That is my son! Then he is here. I knew it. Please come in!”
I released her hands and stepped through the open door. “Yes, I think I will.” My eyes took in the grand entrance, and I could smell the promise of a delicious meal. Someone slammed a door above us, but perhaps it was only the wind. In a house as large and fine as this, that was possible. Things would move. Doors would close. No doubt there were many spirits here. Yes, the air was rich with all manner of negative emotions. No wonder Max loved this place and wanted so desperately to claim it. Seven Sisters drew you in. It had a presence about it, a strange charisma, like it wanted you to love it and it would always love you back. Forever.
I knew what Dr. Maxwell would say about the aging antebellum home. The place has a powerful energy and great potential for important spiritual work. What fun I would have here! I would open every door I could. I would uncover every Delarosa rock; in the end, I would leave them with nothing.
Not even their dignity.
I smiled up at the big empty staircase. Someone unseen watched me from the highest step. I could hear her sighing at me.
Watch and witness my power, all you dead. Watch and witness…