This Week’s Prompt:52. Calling on the dead—voice or familiar sound in adjacent room.
The Previous Research:Calling Up the Dead
The four of us had heard of Master Dorthman’s services before the unfortunate accident. In that age, seances and masters of spiritual sciences were arising in a way that honestly spoke to either the authenticity of the science or the ultimate capacity for forgery and profit it presented to a bored elite. I will not say personally which I believe it is. In recent years, as my hair has greyed and age has slashed my face with a thousand daggers, it has become apparent that neither is forgery terribly profitable nor is the science as certain as once believed. However, this encounter of mine was at the heyday, and it is more of the certain then the profitable to record.
Master Dorthman was a medium that Timothy knew well at the time. Through some telegraphs and informal meetings, the Tim, Robert, myself, and Liza had agreed to seek out a medium for the upcoming anniversary of the departure of a devout spiritualist friend of ours. Drew had died in an ignoble way after a string of misfortune, and it was of our interest to see what had become of him in the hereafter. At the time, my curiosity was genuine.
Master Dorthman’s reputation was, according to Timothy, on the rise. We invited this up and coming man to meet us a few times before and he seemed charming enough. At the least, he would not be a bore if nothing came from his various devices for revealing letters of the dead in paper or hearing their sounds through a special silver horn.
So we sat in darkness, with the only illumination being a set of four candles at the corner of the board with letters. Dorthman, a lanky gaunt man with something of a goatee, all from his many prescribed ascetics, stared into space. The burnt incense formed a haze around his eyes as he hummed, to better receive the ghost of our dead friend before moving the viewing glass on the table. It was, Dorthman had explained, an old oriental trick to commune with the dead. The room was silent yet brimming with anticiation of some sign.
And yet, it was still shocking when it came. We had expected Dorthman to open his eyes and proclaim something or in trance suddenly speak with dearly departed Donald’s voice. But no. It was a much smaller sign. From the hall outside, down the stairs towards the living room, came a tapping noise.
“Did you hear that?” I asked, turning from the cirlce.
“No doubt a rodent.” Tim muttered as Dorthman continued to hum.
“I doubted rodents made that sort of noise.” I said again, before the tapping resumed in a cascade.
“No, that’s no rodent.” Dorthman said, standing suddenly. “It is the spirit of the departed making his presence known. Right now, he makes clear his idenitity. The tapping, it is the way spirits show themselves and say who they are in their higher language, where the complexities of language are made more simple! Now, allow me to attend to you spirit!”
And with that, he walked around the table his head held high, a candle in hand to descend down below into Donald’s ancestral home. The four of us sat in silence, unsure of our showman’s return. At last, Liza broke the silence.
“It did sound like a song I’d heard before. I hear out in the Americas, the mediums set up songs to lure the dead back.” Liza said, adjusting her dress.
“Well, that’d make sense. Music, it’s said, is the highest form of expression. The German barbarian might not understand much in his mechanical brain, but even he is susceptible to music. Why, in Africa–” Robert began, before I cut across.
“Yes, but Donald didn’t exactly have a knack for it in life did he?” I said, frowning. “He was rather unrefined in that–”
“I’ve found it yes!” Dorthman’s voice came up from across the hall. “I have found it, yes! Come and see, it’s wonderful! Though you will need a candle to see!”
“Don’t go down there yet.” I said, glaring at Tim. “Mere tapping might be many things. And I’m not so sure approaching a strange man in the dark is wise.”
“But if he’s found it, we ought to see!” Tim said, picking up one of the candles.
“What if it isn’t Donald? What if some robber has him by the throat, the tapping being some glass? Or worse, what if it’s some other apparition.” I said.
“What makes you think that?” Liza asked.
“When was the last medium who hollered at you to come down?” I asked.
“Perhaps he’s–” Tim’s discussion was stalled.
“Describe him!” Robert shouted, lifting a candle and nodding toward me. He slowly stood next to Tim.
“He has a long face, and lantern eyes! His left eye is a bit deformed!” Dorthman’s voice said. The gentlemen glanced at each other.
“Stay here. If it comes to something, we’ll come and get you.” Robert said. “The two of us, with these sticks between us, should be able to sort this out.”
And the two of them left us in the room. We could hear now the tapping from down stairs as they descended, thumping down flawless wooden steps. The tapping was a pattern, but not one we could determine. It was to music what glossolalia is to speech. Recognizable, but utterly divorced from familiarity.
“Maybe…Maybe we should try to finish the séance without them?” Liza asked, shuffling so she was across from on the spirit board after what I later gathered were about ten minutes passed. The tapping had decayed again into silence. With a shrug I joined her on the other side.
Liza had been to a séance before this, and so was more than willing to guide me along the process of the spirit board are erstwhile medium had left behind. Putting both hands on the piece, she gestured for me to follow suit. She closed her eyes and said something I couldn’t hear. At the first feeling of movement, I started my hands back, as did Liza. We stared at each other, expecting the other to confess to being the source of the motive force. Then slowly, we turned our gaze to the viewing piece, as it slowly began to move across the screen.
Some may ascribe this motion to a number of spiritualist tricks. Magnets and electricity are often involved in such deceptions, or perhaps subtle motions by some unseen mechanism that Dorthman had told Liza of before hand. But for myself, Liza seemed to startled to be implicated. Again, it is possible that what occurred was some forgery with which she was complicit. As she left the world in the sieges since, and never confessed any such thing to me, I am doubtful the truth will be known. Thus, I stress, I am only putting to pen what I myself saw.
For the small viewer began to move hesitantly across the table. It gained confidence as it did, finding its bearings and at last with precision began to spell out a phrase: Not Me.
There was a moments confusion, before we heard Robert and Tim’s voices from the stair well, and Dorthman’s from the ground floor.
“Its Donald! Come down, you have to see this! Donald’s back!” Tim’s said, his footfalls coming closer to the door. Recalling the promise the gentlemen had made, we wait. But there was silence as Tim stood before the door. No light cast from his candle inward. The door, held shut, betrayed nothing but darkness beyond.
Then, that dreadful tapping sound began on the door.It was more layered now, as hundreds of fingers rapping on the door, prodding it and testing it.
“Won’t you let me in?” Tim’s voice said from some far off distant cavern. I put my hand on Liza’s knee and shook my head in case she had not yet understood what danger we were in.
The rapping continued, and the voice did as well. Sometimes Robert, sometimes Tim, sometimes Dorthman. But never Donald’s. So we stayed there, vigilant as the night slowly faded into day. Then, when the rapping ceased, the door opened. For a moment, we saw a terrible Hecatoncheir, arms outstretched in a web of flesh and muscle around the door frame. But it was quick to become smoke before it could become anything too real.
We found Robert and Timothy slumped on the stairwell, candlesticks still in hand. We roused them with some difficulty, fearing at first they had joined Donald in the here after. As for Dorthman, his location was revealed with the sound of the slamming of the front door. We last heard he had headed across the channel to seek more continental success. I wonder if this was his first encounter. I wonder also, how he awoke before the others.
I’m rather fond of this one. I think the basic presence of a seance gone awry is a good one, and allowing the iniatal contact to be a false ghost might be a good start. I think it could have been doubled in length, but finals week is upon me, so doing so was not plausible at the moment. The images used likewise are not ones I am particularly proud of.
Next Week! We return to the dead, but not an entire corpse but rather a single dead hand, scrawling out its will.
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