“Message from the Grave” – Excerpted from SIGHT UNSEEN
copyright 2002 by Esther Mitchell
Moving to the comfortable-looking armchair, Jonathan settled himself into it and sighed with relief that it was as comfortable as it looked. He closed his eyes and sat quietly for a few moments as his breathing evened and his mind emptied of everything except his reason for being here. This was a different environment, and the utter stillness of it was difficult to adapt to. Patrice said Sophia Parrish died around twenty years ago. The longer her spirit lingered, the fainter her energy would become, unless she had a constant source of replenishment. Contacting her spirit would require a bit more concentration than his crime scene work normally did. Finally, when he felt suitably focused, he opened his eyes.
“Sophia,” he called out to her with both voice and mind as he felt the cold prickle of a presence dance along his arms and the back of his neck. “I know you’re here, Sophia, and I know you can see and hear me. I also know that you want to talk, or you wouldn’t have shown yourself to me. What do you want to tell me?”
Something unseen pushed one of the heavy wooden chairs closer to the hardwood surface. Papers ruffled on the desktop, and the form of a pretty woman with red hair and blue eyes materialized in front of the desk. A sad smile curled her lips, before her voice whispered along the edges of his consciousness.
I know who killed Ramsey.
Jonathan nearly jumped out of his skin. The last thing he’d expected to find in this place was an eyewitness, “Sophia, I want to ask you some questions. I need your answers to be out loud, so answer me with one rap on the desk for yes, two for no. Understand?”
Sophia nodded, before the desk rapped once.
“Good. Did you see who murdered your husband?”
“Did you witness the murder itself?”
Another single rap.
“Did you recognize the murderer?”
Again, one rap answered him, and pain flickered across her face.
“Was he a business associate of your husband’s?”
Silence answered him, and she looked puzzled and hesitant for the first time. Jonathan’s brow furrowed. Surely Sophia knew all of her husband’s business associates. Faith claimed he was a bit of a recluse, so there couldn’t be many. He tried again. “Did the murderer come here often?”
A swift rap came in response.
“Count, in raps, the number of years the murderer and your husband were acquainted.”
A series of raps followed, with brief pauses. Jonathan counted twenty-eight raps and his heart sank. Twenty-eight years ago, Haley was still in Boston. He couldn’t be the killer. But the calling card, and the impressions Jonathan had… everything pointed to a man who definitely wasn’t in Bradbury over two decades ago.
“You’re sure it was twenty-eight?”
One rap answered with grim finality, and her expression was intractable.
“Were you at all acquainted with the murderer in those twenty-eight years?”
One shaky rap. Sadness covered her features, and Jonathan could only wonder what tragedy had imbedded such sorrow into her spirit.
“Do you know his name?”
Quiet, then a short, tentative rap.
“Was he Rene Haley?”
The chair across from him toppled over as she shot up from it with incredible force. Her fear buffeted Jonathan like a gale-force wind, and raw panic danced on her face.
“Sophia,” he said quietly, “you must help me. Was the killer Rene Haley?”
An ominous series of raps echoed in the room and Jonathan frowned in confusion. The fear she displayed a moment ago seemed pretty certain. What other reason could she have to fear a man she probably never even met?
“Are you afraid of Haley?”
“Because he killed your husband?”
Two sharp raps answered him, and the swell of her fear hit him again. Jonathan’s brow furrowed. There was something deeper going on here. The dead were usually unconcerned about the how and why of their deaths. Sophia’s spirit was terrified, as if she feared Haley could somehow reach beyond the grave to harm her.