The Medium – C.J. Archer

Whoever said dead men don’t tell lies had never met Barnaby Wiggam’s ghost. The fat, bulbous-nosed spirit fading in and out beside me like a faulty gas lamp clearly thought he was dealing with a fool. I may only be seventeen but I’m not naïve. I know when someone is lying—being dead didn’t alter the tell-tale signs. Mr. Wiggam didn’t quite meet my eyes, or those of his widow and her guests—none of whom could see him anyway—and he fidgeted with his crisp white silk necktie as if it strangled him. It hadn’t— he’d died of an apoplexy. “Go on, young lady.” He thrust his triple chins at me, making them wobble. “Tell her. I have no hidden fortune.” I swallowed and glanced at the little circle of women holding hands around the card table in Mrs. Wiggam’s drawing room, their wide gazes locked on the Ouija board in the center as if Barnaby Wiggam stood there and not beside me. I too stood, behind my sister and opposite the Widow Wiggam who looked just as well-fed as her dead husband in her black crepe dress and mourning cap. However, where his face was covered with a network of angry red veins, hers was so white it glowed like a moon in the dimly lit room.

“Are you sure?” I asked him. If he knew I suspected him of lying, he didn’t show it. Or perhaps he simply didn’t care. “Sure?” Mrs. Wiggam suddenly let go of her neighbor’s hands. My sister, Celia, clicked her tongue and Mrs. Wiggam quickly took up the lady’s hand again. It’s not as if anyone needed to hold hands at all during our séances but my sister insisted upon it, along with having candles rather than lamps, a tambourine and an Ouija board even though she rarely used either. She liked things to be done in a way that added to the atmosphere and the enjoyment of the customers, as she put it. I’m not convinced anyone actually enjoyed our séances, but they were effective nevertheless and she was right—people expect certain theatrics from spirit mediums, so if we must put on a performance then so be it.

Celia had taken it one step further this time by wearing a large brass star-shaped amulet on a strap around her neck. The recent purchase was as unnecessary as the handholding but she thought it gave us authenticity amidst a city filled with fake mediums. I had to admit it looked wonderfully gothic. “Sure about what?” Mrs. Wiggam asked again, leaning forward. Her large bosom rested on the damask tablecloth and rose and fell with her labored breathing. “What does he want you to say, Miss Chambers?” I glanced at Mr. Wiggam’s ghost. He crossed his arms and raised his fluffy white eyebrows as if daring me to repeat his lie. “He, er, he said…” Oh lord, if I repeated the lie then I would be contributing to his fate.

He could not cross over to the Otherworld until he was at peace, and he would not be at peace until he let go of his anger towards his wife. Lying to her wasn’t helping. On the other hand, it was his choice. “Emily,” Celia said with the false sing-song voice she employed for our séances. “Emily, do tell us what Mr. Wiggam is communicating to you. Give his poor dear widow,” she paused and smiled beatifically at Mrs. Wiggam, “some solace in her time of mourning.” “Mourning!” Barnaby Wiggam barked out a laugh that caused the edges of his fuzzy self to briefly sharpen into focus. For a moment he appeared almost human again.

To me at least. “Tell that…that WOMAN who sits there pretending to be my demure wife that there is no fortune.” “He says there’s no fortune,” I repeated. A series of gasps echoed around the small drawing room and more than one of the elegant ladies clicked her tongue. Mrs. Wiggam let go of both her neighbors’ hands again. “Nonsense!” Her gaze flitted around the room. “Tell that lying, cheating, scoundrel of a husband that I know he amassed a fortune before his death.” She placed her fists on the table and rose slowly to her considerable height, well above my own. She even dwarfed her ghostly husband.

“Where is he? I want to tell him to his face.” She reminded me of a great brown bear at the circus Mama had taken me to see as a little girl. The creature had expressed its displeasure at being chained to a bollard by taking a swipe at its handler with an enormous paw. I’d felt sorry for it. I wasn’t yet sure if I felt the same emotion towards Mrs. Wiggam. I must have glanced sideways at her husband because she turned on the spirit beside me even though she couldn’t see it. He took a step back and fiddled with his necktie again. “I know there’s money somewhere.” Her bosom heaved and her lips drew back, revealing crooked teeth.

“I deserve that money for putting up with you, you wretched little man. Rest assured Barnaby dearest, I’ll find every last penny of it.” A small, strangled sound escaped Mr. Wiggam’s throat and his apparition shimmered. Fool. He was dead—she couldn’t do anything to him now. Her four friends shrank from her too. My sister did not. “Mrs. Wiggam, if you’ll please return to your seat,” Celia said in her conciliatory church-mouse voice.

She ruined the effect by shooting a sharp glance at me. Mrs. Wiggam sat. She did not, however, resume handholding. Celia turned a gracious smile on her. “Now, Mrs. Wiggam, it’s time to conclude today’s session.” My sister must have an internal clock ticking inside her. She always seemed to know when our half hour was over. “Everyone please close your eyes and repeat after me.

” They all duly closed their eyes, except Mrs. Wiggam who’d taken to glaring at me. As if it were my fault her husband was a liar! “Return oh spirit from whence you came,” Celia chanted. “Return oh spirit from whence you came,” the four guests repeated. “Go in peace—.” “No!” Mrs. Wiggam slapped her palms down on the table. Everyone jumped, including me, and the tambourine rattled. “I do not want him to go in peace. I do not want him to go anywhere!” She crossed her arms beneath her bosom and gave me a satisfied sneer.

I’m not your husband! I wanted to shout at her. Why did everyone think I was the embodiment of their loved one? Or in this case, their despised one. I once had a gentleman kiss me when I summoned his deceased fiancée. It had been my first kiss, and hadn’t been entirely unpleasant. “Let him go,” Celia said, voice pitching unusually high. She shook her head vigorously, dislodging a brown curl from beneath her hat. “He can’t remain here. It’s his time to go, to cross over.” “I don’t want to cross over,” Mr. Wiggam said.

“What?” I blurted out. “Did he say something?” Celia asked me. I repeated what he’d said. “Good lord,” she muttered so quietly I was probably the only one who heard her. Especially since Mrs. Wiggam had started laughing hysterically. “He wants to stay?” The widow’s grin turned smug. “Very well. It’ll be just like old times—living with a corpse.” One of the guests snorted a laugh but I couldn’t determine which of the ladies had done it.

They all covered their mouths with their gloved hands, attempting to hide their snickers. They failed. “Tell the old crone I’m glad I died,” Barnaby Wiggam said, straightening. “Being dead without her is a far better state than being alive with her.” “No, no this won’t do,” Celia said, thankfully saving me from repeating the spirit’s words. She stood up and placed a hand on Mrs. Wiggam’s arm. “Your husband must return. We summoned him at your behest to answer your question and now he needs to cross over into the Otherworld.” Actually, he probably wouldn’t be crossing over.

Not while there was so much lingering anger between himself and his wife. He needed to release the anger before he could go anywhere. Until then he was tied to this world and the Waiting Area. That’s why some places remain haunted—their ghosts aren’t willing to give up the negative emotion keeping them here. Although Celia knew that as well as I, she couldn’t be aware of the extent of Barnaby Wiggam’s sour mood. She certainly couldn’t have known he deliberately lied to his wife about his fortune. I sighed. As always, I would have to explain it to her later. After we returned the ghost to the Waiting Area. “You have to go back,” I urged him.

“You shouldn’t be here. Tell your widow you’re sorry, or that you forgive her or whatever and you can cross over and be at peace.” At least that’s what I assumed happened. Since I wasn’t able to summon anyone from the Otherworld—only the Waiting Area—I couldn’t know for sure what occurred in their final destination. For all I knew the Otherworld was like a political meeting. Endless and dull. From what the spirits had told me, all ghosts ended up in the Waiting Area until they’d been assigned to a section in the Otherworld. Which section depended on how they’d behaved in life. However, none knew the fate awaiting them in their respective sections. It caused many of the ghosts I’d summoned an anxious wait.

“I’m not sorry.” Barnaby Wiggam sat in an old leather armchair by the hearth and rubbed his knee as if it gave him pain although it couldn’t possibly hurt now. He seemed so at home there, nestled between the enormous rounded arms and deeply cushioned high back, that I wondered if it had been his favorite chair. “I think I’ll stay a little longer. I rather fancy haunting the old witch. It’ll be a jolly time.” “Jolly!” I spluttered. I appealed to Celia but she simply shrugged. “But you can’t do this!” I said to him. “It’s…it’s illegal!” Nothing like this had happened to us in a year and a half of conducting séances.

All our spirits had duly answered the questions their loved ones posed then returned to the Waiting Area, content and ready to cross over. Then again, we’d never summoned anyone who clearly wasn’t a loved one. What had we done? Mr. Wiggam picked up a journal from a nearby table and flipped open the pages. A woman screamed, others gasped, and one fainted into the arms of her friend. Only Celia, Mrs. Wiggam and I remained calm. Celia was used to seeing objects move without being touched, and I of course could see the ghostly form holding the journal. I suspect Mrs. Wiggam was simply made of sterner stuff than her companions.

“The Ladies Pictorial! Utter trash.” Mr. Wiggam threw the journal back onto the table where it collected a porcelain cat figurine and sent it clattering to the floor. The two ears and the tip of the tail broke off. He laughed. “I never liked that thing.” Mrs. Wiggam simply stepped around the pieces and flung open the heavy velvet drapes. Hazy light bathed the drawing room in sepia tones. London’s days were not bright but I suspected the Wiggams’ drawing room would always be dreary even if the sun dared show its face.

The dark burgundy walls and squat, heavy furniture made the space feel small and crowded, particularly with all of us crammed into it. I took a deep breath but the air was smoky, close, and stuck in my throat. “Let’s have some refreshments, shall we?” Mrs. Wiggam said as if she didn’t have a care in the world. She tugged the bell-pull then bent over the woman who’d fainted, now reclining in one of the chairs at the card table. She slapped her friend’s cheeks then saw to it she was made comfortable with an extra cushion at her back. I turned to Celia. She frowned at me. “Close your mouth, Emily, you are not a fish.” I duly shut my mouth.

Then opened it again to speak. “What are we to do?” I whispered. Celia huffed out a breath and looked thoughtful as she fingered the large amulet dangling from a strip of leather around her neck. She’d purchased it last Thursday from the peddler woman who sells bits and pieces door-to-door. Considering Celia was a stickler for maintaining the same format for our drawing room séances, I was surprised when she’d produced a new artifact. It was rather a magnificent piece though, made of heavy brass in the shape of a star with delicate filigree between the six points. Etched into the brass were swirls and strange, twisting patterns. It looked like an ancient tribal token I’d once seen in a museum. I could see why she’d accepted it although the fact it cost her nothing was probably a factor. Celia was not so careless with our meager income that she would squander it on trinkets.

“I wonder…” she said. “Wonder what? Celia—?” Celia’s soft chanting interrupted me. With both hands touching the amulet, she repeated some words over and over in a strange, lyrical language I didn’t recognize. Considering I only knew English and possessed a basic knowledge of French, that wasn’t saying a great deal. She finished her chant and let the amulet go. As she did so a blast of wind swept through the drawing room, rustling hair and skirts, dousing candles and flapping the journal’s pages. A shadow coalesced above the table, a shapeless blob that pulsed and throbbed. It was like the mud that oozed on the riverbank at low tide, sucking and slurping, threatening to swallow small creatures and boots. But the shadow—I could think of no other word to describe the dark, floating mass—altered of its own volition. No longer shapeless, it became a hand reaching out.

Two or three of the guests screamed and scuttled to the far side of the drawing room. Beside me, my sister tensed and circled her arm around my shoulders, pulling me back. She said something under her breath but the loud thud of my heart deafened me to her words, but not to her fear. I could feel it all around me as I stared at the shadow, which was quickly changing shape again. It became a foot then the head of a rat then a dog with snapping jaws and hungry eyes. A hound from hell, snarling and slavering and vicious. It stretched its neck toward me and before I could react, Celia jerked me back. Too late. The shadow creature’s sharp teeth closed around my shoulder. I squeezed my eyes shut and braced myself.

Nothing happened. Oh there was screaming coming from everyone else, including Celia, but I heard no tearing of flesh or clothing. I felt no pain, just a cool dampness against my cheek. I opened my eyes. The creature had turned back into a shapeless cloud. For a brief moment it hovered near the door and then with a whoosh it was gone. A breathless moment passed. Two. Three. “What was that?” I whispered in the ensuing hush.

Celia looked around at the white faces staring wide-eyed back at us, hoping we could give them answers. We couldn’t. She indicated the armchair. “Is he still here?” Her voice shook and she still gripped my shoulders. “Still here,” both Mr. Wiggam and I said together. “Did you see that?” he said, staring at the door. He didn’t look nearly as frightened as the others, but then what did a dead man have to fear? He went to the door and peered out into the hall. “I wonder what it was.” “It’s gone now,” I said.

My words seemed to reassure the ladies who stood huddled in the corner of the room. “The air in this city,” Mrs. Wiggam said with a click of her tongue and a dismissive wave of her hand. “It gets worse and worse every year.” She ushered the ladies to seats, plumped cushions and pooh-poohed any suggestions of a menacing spirit ruining her social event. “It was a trick of the light, that’s all,” she said. “The tense atmosphere in here has got to you all, stirred your imaginations.” “Stupid woman,” Mr. Wiggam muttered. “She can’t possibly believe that cloud was natural.

” I didn’t care what Mrs. Wiggam thought, as long as her guests accepted her explanation. Clearly some of them did, or perhaps they simply wanted to believe it and so willingly forgot what they’d seen only moments before. One or two seemed unconvinced and I hoped they would not gossip about it later. If word got out that we’d released something sinister during one of our séances, our business could flounder. Celia and I could ill afford such a disaster becoming public knowledge. “Well,” Celia said, peering down at the amulet hanging from its leather strip. “I thought it a harmless piece.” “Then why use it?” I hissed. She gathered up the tambourine and Ouija board, packed them into her carpet bag and snapped the clasp shut.

“The peddler who gave it to me said I was to say those words three times if I needed to solve something.” A maid entered carrying a large tray with teapot and cups. Two other maids followed her with more trays laden with cakes and sandwiches. Celia’s face relaxed at the sight of the refreshments. “What were the words?” I pressed her. She waved a hand as she accepted a teacup with the other. Her hands shook so much the cup clattered in the saucer. “Oh, some gibberish. She didn’t tell me what they meant, just that I should repeat them if I needed to fix something. Well I did need to fix something.

” She leaned closer to me and lowered her voice. “The spirit of Mr. Wiggam wouldn’t leave.” I wasn’t entirely convinced that the ongoing presence of Mr. Wiggam was what the woman had meant. Nor was I convinced that the words were gibberish. I looked at the door then at Mr. Wiggam. He stood with his back to the fireplace as if warming himself against the low flames—although he couldn’t feel the cold—and stared at the door, a puzzled expression causing his wild brows to collide. “The peddler was a mad old thing,” Celia muttered around the rim of her teacup.

“Completely mad.” She sipped. “At least it’s gone, whatever it was, and no one seems affected by it.” No. No one at all.


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