Authors: Sheila Connolly
Tags: #mystery, #genealogy, #cozy, #psychic powers, #Boston, #Salem, #witch trials, #ghosts, #history
And Ned shared that ability. He shared a few of the same ancestors as well, about nine generations back, and their working theory was that that connection played a part in it. He’d known about the gift—or curse?—for most of his life, but he’d tried to ignore it, and had never talked about it with anyone else. He’d even managed to ignore the fact that his mother felt and saw the same things. It still made Abby sad that those two had coexisted in the same house for years and never discussed this other thing that was going on. Abby and Ned’s mother, Sarah, had recognized their shared bond immediately, the first time they’d touched, shaking hands. Well, Ned couldn’t hide from it anymore. Luckily he had decided to jump in and explore it more systematically, applying his own scientific slant. At least he was open to the experience now. Neither of them had done a detailed history of the owners of the house, so Abby wasn’t sure if she’d be running into anyone, but they both recognized a few relatives in the old cemetery that lay behind the property. Cemeteries were always places of high emotion, so the people there weren’t hard to see.
Abby was also trying to explore whether she could see people who
related to her, at least after some practice. Ned was curious to find out if there was some genetic component to this ability, like seeking like, sort of. Abby wanted to know if it was a more general ability, one that could be used to locate other lingering spirits. But so far it was the strong emotional component that seemed to carry them into the present—she wasn’t seeing happy people going about their daily business. Sadly, most of what she saw was related to death and pain. Abby compared it to an electrical charge that kind of lingered—and might even be dissipated by repeated use. Or not: she suspected that some people, particularly children, could see these lingering spirits again and again, once they’d figured out it was possible. Maybe. Abby still wasn’t sure that science was going to be any help in understanding all this, but if Ned wanted to try, she wasn’t going to stop him.
“Are you ready to call it a day?” Ned asked.
Abby looked around. Shadows were creeping into the corners, and she could see the sun setting over the cemetery behind—currently clear of anyone current or past. “I guess. I need a shower—I think I have paste just about everywhere.”
“At least back in the day it was wheat-based, so it’s just annoying, not deadly. Why don’t I pick up a pizza?”
“That sounds good. I know you keep telling me the stove is safe, but I don’t trust it. I checked the model number online, and I think it dates to the 1940s.”
“They made things to last in those days—you shouldn’t worry.”
Ned left in search of pizza, and Abby made her way to the bathroom, which sported a wonderful deep claw-footed tub—a blessing when she was aching from all the stretching and bending and climbing up and down ladders that she had been doing lately—with a massive showerhead above. She could live with the bathroom, even work to repair the original fixtures and replicate the tiling. Later. She really had to make a list and set some priorities: what did she need to do first? “Everything” was not an answer.
Ned was back in under ten minutes, and she joined him at the kitchen table, where he’d set the pizza box in the middle and found a stack of paper plates. Not one but two pantries in the house, and neither of them had anything to fill them. Ridiculous for two adults! “You really need to overcome your fear of that stove, you know,” he said amiably, helping himself to a couple of slices.
“Why? Only half the burners work, and I don’t know what’s going on with the oven. It’s not really big enough for much anyway. Heck, the thing is older than I am. Maybe older than the two of us put together. You really like it?”
He shrugged. “I can’t say I’ve thought about it a lot. It’s been okay for what I wanted to do, and there’s always the microwave.”
“Hey, don’t I get some say? I like to cook, but I don’t want to do it if I’m worried that the stove will blow up any minute or the flame will go out and the gas will get to me. Or us.”
“Okay, fine, I hear you. New stove it is. You want a new refrigerator? Dishwasher?”
“Of course I do. And some cabinets and countertops. But I don’t need hand-whittled ebony or marble. Just stuff that works. Is that okay?”
“Of course it is, Abby. I want you to be happy here.”
“I hate that I have to ask you to pay for things like this.” And she hated that she sounded like a sulky child as she said it.
“Why? I have money. I want to share it with you. Is that a problem?”
“I like to be independent. And I like to work. I enjoyed my job, before the stuff with Ellie started. Is Leslie ever going to forgive me? Or at least figure out how to get along with me? Because I was only the messenger, sort of. I didn’t turn her daughter over to the dark side or anything.”
Ned had been instrumental in getting Abby the job at the historical museum where Leslie was president, because he had been engaged to Leslie close to a decade earlier. Abby had worked there for barely six months when one afternoon Leslie had asked her to keep an eye on her seven-year-old daughter, Ellie, and Abby had discovered that Ellie too shared the ability to see the dead. Leslie had not been too happy to hear about that, and Abby had found herself out of a job very quickly.
“I know, I know,” Ned said. “Look, Leslie’s an intelligent woman, so in her head she knows she can’t blame you for bringing Ellie’s abilities into the open. It would have happened sooner or later. But in her heart she’s a mother, and she’s scared for Ellie. And Ellie’s brother too. And she needs somebody to blame, at least for now.”
“What, you don’t come into the picture? You’re their father! And you’ve got what I’ve got. Jeez, that makes it sound like a disease!”
“I didn’t know that when I helped her have her kids, and I certainly didn’t know it could be passed down. I was only trying to help her out.”
“Gee, I wonder how many times that excuse has been used?” Before Ned could respond, Abby held up a hand. “Just ignore me, will you? This is not your fault. It’s not anybody’s fault. And I’m tired and maybe a little bored and definitely frustrated. I have no idea where my life is going, or what to tell people, like my parents. Why did I leave a job I liked? Was I fired—or exorcized? What am I doing, camping out here in this house?”
Ned was watching her face, his expression an uneasy mix of compassion and concern. “Abby, give it time—all of it. Us, whether you’re going to work again, where and how we live, what to do about Ellie. You can’t decide everything according to some timetable. What we’ve been going through is kind of monumental, and new to us both.”
“I know. But it’s hard. At least you can go to work and keep yourself distracted. I can’t.”
“True. And I won’t feed you some dumb line like ‘find yourself some girlfriends’ or ‘volunteer at some do-gooder place.’ That doesn’t really solve the problem, does it?”
“Nope. Because I couldn’t talk about this ‘seeing’ thing. Ned, I want—no, I
to know more about it. It’s not just a parlor trick, and I haven’t been possessed by demons, and I don’t have a brain tumor, and I don’t take drugs that cause hallucinations. So, what is it?
“I wish there was something I could tell you, Abby.” Ned reached out his hand and took hers, and she twined her fingers with his. “I’m struggling with it too. But at least I’m in a position to look at the science of it, if there is any. That’s a luxury. What kind of research would you like to do?”
Abby had been momentarily distracted by his touch, which always triggered intense sensations, thanks to the ability they both possessed. She forced herself to focus on the conversation. Ned was taking her seriously. He wasn’t treating her like some silly little woman—wait, no, that would have been Brad. Ned was definitely not like Brad. “I suppose more genealogy. Every time one of these seeings happens, I’ve rushed to follow up that ancestry line, looking for connections. Maybe I need to be more thorough, because there are still a lot of bare branches in my family tree. And certainly I’ve got the resources to work with around here.”
Even as she spoke, she realized there was a murky idea taking shape in her mind. “Ned,” she began tentatively, “we know that it takes a strong emotional state for these people to appear to us, right?”
“Yes,” Ned agreed cautiously.
“And what historical events bring about that kind of strong emotion? I’m not talking about individuals, because we’ve already seen people in cemeteries, and of course there’s a lot of sorrow or even anger associated with cemeteries. And we’ve found some others around the Revolutionary War, so war is clearly a big stressor. But there’s something else that was pretty intense in Massachusetts history.”
“I’m not following. What?”
“Salem. The witch frenzy. And I’ve already identified one ancestor who was accused. There may be more. Surely if we explore Salem, there’s something to be found there?”
“Interesting,” Ned said. “And don’t forget Andover—there were about as many accusations thrown around there as in Salem, or Danvers, which used to be part of Salem. I think you’re on to something, Abby. It’s worth a try.”
“Good. It’ll give me something to think about while I peel all those walls.”
The next day Abby reluctantly went back to stripping walls in the front parlor. There were not one but
parlors, roughly the same size, separated by the original pocket doors. It struck her as kind of ridiculous. She didn’t know what to do with one, much less two of them. She didn’t have many friends in the area, and those she did have and would consider inviting to her home she would probably drag straight to the kitchen, which is where she spent most of her time because it seemed friendlier. How had Victorians decided who rated front parlor status versus back parlor? Anyway, she thought she would start the stripping in the front parlor because even though nobody used that room, it was the first one any visitor saw, and its walls looked as though they had a severe case of leprosy. She had a suspicion that nobody had used it for a long time—maybe they just shut all the doors and pretended it wasn’t there.
A hundred-plus years added up to a good number of layers of paper, even for a room that didn’t get much wear and tear. Five, to be precise, the most recent added in the 1970s, an unfortunate era for amateur interior design. Below that, there was a layer from the 1940s, which was at least bland. When she got down to the original layer, which had survived here and there, she rather regretted that it was gone: it was dark and elaborately floral, but at least it fit with the room. It was also backed by what looked like a burlap bag, and as thick as canvas, which would have made it difficult to remove if the glue hadn’t long since given up its grip.
As she had said to Ned the night before, having a project that occupied her mind would make this work go faster. Still, she had set herself the task, and it would feel like cheating to abandon a messy task to go play in various local archives, which she was looking forward to. Besides, she needed to think about what she wanted to look for, not just jump in and wander aimlessly in local libraries. The idea of researching the witch frenzy appealed to her: it was something most people thought they knew something about, but the details were kind of murky, and from what little she’d read or heard about it, there were some conflicting theories about what really had gone on. No matter what the cause, it was something that lingered in the cultural memory, particularly in Massachusetts. People were still talking about Salem and the witches over three hundred years later.
What seemed odd to her, coming at it with fresh—or at least uninformed—eyes, was that it had exploded so quickly and died away equally quickly. The insanity had lasted barely more than a year, and had mostly been confined to a fairly small area. From Lexington she could drive to Salem in less than half an hour; from Salem to Andover in not much more. Of course, distances might have seemed longer back in 1692, but the spread of the madness had been limited. And given how small the population must have been, everybody must have known everybody else back then.
She shivered: she hadn’t faced the question she was really asking, which was “why?” Okay, people had always been suspected of witchcraft, for centuries, long before Europeans settled in America. People, especially those clustered in tribes or groups, tended to be afraid of whatever they didn’t understand or couldn’t explain. Sadly, they often tried to destroy it. Maybe they believed that if a member of the group possessed special powers, he or she was a threat to the survival of the group itself, and had to go. The thing was, she didn’t believe in witches, or at least not as humans possessing supernatural powers. More likely they were simply smart, observant people who acquired certain skills, like healing the sick as far as was possible then, and for that they were sometimes put to death. Why was it those suspicious villagers tended to focus on the bad stuff, like the idea that witches made people sick rather than curing them? Why was it that hate and anger always seemed to trump kindness and comfort?
And what did it have to do with her? That was the underlying issue she was dancing around. Abby was gradually coming to terms with the idea that she had an ability that most people did not. But she was aware that if she talked about it, people would label her as crazy and fear her.
Oh, yeah, Abby—she hears voices. She belongs in the loony bin.
There’s medication for that now. Just take your pills, dear, and it will all go away.
Which didn’t solve anything. She didn’t exactly welcome whatever it was, but she didn’t want it to go away either, medicated into submission. Still, she couldn’t let other people know about it.
But Ned understood. How lucky was she, that she had just happened to meet him on a house tour in Waltham? When she’d tried to explain what was happening to her to Brad back then, he had predictably told her she was crazy, that she needed to get out more, find some friends, keep busy. It hadn’t been a warm and sympathetic reaction, but in a way she couldn’t blame him for that; he had never been a very imaginative person, except when he was visualizing his shining career path. But Ned got it, because he shared it, even though he hadn’t really admitted it to himself when they first met. So in a way, whatever she learned would help both of them.