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Deal 895: Killed seance

“Now is the time for silence, as we join hands and complete the circle.”

Thirteen of us sat close-packed at the table properly sized for ten. The room was large enough, but the usual furniture had all been pushed aside to make room for the table. At the north point sat the medium for the evening. The remaining twelve of us were guests, and our host who sat defiantly at the southern point glaring at the medium.

The medium’s helpers sat around the perimeter of the room. At least, those that admitted to being involved. Earlier they had been busy, shifting furniture, moving in the heavy round table, and other similar arcane tasks.

He arrived to find the room prepared and ready, which was expected since one doesn’t expect an elderly gentleman to move furniture on his own.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is that the room remain silent. No spirit would deign to appear over a disruption.”

There was some murmuring, but by and large we all wanted some answers and had agreed to this measure to get them. So most everyone cooperated willingly. Our host had, naturally, been outvoted and was the only one I expected to cause trouble. But then, we suspected he was behind it all, and had the most to lose.

Regardless, silence fell like a blanket over the room. Some of the helpers took this as their cue to dim the gas lights, leaving only a single candle burning on the table. In its flickering light, the world no longer seemed quite as orderly a place.

It became so quiet that we could hear each other breathing, and the occasional faint pop from the somewhat irregular wax of the candle.

The medium began to whisper an incantation. We all heard the words, but they seemed to slip in our ears and vanish from our ken before they could be understood. We all kept a death grip on the hands to either side. I may come to regret that choice of words, but will let it stand as it reflected how everyone at the table felt.

The murder had surprised all of high society. It was so outré, with the victim clearly the subject of some sort of dark ritual. I had not seen the body or scene aside from the tame pictures that made the papers, but the descriptions from those who had left little to the imagination. They also left a very strong urge to turn back time and not hear those descriptions at all. I don’t think I was considered a suspect, but one never quite knows how the minds of the detective class works.

Our host, on the other hand most certainly was a suspect. I had not been the least surprised to find that the other three suspects named by the papers were also at the table, as were a number of people of similar standing and proximity to the case who had not been named publicly at all, as well as a few I did not recognize at all. I naturally assumed that those were like me, clearly here as a check on the outcome.

The candle flame began to gutter, and then rather unexpectedly given the still air, leaned over and burned like a blow torch aimed across the table.

Directly at me.

I had done nothing.

And yet, here I was, suddenly the object of scrutiny of all of those involved in this case, witnesses, suspects, and detective.

And present in a translucent shade hovering over the table, the victim as well.

All staring at me.

The shade and the candle flame pointing at me.

There was nothing I could do.

They ripped me limb from limb that night, left my still barely living body spread out on that table. My final thought was to wonder who would investigate this murder?

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Deal 266: Thirteen in the dark

The guests arrived as dusk gave way to night, and spent an uneasy few minutes making small talk while waiting for their host. The house was a fine example of a bygone era, elderly, but well maintained. We were left in the entry hall to chat, check coats, and prepare for the ordeal to come. I didn’t know anyone else in the room, and it soon became clear that none of the thirteen of us did either. We all seemed to have a similar story of mentioning a desire to experience something unusual to a friend, and receiving an invitation some time after.

As the old clock in the hall struck the hour, the parlour doors opened.

We filed in, and found seats at the table, which was clearly prepared for a party of thirteen exactly. There was no other furniture in the room. Dark curtains covered the windows, there was a thick carpet on the floor, and the table was round with just enough room for the thirteen of us to sit almost shoulder to shoulder. As we sat, the parlour doors closed. And locked.

Looking around, I saw no other doors.

A gentleman who I hadn’t yet chatted with looked around the table, and seized control of the gathering with little more than body language and a penetrating stare. He had the knack of seeing to the back of one’s skull, seemingly laying bare all the secrets therein. I leapt immediately to the conclusion that this was our mysterious host for the evening. Events soon proved I was right.

Without saying a word, he placed his hands flat on the table, and stared at each of us until we all followed suit.

We sat like that for a few minutes, just feeling the table, with fingertips possibly touching our neighbor’s, apparently all waiting for something to happen. Our host projected the posture and mood he wanted us to assume, and we all fell right in line. After what seemed like an hour, but which was certainly no more than five minutes or so, a murmur spread around the table. For it had shifted suddenly. After another minute, the table unmistakably moved.

I’m still not sure what I had expected from the evening, other than something unexpected. After all, that is about all the invitation had said: “Come experience something unusual and unexpected,” then it gave an address, a date, and a time.

The table unmistakably moved. That was something I was certainly not expecting, it had felt and appeared to be a large oak dining table, suitable for dinner service for ten, and currently seating thirteen in a more cramped setting where we just had room to set our cups down in front of each of us. It vibrated a little, then lifted, rocked and settled. Many gasped audibly when it lifted, then relaxed when it settled. Before we had time to react, it shot straight up at least a foot, the top staying roughly level, and then another foot so that the shortest among us were just able to see over it. It then settled back to the floor, dropping the last couple of inches so that it made a loud thud and rattled all the cups.

And blew out the candle.

By that point, all the other lights in the room which had been slowly dimmed, had gone out and the only light was the single large candle burning in the center of the table. Which blew out when the table dropped back to the floor, leaving us blind in a pitch dark room.

In the darkness someone, I presume our host, spoke. “The circle is set, the room is sealed. From this point forward, silence is your best option. Please take hands and complete the circle, and most importantly, do not let go for any reason whatsoever.”

Rattled, I reached out left and right and found my table mates doing the same thing. We clasped hands in the darkness, and wondered what we had done.

“Rest your hands on the table if you will, but do not let go. We are all safe and secure in this place and time. We are each other’s anchor, each other’s hold on sanity and normalcy, break the circle and there will be consequences.”

By this point, my eyes were as adjusted to darkness as they were going to get, and there was no light available to be seen. Eyes open or closed made no difference. We sat there in a degree of darkness that modern city dwellers rarely experience, listening to each other breathe, hanging on to our anchors as if our neighbors really were at risk of madness without the comfort of a human touch.

Touch. What made me imagine that word at this time? Touch. For at that moment, I distinctly felt a touch on the back of my head, as if a touch of a bird’s wing, a great silent bird comfortable flying in close quarters in pitch darkness, a bird I could only imagine as it made the rounds of the table evidenced by the sudden intakes of breath and squirming from my neighbors as their grips increased.

I took a breath, and forced myself to relax.

By the sounds of it, I wasn’t the only one, but there were a few who were still shaking.

The table shifted then stilled.

We heard a sound then, a sort of whispering voice. I say “we”, but it soon became clear that each of us were hearing different sounds. Mine was seeming to tell me things, but in distant indistinct way that made it difficult to make out. A moment of clarity came when it called me by name and told me that tonight could be my last night among the living, that I could easily be scared to death. A ridiculous notion I can hear you thinking even through the printed word. Ridiculous indeed until you are sitting in pitch darkness with twelve strangers remembering that you didn’t particularly explain to anyone where you were going for the evening. The whispering continued. Did anyone know I was here? Did I really trust the shady person to my left? Was I holding them tightly enough to prevent them from doing something?

It might be an exaggeration to say that the table as a whole was terrified, but we all considered it and we clearly were all more than a little unsettled.

Suddenly, the table lifted, rocked and settled again. That seemed to be a signal of some sort. As it came back to terra firma, everyone seemed to collectively breathe a sigh of relief. Until the voices returned, this time speaking so that the whole table, could hear.

“Carol, you know the answer.”

“Frederick, find a way forward, or fall back.”

“Althea, no, all is not well, and won’t get better until you do what you know you must do.”

“David, your mother knows.”

“Ben, yes.”

“Edgar, no.”

I didn’t hear my name called, but I wasn’t sure I wanted an answer to the questions rolling through my mind. Others seemed comforted by their answers. With each somewhat ominous pronouncement, the mood seemed to lift, and the near terror that had prevailed not that long before dissipated.

Now, when the unseen bird made the rounds a second time, we welcomed its touch. It made the rounds a third time, then a fourth, going faster with each round, then it became a spark of light in the center of the room, darting here and there, just barely bright enough to be seen as a yellow pinprick. It darted around the table, dancing, almost tracing an ethereal pattern, never touching any of us.

As it danced, the last of the fear and anxiety washed away, leaving us once again fearless as we took stock of our experience.

The tiny light flared up brightly and dropped to the candle. When our vision cleared, the candle was lit.

In the light of the candle, none of us were unchanged.

All twelve were sitting calmly, holding hands…

Holding hands…

Twelve…