By Damien McKeating
EMILY took hold of Madame Edith’s hands. They were warm but old and thin and Emily could feel the bones under her fingers.
“Is there somebody with us?” Edith asked.
Emily bit at her lower lip to keep from crying out. She felt Edith cling onto her hands.
“Stay,” the old woman said. “Do not break the circle.” She stared around the darkened room. “Call to her.”
“Sarah? Is it you?”
“Are you here?”
Emily looked above her. The bang had come from the room above them, from her bedroom. “Sarah!” Emily tore herself free of Edith’s grip and ran for the stairs. “She’s here!”
“No,” Edith cried, struggling to hurry after Emily and stumbling over the chairs.
Emily rushed up the stairs. She stumbled into the bedroom, hand fumbling for the light switch and missing. She stood in the dark, groping for the bedstead.
“Sarah? Honey, it’s mummy. Where are you? Do it again; knock again.”
Emily sobbed. She turned towards the sound. It had echoed against the wall. It hadn’t come from her room at all; it was the room next to hers, from Sarah’s bedroom.
“Sarah! Where are you?”
She heard Madame Edith wheezing as she struggled with the stairs but Emily ignored her. She stood at the door to Sarah’s old room and turned on the light.
The room, left untouched, was in disarray. Sarah’s collection of stuffed animals lay strewn across the floor.
Emily fell to her knees and slapped her hands against the wall.
“Stop,” Madame Edith hissed as she staggered into the room.
“She’s here,” Emily pressed her forehead against the wall and shut her eyes tight against the burning tears.
Madame Edith knelt down next to her and Emily felt the old lady’s worn hands take hold of hers.
“You broke the circle.”
She heard Madame Edith gasp. The medium put one hand to Emily’s head, holding it in place against the wall. “Keep your eyes closed. Do not look.”
“Knock, knock,” a girl’s voice said.
“Sarah!” Emily tried to move but Edith’s hands held her in place.
“It’s not her,” Edith said.
“Knock, knock, mummy,” the little girl said.
“Don’t look,” Edith whispered to her.
“Mummy,” the little girl said very sternly. “Knock. Knock.”
“It’s not her,” Edith said, talking quietly and quickly. “The circle was broken. It’s not your daughter. Trust me. Do not look.”
Emily screwed her eyes tight shut but still the tears found their way through. They rolled down her cheeks and she tasted them on her lips.
“It’s not her,” she said. She knew it was true. She felt cold and scared, like a hand had reached into her and was squeezing. If it was her daughter she would know and she would not be afraid.
“Good,” Edith. “Good. It’s gone.”
Emily stood up, the two women holding each other for support. “I’m sorry. I just thought…”
Edith reached out and stroked Emily’s cheek, wiping away the tears. “I know. But we need to be careful. Other things will come through and they’ll wear the faces of those we love to fool us.”
“It looked like her?”
“But it wasn’t. We’ll try again next time.”
“How many more times?” Emily asked absently, thinking aloud but not expecting an answer.
“I don’t know,” Edith replied. “If Sarah is there and she can come to us then she will. If not, then she must be somewhere very happy,” she gave Emily’s hand a comforting squeeze.
A short while later Emily was alone in the house again. She tidied Sarah’s room, putting all of the toys back just where her daughter had kept them. That should have been her first warning; seeing all of the toys scattered around. Sarah had always been so tidy.
She held onto one of them, a penguin with a big belly and one eye threatening to come loose. She stared at it and felt more alone than ever. Tonight she had come close, closer than ever before, to seeing her daughter again.
“I could have seen her,” she told the penguin. Edith had said it had looked like Sarah. Perhaps that would have been enough, even if it hadn’t really been her. Perhaps it would have been enough just to see her.
She brushed a thumb over the matted fur of the penguin’s belly.
She had to see her.
She took a deep breath and asked the question.
© Damien McKeating 2016