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Flora's Gift

by Jessica Jackson 2 years ago
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Whispers From the Spirit Realm

Composite cover created using images from Ron Lach and cottonbro on Pexels.

“Someone died in this room,” said Flora under her breath, gritting teeth and clutching her ebony fountain pen.

Charles was mid-pour with the bottle of Dom Perignon, but only acknowledged her statement with the most subtle of eyebrow raises and a caveman-like grunt. He continued to pour the champagne. Flora was persistent.

“Charles?”

He sighed with exquisite drama, returning his gaze to the teal-clad siren perched on her green velvet chaise. The intricate beading on her frock glimmered like stars in the candlelight. How otherworldly she looked, he thought, like some mythical mercreature arising from the depths of his heart.

“Who died in this room, Flora?” He asked in a blase tone.

The siren’s blue eyes twinkled as she snapped her black book shut, mouth drawn in a serious line. She swung her legs to the side of the chaise, fabric rustling and sticking to the velvet with an electric rustling. She closed her eyes and reached out a pale, trembling hand. She breathed sharp, as though she were about to be submerged.

Then calmly, she spoke, “A girl. About 17. Abigail.”

“Abigail,” Charles repeated the name, sipping his champagne. “And how did this delicate soul meet her untimely end?”

“Shhh,” whispered Flora, squeezing her already-closed eyes even tighter.

Charles rolled his eyes. Flora’s theatrics could be insufferable. At times he was not sure if he hated or loved her. Yet here they were again, archaeological spiritualists in cold pursuit of ghosts and ghouls or whatever other legends they came across. They made a formidable team and always managed to reach the bottom of every mystery encountered, but had yet to discover anything of note in their years of exploration. Charles was growing impatient, and funds were running out.

“The knife,” continued Flora, “Stuck her with a knife.” She gasped, her eyes opening wide all of a sudden. She scrambled to stand, the hem of her gown caressing pale, bare legs and toes. She grew excited. “Charles! I know where it is!”

“Where what is?” Charles continued to drink his champagne, unfettered by her wildness. This was how a situation typically developed with Flora.

“The box, of course!” She wildly poked a finger at the air, as if the air itself were somehow significant for the matter.

Charles was frustrated. This had occurred a number of times. Flora would engage with an entity and assume he could perceive the invisible side of the conversation. “Flora. For the last time, I cannot hear your conversations with the spirit. I can only hear what you say aloud!”

Snap. The glistening hardwood floors emitted a sound so loud, it sounded as though the inn had cracked in two. Flora fell in a faint, and the sheer gold curtains burst inwards with a spasmodic zephyr from outside. Charles all but threw his glass of Dom Perignon, arms hooking under her back and waist to catch her. The glass shattered, champagne splattering everywhere.

Her dark lashes fluttered. “Charles--” She passed out.

Charles’s heart seemed to be doing a tarantella in that moment. It was not the first time Flora had fainted whilst engaging with the spirit world, but it was the first time the physical world had reacted in tandem. He lowered her onto the chaise delicately, brushing a red curl from her cheek. The wind fluttered the pages open in her black notebook. Her latest entry featured a full ink drawing of an ornate box with mad scribblings underneath which were difficult to decipher. “La beaume” was one and another either said “diff” or “cliff.” The remainder of the words seemed to be gibberish or were otherwise illegible.

Then the room became quite cold, so he shut the windows and went to fetch a blanket for Flora. When he returned, Flora was awake and elbows-deep in her suitcase, muttering to herself. There were books and maps strewn about the floor.

“Flora, what are you doing?” He asked, wrapping the blanket around her shoulders.

“South, we must go south,” she explained, jabbing at a map of the southern half of France.

“Flora, darling,” Charles grabbed her hand and it seemed she returned to reality.

All at once, the girl burst into tears, falling into his arms. “Oh Charles! It’s just awful! Ever since--ever since Romania. I see them! I hear them! I feel what they are feeling. And it’s just--it’s so tragic, and I could feel the knife and the blood and the horror and the heartbreak--”

“Sh, Flora,” Charles squeezed her and she gave a gasping sob again. He stroked her hair, his earlier frustration having metamorphosed into pure concern. He wanted to help; he always wanted to help. But she did not always want to be helped, and so he had learned to ask. “Do you want my thoughts?”

The redhead nodded emphatically against his chest, blubbering.

“I think you should get some sleep. Then in the morning, we can go look for the box. I know you would not like to leave unfinished business of any kind once started. After we have recovered the box and paid our respects to Abigail, well, I think we should talk to someone.” He withdrew ever-so-slightly to look into her weeping blue gaze.

“Someone?” She blinked and sniffled. “Like who?”

“A hypnotist, maybe, or perhaps a seer? Someone who can help you guard these new abilities, to take control of them, to take your life back so you don’t have to feel stretched across multiple continents in service to the dead.” Charles was not sure who could help Flora, but would certainly try to find someone who could.

“You call them abilities,” she wiped the tears from her cheeks, “They are a curse, and I should like to be rid of them entirely!”

“If that is what you wish, then so be it. Regardless, why don’t you let me take the reins for a bit after this? Let me find you some options, because to see you suffer is pollution to my heart.” He removed a handkerchief from his jacket and wiped her cheeks, closing it in her fingers.

“You’re a good man, Charles,” she smiled mournfully, “Too good for me.”

“No,” he smiled as well, and kissed her, “Not good enough, I’m afraid.”

The Seine was covered in fog the next morning as they made the long motor car journey down to the Beaume. By then, the fog had cleared and the azure skies were painted with soft, white clouds, like little cream puffs in a pastry shop. The countryside was charming and remote, free from the bustle and excitement of Paris. The forests and hills were reminiscent of an old world which still clung to the eaves and grasses like the whisper of a long-lost lover. Abandoned castles and stone walls littered distant hills and fields, buffeted by an array of wildflowers; the ghosts of the old ways celebrated yet overcome by the rapturous strands of nature itself.

Flora’s abilities, or “curse” as she had so inelegantly put it, allowed her to see with a ghost’s eyes, but not with a ghost’s exact memory. Sometimes, finding something could take days as she had to survey every landmark in search of something which appeared to be familiar. Luckily, the ghost of Abigail had left Flora with a most specific clue, which happened to be “cliffs.” The Beaume river hosted some notable cliffs frequented by tourists during the warm seasons. Below the cliff face was a popular swimming hole. They easily found the area due to its renown though fortunately, few swimmers and sunbathers were present.

They stood on the rocky shore for a long while, as Flora assessed the rock formations, searching the images Abigail had given to her mind. Charles stood quietly by, observing Flora more than the surroundings. She was in a pale yellow gown with dark brown boots not quite fit for adventuring, shielded by a freshly acquired Parisian parasol and dark glasses. The concealment of her eyes drew an onlooker’s attention to her flushed and rosy lips. France suited her, he thought, or rather, she suited France.

After a while, she pointed a gloved finger at a rocky grove to the east of the cliffs. “Over there.”

Charles strained his eyes against the afternoon sun. “You’re sure?”

“Yes,” she replied, “Down behind the rocks, you’ll have to reach in. There is a rope. Pull the rope, and pull up the box.”

“All right.” Charles begrudgingly removed his boots, rolling up his pant legs and sleeves before trudging into the shallow water. Much to his chagrin, the water became deeper and he was quite soaked when he reached the other side. There was no mystery as to why he had to do the dirtier side of the job, but he took little pleasure in the matter. “Which rock?” He shouted.

Flora motioned to his left and back. He could not imagine that the box would still be there after however many years it had been. Yet as Flora guided him towards the location from across the river, he could see why no one would have ventured quite so far back into the brush. It really was quite a hassle, and there would have been no reason to go there. Reaching down into a deep pool was a bit unnerving, and he hoped there were no snakes or other such creatures living down there. After some effort, he found the rope and, bracing himself against the rocks, hauled up a decent-sized box.

The box was metal, and approximately two foot by three foot with a depth of maybe two feet. It was wrapped into a rope harness, which was in turn draped with all manner of algae and decay. It was heavy, but he found that some large stones had been wrapped into the harness on the bottom, presumably to weigh it down. He slashed the harness with his knife and hauled the box over to Flora, feeling a bit winded by the time he reached her.

The few swimmers on-hand had ceased their activities and were looking on with curiosity.

“Shall we open it here or take it back to the inn?” Asked Charles, wishing they had brought a towel so he could dry off.

Flora cast a sidelong glance at the swimmers, who feigned disinterest upon her observation. “Back to the inn,” she stated, “For Abigail.”

The post-expedition automobile ride was as beautiful as the drive there, if not slightly more menacing as the evening fell with its purple shadows and haunting shades of dusk. Stars began to speckle the sky, and Charles regretted leaving the countryside for the bright lights of Paris once again. But Flora had a job to finish, and he had to admit, he was rather famished by then.

He hauled the box up to their quarters, where it was set in the middle of the drawing room. Flora lit several white candles, murmuring some poetic words of death and comfort. It was methodical and funereal, this process of hers. Charles always watched, but did not experience it the way she did. From the outside, it looked rather foolish.

“Light,” she had told him once, with a most mysterious smile, “The most beautiful light, fairer than the moon and stars. And then, a feeling of tranquility, followed by darkness and absence. But not the kind of absence resulting from grief; a kind of beautiful void like the sky where you can see the memory, but you know they are far away now. That is how I know I have freed them.”

They opened Abigail’s box with some difficulty as it had rusted shut. Luckily, Charles had his tools. When they did open it, the lid fell open with a great clang. Inside was another box, slightly smaller and wooden. Inside this was a letter, which Flora read aloud:

“If you have found this box, it means I am dead, and so most likely is my unborn child. Yet in my death, you may yet find your life. I was but a servant girl, foolishly in love with a lord. The fortune in this case is but a fraction of his family’s wealth. I secreted it away for safe-keeping, so that might our plans to elope succeed, or alternatively should they fail, some means of financial stability would exist for me and my child. Inside, I have also left my mother’s wedding ring; a worthless bit of silver in the eyes of many, but a symbol of eternal love to me, for she and my father endured great hardship under the house of Melun. May the finder of this box come to know the happiness I perhaps was never allowed. Signed, Abigail Martin.”

Flora held her breath, setting the letter aside and carefully fetching the silver ring. It was a dainty little thing, carved with flowers but set with no stone. In a jewelry shop, it would not garner any kind of special attention but in that moment, it seemed to be a thing of great importance. Flora set it on top of the letter and then reached back in. She retrieved several stacks of 19th century bank notes, amounting approximately to $20,000. Although, based upon the age, she wagered it might be worth a bit more.

Charles murmured. Flora sat in silence, staring at the sudden reserve of cash which had so clandestinely made its way into her possession. Then she sat on her knees, looking straight across the box at nothing in particular, although Charles knew she was addressing Abigail. Her mouth moved as if speaking, but no sound came out. The air was heavy but after a brief moment lightened and sweetened with a hint of late summer flowers. Flora breathed.

“It is done. Abigail is free.”

“Did she--did she say anything else?” Charles stammered, staring at the stacks of money.

Flora shook her head sadly, picking up the stacks and returning them to the box.

“Nothing at all?” Charles felt strangely unsatisfied by the outcome, in spite of the fact that they had just acquired what appeared to be a good sum of money. Enough perhaps, to ensure their happiness for a while if invested correctly.

Flora paused and looked at him gravely. “It is simple to look upon these words and say, ‘oh, how romantic! True love in a world of arranged marriages.’ But this girl who was so young, so full of life and hope--she wasn’t killed by some thug or jilted family member. She was murdered by the very man she designed to elope with. And some part of her knew it might happen.”

“No!” Charles felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. “But why?”

“A cruel joke. He used her and when things became serious, when he realized she was with child, she was deemed unworthy. So he killed her.” Flora stared at the wall, vacant.

“Flora--” Charles took her hand and Flora’s head spun to look at him.

“You would never do me such cruelty, would you, Charles?” She lifted up a stack of money and placed it in his hand. “Take your fortune, abandon me to the madness of it all.”

Charles smiled softly, putting the money back in the case. “It is our fortune. We decide what to do with it together. But might I recommend we start small?” He removed one bill from the stack, looking at her with sparkling admiration. “Because I am quite hungry, and I believe a fitting end to our day would be a candlelit dinner in Paris. And I think Abigail would want that for us, don’t you agree?”

Flora laughed.

About the author

Jessica Jackson

Armed with her BA in English Literature and passion for gothic romance, Jessica Jackson is making her debut in the world of fiction. She is also an award-winning costume artist, lyricist, vocalist, and lover of all things dark and spooky.

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