Even a clairvoyant needs a certain amount of focus to see beyond the exterior of a person. Normally, one gets a fleeting glimpse of a person's soul, maybe a color or a snatch of music, and seeing more requires a meditative trance, or at very least a deep consideration of the subject's being. It's rare to see someone surrounded by an aura so strong that it doesn't flicker like candlelight.
But the woman in black wore her sadness the way some women wear face paint. It covered all her features so completely that it was impossible to tell if she might be pretty beneath it all, if only one could get close enough to scrape it away. It hung heavy on her shoulders, lay in dark circles beneath her eyes.
So when the medium from Boston saw her on the streets of New Haven, she knew that there was something different about her. She hurried across the street, weaving her way through carriages with a sense of urgency, certain that she was meant to see this woman, certain that if she let her turn the corner, she might never see her again.
"Excuse me," she said, approaching the woman in black. "I'm sorry to bother you, but your aura hit me like a railroad engine from fifty yards away."
The woman in black rubbed at her knuckles; it seemed as if they were troubling her. Here, up close, it was as if there was a dark shadow encroaching on the woman. Her mouth barely twitched.
"I'd--" the medium from Boston produced a pretty little calling card, with her name and the occupation Occultist in beautiful swirling script. "I'm down from Boston for a week," she explained. "If there's any way that I can help you, please be in touch."
The woman in black barely looked at the card, but put it into her handbag. The medium from Boston nodded and went on her way, marveling back over her shoulder at the other woman.
She was quite surprised when Sarah Winchester (for that was the name of the woman in black) requested her presence that evening.
Sarah had gone to occultists before. Occultists, mediums, clairvoyants, and psychics: she'd been to them all. Some of them seemed to be charlatans. Others seemed more genuine. She had gone first after little Annie had died, heartbroken over the loss of her only child. William, of course, would have none of that, and she soon abandoned that folly.
But now William was gone, too. So perhaps this woman who had stopped her in the street wanted nothing more than her money, but all she had now was money. Money, and time.
So at just before midnight, the medium from Boston took her hands and closed her eyes, instructing Sarah to do the same.
The clock in the hall chimed twelve o'clock.
"Oh, Spirit," intoned the medium. "Come, Spirit."
There was a whooshing sound, like air passing through draperies, but Sarah knew the windows were shut fast. She peeked through her eyelids.
There was a glowing form standing on the card table, in the middle of the circle formed by their clasped hands. It began to resolve, to take shape into something resembling a little girl, in a lacy frock, with little insubstantial ringlets framing her ethereal face.
The medium felt Sarah's hands tighten, and the room grew suddenly chill. "Are you here, Spirit?" she asked.
"Mama?" asked the little girl.
"Annie?" Sarah asked, mystified. Annie had never been more than a little infant in arms, and here she was, standing in front of her, as pretty as could be.
But the little girl wrung her hands, with urgency. "Mama...Daddy...Daddy's guns..."
"Yes!" Sarah exclaimed, with hope. This is what she wanted to hear. If Annie was alive and well in some other plane, then William..."Your father. Have you seen him? Is he with you?"
Annie looked frustrated, shaking her ghostly little head. She didn't acknowledge Sarah's question; it was as if she were so fixated on her message that she heard nothing else. "They've killed so many... too many. Their spirits took us...ant they'll take you, too, unless...unless..."
"Unless what?" Sarah asked frantically, sitting on the edge of her seat. "What must I do?"
"Build them a house," answered the little girl. "A house big enough for all of them. And never stop. So long as they keep dying, you must build. And so long as you keep building, they'll let you live."
Sarah Winchester left New Haven. She bought an eight-room house in California. She began to add to it. And she never stopped. It was a house woven of spider webs, a house as heavy with sadness as Sarah Winchester herself. Room after room, spire after spire, seven stories high. It had windows that looked into each other, stairs leading nowhere, and fountains of serpents. In the gardens, she ordered statues erected, statues that depicted the victims of Winchester rifles. The house became so massive, so enormous that when the painting crew finally finished painting all the rooms, they had to go back to the beginning and start over.
And every night, at just midnight, Sarah Winchester could be heard speaking to someone, someone no one else could hear.
And every single morning, Sarah Winchester would give the construction crew their new directions, as if they were being dictated to her in a dream, never stopping, never slowing, demands more and more lavish and more and more eccentric. Could they build a door that opened to a sheer drop on the third story? Could there be such a thing as a horizontal elevator? Perhaps a decorative window looking in upon the elevator shaft? The front rooms, the front rooms needed to be more ornate, perhaps some gilt wallpaper...
Then the earthquake came. The front rooms, the beautiful front rooms were woefully damaged, and Sarah was trapped in her room, unhurt alone.
When she was able to escape, she went again to her crew, and explained that the spirits were unhappy. They were spending too much time on these front rooms, surely, and not enough time building new rooms for all the souls.
The front rooms were boarded up. The plans changed again.
It went on for sixteen more years. And Sarah Winchester grew from a beautiful, haunted young woman to an old lady. Her jet-black hair had become silvery and grey, but she was still a grand figure, even when her arthritis confined her to a wheelchair. Still grand, but still haunted.
Then, on the fourth of September, 1922, the clock chimed midnight, and Sarah Winchester could be heard, as always, speaking to someone, though no one had entered the room.
"Mama?" Annie asked that night. "You called?"
"Yes, Annie," said Sarah. "It is time. Take me with you."
"But Mama," said Annie. "The house. The house still isn't finished. The spirits..."
This time, Sarah would have none of it. "The spirits? What can they do to me? I am eighty-three years old. Every day I build this house is one more day alone. They have kept me apart from you for thirty-eight years. Enough."
And then Sarah went to bed.
She never woke up.
It is said that Sarah Winchester left a will written in thirteen parts and signed thirteen times, carefully granting possession of everything she owned.
Except the house. The house was not mentioned, not once.
This entry was written for therealljidol Week 31: Moving Target (with a little Unexplored Country thrown in for good measure)