Now You See Me, Now You Don’t
Something stirred in Clark’s memory. “Wingham . . .” he muttered out loud. “As in Wingham Rifles?”
The woman nodded. “Since eighteen eighty-one, yes. You have a sharp mind.” Her pale blue eyes suddenly lost focus for a moment and narrowed, as if traveling into an unpleasant memory. “It was a company handed to me.” She paused, and a moment later her eyes snapped back toward Clark, coming out of her reverie. “You may now understand why privacy is a treasured companion of mine?”
Yes, it made a little bit more sense now. The Wingham Rifle had been invented back in the late eighteen hundreds and as the popular phrase went, it was ‘the gun that won the West.’ He didn’t know much more about its history than that, only that the Wingham Rifle was a well-known name that continued to propel the latest technology in rifle weaponry. He imagined that for Miss Wingham, being an heir to a company who manufactured weapons would definitely attract all kinds of people she wouldn’t be keen on meeting.
Clark smiled politely. “Yes, it’s an industry you inherited, not an industry you asked for.”
The corners of Miss Wingham’s mouth lifted slightly. “Indeed.” She waved her hand toward a patio table sitting further on the south side of the porch. “Please join me for lunch on this lovely warm fall day. We can get acquainted with each other.” Though it was asked politely, the older woman’s tone suggested this was more of a demand than an actual request.
Ushered forward by her staffed men in black, a waiting butler had pulled out Clark’s chair, though he waited until Miss Wingham was wheeled to the table before he took his seat. He found himself staring at the highly polished wooden deck and examining the red brick exterior. It was unreal how much it felt like he was back inside his dream.
“You seem quite taken with my estate,” Miss Wingham’s voice cut into his thoughts.
“I’ve been here before,” Clark replied.
Miss Wingham arched a lone eyebrow in surprise. “Oh?”
“In my dreams,” Clark explained. “Rose showed this place to me, asking me to find her.”
The older woman nodded. “That would be because she haunts my estate.”
“Why?” Clark asked, having guessed this himself. “What connection does she have here?”
“In due time, Mister Kent,” Miss Wingham said, and at that moment several servers approached bearing trays of food and pitchers of drink. “First, we shall eat to replenish our minds and our bodies. It is time for me to take my medication. Then we will delve into the hands of fate that have brought you and me together to help a distressed spirit.”
A little eccentric, aren’t you? Clark thought silently.
Nevertheless, he granted her wishes and withheld the barrage of questions he was itching to ask. As a garden salad was placed in front of Clark, he watched another server hold out a small silver tray to Miss Wingham; on it rested a small needle syringe and a bottle of clear medicine. He recognized it as insulin. The older woman glanced up and caught Clark’s stare.
She arched a brow and gave him a pointed look. “Do I amuse you?”
Clark felt color rise to his cheeks and looked down in embarrassment. “Sorry,” he apologized. “I didn’t mean to stare. Diabetes can be an awful disease,” he added in hopes it would console a very stiff, proper English woman.
“Yes, it can,” Miss Wingham replied coolly, her tone indicating that the subject was not open to further discussion.
Lunch passed awkwardly for Clark. He tried to engage in light conversation as they moved from salad to the second course—glazed salmon, cooked vegetables, and mashed potatoes—but Miss Wingham kept her answers short and succinct. Eventually Clark gave up trying to make small talk and ate in silence, which seemed to suit his hostess just fine. In fact, her posture seemed to relax slightly amid the ensuing quiet, and as the entrée plates were taken away and tea was served, she let out a small sigh of satisfaction, the smallest of smiles pulling at the corners of her mouth.
“Did you enter inside my estate?” Miss Wingham asked suddenly.
After the long stretch of silence, Clark was startled when she spoke. “I beg your pardon?”
“In your dreams, were you ever just on the outside, or did you enter inside it as well?” she clarified, taking a sip of her tea.
“Just on the outside,” Clark responded quickly, practically pouncing on the subject, his enthusiasm evident that she was finally bringing up the subject he had come here to discuss. “I’ve had only two dreams where I’ve seen this place, but both times my dream ends with me staring at it from the outside, and Rose is telling me to find her.” Clark paused a moment in debate, but decided to speak his mind. He spoke cautiously. “Miss Wingham, forgive me if this is too forward, but . . . how did you know I’d been having dreams about a ghost? They started only very recently. My own wife didn’t even know about it until early this morning. It feels like too much of a coincidence that, only hours later, I get a call from you, and you’re asking me about Rose.”
Miss Wingham’s pale blue eyes sparkled with humor, and her mouth quirked. “I do not believe in coincidence, Mister Kent. It is merely a blind man’s excuse for not acknowledging the existence of fate. I did not know you were having dreams; I could only know of my own, and in them, I dreamt that you were wandering around in my mansion, calling for Rose, but you could not find her. I, on the other hand could, and she was pleading with me to help you find her.”
For the second time today, Clark felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end and a chill race up his spine. “Why me?” he mused out loud. “I’m not a medium. I don’t help spirits cross over.”
“That is why I invited you here in hopes that we both can find out,” she answered. “Our meeting was meant to be. I do not always read the Daily Planet, but this morning the desire called, and there, quite plainly, was a picture of you next to a column you had written. I would not call that mere coincidence, but rather an unseen hand guiding us together.”
Clark thought that over for a moment. He didn’t want to say he was a skeptic of fate, but his reporter’s instincts pushed him to find links and connections and reasons. “Miss Wingham, you told me a little while ago that you believe Rose is haunting your estate. What makes you think that?”
Miss Wingham did not answer right away. Instead she stared at Clark, giving him the impression she was coming to some sort of silent assessment of him. After several seconds she spoke. “I can see you are the kind of person who prefers to see rather than believe?”
Clark gave an inward sigh. Although her talk of fate and putting them together sounded warm and accepting, it felt like she was placing judgment on everything that came out of his mouth, and he could bet that whatever opinion she was gathering couldn’t be very positive.
“I’m a reporter, Ma’am,” Clark tried to explain politely. “I believe that fate exists, but in my line of work, it’s my job to find hard facts and firm connections. If I can make a link to something that’s real and tangible, I’m going to try and find it.”
“This is not an interview, Mister Kent,” Miss Wingham replied as if she was telling off a young boy about running in the house. “I ask you to turn off the reporter in you. I did not invite you to my estate so you could write about this in your newspaper.”
Clark wasn’t sure what he’d said exactly that set her off, but if things were going to continue like this between the two of them, he wasn’t sure how willing he was to investigate any further about the death of some girl that was haunting his dreams.
Miss Wingham seemed to have come to a similar conclusion. Her lips, which had been thin and pursed earlier, now suddenly softened. She glanced past Clark’s shoulder for a few seconds, focusing on something, but then her eyes rested back on him, and her cold expression warmed up a fraction.
“I apologize,” she said demurely. “That was uncalled for. I do not keep well with social callings, as you can see. You asked a simple question and I—well, yes,” she cleared her throat hastily.
Clark felt relieved to see her soften. “Apology accepted, ma’am,” he said with a gracious smile.
Miss Wingham’s lips lifted in a small smile, returning the gesture. “You were asking how I knew Rose haunted my estate, correct?”
“Yes,” Clark replied.
“I believe the easiest way to answer that is to go inside. If you do better with physical evidence, then I have something to show you.”
At that, she signaled one of her men in black, and they wheeled her away from the table and toward the entrance with Clark following from behind. The front door was a very wide six-panel and made from a dark kind of wood Clark could tell was of exquisite quality. It had a high glossed finish with a gleaming gold doorknob right at the center, which marked it as a little odd; doorknobs were always to the left. Sunglass Man—or Mister Keplin, as Clark now knew him—opened the door, and inside they went.
High polished wood flooring was decorated with cream colored rugs down the hallway stretching before Clark. A staircase with an elegant wooden banister stood center-left and wound its way until it disappeared up past the ceiling, which was white with brown wooden slabs built in square panels. To his left was another long hallway with more cream colored rugs and to his right was a large, opulent receiving room.
Miss Wingham was wheeled inside and Clark followed, feeling himself staring with unabashed astonishment. It was like walking into the home of royalty, which he guessed Miss Wingham had the financial capacity to emulate. A large bay window overlooked the lawn and the lengthy road leading up to the mansion. In an alcove rested a grand piano and in the room’s center sat a long, overstuffed plush sofa, loveseat, and two high-backed plush chairs. They formed a semi-circle, and in the middle rested a small round table draped in a cream-colored cloth with two smaller wooden chairs on opposite ends. That seemed an odd centerpiece for a room, Clark thought, but it didn’t seem important to question at the moment.
Miss Wingham held up her hand, and the footman halted. “Thank you, Mister Harkin. You may leave us now.”
Without a further word he retreated, along with Mister Keplin, who shut the door. The only ones in the mansion now were Clark and Miss Wingham.
“Mister Kent, if you would please, what I wish to show you is further into the room.” Understanding that she meant for him to push her wheelchair, he obliged and steered them further inside. At her instruction, they stopped at the far back wall of the receiving room where she pointed at an old, antique portrait.
A gentleman in his late twenties or early thirties stood resolute in the picture, with a loose-flowing white collared shirt, a bronzed vest and brown tie with brown dress pants. He had dark brown hair and eyes, and in front of him—posing tall and upright in a chair—was a young teenage girl dressed in a high-necked simple blue floral dress with buttons down the front. It cinched at the waist and flowed out over the chair, the sleeves long and cuffed at the wrist. She had fiery, red curly hair that was done up and vivid green eyes.
Clark’s jaw dropped. “That’s—”
“Rose,” Miss Wingham interjected. “Yes.”
“But,” Clark halted, a bit flummoxed. “What’s her portrait doing . . .” he stopped, a sudden thought occurring to him. “She’s related to you?”
“No,” Miss Wingham answered. “Rather, she and her husband were the original owners of the house. It was built in the early eighteen hundreds and used to be a farm house. As you can see, I’ve done quite a bit of reconstruction to it since it was bought.”
More than that, I’d say, Clark thought to himself. “What’s her story, do you know?” He found himself staring at Rose, unable to take his eyes away. Even in this portrait, her eyes looked forlorn and achingly sad. Her unsmiling, serious expression was one he could vividly recall staring down at him from a turret window in his second dream.
“I know precious little, I’m afraid,” said Miss Wingham. “Her full name is Amelia Rose Palliser Johnston, married to Levi Joseph Johnston. She died at the age of eighteen and her husband at the age of twenty-nine. Cause of death unknown for both, though their bodies were found here in the house. That is all I know of her life. Of her death, I know that her spirit remains. Real estate reports show that each occupant who purchased this property never stayed for long. Word of mouth claimed a rumor that the place was haunted.”
“Did you know the place was haunted when you purchased it?”
There was a poignant pause before Miss Wingham responded in a rather stiff voice. “It was my late husband who purchased this place. Yes, he heard the rumors but ignored them. I myself did not know. I began to have dreams, though.” At those words, Miss Wingham’s voice softened. She gave a small sigh. “She was in them, Rose was. She wandered places of this home that did not exist, anxious and not at rest. I attempted to talk to my husband about the strange dreams, but he always became angry and refused to hear any of it. He insisted I was making up stories. So I kept the dreams private and kept the strange paranormal occurrences that began to happen just to myself. They only happened around me, but then . . . then my husband passed away unexpectedly. Naturally, grief clutched at my heart. I was inconsolable. Rose’s spirit haunted me more than ever, and I was paralyzed with fear. I didn’t know what to do until . . . until one night a medium visited and told me that in order to calm Rose, I must build onto the house. So I did. The dreams stopped, as did the paranormal activity. I have since known peace.”
Miss Wingham gave a mournful sigh, but it seemed that she was done talking. Clark stood there, silently absorbing the information. Private, eccentric Miss Wingham had just revealed a startling amount of personal life events, and much of it seemed to center on Rose. Why hadn’t Miss Wingham moved away? Why did she stay and allow a spirit to dictate the grief that was surely poisoning her heart all these years? Of all the questions now starting to roll away in Clark’s mind, there was one piece of information that stood out in his mind. One piece that she had purposely left out.
“She’s haunting your dreams again. Paranormal activity is starting back up, isn’t it?”
The back of Miss Wingham’s head nodded. “Yes,” she sighed. “And you are in them.”
“But . . . why me?” Clark asked for the second time that afternoon.
“To that, I have no answer. But,” Miss Wingham paused and pointed toward the small round table in the middle of the receiving room, “I am hoping Rose will be willing to communicate her intentions to the pair of us so that we may finally have an idea.”
Clark turned his head and examined the small table more closely. He hadn’t noticed earlier, but now he saw a board with letters on it, and a triangle-shaped piece of wood with wheels attached lying on top.
“Is that a Ouija board?”
“I prefer the term spirit board, but yes,” Miss Wingham replied.
Clark sighed. He had misgivings about this. What on earth was he going to say to a spirit? Did he even want to? Was it a good idea, or should he walk out of here right now? Immediately he knew the answer to the latter; he couldn’t. It seemed two women’s lives were miserably entangled together, one of them dead, and the other living. Miss Wingham was obviously haunted by a lot of things, more than just Rose. There were things she had hinted at about her late husband; he hadn’t seemed to appreciate her talk of ghosts, but he had died unexpectedly, something she was still grieving over apparently.
Could he walk out on a woman—albeit a, cranky, eccentric, difficult older woman from the two minutes he had gleaned since knowing her—and leave her to her very apparent misery?
Of course not. That wasn’t who he was.
If he wanted to somehow help free Miss Wingham from her haunted past, that included trying to free Rose, and it seemed the only way he was going to know how that was remotely possible was having a séance with a Ouija board.
“You’ll have to guide me through the séance,” Clark said after a moment’s deliberation. “I’ve never been involved with one before.”
“Of course,” Miss Wingham agreed.
Clark wheeled the older woman over to the table where she used Clark’s assistance in situating herself in the other seat rather than in her wheelchair. Sitting down on the opposite end, Clark followed her lead and placed his fingers over the wooden triangle piece, which Miss Wingham called a planchette. She closed her eyes, and though Clark felt foolish, he reluctantly did the same.
He heard Miss Wingham take several deep breaths before she called out in a low, solemn whisper. “We call upon the spirit of Amelia Rose Palliser Johnston and invite you to commune with the living.”
Quite suddenly, Clark felt a light tug on his right pants pocket. A moment later a burning sensation started, like a small pinprick that steadily grew until it felt like a cigarette lighter was attempting to brand itself into his skin, a highly unusual sensation for Clark’s alter ego to experience.
“Ouch!” he exclaimed, letting go of the planchette and clapping a hand over his thigh. Immediately the burning stopped, but under Clark’s palm, he felt a small bulge from inside his pants pocket. Miss Wingham looked at him with mild curiosity as he reached in and drew out the only object that was in his trousers: a clay-red metal band.
What in the world?
Clark stared at the ring in flabbergasted awe.
“What is that?” Miss Wingham asked.
“It’s a . . . ring,” Clark answered lamely.
“Yes, I see that,” she replied a bit tartly. “I was asking what significance it has, why you pulled it out so suddenly into our séance.”
“I’ve only seen this ring in my dreams,” Clark replied softly, more to himself than to her. “Rose. She . . . she showed this to me. How did it end up in my pants pocket? There was nothing in there.”
At those words, Miss Wingham’s pale blue eyes lit up. She took a sharp intake of breath. “She’s communicating with you already, don’t you see?”
Clark looked at Miss Wingham in bewilderment. “With a ring? Why this? What am I supposed to do with it?”
“Rings generally have only one use, Mister Kent,” Miss Wingham replied dryly. “My guess is she wishes you to put it on.”
Clark looked sharply at her. “Put it . . . on?” he asked stupidly.
Miss Wingham chuckled softly, which was a very odd sound to hear just then, because she hadn’t yet shown a humorous side since Clark arrived. “It’s a logical deduction, Mister Kent. Who knows? Perhaps she’ll show herself to you once you do.”
For an irrational moment, that thought did not appeal to Clark at all. Though . . . it was why he was here, wasn’t it? To find out why Rose wanted him? Suddenly her words rang through his mind.
Was Miss Wingham right? If he put on the ring, would Rose materialize in front of him? Did he really need a ring for that to happen, though? That wasn’t necessary with the last ghost he and Lois had dealt with. Still . . .
There was no way to know unless he put it on. There wasn’t any harm in it, right? She was dead. Although the ring hadn’t been in his pocket a few seconds ago—was it really seconds ago?—this was definitely a real, physical, tangible object that had mysteriously burned itself into existence. He couldn’t ignore that, could he?
Clark looked up at Miss Wingham, but she merely shrugged, letting the decision fall to him.
With a sigh, he decided that curiosity won.
Slipping the band onto his right middle finger, he looked around the room expectantly.
He looked to Miss Wingham, who was staring at him, her eyes wide and watchful. “I don’t see any ghost yet—” Clark began, but abruptly he stopped.
It felt like an invisible vice six feet tall had suddenly clamped onto his body and began pressing in. There was a rushing of wind that instantly began filling the entire room, loud and large like a hurricane, whipping around. Miss Wingham sat perfectly still, her hair, nor hat, flying about. Where was the wind coming from, why weren’t things moving?
Clark tried to shout, but his voice box had paralyzed and his mouth would not open. He tried to move, but the invisible vice held him in place, continuing to squeeze in on both sides, working at flattening him until he exploded from the pressure. His eyes started to water, and he blinked furiously.
That’s when he saw her.
She was standing behind Miss Wingham in her black dress, with her ringlets of bright red hair cascading down her shoulders. She was radiant. Those vivid green eyes weren’t desolate and sad, but happy and rejoicing. She was jumping up and down and clapping. He could just barely make out her voice above the roaring of wind in his ears.
“You found me! You found me!”
Clark looked to Miss Wingham, but the sight that met his eyes shocked him. Her graying hair was now a warm chocolate brown, and her appearance had rejuvenated itself by at least thirty years. She was no longer an elderly woman, but a female in the prime years of her life.
She was smiling at him, grinning wickedly.
Darkness started to close in around the edges of Clark’s vision, the vice’s pressure bearing down on him. Why couldn’t he, alter-ego Superman, do anything to fight against this? Was he going to die? What kind of dark power was happening?
He glared at Miss Wingham, expressing the sudden loathing and betrayal that he could not voice.
As the darkness continued to creep further into his foggy vision and the roaring wind threatened to burst his eardrums, he heard Miss Wingham’s voice one last time before he was encased in a black void of nothingness.
“Thank you for your time, Mister Kent.”