Unfinished (Historical Fiction) - By Harper Alibeck

Chapter One

SPIRITUALISTS AND MEDIUMS ALWAYS HAD such cold hands. The room had been warm and friendly when Lilith Stone entered, dragged here by her mother, Margaret. Why a billionaire's wife spent so much time in séances with her friends was beyond Lilith's grasp of human nature, but then again, so were so many of her mother's choices.

Her mother kept the group small; Cornelia Davis and Marjorie Wallis were, along with Margaret, the “Beacon Hill Biddies.” As they entered the medium's small, clean home, Lilith watched her mother evaluate the room. Shabby silks and linens covered every surface, the stain worn down to bare wood on most of the furniture. The Cambridge rowhouse inspired neither confidence, nor a sense of safety. The coachman waited for them outside, standing guard should they need assistance.

“Welcome,” said Miss Evangeline Wolf. Her dress was plain, with a sense of fashion that dated back to Lincoln's presidency fifty years ago. Hair swept up in a fashionable coiffure, the contrast was a surprise. Intelligent brown eyes peered out from under a large forehead, and her brown hair was slicked back around her face, then puffed up. She was quite thin, but broad, her shoulders appearing to hang her dress like a seamstress's mannequin, a placeholder for the clothing.

“I've heard she studied with the Fox sisters!” Lilith's mother whispered to the group. Margaret's appearance mirrored that of the medium, with brown hair and eyes, though a tiny frame that matched Lilith's. Both were barely five feet tall, with waists a man's hands could encircle. Lilith had inherited the shape of Margaret's jaw, which on the older woman now held small jowls, years of stress pulling her down to the ground. Perhaps this spiritual meeting could help to lessen that drag. Lilith knew that her sister, Julia, was Margaret's main worry, and would be the focus of this ridiculous show.

“Margaret, did she really? The Fox sisters contacted some spirits who are impossible for others to reach!” Cornelia's breathy, high voice made the back of Lilith's throat fill with salty saliva. Lilith could do without the medium, but tolerated her mother’s insistent request. With Father out of town, Mother sprang to life, and having Margaret back to her old self a little, even at the cost of a séance, was a pleasure.

Cornelia Davis looked like a female version of Teddy Roosevelt. Including the moustache, almost. Polite company avoided any mention of the small animal growing on her lip. When you married a steel magnate worth hundreds of millions of dollars, it was amazing what others could ignore.

“The younger Fox sisters were able to convince the spirits to make sounds – to communicate in our world,” Marjorie added. Excited as a schoolgirl staring at her first girlish crush, Marjorie's color was higher. Higher than usual, for the grey-haired woman always seemed flushed. A few nips of sherry before noon, and more after, kept her face rosy. Her body as wide as it was tall. Lilith sized up the room. A free Saturday night in Cambridge and she, a young woman of twenty-four, was spending it with three middle-aged women and a con artist who preyed on the rich?

She couldn't help herself. “You do all know,” she announced in a voice loud enough to carry into the next room, where Miss Wolf retrieved candles, “that the Fox sisters were frauds. One of them recanted her story about her abilities publicly in the newspapers. They never contacted the world of the spirits. It was all fake.”

“Lilith!” Margaret hissed.

Cornelia rolled her eyes. “But do you know, dear, that the same sister recanted her recant?”

“If she could truly speak with spirits, and had intimate knowledge of affairs we non-spirit-speakers cannot know, why should she be so indecisive? How can anyone trust a word out of her mouth? Or a sound from her knuckles?” Lilith retorted. Cornelia inhaled sharply and glared at Margaret, who pointedly avoided her. As if her mother could chide her like a schoolgirl – Lilith was regretting this outing already. If learning how to unlock Julia's mind could be the end result of any of this ridiculous tedium with this pseudo-medium, then Lilith would hold back. Barely.

Miss Wolf added to the regret by entering the room and insisting everyone sit and hold hands.

“A word about the Fox sisters, if I may,” she said, as the women settled themselves in their places around the thick, wood table. “I did, indeed, have the pleasure of studying with them...” Her voice trailed off and her eyes