“Lady Tarrant,” Katherine Grant greeted, ushering the woman through the double doors into the parlor where Cat sat, waiting at the table, candles flickering all around her. “My daughter, the great medium, Catarina”—Cat tried not to roll her eyes—“will help you to consult your dearly departed husband.”
The woman let out a great sigh, dabbing at her eyes with her handkerchief. If Cat didn’t already know that she’d been spotted about town still in her mourning attire on the arm of Cassandra Sedgwick’s husband, she might have pitied her. As it was, though, Lady Tarrant was just another client willing to pay too much to be told reassuring platitudes colored with a level of individual detail that anyone who paid the slightest bit of attention to the comings and goings about town would already know. Not that anyone believed the Grant women were still tapped into such circles—not anymore, not since Lord Grant’s death left them nearly destitute, his inherited fortune now being squandered by his younger brother who left them a mere pittance each month.
Cat tuned back into the conversation just in time to hear her mother expounding on the wonders of spiritualism and the marvels of mesmerism and its attendant discoveries. Lady Tarrant hummed and oh-ed at all the right moments, and Cat let herself relax. Every so often, the clients would ask questions, demanding answers that even Katherine’s smooth-talking couldn’t cover up. And so it would fall to Cat—or Catarina, as she became at the table—to put on a performance worthy of any renowned medium, quaking as she was pulled into a supposed trance, pulling on a series of hidden levers and interpreting the nonsensical knocks and taps against the table, shuddering under the influence of spirits, and so forth until the client had been persuaded that they really were in the presence of their loved ones.
Once Lady Tarrant had been situated at the table, Katherine shut the door, leaving the room illuminated only by the flickering candlelight, shadows dancing as it caught the shimmering sides of the large rings Cat wore—all flash and no substance.
Cat walked Lady Tarrant through the opening questions, guided her to recite meaningless words. Finally, Cat placed her hands on the table, her foot finding the first of a series of levers as she prepared to begin.
“Are there any spirits here?” Cat asked, pitching her voice slightly higher than usual. (The bigger the change she could affect when she inevitably “channeled” Lord Tarrant, the better.) She waited for a few long minutes before letting the first rap of wood hit against the underside of the table. She gasped. “The spirits are among us now, you must ask, tell me if it is the one you seek.”
“Is it you, my—”
Before Lady Tarrant could finish her question, something solid shook the very foundations of the room, and Cat’s foot went crashing into the levers, filling the room with a cacophony of sound, wood hitting and scraping against wood.
“My darling!” Lady Tarrant cried out, the air of grief fast replaced with genuine fear.
“He is with us!”
The very walls behind Cat seemed to creak and groan, and for once, the shudder that wracked her frame was genuine.
“He—he is angry, Lady Tarrant,” Cat said, voice trembling. “You have not observed the rites of mourning. He has been betrayed, his memory tarnished.”
“I’m sorry!” Lady Tarrant clapped a hand to her mouth, barely muffling a sob. “I didn’t—I shall not—no longer, my dear William!”
A grunt sounded from behind Cat. And no matter how good she had gotten over the years, she certainly couldn’t pitch her voice that far.
Lady Tarrant fled, her cries lingering behind her.
As soon as Cat heard the front door slam, she lit the torches, peering all around the room for any sign of what had happened. Dust littered the ground in front of the wall behind Cat’s seat, and she knelt down, tracing hairline fractures through the layered brick.
She was up and out of the room in a flash, using the back entrance to hurry along the external wall. She found a deep hole in the dirt alongside the patch of crumbling brick.
Cat looked up and found her mother glaring at her from the front porch. “What was the meaning of this? Have you ruined yet another relationship for us?”
“No,” Cat huffed, crossing her arms as best she could while still clutching her light. “Something disturbed us.”
“Oh, Kitty, don’t tell me you have fallen for your own act. I always knew you were one for hysterics, but honestly…”
“Mother. Look here!”
After a few moments, Katherine finally deigned to walk over, startling slightly at the destruction she found. “Clearly this will need to be cleaned up tomorrow before we can host another client. Be sure to rise with the sun to leave yourself enough time.”
Cat probably should have guessed that Lady Tarrant wouldn’t keep what had happened a secret. She was still out working in the garden, carefully filling back in the deep hole with soil, when other ladies and gentlemen from town began showing up at the house, lining up around the block as they made appointments for their own séances. Apparently whatever accident that had transpired would be earning them a small fortune. Not that Cat would see most of it. No, the profits had always been Katherine’s to spend, parceling out wherever she saw fit.
Meanwhile, that evening Cat was informed of her near nightly bookings for the next fortnight. Katherine suggested they might invest some of the profits into the purchase of a spirit trumpet, and perhaps even a proper séance table, if they were able to work out the correct mechanisms to allow Cat to raise it.
No mention was made of the notebooks stored up in Cat’s room, the connections her parents had once made with local publishers, some of whom had expressed an interest in selling Cat’s stories. Ever since her fall from grace and fortune, Katherine had refused to let herself be seen in the literary circles she once ran in, and she had cut off all of Cat’s access right along with her.
Cat pushed down her frustration and channeled it into a particularly vicious performance that evening that only brought ever more residents from the surrounding towns to their door.
What Katherine didn’t know was that by day, Cat had given up her writing in favor of an investigation into the disturbance from the other night. She’d found another crater-like divot in the ground many yards away, then another, which then gave way to heavy footprints that she tracked for a long while until they seemed to disappear.
Only, after two weeks of following the path and trying a new route at the end each time, Cat thought she may have found something. Back in the heavily wooded areas past the valley, she found boards of wood propped up against a tree and saw a foot poking out from beneath them.
She debated the merits of leaving. After all, she had no weapon, and the woods were no place for a young woman out alone. But, she reasoned, there was no reason to believe this mystery person would remain there long enough for Cat to return home for the axe.
Instead, she settled on tiptoeing forward—just a glimpse, that was all she really wanted, just a way to know who this person was.
Cat was fairly certain she’d been silent, but as she peered past the sheet of wood, a human leapt forth flinging the wood over and soaring into the sky.
The person dropped back to the ground and covered Cat’s mouth.
“Who are you?” Cat demanded as soon as she’d wriggled free. Her gaze tracked over the person—woman, despite the ragged men’s clothing—in front of her. Her blonde hair was matted with dirt, and her pants were several inches too long.
“Why are you here?” the woman asked in return.
“You—you leapt very high. How?”
“I…” The woman blinked, turned on her heel, looked as if she was about to run.
“Wait! I just want to know if you’re the one who crashed into my house the other night.”
The woman grimaced. “I do not have your money to pay for the damage, but I apologize.”
“It was you! You broke bricks, and yet you’re fine.” She looked uncomfortable again, so Cat stepped closer to grab her in case she made a run for it. “I’m Cat.”
“They called you Catarina.”
Cat tilted her head to the side. “Who did?”
“The woman. Inside your house.”
“You were in my house?”
Cat narrowed her eyes. “So you can leap quite high in the air, crash through solid walls, and hear from outside. Who are you?”
The woman looked defeated for a moment, before her spine seemed to straighten. “They say you speak to the dead. You do not.”
She froze. “I…you lie to them.”
Cat shrugged. “We have food to eat and shelter at night. It’s more than you can say.”
The woman’s stomach grumbled loudly at that, and she seemed to wince.
“Tell me your name and why you’re here, and I’ll feed you.”
After a moment’s deliberation, there came a single word: “Kara.”
“Kara.” Cat considered it, then finally nodded. “Why do you live in the woods, Kara?”
“It is safe. Quiet.”
“Surely you want for food. And a bed. A warm place in the winters, and shelter in the rain.”
Kara paused. “I have no money or family here.”
“Where are they?”
“They are dead. All of them.”
“Oh. I’m so sorry. I…I lost my father, and that was hard enough, but losing everyone…” She shuddered. No matter how awful her mother was, at least Cat had someone.
Kara didn’t say anything in response, though she gently skimmed her fingertips along Cat’s arm, letting them linger on her hand before pulling back.
“But now we need food, hmm?”
For the first time since Cat had met her, Kara smiled, and Cat felt her heart hammer in her chest.
For weeks on end, Cat spent her days in the woods talking to Kara—often, it felt more like talking at, the conversation rather one-sided—and her nights enchanting the townspeople, while her mother let herself be charmed and courted by some British merchant who’d made a fortune trading god only knows what and investing in joint stock company ventures. Cat was fairly certain her mother felt nothing besides the allure of a return to her old way of life, and each day Cat felt herself closer to the precipice—the day that would surely arrive when she’d be left behind, exposed as a scam or simply abandoned as the fortuneless daughter, fast aging out of her marriageable years.
But by day, Cat let herself forget those fears as she spent hours seated on the ground beside Kara, slowly learning new details about the mysterious woman. About the few years she had spent out in unsettled territory. A deep fear of the sea. A love of the forests with their lush greens and thick air, the pine needles crunching beneath their feet. The most insatiable appetite Cat had ever encountered and a childlike joy in all things sweet.
It had been nearly a month of quiet daily meetings before they were disturbed. Kara, who had seemed so earnest and carefree in her enjoyment of one of those molasses candies that Cat had liked as a child, froze. “Someone is coming.”
Cat’s heart hammered, though there were no real rules against her being out in the woods. It was only that, well, she was meant to be above this earthly realm. And perhaps she should not be spotted out with this dirty woman in what she had learned was stolen men’s clothing. It would not do to be caught in the middle of yet another of the town’s female husband scandals.
“Up,” Kara ordered, gesturing at the tall pine tree.
Cat balked. “I can’t climb that!”
After a moment’s indecision, Kara swept Cat into her arms—a bit roughly, yet it seemed to take no effort at all. And then they were moving against all laws of the natural universe, and Cat’s head spun as she tried to make sense of it all.
“Shh.” Kara covered Cat’s mouth once again, though more gently than before. “Later.”
They watched from high, high above as a group of hunters came marching into the woods, peering around the small area Kara had cultivated for herself. Cat could make out some of their grumbling complaints—stolen food and stolen clothes and stolen wood. Well…perhaps it really was for the best that they weren’t discovered down there.
By the time they left, Kara’s area had been torn apart, her blanket ripped into pieces and her food supplies all taken. What was worse was that Kara didn’t even seem shocked or angry—just resigned.
The trip back down was significantly slower, gravity be damned. By the time they landed, Cat had a plan. “You fly,” she stated simply.
“Would you believe me if I said no?”
“Then yes. Though not for a very long time.” She rubbed at the back of her neck. “That, er, may have been the reason for the crash at your house. I do apologize.”
“It’s fine,” Cat insisted, waving away Kara’s concern.
“You haven’t fainted.”
“I…don’t know. Most would. The others try to kill me.”
“Clearly that hasn’t worked out for them. To be clear, it would be quite the sensational story, and I will want to know more, but I think we can help one another. Killing you wouldn’t help.”
Kara frowned slightly before dropping down to sit on the ground on the tattered remains of her blanket. “What do you mean?”
“I want independence from my mother and enough capital to try to publish my novels. You need enough money to eat and find a place to sleep undisturbed by those men.”
“Think about it, Kara. You can float and rattle walls with your strength. We could put on the best show in the whole world.”
“Those people, they miss their loved ones. We would only hurt them.”
Cat shook her head. “No, we make them believe they’re not alone. That husbands and wives and parents and children are still watching over them, thinking about them. It’s a comfort.”
“Comfort in a lie,” Cat shrugged. “If we don’t, someone else will.”
After two days of sleeping without shelter or blankets and eating only the food Cat could smuggle to her, Kara agreed to the plan. For the next few weeks, they would build up Cat’s reputation as a real and powerful medium, let word creep out to the surrounding towns until news had made it to the cities where the real money was to be found.
“My mother is to be taken around town in Mr. Morgenson’s buggy before meeting some of her old society friends for tea tomorrow.” She couldn’t hide the bitterness in her voice at the idea that she was already being left behind, swept into a period in Katherine’s life that she wouldn’t care to dwell on—too tainted by memories of mere subsistence. “Do you remember the way to our house?” Kara nodded. “Excellent. Come by midday, and we’ll have lunch and plan for the night’s performance.”
The next day, after watching Kara eat more food than would normally fill the supper table for a meal with guests, Cat led her down to the parlor they used for the séances. They practiced all sorts of tricks. Kara slunk outside beneath the window and was able to rattle its panes quite easily. She could slip into the cellar and make the very floor beneath them quake. If she floated up to the roof, her voice was just muffled enough to be passable as almost any ghost. If they propped one of the windows open or had it fly open in the rattling, she was able to extinguish the candles and fill the room with a chill wind that made the hairs on the back of Cat’s neck stand on end.
“We are going to make our fortune, Kara,” Cat declared when Kara floated back through the window.
Kara gave Cat a soft smile. They’d been coming more and more readily as the weeks passed, and Cat couldn’t help but think she had done something rather impressive in drawing them out of this sad, lonely young woman.
“I will see you tonight?”
But Cat couldn’t stand the idea of sending Kara back off into the lonely, cold woods again. She also didn’t particularly want to, though she didn’t interrogate why that was. “My mother won’t be home for a while yet. Would you care to use the tub? I can heat up some water—not enough for a full bath, but you could rinse off. I may have clothing that will fit you better, too.”
After a moment of wide-eyed surprise, Kara nodded. “Please. I can heat the water myself.”
“Are you sure?”
Kara nodded, so Cat guided her to the bath and left her be, determined to find something in her closet that might fit her. Eventually she found a few things that she thought might work. As she was arranging them on her bed, she heard Kara behind her, quietly clearing her throat. “Cat?”
Cat turned around, only to splutter and spin right back towards the bed at the sight of a naked Kara standing only a few feet away.
“I’m sorry! You’re unhappy!”
“No! No, I’m not—I didn’t expect you, that was all.”
Cat forced herself to take a deep breath and turn back around with a dress in her hands, keeping her eyes firmly focused on Kara’s face. She blinked at the soft skin, tinged with a slight pinkish hue from the warm water. Kara’s hair hung in loose waves, and her eyes looked so much bluer and bigger. She even seemed to stand taller. Ignoring the way her heart raced, Cat thrust the dress at Kara. “It will be a little short and may not fit your shoulders, but…” She swallowed heavily, unable to remember what words she had intended to say as Kara bent forward to step into the blue dress. Cat’s gaze followed the fabric as it inched up Kara’s body.
Well…perhaps her mother had been right in insisting that her “overly close” relationship with Lois would become a habit if left unchecked. Not that her mother had left it unchecked. But her mother did so love spending weekends out in the countryside with the other ladies, and Cat and Lois had made more than adequate use of their hours together.
“Your heart,” Kara murmured, suddenly much too close to Cat. “It’s beating very fast.”
“I’m fine,” Cat snapped, swatting away Kara’s hand. “We should practice for tonight.” And that was that.
The next week was a resounding success, and Cat found herself interviewed for the town’s weekly magazine with the suggestion that the story might make it to one of the big periodicals run out of Philadelphia.
More and more people lined up each night, and even the skeptics walked away believers thanks to Kara’s sensational effects and Cat’s carefully honed performances.
Where Katherine would once have been gratified at the amount of money coming in from customers willing to pay more and more every night, these days she distanced herself from “Catarina” and the gauche, plebian sensationalism of her shows. So Cat stowed away the extra earnings, splitting the profits with Kara each night and counting down the days until she might have enough to make a name for herself a new way—as Cat Grant, not Catarina the great medium.
It was on their third week that Cat received word of a request—fresh from Philadelphia—that she appear as a weekly act on one of their stages and be paid handsomely for it.
“This is it, Kara!” Cat whispered late one night, having dragged Kara up to her bedroom to share the good news. “We’ll leave this town behind and never look back. No more stealing food or worrying about mothers and hunters. I’ll earn enough money to write all day and make a new life.”
“I’m so happy for you, Cat.”
“For us,” Cat corrected. “I’m not leaving you behind.”
“Of course! I’ll be with you when you perform.”
“No, but…I meant… Do you want to stay here?”
A wistful smile tugged at the corners of Kara's mouth. “I don’t belong here, Cat.”
“Neither do I.”
“Cat, I come from another planet.” Kara gestured helplessly up at the night sky. “There are rules here I can’t even grasp, and I think they might just bring back the old witch hunts if I ever reveal myself for who I really am.”
Taking Kara’s hand in her own, Cat tugged her forward. Everything was too close to the surface. The excitement at being days away from leaving this house, this town, its stifling memories. The desire to reassure Kara, to promise that she would never leave her. The deep need to have Kara closer, to touch her and be touched by her. “Not every rule is meant to be followed,” Cat whispered. “Break some with me.”
Kara’s gaze flickered from Cat’s eyes to her mouth and back again. She swayed forward ever so slightly. “I’m scared.”
“Me too,” Cat admitted. “But don’t let it rule you.” And then she was kissing Kara—soft and gentle and slow, and even still, her whole body seemed to sing with it.
“This is…allowed?” Kara asked, her fingers trailing lightly along Cat’s cheekbones, then curling around her jaw.
Cat shrugged, leaning forward and getting lost in Kara’s lips once more. “Maybe not,” she murmured between kisses. “But it’s good.”