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The Talking Dead

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On the afternoon of the day before Halloween 1924, Jimmy Kent sauntered into the servants’ hall looking mighty pleased with himself.

‘Look what I found,’ he said, setting his prize down on the table.

‘What is it?’ Alfred asked, peering at it with a frown.

‘Gracious me. Where on earth did you find that?’ Anna asked him in surprise. ‘I thought that had been thrown out years ago.’

‘It was in a cupboard in the boot room.’

‘What is it?’ Alfred asked again.

‘It’s a Ouija board, you dimwit,’ Jimmy said, rolling his eyes.

‘What’s a Ouija board?’ Alfred persisted, none the wiser.

‘You use it to speak to the spirits of the dead,’ Jimmy told him, grinning as Alfred blanched. ‘I thought we could maybe give it a go later on, what with it being Halloween tomorrow.’

Alfred shook his head emphatically, looking horrified by the very idea. ‘No, if you’ve got any sense, you’ll leave it be. Nothing good will come of meddling with that, you mark my words.’

‘You scared, are you, you great beanpole? Too lily-livered to try it?’ Jimmy jeered.

‘Leave him be, Jimmy,’ Mr Bates said, giving him a warning look. ‘It’s not for everyone and there’s no shame in that.’

‘You’ll have a go, won’t you, Anna?’ Jimmy asked, twinkling at the maid and ignoring the chastisement from her husband.

‘Daisy and I used it a while back,’ she said, picking up the planchette and turning it over in her hands.

‘Oh, aye? And did any spirits come a-knocking?’

‘They did actually,’ Anna said, pursing her lips. ‘At least, I think they did.’

Alfred looked at her in horror. ‘No, they didn’t, did they?’

‘Yes. I think it was Miss Swire, Mr Crawley's fiancée. She died here after the war. Spanish Flu, it was. She was so young and pretty. It was so sad.’

‘And she talked to you and Daisy? What did she say?’ Jimmy asked, curiously.

‘Just a message for Mr Crawley and Lady Mary, telling them to be happy.’

‘Ugh, dull then,’ Jimmy said, dismissively. ‘I hope we get something a bit more juicy when we try it.’

‘Mr Carson won’t like it,’ Bates warned.

‘Well, we won’t invite the old stick-in-the-mud to take part then,’ Jimmy responded, blithely. ‘Daisy will though, I expect. Maybe Ivy too.’

‘Count me out,’ Bates said. ‘I’m not interested in communing with the spirit world. The last thing I need is my dead wife coming back to give me any more grief.’

‘You won’t catch me doing it either,’ Alfred said, quickly. ‘I saw enough of the dead in the trenches. I don’t need to chat to them where I eat me dinner.’

Jimmy snorted. ‘All right, scaredy-cat. We get it, you’re a delicate flower.’

‘I am not! I’m just not stupid enough to mess with things I have no business messing with,’ Alfred retorted, bristling with indignation.

‘All right, all right, keep your hat on. Anna, it looks like just me, you, Daisy and Ivy unless we can round up a few more people. I’ll ask Thomas. He might be game for it,’ Jimmy said, warming to the idea of a séance with a Ouija board.

‘You’d better stash that thing back where you found it for now, Jimmy, before Mr Carson or Mrs Hughes catch sight of it,’ Bates advised, nodding at the board. ‘Otherwise, the only thing doing any communicating will be Mr Carson’s boot with your backside.’

Jimmy nodded, snatching up the board and planchette and heading back to the boot room. ‘Wise words, Mr Bates. Right, Anna, tonight, after Mr Carson has gone to bed. Spread the word,’ he called over his shoulder.

Over in the corner, an unseen pyjama-clad figure rose from the piano bench and drifted through the wall in search of Lady Sybil.

 


 

‘A Ouija board?’ Sybil asked, her mind racing ahead of her. ‘Are you sure?’

William nodded. ‘That’s what he said, milady. And Anna said Miss Swire contacted her through it a few years ago.’

Sybil frowned. ‘Really? But you must have been here when Lavinia was. You died before her. Why didn’t you make contact?’

William looked down, a bit embarrassed. ‘I didn’t deal with it all right well, milady. It were all so new and I were a bit tongue-tied when I looked at my Daisy. I had so many things I wanted to say to her, I didn’t know where to start and by the time I did, they’d packed the board away.’

‘Oh, right. Well, I suppose that’s understandable,’ Sybil said, privately thinking she’d have grabbed the opportunity to talk to Tom with both hands. ‘And they’re going to use it tonight?’

‘Yes, after Mr Carson has gone to bed.’

‘Then you’d better start thinking now about what you’re going to say to Daisy. You don’t want to miss your chance again,’ Sybil advised.

William nodded again. ‘Will you be coming along then, milady?’

‘Oh, yes. Just you try and stop me. This could be a golden opportunity,’ Sybil said, rubbing her hands together in glee.

‘Right, well, I think I might go and do what you said and have a think about what I want to say to Daisy,’ William said, already beginning to chew his lip over the matter.

‘Yes, I think that’s wise, William. Oh, and if you see Pamuk the Predator, don’t breathe a word about this to that swine. He doesn’t deserve to speak to anyone, especially not in this house,’ Sybil said, sternly.

‘No, milady, I won’t, milady.’

Sybil sighed. ‘How many times, William? We’re dead. Just call me Sybil.’

‘Yes, milady,’ William said, a hint of a blush on his pale cheeks.

 


 

Sybil turned the issue of the Ouija board over in her mind as she watched her husband stretch out on the nursery floor playing with their daughter.

As far as Sybil was concerned, the worst thing about being dead – apart from the utter frustration of it when by rights she should have had years of life ahead of her – was the fact that she was surrounded by people she desperately wanted to talk to, but who couldn’t hear her.

For reasons unknown to her, she hadn’t gone into the light after dying. She hadn’t found herself floating on a celestial cloud or wrapped in the bosom of those loved ones who had gone before her. There had been no light, no cloud, no benevolent ancestor beckoning her into the afterlife. Instead, she found herself literally haunting her family home.

Sybil had given a lot of thought to why she hadn’t passed on to a better place. She’d had a lot of time to think about it; she’d been dead now for almost four and a half years.

She’d passed the time watching her family. Her favourite one to watch was her beautiful little daughter, Sybbie. How she’d hated that nickname when her mother tried to make it stick when she was a child, but strangely, it suited the cherubic-faced little creature she and Tom had managed to create.

When her baby was tiny, Sybil was completely convinced Sybbie could see her. She’d lean over the crib and pull faces and blow raspberries at her daughter and Sybbie would laugh and smile, her arms and legs kicking up happily. It had been a dream come true, given how she’d been cruelly robbed of spending time with her child in life. But as Sybbie grew and began to talk, she responded less and less to Sybil’s presence.

Now, Sybbie no longer seemed to either see or hear her, which broke Sybil’s heart, but there had been one precious moment just before she became invisible to her daughter that Sybil treasured.

She’d been in the nursery much as she was now, watching Sybbie play when Tom arrived, beaming at their daughter, calling her name. Sybbie grinned back at him, lifting her arms up. He picked her up, holding her close, showering her chubby cheeks with kisses.

Sybil watched, her heart full of love for her two favourite people, and then it happened. Tucked up safe in her father’s arms, Sybbie looked right at Sybil and gave her a broad smile. Then she lifted a finger to point at her and said, very clearly, ‘Mamma’.

Sybil walked up to them, her little family, joy bubbling within her, coming to stand right by Tom as the shadow of grief crossed his face.

‘Your mammy would have loved you so much, darlin’,’ he said sadly, stroking Sybbie’s face.

‘I do love her,’ Sybil said, beside him. Then she looked at Sybbie, smiling widely at her. ‘Tell Daddy I do love you, my sweet girl.’

Sybbie grinned at her again then patted Tom’s face, peering into his eyes. ‘Mamma love,’ she said as clear as a bell.

Sybil stared at them, overwhelmed with happiness.

‘Yes, Sybbie, mammy loves you and so do I. Can you say Dadda?’ Tom asked, tickling her belly. ‘Dadda. Say Dadda.’

Sybbie giggled and squirmed in his arms. ‘Dadda.’

And Sybil just about melted at the look on her beloved husband’s face.

Watching Tom over the last four and a half years had made Sybil decide that maybe she was still here because he couldn’t let go of her. Even though he could neither see nor hear her, he clung to her memory like a barnacle to the hull of a ship.

In life, Sybil had thought she’d known how much he loved her, but after she died, she realised she hadn’t had a clue. Tom’s grief was bottomless. She’d lain on the bed next to him night after night, week after week, month after month, watching him cry until he fell asleep exhausted. She’d followed him deep into the woods and stood watching in despair as he’d shouted and screamed out his pain until his voice was gone. She’d watched, her phantom heart cracking, as her vibrant, always busy husband sat in a chair staring at nothing for hours and hours on end.

Only Sybbie had kept him sane in the beginning. Their newborn daughter was his lifeline when Sybil's life ended and Tom's life fell apart. He would spend hours holding her, talking to her, telling her about her mother.    

And Sybil had watched with deep gratitude as Mary and Matthew reached out to her grieving husband, standing beside him, offering him comfort. Sybil had cheered her sister on when she squared up to their father, fiercely fighting Tom’s corner as Papa took his own pain out on the interloper who had stolen his youngest daughter from him.

Now, nearly five years on from her own untimely death, she couldn’t be prouder of Tom and how he’d rebuilt his life in a world alien to him, making sure their daughter was at the heart of her family. He’d even managed to build a bond with her father, who to Sybil’s delight and astonishment now viewed his Irish son-in-law with genuine affection.

And yet, Tom still grieved her. He still talked to the photograph of her by his bed every day, telling her about Sybbie, about his work on the estate with Mary. Anything and everything, whatever happened in his day, he’d tell her about it.

Slowly, Sybil became convinced that the reason she was still here was to make sure her husband got over her death. When he was happy again, she reasoned, maybe she would finally get to move on to that better place everyone always said awaited those who passed on. She hoped so anyway because as much as she loved her family, she would go mad if she had to spend an eternity as an invisible onlooker to their lives.

After much soul-searching, she decided that meant Tom needed to fall in love again. The trouble was that he’d barely even so much as looked at another woman. Until recently.

There had been that scheming slut of a housemaid, who had plied him with whiskey and then sneaked into his bedroom and taken advantage of him. That night, Sybil would have cheerfully given up an eternity in heaven to be able to materialise and scalp the calculating bitch. As it was, her ghostly fingers couldn’t get a hold of Edna’s hair or bony shoulders, no matter how hard she tried to wrench her off Tom and fling her scrawny body to the floor.

And Sybil had been there to witness the agonies Tom went through after the event, blaming himself, begging Sybil’s photograph to forgive him for being weak as if it had been his fault that vile creature had targeted him. When he’d finally gone to Mrs Hughes for help and she’d sent the conniving little cow packing, Sybil felt her cheers should by rights have raised the rafters of Downton Abbey.

These days, though, the only woman Tom spent any significant amount of time with was Mary. In a twist of fate Sybil could never have envisaged, her husband and her sister had ended up with almost identical life experiences, both of them losing their spouses on the day their child was born. It was a coincidence Sybil could barely comprehend. 

But watching over them as she was, Sybil couldn’t help but be struck by how these two people, both so precious to her, had come to trust, respect and rely on each other in ways she would never have dreamed possible when she was alive. She could see the bond between them, how in tune they were with each other. She saw the way they finished each other's sentences, the private jokes they shared, the way each of them turned first to the other when anything happened. She saw the love that had grown between them.

And that gave her plenty of food for thought. She couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that Tom and Mary – as they were now, after all they had been through together – were practically perfect for each other. They challenged each other, they supported each other, they loved each other. Maybe, she thought, her job here was to get them to see that love for what it could be.

For months now, she’d been pondering just how on earth was she supposed to do that. She could just cross her fingers and hope, but Sybil had always been more practical than that. There had to be a way. She just had to find it. And now perhaps with the discovery of the Ouija board, she had.

 


 

Sybil hovered about in the servants' hall from about nine o’clock in the evening, worried she might miss the big event. With no visitors to the Abbey that night, the family dismissed Carson around quarter to ten and he retired to bed fifteen minutes later with warnings to the rest of the staff not to stay up too late.

Jimmy waited a full five minutes after the butler’s departure before sneaking off to the boot room to retrieve the board and planchette.

‘Right, let’s get this show on the road, shall we?’ he said, cracking his knuckles and sitting down next to Anna.

‘Before we start, Ivy, can you get some glasses, please?’ Anna said, pulling a small bottle of whisky out of her pocket. ‘Mr Bates donated this to the cause. He thought we might need a drop of Dutch courage to go ahead with it.’

‘Well, I never thought I’d say this, but God bless Mr Bates,’ Thomas said, picking up the bottle and sniffing appreciatively at the whisky. ‘That smells like his lordship’s favourite Highland tipple to me.’

‘It is. He never drinks the whisky in his hip flask, so Mr Bates gets it as a valet’s perk, but he doesn’t drink it either, so I get it if I need a warming nip of something,’ Anna explained, taking the bottle back and pouring a dram into each glass.

‘This evening will have been worth it even if no-one answers the call,’ Thomas said, taking a sip of the expensive, full-flavoured whisky and licking his lips happily.

Ivy sat down between Daisy and Jimmy, looking fearfully around the table. ‘Do you really think a spirit will come through?’

‘Oh, I should think so,’ Jimmy said, full of confidence. ‘A house this old, there’s got to be loads of people died here. They might be queuing up to talk to us.’

Ivy shuddered, nudging closer to Jimmy and casting a nervous glance over her shoulder as if expecting to see a line of impatient ghosts waiting to speak to them.

‘Right, are we all ready?’ Jimmy asked, looking around at the other four. ‘Put your fingers on the pointer thingy.’

Five fingers stretched out to sit on the planchette.

Standing behind Anna, Sybil grinned. ‘Here we go, William. It’s showtime!’

‘Is there anybody there?’ Jimmy called, deepening his voice. ‘Spirits, show thyselves.’

‘Thyselves?’ Thomas scoffed ‘Why are you speaking like an old timer?’

‘We don’t know how old the ghosts might be, do we?’ Jimmy said, defensively. ‘We want them to understand us. Ooo, hang on!’

Sybil reached over Anna and pushed the planchette to the area marked ‘Yes’ on the board.

Five pairs of eyes followed it. Ivy gave a little whimper.

‘Did you do that, Jimmy?’ she asked in a small voice.

‘No,’ he said, sounding less brave than he had a minute ago.

‘You go first, William,’ Sybil told the man standing by Daisy, gazing down at her with a lovelorn expression.

‘Who are you, spirit?’ Thomas asked.

William reached past his beloved wife and moved the pointer.

W-I-L-L-I-A-M

Daisy pulled her hand back like the pointer had burnt her. ‘Oh, my God!’

‘William? Is that your husband?’ Ivy breathed, looking at Daisy in awe. 'The one who died?'

Thomas rolled his eyes. 'She's only had the one husband, Ivy. And he wouldn't be talking to her through a Ouija board if he wasn't dead, would he?'

Ivy shot a hurt look at him. 'All right. There's no need to be mean.'

‘It might be another William,’ Daisy said, almost hoping it was.

‘Of course, it’s not another William,’ Thomas said, impatiently.

‘It might be.’

‘Put your finger back on the pointer,’ Thomas instructed. Once she did, he spoke again. ‘Are you William Mason?’

YES

‘Ohhhh, my God,’ Daisy whimpered.

‘Have you got a message for someone here?’ Thomas asked.

YES

Sybil waited, but William just stood there doing nothing.

‘William? What’s the message?’ Thomas asked.

‘What are you waiting for?’ Sybil demanded, impatiently.

‘I was just thinking it will take ages for me to spell it all out. I never thought about having to do that when I was thinking about what to say. I’ve got a whole letter written in my head,’ William said, looking at Sybil mournfully.

‘Oh, for goodness’ sake, William,’ Sybil huffed. ‘We'll be here all night at this rate. What’s the main thing you want to tell her?’

‘I want to tell her to let me dad love her and to help him with the farm. She’s that stubborn about it, though, she hardly lets him do anything for her.’

‘Right, well, step aside and I’ll move the planchette,’ Sybil said, shoving William none too subtly out of the way. She leaned between Anna and Jimmy and put her hand over theirs. Pausing, she glanced over at William. ‘Do you have a nickname for her? One nobody else knows?’

‘Why?’

‘So she knows it’s really you.’

‘Oh, right, yes. That makes sense. Er, Daisy chain, that’s what I always called her in my letters from the Front.’

Sybil turned back to the Ouija board and moved the planchette.

D-A-I-S-Y   C-H-A-I-N

Daisy paled. ‘It’s him. It’s definitely William. That’s... what he used to call me, his Daisy chain.’

H-E-L-P   D-A-D   A-T   F-A-R-M

‘Well, that’s about as clear a message as you could get,’ Thomas said, dryly. ‘He wants you to give up the glamorous life of a kitchen maid and be a farmer. That’s much more glamorous, that is, being up to your armpits in pig pooh all day every day.’

‘Mr Mason said he wants me to live at the farm with him. But how would William know about that?’ Daisy whispered.

‘He’s a ghost. Ghosts know everything, don’t they?’ Jimmy shrugged. ‘Or maybe he spends his days just following you about.’

Daisy stared at him in horror. ‘Don’t say that.’

Anna reached across Jimmy, squeezing Daisy’s arm reassuringly. ‘I’m sure he doesn’t, Daisy.’

William stood behind Daisy looking guilty.

‘Don’t be too hard on yourself, William,’ Sybil said, sympathetically. ‘It’s not like we have much else to do all day and all night, is it?’

Daisy swallowed hard and lifted her eyes, looking into the space over the table as if she expected to see the spirit of her late husband hovering there.

‘William, I hope you’re at peace. I don’t like to think of you resting uneasy. Me and your dad, we’re all right. Don’t you worry about us.’

Sybil glanced over at William. ‘Do you want to reply?’

William nodded. ‘Can you tell her I’m all right too? I don’t want to make her worry about me.’

Sybil leaned over and pushed the pointer again.

I   A-M   A-T   P-E-A-C-E

‘May I have a go?’ a voice said behind Sybil as she watched relief flood through Daisy.

Startled, she turned around to see a young man with scarred eyes wearing Great War army issue pyjamas, the kind the officers used to wear in the hospital. Pyjamas seemed to be almost de rigueur apparel for ghosts, she couldn’t help thinking, what with all three of the ghosts currently haunting the room wearing their nightclothes.

‘Lieutenant Courtenay?’ she said in surprise.

‘Good evening, Nurse Crawley. I’m very sorry to learn of your early demise.’

‘Thank you. As I was of yours,’ she replied politely. ‘How come you’re here?’

The lieutenant hesitated. ‘I have a message for Sergeant Barrow.’

‘Thomas? Really?’ Sybil said, suddenly seeing the trouble Thomas had taken with the lieutenant in a different light. ‘Then, by all means, be my guest.’

‘Er, well, actually, could you do it for me, please? My eyes, you see,’ the young officer said, gesturing at his scarred face.

‘Oh, yes, of course,’ she said, feeling foolish. ‘What do you want to say?’

‘Tell him I’m sorry.’

‘Your William’s gone quiet,’ Jimmy said, putting his whisky down. ‘Shall we see if anyone else is lurking about?’

‘Might as well,’ Thomas said, putting his finger back on the planchette. ‘Is there anybody there?’

E-D-W-A-R-D

‘Anyone know a dead Edward?’ Jimmy asked, glancing around at the blank faces around the table. He paused when he got to Thomas, looking even paler than usual in the dimly lit room. ‘Thomas?’

‘I… might do,’ the underbutler said, cautiously. ‘But I don’t think it would be him.’

‘Well, let’s ask him,’ Jimmy said, throwing a speculative look at Thomas. ‘Are you here for Thomas?’

YES

Thomas straightened up, looking unaccountably nervous. ‘Do you have a message for me?’

I   A-M   S-O-R-R-Y

‘Sorry? What’s he sorry for?’ Jimmy asked, raising his eyes to a rattled-looking Thomas.

‘I don’t know,’ Thomas muttered, keeping his head down.

‘What are you sorry for?’ Sybil asked Edward.

The young man dropped his head in shame. ‘Leaving him like I did. I didn’t think it would cause him so much pain. I was only thinking of myself and ending my own pain.’

Sybil gave him a sympathetic look, then turned to Thomas, remembering how upset he’d been when Edward died. It made more sense now. She leaned over again, taking hold of the pointer.

F-O-R   L-E-A-V-I-N-G   Y-O-U

Four pairs of eyes lifted from the board to look at Thomas, sitting as still as a statue in his chair, utterly silent. As the silence stretched, the other four exchanged glances. Eventually, Anna spoke.

‘Thomas, are you going to say something to him?’

Thomas pressed his lips together, his eyes suspiciously wet and shiny. ‘I forgive you, Edward,’ he whispered.

Beside Sybil, Edward sighed in relief, tension leaving his shoulders. ‘Thank God for that,’ he said, then cast a look over his shoulder, frowning. ‘Do you see that?’

‘What?’ said Sybil, craning her neck around to see what he was looking at.

‘That door. It’s kind of… glowing.’

Sybil turned around, following his gaze. There was an unfamiliar door behind them on what she knew for a fact was usually just a solid wall, but it wasn’t glowing, not for her.

‘I see the door, but it’s not glowing,’ she said, uncertainly.

‘It is. It’s getting brighter,’ Edward insisted. ‘Can’t you see the light?’

‘No. Wait a minute. How can you see the light? In fact, how can you see the door at all? Aren’t you still blind?’ Sybil asked, confused.

‘By golly, you’re right, Nurse Crawley,’ Edward gasped, turning to look at her, his eyes no longer a milky white, but a bright blue. ‘I can see you! Oh, aren’t you lovely!’

‘Thank you,’ said Sybil, patting her bobbed hair. ‘Although, you perhaps should have seen me when I wasn’t on my deathbed and in my nightie. I looked a lot more presentable then.’

‘Well, you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in years,’ Edward said gallantly before suddenly realising he would be able to see Thomas too. He whipped his head around gazing at the table of living people.

Anna picked up the whisky bottle and poured a good measure into Thomas’ glass. ‘Here, Thomas. I think you need another wee dram.’

‘Thank you,’ Thomas muttered, picking up the glass with a shaking hand and taking a hefty swallow.

‘Oh, my God. He’s even more handsome than I imagined,’ Edward breathed, reverently. ‘Look at him. He’s beautiful. He’s the reason poetry is written.’

William frowned, looking at Thomas dubiously, as Sybil broke into a broad grin.

‘Well, I don’t think he’s as handsome as my Tom, but I can see where you’re coming from. Why don’t you tell him?’

‘Tell him?’ Edward repeated, still gazing in awe at Thomas.

‘With the planchette,’ Sybil expanded, pointing helpfully at it.

‘Oh, yes! Of course!’ Edward sprang forward eagerly, his arm and hand passing through Jimmy’s shoulder, making the young footman shiver and glance nervously around him.

Y-O-U   A-R-E   S-O   H-A-N-D-S-O-M-E

Ivy and Daisy looked at each other and giggled, while Anna stifled a smile and Jimmy squinted suspiciously at the board. Thomas snapped his head up, looking wildly around.

‘You can see me?’

Y-E-S   M-Y   L-O-V-E

Thomas stared at the board then raised his eyes and scowled at his companions. ‘Is this you lot? Are you taking the mick out of me?’

All four of them looked at him, taking their hands off the pointer and shaking their heads. ‘We wouldn’t do that, Thomas,’ Anna said gently, seeing how affected he was by all of this.

‘Yeah, right, cos none of you would ever dream of trying to wind me up,’ Thomas said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. And then they all froze, Ivy letting out a small cry and clutching Daisy's arm as the planchette began to move across the board of its own accord.

M-Y   B-L-A-C-K   H-A-I-R-E-D   B-L-U-E   E-Y-E-D   A-D-O-N-I-S

Jimmy cleared his throat, glancing uneasily around as the women exchanged looks and shuffled closer together.

‘I think it’s clear that wasn’t us. Although I don’t know why he bothered spelling all that out. He obviously knows you, so he knows what you look like.’

‘No. That’s just it. He didn’t. He was blind when I met him. He came into the hospital with a mustard gas injury,’ Thomas said, shaken to the core. ‘He never regained his sight before he kil… before he died.’

The other four stared at him, completely silent.

William cleared his throat, trying to attract the lieutenant’s attention. ‘Er, sir, if the door is glowing for you, it means it’s yours. You have to go through it.’

‘Must I?’ Edward asked in dismay, unable to take his eyes off Thomas.

‘Yes.’

‘How do you know that?’ Sybil asked, curiously.

William shrugged. ‘I’ve seen it once before with Miss Swire. You’ve dealt with your unfinished business, sir, and now it’s time for you to go.’

‘I do feel a strong pull towards it,’ Edward admitted.

‘Then say goodbye to him and go,’ William advised. ‘Before it’s too late and the door disappears.’

‘Can it do that?’ Sybil asked, sharply.

William shrugged again. ‘I’m not sure, but it seems like a possibility. How long are they likely to leave it there?’

Edward leaned over to move the pointer again.

G-O-O-D-B-Y-E   B-E-L-O-V-E-D

Thomas looked around the servants' hall, desperately trying to see any glimpse of Edward.

‘Goodbye, my friends. And thank you,’ Edward said to Sybil and William as he stepped up to the door. He took one last look at Thomas, sighed then grasped the handle, opening the door. And then he was gone, no trace of either him or the door left. Sybil and William exchanged a look.

‘Edward?’ Thomas said, looking around again. ‘Edward?’

Sybil sighed and took hold of the pointer.

H-E-S   G-O-N-E

‘He’s gone?’ Jimmy said, frowning. ‘Then who’s this? Who are you?’

S-Y-B-I-L

‘Lady Sybil,’ Daisy breathed, looking up at Anna.

Anna returned her startled stare then looked back at the board. ‘Lady Sybil, do you have a message for someone?’

T-O-M

‘She wants to speak to Mr Branson,’ Jimmy said, following the pointer. ‘Well, I suppose that makes sense.’

Sybil moved the pointer again.

M-A-R-Y

‘And Lady Mary. But they’re not here,’ Daisy whispered, lifting her eyes to Anna.

T-E-L-L   T-H-E-M   T-A-L-K   T-O-M-O-R-R-O-W   N-I-G-H-T

Anna blinked. Was it her imagination or was Lady Sybil trying to set up an appointment to speak to her husband and sister tomorrow evening?

‘You want them to use the Ouija board tomorrow night?’ she asked to be sure.

YES

M-U-S-T   S-P-E-A-K   T-O   T-H-E-M

‘Right, well, I’ll let them know,’ Anna said, trying to imagine how she was going to tell Lady Mary and Mr Branson about this.

‘Well, we’ve had a right chatty lot of ghosts here tonight,’ Jimmy said, looking around at the others. ‘Do you think there’s anyone else desperate to talk to us? Anyone for me?’

Sybil leaned over him and moved the pointer.

NO

Jimmy chuckled. ‘Right, that’s me told then. What about Ivy or Anna?’

NO

‘Oh, thank goodness for that,’ Ivy said in a rush. ‘I think I might have wet meself if someone from the other side had wanted to talk to me.’

Her companions stared at her in surprise.

‘That’s more information than I think any of us needed to know, Ivy,’ Thomas said, sounding a bit more like his usual self.

‘Well, maybe we should just have another quick nip of Mr Bates’ whisky then, eh? You know, just to settle the nerves after all the excitement,’ Jimmy said with a cheeky grin at Anna, waggling his glass at her.

‘Go on then. I think we could all do with one,’ Anna said, topping them all up.

Sybil smiled, watching them clink glasses, noting how Thomas still seemed shaken.

‘Right, I’m off to go and watch Tom get undressed,’ she said, glancing over at William, who looked a bit shocked at that declaration. ‘What? I may not be able to touch anymore, but I can still look. I suppose you’re going to stay here, are you?’

‘Yes, I like to look at her,’ William said, shuffling over to the piano stool where he could get a better view of Daisy’s face.

‘I know,’ Sybil said sympathetically, thinking of all the times she’d lain on the bed beside Tom watching him sleep. ‘I’ll see you later then.’

 


 

‘Are you all right, Anna?’ Mary said in concern as her maid opened her mouth as if to say something and then promptly shut it for at least the fourth time that morning.

Anna bit her lip. ‘Well, um, there’s something I need to tell you about, milady.’

‘Just tell me then,’ Mary said, waving her hand encouragingly.

‘I, er, well, it’s difficult. And it involves Mr Branson too.’

‘Mr Branson?’ Mary repeated in surprise.

‘Yes. I really need to talk to you both at the same time?’

‘You need to talk to both me and Mr Branson about the same thing?’ Mary asked, trying to think what on earth her maid could need to talk to Tom about.

‘Yes. Do you think that would be possible? And it needs to be today, before this evening,’ Anna said, firmly.

‘Goodness. Whatever it is, it sounds urgent.’

‘It is.’

‘Well, then how about you meet us in the small library after breakfast before we head off to the office?’

Anna hesitated. ‘Um, would it be possible for us to meet here instead, milady? Where it’s more private.’

Mary’s eyebrows scooted upwards. ‘Yes, I suppose so. My, you certainly have me intrigued, Anna. All right, I will bring Mr Branson up here after breakfast.’

‘Thank you, milady,’ Anna said, gratefully.

 


 

‘You held a séance with a Ouija board?’ Mary asked in disbelief as Tom stared in surprise at Anna.

‘Yes, me, Daisy, Ivy, Jimmy and Thomas,’ Anna replied, knowing how it must sound to them.

‘What on earth made you do that?’

‘Jimmy thought it might be a bit of fun. But as it turned out, we had rather a lot of spirits contact us. Including Lady Sybil,’ Anna said, eyeing Lady Mary and Mr Branson carefully.

Mr Branson plopped suddenly down into Lady Mary’s easy chair, his cheeks paling. Lady Mary glanced at him in concern then focused back on Anna.

‘Lady Sybil?’

‘Yes, milady. She asked me to pass a message on to you both. She wants to talk to you tonight.’

‘Is this some kind of cruel joke, Anna?’ Mr Branson croaked, looking shaken.

Anna shook her head, earnestly. ‘No, sir. I wouldn’t do that. She spelled out your names and said she must speak to you.’

Mary and Tom exchanged a glance.

‘It wasn’t just Lady Sybil that came through,’ Anna said, trying to make them believe her. ‘William spoke to Daisy and there was a gentleman for Thomas. It really shook him up. Gave the rest of us a fair old turn too when the pointer started moving on its own, I can tell you.’

‘It was moving on its own?’ Mary said sceptically, narrowing her eyes.

‘Yes, milady. When Thomas’ blind gentleman and Lady Sybil came through, it moved on its own.’

‘A blind gentleman?’ Mr Branson said, cocking his head, remembering Sybil being upset about the suicide of a blind patient during the war and vaguely recalling her saying Thomas had been particularly affected by his death. ‘I think I remember something about that.’

‘Yes. It was quite amazing really. He was blind when Thomas met him but then he described Thomas to us and said he could see him.’

There was silence for a moment, then Mary spoke again. ‘What did Sybil say exactly?’

‘She said, “Tom. Mary. Tell them talk tomorrow night. Must speak to them”,’ Anna dutifully reported.

Mary looked over at Tom. ‘What do you think?’

‘I think it gives me the heebie-jeebies, Mary, but I can’t see how we can ignore it,’ he said, his voice shaking a little. ‘How can it possibly be Sybil? But what if it is and we don’t speak to her?’

Mary bit her lip, nodding her head. ‘I agree.’

‘Then we have to do it.’

‘Yes, I think we do.’ Mary looked over at Anna. ‘It was just Sybil, William and this friend of Thomas, was it?’

‘Yes, milady.’

‘Not Matthew?’ Lady Mary asked, hope in her voice.

‘No, I’m sorry, milady. Mr Crawley didn’t come through,’ Anna said gently, her heart cracking a little for her mistress.

Mary nodded as if it didn’t matter. ‘Did she say a specific time?’

‘No, just this evening.’

‘Right, well, I suppose you will have to give us this Ouija board then, Anna.’

Anna nodded. ‘I will bring it to your room before dinner, milady.’

Mary looked at Tom then walked over to him, reaching out to take his hand. ‘We’ll face this together, Tom. Whatever it turns out to be.’

He squeezed her hand, not saying a word.

 


 

Sybil watched Anna deliver her message, sad to see how it rattled her darling husband, but at least she knew Tom and Mary would be there on the other side of the board tonight. Now all she had to do was get Matthew on side. She walked through the wall, going in search of her brother-in-law.

She found him out by the large tree in the gardens near the house, watching George giving his nanny the run-around as she tried to get him back into his perambulator while Sybbie played with a skipping rope.

‘Ah, there you are. I need to talk to you,’ she said, coming to stand next to him.

‘He’s getting so big. Look at him. He doesn’t need that perambulator. No wonder he’s resisting it,’ Matthew said proudly, gesturing at George.

Sybil cast a fond look at her nephew. ‘He’s stubborn like Mary. He might look like you, but his personality is more like hers.’

‘God help her as he gets older then. She’s going to have fun battling a version of herself,’ Matthew said, sliding a knowing smile at Sybil. ‘What did you want to talk to me about?’

‘Well, actually, it’s Mary I want to talk to you about. And Tom.’

Matthew turned to look at her, concern on his face. ‘Are they all right?’

‘Yes, they’re fine. Well, at this precise moment they might be a little shaken, but they’ll be fine.’

‘Why are they shaken? What’s happened? Oh, God, is somebody ill? Is it Robert?’ Matthew asked, anxiously.

‘What? No! Nothing like that. No, I sent them a message that I want to speak to them through a Ouija board tonight,’ Sybil said, calmly.

‘You did what?’ Matthew gasped, his eyebrows so high they were hidden under his floppy fringe.

‘I said I – ‘

‘I heard what you said, Sybil. I just… how did you even get a message to them in the first place? I’ve been trying for years to get Mary to hear me.’

‘The downstairs staff found a Ouija board and used it last night. I asked Anna to pass the message along.’

Matthew stared at her then sat heavily down on the bench next to Nanny Adams, who frowned and looked over her shoulder with a shiver, shifting slightly further up the seat.

‘You mean… it worked? We’ll actually be able to talk to them?’ he said, his voice wavering a little.

‘Yes. Well, it worked last night, so I don’t see why it won’t work again tonight,’ Sybil said, tipping her head and looking at him cautiously. ‘Are you all right?’

‘I’ll be able to talk to Mary?’

‘Yes. Well, she still won’t be able to hear you any more than she can right now, but you can spell things out to her.’

‘I must think what I want to say to her. Oh, Sybil, this is marvellous news! Perhaps we’ll be able to talk to them regularly now,’ Matthew said excitedly, looking up at her with shining eyes.

‘Um, well, that’s not exactly what I had in mind,’ Sybil said, already sensing that Matthew was not going to be on board with her plan. ‘I didn’t arrange this so you and I could have an everlasting chat with our spouses from beyond the grave.’

He looked at her, puzzled. ‘Then what did you have in mind?’

‘I want us to give them our blessing.’

‘Our blessing to do what?’ Matthew said, still puzzled.

‘To be together,’ Sybil said plainly, not sugar-coating it in the slightest.

Matthew sprang to his feet. ‘What? Mary and Tom? Together? Like a couple, do you mean? Are you insane?’

‘No, quite the opposite,’ Sybil replied, calmly. ‘I think they could make each other very happy.’

‘No, absolutely not!’ Matthew cried, pacing backwards and forwards in disbelief. ‘I mean, why do you even think that?’

‘Oh, come off it, Matthew, you’ve seen them together. You must have seen the same things I have. How they’ve come to rely on each other. They’re practically joined at the hip,’ Sybil said, laying it all out for him as she saw it. ‘I’d wager they spend far more time together than either of them did with either of us when we were alive. It's quite obvious that they love each other. They’re like a married couple in every way, except for the fact that they are not sharing a bed.’

Matthew stopped pacing and glared at her. ‘Don’t. Do not say that.’

‘But it’s true, and you know it. And I think they could be persuaded to take that extra step, to be together properly as a couple. The depth of affection between them, well, I never thought it would be possible, but it is. It’s there and it’s real, Matthew. Even you can’t deny that,’ Sybil said, challenging him to gainsay her.

‘I… well, no, I can’t, but that doesn’t mean I think you’re right or that I could ever give them my blessing,’ Matthew snapped, completely rattled by Sybil’s observations.

‘I think we have to,’ she said, gently.

‘Why?’

‘Because I don’t think we can move on until they move on.’

‘How do you know there’s anywhere for us to move on to?’ he blustered. ‘This might be it. An eternity stalking the halls and grounds of Downton. And if it is, I don’t want to be forced to watch my wife with another man. Especially not my friend.’

Sybil rolled her eyes. ‘Oh, don’t be stupid, Matthew. Of course, there is somewhere to move on to. If there wasn’t, we’d be sharing this place with thousands of ghosts and we’re not. And I actually saw a ghost move on last night, so it is possible.’

Matthew shot her a fierce look. ‘Well, maybe I don’t want to move on. Have you considered that?’

Sybil returned his look steadily. ‘I know it’s difficult, Matthew, but you need to stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about Mary.’

‘All I do is think about Mary!’ Matthew protested.

‘No, all you do is think about how you should still be with Mary. And I understand that, I do. I’ve been through the same thing with Tom. But we’re dead, Matthew. Neither of us can have what we want. But them, they’re alive. They can live a real life, not be stuck in limbo like we are.’

‘And you think thrusting them together is the answer, do you? You think they’ll just cleave together because you tell them to from beyond the grave, is that it?’ he cried, scathingly.

‘No, I think they’ve already moved in that direction all by themselves. I think they are already in love with each other but neither of them will acknowledge it because, well, probably because of me. Because Tom’s my husband and Mary’s my sister,’ Sybil said, trying to keep a lid on her temper in an effort to get him to see what seemed as plain as the nose on her face to her. ‘I love them both. I want them to be happy. So I am going to give them my blessing. And I want you to give them yours too.’

He stared at her, lips pressed mutinously together, shaking his head. ‘No. I won’t.’

‘Matthew, you – ‘ Sybil started.

He held up his hand, stopping her. ‘No, Sybil. I won’t do it. I can’t do it.’

‘Don’t be so bloody selfish!’ she snapped, her patience breaking.

‘Don’t lecture me on selfishness! Not with what you put everyone through when you married Tom!’ Matthew bit back.

Sybil narrowed her eyes at him. ‘That’s not fair. And I know you don’t mean that. You supported us; I know you did.’

‘You can’t ask me to give my wife to another man. You can’t expect me to do that!’

‘She’s not your wife anymore, Matthew!’ Sybil cried, frustrated by his attitude. ‘She’s your widow!’

Matthew glared at her then spun on his heel, striding off.

‘Matthew! Matthew!’ Sybil yelled at his retreating back. ‘At least think about it!’

Matthew ignored her and carried on stalking over the gardens.

Sybil growled in frustration. ‘Stubborn man. I don’t need him anyway.’

She turned and dropped down onto the bench, making Nanny twitch again. She closed her eyes for a minute, trying to calm herself, then opened them determined to wash away her anger by watching her daughter skipping happily, counting every time she jumped over the rope.

 


 

‘What’s the matter with you two tonight?’ Edith asked curiously, eyeing her sister and brother-in-law in turn after her parents had turned in for the night.

Mary and Tom shared a look.

‘What do you mean? Nothing’s the matter with us,’ Mary blustered.

‘There definitely is. Tom’s as quiet as a mouse and looks like he’s eaten something that’s turned his stomach, and you, well, I’ve never seen you quite so jittery.’

‘Nonsense. You’re imagining things,’ Mary said weakly after exchanging another look with Tom.

‘No, I’m not. Something’s going on. What is it? And stop looking at each other like that!’ Edith snapped in exasperation.

Mary fell silent, her eyes flicking once more to Tom, despite Edith’s exhortation.

‘Sybil’s asked to speak to us tonight,’ Tom said in rush, unable to hold it in any longer.

Edith stared at him in astonishment. ‘What? Did you… did you just say Sybil? As in our Sybil?’

‘Yes, Sybil. My Sybil,’ he said, a mixture of dread and anticipation curling through him.

‘But… what… how… what?' Edith stuttered.

Mary sighed, slightly annoyed with Tom for not just fronting it out until Edith had gone to bed. ‘Some of the staff staged a séance with a Ouija board last night and, apparently, Sybil popped up and told Anna she needed to speak to me and Tom tonight.’

‘What about?’

‘We don’t know. That was the whole message.’

Edith frowned. ‘She didn’t ask for me too?’

‘Not according to Anna, no,’ Mary said, feeling slightly bad for her sister.

‘Well, I want to stay. If you’re going to talk to Sybil, I want to talk to Sybil too,’ Edith said determinedly, squaring up for an argument.

‘She didn’t ask for you,’ Mary said, spikily.

‘No, but she was my sister too, so I want to be here,’ Edith stated firmly, eyeballing Mary.

‘You can stay, Edith,’ Tom said, tiredly. ‘I can’t imagine Sybil will say anything you couldn’t hear.’

‘Don’t you think it’s curious she specifically asked for both of us, though, Tom?’ Mary asked, uneasy about Edith staying. ‘You’d have thought she’d have wanted to speak to just you.’

Tom shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Maybe she’s… she’s… oh, I don’t know. I still can’t believe any of this is true.’

‘Where’s the Ouija board now then?’ Edith asked.

‘In my bedroom. Anna brought it up before dinner. I’ll go and get it,’ Mary said, setting down her glass and getting to her feet.

‘I’ll get us some more drinks,’ Tom said, draining his whiskey glass and standing up. ‘I have a feeling we might all need one.’

 


 

Sybil leaned on the back of the couch in the drawing room, somewhat put out that Edith had muscled in on the séance. As much as she loved her sister, she couldn’t help but think that her presence might inhibit Tom and Mary when they found out what she wanted to talk to them about.

She watched as Mary returned with the Ouija board and set about directing Tom to move an occasional table to sit in front of the sofa, then an armchair to sit the other side of it.

‘Excuse me,’ an unfamiliar voice said behind her. ‘Lady Sybil, is it? May I speak to you?’

She turned to see a tall, brown-haired man in a suit standing by the window. ‘Who are you?’

‘My name is Michael Gregson. I was Edith’s lover. More than that, really. I wanted to marry her.’

Sybil nodded, looking him up and down with interest. ‘Yes, of course. You’re Marigold’s father.’ She stopped suddenly, putting her hand over her mouth. ‘Oh, goodness. You do know about Marigold, don’t you?’

‘Yes, I do,’ he said, his expression hovering somewhere between sad and proud. ‘That’s why I’m here. I was wondering if you’d be kind enough to let me send a message to Edith tonight?’

Sybil frowned. ‘How did you know we were having a séance tonight?’

‘I didn't, but I check in on her from time to time. It seems I've arrived at an auspicious time,’ he said as if it were perfectly normal for ghosts to zip about checking on people.

‘You check in on her? How do you do that? I thought ghosts were tied to places and couldn’t move beyond that place,’ Sybil said, puzzled.

‘I think we’re tied to people, rather than places. Well, I think that’s true for me,’ Gregson said, his eyes straying to Edith.

‘Is Edith your unfinished business then?’ Sybil asked, curiously.

‘I’m not sure, but I don’t think so.’

‘Where are you when you’re not checking in on Edith?’

Gregson looked back at Sybil, his gaze steady. ‘I’m with my wife.’

‘Your wife?’ she said, her eyebrows rising.

‘Yes, it turns out that she was insane because she could see and hear ghosts and they were pestering her to pass on messages to loved ones all the time. Now I’m a ghost, I spend a great deal of time running interference between her and our fellow spirits. The irony of it is that now she gets more respite from them, she’s no longer as mad as she was,’ he said, a resigned look on his face. ‘I suspect she is my unfinished business and that I will only be able to move on when she no longer needs me. So, basically when she dies.’

Sybil stared at him. ‘Oh. That’s… unfortunate.’

Gregson nodded. ‘Yes, I suppose it is given her madness was the reason I was in Germany when I was murdered. I was trying to get a divorce, so I could marry your sister.’

Sybil bit her lip, unsure how to respond to that. She decided to take a different tack. ‘So, you have a message for Edith?’

‘Yes, if that’s all right with you.’

‘Of course, it is. I’ll probably let you go first. My messages may take rather a long time,’ Sybil said, turning back to the scene in front of her.

‘Are we all ready?’ Mary was saying, taking charge of proceedings as she had been doing for as long as Sybil could remember.

‘Yes,’ said Edith, putting her finger on the planchette.

‘Tom?’ Mary asked when he remained silent and motionless.

‘As ready as I’ll ever be, I suppose,’ he muttered, reluctantly putting his finger on the planchette too.

‘Right. Let’s start then.’ Mary took a deep breath and lifted her head high. ‘Sybil? Are you there?’

Sybil walked over and moved the pointer.

YES

The three of them followed the movement of the planchette with their eyes then looked up at each other.

Sybil gazed at Tom’s ashen face, longing to take him in her arms. She leaned over and moved the planchette again.

M-A-C-U-S-H-L-A

Tom’s eyes widened and he drew in a sharp breath.

‘Macushla?’ Edith said, confused. ‘What does that mean?’

‘It’s an Irish word. It means darling. I used to call her that when we were alone,’ he said quietly, then he looked up his eyes darting around the room. ‘Sybil? Are you really here, love?’

YES

‘Oh, my God,’ he breathed, his voice shaking. Mary reached out her hand, squeezing his knee.

Sybil watched, more certain than ever that she was right about Tom and Mary. She moved the pointer again.

E-D-I-T-H   S-O-M-E-O-N-E   I-S   H-E-R-E   F-O-R   Y-O-U

Edith looked up as if expecting to see someone. ‘Who?’ she whispered.

Gregson came over to the table and Sybil stepped aside.

M-I-C-H-A-E-L

‘Michael?’ Edith echoed, her eyes filling with tears. ‘Oh, my darling. I tried to find you. I did.’

I   K-N-O-W

‘I miss you so much,’ Edith whispered, her voice thick with emotion. ‘There’s so much I need to tell you. So much I need your advice on.’

Gregson cast a look at Sybil. ‘Lady Mary doesn’t know about Marigold, does she?’

‘No. My sisters are not close. Edith won’t tell Mary for fear of judgement. I don’t think Mary would judge, but she can be unkind sometimes,’ Sybil replied sadly.

He nodded, reaching for the pointer again. ‘I don’t want to spill any secrets.’

Y-O-U   H-A-V-E   D-O-N-E   T-H-E   R-I-G-H-T   T-H-I-N-G

‘Have I? Have I really? I was so unsure, but I couldn’t leave Ma… things as they were,’ Edith said, casting a furtive glance at Mary.

I   A-M   S-O   P-R-O-U-D

‘Do you really mean that, darling?’ Edith breathed, a tear spilling down her cheek as Tom leaned across the table to pat her gently on her shoulder.

YES

‘I miss you so very much, Michael,’ Edith whispered.

Gregson gazed at her, his face full of love. Sybil couldn’t help but feel desperately sad for her sister that she hadn’t been able to have this for long in life. He reached for the pointer again.

Y-O-U   H-A-V-E   M-Y   H-E-A-R-T

‘And I will cherish it, I promise,’ Edith said, softly.

‘She will, too,’ Sybil said, nodding her head. ‘Edith will never let anything happen to Marigold.’

‘I know. She will be a good mother. I just wish I’d had the chance to be a good father too,’ Gregson said, sadly. ‘Thank you for letting me give her some reassurance, Lady Sybil. I know she’s been worrying about whether she should have left Marigold where she was.’

‘I’m glad you came, Mr Gregson.’

‘So am I. But I must go now. I can never leave Lizzy for too long,’ he said, regretfully. He leaned over the table again.

G-O-O-D-B-Y-E   M-Y   D-A-R-L-I-N-G

Edith bit her lip, holding back a sob. ‘Goodbye, Michael.’

‘It was nice to meet you, Lady Sybil. Edith always spoke so fondly of – ‘ Gregson broke off as Matthew came storming through the wall.

‘Sybil, are you –‘ Matthew stopped shouting, pulling up in surprise at the sight of the newcomer. ‘Gregson. What are you doing here?’

‘Same as you, I suspect, Crawley. Talking to someone I love,’ Gregson replied, equably. ‘But I must go now, so I will leave you to it. Matthew. Lady Sybil.’

‘Goodbye, Mr Gregson. It was a pleasure to meet you.’

Gregson nodded at them both then closed his eyes and disappeared. Both Matthew and Sybil blinked then looked at each other in confusion.

‘How the devil did he do that?’ Matthew asked, perplexed.

‘I have no idea. I can’t do that,’ Sybil said, looking down at her body as if she was trying to will it to transport her elsewhere.

‘Neither can I.’ Matthew stopped and looked at Mary, sitting next to Tom on the sofa, her hand still on his knee, both of them looking sympathetically at Edith.

‘I can’t believe Michael was here,’ Edith was saying, her shoulders shaking. ‘I never expected that.’

‘How did it make you feel?’ Mary asked, curiously.

Edith considered that for a minute. ‘Reassured. Loved. Happy to know he thinks I’m doing the right thing.’

‘The right thing about what?’ Mary asked.

Edith shot a glance at Tom.

‘The magazine, I should think,’ Tom said, deliberately deflecting from the truth as he and Edith knew it.

‘Yes, of course. What else would it be?’ Edith said, flashing a grateful look at her brother-in-law.

‘Mary still doesn’t know about Marigold then?’ Matthew observed.

‘No, she doesn’t, and it’s not our place to tell her,’ Sybil said, perhaps a little sharper than necessary because Matthew looked at her indignantly.

‘I’m not about to seize the damn Ouija board and tell her if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m here to find out if you’re still determined to go ahead with this nonsense about giving Mary and Tom your blessing.’

‘Yes, I am, and it’s not nonsense. Look at them!’ Sybil said, gesturing at Mary and Tom side by side on the sofa just as Tom dropped his hand over hers on his knee and clasped it. ‘They are holding hands!’

‘That doesn’t mean anything!’

‘Doesn’t it? Did you go around holding hands with someone you didn’t care about, Matthew? Because I certainly didn’t.’

‘They’ve also been talking to ghosts, so maybe they need a little bit of comfort,’ Matthew snapped.

‘Funny how they reached out to each other for comfort, though, isn’t it?’ Sybil snapped back.

‘Sybil?’ Mary said, unknowingly interrupting their squabble. ‘Are you still there?’

Sybil glared at Matthew one more time then stalked back to the table to shove the pointer into place.

YES

‘What did you want to talk to us about, darling?’ Mary continued, gently.

Sybil shot a defiant look at Matthew.

Y-O-U   A-N-D   T-O-M

Mary exchanged a puzzled look with Tom. ‘Yes, darling, we’re here. Both of us.’

‘You can’t do this, Sybil,’ Matthew cried, bustling over to the table. ‘I forbid it.’

‘You forbid it?’ Sybil barked, her hands on her lips, absolutely incensed by his high-handed behaviour. ‘I don’t know who you think you are to forbid me to do anything, Matthew. She’s my sister and he’s my husband and I will do what I think is best for them.’

She turned back to the board, putting her hand on the planchette again. Matthew shot forward, putting his hand over hers, tussling with her for control of the pointer.

Mary, Tom and Edith watched, their expressions ranging from surprised to uneasy to shocked to worried as the planchette quivered in the middle of the board untouched by human hand and then began shooting erratically backwards and forwards.

‘Sybil? Are you all right, love?’ Tom asked, cautiously.

‘Let go, Matthew!’ Sybil yelled, trying to wrench the pointer away from her irate brother-in-law.

‘I will not! You let go!’ he yelled back, trying to peel her fingers off it. ‘You can’t do this!’

'Why can’t I?’ Sybil demanded, tugging the planchette back towards her.

‘Because... because... she’s the love of my life!’ Matthew cried.

‘And he’s the love of mine! What’s your point?’

Suddenly, Matthew stopped fighting her. Sybil stumbled backward as he let go, dropping the pointer as she did. Mary, Tom and Edith watched, visibly shocked as they saw it shoot off the board, hover in the air then fall to the floor.

‘I don’t want her to forget about me,’ he said, forlornly.

‘Don’t be so ridiculous! You’re the father of her child! Of course, she won’t forget about you, just like Tom will never forget about me. But we’re dead, Matthew! We can’t make them happy anymore,’ Sybil cried. She looked at Matthew’s face and sighed, trying to take things down a notch or two. ‘You’ve seen them together, the same as I have. They’ve grown so close. I think they can make each other happy. And I want them both to be happy. Don’t you?’

Matthew stood there, silently staring at his wife as she tightened her grip on Tom’s hand and the two of them shared a worried look.

‘Sybil, darling? Is everything all right?’ Mary asked, her eyes wide.

Edith looked warily at the pointer on the floor next to her chair, then bent down and gingerly picked it up. ‘Maybe she just dropped it,’ she said, nervously, putting it back down in the middle of the Ouija board.

Sybil sighed. ‘Look, we’re worrying them and that’s the last thing either of us want to do. I’m going to talk to them, Matthew. If you don’t want to be part of this, fine, but you won’t stop me.’

Matthew bit his lip, saying nothing.

Sybil studied him for a few seconds, then decided to get on with it. She moved the pointer again.

T-O-M   Y-O-U   H-A-V-E   M-O-U-R-N-E-D   M-E   L-O-N-G   E-N-O-U-G-H

Tom shook his head. ‘No, I haven’t. I could mourn you for eternity and it wouldn’t be long enough.’

Sybil sighed, knowing he meant it but not wanting that for him.

NO

I   W-A-N-T   Y-O-U   T-O   B-E   H-A-P-P-Y

Tom stared at the board as Mary gripped his hand. ‘I… I’m not unhappy, love. Sybbie makes me happy.’

Sybil pushed the pointer again.

M-A-R-Y   M-A-K-E-S   Y-O-U   H-A-P-P-Y   T-O-O

Tom looked up from the board, his cheeks flushing with colour as Mary’s eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. Edith narrowed her eyes at the board, glancing up at the other two sitting opposite her on the sofa.

A-N-D   Y-O-U   M-A-K-E   H-E-R   H-A-P-P-Y

Mary and Tom exchanged a flabbergasted look.

‘Is she… is she saying what I think she’s saying?’ Edith asked, suspiciously.

Mary swallowed, trying to get some moisture back into her mouth. ‘I suppose that rather depends on what you think she’s saying.’

‘That there’s something going on between the two of you,’ Edith said, her eyes flicking between them, her mouth set in a hard line. ‘Are you having an affair?’

‘No, we’re not!’ Mary protested, dropping Tom’s hand. Edith glared at her, disbelief all over her face. ‘We’re not! Tom, tell her!’

Tom ignored both Edith and Mary in favour of talking to his late wife. ‘I don’t know where you’re getting that from, Sybil, if that’s what you mean. Mary and I are not having an affair.’

NO

B-U-T   Y-O-U   S-H-O-U-L-D   B-E

Edith subsided into her chair, no longer glaring at her sister and brother-in-law. ‘I’m confused.’

‘You and me both,' Mary said, fervently. 'Sybil, Tom and I… we’re… we’re…’ She trailed off, looking uncertainly at Tom, not knowing how to describe their relationship. ‘What are we?’

Tom gazed at her, opening his mouth then closing it again.

Watching them, Sybil decided to take it upon herself to elaborate.

M-O-R-E   T-H-A-N   F-R-I-E-N-D-S   L-E-S-S   T-H-A-N   L-O-V-E-R-S

There was silence in the room as that sank in with all three of the living people and the sulky ghost standing across from Sybil.

Y-O-U   D-E-S-E-R-V-E   T-O   B-E   H-A-P-P-Y   T-O-M

‘Do I? I’m not so sure I do,’ Tom said, bleakly. ‘If it wasn’t for me, you’d still be alive.’

N-O-T   T-R-U-E

‘And I’ve… I’ve not been whiter than white since you've been gone,’ he said, quietly.

Mary frowned, looking over at him. ‘What does that mean?’ she asked, then looked back at the board as the pointer moved again.

S-T-O-P   P-U-N-I-S-H-I-N-G   Y-O-U-R-S-E-L-F

Mary looked over at Tom, completely puzzled. ‘What are you punishing yourself for?’

‘Nothing,’ he said, somewhat evasively.

E-D-N-A   W-A-S   N-O-T   Y-O-U-R   F-A-U-L-T

‘Edna? Who is Edna?’ Mary asked, bristling as she deciphered the message. She glared at a shocked-looking Tom.

Matthew stirred, watching Mary’s reaction to this new information carefully.

Edith frowned, casting her mind back. ‘Wasn’t that the first name of Braithwaite, Mama’s lady’s maid? The one who left rather abruptly?’

Tom put his hand over his eyes, totally unprepared for this.

‘Well?’ Mary demanded, slapping at his arm. ‘Who is Edna?’

‘Edith’s right. She was Cora’s maid,’ he said reluctantly, taking his hand away and looking guiltily at her.

‘And what about Edna is not your fault?’ Mary persisted, jealousy eating into her. ‘Did you… did you have a relationship with her?’

‘No, not exactly,’ Tom said.

‘Not exactly? What does that mean?’ Mary asked, determined to get to the bottom of this.

When Tom showed no sign of wanting to elaborate, Sybil decided to enlighten her sister.

H-A-R-L-O-T    T-R-I-E-D   T-O   T-R-A-P   H-I-M   I-N-T-O   M-A-R-R-I-A-G-E

‘What? How?’ Mary demanded as Tom stared at the board in disbelief.

‘How do you know all this, Sybil?’ he asked, baffled by it all.

S-A-W   I-T   H-A-P-P-E-N

Tom went sheet white. ‘No. No, you didn’t.’

YES

‘Oh, my God,’ he breathed, his shoulders slumping in despair. ‘I am so sorry, darlin’. So very sorry. I should have stopped her. I should have said no.’

‘You should have said no?’ Mary stared at Tom, her face pinched with jealousy. ‘Did you… are you saying… do you mean you slept with her?’

Tom shifted his gaze from the board to Mary and nodded, hardly believing he was having to air his dirty laundry in public like this, in front of her, Edith and his dead wife. ‘Once. I was drunk. Really, really drunk. And so very lonely. And she… she just turned up in my bedroom. And we… well, you can guess the rest.’

Mary stood up abruptly, taking several steps away from him. ‘You were lonely,’ she said, bleakly. ‘And so you slept with her.’

‘Well, it was mostly down to the gallon of whiskey I’d drunk and her climbing on top of me while I was asleep,’ Tom said, baldly, ‘but, yes, I was lonely and feeling like I didn’t belong here, so I didn’t stop her when she got into bed with me.’

Mary looked like he’d slapped her. ‘You felt like you don’t belong here? But… this is your home. Of course, you belong here. With us. With me.’

Matthew wandered over to Sybil, his eyes thoughtful as he watched his wife. ‘She’s jealous. And upset that he felt lonely and like he didn’t belong here.’

‘Yes. And what does that tell you?’ Sybil said, folding her arms and raising an eyebrow at him.

‘Do you still feel like that?’ Mary asked Tom, holding her breath.

He hesitated. ‘Sometimes.’

Edith looked between them curiously, beginning to see something that she’d glossed over before.

‘But… but you’ve built a life here, Tom. You have so much here. You have… you have all of us. You have me,’ Mary said, her ice queen façade crumbling as she failed miserably to hide just how upset she was by all of this.

‘Do I?’ Tom asked softly, looking over at her carefully, a million questions on his face.

Matthew walked forward to take hold of the pointer.

M-A-R-Y   I-T-S   M-A-T-T-H-E-W

Mary inhaled, her hand flying to cover her mouth. ‘Matthew? Is it really you, darling?’

YES

‘Oh, my love!’

I   W-A-N-T   Y-O-U   T-O   T-E-L-L   M-E   T-H-E   T-R-U-T-H

Mary stared at the board, anxiously. 'The truth about what?'

S-Y-B-I-L   T-H-I-N-K-S   Y-O-U   L-O-V-E   T-O-M

Mary shot a guilty look at Tom, seeing him looking much the same way at her.

D-O   Y-O-U

‘I… I…’ Mary bit her lip, not knowing what to say to the ghost of her beloved husband about her feelings for her brother-in-law. She dropped heavily onto the sofa next to Tom, flicking her eyes over to him, seeing him regarding her with a complicated mixture of hope, sympathy and guilt.

I   W-O-N-T   B-E   A-N-G-R-Y   I-F   Y-O-U   D-O

Edith looked up from the board, staring at Tom and Mary, both silent and shellshocked, understanding dawning on her. ‘Oh, my God. It’s true, isn’t it? You’re in love with each other.’

Sitting opposite her, Tom and Mary both looked at her, neither of them saying anything.

‘I’ve seen it,’ Edith continued, thinking out loud, various things slotting into place in her mind. ‘It’s right there in how you act together. How you have whole conversations with just a look like Mama and Papa do. How have I not realised it?’

‘We’re not having an affair, Edith,’ Mary said urgently, casting an awkward look at Tom. She looked around the room. ‘Matthew, Sybil, I swear we’re not.’

Sybil sighed and moved the pointer again.

B-U-T   Y-O-U   D-O   L-O-V-E   E-A-C-H   O-T-H-E-R   D-O-N-T   Y-O-U

Mary dropped her head, closing her eyes. Beside her, Tom gazed at her then took her hand, feeling her grip his in return.

‘I can only speak for myself, but, yes, if you’re asking me to be honest, I do love her. I never expected it to happen, but I do.’ He turned his head towards Mary, his eyes full of emotion, his voice soft. ‘I do, Mary. I love you.’

Sybil nodded, looking over at Matthew, ignoring the pain in her chest at Tom’s confession. ‘I told you, didn’t I?’

‘She hasn’t said anything yet,’ Matthew pointed out, clinging onto a hope he no longer really had.

Mary lifted her head, her eyes shining with unshed tears, and looked at Tom. ‘I love you too. I’m so sorry, Matthew, Sybil. I didn’t expect it either. I’ve been fighting it; I promise I have. I think we’ve both been fighting it. Nothing has happened... but it’s so hard.’

‘And there you have it. The truth of it straight from the horse’s mouth,’ Sybil said, looking over at Matthew. ‘Are you seriously going to tell me we should stop them from being happy together just because it’s not how we wish things had turned out?’

Matthew bit his lip, gazing at his wife as she sat there holding hands with his friend, looking upset and guilty. ‘No, I can’t,’ he said eventually then stepped forward to move the pointer.

S-T-O-P   F-I-G-H-T-I-N-G   I-T

Mary and Tom stared at the board then exchanged a look.

‘You’re not angry?’ Mary asked, tentatively.

W-E   W-A-N-T   B-O-T-H   O-F   Y-O-U   T-O   B-E   H-A-P-P-Y

‘I think… I think they’re giving you their permission to be together,’ Edith said, looking up at Mary and Tom.

‘It certainly seems that way,’ Tom said, carefully. ‘Is that what you’re doing, Sybil? Matthew?’

YES

‘You’re not upset? You don’t think we’re betraying you?’ Mary asked, giving Tom an uncertain but hopeful look.

NO

‘But… don’t you… are you sure?’ Mary persisted,

Sybil grinned, deciding it was time to be forthright. ‘Step aside, Matthew. I think it’s time for an unequivocal message.’

‘Oh, God, what are you going to say to them now?’ Matthew asked with a groan, moving out of the way.

Sybil leaned over the board again. ‘You’ll see.’

M-A-R-Y   K-I-S-S   H-I-M

Mary glanced at Tom as the pointer kept shifting around the board.

H-E   I-S   A   G-O-O-D   K-I-S-S-E-R

Tom stared at the board, his eyebrows rising. ‘Sybil!’

Edith didn’t even bother to try stifling her smile at her sister’s words. But Sybil wasn’t finished.

G-O-O-D   I-N   B-E-D   T-O-O

'Sybil!! Stop it!’ Tom cried, turning as red as a beetroot as both Mary and Edith looked at him, one with naked interest, the other erupting into giggles.

Unheard by Tom, Matthew was shouting the same thing at Sybil, who was quite unrepentant.

Y-O-U   K-N-O-W   I   D-O-N-T   L-I-E   M-A-R-Y

‘That’s true, Mary. Sybil was always big on telling the truth, right from when we were children,’ Edith nodded, shooting an amused glance at a mortified Tom. ‘Don’t be embarrassed, Tom. You should be pleased she’s singing your praises in the bedroom. Wouldn’t it be so much worse if she was warning Mary off because you weren’t any good in that department?’

Sybil giggled, watching as Tom stared at Edith in shock then dropped his crimson face into his hands.

‘I cannot believe this is happening,’ he muttered into his fingers.

Feeling only slightly bad for embarrassing her husband, Sybil moved the pointer again.

K-I-S-S   H-I-M

Mary stared at the board then looked over at Tom, who was peeking at it through his fingers to see Sybil’s latest message spelled out. She reached over, putting her hand on the back of his neck, rubbing gently.

‘Tom?’

Matthew tensed beside Sybil. She reached down and clasped his hand. ‘You don’t have to watch this if you don’t want to,’ she said, gently.

‘I think I do,’ he whispered. ‘I think I need to know that she’s going to be happy, that they’ll be all right.’

Tom dropped his hands and looked up at Mary. She gazed at him, saying nothing, and he sat up straight, meeting her eyes. Sybil, Matthew and Edith watched as a whole conversation seemed to pass silently between them, and then they leaned in and kissed each other for the first time, a tender kiss, full of feeling.

Sybil blinked, tears creeping up on her, a myriad of emotions rushing through her. Sadness, jealousy, happiness, satisfaction. It hurt to see Tom kissing another woman, but in her heart, she knew this was the right thing to do.

Beside her, Matthew appeared to be going through much the same thing. He looked across at her, squeezing her hand. ‘It’s not easy, is it? Seeing the one you love love someone else?’

‘No, it’s not,’ Sybil said, her voice thick with emotion. ‘But what else could we do? Look at how happy they are.’

Tom and Mary pulled apart, smiling tentatively at each other, their hands twining together again.

‘Goodness. Sybil was right about the first thing,’ Mary said softly, her eyes still on Tom.

Edith snorted, breaking the romance of the moment. ‘Then what’s the betting she was telling the truth about the other thing too?’

‘Edith! Will you just stop talking?’ Tom squawked, colouring up again.

Matthew tilted his head, looking over at the far side of the room. He shook Sybil’s hand to drag her attention back to him. ‘Look at that,’ he said, nodding his head at the wall to her left.

‘What?’ Sybil asked, turning to look in the direction he’d indicated.

Two doors had appeared on the wall. Sybil caught her breath, staring at the one on the right, watching as the light emanating from it intensified.

‘Is one of them glowing for you?’ she asked Matthew.

He nodded. ‘The one on the left.’

‘It’s the right one for me.’

They exchanged glances. ‘They’re for us. They are our doors,’ Sybil breathed. ‘We’ve done it. We’ve finished our unfinished business.’

‘So, it seems,’ Matthew murmured, feeling the pull of the door.

‘We have to say goodbye to them before we go,’ Sybil said, reaching for the pointer.

W-E   H-A-V-E   T-O   G-O

‘Must you?’ Mary asked, not wanting this contact with their lost loved ones to disappear.

YES

‘Will you be back?’ Edith asked, holding her breath.

NO

W-E   C-A-N   M-O-V-E   O-N   N-O-W

The three living people exchanged looks.

‘So, is this it? Is this goodbye?’ Tom asked, cautiously.

YES

‘I want you to know, I love you both so much,’ Mary said, her voice wobbling as tears filled her eyes. ‘So very much. We’ll never forget you. Never.’

Sybil bit her lip, holding tight to Matthew’s hand. He looked over at her then bent to move the pointer.

W-E   L-O-V-E   Y-O-U   A-L-L   T-O-O

‘Tá grá agam duit, macushla,'  Tom said softly, looking around the room.

Sybil smiled through her tears. ‘I love you too, my darling boy,’ she whispered, her heart full of love for him.

‘Goodbye, my darlings,’ Edith whispered, wiping a tear from her cheek.

Sybil leaned forward, fighting against the pull of the door.

B-E   H-A-P-P-Y

Mary bit her lip, looked at Tom and nodded. ‘We’ll certainly try. And thank you. For giving us your blessing.’

G-O-O-D-B-Y-E

‘I think we have to go now, Sybil,’ Matthew said, stepping back from the table and pulling her with him. ‘I don’t think I can resist it for much longer.’

‘No, me neither. I can feel it, pulling at me,’ she said, glancing at the door. She looked back at him, rising up on her toes to kiss his cheek. ‘I know both of us would have given anything not to be in this position, but it’s been nice sharing this afterlife with you, Matthew.’

He nodded, smiling affectionately at her. ‘Yes, it has. You’ve been a good friend.’

‘You too.’

Together, they turned and walked across to the two doors.

‘Shall we do this together?’ Sybil whispered when they were standing in front of their respective doors. The urge to open it and step through was almost unbearable.

‘Yes, together,’ Matthew said, giving her a big smile. ‘One, two, three.’

Sybil faced forward and reached for the handle, opening it. The light enveloped her and suddenly she felt at peace. Safe. Reassured. Complete. Loved. Happy.