Sister and Mother
6 July 1798
Rest in God’s Peace
“I am not alone in my grave. Below me in this place of death lies another soul. I first felt his presence as they lowered me in, and his distress prevented my spirit’s release from the physical plane. He has been my constant companion ever since. Who he may have been in life, whether stranger or friend, I do not know, for he cannot tell me. The manner of his end has left him angry and incoherent. He curls up in his borrowed linen dust-sheet and mutters broken curses.
“He was barely cold when I arrived; the remnant of heat in his body warmed me for a time. Now it is cold in here; so cold! Others here lie quiet and still or have passed to their eternal reward; I lie here and listen to his wordless torment endlessly.
“I was a good wife, a helpful sister, a loving mother. I have nothing with which to reproach myself. Yet still I await the answer to my question. Why should my rest be broken by a murdered man?”
Liberty Gibbens shook herself back to reality as the collective gasp died away. Her contact with the past, and her channelling of the spirit of Mary Westerleagh, had broken, the door closing on Mary’s version of reality. The connection had been so strong, she had felt herself pulled into the summer of 1798, unaware of the words Mary had spoken through her. She drew a deep breath and blinked in the softer light of the present day. Her hand left the crumbling gravestone and she absently brushed away the lichen that clung to her fingers like ash.
As her eyes re-focused in her own ‘now’, she glanced around. Her palm still felt gritty, so she wiped it on her jeans as she turned back to Adam, the only colleague on this dig who she had so far begun to make a personal connection with. As she did so, she saw for the first time the sea of shocked white faces, an audience she had specifically not wanted. Some of them were already backing away and muttering, casting her surreptitious glances and quickly looking away. She flushed scarlet with embarrassment and anger, and cast a searing glance at the man who had betrayed her into this too-public performance. Without a word, she turned on her heel and strode away towards the makeshift café, parched and hungry as often happened after a channelling.
Damn Adam! She wished she had never mentioned her talent for all things mediumistic. He had been so persistent, so interested. It was so unusual for someone to take an interest that she had allowed herself to be persuaded no harm would come of it. It was outrageous that he had ignored her expressed wish for privacy. To the other workers on the dig site, she had just been, as she wanted to be, a professional osteo-archaeologist on assignment. Now it seemed they all knew, and any who didn’t soon would. Judging from the looks on some of their faces, she would probably soon be hounded out of another job. Well, she vowed fiercely to herself, never again!
She had no idea of what had been said to the audience of her fellow archaeologists, but it had clearly been more than the usual mundane details. People were often frightened by her talent, but that alone could not account for the universal look of horror on their faces. Was it infidelity, treason, or perhaps Mary had been murdered? It’d be just her luck, to pick out the one person in the graveyard who had met a sticky end. She should have known there might be complications, in a family graveyard that was probably full of jealousies, rivalries, and sibling hatred. She should have left it till later, after working hours, not during the working day. But everyone had been on their mid-afternoon break when she began, relaxing on the grass outside the cemetery or walking in small groups, talking quietly. No-one had seemed to be paying any attention to her and Adam as they sat in a corner of the site and chatted. Now she regretted her hasty, and apparently naïve, choice of timing.
She would find out what she’d said from Adam; he owed her that much. But the memory of those haunted faces worried her – perhaps she should just leave it and go home.
She shivered and pulled the zipper of her old grey fleece right up to her chin, wrapping her arms around herself. The only place she could really call home was just a couple of miles away, but she hadn’t been there in … way too long. The thought intruded past the current problem, and her head dropped as the familiar pang of guilt hit her. Yet again, she determined to call her mother when she got home tonight. Perhaps this time she really would. The thought distracted her momentarily from the embarrassment of moments before.
To keep the unwelcome thoughts at bay a little longer, she spent some time reading the menu painted on the side of the greasy-spoon caravan that seemed a permanent fixture on the site, and finally ordered coffee and a cheese sandwich. The builders working on the old house must be busy just now, and she was grateful for the lack of queue. Taking her snack to the farthest of the white plastic tables set up in front of the truck, she sat down with her back to the dig and put her head in her hands.
However, before she had chance to sink back into gloomy contemplation, a hand slid over her shoulder, making her jump. She turned to see Adam looking down at her, and scowled fiercely at him. It didn’t have the desired effect.
‘Are you all right?’ he asked quietly. His pale blue eyes seemed to hold genuine concern.
She rose to her feet, her voice rising with her as she shrugged off his hand. ‘All right? With that lot all gawping at me like I’d just revealed a murder or something?’ His eyes dropped from her face as she continued venting her wrath. ‘What do you think this is, a peep show? How could you do that to me, Adam? After all I said? You’ve ruined everything! Now I’ll have to leave again. I told you, I don’t want people thinking I’m weird, or evil, or scary. And from the looks on their faces, some of them clearly now think I’m the devil incarnate!’
He put up a hand to stem the flow of her diatribe and raised his eyes to hers. ‘It’s not that,’ he said. ‘I’m so sorry, Libby. I didn’t invite them, honestly. One of the girls – Ruth, I think it was – apparently overheard us, and she got all excited and called the others over. I tried to stop her, but she wouldn’t have it. I’m sorry. I should have let you do it when everyone had gone. I feel awful. What can I do to make it up to you?’
Still simmering, but now unable to lay all the blame at his door, Libby shrugged and turned away. ‘Nothing,’ she said. She dug her hands deep into her pockets and stared out over the wide view of the North Downs without seeing it. ‘Now they know what I can do, they either won’t want to know me, or they’ll want me to do more of it – which I won’t. Talking to the dead has a tendency to scare people, and I don’t blame them. It scared me at first, but I’ve learned to live with it – I have no choice. But they do. I’ll just finish this and leave. It was nice knowing you. Goodbye.’ She turned back to the table and sat down, hunching over her coffee cup.
But instead of leaving, Adam pulled out a chair and joined her. ‘Well, I’m not scared,’ he said, ‘and I’m not asking you to keep doing it. I do understand, honest. And I’m impressed. You certainly do have a talent. And you could have found anything.’ He paused and his eyes dropped to the table. ‘Which you did, of course,’ he added, in a low voice. A hand came up to scratch at his right ear.
She opened her mouth to ask about that, but he continued, looking up. ‘If you do leave, will you keep in touch?’
Her frown turned to a scowl. ‘Oh yes, I remember – you’re not frightened,’ she said, flinging the words over her shoulder at him. She turned away and crossed her legs defiantly, lifting her cup to her lips. Then she changed her mind and turned to confront him. ‘Look, that reading was not normal, was it? I don’t know what I said, but it scared most of them stupid. But not you, apparently. Why? What kind of weirdo are you?’
His lopsided smile took her off guard. She hoped he wouldn’t notice the little breath that came unbidden, and turned away again, annoyed with herself.
‘Yes, OK, I’m weird,’ he said. ‘No, it wasn’t a normal reading, by any standards. I can see how it could be quite scary. But it’s not a totally new thing to me. My grandmother used to do mediumship. I went to one of her “circles” once. She went into a trance and gave people messages from relatives who’d passed away. She wouldn’t seem like herself; you know, different voice, different expression, like really there was someone else behind her eyes. But she had to record those sessions, because she never knew what she’d said afterwards. I take it you don’t, either?’
Libby shook her head slowly. ‘Not this time. Sometimes it happens that way.’ She took a deep breath. ‘So give me the bad news. What did I say?’
He opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted by Olive, the Site Director, hurrying up behind them.
‘Libby, dear! Are you all right?’ She sounded excited and breathless. ‘How awful for poor Mary! I wonder who the man in her grave is? Could you talk to him, do you think? Find out how he got there and who he is? I mean, he should have a proper re-burial, like the others, but we’ll need his name for the headstone, won’t we? I hope he can talk to you. Doesn’t sound like he’s very compos mentis! But you have to try.’ She was almost pleading, tripping over her words in her hurry to get them out. She stood impatiently awaiting Libby’s answer, wringing her hands to stop them flapping, and leaning forward in excitement. She was almost hopping from foot to foot.
Libby stared at her squat little figure, squinting a little through the Spring sunlight that formed a sort of halo behind her. ‘What man in her grave? What are you talking about?’
‘Oh, my dear, you just told us about him! Don’t you remember?’ asked Olive impatiently, looking at her as though she was a fool. Her hands were still fidgeting, as if they were itching to get started on this apparent mystery.
‘No, I don’t. Mary spoke through me this time. And you believe whatever it was she said?’
‘Oh, yes, every word! You couldn’t have made that up!’
‘Every word of what? Made what up?’
Olive looked confused for a moment. She glanced at Adam, who flapped a hand apologetically. Then she seemed to register Libby’s confusion. One hand reached out to touch her on the shoulder. ‘You don’t know what she said!’ Libby shook her head mutely. ‘I’m so sorry. Adam, why on earth haven’t you told her?’
Adam raised his hands apologetically, but Olive was not about to let him actually reply. She hurried to give Libby the shocking news. ‘My dear, there’s a second body in that grave. And he was murdered!’