I am the Light

Inspiration for I am the Light
Inspiration for I am the Light

I can hear Madame welcoming the guests downstairs. The thuds of their shoes on the oak floorboards permeate the old house as they troop into the parlour.
The lace at the neck of my frock is too tight and I tug at it, but it only digs in more. It isn’t even as if any of our guests will appreciate me being dressed up, but Madame insists, and what Madame wants, Madame gets.
While I wait for the bell I stand by the window, but I don’t look outside. I can’t see anything anyway, only darkness. But there is a tiny spider scuffling around in the dust in the corner of the frame, diligently spinning a miniature web. It doesn’t know the window is closed, so it will probably starve. Waiting for prey that never comes.
The bell rings, a tinkling in the corner of the room. My cue.
I walk down the stairs, sliding my hand along the wooden banister rail which is almost as tall as me, and stop outside the double doors. There is a strip of light creeping under the doors, and I wait for it to diminish to a dull glow. Madame’s voice resonates through the doors.
“Oh spirits! Come join us! Oh spirits! Are you there?”
I sigh and push open the doors. All the visitors’ heads whip round towards me. A woman in a chiffon top screams, her gloved hands gripping the table, and a man with a tightly cropped moustache crosses himself and mutters under his breath.
They all continue to stare at the doorway as I make my way into the room, until I reach the closest – a youngish woman in a wide brimmed pink hat whose pale skin smells of lemon juice – and puff into her ear. She jumps several inches into the air with a whimpering shriek and now all eyes are on her. I move on, stroking the back of a neck here, tapping on an arm there, until the room is a flustering tumult. But beneath the horrified squeals and gruff sputtering the tones of delight are obvious. Another roomful of happy customers, just as Madame likes it.
It’s exactly why she killed me.
Alive I was nothing but a drain on her finances, and always underfoot. Like this I am an asset, helping mass her fortune and spread her fame.
Ghosts are beginning to gather near the ceiling like mist. Some are bereft, eyes wide with shock, unable to believe they wasted their one chance at life and there is no second try. Others just like the sense of occasion.
I finish my circuit and pause behind Madame, resting my hands on her shoulders. She raises her arms up, her silk shawl sliding into the inner angles of her elbows.
“The spirits are assembled!” She cries in a guttural voice that makes everyone jump. “Who would like to go first?”
A middle aged man tentatively raises his hand, which is clutching a shiny black pipe. He has thick glasses and broken veins speckling his cheeks.
But the man is out of luck. His recently deceased wife is not here – and I think of her enviously. Peaceful spirits dissolve away into nothing. It is trauma or the will of the living that tethers some of us here. Or both. Madame took no chances with me.
I slide my hands down her shoulders, leaning forward to stroke her arms, then forearms. She tries to shake me off and shoots me a glare. Unlike the laypeople, she can see and hear me.
“The spirits are mischievous,” she snaps, shooting a smile around the table to deflect the strange looks her twitching has gleaned from the guests.
“Stop fooling around,” she hisses as I slide my hands over her wrists.
I ignore her, concentrating. I don’t know if this is going to work, but after so long contemplating and working up the courage, I am resolved to try. Enough lingering.
My palms are over the backs of her hands now, then deeper, inside. She lets out a little squeak.
“What are you doing?”
It’s working! My hands are inside hers. Now for the difficult bit. I hold my breath and lift them minutely. Experimentally. Madame’s hands lift with mine, as if they are gloves I’m wearing.
She stares at her own hands in horror while I watch them with glee.
“Stop it!” she cries, no longer caring about what her clients might think. They glance at each other, wondering if this is part of the show.
“No,” I murmur. Feeling more confident now I move her hands to grab hold of the corners of her shawl. It’s the colour of ripe bruises, with glittering sequins sewn all along the hem. I shiver as I feel the softness of the fabric and the sharpness of the sequins through her skin.
“What are you doing?” she screeches, trying to struggle out of her seat. But I hold her firmly.
“I want to make my own ghost,” I whisper close in her ear. “Like mother like daughter.”
I wrap the corners of the shawl twice around my knuckles, get a good grip, then – using her hands – loop the fabric around her neck and begin to pull.
“Help me!” Madame chokes out, flailing towards the other people around the table. But they are frozen in their seats, watching as the material cuts into the loose, wrinkled skin around her throat and her eyes begin to bulge. She gargles trapped saliva and a little dribble escapes the corner of her mouth. Her face begins to turn blue. Tighter and tighter I pull.
Time stops for a moment, as her heart takes its last beat.
Then Madame’s dead body slumps forward over the table, tongue lolling out, eyes vacant. I slide my hands out of hers and take a step backwards, feeling my heart thudding in my chest, my mouth dry.
“Good God, she’s dead!” the pipe man cries, leaping out of his chair.
“I thought you wanted to see dead people,” I say to him, though I know he can’t hear me.
Now the guests begin to move, fumbling to grab up their bags and stumbling away. Within minutes they have all fled, slamming the door behind them. I am alone in the parlour with Madame’s corpse.
I stand in the silence, the stillness. Wondering what will happen next. Will I still be trapped in this house forever?
Then I hear a distant rumbling, like an approaching storm. A whistling wind rattles the window and the walls of the old house creak.
There is a slow pounding on the double doors. I can see them trembling on their hinges. The pounding gets faster, more urgent, more angry. Then the doors fly open and there she is.
A wispy copy of the body at my feet, her face twisted in fury.
“What did you do that for, you stupid little-“ The spirit of Madame lunges at me, and I back off. She’s like a furious wild animal, snarling. “You’re going to pay for this you wretched-“
I circle around the table, keeping it between us. “No, mother. My debt is paid.”
She hesitates for a moment, confused by the confidence in my voice.
I can feel it happening now. I couldn’t be sure it would work, but the sensations are coming. I am turning into sugar water. Dissolving.
“What’s happening? Where are you going? I forbid you to leave!”
But I am already lifting. My revenge complete, my trauma balanced. No one living to bind me.
Below I can vaguely make out the angry caterwauling of some twisted creature, but above me is only light and I am rising, rising, and I am the light.

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