From the Author
"What a load of crap," she whispered as she squeezed the photo even tighter.
Contrary to the popular misconception perpetuated by the media, the spirits of the deceased weren't always eager to communicate with their counterparts on the side of the living. The pain of heartbreak or the sting of betrayal didn't always dissipate in the presence of that ubiquitous light that most believed they'd see once their final breath was taken; just as the shock of death, particularly when it was unexpected, didn't automatically lead to acceptance. There was often anger left in those souls, its poisonous residue unencumbered by the physical restraints of the body or the acceptable mores of society. Iris knew all too well that pain, denial, and rage existed in the supernatural world in equal measure to happiness, peace, and joy. The living came to people like her because they wanted answers. But the dead couldn't always provide them. Often, their search for closure was just as desperate. And like the grief-stricken relative who is promised an answer by the dollar-store charlatan all too willing to take their money, the dead often ended up disappointed.
Iris had spent the last three and a half hours searching for her own answers, but the dead weren't talking; not in the way she wanted them to anyway.
She'd attempted to reach out to her husband before, mostly through everyday conversation and weekly gravesite visits, but tonight marked the first time that she would use a more "official" means of contacting him. Iris had been endowed with the gift from an early age, but she rarely made a conscious effort to use it. She'd never performed a personal reading and had no plans to offer the service. Before the harrowing experience with her former next-door neighbor Fiona Graves, no one in the building even knew of her ability.
They knew all-too-well now.
In addition to their misguided advice about the personal object (in this case, it was a picture of a very young Sam and Iris taken on their second date), those skilled and experienced clairvoyants also stressed the importance of creating the right environment; free from distraction, physical activity, and emotional stress. Iris turned out all the lights in her apartment, save for the pink salt lamp that illuminated the living room, cleared her mind, and focused intently on the photo of her husband.
A warm current of memories washed over her as she studied its details.
Sam was eighteen-years-old, the same as Iris, and as strong and dashing as any young man in his physical prime could ever be. It was their second dinner date, and Iris was so nervous in his presence that she could barely look at anything beyond the folded napkin resting in her lap. There was no logical way that she should have known within five minutes of sitting down with Sam that he was THE ONE. But she knew it; just as surely as she knew that he felt the exact same way.
Sam would laugh as her version of his second-date revelation was told and retold over the years. Despite his thinly-veiled attempts to debunk her theory, Iris was convinced that she'd been able to read his mind that night. And as the years went on and their love grew, her ability only strengthened.
Having witnessed enough of her skill in action, Sam's jokes eventually began to die down, as did his skepticism. He even took on a few of his wife's traits. With time and practice, the two were often able to communicate in ways that didn't require words. Iris would stop short of calling it a telepathic connection (even though she possessed the rudiments of the skill from a young age), but it was something just as hard to logically quantify. That wordless, effortless dialogue lasted until the day of his death three years ago. Even though the stroke had rendered him speechless for a year prior, the conversations with their eyes were often as lively as any verbal exchange they'd ever had. Iris assumed that the communication would continue long after his death, given her uncommon gifts and their uncommon bond.
But it hadn't.
Sam didn't come to her in dreams. She couldn't hear his voice when she emptied her mind of all others. In fact, there hadn't been even the slightest inkling that his once powerful presence existed on any plane where consciousness could still manifest. Three years after his death, Iris began to feel as if her husband never existed.
That warm current of memories, it turned out, was all she had left of him.
With a stream of tears warming her cheeks, Iris called out. "Sammy, if you're here, if you're anywhere, please show me a sign. A noise, a breeze, a nudge on the shoulder, I'll take anything. Please just let me know you're here. I promise it's okay."
Iris reasoned that Sam may have needed a safe vessel through which he could express himself as whatever it was that he'd become, much more than he needed the loving, yet desperately grieving wife who pined for even the smallest hint of his presence. And she was ready to accept whatever her husband had become, even if he was no longer the selfless, loving, spirit that she'd always known him to be. "Where ever you are right now sweetheart, you can come to me."
Iris had done everything the experts suggested. She cleared her mind of distraction, created a welcoming environment, and held Sam's favorite photo close to her rapidly beating heart, clutching it until her fingers burned with pain. But he still didn't come.
Just yesterday, Iris had read an article about herself in an online publication that specialized in the paranormal. It was one of many such publications that recently ran unauthorized profiles on her. This particular article was titled: Things That Go Bump: The Secrets that Lurk Inside Denver's Most Haunted Apartment Building.
The story was a detailed, yet grossly inaccurate account of Iris's experience with former Corona Heights tenant Fiona Graves, and the malevolent spirit of the seven-year-old who was buried inside her apartment. The author went on to describe Iris as 'the gifted spirit medium who single-handedly saved the lost soul of a little girl and saved an untold number of living souls who were potential victims of her wrath.'
Of the countless things the article got wrong, one error stuck out above all others: Iris was not gifted, not in her own mind at least. Gifted mediums were able to connect with the spirits of people they'd never met; the spirits of people who lived on this earth years, sometimes decades, before they did. If they could do that, they could surely connect with the people closest to them; even if that connection was little more than a fleeting glimpse.
"What is a gift if you can't use it when it's needed the most?" Iris asked aloud as she loosened her white-knuckle grip on the photo. Even though the question was rhetorical, she didn't hesitate to answer. "Non-existent, of course."
She felt more tears coming as she put the photo back on the shelf, but moments like this made her wonder if there was truly anything left to grieve.
Swallowing what was left of her sadness, Iris turned off the salt lamp, turned on the lights, and made her way into the kitchen for a cup of sleepy-time tea that she hoped would accomplish what the little blue box adorned with sheep promised it would.