| Winchester Manor, June 14
In the final days of spring the midday sun shone in through the cracks in the silken ivory curtains. The amber stream served as a stage for the dancing petals of dust that floated aimlessly around Sophia’s still body. The elderly woman lay alone. Her emaciated body appeared so frail, so breakable as it drowned in the sea of white down comforter in the center of the four-post bed. Her breathing was shallow; every inhalation accompanied by a light wheeze and intermittent gurgling coughs. To any healthy individual these moments would be painful, but from the dry, cracked lips of Mrs. Sophia Ellis, at 82 years of age, not a single complaint could be heard. She felt no pain as she waited out her final moments of life.
Martin Ashby sat patiently, watching Sophia from his spot on the hardwood floor against the wall. Although they had never officially met, he had witnessed Sophia performing her daily routines for the past fourteen, peaceful years. When she first took up residence at Winchester Manor she had been a bit younger, and a bit more vital; at least as young and vital as any 68-year-old widow could be. While Sophia was at peace with her imminent passing, Martin dreaded the event for the loneliness that it would bring him, until a new tenant would arrive to remove the blanket of silence that nature would lay upon the home in the absence of human presence.
The historic white manor was located deep in the country of Carolina, centered atop a rolling field amongst the tall grasses and wildflowers, and enclosed protectively by a thick forest of trees of every shape and size. There were no close neighbors, none of the bustling noises of the city, not even the occasional car or truck to pass by. The only road to access the house was a half mile of dirt and gravel weaving it’s way off the main country highway, and just wide enough for a single vehicle to pass safely through the thick wood without fear of striking the trunk of an ancient pine or being scratched from above by the branches of an elm.
Martin did not know much of Sophia’s story, since she had lived alone the entire time she had rented the manor, rarely making outgoing phone calls. What he had learned was gathered from listening in on her occasional conversations with the landlord, Phillip. Sophia also frequently prayed to the Lord for her soul, as well as the soul of her deceased husband, Clyde. At least twice daily she would request that, when her time comes, the good Lord would see fit to let her meet with him once again within heaven’s pearly gates. This worried Martin, as his journey into the afterlife had not led him to heaven’s door, and instead he had found himself trapped to the large white Victorian and the four acres of countryside on which it prominently sat. And yet, despite his own eternal misfortune, he couldn’t help wishing that this sweet old woman’s prayers would be answered, and she would find herself reunited with her lost beloved.
A high-pitched gasp broke through the silence as the woman inhaled sharply. Seconds later a slow moan escaped her lips. Her lids fluttered open and her misty gray eyes lost focus. Her body grew still. From across the room, Martin stared intently at her, studying her, searching for any indication of life. After a few moments, he again dropped his head to look pensively at a dark spot on the natural hardwood floor.
How long would it be until her body was discovered? She never had any real visitors. Only twice a month she would call upon the landlord, 47-year old Phillip Winchester, who lived in a quaint cottage on the edge of the property, to bring her fresh groceries. In these trips he would check out the home, tend to the routine maintenance, and make any necessary repairs. The visit would close with pleasant conversation over a cup of hot tea in the winter, or a tall glass of fresh homemade lemonade in the warmer seasons. When had Phillip last stopped by? Had it been only a few days?
“Clyde?” The murmur came from the bed. Martin looked up, and was surprised to find the Sophia’s head had turned, and her pale gray eyes seemed to be staring right at him. Sophia continued, “Clyde, is that you?”
It seemed impossible to Martin that the woman could truly see him. As it was, for the entire fourteen years that Sophia had lived in the home, Martin had never knowingly given any indication to her of his presence. It had been more than a century and a half that he had been imprisoned, his soul inexplicably damned to wander Winchester Manor. And yet of all of the tenants who temporarily resided there, delicate old Sophia had been the only one Martin did not use his ethereal abilities to scare away. The other tenants, however, were a different story, and had been treated to slamming cabinets and doors, overturned furniture, and the disembodied voice of a young man. If this tactic failed, on occasion Martin was reduced to appearing for a matter of seconds as someone turned their heads, and then disappearing before their eyes had completely found focus, which, when added to the other unsettling occurrences would be enough to send the tenant looking for a new residence. And only for one frustratingly stubborn case did Martin resort to standing behind the unbearable occupant as they glanced at their reflection in the mirror. Martin felt that if he had to live for an eternity in this home, he might as well have some say as to whom else resided with him.
It had been the family renting the home immediately prior to Sophia’s arrival that were unlucky enough to experience the mirror incident. They were an obnoxious family from the city– a mother, a father, their embittered teenage son, and insipid teenage daughter. At any hour, be it day or night, the siblings would engage in a war, using what they loosely called music as their weapons of choice. When not in battle, the daughter, with her chemically bleached hair raised several inches off of her vacant head, held firmly in place with an excessive amount of aerosol spray, would ramble tirelessly for hours on the family’s phone about how unfair her life was. Her brother, who she utterly loathed for his lack of personal hygiene and obvious fondness for ripped denim and hair-metal bands, would spend hours on end locked in his room listening to the screaming heavy metal on the radio as he scribbled in his notebooks about how unfair his life was. Martin found it amusing that, had they only sat down and spoken civilly, the two siblings would have found they had much more in common than they ever would want to believe.
“Clyde? Speak to me, dear. I can feel you. I can feel you here with me, right now. Please speak to me. I cannot wait to see you again, my love.” As the old woman spoke, a strange blue glow began to emanate from her body. Martin, unsure of what he was seeing, remained seated on the floor. The woman’s weak voice grew panicked. “Clyde, why won’t you speak to me? Are you angry with me, dear? Have I done something? What could it be, what could I have done? I have loved only you, even after all of these years! I pray for you, for us to be together, every day. Every day I pray, and now you are here. Speak to me!”
Sophia’s heart was pained as she slowly turned from Martin and stared upward once more. It was apparent that she was now troubled in a way Martin had never seen her before. The woman’s breathing again grew shallow, and Martin knew she had extended the last of her strength pleading for her love. He realized that somehow, in these final moments of Sophia’s life, she had become able to see Martin, or at least became aware of his presence, a presence that she now inexplicably confused for that of her deceased husband. She just wanted his acknowledgement. She just wanted him comfort her. Finally, against his better judgment, Martin stood and slowly approached the bed. Gathering his energy and focusing it outward, he reached up and took her hand in his. Sophia’s eyes gently closed as a peaceful smile graced her thin lips. Within seconds, her chest fell, and the blue glow dissipated.
“Goodbye, Sophia,” Martin whispered.