(Laney’s design for the spirit board featured Morse Code…you know to weed out the undesirable tricksy spirits…)
Hunched over and walking backward around the picnic table, l concentrated on leaving an unbroken speckled line in my wake. A bemused Wood, who I caught from the corner of my eye, filching the last bite of baked beans off my plate, looked on.
Wood: “You know, pouring salt on the grass is going to kill it, right?”
Me (concentrating on maintaining an even pour): “Between the dogs, sprinklers, and rain showers, the salt will wash away before any permanent damage is done, don’t worry.”
Wood: “But why are you salting the earth?”
Me (delivering the last words with my very best Count Dracula voice – which is still pretty bad): “It’s a two-for-one kind of deal. It keeps you safe from all the creepy-crawlies, and it’ll keep you safe from all the Creepy-Crawlies…”
Wood: “Safety first, that’s what you’re going with.”
Hiding my smile, I kept my eyes trained on the grains of Himalayan pink, Hawaiian black, and fresh hand-harvested sea salt sprinkling from the slit in the bag.
After a spot of investigation on the internet and a lengthy conversation with Joseph, I think we sussed out how The Woman In White was able to cross the spilled salt and attack me. The contents of the bag I’d grabbed from the supply closet that night in Nevermore weren’t precisely what I thought. Instead of pure rock salt Sam ordinarily ordered, this year, he bought a blend – equal parts gravel, urea crystals, and rock salt (of highly dubious quality). So between this less than stellar mixture and strength born of insanity – The Woman In White muscled her way across.
We’re pretty sure.
Our lack of certainty on this particular point prompted me to use a salt blend Nevermore’s Residents helped me perfect but rarely use.
The imperfect circle I’m drawing might be overkill, as Orin’s unknown Errant isn’t unknown to me. However, not knowing why Abraham Flared kept my hands steady and steps even while I finished my final revolution around the picnic table where Wood sat.
Wood (sounding perplexed): “So what parlor game requires we sit within a ring of salt for safety?”
Me (walking back to the table and cramming the empty bag into my pack): “A spirit board.”
Wood (stupefied): “Ouija? Really? I can’t think of a single person I’m interested in contacting on the otherside.”
Me: “I know, but we’re not going to communicate with anyone there…”
With a flourish I placed the archival box, Aarti from the Historical Society lent me, in the middle of the table.
Wood (raising an eyebrow): “Okay…”
Me: “We’re going to try contacting the Grey Man.”
Opening the box, doing my best Vanna White impression, I flipped over formal photos, snapshots, snippets, and facsimiles. All the while explaining who Edmund Wynter was, his racket, the mystery surrounding his murder, and his notoriously active afterlife.
Me: “So what do you think? Want to give it a try?”
Wood (rolling his eyes): “I’m reconsidering my position on tiddlywinks.”
Wood loves all things weird and wacky but stands firmly in Houdini’s camp in regards to spiritualism.
His wife, Laney, on the other hand, loves this kind of thing. In fact, she stitched me the spirit board I’d unfurled on the table years ago after I gave her first full tour of Nevermore. She wasn’t clear on exactly how it would help me with my duties as Caretaker, but she figured it was better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
(I didn’t have the heart to tell her spirit boards don’t actually attract their intended demographic.)
Me (trying for a reasonable tone while swallowing a laugh): “It might be our only chance to solve his murder…”
Wood: “Last chance?”
Me: “Sightings of him have dropped dramatically over the past twenty-five years.”
Wood (dryly): “Right. I’m sure the drop in sightings has nothing to do with the fact Wynter was murdered in nineteen-thirty-eight.”
Me: “We could ask him where he stashed his blackmail materials. If his wife or murderer didn’t already turn them to ash.”
Wood (momentarily forgetting he thought spirit boards were pure hokum): “You want to find Pandora’s Box? Think of all the trouble his blackmail ledger could cause, Wynter had access to every government record in Rye.”
Me (shrugging): “I wouldn’t read it, I hand it over to the police, they’d read it.”
Wood: “And Pandora only meant to sneak a peek inside that damned box. What if your great grandparents had something hushed up by Wynter? Wouldn’t you want to protect their memory? Or how about my Gran?”
A ripple of electricity arcing across my toes jolted me out of the hypothetical ethical pickle Wood’s question placed me in. Glancing around, I spotted a scowling Abraham standing in the entrance of the gazebo staring at me. Turning back to my Moon Bathing companion, I found the solution to two out of three of my burning dilemmas in the buzzing of his phone.
Me (snapping my fingers in inspiration): “Tell Laney you’ll call her back on video chat. She can help us break in the spirit board – you’ll get a boatload of husband points.”
Wood, while muttering something about wishing Laney and I weren’t so close, answered his phone.
Wood: “Hey Twinkie, can you call me back on Facetime, please? Thanks…. Hey, where are you going?”
Me (getting up from the table): “The gazebo, my guy, just arrived.”
Wood (face lit by the glow of his phone): “Shout if you need me?”
Me (over my shoulder): “Of course! This shouldn’t take long.”
Stepping carefully over the ring of salt, I left Wood to catch Laney up with tonight’s entertainment. Walking past a glowering Abraham into the dim interior of the gazebo, he waited until I turned around and faced him before speaking.
Abraham: “I don’t care to be summoned, Caretaker.”