“Thank you for coming, Mister Franklin.”
“It’s nothing.” The printing mogul and statesman leaned on his walking stick as he looked around the room. Like so many Parisian homes, it was as ostentatious as taste and budget allowed. A black cat looked up at him from the fainting couch as the gentleman who’d summoned him settled in an armchair near the window. It was nearly dusk, and soon the sun would disappear behind the horizon entirely.
“I am simply hoping to sleep well tonight.” The gentleman wrung his hands as he watched Franklin move around the sitting room. “The noises and broken glassware in the middle of the night are not helping my work ethic and mental well-being.”
Franklin nodded, narrowing his eyes. He set his satchel down on the side table and opened the clasp, extending his senses. “The request was somewhat unorthodox. Normally, members of the church undertake tasks such as this.” There was definitely dissonance in the house, a cold feeling that lingered at the edges of his perception. He tipped his spectacles down and looked around the room without their interference.
“I had heard you were an inventor and a man of letters, but not…”
“A wizard?” Franklin had to smile. “That’s the proper term. But I will thank you not to spread the fact around. His Majesty has enough headaches from our precocious colonies without witchcraft and wizardry becoming involved.” He withdrew a small jar of salt from his satchel, along with a small clay pot. “Now, Monsieur LeBeouf, I must ask you to remain still.”
LeBeouf nodded, and Franklin walked over to the man’s easychair. He handed his host the pot, unstoppered the jar and began sprinkling salt in a wide circle around the chair.
“Should I be doing anything with this?”
“Just hold on to it, for now.” Franklin was careful to make sure the circle was even in its construction. He did not want it to break prematurely. Once it was complete, he replaced the stopper in the jar and knelt by the chair. He traded the jar for the pot, removed the pot’s lid and spread a bit of its cool, creamy contents under his eyes, then under LeBeouf’s.
“What is this?”
“An ungent based on a composition I discovered thanks to travelers from Mexico and Jamaica. Now, please remain quiet.” Still kneeling, he touched the inner edge of the circle with his fingers, having laid the jar aside. He uttered a soft incantation, and immediately the timbre of the room changed. What had been pre-dusk light, coloring the cream walls and soft carpets with pink hues, darkened to deep, angry reds. The cat hissed and bolted from its spot to leave the room. LaBeouf shuddered, nearly dropping the jar of salt, as Franklin rose to look to the door the cat had not run through.
“You can come out. I mean you no harm.”
Slowly, a flutter of white cloth emerged from around the corner. The figure took silent, shuffling steps, one at at time. Her nightgown seemed to be in tatters, her flesh more pale than the surface of a pearl. She had been beautiful before her eyes had sunken and her lips turned purple. Dark bruises could be seen all over her slender neck. She glared at LaBeouf for a long moment when he came into her vision.
“Why do you linger, spirit?”
She looked at Franklin, and when the men heard her voice, it wasn’t from her mouth. It filled the room, an insistent and omnipresent whisper.
“Ask my husband.”
Franklin glanced at LaBeouf, who has apparently shrunk into his armchair. The ghost bared her teeth at him, but Franklin stepped between them.
“Tell me what happened, child.”
The ghost seemed to compose herself.
“I could not give him children. The doctors said I’d never bear fruit. He was so angry. He waited until we were home and I was exhausted, ready for bed. Then he…”
The voice felt silent. Her hands moved to her neck. Her eyes widened in fear. Franklin nodded slowly.
“I understand. And I will make this right. You will be at peace.”
The ghost’s hands fell to her side, and then she picked up the skirts of her ruined nightgown and curtsied to Fraklin. He bowed, then broke the circle. Immediately, she was gone from their sight and the color of the fading day returned to normal. LaBeouf shot to his feet.
“She lies! It’s slander!”
“She is not capable of lying, Monsieur. Spirits of the departed only lie to themselves from time to time. Spirits of other worlds, now, there you have some skilled liars.”
He began cleaning up the circle with a small brush and pan from his satchel. LaBeouf struggled to find words.
“What… what happens now?”
“Now? Now, you go to the magistrate and confess to your crime. You show him where you disposed of your poor wife’s body and you throw yourself on the mercy of the court.”
“That’s preposterous! I’ll be ruined!”
“The alternative is that you live with this secret… and your wife’s ghost… forever.”
FOREVER wafted through the room, a whisper from the spirit that was breathy sigh and deadly premonition. LaBeouf turned as pale as his wife had appeared. Without another word, he grabbed his hat and headed out the door.
Franklin sighed, shaking his head. It was times like this he missed America. He turned to find the black cat looking at him.
“I’m sorry, dear. Would you like a new home? Fresh cream every day and plenty of bookshelves on which to sit?”
“Meow,” the cat replied.