strange languages, or knew things he could not know, or showed strength or powers beyond human norms while in the throes of a psychotic fit, there must be something more to it than mere psychosis. He had said, his deep eyes utterly serious and sober, that an unclean spirit could afflict a mentally ill victim as easily as a sane one.
“But science has proved that spooks don’t exist!” Hal had objected. “Mental illness is not more supernatural than—than a broken clock ringing thirteen! It is just a matter of a bent gearwheel in the brain, or a loose mainspring.”
When Manfred asked him to name the year when a scientist had proven this, to produce the research, the case studied, the experimental evidence, Hal had no answer at all.
So here Hal stood, in the darkness, gripping his cane in two cold hands, dwelling on dark thoughts, hearing the creaks and mutterings from the dark house, seeing nothing but the high, thin windows hovering so far above him in the dark and lofty hall.
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” he murmured.
A more logical but more horrible explanation occurred to him, sending a chill into the core of his soul. He dismissed it before it even took the form of words in his mind, unwilling to even consider a thought so disloyal.
A wan and uncertain light gleamed the air ten feet above him, thirty paces or more away. It flickered and fluttered like a live thing. He saw the gleam in what seemed to be an arched tunnel hanging in midair. Closer the light came, and now he saw it was held by a slender shape in white. The shape had a round face, and some flowing paleness beneath, but no legs were visible. From the grace of its motions, it was clearly female.
Closer she came.
Wrongerwood by Candlelight
Then he heard the clack and clatter of heeled shoes on floorboards behind him and realized what he was seeing. It was Laurel in a white nightgown carrying a candlestick. She was in a corridor one floor up, approaching him at a right angle. He was seeing her image in a full-length standing mirror on the wide landing of the double stairway. His eye had mistaken the arched frame of the mirror for the mouth of a tunnel. It was not a legless ghost, but Laurel wearing dark silk stockings that were invisible in the black background.
As her candlelight came closer, he saw more and more of the vast main hall around him. It was filled with boxes, crates, and the oblong shapes of chairs and divans crouched under white sheets. To one side was a porcelain bathtub with glass balls in its claws. To the other, a grand piano. A vast chandelier with twenty curving metal arms was hanging on its chains only four feet off the ground, all its sockets empty of bulbs.
Laurel came into view from his left and walked down from the balcony to the landing, moving with a doe-like grace. The unruly stormcloud of her hair was tied back with red ribbon, but certain wanton strands had escaped and now clung to her silk-clad body. The candlelight reflected in the mirror behind her turned the sheer fabric of her gown into a half-invisible cloud of white that caressed her half-visible curves as she moved.
The vision robbed Hal of any possible breath.
She paused on the landing long enough for her lashes to brush her cheeks. Then, she continued gliding down the staircase until she was two steps above the bottom, her eyes now level with his. Her face was serene, her gaze unblinking and hypnotic.
Her pale nightgown fell in silken loose folds to her knees but left her neck and arms bare. Lace decorated the top of its voluptuous décolletage, with a little red bow nestled deeply within her cleavage that rose and fell with her uneven breath.
Hal wet his lips, afraid that if he spoke, he would wake and she would vanish. Usually, one is not allowed merely to stare at a woman for more than a moment without speaking or looking away, even if she is an intimate friend.
He could not have looked away to save his soul.
She voiced no objection and