Lily Dale, New York
Tuesday, September 4
With a trembling hand, eyes still blinking in the sudden glare from the overhead bulb, Calla Delaney turns on the tap at the pedestal sink in the upstairs bathroom. A deafening groan of Victorian-era plumbing sends a rush of water that seems to roar through the old cottage.
Oops-too loud. Calla hurriedly turns it off, not wanting to wake her grandmother. Standing absolutely still, breath caught in her throat, she listens for stirring down the hall.
Right. Odelia Lauder really does-as she likes to say --- sleep like the dead.
Talks to them, too, Calla thinks with a glimmer of irony despite the lingering dread still wrapped around her like a clammy towel.
Her grandmother is a medium --- and she's not the only one.
Here in Lily Dale, Victorian cottages with hand-painted signs announcing psychic mediums in residence are as common as glittering neon casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.
Calla had no idea what she was walking into when she first flew to western New York State from Tampa a few weeks ago to visit the grandmother she
hadn't seen in over a decade.
Who ever heard of a town dedicating itself to spiritualism for well over a century?
Okay, plenty of people have heard of it. That's obvious from the crowds of grieving visitors who wander up and down the streets every day, hoping to connect with their dearly departed.
But Calla was clueless about Lily Dale's genuine ghost-town status at first. And when she found out, she decided Odelia, and Lily Dale, and everyone in it was...well, some kind of freak.
Seriously --- who in their right mind would actually choose to live in a place like this?
Calla's mom didn't. The moment she was eighteen, Stephanie Lauder Delaney left Lily Dale and never looked back. Nor did she ever tell Calla about her hometown's eerie little secret.
No, I had to find that out on my own-the hard way.
A chill breeze off nearby Cassadaga Lake isn't all that crept over Calla as the overcast days of August wound to a close last week.
Yeah, things have changed pretty drastically since she got here. She now finds herself not only believing in Odelia and the others --- and in ghosts --- but regularly seeing and hearing them herself.
In other words, Calla seems to be-like her grandmother --- spiritually gifted.
It sure has taken her long enough to suspect that Aiyana, the exotic-looking woman with the dark hair; Kaitlyn, the troubled, pretty teenaged girl; and the other strangers who pop in and out of her world these days might actually be...um... dead.
Psychic awareness is supposedly a hereditary gift-like the dreamy absentmindedness she inherited from Dad, or the slim-hipped, long-waisted build and delicate features she inherited from Mom.
I got this from her, too...
Slowly, she looks down and unclenches her left fist.
Lying in her palm, bathed in the yellow glow from the antique fixture above the sink, is the emerald bracelet Mom gave Calla when her boyfriend Kevin dumped her back in April.
"It's yours to keep," Mom said, hugging her. "I know it's just jewelry. It won't heal a broken heart, but it might make you feel better."
Until the clasp suddenly broke as Calla leaned over her mother's open grave in July. The bracelet fell from her wrist and was swallowed into the gaping hole where Stephanie's coffin had just been lowered.
Helpless, Calla knew it was lost to her forever --- just as Mom was.
To her utter shock, she was dead wrong.
About the bracelet, anyway.
A few minutes ago-at precisely 3:17 a.m. --- in her mother's old bedroom across the hall, she experienced the impossible.
Mom's old jewelry box opened all by itself, playing the hauntingly familiar melody Calla has been trying to place from the moment she arrived here.
As it woke her from a deep sleep, she finally recalled where she'd heard it before.
And now that I remember-and now that this has happened --- I'm really scared.
Calla looks down at the bracelet in her hand.
When she had jumped out of bed, there it was, lying in the open jewelry box.
The same jewelry box she had rummaged through many times since she arrived, as part of her mission to get to know the girl who had grown up here in Lily Dale and gone on to become Calla's mother.
The bracelet hadn't been in the jewelry box until now.
And I never really knew you at all, she silently tells her mother...wherever she is.
Suddenly the woman who raised her for seventeen years seems like a stranger.
With a shudder, Calla abruptly reaches for the tap and turns it.
Again, the groan of old pipes; again, the deafening splashing sound.
This time, though, she's hearing only the voices in her head. Mom's and Odelia's, repeating a long-ago argument that keeps echoing through Calla's mind when she's asleep. She was having the disturbing dream yet again just minutes ago, before the jewelry box opened itself and interrupted those eerie, chilling words that drove her mother and grandmother apart forever.
"...because I promised I'd never tell..." That was Mom, distraught, tearful.
"...for your own good..." That was Odelia.
"...how you can live with yourself..." Odelia again.
And then: "The only way we'll learn the truth is to dredge the lake."
Calla doesn't know which of them said that. The voice was so shrill and desperate she couldn't tell.
But they had to be talking about the lake here --- Cassadaga Lake, she thinks as she fits the rubber plug into the drain and watches the water fill the basin.
Just last week, Odelia sternly --- and inexplicably --- warned her never to venture into its cold waters.
Calla turns off the tap and drops the bracelet into the filled basin. A cloud of mud swirls around it, rapidly turning the water murky then opaque, obscuring the bracelet as it sinks to the bottom...
Just like whatever dark secret lies at the bottom of Cassadaga Lake, waiting to be dredged up...
So that the truth can be told at last.
Calla wonders, as an icy ripple of dread flows through her veins, if she really wants to know.
Staring at her reflection in the mirror, she gradually becomes aware that something is changing in the room. There's a sudden heaviness in the chilly night air.
On the tile wall behind her, the light casts tall shadows on the tile wall.
Human shadows. Shadows.
But...how can that be?
Eyes wide, Calla stares into the mirror at the pair of distinct human forms on the wall behind her. One is unmistakably hers, frozen in fear. The other --- almost the same height and size --- is just beside it, as it would be if someone were standing right next to her.
But no one is there.
No one she can see, anyway.
Oh my God. Oh my God.
Is it a trick of the light? Or...
Is something here? Someone here? Some presence?
Calla raises her left arm slowly, and watches as one of the reflected shadows-her own-simultaneously does the same on the wall behind her.
The other shadow simply hovers there, motionless.
But it is there. Calla isn't alone.
She turns her head abruptly to the left, to the right, spins around completely.
The second shadow remains...but the small bathroom is otherwise empty.
Heart racing, she reaches for the dangling light chain above the sink and pulls it. The room is instantly plunged into darkness.
She counts to ten, then yanks the chain again.
Blinking in the sudden blast of light, she can see that the second shadow is now gone...and with it, the sense of a presence in the room.
She takes a deep breath to steady her nerves. It's only then that she notices the faint fragrance of Lilies of the Valley-Mom's favorite flower --- hovering in the air.
"Mom," she whispers, shaken, "was that you?"
But of course, there's no reply. The presence is gone and she's alone again...or so it seems.