I followed Delilah up from the basement and emerged into the hallway. The throbbing base of the club music was like a jolt back into reality. It was a relief to leave behind the eerie dimness of the building’s nether regions with its inky pools of darkness and long shadows. Down there, everything seemed a bit sinister.
Back upstairs, everything I had just experienced seemed like a harmless dream. Delilah led me to another door which opened onto a stairwell. We walked up two flights of stairs before opening a door and emerging onto a carpeted corridor. There were closed doors lining the hall which I soon discovered led to apartments, the largest of which belonged to Delilah.
She led me into the kitchen. I took a seat a the table and looked around appreciatively at the homey decor as she made us a couple of sandwiches. Delilah served mine with glass of water and sat across from me with her sandwich.
“You never answered my question Patricia.”
“What is the significance of the ectoplasm you just saw?”
The directness of her stare was a little disconcerting. It suddenly felt like I was back in high school and my math teacher had just called me up to the board to work some complex problem. I had no idea what Delilah was talking about. Her expression was unreadable. No hints there. I bit into the sandwich and chewed slowly in order to buy myself some time. That wasn’t helpful. I finally just shrugged my shoulders.
“I don’t know Delilah, I’ve only ever seen ectoplasm in the Ghostbusters movies. But that doesn’t apply here.”
“Because Plum is alive, so she can’t be a ghost.”
“How do you know she’s alive?”
“You’re joking right? I know because I’ve talked to her, looked at her and touched her.”
“You spoke with her tonight in Flame’s body, which you can see and touch. But Flame isn’t Plum.”
“No, but she was channeling Plum.”
“Mediums don’t channel the living.”
I sat staring at Delilah for a full minute, unable grasp her words. She looked back at me patiently, waiting for her meaning to sink in. My first reaction was to smile and start laughing. She had to be joking. When her expression didn’t change, I shook my head in disbelief. If what Delilah said was true, then not only was nothing and no one what they seemed to be, my senses had even betrayed me.
“But I would have sensed something like that… wouldn’t I?”
“How do you know that you didn’t sense something without understanding what it was?”
“I guess I don’t know. To tell the truth, I’m not sure about anything anymore. I feel like I’ve been wearing blinders my whole life.”
Delilah gave me a consoling pat on the arm and rose, “I can see that you’re tired. You’ve been through a lot tonight. Finish eating while I get the bed in the guest bedroom ready. We’ll talk more in the morning.”
I nodded gratefully, not trusting myself to speak. Exhausted tears were damming up behind my eyes and although she could sense my despair, I didn’t want her to see me cry. Delilah left the room and suddenly, I didn’t want to cry. All my life, people had taken advantage of me and I would just retreat into some shadowy corner and cry. What good had being a victim done me? Even if Plum was a ghost, there must be some way to defeat her. I was turning things over in my mind when the front door banged open. The bartender suddenly appeared in the kitchen doorway, looking around wildly. I jumped to my feet and asked what was wrong.
“It’s that woman…we were going to take her to the airport and she fainted. Now, she’s unresponsive. Where’s Delilah?”
“She’s in the guest bedroom.”
He turned and went where I directed. Before long, the two of them were rushing out of the apartment. After a moment’s hesitation, I followed them back down to the basement. They had Flame laid out in one of the small pleasure rooms. She looked pale against the black sheets. Delilah pushed past the dancers standing around helplessly and checked for a pulse. She swatted Flame’s cheeks. A few seconds later, Flame stirred and opened her eye but her pulse remained weak. Delilah felt that it was due to a combination of dehydration and exhaustion. They put their heads together in the hallway and decided to let her rest overnight.
I went up and got three bottles of water from behind the bar. When I returned, everyone had left and the door to her room was locked. I slid back the bolt lock and let myself in. Flame lay facing the wall. She didn’t stir. I quietly set the water bottles down on the nightstand where Flame could easily reach them and turned to leave. Flame began coughing. I got one of the water bottles and moved to help her sit up. She turned towards me without opening her eyes and whispered.
“Patricia is that you?”
“Yes, Flame it’s me.”
“I knew you’d come.”
A sudden chill raced along my spine at the sound of Plum’s voice. I tried to move back but Flame grabbed my wrist and I was stunned motionless by a jolt of energy. A current seemed to flow up my arm from Flame’s finger tips. I felt the hair on my arm standing at attention. Shock temporarily immobilized me as the energy passed my shoulder and invaded my neck. My head jerked involuntarily and my scalp tingled.
I remember a growing fullness inside my head and Plum’s voice was suddenly in my mind. The full force of her essence was filling me up. I was helpless. Her thoughts became my thoughts and mine became hers. Plum’s rage was so overwhelming that she was able to start sifting through my memories before I could block her out.
What happened next is a blur of half-formed memories. I must have shouted at some point because someone came in and separated me from Flame. Plum had rooted herself so deeply inside of me that I no longer had control over my own body. I realized with dawning horror that Plum intended to use me to go after Delilah and I wouldn’t even be able to warn her.