"Ladies and Gentlemen, please take your seats,” announced the assistant. “The moment has arrived to welcome the Master of the Spirit Plane, Psychic Troubadour and Occultist Extraordinaire, Mr Marvin Clay."
A smattering of applause followed the announcement as the dozen people gathered in the small church hall found space around a circular, baize-covered table. As the doors clattered open the assistant flicked off the lights, leaving only a single, bare bulb burning above the table. A figure emerged from the dark. Marvin Clay would have been an unremarkable looking man, were he not clad from head to toe in shiny black polyester, a red satin-lined cape hanging loosely from his thin frame. The look was topped off with an ill-fitting blond toupee balanced precariously on his orange-hued face.
"Greetings, fellow travellers of the spiritual highway," intoned Clay, as he raised his arms in a supplicating gesture. "Greetings and welcome to an evening that will be both challenging and rewarding, as together we navigate the shores of night’s eternal sleep."
With a flourish, Clay divested himself of his cape which was swiftly gathered up by the assistant and removed from sight. Giving an affected sigh, he lowered himself into the single vacant seat at the table and, with a predatory glance, took in the people gathered around him. This looks like an easy crowd, he thought.
A handful of familiar faces had assembled tonight. Opposite Clay sat June White, an elderly woman in a tightly buttoned woollen coat, hoping to hear from her sister who had recently died. Across from her sat Nik, a man who wished to contact his departed mother seeking approval for his “choice of lifestyle”. The rest were strangers, the rest, that is, apart from the man immediately to Clay’s right. Posing as another sitter, Herman Getz mingled with them before the séance started; gathering snippets of information about their lives before passing that to Clay via an intricate system of finger movements while their hands were joined in the sitter’s circle.
“Now, friends, I would ask you to join hands with those to either side as we seek to peer through the veil to the other place. As the spirits gently enter me, for I sense that they are with us tonight, I will be able to communicate messages to you from those beloved ones who have passed across. Please do not interrupt me but follow any instructions given by my assistant, Mr Head. So, let us begin.”
The room was quiet, dark and seemed cooler to Clay than when he had entered. Above the table, the light bulb swung imperceptibly from side to side. A series of squeezes from Getz determined that the first message Clay would deliver this evening would be from the old lady’s sister. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and began.
“I have Ethel here; she is calling to us from the other side. Ethel, speak up dear, do you have a message for June? What’s that? Ethel says she is happy you’re here and she knows you miss her, but she wants you not to worry. She knows that you’ve not been feeling too well of late. She wants you to take it easy.”
Overhead, the bulb dimmed then flickered. A chill settled over the room. Opening one eye slightly, Clay noticed Arthur Head staring off into the distance, an unsettled look on his face. All other eyes were on him. Another series of squeezes interrupted his thoughts before he continued speaking.
“Ethel says you’ve come into some money recently, but to be careful with it, don’t spend it straightaway as you might have need of it soon.” He smiled to himself.
With a flash the bulb suddenly exploded, showering the sitters with tiny shards of glass and plunging the room into inky darkness. Around the table, people cried out in alarm before a piercing shriek cut through the noise. The stench of burning flesh and hair filled the air while the sound of hundreds of tiny feet clattered round and round the table. Chairs scraped across the floor as people jumped up, vainly trying to escape the terrible darkness. The shrieking resumed, followed by a loud pop just audible over the din, and then, as suddenly as it started, the cries stopped and the lights clicked on.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, please stay calm,” called the assistant from across the room, where he had managed to get the remaining lights on. As the sitters stared, fear etched bold on their terrified faces, the singed remains of Clay’s cape fluttered down to land on the table. When the haze of orange smoke cleared all that could be seen of Marvin Clay was his toupee, gently smouldering on his chair.