He felt a shiver in the air, a tickle along the sensitive under-belly of his gift. The clock on the mantel began to chime noon, followed a beat later by the tall floor clock in the hall. Something moved in the corner of his vision, he heard a faint clank and scrape behind him, and when he turned back toward the round table, there was the silver dinner-tray, with a chill moist handprint rapidly evanescing from its lid.
He reached out quickly with his gift, but it was trickier than grabbing for an elbow and he was clumsy at it. The spirit flinched away and faded into the ether.
“Wait,” he said. “Hang on, I ain’t gonna hurt you.”
No response—but no fleeing, either. It was shy of him, but curious and eager to please. The impression he got of it was female, timid, but not the sense of chaos many lost souls had. This one had sense, and awareness.
He lifted the cover on the tray and found a nice cold-beef sandwich, coffee, creamed corn, and a rice pudding with raisins.
“I don’t suppose I could get some more of that cherry pie?” he said aloud. “That was mighty good, yesterday.”
There was a kind of shiver, and Trace heard something go chink on the table near his hand. He looked down and found a small salver, bearing a doily, a fork, and a gilt-edged china plate with a big red oozing slice of pie plunk in the middle of it. Rivulets of ice cream ran down the ruby peaks.
Apportments and telekinesis, she’d said she meant to test him on. He thought there was no harm in studying aforehand.
He broke a bit off the pie crust and popped it in his mouth. “Mmm-hmm… that sure is fine, miss. You do all this cookin yourself?”
The question seemed to amuse her. He felt a shimmer of laughter.
“No? You got help? How many servants does she have in this house?”
That subject seemed to be taboo. His skin chilled with reflected fear, and the spirit started to retreat.
“Aw, hang on there, I didn’t mean nothin by it. Wonder if you could do one last thing for me, ‘fore you go.” Trace walked to the cabinet where the cigar case lay, opened it and took one off the top. “I haven’t had one of these in months,” he explained aloud, “an’ ordinarily I wouldn’t help myself to what was layin around just because nobody was watchin.” The cigar cutter was heavy and sliced cleanly through the tapered end of the smoke. “But her worship made it clear I was to make myself at home here, and I know she didn’t stock these for her own pleasure.” Trace glanced over his shoulder, to where he sensed the spirit hovering. “Come on, honey, I bet you can light this without any trouble, can’t you?”
There was a hesitation, a drawing-together of the air. And then a shimmer, like heat-waves off the desert floor, only at eye level and directly in front of him. The shimmer tightened, brightened, and a hot blue flame, no bigger than the tip of his finger, popped into sight less than a foot in front of his nose.
It was uncanny, and Trace felt a prickle of real nervous sweat along his hairline, but he leaned forward, wrapped his lips around the cigar, and drew in a single puff of air. The cigar lit instantly, all the way around, like a magic trick. The hot smoke that filled his throat seemed to be tinged with frost needles. He pulled away from the blue flame and it vanished. He took another, longer draw, and it was all fine, rich tobacco.
Trace exhaled in satisfaction. “Good girl.”