Another knock at the door. How long would this go on for? Didn’t anyone put their kids to bed at a sensible time any more? Well, this would be the last…the jar of sweets on the shelf was almost empty; it seemed as if every child in the neighbourhood had been on her doorstep with that silly ‘trick or treat’ thing. Still, you never knew. She heaved herself out of the armchair, her bones creaking as much as the ancient oak. It might be a customer.
Halloween was about the only time anyone else knocked on her door.
She’d never advertised. Never had to. Her particular talents got around by word of mouth. Most of them were grieving…or in desperate need of help. Or both. Often it was both. There were the curious, gawping at rumours and hoping for something sensational. There were those who came just to see her fail… but that never happened. She could read them too. Their minds were open books. And about as interesting as a telephone directory.
She looked through the spy-hole in the door. You couldn’t be too careful, living on your own. Another Grim Reaper or a Mad Monk. Taller than most. No imagination, these teenagers. Zombies and Reapers. And a rather scratty white rabbit. That’s all she’d had. She opened the door, holding out the candy jar to the black-robed ghoul on the doorstep.
“That’s the last of…’ere!” The figure glided past her silently and stood framed in the soft light in the living room door. She reached out and touched the mind that seemed as hooded as her visitor. Male…young… that was all she could tell. He was keeping secrets, this one. The blokes were always ashamed when they came to visit. That explained the silly costume, she supposed. Ah well… a customer would put the mockers on any more Halloweeners.
She bolted the door and turned off the garden lights. From the front, the house would be in darkness. No-one would call now.
“Make yourself at home,” she indicated the big easy chair, the twin of her own, upholstered in faded chintz. “What can I do for you?” Without a word, the dark figure glided over to the old, mahogany dresser and opened the cupboard. “Oho, been here before then ‘ave you?” The figure took out the bag of ribbons and handed it to her without a word.
She didn’t need the ribbons. Not really. She never had. They just made people more comfortable. Ribbons were harmless… no threat in the pretty, vibrant strands that she pulled, one by one, from the concealing bag. They thought of it as fortune-telling, mostly. They could pretend not to believe. They didn’t like the idea of her reading their souls. But still they came, asking questions, seeking answers, not knowing they had them already. Still, she’d made a good living out of it. Give ’em a bit of what they want.
The cowled figure bowed his head. “No ‘elp there, then.” She closed her eyes and reached out, seeking some chink in the hooded mind. There was only emptiness, a page waiting for words. She’d never had one with so good a barrier before. Never mind. The ribbons would put him at ease. She knew every one of them…and if she couldn’t piece something together from their colours, she’d been wasting the last sixty years…
She drew out the first ribbon. “Hmmm….” Palest blue. She wound it around her fingers and tried to use the moment to pierce the mist that surrounded the soul opposite her. The colour reminded her of her first proper party dress. She’d met him that night… they hadn’t spoken. Just eye to eye. Funny, she could see that memory on his soul… watched it unfold as the ribbon slid from her fingers. Creamy-white… the colour of May-blossom. That had been their first kiss. Black… that was her world when he went to war…and didn’t come back… red the blood when she had signed her name.
One by one she pulled the ribbons from the bag and, instead of unravelling the tangled thoughts of her visitor, she watched in silence as each ribbon called up a memory that played out on the blank screen of his soul. Not just her memories, but those of every soul she had ever read. One by one she dropped the ribbons to the floor where they lay like the tangled skein of her life about her feet. Each one a memory stolen, disappearing onto that once-empty screen as the Thief fed on remembered joys and sorrow… glowing now, with the colours of the ribbons dancing about him. Wearing her life as it left her.