Excerpt from The Seance Secret by Vanessa Lind (copyright 2023)
They came for Eve, came to whisk her away to the operating room. Female troubles, that’s what Dr. Julian said her problem was. He’d cut off some parts, and she’d be good as new.
Now Eve was gone, and they were coming for Stella. Acute melancholia, that was female trouble, too, Dr. Julian said. A little ether, a little chloroform. Stella wouldn’t remember a thing. To be cured, wasn’t that what she wanted?
There was no point in resisting. Look where that had gotten Eve. Dr. Julian cut into her anyway. After the surgery, she’d suffered a seizure and died.
Restless, Stella set down her sewing and stepped toward one of the dayroom’s tall windows, the afternoon light angling through the glass. She touched her fingers to the windowpane, as if she might somehow touch what lay beyond the window—the cupid fountain, the gardens blooming with late-season dahlias and zinnias, the red maple leaves fluttering to the ground. She’d always loved this time of year. She could almost smell the fresh-cut hay, almost taste the fresh-pressed cider of her memories. Almost.
Beyond the grove of maples lay the cemetery where they’d buried Eve. If only Stella could slip past the attendants, she’d venture into the crisp autumn air, the fallen leaves crunching under her feet, and visit Eve’s grave. But the asylum’s inmates could only stroll the grounds in the company of an attendant, and Stella knew the attendants feared the cemetery, knowing the troubled souls that lingered there.
More than the fresh air, more than Dr. Julian’s moral instruction, it was Eve who’d brought Stella out of her melancholy. Eve was a big woman with a big voice and, as Stella discovered, an even bigger heart. In her former life, Stella might have considered a woman like Eve to be coarse. But by the time Eve arrived at the asylum, Stella had already become a wisp of her former self. She’d had nothing to live for, not with Cecil and Elton both gone. For all she cared at the time, her new roommate might have been an African elephant.
Slowly but surely, Eve had drawn Stella out of her grief. Mostly to shut her up, Stella had finally told her how her husband and son had died.
Eve shook her head. “And they can’t figure out why you’ve got the melancholy.”
Then she’d wrapped her big arms around Stella, holding her tight and stroking her hair as Stella sobbed and sobbed, mourning the lives she could never reclaim. When her tears were finally spent, she pulled away. Sniffling, she felt something she recognized as hope. She couldn’t get Elton and Cecil back. But maybe, just maybe, she could recover a part of who she’d once been.
After that, Stella and Eve were inseparable. They shared stories about their lives. Sometimes, Eve could even make her laugh, and in those moments, Stella could almost forget the suffering around her. The inmates tied up in straitjackets. The women who stared with soulless eyes into nothingness. The ones who babbled incessantly at no one at all.
If not for Eve, Stella might have become one of them. Instead, even Dr. Julian had to admit she was showing improvement, though not enough to warrant release, he was quick to note.
Stella turned from the window. With Eve dead, she felt the cold-hearted universe conspiring against her at every turn. But even at her lowest, Stella heard Eve’s booming voice in her head. “No sniveling. What cards life deals you, you play them smart-like.”
There would never be another Eve. But after her death, Birdie had come to Stella, like a vision stepping out of the light. And Birdie was free now, wasn’t she? Not like Eve, a soul cut loose from her earthly confines. But free to go where she wished, to live her life beyond the asylum.
Returning to her chair, Stella picked up her sewing. Work was essential to a cure, Dr. Julian said. It was part of his moral instruction. She envied the male inmates, laboring out in the fresh air, harvesting apples and pitching hay, while she sat inside, stitching and stitching.
Still, Stella did as she was told. There was no other way.
The work should have been soothing, but it wasn’t. Like a dark thing lurking in the back of her mind, her fear mounted. Where Dr. Julian had failed with Eve, he meant to succeed with her. The knife was waiting...
from The Seance Secret: Book Three of The Tidewater Chronicles