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The aesthetic of old Hollywood was something I grew up emulating until my teen years. Actresses like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor and even Bette Davis were among the many women starring in the late night movies I'd sneak into the living room to watch while my foster parents were asleep. I wanted to be just as sultry as Marilyn, just as witty as Elizabeth and just as talented as Bette Davis. Unfortunately for me, I had zero skills as an actress and gave up that dream along with all the others that died along the way as we grew into adulthood.
Stage names had been common in old Hollywood and it was no surprise to me that my next target refused to tell me her real name, which made it that much harder to find her. Tavis pulled through in the end and managed to at least get me some information I could use to make her show herself to me.
Her stage name had been Diane Margerie. She was an actress who originated from the city of love. And she also managed to find herself in a bit of trouble around the time of her death in the city that never sleeps and in a love triangle gone horribly wrong. A scandalous one judging from the initial impression I got from the information Tavis was now giving me.
"This one seems a little... demented," Tavis mentioned in caution when we arrived at our destination. Madison Bridge connected Salem to the other small towns in the area and was still holding steady considering it's been here since just after the witch trials. I'd heard the rumors about the women who'd been compelled to jump into the murky waters underneath this bridge. Some kind of dark force had sunk their teeth into their pain and made them feel all hope was lost and life after death had been the only option for them.
Some of those women were here tonight, wandering about in sodden clothes, despair clouding over their smokey white eyes. It was hard not to be overwhelmed by the pain they still held on to but I had to concentrate. I wasn't here for them. I was here to find Diane.
Tavis pointed her out in the midst of the women in pain surrounding her. The closer we got to her essence, the more memories Tavis downloaded into my thoughts. And as I tried to decipher which one I'd use to get her to talk to me, I felt myself shiver from the gore of her last memory. It seems Ms. Margerie had an obsessive nature. And it had spilled over into her love life just as her career had peaked back in the fifties. Her manager, Frank Walker, had often advised her to keep her salacious taboo lifestyle under wraps and she never listened of course. But not out of rebellion. Diane enjoyed placing the men who gawked at her in compromising situations. She basked in exposing their secrets, even if she had to sleep with them to get them to whisper them into her ear.
That was until Diane had met Ella Walker, Frank's wife. They were finally introduced at a premiere for one of her most profitable movies, The Light Above. They'd gone through most of the after-party without saying much to each other. They didn't need to. Their chemistry was as clear as day and you could tell as much from just the way they subtly glanced at one another. There were a handful of things that could've kept them apart at the time. One, being Ella was married and to Frank Walker, the most successful Hollywood manager in his time no less. Two, being same sex couples were frowned upon at the time. And last but not least, Ella was of African descent. Racism was all the rage back in the fifties. She'd had to marry Frank just to gain more opportunities in the world and according to Tavis, it didn't make for a very good marriage in Ella's eyes but she still pushed through it the only way she knew how. Up until Diane that is.
"Diane," I called for the smirking spirit, and heard her sultry laugh echo inside my head as she morphed into solid form. She showed me what she looked like in life before she went knocking on death's door and even I had to admit she was breathtakingly beautiful. Her honey brown tresses blew against the chilly wind, while a sheer red lace robe barely covered her slender body underneath. She held a cigarette in between her fingers and blew smoke out of her red lips as she stepped closer to me.
"Be careful." Tavis' warning led me to reinforce the barrier Diane was trying to break through in order to jump my body. I wouldn't allow her grievances to take over. I needed to focus on moving her on. I wouldn't be able to do so if I were too enthralled by the intoxicating aura she used to make the living fall into her trap.
"Diane, you can't keep these women here for your comfort," I insisted when I pulled details from her memories and realized it had been her reeling these women to their deaths on this bridge. Her laughter echoed inside my head once again before she took a pull from her cigarette and blew her smoke over my face. I coughed until the smoke left my lungs, and by the time I was done, I was in the middle of an intimate encounter between her and Ella Walker. Ella's dark chocolate complexion glowed in the presence of Diane and I was surprised to learn Ella felt the same way about Diane. The way Ella touched Diane's skin felt more than sensual. It felt like a slow burning fire forming an abundance of rupturing desire. I could definitely see why Diane was so taken by her. Ella had a way of making people feel everything all at once and Diane had been no exception. She'd taken it upon herself to pull Ella away from her husband for a surprise girl's trip a few days prior to her death. Or so she'd told him. Little did they know, Frank had suspected something was going between them and decided to follow them.
Diane had arranged a romantic night for the two of them, which included a warm bath, a trail of roses leading up to the claw foot tub, candles lit everywhere, while jazz music played on the record player in the living room. She'd never been the romantic type despite being raised in Paris. Another trait Ella had sparked in Diane the moment she fell in love with her. And boy did Diane love this woman. I could still feel how deeply she felt for her. It was as if my heart had been taking shallow breaths for years until I caught sight of the one I adored again.
It reminded me of the first night I spent with Tavis in spirit form. I'd been stuck inside due to a rain storm in my apartment. Sylvia, my former best friend and his former fiance and I were no longer on speaking terms at that time. And I knew the moment he stepped out of the spiritual lane and into my apartment that I was going to make the very questionable decision to allow him to be my spiritual guide. All I knew for sure was that Tavis was going to be essential to me if I was going to continue my work as a Medium. Otherwise, I'd still be stuck in the grieving phase, which made me vulnerable to the more insidious of spirits in other dimensions. We had a connection that was unmatched and unheard of on either side and it was unfortunate we met the way we did. That kind of bad karma was the kind you ended up paying for throughout the rest of your life.
Diane and Ella's forbidden love on the other hand, transcended skin color and race, financial status and sexual orientation. They'd simply just been two women in love who were dying to be who they truly were out in the open without prejudice and criticism. Back then they would've lost everything if they had gone public with their secret relationship. And the moment Tavis and I had gone public with ours, was the moment we gained nothing but dirty looks and guilty consciences that would haunt us for the rest of this life and probably the next.
"Oh dear, looks like I'm not the only one with sorrows as deep as the pits of Hell." Diane's provoking observation caused me to shake myself out of her intimate reverie with Ella, allowing Tavis to pull me back into reality.
"You think Ella would've wanted to see you like this?" I asked the sultry spirit as she paced back in forth in her sheer gown, blowing ringlets of smoke out into the crisp air.
"Ella betrayed me. I owe her nothing but the crippling guilt I made sure she took to her grave," Diane snapped sinisterly and instilled another memory inside my head, despite Tavis' protest. I emerged from her cloud of smoke again and fell into another memory, in which Ella had lied to her husband about the affair she'd been having with Diane. She explained to him that Diane wanted nothing more than scandal and fame behind her name, and had managed to drug her and take advantage of her in her sleep, which was why he had found them lying naked and in bed together on that romantic weekend trip for two.
Diane's career was never the same after that. The movie roles were few and far between until she'd given up her Hollywood dream and took it upon herself to end her career with the scandal behind her mysterious death. She'd made it seem as if she'd had more than her share of enemies while death had come to her by her own hand with a bullet through her chest.
No one cared for the truth back then. They simply swept her death under the rug like they'd done to many actresses in those days. Ella had taken her death hard. But she suffered in silence, like she was taught to do until she took her last breath at the old age of eighty six. She got to live the life she dreamed of. Just not with the person she had claimed to love more than life itself.
I can see why Diane was so unsettled but it gave her no right to spread her venomous pain and push these other tortured souls to end their own lives just like she had done.
"You still love her don't you? You love her so much it corrupted your soul and turned you into a monster," I concluded and the cigarette in between her fingers quickly turned into ashes in her palm and she stepped closer to me, her solid form morphing into a skull whose flesh was slowing being ripped apart by fingernails. The pain she was forcing me to feel was more than excruciating. My entire soul felt like it was being burned alive, the nerves under my skin exposed to the raging flames, and I found it hard to keep my barrier up in order for me not to give into the black hole of despair. I took one glance at the women wandering about on the bridge, and focused on their memories before they'd taken their own lives. They'd been mothers and sisters, friends and neighbors. Women of different walks of life and they all seemed to have one thing in common; being engulfed with different variations of unhappiness.
Much like I had been the night I decided to strip my best friend of her own happy ending.
The pain Diane was infusing into me was slowly fading away as Ella's soul began to break through the veil and made her presence known in solid form. The woman's wrinkles were nowhere in sight. She looked just as youthful and full of promise as she'd been when she met Diane.
"Diane, it's me you have a problem with. Not them," Ella stated sharply, capturing Diane's attention long enough for her to release me from the encasement of pain she'd been keeping me in. I took a much needed breath as Tavis made his way towards me and did his best to calm me down.
"Look at what you made me do," Diane spewed as her white eyes turned a charcoal gray and she pointed towards the weeping women at the end of the bridge.
"I know, sweetheart. I know," Ella consoled as she reached for Diane's hand and tried to pull her into the light from which Ella came from. Diane's hesitation was of no surprise to Ella. She knew just how stubborn the woman could be.
"I'm sorry for what I did. I hope you can forgive me," Ella pleaded and this time, Diane took her hand, which made her gloomy aura lighten with every spark of light Ella shocked her with.
"I loved you with everything I had, Ella. How could you betray me?" Diane questioned as I made my way towards the other grieving women and helped them to cross over into the light as well. It was no doubt draining me of my abilities but I couldn't just leave them here. They deserved their happy endings on the other side as well.
"I acted out of fear. Fear of loving you as much as I did. Fear of what everyone else might say. And I'm sorry I didn't have the courage to love you enough to tell them to stick it where the sun won't shine," Ella answered and the two women laughed as they joined both of their hands together and turned to look at me.
"Sorry, darling. Heaven is calling," Diane spoke inside my mind and I waved it off as I tried to ignore the after effects of having been around her potent energy so long. My abilities were giving out and I still had another spirit to release by the end of the night.
"Take care of each other," I spoke back to them both and they both smiled at me in unison, turning towards the light as they entered through it and Tavis and I were left alone on the quiet bridge.
"You need a break," Tavis' stern tone came from a place of concern and I heard him loud and clear. But I couldn't afford to stop now. I didn't want any of these spirits to stay earthbound and wrecking havoc another year because of my carelessness. The burden was weighing heavy on me and considering I could feel the nose bleed coming as a side effect of dealing with the dead longer than expected, I needed to slow down. If only to be able to continue my work before midnight struck.
"Who's the next spirit?" I asked him, and when he hesitated, I knew the answer wasn't going to be good.