Near sunset of my second full day as a guest in Roseland, crossing the immense lawn between the main house and the eucalyptus grove, I halted and pivoted, warned by instinct. Racing toward me, the great black stallion was as mighty a horse as I had ever seen. Earlier, in a book of breeds, I had identified it as a Friesian. The blonde who rode him wore a white nightgown.
As silent as any spirit, the woman urged the horse forward, faster. On hooves that made no sound, the steed ran through me with no effect.
I have certain talents. In addition to being a pretty good short-order cook, I have an occasional prophetic dream. And in the waking world, I sometimes see the spirits of the lingering dead who, for various reasons, are reluctant to move on to the Other Side.
This long-dead horse and rider, now only spirits in our world, knew that no one but I could see them. After appearing to me twice the previous day and once this morning, but at a distance, the woman seemed to have decided to get my attention in an aggressive fashion.
Mount and mistress raced around me in a wide arc. I turned to follow them, and they cantered toward me once more but then halted. The stallion reared over me, silently slashing the air with the hooves of its forelegs, nostrils flared, eyes rolling, a creature of such immense power that I stumbled backward even though I knew that it was as immaterial as a dream.
Spirits are solid and warm to my touch, as real to me in that way as is anyone alive. But I am not solid to them, and they can neither ruffle my hair nor strike a death blow at me.
Because my sixth sense complicates my existence, I try otherwise to keep my life simple. I have fewer possessions than a monk. I have no time or peace to build a career as a fry cook or as anything else. I never plan for the future, but wander into it with a smile on my face, hope in my heart, and the hair up on the nape of my neck.
Bareback on the Friesian, the barefoot beauty wore white silk and white lace and wild red ribbons of blood both on her gown and in her long blond hair, though I could see no wound. Her nightgown was rucked up to her thighs, and her knees pressed against the stallion's heaving sides. In her left hand, she twined a fistful of the horse's mane, as if even in death she must hold fast to her mount to keep their spirits joined.
If spurning a gift weren't ungrateful, I would at once return my supernatural sight. I would be content to spend my days whipping up omelets that make you groan with pleasure and pancakes so fluffy that the slightest breeze might float them off your plate.
Every talent is unearned, however, and with it comes a solemn obligation to use it as fully and as wisely as possible. If I didn't believe in the miraculous nature of talent and in the sacred duty of the recipient, by now I would have gone so insane that I'd qualify for numerous high government positions.
As the stallion danced on its hind legs, the woman reached out with her right arm and pointed down at me, as if to say that she knew I saw her and that she had a message to convey to me. Her lovely face was grim with determination, and those cornflower-blue eyes that were not bright with life were nonetheless bright with anguish.
When she dismounted, she didn't drop to the ground but instead floated off the horse and almost seemed to glide across the grass to me. The blood faded from her hair and nightgown, and she manifested as she had looked in life before her fatal wounds, as if she might be concerned that the gore would repel me. I felt her touch when she put one hand to my face, as though she, a ghost, had more difficulty believing in me than...