1 John 4:1
"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world."
People have a habit of trying to hide their thoughts. Staring has always been a taboo; at least, when you are caught. Being armed with this knowledge did little to ease the sting she felt every time someone quickly looked away. Crowds parted around her and reformed several feet behind her back. It cut down on travel time, but she could not help feeling isolated. She had heard stories of strangers bumping elbows but that sensation was lost in her own memory. Christiana knew how she looked to outsiders. Ice blue eyes and pale freckles on her cheeks, all framed by long black hair. The only abnormality in her list of physical features was a tuft of solid white hair nestled into the black of her bangs. So how did they know to stay away?
Despite the uncanny ability of strangers to sense there was something unusual about her, she came across the occasional brave soul who would sit and talk. There were even a select few who sought her help in otherworldly affairs. People like Chris, a local paranormal investigator with a habit of getting in way over his head.
"Sorry Chris," she slowly opened her eyes. Against her pale skin, the blue irises seemed to glow from within. She turned to face him when she saw his squared shoulders fall. The look on his face was a familiar one; brows furrowed, lips sagging, and eyes wide with disbelief.
"You're kiddin' me, right?"
When she shook her head she heard him sigh. Christiana slid her fingers inside her pockets and left the thumbs out, exposed. He trusted her well enough, but she felt compelled to reassure him of her decision, "They're just Sepia-Tones."
The cold atmosphere turned dry as the conversing pair became aware of four eyes turned on them. They had almost forgotten about the owners of the house they were investigating. Chris apologized first, rubbing his hands together to ease any lingering tension. The doe-eyed couple huddled together on the living room rug, which Christiana noted to be inspired by Native American design. She traced the interlocking zigzags and diamonds with her eyes while she listened to Chris. He had never been good at reassuring people, and it showed as confusion laced over the man and woman's features.
"What are they?" the woman asked for a second time. Christiana could not hold back any longer. She interrupted Chris before his initial cough could melt into more nonsensical words.
"Sepia-Tones; it's a term I use to describe residual energy. It means you don't have any ghosts in here, Ma'am; just Mother Nature's memories."
Her explanation was met a voice comparable to gravel underfoot, "How is that possible? I showed you the broken vase, didn't I? It flew off the damned shelf!"
"Harold," his wife chided, though her eyes echoed the same doubt he had just expressed.
"I understand your confusion," Christiana smiled and tilted her head to the right. She had rehearsed her explanation many times, and could almost see the words scrolling behind her eyes as she continued, "As I am sure you know, the world has a magnetic field around it. It's the same field that helps birds navigate and makes compasses work. It's not something humans can see, but it's something most animals can feel. You could probably compare it to being around someone with a really strong personality; you know how they just make a stronger impression on you? People like that don't just leave an impression on us, they also leave one on the magnetic field."
Harold grunted and crinkled his nose, "That doesn't explain how my vase flew off the shelf."
"I know. Just listen," Christiana rolled her shoulders and listened to them pop, "Mother Nature will often try to communicate with us. Clouds warn us of dangerous storms, and sweet smells in the spring air let us know trees are getting ready to bear fruit. People are a part of nature as well, and when someone leaves a strong positive impression on Mother Nature, places are often left with a peaceful feeling. Unexplainable things may happen that benefit other people. It's her way of letting us know that good people live there, and that the area is safe. When someone leaves a powerful negative impression, places tend to have an eerie feeling about them. Violent things happen that cannot be explained. Those are all warnings from mother nature that signal danger."
Chris took advantage of her pause to interject, "It's essentially a medley of recordings playing back in random loops. Mother Nature knows that evil was here, but her memory hasn't been updated yet, so to speak. She's still playing sounds, images, and actions of whatever angry person used to live here."
"And that's why you said it was not a ghost; because it's just a recording?"
"That's right, Ma'am," Chris nodded, though it was obvious he had been hoping for something more exciting than Sepia-Tones.
"And since Mother Nature is governed by God, she never makes mistakes," Christiana smiled again, a slightly amused twinkle in her eye.
"Why do you call them Sepia-Tones?" the woman's gaze shifted to Christiana. Her voice grew in strength once she realized the meaning behind their words; no spirits were watching her.
"That's what color they are; I can see in a wider range than most people. Any residue left behind shows up in sepia tones to me. It's like watching an old movie, almost."
The entire demeanor of the couple changed. Christiana watched their muscles loosen and the shine come back into their eyes. These were people no longer afraid. The cool breeze that had cut through the hallway brought relief from summer heat instead of foreboding. The transformation was swift, but she had a good feeling in the pit of her stomach.
"So," the old man wet his lips, wiping his creviced brow, "Chris and Christiana, eh? You two related or what?"
"No," Christiana answered as she stepped aside to let Chris pack up his tripod and camera cords, "it's just a coincidence."
Chris returned with a black case. A snap resounded when he closed the locking clasp, "Seeing as you've only got Sepia-Tones in here, I'm going to recommend a basic blessing of the property. It'll erase any negative energy imprinted on the magnetic field around your house, and leave it open and receptive to newer, more positive energies."
Christiana bowed out as soon as she had the chance. She sat on the concrete steps leading up to the front door and yawned. Leaves on the daisy bush nearby rustled, carrying the grassy scent to her. If she had reason to describe the smell of sunbeams, it would have been with words like fresh and crisp. Spring had always seemed lighter and more free spirited. Two of Chris' companions left the house carrying tripods and digital recorders. She knew them by face, but not by name. The one with the longer crimson beard was always a riot. Shadows moved over the houses across the street, following beneath the clouds dappled over the sky. Birds sailed between power lines, and the occasional car puttered past. None of them had any clue what was going on behind the black and white van. Outside that little house, they were oblivious.
She heard the door hinges groan a third time, and knew from the pattern of sounds on the porch that Chris had finally come outside. He stopped on the top step just behind her right shoulder. His shadow cast down and sideways over her face. He had always been taller than her, but sitting down she felt like an ant. Christiana stood up, and he stepped down another step to help ease the difference in height. For someone who called themselves a professional, he was wearing obscenely casual clothes; khaki shorts and a white T-shirt. Not that she could say much more of herself; she'd opted for dark denim jeans and a black zip-up sweatshirt. Typical teenager attire, as far as she was concerned.
"Need a ride again?" Chris asked, tucking a camera beneath his arm. Christiana nodded, and he echoed the motion while walking down the rest of the stairs. She was not far behind. After fifteen instances of collaboration on paranormal investigations, he knew how to find her house without asking for directions. It did not stop him from attempting conversation for the first few blocks, but when he saw the vacant look in her eyes and the way she held her gaze glued to her reflection in the window, he dropped the attempts. She had something important on her mind if she was going to ignore him.
He listened to the tires growl against the pavement as he pulled up into the driveway of her two-story home. The windows were dark, and curtains drawn, all save for one little square on the bottom floor. She always left one light one while she was away to deter burglars. After thanking him for the ride, she opened the passenger door and stepped out onto the driveway.
"Why did you lie?"
Her hand lingered on the handle. Christiana looked back over her shoulder at him. When she saw he was confident in his inquiry, she shrugged, "They needed a confidence boost."
Any other questions he may have had were cut short by the sudden closing of the car door. She fished through her pocket for a house key, and made a point not to look back lest he call for her again. He should have known her ways by now, and yet, he always questioned them. She listened to the locking mechanism twang as her key turned in the hole. She would apologize later; she owed him that much for playing along.