“…and besides my invitation for you to go straight to Hell, how did you get this number?” Sandy’s question seethed with boiling anger.
“Well, try answering your cell and stop ignoring my texts,” spat Phillip, his voice seasoned with the anger of his own echoing over the desk phone. Why had she insisted on keeping an old-school landline anyway? No idea who is calling and no way to block anyone. Since Phillip now had the number, she would cancel the service at once. Canceling him also crossed her mind, and not for the first time.
It was on. The mostly deteriorated relationship, if you could even call it a relationship, was even further in the dirt. To Sandy, the relationship, not being in the dirt, lasted for a period of one-and-one-half short dates. She would not swear to those events as dates; more like a blatant deception followed by abduction, with the second so-called date ending abruptly, just shy of assault. Phillip McCorkle, or ‘Phantastic Phil’ as his social media account profiled him, was a self-indulgent, self-absorbed, 29-year-old prick according to Sandy’s description, and she would add aggressive and abusive to her description to ensure accurate clarification. Needless to say, Sandy was not a fan, and she did not want to be on the phone with him any longer.
“Look, Phillip!” she hissed, “I don’t EVER want to hear from you…or see you within sight of me, around me, or near me…GOT IT? Leave me the fuck alone!”
He chuckled at her agitation, “So…I guess our date to the Halloween party this weekend is off then?”
She howled into the phone, “We NEVER had a date to ANY party. What part of leaving me alone is confusing to you?”
“I hear ya, sweetie, but I know what you really mean. We have some unfinished business, as I recall. Look for me at the party; I’ll be in the devil costume.”
Sandy Tillman did not say another word; her response was communicated clearly and with finality when she slammed the receiver back onto the phone’s base unit with as much venom as she could muster.
“Good form and nice follow-through, roomie!” said Melissa Merriweather, Sandy’s long-time friend and roommate.
“That tears it! I am NOT going to the party!” Sandy exclaimed. “There’s no way I want to see that slimy bastard ever again.”
“Okay, hold on there, cowgirl, two things,” Mel said softly in an attempt to calm her friend down a notch or two, “first, so…you’re going to let him win by not going to a party you’ve been counting on for months…AND…second, you’re going to let your best friend down by not going to the inaugural festivities in her brand-new estate; festivities, I might add, you’ve been anticipating with me for the last three months.”
Sandra Tillman, a thirty-two-year-old real estate agent, just glared at Mel, fighting to balance righteous anger with reasonableness…and losing. “Mel, I can’t face that prick,” she complained in defense and buried her face into her hands. “I just can’t!”
* * *
Phantastic Phil laughed when Sandy hung up on him. Perfect, he thought to himself, she would be more fun if she were mad…more of a fighter. He had a lesson to teach and planned for this weekend’s party to be where he held the class.
“So…did that end well or what?” asked Wil Jameson sitting beside him at the bar of their favorite microbrewery. “I only heard your half of the conversation but must say it was masterful.
“How do you think it went?” asked Phil stuffing his phone into his back pocket. “I’d say she’s sufficiently jacked up to come at me.”
Wil laughed, “Right…come at you…or come for you?”
With a wicked grin, Phil winked and said, “Yes…both!”
“Want another shot? On me,” offered Wil, signaling the microbrewery’s bartender for another round of tequila.
“You still planning on attending the party as the Grim Reaper?” asked Phil.
“Absolutely! We are going to do a little harvesting this weekend, aren’t we?” grinned Wil.
“Harvesting?” asked Phil confused, as he threw back his shot.
Wil, still grinning, held up his shot and said, “Harvesting some goodie-two-shoes purity,” and then threw back his second shot.
* * *
Six months earlier, Melissa, or Mel as she preferred to be called, inherited the old Hawthorne House estate that had been held on her mother’s side of the family for nearly two hundred years. When her grandfather, the most recent resident, passed almost three years ago, Mel discovered she inherited the old estate after the will had been settled. Her first thoughts were influenced by the fact that the old estate house on the property had been unoccupied for several years. She described the place to Sandy as a “dump” in need of an accidental fire.
Sandy redirected her thinking when Mel took her for a ride and drove by the dump in August. “I think it’s perfect…just perfect!” exclaimed Sandy with visible enthusiasm.
“Perfect for what?” snarled Mel, “a freaking bulldozer?”
“No, silly, our Halloween party,” replied Sandy. “Look at the place. Is it haunted or what? Seriously, what could be a better spot for our party?”
Mel stopped her car in the street outside the spike-adorned, iron fencing that bordered the property and said nothing. She slowly began to nod in agreement as she surveyed the overgrown landscape and said, “You know, you’re absolutely right. What could be better than this? And yes, family rumors say that ‘being haunted’ is not completely out of the question. We can play that up and draw quite a crowd.”
Sandy said excitedly, “Of course it’s haunted; look at it. Have you not explored this place yet? Let’s go in and check it out.”
Mel shook her head. “No, I’ve never been inside. It’s probably been years since anyone’s been in there.”
Mel pulled into the driveway and up to a large and locked iron gate. She got out, fumbled with an old key to open the lock, and pushed one half of the gate open as it protested with a loud grinding squeal of rusted hinges. The gates were so large that she only needed to open one half to pull the car through. The driveway leading up to the house consisted of crushed gravel, an assortment of weeds, and rogue grasses that grew through the rocks in spots. Her tires crackled and crunched over the stones as she slowly pulled up to the turn-around that bordered an old fountain. The ornate fountain had long since dried up and was filled with leaves and small branches shed by the trees around the front of the house.
“Haunted as hell…” muttered Sandy under her breath.
“Yeah,” agreed Mel, equally convinced.
They pulled around the fountain, parked by broad steps leading up to massive, imposing double doors, and got out of the car. It was not cold outside, never was in August, but both shivered involuntarily.
“Let’s explore and disrupt a ghost or two,” joked Sandy.
Mel started up the steps to the front doors and said, “Let’s explore, but seriously, leave any ghosts out of it, okay? The circumstances around my grandfather’s death are enough reason for us to leave well enough alone.”
Mel inserted an old skeleton key into a large keyhole on the faceplate of the left-hand door.
“Wait!” said Sandy, reaching up to grab the softball-sized lion’s head door knocker and lifting it with a squeaking groan before letting it drop under its weight. A thundering report echoed in their ears and throughout the house, causing Mel to whirl around and face Sandy.
“What ARE you doing?” scolded Mel. Try to be quiet, okay?”
“Why?” asked Sandy, “are you afraid of waking up the ghosts and goblins?”
“That’s not EVEN funny,” replied Mel as she finished unlocking the door with a metallic snap when she cranked the key to the right. “There’s just too much mystery around this place, and I’m not sure about…not saying I believe…or not…just…just be quiet, okay?”
Sandy could see Mel was spooked and decided to go along with her and nodded her silent agreement…at least for now. Their attention was refocused when Mel pushed open the door. Groaning hinges did little to mask their arrival and cautious entry into the foyer. The smell of all things old invaded their senses immediately, and a bright shaft of afternoon sunlight angled into the foyer, illuminating dust particles stirred by the outside breeze from the door opening for the first time in many years.
The short foyer led into a large living room shaped like a rotunda with a high domed ceiling from which a massive chandelier hung in the middle. They stood there in silent wonder and swept their eyes around the dimly lit room. Sunlight from the open front door provided the only illumination as the windows were covered entirely with ancient drapery that likely had been closed for as long as the doors.
“Is the power on?” asked Sandy.
Mel headed for the light switches by the front door, “Should be. I made the request after the reading of the will,” and flipped the first switch. Nothing happened. She flipped the second switch, and the chandelier came to life and filled the room with brilliant light that played off every surface and cast numerous shadows. They saw other lamps standing tall next to couches and on tables next to other furniture they had not noticed upon their initial entry. Old tapestries hung between each of the narrow, high windows. Even with the additional light from above, there seemed to be darkness emanating from the combination of old wood paneling, thick drapes over the windows, and tapestries that hung heavily on the walls.
Sandy finally spoke, breaking the silence, “Can you imagine the party we could throw in this place?”
“For sure,” agreed Mel, “party of the century.”
* * *
They decided to explore deeper into the house. Mel would take the second floor, and Sandy would continue with the ground floor. Both wanted to explore, but they shared apprehension about splitting up. Sandy voiced her concerns with a critical question. “You said something about how your grandfather died but added no details. What’s the story?”
Mel hesitated for a second before answering, “I’ve only heard family stories; they were not what I would call filled with definitive facts.”
“Are those facts behind the so-called haunting?” asked Sandy.
Mel shook her head and said, “Not so much about being haunted as much as being unexplained and mysterious circumstances. Either way, dead is dead. Personally, the haunting talk is simply a product of how this place looks and not knowing what happened. His death aside…I mean, really…what ghost in their right mind would not want to live here for eternity? I’m just choosing to be vigilant, maybe even respectful, and not stir up trouble with whatever spirit realms run the joint.”
Sandy nodded thoughtfully and asked, “What mysterious circumstances? Do you know what they are?”
“This is only what I’ve heard, so keep an open mind,” Mel said and dove into the story.
“My grandfather was an eccentric old man, a collector of oddities, antiques, heirlooms, rare books, and stuff like that. He kept to himself mostly. Somewhat of a recluse, but no one knew why he chose that lifestyle.”
She sat down in one of the wing-backed chairs and continued, “Somewhere on this level, there is a library where his body was found. They did not find him in the library, but in a small room you can only get to from inside the library.”
“Okay, I follow. What else?” asked Sandy, now seated across from Mel, and perched attentively on the edge of her chair.
Mel hesitated again and shook her head slowly, “That’s where things get a little strange.”
“Define strange,” prompted Sandy eagerly.
“Well, he was found stone dead in a chair in the middle of that small room. There were no marks on his body; no visible signs of injury; no damage to anything in the room; in fact, the only other thing in the room was a large oval mirror like you would find in a dressing area in a bedroom. It was an antique, bevel-edged mirror about five feet high in a maple frame set in a matching stand.”
Sandy remained silent and patiently listened as Mel continued, “Some family members had a theory that the mirror was involved somehow, but there was never any evidence to support that line of thinking. It was just a mirror. No magic. No voodoo. No spirit portals. Nothing. Nothing ever came of that beyond adding more mystery to the circumstances of his death. The autopsy showed evidence of a heart attack but no reason as to what may have precipitated the attack.”
“Can I check it out?” asked Sandy.
“Oh yeah,” answered Mel quickly, “that’s exactly why I’m checking out the second floor. I’d just as soon never go into that library. Feel me?”
“You seem quite spooked by this mysterious library,” observed Sandy.
“Let’s just say I don’t want to tempt fate, or spirits, boogeymen, or anything else that might go bump in the night,” Mel explained, holding up her hands in mock surrender.
Sandy slowly stood. “Wow, now you have me a little bit spooked. Thanks for that,” she added sarcastically.
They split up, and Mel disappeared up the stairs to begin exploring the second floor. Sandy went deeper into the main room and down a short hallway. She toggled a light switch to illuminate what was a big kitchen with an adjacent serving area. Off the other end of the kitchen, another room served as a formal dining room with a massive walnut table and a dozen matching walnut chairs. Sandy envisioned heated serving trays lining the table for the party and the smaller serving area set up as a bar. This place was going to be perfect for the party.
She turned off the lights and went back into the main living area and down another hallway off the opposite side of the room. That hallway was longer and provided access to two other rooms, one of which was a small sitting room that would have made a perfect office. Near the end of the hall, another closed door on the right side opened into what she thought had to be the library. She opened the door and reached inside to feel for the light switch. Flipping it up, she confirmed that the room was the library.
The room measured twenty-five feet or so square and had all four walls lined floor-to-ceiling with shelves loaded with books of all varieties: some leatherbound, others hardbacked, and every one looking quite old. She stood in the doorway and surveyed the room. Rolling ladders provided access to the upper shelves on each wall. Near the middle of the room was a large mahogany desk with ornate scrollwork around the desktop and on the massive legs. The desk held a brass table lamp with a green glass globe and a matching green blotter pad. Behind the desk sat an enormous leather chair. She also noted a lingering scent of pipe tobacco, which reminded her of her father’s favorite Borkum Riff Scandinavian blend. There was nothing else in the room. That was it. No other furniture. No doorways to secret rooms. No secret passages. Nothing. Dead end. Maybe Mel’s family sources were mistaken.
Curiosity got the better of Sandy, and she decided to take a complete circuit of the room. She walked at an average pace along all four walls of shelves stepping around the ladders, and found nothing that caught her eye. On a second circuit around the room, she chose to scan book bindings and titles at eye level. Halfway down the back wall, she noticed the title of one book, “Mirror, Mirror,” and paused to consider it. She thought silently, had not she heard a mirror been involved or at least present in some manner in the old man’s demise? She hooked a finger into the top edge of the leather spine and pulled the book out and off the shelf. The two books to the right of the open space fell slowly over into the adjacent book on the left. A soft snick sounded, and the entire section of the bookcase began to swing inward. Sandy’s jaw dropped open when she discovered the small room revealed behind the new opening.
Sandy just stood there dumbfounded, clutching the book to her chest. A solitary, upholstered, wingback chair sat in the middle of the room. Facing the chair stood an ornate, oval dressing mirror. Nothing else was in the room, and she just stood there staring. She called out for Mel but received no answer. She called louder with the same result. What should she do? Should she even tell Mel of her discovery? She knew she stood before a piece of the mystery, but what else could she learn?
Something in her gut told her it would be best to investigate further before revealing what she discovered. She returned to the desk, unslung her backpack, and dropped it on the floor by the chair before sitting down. Tentative fingers opened “Mirror, Mirror,” and inside, she found an inscription written in beautiful flowing calligraphy on the first page:
Whoever possesses this book shall have exclusive control of all reflective powers that flow forth when called upon in good stead to the righteous.
Sandy closed her eyes and the book and sat back in the chair. Her mind raced and bounced off unspoken questions. What the hell did this mean? How do you possess a reflection? What are reflective powers? What does it mean to flow forth when called upon in good stead? To the righteous? Who are the righteous? Who or what decides righteousness? Curiosity returned and prompted her to go into the small room and investigate the mirror more closely. Based on what she had just read, there had to be a connection to the old man’s death. She rose, tucked the book under her arm, drew up her courage, stepped into the room, and slowly approached the mirror.
A light sheen of dust covered everything in the room, including the mirror’s surface. She bent slightly at the waist and blew on the surface to clear away some dust. The thin layer did not shift in her efforts to blow it away, so she swiped at it lightly with her hand.
The mirror’s surface felt warm to the touch and immediately changed to a light purple glow. From somewhere not obvious to Sandy, a voice spoke, “Thank you for calling me forth, Sandra Tillman.”
Sandy staggered back in shock and fell into the chair in front of the mirror, too stunned to turn away and too paralyzed to run. Where had that voice come from? Did she actually hear the voice with her ears, or had it just formed in her mind? She leaned forward in the chair and swiveled her head around to confirm she was still alone. Wherever it came from, and whatever IT was, it knew her name, and she found that quite unsettling. How did it know…
The voice returned, interrupting her thoughts, “Yes, I know you, Sandra Tillman. I know you because you touched me. Your touch connected our spirits, and I can now speak with you because you, and only you, have possession of the book, and you and only you are connected with me.”
Sandy continued to sit in the chair with an open mouth and could not speak.
The voice spoke again, “I know you must have many questions, but I need you to understand that what we share stays between us. No one can hear me speak with you, just like no one can hear your thoughts as I can. We are connected on a unique spiritual plane, and I can assist with your righteous thoughts if called upon.”
Her mind began to click into gear, and she thought, what about unrighteous thoughts?
Please don’t go there, Sandra Tillman, or I may have to punish you!
“Sandy, please. Call me Sandy. Now, what do you mean by punish?
“Very well, Sandy. Now to explain…punishment is commensurate with the unrighteousness of your thoughts. Marcus T. Hawthorne, my previous spiritual connection and keeper of the book, died of a heart attack in that chair you are sitting in as punishment for excessive greed and dishonest intentions,” explained the voice.
You mean you killed him? Sandy wondered privately.
“Oh no, Sandy, he killed himself by the hand of his unrighteousness. I reflected back to him the extent of the evil already in his heart. And well…that reflection caused his heart to overload with shame and grief until it broke. I suppose you could say he died of a broken heart…broken by his own doing. Most unfortunate, as he could have been a decent fellow. But, alas, he was not a good person by his own choices. Few people trusted him, including several family members who knew about him and his ways. Living a secluded life in this house fit his personality and his proclivities nicely. I am not one to judge; I merely serve as a reflection of thoughts and intentions. Some reflections are worthy of reward; others are open to punishment. My role in punishment is often served simply by providing the clarity of reflection seen by the unrighteous. If the clarity of reflection is not enough…well…I can be a bit more invasive.”
Sandy ran her hand over the book’s surface lying in her lap, considering what she heard and what to do about it.
“I recommend doing some reading in the book you now own. There is much to know about the relationship. We have only just begun. Not knowing the full story and only having the picture of a dead man in the front of your mind can be unsettling. We shall get along nicely, I think. What do you think, Sandy?”
She spoke even though she was confident the mirror already knew what she would say, “You know what I think, and I do NOT like that you know what I think.” She stood up on wobbly legs and turned to leave the room. Over her shoulder, she said, “I have to go now. No, I need to understand what…no, I must…right now….”
“Very well, Sandy. Remember, we have this amazing connection, and I hope you will call on me when you have a need. Please come back again; I have enjoyed our little chat,” said the voice from the mirror.
Still clutching the book, Sandy continued to the opening into the library and left the room, saying nothing, concentrating to blank her mind also to think nothing. As she passed into the doorway, she stood the two fallen books back in position, and the bookcase section began to close. Sandy snatched up her backpack, opened the flap, stuffed the book into the large pocket, and zipped it closed. Slinging one strap over her shoulder, she turned off the light in the main library and pulled the door closed behind her. As it clicked shut, she fell back into the door to catch her breath and catch her mind as both were racing.
* * *
Sandy walked down the hall toward the main room and dropped into one of the upholstered wingbacks. Thoughts raced through her mind. What the hell had just happened? What should she do about it? She had learned that Mel’s grandfather was not a good person, and what should she do with that knowledge? Did Mel know? Did Mel need to know?
As she tossed her options around in her mind, it dawned on her that revealing what she had discovered about Mel’s grandfather would require her divulging the presence of the secret little room off the library; disclosing how he was not a very nice old man; revealing how and why he died of a broken heart; the presence of the magic mirror; the simultaneous presence of the voice that supposedly only she could hear; the existence of the book; and the relationship she had with the mirror. Relationship? The voice called it a connection. What was it? What the hell could she believe? No, she thought, no one else needs to know about this. As far as Mel is concerned, none of this ever happened.
“Where have you been?” asked an exasperated Mel as she walked back into the living area from the kitchen. “I’ve been calling you, and your phone had to be turned off or silent. I was worried that maybe one of our ghosts snatched you away someplace.”
Hey, I’m sorry. I guess I got sidetracked looking for clues in the library and…” Sandy struggled to wrap her mind around everything that had happened.
“Mel jumped in, “Oh, so you found it. Did you find the little…”
“Hang on, slow down. Yes, I found the library, but I did not find any secret little room. It was a dead end.”
Mel was visibly deflated upon hearing the news but remained preoccupied for a second before launching into her discoveries and accomplishments. “After scouring the second floor, I returned downstairs and checked out the kitchen and dining areas. Since you were missing in action, I called my caterer and bar service, and everything is set up for the party. It’s a good thing I called this month because they were starting to book Halloween, and we’d have been out of luck by delaying for even a week.”
Sandy smiled thinly and congratulated her friend, “Good job, Mel! I think I’m ready to get out of here now.”
“Sure. Umm, are you okay?” questioned Mel, gently placing a hand on Sandy’s shoulder.
“Yeah, I think so. Spending so much time in that library was a little spooky, knowing what had happened there years ago. I must breathe fresh air outside instead of musty old books and stale pipe tobacco.”
Mel laughed, “I hear ya. I’ve breathed plenty of dust on my own; some fresh air would be a welcome change of pace.”
They headed for the front door, leaving behind the scenes of a strange death and an actual location for the party of the century when Halloween arrived in three months. When they returned to the car, Sandy buckled in and held the backpack in her lap.
Mel gave her a sideways glance, “Are you sure you’re okay? You’re hugging that backpack like somebody will steal it from you.”
Sandy looked down and realized she had a two-handed grip on her backpack and pushed it to the floor between her legs. “Hah, guess I’m still just a little tense.”
“Library?” questioned Mel.
“Yeah…library. I hope I’m not so freaked out three months from now,” Sandy said.
The sun was going down when they arrived home. “How about I call out for pizza?” suggested Mel.
Sandy said, “No, thanks, not hungry. I think a hot shower to wash off a century of dust and lights out early are on my agenda this evening.” She excused herself as they climbed out of the car and headed for the door to their apartment.
* * *
The hot shower felt great, and Sandy stood with her back to the steaming heat like a statue. While the dust came off quickly, memories of the mirror and the voice clung to her regardless of how hot or long the water rained down upon her. After she finished the shower and toweled off, she stood in front of the steamed-up mirror and froze. She slowly reached out to swipe away the fog but stopped short, never touching the mirror’s surface. Her hand hovered over the misty surface as she shook her head slowly from side to side to tell herself to relax; knock it off; she was at home, no need to be afraid. She left the bathroom, not touching or wiping anything off the mirror.
After slipping into a ratty old football jersey two boyfriends old, she climbed into bed with “Mirror, Mirror” propped up on her knees and began to read. The first several pages told her that the book and whoever possessed it had exclusive relationship rights. The voice at the Hawthorne House told her as much. She continued chapter after chapter to read and learn more about the spiritual entity behind the mirror and its concept of recognizing and rewarding righteousness and punishing unrighteousness. It all seemed a bit much to her, but then there had been a dead man to validate punishment and who knows how many others before him.
On the one hand, she feared whether anger could be interpreted as unrighteousness. If so, she was a dead woman walking; her fears were confirmed as thoughts of Phantastic Phil climbed into her head along with the anger he represented. That bastard violated her with unwanted touch after he dragged her into the men’s restroom at the Pearl Street Pub, a favorite microbrewery in town. Were it not for another person banging on the locked door; the assault would have escalated beyond what she fought against to consider. Those thoughts simmered in her head and were held fast in her heart with how badly she wanted to hurt him. Indeed, those thoughts had to be considered unrighteous and worthy of punishment for just thinking that way.
Sandy continued to read and learned that she possessed more control over the spiritual relationship with her thoughts than she realized. The book confirmed it took a physical touch to draw out the spirit to enable any conversation. She remembered the warmth exuded by the mirror’s surface, how the purple glow responded to her touch and the soft, mellow voice that morphed into her head. She also learned that possessing the book was the only reason her touch triggered the spirit in the mirror. After a few more pages, she understood that the relationship could be two-way and grow into enduring positivity. She closed her eyes for a moment; did she want that? Did she want a relationship…a spiritual relationship…with an entity that lived in her head? She already had her faith, which was strong in her one-and-only God, and it felt like this was wrong in many ways. Was it wrong, or was her paranoia haunting her?
Her eyes shifted away from the book, and she looked over to study her dressing mirror. Would he be there if she touched it? Was he really a ‘he’? The voice in her head sounded like a man, but unseen. Couldn’t a spirit do whatever it wanted…be whomever it wanted? Was he the embodiment of evil masquerading as a righteous entity? Did he play the roles of judge, jury, and executioner? That was too much to think about, and she sure as hell would not touch that mirror. She was going to drop off the book at the library on her next visit.
Her eyes began to grow heavy, and reading further would be a waste of words. Sleep pulled at her, and her remaining consciousness resisted at first, fearful of what dreams were cued up to frighten her. To steer any dreams to her liking, she began to think about the party and her cat costume. The slick, shiny black lycra material was as tight-fitting as a second skin. The mask over her eyes also positioned a pert little cat nose and whiskers above her mouth. She thought of an accurate description of dangerously sexy, barely described the look she would achieve.
* * *
The morning of the party began quickly as Sandy and Mel met the caterers at the Hawthorne House and supervised the service line set up in the main dining room and the details regarding the open bar. They sent out close to fifty invitations over a month earlier and had thirty-two positive responses, but how many ignored what RSVP meant and just showed up? They planned for fifty and the likelihood that those invited may also bring a friend or two of their own. After all, how many Halloween parties would ever take place in an ancient old house that looked as haunted as the Hawthorne? They had solid expectations of this truly being the party of the century. Neither of them had any idea just how remarkable the party would be.
Sandy stood in front of her mirror and took stock of the sex factor reflecting from her costume. No question remained; she saw one sexy kitty, and the tail attached to her bottom had enough length and weight to clear a coffee table if she strutted with too much vigor. She packed “Mirror, Mirror” into her backpack, slung a strap over her shoulder, and headed downstairs to encourage Mel, who was always late, to hurry.
Mel, having the primary role of party hostess, wore the obligatory French maid uniform with excessive leg and cleavage showing. They made quite the pair as they got back into the car to return to the Hawthorne House. “Do you have any prospects coming to the party, or are you just going to troll with that tail as bait?” asked Mel with a grin.
“Trolling? I like that concept,” Sandy smiled back.
“Don’t forget your best bud is coming, and you know he’s going to be fishing…make that catfishing,” added Mel.
“Sandy frowned in response, “I know. I wish this costume had a pocket for a weapon; a shoulder holster ruins the lines, if you know what I mean.”
“Hey, no bullet holes in the furniture,” Mel cautioned in mock concern.
Sandy replied, “How about Phillip’s head?”
Mel nodded, “I’m cool with that. Make sure there are no witnesses and don’t tell me or anybody else about it.”
“Don’t worry. I hate the guy but not sure I could kill him,” Sandy admitted.
“Atta-girl, that’s the attitude. Maybe castration would be more…” Mel began.
“Just stop, Mel! I’m already fighting back scenarios in my head, and we’re not even there yet.”
Mel grinned, “Jus’ sayin’…ya have options.”
Both fell quiet as they pulled into the driveway. The double gates were still swung wide open to welcome partygoers to what would be a 100-year celebration of celebrations. Tires crunched up the driveway as they approached the turn-around; a caterer’s van parked off to the side with rear doors open. They both felt the anticipation and excitement building and parked in the front yard away from the house to leave room for their guests.
Partygoers started to arrive, and the game was on. All manner of costumes showed up, making guessing who was behind the masks exceedingly tricky. A glass of cabernet took the edge off for Sandy while Mel nursed her first rum and coke. The main living area was festooned with many candles, and the halls’ sconces had oil lamps that gave off a glow befitting the aged environment they illuminated. To say the house was in character would have been an understatement.
Sandy mingled for a few minutes before stepping down the long hall to drop her backpack in the library. She noted that four wall sconces in the library were also oil lamps. The desk lamp was electric, and she pulled the chain to turn it on. Her eyes scanned the shelf on the rear wall where the gap left by “Mirror, Mirror” remained as she left it. Decision made, and without hesitation, she stepped over to the bookcase and tipped the two books on the right of the gap over to the left, causing the bookcase section to click and slowly swing inward.
Stepping into the room, Sandy placed her backpack on the floor next to the wingback chair and took a seat. There were several more sconces in the small room, but all were unlit. Standing back up, she went back into the main library room to the desk, figuring if the old man was a pipe smoker, there had to be matches somewhere. She struck gold in the desk’s middle drawer. She lit the sconces in the main library before returning to the small room to light the other lamps before sitting back down to face the mirror.
“I need to know you better,” she whispered to the mirror. No answer was forthcoming, confirming that she had not summoned him into a conversation. Rising slowly, she stepped over to the mirror and placed her palm on the warmth of the silvery surface.
The purple glow appeared, and the voice said, “Hello, Sandy; I am so glad you have returned to me. And yes, I hope to get to know you better too.”
She was startled, “Wait a minute, how did you know I said that? You had not even been summoned yet.”
“That’s very true,” the voice said, “but I need to be summoned to read your thoughts instantly and to bring me into a conversation. Remember, we are connected spiritually as long as you possess the book.”
“I’m not sure I like that,” said Sandy, starting to feel like the spiritual connection was not something she could tolerate.
“You need not worry, Sandy; I will never cross the line or take any initiative you have not thought about. I can only react to what your thoughts define as parameters for my actions. Your thoughts limit me exclusively.
“I’m still a little unsure about all of this, but for now, let’s leave it where it is. I must go back to the party and mingle with our guests. I’m going to close this room off and leave the book in my backpack right over there next to the chair. Later this evening, I will come back, and we can get to know each other better…maybe.”
The voice spoke softly, “I look forward to that eventuality, Sandy. Go and enjoy the party.”
* * *
Wil drove his Dodge Ram up the driveway slowly while Phillip sat beside him and craned his neck to see through the mostly denuded trees to get a better view of the house. “Wow,” said Wil, “this place has got to be haunted; look at it. If it weren’t so dark, I’d swear there were gargoyles on all the roof corners.”
“Well, if it’s not haunted now, it will be when we get inside. Maybe not the house, but one person, in particular, will be on the receiving end of a little haunting she’ll never forget,” said Phillip.
“Oh yeah…harvest time for the Reaper. I’ve always wanted some of that,” said Wil with a wicked laugh.
Phillip nodded and spoke, “Yes, it will be harvest time for the Reaper but not until I’ve finished with a little lesson of my own.”
They parked along the grass adjacent to the turn-around with other vehicles and finished their party preparations with several lines of cocaine and a tab of methamphetamine apiece. This was going to be a party indeed. The truck doors popped open in unison; the guys dismounted, high-fived each other, and headed for the door. Phillip lifted the big door knocker and let it drop with a resounding boom. In a moment, the door opened to the sounds of music, conversation, and laughter.
“Well, look who’s here. Wil the Grim Reaper and Phantastic Phil look a little devilish. Now the party can begin.” Mel roared, balancing her third rum and coke. “C’mon in, boys; the bar is on the opposite side of the living area, so get yourselves caught up. I’m way ahead of ya!”
“Boys?” Phillip questioned and cocked his horns a little to the right and cut her a look. “You see a boy; you’d better give ‘em five dollars.”
“Sorry, my little uniform has no pockets, so you’ve caught me empty-handed at the moment. Maybe I can write you a bad check later,” Mel said with much less pleasantry in her voice, “…or not,” as she whirled around and strode off.
“Bitch,” muttered Wil, “may do a little harvesting with her too before she writes that bad check.”
“Let’s grab something to drink and survey our prospects,” Phillip suggested.
Wil nodded in agreement, “Done!”
After both guys had their drinks, they began to cruise the room, trying to discern who was behind each mask. Neither of them wore a mask choosing to paint their faces devil red and reaper white so their identities were not concealed. They mingled for about thirty minutes before Phillip spotted Sandy. “She’s here, and all dressed up for class,” Phillip said and took a step toward her.
Wil grabbed his arm and said softly, “Wait. Wait. Too crowded here. Let’s let the crowd thin out later as the party dies down and then escort her out of this main room…to…ahh…a classroom more suitable for teaching that lesson you’re so fired up about.”
Phillip nodded and said, “Good idea. She’s not going to spoil. But I want to let her know I’m here and set expectations for later.”
He walked toward her as she conversed with someone wearing a hockey mask. Staying in her peripheral vision, he smiled broadly and sipped at his whiskey. His eyes searched over every inch of her body, and noted that she had very few secrets under the slick black cat costume.
When the other guy walked away, her eyes came to rest on his, and he knew she tensed up under her mask. Her bright red lipstick accentuated how thin her lips became when she saw him. Her eyes narrowed behind the mask, and her shoulders pinched tighter and inched upward. She knew he would come to the party and did not want to make a scene when she saw him—standing only a couple of feet from him, blew those plans to not react right out of the water. She did not say a word, only stared daggers at him.
“Hello, sweet cheeks,” he said with more fondness than acceptable, “damn if you ain’t the best-lookin’ little kitty cat in the room.”
“Stay away from me, Phillip!” she hissed acidly, “stay the fuck away from me.”
He grinned, not hiding its wickedness, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can honor that request, darlin, seeing how we have some unfinished business left on the table.”
Wil stepped around several people and took Phillip by the arm, “C’mon brother, let’s go get us another drink.”
They turned away but not before Phillip turned back and said, “See ya’ later, sweet cheeks.”
Sandy shook with outright terror and intense rage as she watched them disappear into the bar area. When they reappeared and wandered away to mingle, Sandy headed for the bar for another glass of wine.
“Hey sister,” said Mel, “any luck trolling the crowd?”
“None!” she spat, “He’s here with that other redneck friend of his.”
Mel nodded, “Yeah, I know, I let them in.”
“Well, I just spoke with Phillip, and he threatened me. I do NOT feel safe around him. I can NOT be alone with him.” Sandy lamented.
“Hide!” Mel suggested matter-of-factly.
“Hide? Where am I going to hide, Mel?”
“I don’t know,” Mel said, shrugging her shoulders, “The party is all out here and in the dining area. Hide in the library and close the door. Perfect little hidey-hole.”
“That’s a good idea,” agreed Sandy.
* * *
Several hours later, midnight approached and slipped away, as did most partygoers. As safety in numbers diminished, Sandy felt personal risk increase since Phillip and Wil had not left yet. She texted Mel and told her she would be in the library and said if Phillip asked where she went, tell him she had gone home early. Looking over her shoulder, she checked to see who might be watching her and then discretely slipped down the long hallway and into the library, closing the door behind her. A heavy breath, which she did not realize she had been holding, flowed from her lungs in relief. No one had seen her departure…except Wil, who covertly watched every move she made from behind a huge Schefflera brought in as party décor.
He lifted his phone and sent a voice message to Phillip. “It’s time. I’m in the living area.” He got an immediate thumbs-up emoji in response.
Sandy quickly went to the bookcase and slipped the two books to the left, triggering the bookcase to open. She sat in the chair facing the mirror as the voice filled her head, “Ahh, so glad you came back, Sandy. I’ve been worried about you.”
She was a little taken aback by his words. “Worried? Why were you worried? Worried about what?” she challenged.
“Worried about what, or should I say, who worries you, Sandy. You have been preoccupied all evening by those two men you are convinced are here to do you harm. Your thoughts have been about nothing else.”
She stood slowly from the chair and stepped toward the mirror to better view her reflection. Taking the mask off, she appraised her face silently. I wonder if I look as frightened as I feel.
The voice answered the second she completed the thought, “You do indeed look frightened, but you must know that you are safe with me.”
She sat back down in the chair and snorted, “Right! I’ll say, excuse me, guys, before you assault me, can you both look into this mirror and see the reflection of evil in you first?”
Indeed, the mirror would then intervene on her behalf. Hah! Not likely. She was on her own in a room with only one way out. She prayed silently that she would remain alone and out of harm’s way and that Mel had successfully sent both rednecks on a wild goose chase.
Almost as quickly as she sent her prayer for safety, safety left the room. A different voice spurred her heart rate to a dangerous new level. “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!” She knew it belonged to Phillip, and she knew she faced deep trouble. Her hands gripped the arms of the big chair with a death grip. She shrieked sharply when Phillip came up behind the chair and yanked it around a quarter turn, partially facing him. He dropped to his knees in front of her and put a hand on each of her thighs. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” he hissed like a snake.
“Save some kitty parts for ol’ Wil, best buddy!” his redneck friend crowed.
Sandy sat there in a full-blown panic and breathed out a whispered plea, “Please help me!”
Instantly, a blue-white finger of flame sprung out from the mirror’s surface with a sizzling crackle that sounded like heavy fabric ripping. The flaming finger struck Phillip in the center of his chest when he turned toward the sound, and it blew a hole straight through him and continued to strike Wil in the same manner. Both men collapsed onto the floor with holes the size of baseballs straight through their chests. Both were dead, without a shred of heart left in their chests.
Sandy screamed and jumped to her feet, nearly tripping over Phillip’s corpse. She did not know what to do, but surely murdering these two asshats had not been in the top three resolutions in her mind. THAT confirmed it: if it was not in her mind, whose mind was it in? She looked at the mirror and shrieked, “So you kill them? Murder them?”
“Remember that I told you I could be more invasive if need be?” the voice explained softly.
Sandy said nothing and crouched down to remove the book from her backpack. “Don’t do this,” cautioned the voice.
“Do what?” she screamed, “rid me of an exclusive relationship with a murderer?” and then hurled the heavy book with all her might into the face of the mirror. The surface shattered into a million pieces, and the book ricocheted off at an angle, striking one of the oil lamps in a wall sconce. The lamp broke, spilling oil down the wall and puddling on the carpeting, followed quickly by a river of fire. The flames began to spread rapidly, forcing Sandy to back away toward the open doorway. She flipped both books back into place on the bookcase, and it began to close, locking the fire and the bodies in the little room. She stood there, chest heaving, trying to decide what to do. She had to get out. Everyone had to get out. The fire in the little room would not stay there with as much old wood and dusty old carpet that would feed the flames. She texted Mel, “Get out of the house. Get everyone out of the house. The library is burning, and it will spread like wildfire.”
“Leaving now!!!” Mel texted back. “Most are already gone. Get yourself out of there NOW!”
* * *
They stood in the front yard where they had parked their car and hugged each other as the red and blue lights of three fire trucks flashed into the naked trees. Flames shot skyward out of most windows, and part of the roof had already collapsed. The fire department must have decided to let the place burn as it was so old and dry that keeping the flames from spreading into the trees seemed their primary focus. Sandy sobbed into Mel’s shoulder, “I’m so sorry I’ve burned down your house.”
“Stop right there,” said Mel, “remember that I was the one who said what this dump needed most was an accidental fire. Who knew you’d trigger the accident? What’s done is done. At least I don’t have to be the one to figure out how to set a fire and not get caught. Thank you, girlfriend.”
“Really? You’re not mad at me?” asked Sandy, still sniffling.
“Not even a little,” said Mel, “…well, maybe a little; there were three bottles of excellent rum still behind the bar when I bolted.”
“And everyone got out okay, right?” asked Sandy.
Mel paused, “Yeah! Nearly everyone had already left, and the stragglers scrambled out the door when I told them about the fire. I saw the two rednecks heading down the hallway toward the library a little earlier, but I don’t recall seeing them leave. I was too busy hauling my butt out of there to stick around a see. Did you ever see them?”
Sandy never missed a beat and replied, “Nope, and thank goodness for that.”
“Wonder how the fire started?” mused Mel, not expecting an answer.
“I’m the source,” confessed Sandy, “I was trying to get a book down off a high shelf from one of the ladders, and it slipped out of my hand and shattered one of the oil lamps. The rest is history, as you can see waving her hand at the flaming inferno. The place was a tinderbox.”
Mel nodded and said, “Well, you made it out safely, and I can truthfully say there was not a single book in that library I’d want to read anyway.”
Sandy did not respond but thought to herself…there was one I read…and I wish I hadn’t.
It was almost 2:00 AM when they arrived back at their apartment. After a quick embrace and exchanging good nights, they headed to their bedrooms. Sandy went up the stairs to her loft and went straight to the shower in the dark. She peeled herself out of the catsuit and stepped into a steaming shower to linger and try to forget the trauma she had witnessed and caused a few hours earlier. As she toweled off, the exhaustion buried underneath the adrenaline dump of earlier surfaced with a vengeance. It felt like she could sleep standing up.
Her hair was mostly toweled dry, so she slipped into her favorite ex-boyfriend’s jersey and headed for a welcoming bed and overdue sleep. The bathroom light backlighted the bedroom, so the room went completely dark except for moonlight streaming in between partially closed drapes when she turned off the light. With the moonlight, she only saw blacks and grays in shadow, but the trip to the bed was less than a dozen paces away. She stepped between the foot of the bed, a chair full of clothes waiting to be put away, and her dressing mirror.
The room lit up with a purple glow, and her heart skipped a beat when she heard, “Hello, Sandy!”