The Ghost in the Mirror. An original short story for Halloween.
There’s an exciting collaboration between myself and a childhood friend in the works. More on that to come, but let’s just say it prompted me to revisit some old stories I’d written. This one seemed appropriate for Halloween, so I decided to share it. Please note it’s still quite rough. I hope to rewrite it soon, but for now...here it is!
THE GHOST IN THE MIRROR
It was a misty, chilled to the bones day in October and Ivy was searching the shelves of Raven’s Nest Antiques for a miracle. Each object she picked up told a story, but so far not one told the story she was looking for. She opened a silver locket engraved with initials inside a broken heart, and found a lock of hair inside. It looked like it had been flame-red at one time, but had faded to dirty penny over time. She closed her eyes and focused on feeling vibrations from the locket and lock of hair. The scent of malt whiskey and vanilla tobacco, the tinkling of a crystal chandelier dancing in the breeze from an open window, and the faint brush of a kiss against a cheek. The woman was exquisite. Her hair was red and her silk gown elegant and understated in a “I am rolling in money, but attempting to look middle class” kind of way. She was lovely, but unfortunately, the red-haired woman wasn’t her ghost.
Her friend Chloe referred to her ghost as “your clingy roommate,” so that people tended to think she had a roommate she couldn’t get rid of. It was true that she couldn’t seem to get rid of her ghost, but she was nothing like a roommate. For one, she only ever appeared in mirrors. And secondly, she really didn’t take up any space, eat the last of the ice cream, steal her favorite earrings, or possess any of the other annoying habits her last roommate had maintained. She did, however, make Ivy feel cold and despondent anytime she happened to catch a glimpse of her in any reflective surface.
“How about this one.” Ivy held out her hand to touch the object Chloe had discovered. It was from around the right time period, the early 1900s, and was an ornate brass jewelry box. After sighting the ghost countless times, Ivy had begun sketching the details she could remember: The ghost was willowy and pale with a cloud of dark hair, and was dressed in a crisp shirtwaist and blue rose damask skirt. Chloe, who was studying fashion design, considered herself an expert on period clothing. She had determined the style of clothing had been popular in the early 1900s.
A few weeks ago, Ivy had visited a psychic in the hopes of getting rid of her ghost once and for all, and was told that a ghost might need a physical connection with an item that had some meaning for them. This connection might help them to complete any unfinished business so they could move on. Fortunately, Ivy’s gift for psychometry would make a seemingly insurmountable task somewhat doable. So, Chloe with her lion’s mane of waist-length golden hair and her whimsical, hand-sewn clothing, had loyally accompanied Ivy to every single antique shop in town, searching for any object that may have been touched by the ghost. Raven’s Nest Antiques was their last hope.
Ivy took the brass box from Chloe. It felt cold and heavy in her bird-bone hands. She focused on the texture of the box. It was bumpy in places and smooth in others. She opened the lid and smelled a strange fragrance, musty like the pages of an ancient book. There was the faintest trace of the scent of opium left clinging to the blue velvet lining of the box. As she inhaled the fragrance and felt the box against her skin, wisps of smoke images appeared and then solidified into almost tangible memories. The box had belonged to a philosophy student. He had once been warmhearted, if rather serious, but was left broken and unfeeling due to a tragedy Ivy couldn’t quite see. It was so deeply buried. He lost himself in drugs and dreams. She sighed.
“This is hopeless,” she said as she glanced at Chloe, who was nervously picking at her fingernails. She wanted the search to be over as much as Ivy did.
Ivy replaced the box on the dusty shelf with a bit more force than necessary. If it had been glass, it would have shattered. Her shoulders sagged and she felt lightheaded. She couldn’t handle any more dead peoples’ memories today.
Chloe seemed to sense her friend had reached her limit, for she draped her arm around Ivy’s shoulder and said, “Come on, I’ll treat us to some hot chocolates from Cookie’s Coffee and then we’ll come up with Plan B, C, D, and Z if we have to.” Her bouncy optimism was one of the most endearing traits Chloe possessed. It was one of the reasons she was Ivy’s best friend, as they were polar opposites.
Ivy gave her a weak smile and said with a shrug, “It was a longshot anyway. A hot cocoa sounds amazing right about now.” She started to follow Chloe through the narrow maze that would lead them back to the front counter of the shop and out the door, when a shadow from a doorway caught her eye. There was a door leading to another room. How had they missed it?
“Wait a minute, Chloe. There’s another room.” Without waiting to see if Chloe had heard, Ivy walked through the doorway. There was nothing obviously wrong with the room. It was much cleaner than the rest of the shop, with lots of light streaming in through the many widows that lined the entire wall opposite the door. Yet somehow, the jam-packed maze of antiques, although full of the energy of the people who had once owned them, gave Ivy a feeling of comfort whereas this room felt prickly and oppressive. She had the sudden urge to run from the room and never return. Where was Chloe anyway?
Ivy swallowed her fears and began taking in details. There was another smaller room, or a closet perhaps, leading away from this one. It was separated by a beaded curtain. The beads jangled. Ivy watched, mesmerized and yet frozen in sudden inexplicable fear. Cold shivers creeped down her spine. Her mouth flew open, but no sound came out. She gave an audible sigh of relief when a woman emerged through the curtain. Her presence broke whatever spell had been cast over the room, which Ivy now realized was a photography studio.
“Oh, you gave me a fright,” said the woman, clutching onehand to her heart in an exaggerated, overly dramatic gesture.There was a roll of film in her other hand, which she proceeded to clip to a string that hung across the wall over the counter. She was short and dressed all in black, her long black hair in a braidtrailing down her back. She spoke with a trace of an accent. Ivy couldn’t tell where she was from, but it was obvious she wasn’t a local.
“I didn’t hear you come in. Are you wanting to book a session? I’m not available today. I’m actually off to do a shoot at the Botanical Gardens. I could be free tomorrow, or (she glanced at her phone) next Sunday?”
Chloe poked her head around the door at this moment, “I thought I lost you. How did you disappear into thin air like that?”
“Oh, there are two of you. I’d be happy to fit the both of you in on Sunday. How does that sound?” The woman in black looked up from her phone, her black, cat-eye glasses sliding down her nose. She hastily pushed them up again, wrinkled her forehead, and looked at them hopefully.
“Oh, no,” said Ivy, “We didn’t realize this was a photography studio. We were just browsing for antiques and happened upon you by chance.”
The photographer sighed, “Yes, I thought as much. That happens all the time. It’s the one drawback to sharing a space with another shop. I’m way in the back of the building and easily overlooked, but this space has the best light, and I have an unlimited supply of props to borrow any time I want.” She made a vague gesture toward the antiques piled up in the next room and pulled a couple business cards from her pocket. She handed them to Ivy. “Well, if you change your mind.”
Chloe had wandered into the room now too and was paging through a book on the counter. “Wow,” she said in obvious admiration. Her blue eyes were round, and her cheeks flushed in the way they did when she was really excited or had discovered a new passion. Ivy looked over her shoulder.
“Your work is incredible,” agreed Ivy. It really was. The photographs in the sample book were mostly portraits of people and animals. There was the occasional photo of everyday items that somehow seemed extraordinary due to the camera angle and quality of light. The portrait photography was Ivy’s favorite, though. There was a timeless quality to the photos. They managed to look both contemporary and like old-fashioned daguerreotypes at the same time. Ivy thought they belonged on the walls of a gallery or museum.
“Thank you,” said the woman. “I really must dash. Feel free to keep looking through my book, and do give me a ring if you change your mind and want to book a session.”
“Okay, will do,” said Ivy. She glanced at the card the photographer had giver her. It was simple and elegant, with the photographer’s name listed as Damiana. Ivy wasn’t sure if this was her first name or surname, or some kind of invented professional name.
“These really are fabulous,” said Chloe. “Hey, isn’t Jaxon’s birthday next month? I know he’d love professional portraits of you.”
“There’s an idea,” said Ivy. It really was a good idea. It could be an engagement and birthday gift in one.
She found herself seated in the photographer’s studio the following Sunday, looking through a book of photographs, and feeling thoroughly creeped out by the energy of the studio. It wasn’t anything she could put her finger on though, so she tried to settle her nerves by concentrating on admiring the images in the book. Damiana wanted her to choose her favorites so she could get a better sense of what kind of portrait she was after. There were lots of gorgeous images, but one in particular caught her eye and made her heart stop. The woman in the photograph was wearing the same blouse and skirt as her ghost.
Damiana returned from the back room and wandered over to her client. “Ooh, that’s a good one. She was one of my favorites. Just look at her bone structure and how the light highlights the beauty of her collarbone.”
“It’s a beautiful photo, but I’m curious about her outfit more than anything,” said Ivy in barely more than a whisper. Her voice didn’t seem to be working properly.
“Ah, yes. That was going to be my next question. We have a whole trunk of costumes and props to use. I’m pretty sure that outfit is still with the rest. You can sort through it in a moment and choose what you want to wear. We can choose a chair or other props from Raven’s Nest too.
Several minutes later, Ivy was wearing the cream-colored shirtwaist and blue damask skirt, which fit like a glove. She had pinned her auburn hair into a close approximation of a Gibson Girl pompadour. She was seated in an ornate Art Nouveau stylechair she had chosen from the many items of furniture next door. The upholstery was an elegant ebony and ivory silk. She tried to relax, but her heart was pounding, and she was having trouble catching her breath.
“You are so pale, almost ghostly. How about we play on that. Here, hold these,” said Damiana as she strode in the room clutching a bouquet of dead roses. She arranged them in Ivy’s arms and then stood back to scrutinize her subject. “Yes, that will do nicely.”
Ivy’s heart wouldn’t stop racing. Her hands felt cold and clammy. Why was she suddenly petrified of having her photograph taken? She was being silly. She took a deep breath and forced a smile.
“No, no. Act naturally.” Damiana had her clunky black camera, an actual film SLR, in her hands now and was peering through the viewfinder and examining her subject from different angles.
“Oh, I didn’t give you payment yet,” said Ivy nervously. She would love an excuse to get up, if only for a moment. Maybe she just needed to get some fresh air before returning to the studio. She started to get out of the chair, so as to grab her purse, but Damiana gestured for her to remain seated.
“Payment is always given afterwards,” said Damiana firmly. There was a hard edge to her voice now. Was Ivy imagining things or did her eyes gleam greedily? She smiled in a friendly manner, and Ivy felt calm once more. She relaxed her shoulders slightly.
“Think of a faraway place. Have you ever felt so much a part of a place, like your blood and bones were married to the landscape? Or, perhaps you feel most connected to a particular street-corner of a city. Wherever feels like home, think of that.”
Ivy thought of several places before settling on one place in particular. A small, serene smile spread across her face just as Damiana clicked the shutter of her camera. An instant later there was an odd cloud hovering around her. She was completely enveloped in a charcoal fog, so that her body looked insubstantial. Prickly, clawing tentacles sank into her body, pulling her essence through the tiny pores of her skin. Damiana was grinning wickedly, her mouth was a cavernous gaping hole greedy for something pure and light. In one horrible moment, Ivy saw the photographer’s true form. She was all rattling bones and razor teeth: a creature desperate for flesh and substance. Ivy shrieked in agony, and then her mind went blank.
“I’ll develop the film tonight and should have a few images ready for you next week. Call back then, okay? It’s been a pleasure doing business with you,” said Damiana, stretching out her hand for Ivy to shake.
Ivy heard her voice saying “thank you. I look forward to receiving them,” but it sounded so distant and oddly hollow.
“Can I help you, dear,” said a kind, gentle voice. There was an elderly woman placing glass baubles containing air plants on a shelf in the hallway just past Damiana’s photography studio. Ivy recognized her as the woman who stood behind the counter of Raven’s Nest Antiques the last time she was there.
“Oh, I just had my portrait taken,” said Ivy in a voice that wasn’t quite her own.
The woman furrowed her brow in a quizzical way, and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard you properly. Did you say you are looking for a portrait?”
Ivy pointed towards the door of Damiana’s photography studio to indicate she had come from there, but then realized in horror that the entrance was no longer there. Where the door to the studio should have been was now covered in dusty shelves and mirrors stacked rather haphazardly. She felt sick to her stomach. Her hand flew to her mouth.
“Are you alright, dear?” but she was already fleeing the shop, desperate to be far, far away from it.
When she arrived home, she placed her bag on the table and went into the bathroom to splash cool water on her face. Her hands were shaking, and she felt floaty, as if she didn’t take up any space at all.
She was hesitant to look at herself in the mirror, as she was in no mood to see the ghost appear in front of her, but couldn’t stop her eyes darting up to the mirror regardless. Her heart dropped into her stomach. She was standing right in front of the mirror and there was no longer any ghost reflected in it, but also, most surprisingly, she no longer seemed to have a reflection. The towel hanging from the back of the door was reflected in the mirror, so was the shower curtain and the painting of the vase of roses, but where she should be was just empty space.
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