Sunday, April 8, 2007

A Short Story: “The Séance”

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In the summer of 2005 I wrote this (rather long) short story pretty much for my family, in particular my niece Drew.  (Drew was around 11-12 & into scary stories at the time, and we were all still grieving over  Mom’s recent passing.)  I admit it’s pretty corny, but I was writing it with her in mind. 

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

 

The Séance by Doug Morris

Chapter 1:  The Accident

Baby, please wake up…” Donda looked down at her watch, attempting to see the time beneath the crystal in the dim light. She looked out the other glass then, her windshield. A murky haze surrounded her car, like a giant cobweb of thinning gray light, darkness beyond the gauze. A faint wave of nausea washed over her. They must’ve been sitting here for hours; how could she have let herself fall asleep? She looked down at her sleeping daughter and felt the slight sickness pull at her stomach again. Good ol’ guilt, plain and simple. Got to get my baby home. Drew stirred then, as if hearing her mother’s thoughts. She stretched her arms and licked her lips without opening her eyes. “Mama, are we home yet?” She asked, and sat up a little straighter. She blinked then, and squinted as she attempted to look out the window. “Where are we?”

“I don’t know honey, I’m so sorry…” Donda answered earnestly. She had no business placing her baby’s life in this situation. It had been such a nice March evening, a dinner out for just the two of them, with lots of giggling over sneaky boys and other matters that only an 11 year old girl and her mother could share. The ride home should have been an uneventful one. And then the storm had began, an icy sheet of water that almost seemed angry in its arrival.  Finding a shortcut seemed like the right thing to do. But this back road had felt so soupy beneath her car’s tires, and still she’d continued, convinced that in a matter of moments everything would be right again; a bounce onto shiny wet pavement, the lights of home reflected in the cold water streaming down her windows. It hadn’t happened, of course. The SUV had been so busy slogging thru mud and rainwater that it (or its driver) hadn’t seen the ditch in the center of the road; and into that the front of the vehicle went, not enough to cause any real damage but the engine must’ve been soaked all the same. The battery was quite dead. Donda turned the key in the ignition and gently tapped the gas pedal. No weak whirring of the engine, no sputter. A faint click sounded from somewhere beneath the key. Hopeless. “Mama, I’m cold...” Drew murmured softly and Donda bit down on her upper lip. How could she have let the two of them fall asleep? It was cold. She knew they’d have to leave this chilly darkness for a colder trip on foot instead. But it was Drew that spoke up first. “We can’t sit here and wait for someone Mama, or we’ll freeze to death. Maybe if we get out and walk up this road we’ll find a house or something?”  Donda felt a rush of affection. This kid was sweet, smart, and brave too. She wasn’t about to let anything bad happen to her.

They left the car then, huddled close together, and began their uncertain walk up the muddy and winding road ahead of the vehicle. Donda felt surprised at the difference in temperature. The night air wasn’t warm, but it honestly felt a lot less cold than inside that car. Drew paused briefly. “What is it, honey?” Donda asked. Drew turned & nodded her head in the reverse direction. “I can only see a couple of the highway lights now, Mama. Maybe we should go back the way we came?” “I thought about that Drew, but we were on this road for miles before the car broke down.” Donda stopped and thought. She had her own doubts but tried not to let them show. “It would take us a couple hours to walk all the way back and the sooner we get indoors somewhere, the better.” Drew nodded and faced forward once more, and Donda prayed silently that she made the right choice. Hadn’t she taken this road once before? She was sure there was something not too far ahead.

They stumbled briefly, their feet colliding with each other, walking so close together. “Hey, watch it!” Drew exclaimed in a lighthearted manner. “Oh, I’m sorry!” Donda kidded in return and purposely misstep, clutching Drew’s shoulders from behind. “Mama, look!” Drew pointed. A dirt road veered off the main one to the right, traveling up a small embankment. It was unclear where it led, but a faint glow came from that direction. “Maybe someone lives up there” Donda murmured, and they both turned towards it, their footsteps a little faster now.

It had taken longer than expected to reach the top of the incline. A small house sat there, quiet and dark; it was enclosed within a small stamp of yard, with dark stones that lined the walk leading to the front porch. It looked a dark gray, or green perhaps; impossible to say in such dim light. “It’s scary and pretty at the same time…” Drew said softly, and Donda frowned and spoke. “Now honey…I thought we saw lights up here?” Drew pointed once again. “Mama, there they are!”

One of the windows glowed weakly now, and through another a small light bobbed up and down behind the curtains, as if someone was holding a candle or a flashlight. They stood in silence for a moment more, as if both deciding whether they should approach. Donda made a loud sighing noise. “Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to knock. Drew, I want you to hold onto me and not let go.” She looked down at her daughter. “Ready?” “Okay Mama…” Drew answered and clung to her mother’s sleeve as she followed her up the small walk, climbing the front porch steps. Donda tapped lightly on the glass pane in the door and said loudly “Hello? Anybody home?” She heard a small shuffle within and the door slowly opened.

The woman who greeted them was what some people would call ‘handsome’, Donda thought. She couldn’t have been more than thirty-five or forty; somewhat tall & slender, with short dark hair and even darker eyes. For unknown reasons she seemed strangely out of place, answering the door here; but then again, what did I expect? Donda thought. The Unabomber? “Hello!” Donda exclaimed, feeling both relieved and apprehensive. Her arm around Drew’s shoulders tightened. “Could we use your phone? We had some car trouble down the road, and got lost--“ The woman interrupted her. “I can well imagine. I’m sorry, you’re not Dr. Sobol, are you? No of course you aren’t...” Donda looked puzzled. “Er…no, my name is Donda Preston. This is my daughter Drew. We don’t mean to disturb you or anything but…” The woman’s features softened a little. “Oh it’s alright, really!” She cocked her head out the doorway. “You didn’t see anyone out there by chance?” Donda shook her head briskly. The woman stared over Donda's shoulder a moment longer before shaking her own head, her disappointment obvious. “I’m sorry, we were expecting someone earlier. I’m afraid they’re not going to show. Please--come in.” She stepped aside and motioned them indoors. Donda pursed her lips, not pleased with how this night was going. She went inside, Drew close behind.

The woman was obviously upset, Donda thought. She had such a look of genuine concern. Drew stood there, an expression of concern on her own face as well as she studied their surroundings. The room looked pleasant enough. A small brown sofa with red striped pillows. A coffee table covered with various papers, and on a small end table sat a dark blue glass lamp. A plump and comfy looking gray tweed chair was off to the side, a book in its seat; but in the corner of the room (where Drew supposed a TV should have been) stood a small square table. Four wooden chairs sat around it, too small for a dining table; did they play card games there?

“Mama, are we going to use the phone now?” Donda nodded at her and turned back to the woman. “Yes um…do you mind?” The woman shook her head slightly and frowned sympathetically before she spoke. “I’m terribly sorry, we haven’t had one in ages. Oh you must think I’m a strange one. Can I get you or your daughter anything? I’ve already made coffee…we have cocoa. Come sit down. Please.” Donda shook her head no, unsure of her next move. “Thanks for letting us in, but I need to find some help. Is there another house anywhere nearby? Someone else we can go to?” The woman looked at Drew sympathetically before answering. “I’m so sorry, we’re miles from the nearest place. You don’t want to go back out in all that rain do you? It’s so dark…” Donda paused. Don’t panic, this will work out. The woman continued before waiting for an answer. “Would you excuse me for a minute? I’m going to tell my husband what’s going on. Now don’t worry, I’m sure we can figure something out.” She crossed her arms, her head held high as she walked out the room. “You okay Mama?” Drew asked.

“Of course sweetie” Donda replied. “I just feel funny, having to ask complete strangers for help.” “That’s okay Mama…” Drew replied. “She’s glad we’re here.” Donda startled for a moment, then smiled. “What makes you say that?”

Drew looked around the room again. “She just is.”

. . .

They were still standing at the entrance to the living room when the woman returned with a man beside her. “Hello” he said, stopping several feet short of them. “My name is John Thorne. My wife’s name is Mary. I was sorry to hear about your situation.” Mary approached them closer. “Please...come sit down” she said, guiding them to the sofa. The couple waited until Donda and Drew were seated, then Mary joined them on the couch while John sat down in the opposite chair. He certainly seemed nice enough, Donda thought. He was tall and slender like his wife, with a thick crop of dark brown hair and shiny round spectacles. John cleared his throat before speaking. “I wish there was more we could do…shall we all sit and brainstorm for a bit?” Donda couldn’t help but smile. The guy was odd but sincere. “I really hate bothering anybody, but there was all that freezing rain, and we were looking for a phone, or maybe a ride home. Your wife said there’s no one else around?” “I’m afraid she’s right” he replied. “Our own car isn’t exactly running, and this is no night to be outside and lost, that’s for sure. Could we offer you something?” He looked at Drew and smiled gently. “Trapped for an evening with adults, and strange ones at that…this must be terribly exciting or terribly boring! Did you notice that I’ve used the word terrible in both choices?” Drew smiled at her mother, who smiled back. “Are you okay honey?” Donda asked. Drew nodded yes. “He’s quite the character, isn’t he” Donda said with her eyes only. Drew answered in the same fashion. Yes.

. . .

They all sat in silence for a moment more, when Mary stood up, smoothing the front of her dress with her hands. “I have coffee & sandwiches.  Let me set up a tray, I’ll be right back.” Donda started to protest when Mary held up her hand. “I won’t hear it. We were expecting guests already, remember?” She left the room as John chuckled softly to himself and raised an eyebrow at his visitors. “I suppose you can tell who’s in charge here; so, may I ask where you’re heading tonight?” Drew spoke right up. “Home, we live in Cheat Lake.” Donda winced slightly.

“Oh--I didn’t mean to pry.” John said, sensing her discomfort of too much information being passed along. He stood up and crossed the room to a small bookcase; on top sat a strange black box. “Do you mind if I work on something?” He asked. Donda finally spoke. “Please, this is your home. So…if your other visitors come, do you suppose we might hitch a ride back to town with them?” John studied the device in his hands for a moment before looking up at them. He looked either preoccupied or disappointed. “They’re not coming, or they would’ve been here by now. I’m sorry.” “Well, it is pretty gross out there…” Drew said. John smiled briefly but said nothing and went back to his tinkering. “Are you a scientist?” Drew asked, and Donda's eyes widened. “Drew, honey!” She laughed nervously. “That’s none of our business, sweetie!” John’s eyes brightened and he chuckled again. “Oh no, please go right ahead--you’re a perceptive young lady! May I ask what…’drew’ you to that conclusion?” Drew rolled her eyes then smiled downward. “That thing you’re holding, and this diagram on your table here. And it has your name at the bottom.” Donda smiled at her proudly then looked down at the table. What the heck was that?

diagram

John continued. “Well Drew, as a matter of fact I’m an inventor; but I prefer the term scientist. Sounds a bit more reputable, don’t you think?”  Drew smiled but said nothing. “So…” he continued. “That’s part of my newest invention; I call it the ‘Presence Imager’. It analyzes brainwave electrical activity and…” He stopped and looked at Donda. “This is probably the last thing you want to be talking about right now. Please forgive me, I know it’s no excuse but I was really looking forward to meeting Dr. Sobol tonight.” “No, it’s very interesting…” Donda said, not really trying to sound convincing. “So what will this be used for? Something medical?” John paused for a moment and looked at her. “Er…actually, it’s for my work with the paranormal.” “Oh!” Donda responded again. Oh crap.

. . .

Mary entered the room then, carrying a large tray laden with food and cups and a steaming pot. “So, did I miss anything?” She asked, setting the tray down on the card table. John smiled to himself and set the box down in the center of the table before replying. “Just an awkward moment or two, dear.”

Mary gave him a deadpan expression then shook her head at Donda. Men. “John, clean your papers off the coffee table, please?” She said, pouring the hot coffee into three white cups. She motioned at the cream and sugar to Donda, and mouthed the word “cocoa” silently to Drew, setting a blue mug in front of her. “Oh thank you” Drew said, but didn’t move towards anything. Donda turned to John. “I’m sorry” she said, a weak smile on her face. “When you said paranormal all I could think of was ‘The X-Files’--you know, aliens and ESP and that other weird stuff. I have to be careful what my daughter is exposed to.” She motioned to Drew and the cup of cocoa. “Go on honey, it’s okay.” Donda paused and thought for a moment. These are perfect strangers, how do I know it’s safe? I just…do.

“I think I understand, Mrs. Preston” replied John, as Mary handed him a full cup and a sandwich on a napkin. She then took a cup for herself and sat down beside her husband. Donda finally picked up her own coffee. The brewed smell was heavenly. “This is so nice, thank you again.” said Donda. Mary smiled and nodded slightly then spoke. “Would you like to talk about what happened tonight? I can only imagine what an awful evening this has been for you and your daughter.” Donda looked at Drew for a moment, smiling at the careful bites she was taking from a large cookie. “Well…there’s really not much to tell. I’m just anxious to get her home, it’s been a long night.” As if on cue, the storm outside grew louder, and what sounded like thumbtacks poured down the roof and into the rainspouts. “That should clear up soon.” John replied. “We’ll help get you home as soon as we can.” Mary paused for a moment then spoke. “In the meantime… perhaps we could ask a favor as well.”

“Mary, you’re jumping the gun.” John spoke softly, staring down at his feet. “Let’s talk some more first.” Mary frowned. “But this is our only chance, did you see the time?”  She looked at him earnestly. “John…please.” Donda and Drew looked at each other. “Is something wrong?” Donda asked, not really needing an answer. John patted Mary’s arm before looking up. “Yes and no.” He glanced at his wife again. “We have a rather interesting story.” Donda frowned slightly but waited for him to continue.

“Do you know what a séance is?”

. . .

Now Donda looked downward. “Oh boy… I’m not sure I like where this is going.” Mary set her cup down and bent forward, elbows on her knees. “I can assure you, we’re not kooks. But you have to understand, this night is--“ She looked at John and then back at Donda. “Important. Please hear my husband out, and if you still feel the same way…” She paused. “Please.” Donda studied them both for a moment then turned to Drew. The kid was absolutely enthralled. “Go ahead” Donda said. “I’m listening.”

One evening several years ago, Mary and I were reading the evening papers and came across an interesting ad in the Arts section. A woman who called herself ‘Madame Celia Dare’ hosted spirit circles, or séances in her home, and claimed to have the ability to contact loved ones--for a nominal fee, of course.

Madame Dare

 

Madame Celia Dare & “The Spirit Circle”  

Being a man of science, I found the whole thing to be nonsense. But we were bored and looking for something to do, so we contacted her and requested to join her “spirit circle” for that evening. We informed her we wished to talk to Mary’s deceased Aunt Helen. That night, Madame, her partner, another couple, and Mary and myself sat around a small table in a darkened room. In the center sat a small bell. Madame instructed that we should all place our hands on the table while she ‘channeled the spirit world’; when we made contact, the bell would be levitated off the table and ring above our heads.

So Mary and I obediently played along, waiting to see what would happen next. Suddenly the room went pitch-black, and Madame Dare droned “I am here, Mary….your Aunt Helen.” And sure enough, above our heads, we heard the small bell ringing. For a couple moments it was quite effective. But the truth was--Aunt Helen didn’t even exist. We made her up. So to play along, we asked a couple nonsense questions, keeping in the spirit of things so to speak, paid our fifty dollars and left. On the way out the door, I quietly pointed out to Mary the fishing line that was tied to Madame’s partner’s chair--which led straight to the ceiling, where I’m sure another small bell was hidden in the light fixture. We had a good laugh about it afterward.

Now the very next day, when I informed my colleagues of our little adventure in the spirit world, one of them seemed quite upset. Later that day I went to him, and asked if I had said something earlier to offend. He told me matter-of-factly that indeed I had, he took all of it quite seriously. It seems that a year or so prior to my and Mary’s foray into the ‘spirit world’, my colleague’s wife had passed away after a long illness. One evening not long after, while sitting at home alone in his livingroom, he heard a rustling noise through the ceiling and ran upstairs to check. It was coming from the master bedroom. He opened the door and flipped on the light switch--and for an instant, just an instant, mind you-- he saw the ghost of his wife standing at the open closet, searching for something. Being a man of science like myself, he told himself this wasn’t possible. He then spent the better part of a year meeting with assorted seers and so-called psychics, trying in vain to contact her. What had she been searching for? Or was it just the dreams of a lonely man who missed his wife?

For the next several weeks, I couldn’t get that story out of my head. I began to postulate--that is, come up with--different theories on how such a phenomenon could occur. I wanted to approach it purely from a scientific standpoint; I’ll spare you all the research that went into my obsession. But then one day I felt I made a breakthrough; it had to do with geographic location and electromagnetic activity, and how their lines occasionally criss-cross. And on the night my colleague saw his wife, I discovered his house fell dead-center in those lines, so to speak. These magnetic lines change daily, but can be mapped and even forecast. I showed my findings to Mary, and together we plotted a couple of locations, looking only for old houses where ‘X marks the spot’. Places that were bound to have history. We were fully prepared to test my theories…to determine if temporary bridges between the living and the dead could exist. And then one night right about then, everything changed.

“We were in a terrible auto accident” Mary said, looking at her shoes for a moment and then up at Donda. “We had a daughter, Rose. She’s no longer with us.” John held his wife’s hand. “She was only four years old.” Mary turned her head and cleared her throat. John lowered his eyes. A silence fell over everyone like a heavy curtain. “I’m really sorry…” Donda murmured, truly saddened at their loss. She glanced at Drew. Her daughter looked sorrowful but was obviously still intrigued. John spoke again. “We think we have a chance to contact her. Tonight. But our other guests didn’t show.” Donda knew where this was going, but it was Drew that responded first. “Are you going to have a séance for her?” Her question was met with silence, and Donda knew what that meant: they were waiting for her to answer it.

Why me?  Donda thought. Could this night get any worse? “Can’t you wait a little longer for your guests?” She asked. John shook his head softly. “No, we can’t. I don’t know why they didn’t arrive in the first place, but I’m certain now they’re no longer coming.” “Yes, you said that earlier” Donda answered. “Listen--this is all so strange. You can’t wait and try it another night?” “No” John replied. “I mapped out the magnetic activity long ago; we’ve had this night planned for months. This was Rose’s home--it still is--and tonight it falls right in the center of that activity.” Donda shook her head in genuine amazement. This has got to be the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. “Maybe someday your house will be in the right spot again?” Drew asked. John looked at Mary, who continued staring at her lap. “It will…but according to my calculations that won’t occur until sometime around August 2017.”

“Listen.” Donda spoke up. “Should we leave? I still don’t understand what exactly you’re trying to do, but we don’t want to be in your way. We could wait outside or…” John smiled gently at her and shook his head. “I wouldn’t hear of it. Besides, our process won’t work with just the two of us. For actual contact, we need four people.” The room suddenly fell quiet again. “I’m really sorry.” Donda finally said. “I just can’t let my little girl be part of all this.”

“Would you excuse me please?” Mary said, as she stood and left the room. John watched her exit, then turned to Donda and Drew. “It’s alright. We probably had no business…I’m going to talk to her, everything will be fine. Thank you for listening to our story.” “You’re welcome…” Drew answered, still wide-eyed with wonder. John smiled warmly at her and left.

They wasted no time the moment they were alone. “Mama, what are we going to do?” asked Drew in a loud whisper. Donda forced a smile and looked down at her daughter. “Honey, as soon as it stops raining I want to get out of here.”

Drew wiped her hands on her napkin. “I think they’re desperate.”

“Crazy people always sound desperate!” Donda exclaimed. “ I know you think we should help them Drew, but we can’t. Then we’d be the crazy ones!”

“I know they’re strange but that doesn’t mean they’re crazy, mama.”

Donda smiled and put her arm around Drew, hugging her. “You’re right, lovebug. But really, Drew…this is so not normal.” Her daughter nodded her head and picked up another cookie. “Mama, if I died, and someone said they could help you have a séance so you could talk to me, would you try? Or would you tell them no because it was crazy?” Donda exhaled a heavy sigh and looked upwards towards the ceiling. God, please help me get through this.

Chapter 2:  Let the Séance Begin

When Donda informed the couple that she and Drew were willing to help (and received an overjoyed reaction from Mary--no surprise there), John and his wife wasted no time getting things in order. Mary cleared the dishes from the room as Donda and Drew took their seats at the table, and John fussed with the strange black box that sat in its center. “Will we all be holding hands? In the dark??” Donda asked worriedly. “Yes and no” he answered, not looking up from the device. “We need to stay in physical contact to maintain the bond of energy my device requires, but the lights will remain on.” “Drew, I want you on this side of me” said Donda quietly, not about to let some strange man touch her daughter. John pretended not to notice what was being said until he saw where Donda was sitting, her back to the wall. “Could you sit on the opposite side of the table?” he asked. “Mary wants a clear view of the room.” “Uh…sure.” Donda replied, changing her seat. John left the table and came back holding a large mirror in a heavy gold frame. He removed the artwork on the wall behind Mary’s chair and replaced it with the glass. “How’s that?” he asked. “Now you can see the entire room like the rest of us.” Donda smiled politely. “Fine…thanks.” She gazed across the table at herself and the small bookcase that sat behind her in the mirror. Oh yeah, I feel SO much better now.

“There, that’s it…” John said more to himself, as he returned the black box to its spot. Donda immediately noticed the green light glowing weakly from each of its sides. “Whoa, what is that? That’s not going to hypnotize us or something, is it??” she asked, not joking. “Hypnosis? No!” John replied. “It’s the invention I told you of earlier.” Mary re-entered the room then, taking her seat. John continued. “This device will enable us to analyze bio-electricity in the room, and hopefully at the right moment…capture ethereal images. I suppose you could call it a spirit camera.”

Donda shook her head in disbelief. “Listen; the more I think about this whole thing, the crazier it gets. I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone here.” Mary looked worriedly at John before responding. “Donda please; it won’t take long, we only need to capture one image.” Why? Donda thought. She turned to Drew. “Honey, are you sure you want to do this?”

John didn’t wait for the child’s answer. “Please. Try to look at this as a scientific experiment; all those scary stories and superstitions don’t apply here, only science.” He thought for a moment. “Picture a glass half-filled with water; now fill the other half with mineral oil. The oil and water are both liquid, both clear. They both exist in the same environment, the glass. And yet…alike as they are, both contained in the same glass, they’re still separated. By the laws of science, by nature.” He paused for a moment, for effect. “But stir things up a little…” he made a swishing motion with his finger. “and now they’re interacting with each other. Well, for awhile. Left alone, they naturally separate again. That’s how I see the living and the dead, Donda. Just two levels of being in the same space, one trying to touch the other for a few moments.”

Donda stared at him for a moment, unsure of how to respond. “Well, let’s get this over with” she finally said, looking around her. “Yes, she’s right!” Mary chimed in, obviously anxious to begin. “Are you nervous, dear?” she asked, looking at Drew. Drew looked at her mother before answering. “A little bit, but I’m excited mostly.”   Mary gently placed her slender fingers over Drew’s hand and smiled at Donda.  “Your daughter is a treasure.”  Donda looked down at Mary’s hand with an annoyed expression. “Yes, well, I just want to keep it that way.” She was about to say something else when she was suddenly startled as John’s large hand covered her own. “Are you ready to begin?” he asked. She nodded silently. He looked around the table. “Let’s complete the circle then and get started.” Donda took Drew’s other hand and squeezed it softly. “What do we do now?” Drew asked. John thought for a moment. “I suggest we close our eyes and concentrate on the name Rose.” “For how long?” Donda asked. John shrugged his eyebrows. “I honestly couldn’t say; this is the first time we’ve tried this.”

   The Spirit Camera

She sat there with her eyes closed, almost in a dreamlike state; she hadn’t expected to feel this relaxed. I must be really worn out, she thought. What a night this has been. The only things she felt aware of was a steady patter of rain in the distance, her own rhythmic breathing, and her daughter’s warm hand in hers, a very comforting feeling. She smiled slightly as she thought of how much her brainy little angel was probably enjoying all this weirdness, and wondered if anyone was actually chanting that name in their thoughts. It was then she felt the rise of goose bumps on her arms, the soft hairs standing gently up.

“Mama…” came the whisper.

Donda opened her eyes with a start. “Drew? Was that you?”

“Yes… something’s in the room…do you feel it?” Drew whispered back, nodding at John. Donda turned to him. “We felt the presence a couple moments ago…” he quietly answered. This whole thing—too crazy, Donda thought. “Can you see anything?” she asked. “No” he replied. “Perhaps visual contact won’t be possible.”

She looked across the table at Mary, who had her eyes closed and was frowning, probably at John’s words; but Donda knew hope was there too. She then looked behind Mary’s head, at the large mirror. A reflection of her own frowning face stared back at her, no surprise there; and in the background she saw a black upright piano. I don’t remember a piano, she thought. She turned her head and attempted to look over her left shoulder, but her view was limited; all she could see was that small bookcase which sat directly behind her. “Where did that piano in the mirror come from?” she asked to no one in particular. “What piano?” John asked. “We don’t own a…” he followed Donda's gaze into the mirror and hunched forward to have a better view. “My God!” He exclaimed in a hoarse whisper. “What? What do you see?” Mary said, her eyes springing open. “Take a deep breath and look at the wall behind you, dear...” he responded. This can’t be real, Donda thought and she looked over her shoulder again. She then looked at Drew, who sat quiet, her eyes wide like an owl. No one else spoke, as they all sat staring at the apparition reflected back at them. “A most peculiar thing” John finally said, still in hushed tones. “It seems we’ve made contact with the other side.”

They sat in stunned silence for a few moments more, no one sure what to expect next. Donda looked briefly to both her left and right, as the Thornes and Drew continued their scrutiny of the glass. She thought for a moment. Perhaps this was a trick of some sort? A con game? Suddenly John tensed. “ Someone else is in the room.” Donda hurriedly looked behind her chair again but saw nothing but the bookcase. These damn crazy people! She returned her eyes to the mirror. “Something…something’s changing…” Mary whispered. Drew sat frozen, deep in concentration. Donda squeezed her daughter’s hand and shook her own head slightly, unsure of what to do or say. The reflection of the piano seemed to blur and shift then, and she blinked several times at it. “Mama…do you see her?” Drew murmured.

A small girl dressed in a simple cotton nightgown, not more than 4 or 5 years old stood there in the glass, showing only her back to them. She had long strands of auburn hair, slightly tangled at its ends. The room was filled with silence. The girl bent forward, her long hair falling over her front as she slowly slid the bench out from beneath the keys. She climbed up on the seat and sat as if preparing to play, her small bare feet not even reaching the foot-pedals. Her arms reached in front of her.

Plink…plink…plink…the notes were repeated over and over and echoed in the air around them. “My God!” Donda spoke in a frantic whisper. “Do you hear that? It’s right behind me! Okay can we stop this now?” John and Mary didn’t seem to hear her as they continued gazing at the haunting image reflected at them. “Mama I think that girl can hear you!” Drew whispered loudly. In the mirror, the girl was now sitting up straighter, both arms bent at the elbows and hands paused several inches from the keys. They watched in awe as the back of her head tilted slightly to the left, as if waiting for their next sentence. “Okay, please stop…” Donda whispered louder this time, the panic in her voice rising. Slowly the girl in the mirror began to turn her head and

“STOP!” Donda shouted, pulling away from John’s grip and startling everyone at the table. She sat there for a moment with her eyelids squeezed shut before Mary spoke. “She’s gone.”

Donda opened her eyes. The mirror reflected only a well lit room and the bookcase behind her chair again. “Are you alright, Mama?” Drew asked, and Donda squeezed the small hand still in her own and nodded her head. “Well.” John said quietly. “That didn’t go as planned.” No one responded. He continued. “I think we have a better idea of what to expect now. Truly fascinating; I had no idea that mirror would serve as a window.” “Donda, are you feeling better?” Mary asked. Donda shook her head slightly, unsure of what to say. “Why don’t we switch seats?” Mary offered. “On our next try, you won’t have to see things you don’t want to.” Donda's eyes widened and she finally spoke. “Are you serious? There’s no way we’re going through that again!” She made an audible sigh and turned to her daughter. “Are you sure you’re alright?” Drew nodded.

“Surely you don’t think you’re in any danger?” John asked. “Your child appears fine with everything.” Donda felt her temper rise. “How am I supposed to know what’s dangerous here? And you’re right, she is a child. I had no business--omigod, I’ve had it. The only reason we came here was because we needed help! How did I let myself get talked into all this??” “Dear, you’re only exciting yourself…” Mary answered quietly. “Why don’t I prepare some hot green tea?” Donda looked at her with disgust. “No.”

What have I done, she thought. For all I know we could’ve been drugged! Drew finally spoke. “Can I ask a question?” Everyone turned to her. “I was just wondering…why is Rose still in this house? Why didn’t she go to Heaven when she died?”

Mary exchanged a puzzled look with her husband before turning to Drew. “Sweetheart, what do you mean? My daughter is alive and well.” “Alright, wait a second!” Donda interrupted. “I thought you were trying to reach her on ‘the other side’; now you’re saying she’s not dead?” Mary turned quickly to her husband again, looking for an answer. He nodded his head slowly, as if finally understanding. “Mrs. Preston…” he said. “Rose isn’t dead. We are.

Donda's mouth dropped open. “You…you think you’re dead?” she asked in a half-whisper. “Are you ghosts?” Drew asked, her eyes wide. “How come we can see you?” Mary shook her head sympathetically. “Oh dear…you really don’t understand.” She looked downward at the table. “You’re dead too.”

She felt assaulted by a sudden assortment of frightening images. Halloween masks, empty old houses, toothless old women with yellow eyes and concealing long shiny knives. People in padded cells, wrapped like mummies in their ivory straightjackets and spouting gibberish or laughing maniacally. We’re in a madhouse here, Donda thought. They’re insane. How do I--

“Surely you don’t believe you’re in any danger here?” Mary asked, softly but with a firm assurance that both relieved and frightened Donda. Can she read my mind? Can all of this be true? “You’re frightening my daughter…” Donda managed to get out, feeling very weak and alone. “Drew I want to go now. Get your coat, okay?” “You weren’t wearing any…” Mary said, an expression of guilt and sadness on her face.

“Mrs. Preston.” Donda turned slowly to John’s gentle tones. “If you concentrate, it will come back to you. Think back…try to remember your car accident earlier tonight.”

Donda sat there for a moment, feeling numbness wash over her. “It really wasn’t an accident. The car, it--it went into a ditch and the battery died. That’s all.” Mary gave John a confused but silent look. He continued. “And how long did you sit there without any heat?” “We fell asleep” Drew answered for her mother. “For a couple hours…”

“I see.” John replied softly. “Hypothermia, I’m guessing. I truly am sorry.”

Before Donda could respond, Mary spoke up. “Girls, look at your shoes.” Donda sat there dazed as Drew looked downward. “It’s been raining all night and our house sits off a dirt road, over a mile from the main one.” She was answered with silence, and continued. “You walked all that way and your shoes don’t have a spot of mud on them.” “You never complained about the cold outside either” John added. “ If you were really here…I mean, more than in spirit form…you would have been shivering the minute you left your vehicle.” “What happened to our coats?” Drew asked in a small voice. “We had coats on in the car.”

“Oh I’m sure you did, sweetheart.” Mary responded. “And I’m positive that back in your car, you’re still wearing them. I guess that here…you don’t need them. Do you understand what I mean?” Drew nodded quietly.

Donda sat there very still; never had she felt such…bewilderment. She looked at her daughter. I’ll never see her grow up? None of this felt wrong, but none of it felt right either. “Mama, who’s going to tell Daddy?” Drew asked, her voice tiny and choked. “Who’s going to take care of Frankie?”

Mary reached across the table and squeezed Donda's other hand. Donda surprised herself by not pulling away or even flinching. “There must have been a reason…” Mary said gently. “You must’ve had a reason for not moving on.” “Moving on? But we did…we left the car and just walked until we found your house.” Donda replied, more confused than before.

“What Mary is saying, there must’ve been a reason why you chose to remain here, like we did.” John looked at his wife. “It doesn’t occur by accident. When a person feels they have unfinished business, they remain here as best they can.” “We’ve met people like ourselves…” Mary added. “Some only needed another day or so; some stay on this side for years.” John patted his wife’s hand. “And there are some that don’t even know they’ve passed on, and need reminded.” “Maybe that’s us Mama…” Drew said sadly. John nodded his head slowly. “Give it time. You have as much of it as you need.”

“John?” Everyone looked at Mary. “What if it’s none of those things?”

John looked at his wife with a puzzled expression. “What are you saying?” he asked. Mary shook her head. “Something isn’t right. They’re not remembering anything.” She looked at Donda. “It’s true that some don’t know they’re even dead right away, but once they’re told, it all falls into place.” Donda shook her head and looked at Drew. No. Nothing. John reached over and gently squeezed his wife’s arm. “Mary, don’t do this. They’ve been here for hours and can see us as easily as we see them; they saw the other side in that mirror, same as us--”

Mary suddenly sat up. “John, this house; the lines criss-cross tonight! You said it yourself, tonight in this location--we have a bridge between the living and the dead!”

“Mary…you’re reaching.” He answered softly. Donda stared at the both of them, feeling helpless. It was as if she was trapped in someone else’s bad dream. “What’s all this mean? Please!” she said, more confused than ever. Mary looked at Donda. “I think you need to go back to your car. You need to take your daughter and go.”

A few minutes ago she’d been fearful to stay; now she was afraid to leave. “Why??” Donda asked, feeling frightened again. John removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Mary…let them stay.” He looked sympathetically at Drew and put his glasses back on. “If they’re not already passed on, they must be very close.”

Mary held her hand up in his direction. “John--hush. Donda, there may still be time. But we can’t sit around here debating it!”

“Okay, listen…” Donda replied. “I don’t know what to believe anymore. How--“

“It doesn’t matter what you believe!” Mary interrupted, startling everyone. Go back to your car before it’s too late!” Green fire blazed in her eyes. Ghost-light, Donda thought. She didn’t know how she knew, but she did. And all of this seemed very real now.

Had they said anything before leaving?  Donda couldn’t remember. She couldn’t even recall rising from the table or exiting the house. She had simply found herself standing on the wet walk outside, Drew held firmly in her grasp. The rain had stopped, but the skies ahead stayed heavy and close, as if preparing for a second act.

“Look…” Drew said, pointing at the house. In the front door’s glass stood John and Mary Thorne, she with her head bowed, his eyes a somber stare. The couple stood there bathed in a green glow, now spilling out of the windows and down onto their porch; it stopped just short of Donda and Drew’s feet. Drew took a step back instinctively. A wind suddenly swirled around the two of them, and they turned from the house then, into a dark and unforgiving night.

They hurried onto the rain-soaked road which brought them here, away from the eerie house and back into a starry darkness. Gusts of mossy air followed close behind, nudging them along. “Mama, please let go” Drew said between breaths and Donda put her arm around her daughter’s shoulders instead, refusing to lose contact for even an instant. They went quickly and quietly, each unsure of what the other was thinking. A sudden rumbling from the sky startled both of them, and they stopped for a moment, collecting their breath and their wits. “Are you okay honey?” Donda asked. “Mama are we still alive or just ghosts now?” Drew asked, her eyes large and round in the darkness. “What if we go back to Nana’s car and see our bodies--“ “Drew don’t!” Donda interrupted. “This is all just a bad dream, I promise!” Drew rested her head against her mother then, and Donda's stomach twisted in a knot. She pulled Drew close to her, hugging her tightly. “But I think we need to get back there right away” she whispered into her little girl’s hair. Before Drew could answer a soft voice sounded from the darkness ahead.

“Lucky….Lucky…”

“Who was that!?” Drew asked, a hint of panic in her voice. “Honey please let’s go!” Donda responded, afraid herself of knowing. She knew it was somewhere just ahead. They walked slower now, arm in arm; Drew thought briefly about Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz; lions and tigers and bears, oh my. “Lucky…” the voice called closer this time and they stopped once more, standing very still. Directly ahead stood a silhouette of something…no, someone. The wind suddenly calmed, as if knowing when enough was enough. “Honey, I see him now, it’s just a little boy. Nothing to be afraid of…” Donda said quietly, and prayed her words were true. “I see him now too!” Drew whispered. “Mama, I wonder if he’ll be able to see us?”

Fifty or so feet ahead, a small boy dressed in overalls stood in the center of the road, looking in their direction. He spoke quietly this time, sounding less scary in the still air. “Who are you?” he asked, not moving from his spot. “Mama he can see us!” Drew exclaimed, holding her mother’s hand and pulling her along. Crazier and crazier, Donda thought. She didn’t know what to believe anymore. “Hi, what’s your name?” Drew said, as they got closer. “Davey…” the boy murmured. “Have you seen a dog out here? He’s reddish brown all over and his name is Lucky. He ran away and I can’t find him anywhere.” Donda looked at him carefully. My God, she thought. He can’t be older than six or seven! “Honey why are you out here all alone?” she asked, her own worries set aside for a moment. He looked up at her, his dark eyes on the verge of tears. “I didn’t mean to be out here this long…Luck saw a coon and took off after it, and I hafta bring him home before my dad finds out, or else he’ll shoot him for rabies!”

“Are you lost? Do you know where you live?” Drew asked. The boy turned then, and pointed down the road. “Just over the hill there, that’s our place, the Scott farm.”  Donda looked down at him again and froze. A wide tire tread, ugly and black traveled in a diagonal angle across the boy’s back and again down the back of his legs. She noticed the back of his head then too, wet and matted with something dark; oil or even worse. Sometimes the dead don’t know until they’re told, she remembered. She caught herself breathing too fast and swallowed with difficulty. Mustn’t let Drew see. Can’t let her know. “Our car’s down the road, maybe your Dad can help get us out of the ditch, right mama?” Drew said, standing in front of him and not realizing what her mother knew.

“Er…no Drew” Donda said, very quietly. “We don’t want to get Davey in trouble. But he has to go home right now, that’s where Lucky is.” “Really?” he said, looking at her with such trusting eyes. Her heart broke for him. How long has this child been calling for his dog on this damn road? He looked like someone from a dusty old photo. “Yes honey” she answered, knowing it was a lie that needed to be told. “Everyone knows a dog stops chasing coons and will run straight home when a storm begins. You have to go home now, promise?” The child stood there for a moment, staring into the darkness. “Home…” he finally murmured, and then turned again to Donda. “Okay.” He stepped into the shadows.

He understands. God, he’s in your hands now, she thought.

Drew remained unaware of what had occurred and hugged her mother again as they continued. “I feel a lot better now; maybe the people in that house really were crazy, mama!” “You never know…” Donda responded, unsure of what to say but relieved for her child all the same. “Mama, when we first ran outta that house, sometimes it felt like my feet weren’t even on the ground!” I felt that too, Donda thought. She forced herself to smile in the darkness and squeezed Drew closer. She’s too young to deal with this, Donda thought. Let her have all the hope in the world, as long as she can. The wind rose again then, and sent pieces of damp earth and twigs after them, reminding them to move along, nothing more to see here.

She almost cried when she saw it. They had been hurrying along for what seemed like hours, mostly in silence as the night urged them to go even faster, to remind them that somewhere a clock was ticking. And then suddenly there it was, just as they had left it. The white Blazer seemed to glow with pride, as if it knew what it represented to them.

Drew pulled free and ran to it, and Donda shouted “Drew, wait!” afraid of what she might see inside. She hurried after her, and they reached the SUV together. Drew cupped her hands on the passenger window, peering through the glass. “Mama, it’s empty!” Drew shouted, a joyful ring in her voice. Donda closed her eyes for a moment. Dear God thank you. She refused to care what she’d seen earlier tonight; this was the truth, their own reality. A sudden boom sounded overhead, and rain began falling all around them. “Go on and get in honey!” Donda shouted. “Maybe the car will start now, or we can at least sit in it and wait!” Donda ran to the drivers side, arms above her head to shield her from the downpour. She looked through the window and saw her keys dangling from the ignition. Can’t believe I left them there, she thought as she reached for the door handle. “Mama I can’t get it open!” Drew shouted from the other side, and Donda quickly bent down to see if it was locked. No, the doors were unlocked and why did they leave it like--she noticed something odd then, in the driver’s side mirror and bent further down, peering at its silvery surface. “No…” she whispered. “It can’t be.”

The light was so dim that the words OBJECTS MAY APPEAR CLOSER CLOSER THAN THEY ARE were barely recognizable; but she still saw the reflection of someone in the drivers seat, head tilted back and eyes closed. Their lips hung slightly open, a bluish cast to them. That’s me, Donda thought. I can’t--it’s not possible. She saw the reflection of Drew then, slumped over with only the top of her head visible in her mother’s lap. Our coats, they’re wearing our coats. They can’t be real. She felt dizzy for a moment and stood quickly up, looking again though the glass. Nothing. Spirits out here, bodies in there. The other side seen only thru a mirror. And she suddenly understood now, all of it; she knew what they had to do.  “Drew!” she shouted over the roof. “We have to get in and--“ she looked through the window to the other side. “Drew!” Donda called through the dark glass, running back to her daughter’s side of the vehicle, the panic in her throat climbing.

Drew. She was gone.

She flew to the rear of the Blazer, eyes wide with terror. “DREW!!!” she screamed into an uncaring darkness and fell to her knees, shakily swinging her arm under the car and then looking under there as well. “Baby please WHERE ARE YOU?” Donda cried out, her frantic noises lost in the heavy rains now lashing about her. She buried her face in her hands and then--

The voice in her head was so familiar, her head jerked upward. Was it wishful thinking? It was more like a thought than anything else. Was it her own?

That angel’s back in the car where she belongs. Get in there, Donda Lin; you don’t need the damn door.

“Mom!” Donda thought. “Is that you?” The voice in her head spoke again. Honey, hurry. She closed her eyes and pressed her face and arms against her mother’s former car, not quite feeling the wet metal underneath. Suddenly the storm was outside now, and a stuffy smell of stale air and leather upholstery filled her senses.

Blackness. Stillness. Peaceful in here.

In a faraway place, a tapping sound. She struggled to make sense of it…

“Miss! Miss!! Can you hear me! Yes Betty, there’s fog on the inside of the windshield, they’re still breathing! Get my toolbox from the--waitaminute, she’s coming around!”

“Omigod…where am I?” Donda thought, struggling to open her eyes. She groggily turned her head to the loud smacking noises coming from the window. What’s he doing? “Miss, it’s okay--I’m a doctor, can you hear me?” She nodded her head slowly, yes. “Can you unlock your door so we can help?” he continued. The haze surrounding her thoughts began to clear and she shook her head briefly. Omigod, Drew! “Honey, wake up…” Donda said, shaking her gently. “Drew baby…wake up. Wake up sweetheart!” she said louder. Drew jerked slightly then, and turned her head upward. “Mama…I’m so sleepy.” “I know honey, help’s here!” she answered, looking out again out through the window at the elderly couple waiting. God…Mom. Thank you.

. . .

“Now we’re just going to sit here for a spell, let you two get warmed up properly” said the man in the front seat. Donda could see nothing but their silhouettes and the lighted dashboard of the couple’s car. Oh it’s so warm in here! The woman in the front passenger seat turned towards them, her face showing equal parts care and worry. “You two are looking better already” she said, then turned to her husband. “Are we taking them up to the hospital?” “Of course” he answered. “We’ll have them looked at, get something hot in them, then call for a tow.” Drew nestled against her mother, wrapped in a red plaid blanket. “Aren’t those wraps the comfiest things?” the woman said to them. “Henry’s always insisting we carry spare blankets in the car; they’ve come in handy on many an occasion.” “I want to thank you for saving our lives” Donda said then, holding Drew close to her. “I can’t believe…thank you.” “Miss, you’re welcome” he responded gently. “I’ll bet you saved ours too, so I’d say we’re even.”  What?  His wife turned again towards Donda. “It’s true. One of our headlights is burned out and we didn’t even know until it got dark. If we hadn’t seen your white SUV up ahead in that sinkhole, that would’ve been us!” She turned to her husband. “Now do you see the reason for a cellphone?” She sighed and continued. “He really should carry one anyway--my husband’s a doctor.” “I’m sorry, but I didn’t get your names?” Donda said. “We’re Henry and Betty Sobol” she replied. “What’s yours?”

Chapter 3:  Unfinished Business

“Rise and shine, sleepy head…” Donda sang softly to her daughter, sitting on the edge of her bed and stroking her hair. God, she’s so beautiful. Drew took a deep breath then, opening her eyes. “Hi Mama” she answered sleepily. They sat in silence for a moment, Donda content to sit there and stare at her treasure. Drew sat up. “Mama, did you tell Daddy yet what happened to us last week?” Donda paused. “Parts of it, angel. But I didn’t want him worrying about us while he’s away, plus I want you and me to talk some more about it first.”

Drew nodded her head before replying. “You mean how we almost died and became ghosts forever?” “Drew, we don’t know if that really happened!” Donda answered. “Honey, maybe we just hallucinated the whole thing. Do you know what a hallucination is?”

Drew looked doubtful. “What about that little boy we met, Mama? He was a ghost too.”

Donda blinked several times. How did she know? “Baby, we don’t know that either.” “I do” Drew replied. “I looked up his name at the library at school. A little boy named David Scott got hit by a truck out there when he was six years old. It happened in 1955.” Donda swallowed hard. Omigod. “Maybe you heard about him once but forgot about it…” she replied weakly. She had hoped the memory of that night would fade from both their minds; too many questions, too many uneasy answers.

“Mama, that house was really there…” Drew said softly.

Donda sighed. “Oh I’m sure it was. Drew, listen. I think you’re one of the smartest and bravest people I know. But I’m not like you and your Daddy. I don’t like scary stuff like ghosts and vampires and haunted houses. I was really hoping we could let things go back to normal, and try to forget what happened last week. Do you think we could?”

Drew looked down at her lap. “Baby, are you okay?” Donda asked. Drew didn’t look up. “Mama, we have to go back.” I honestly wasn’t expecting that, Donda thought.

“Why?”

“So we can tell Rose her Mama left her something.”

“What?! Honey what makes you think that?”

“Mary told me…she asked me to please make sure and tell her.”

“When did she do that?”

“Last night. When I was sleeping. She said time was running out.”

“Baby that was just a dream!”

“She said she was going to ask you tonight, Mama.”

. . .

It truly was a day for the living. April was approaching, and a nicer Saturday couldn’t even have been wished for. The air had a cool and pleasant tang, but there was so much sun that it easily felt like May instead. Donda still felt an uneasy sense of déjà vu however, when they turned off the highway and onto the country road they’d taken just one week before. A lifetime ago, Donda thought. Drew sensed her mother’s apprehension and reached over. “It’s all right, Mama” she said, patting her mother’s hand. Donda smiled but said nothing. Her love for her little girl was so strong sometimes that it left her speechless.

They had no difficulties finding the dusty turn that veered off their wooded route, and Donda shuddered briefly as she recalled the memory of that little boy, all alone in the dark. She began wondering where he was at this moment when Drew spoke. “Mama, we’re here.”

The house was right where they’d left it. They sat in their car, looking in silence out the passenger window. It was definitely the same home, but here in spring’s sunshine it glowed a pale yellow now. Light gray shutters bordered each window, and the walk leading to the door was lined with colorful flowers; a blue Toyota sat in it’s driveway.  Donda wondered if the difference in appearance was because of the daylight, or…no, she didn’t want to go there. “Honey, are you sure you want to do this?” she asked and Drew nodded her head yes, not turning from her window. Donda bit her lower lip and paused for a moment. Now what?

They walked slowly up the familiar path that led to the front door and stopped midway; they hadn’t seen her from the car.  A little girl sat on the floorboards of the front porch, busily scribbling in a coloring book, an assortment of crayons strewn around her. She looked about five years old or so with long auburn hair that dangled over her face as she concentrated on the task at hand.  “Mama, that’s her” Drew whispered, and Donda knew. The little girl at the piano…Rose.  The child looked up then, as if waiting for her cue.  “Hello” she said. Donda and Drew stood still for a moment, unsure of what to say. “Hi” Donda finally responded, eager to put her nerves behind her. “Do you have a grownup here we can talk to?” “Just my mamaw” the little girl said.

Drew spoke. “Your name is Rose, right? I think that’s a pretty name.” The child frowned. “My name isn’t Rose, I’m Katie.” What? “Do you have a sister named Rose?” Donda asked. “No” the girl replied. “But my cat’s name is Chloe.” Okay, Donda thought. This isn’t getting us anywhere.

The front door opened then, and an older woman came onto the porch. “Katie love, please move some of your things, okay?” She looked out at Donda and Drew. “Hello…can I help you? Are you lost?” “Hi!” Donda replied, relieved to see an adult appear. “We’re not lost, we’re just looking for somebody. Would you know anyone around here who has a little girl named Rose?” The woman cocked her head at them and frowned slightly, as if not believing what she had just heard. “No… but that’s my name.”

Donda looked at Drew for a moment, then studied the woman for a moment from where they stood. She had to have been close to seventy or so, but appeared surprisingly fit. Her hair was mostly gray, and her face held many lines, but her eyes were bright and inquisitive. Very pretty, Donda thought. “Would you like to come up and sit down?” the woman asked. “I just brewed a pitcher of iced tea.” Donda and Drew walked carefully to the porch, much like that stormy night a week ago. “This is my granddaughter Katie” Rose said. “And you are?”

“My name is Donda Preston. This is my daughter Drew” she answered, as they approached. “And you say you’re looking for a little girl with my name?”  Rose asked. She motioned to a wicker loveseat as she carefully sat down in a chair beside it.

“Is your last name Thorne?” Drew asked, and Rose arched her eyebrows. “That was my maiden name, yes…” She looked at Donda then. “Are you from one of those genealogical societies? You could be talking to the wrong person here.” Donda looked at Drew before responding. “Your parents were John and Mary Thorne?” A small smile played on Rose’s lips before she answered. “ ’Curiouser and curiouser’, as Alice said in the looking glass…yes, that was their names. What’s this all about?” Lady you don’t know the half of it, Donda thought.

Donda sat there between the two of them, Drew on one side, the woman on the other. They both displayed looks of expectation on their faces, waiting. There’s no easy way to start this, she thought. “I think we have something to share with you about your parents, but I can’t say for sure yet.” 

“Katie.” The little girl looked up at her from where she still sat. “Sweetie, would you take your dollies and play in the yard for a little while?  We’ll have lunch in just a bit.” Can I take a juicebox with me?” the child asked. “Of course” Rose replied. “Run inside and get one.” Rose looked carefully at Donda then. “How could you know about them?” she asked. “They’ve been gone for some time now.”

“I’m sure--I mean, yes, I know” Donda answered truthfully. She looked at Drew before continuing. We can’t share everything with her, baby. “A woman we used to know…she asked us to pass something along if we ever had the chance. She’s gone now.” Whew.

“Do you remember your parents?” asked Drew. Rose smiled at her. “How old are you, child?” “Eleven…and four months” Drew answered. The woman shook her head slightly. “Well, no dear. They died when I was a very little girl, much younger than you, younger than Katie even.” She sat silent for a moment before continuing. “But I don’t think there’s ever been a time that I haven’t wondered about them.” “That’s how we feel too” Drew said. “My nana died right before Christmas, she was my mama’s mother. But we talk about her almost everyday. We still miss her a lot.” Rose reached over and held Drew’s hand. “You’re a sweetheart, I’m very sorry to hear that.” Donda smiled at them but said nothing, surprised with the sudden peace she felt with this woman, here on this porch.

“So did your grandparents raise you?” Drew asked quietly. Rose smiled again at her. “No sweetie. I didn’t have any grandparents. I can’t say for sure, but I was told a long time ago that my folks had no living relatives. My mother grew up in an orphanage. After their accident, I had no one else to take care of me... so I was raised in an orphan’s home too.” Donda shook her head. Heartbreaking. “The same place your mom grew up in?” Drew asked again. “Now wouldn’t that be tragic!” Rose answered with a smile, reaching for something in her pocket. She extracted a wad of Kleenex and dabbed at her eyes.

Donda felt awkward. Maybe this was a mistake. Rose seemed to sense her discomfort and spoke again. “There’s no reason to feel bad for me dear--they’ve been gone over sixty years!“

“Do you have any pictures of them?” Drew asked. Rose gently shook her head. “I’m afraid not. All I have is an old newspaper clipping from 1940 about the accident. Oh, and this house--it was theirs, you know! The state had the sense not to sell the place, mine when I turned eighteen. But it was long emptied when I came back here.” She paused for a moment, attempting to recall something. “When I was around your age Drew, one of my teachers told me she had heard my father was an inventor. But I never learned anything else.” “You mean a scientist?” said Drew. “Excuse me?” Rose asked. Drew shrugged her shoulders slightly. “It just sounds more reputable, don’t you think?” The woman beamed at her. “Yes, it certainly does!” she replied, looking up at Donda. “I think I could talk to this one all day!”  No…no mistakes here, Donda thought.

. . .

She had almost forgotten their reasons for returning here; it felt as though they’d found a better one instead. And she had almost asked Drew if she was ready to go when Rose spoke. “So what did you girls have to share with me?” Donda looked quickly at Drew. Perhaps they needed to discuss this farther. Drew looked at her mother, motioning her to come closer. “Honey, what?” Donda asked. Drew put her hand up to Donda's face, whispering in her ear. “Honey, are you sure? What does that mean?”

Drew looked embarrassed, shaking her head. “Is everything alright?” Rose asked, looking very curious. “Uh…yes” Donda answered. “My daughter was bashful about telling you what she heard because she didn’t understand it. I’m sorry…I don’t think I do either.”

“Please, what is it?” Rose asked. Donda exhaled, putting her arm around Drew. “Well, all she knows is that your mother wanted you to have…um, what’s in the mirror.”

Rose drew back slightly. “I’m sorry that’s all we had” Donda said.  Rose shook her head. “Now don’t think another thing about it, this is the best Saturday I’ve had in a long time!” She smiled at Drew then. “And I do thank you for your visit. Could you stay a little longer? I do have that iced tea…” Donda smiled and nodded at her, of course.

After Rose went inside to get the refreshments, Drew turned to her mother. “Mama, I’m really sorry. But when Mary told me ‘in the mirror’ in my dream, it did make sense.” “Drew, you have nothing to apologize for!” Donda responded. “You wanted to do the right thing, and that’s what counts.” She turned then, looking behind their seat through the front window. The room within looked quite different than how it did a week ago. “Honey, did you see what’s in there?” Drew turned and looked. The black piano. It sat in the same place as that bookcase did, a thousand years ago.

“Hey.”

They both jumped slightly and turned back around.  Katie was standing there watching them. “You want me to play the piano for you? I can play ‘Three Blind Mice’.” Donda smiled at her. Oh, I know you can. Her eyes suddenly widened. “Mama, what is it now?” asked Drew. “I think I understand…” Donda answered, turning and looking back through the large window again. “I think I know what Mary meant.”

. . .

She wasted no time the moment Rose came back out onto the porch. “Would you girls like to come inside for lunch? I already have some—“ Donda interrupted her. “Rose, do you have a wall mirror in there?”

“Er… yes, I do. A couple. One in the hallway and an older one…it’s in the dining room. Why?”

Donda thought for a moment. “Does one of them have a gilded frame?” “Yes…what’s going on? Would you like to see it?” Rose asked in turn, holding open the door. The four of them went inside.

She led them through the living room into the adjoining dining room. A large mirror hung on the wall above the buffet server, in an ornate gold frame. Looks like the one that hung above my mom’s couch, thought Donda. “I’m afraid it’s a bit dusty on top” Rose quickly said, looking both at it and at her guests. “It’s such a heavy piece of glass, I don’t think it’s ever been off that wall.” Oh yes it has; the night your father brought it into the other room for me.  Drew tapped her mother’s arm and softly said  “Mama, I bet there’s something stuck behind there, maybe in the frame.  Let’s ask her if we can take it down.” 

Donda stood there for a moment and thought before answering.  “Honey, I don’t think we need to.”  In the mirror.  She walked over to a small landscape painting in the mirror’s reflection on the opposite wall in the dining room. “Do you mind?” she asked, and lifted the picture off the wall before Rose could answer. In it’s center a book-sized square was cut into the plaster, a small metal ring on one side. “You found it Mama!” Drew exclaimed in a loud whisper.

Rose stood rooted to the same spot, clearly surprised. “I--I’ve lived almost my entire life here; why didn’t I ever think to look behind that old picture?” Donda smiled at her. “Well…better late than never, right? I’ll let you do the honors.” She went over and stood beside Drew then, resting her hands on her daughter’s shoulders.

The small plaster door opened with a soft puffing noise, as air trapped for decades was suddenly released. Rose bent forward, looking into the wall. “Is there anything in there?” Donda asked, but was answered with silence as Rose gently raised her hands to the hidden compartment.

They watched with wide-eyed curiosity as Rose’s hands slowly withdrew, shaking with age or excitement, probably both.  She held an assortment of items--a large creamy envelope, some papers and a pair of dark leather journals. She stood there in the quiet for several seconds before turning to the others.

“Can you stay for lunch?”

. . .

The afternoon found the group once again on the front porch, with Katie playing in the front yard. An assortment of dishes showing the remains of sandwiches, macaroni salad, and cookies surrounded them. No one said much as Rose carefully examined the assorted papers in her lap. “I can’t believe what I’m looking at here” she finally said. “My father’s name is all over these things; bank books, stock certificates…I don’t know what to say.” Donda smiled at her, then turned to Drew. I love you, honey. She then turned back to Rose, who was quietly staring at a yellowed photo in her hands. “Rose, are you alright? What is it?” Donda asked. Rose carefully handed it to her.  “My parents. This is the first picture I’ve ever seen of them.”    

Donda turned the photo over. In faded ink it read:

 

John & Mary

Spring Dance

May 10, 1930

She showed it to Drew then gently handed the photo back to Rose. “They’re a very nice looking couple. They look like teenagers there.” Rose gazed at it again. “According to this book, it was their first real date. These books…they’re my mother’s diaries.” She shook her head in disbelief. “This…it’s all too much to ask for, it really is.” She held one of the books to her chest. “I can’t wait to begin reading these. Thank you. Thank you both.” Donda reached over and hugged her. “Can we help you clean up? We probably should be going…” Rose looked up at her. “Oh could you stay a while longer? This day…I want it to last.”

Katie appeared at the foot of the porch steps then. “Can I show Drew the anthill we found today?” Rose smiled at her. “You and your bugs! If she wants to, and if you promise not to touch it!”  Donda looked at Drew, who smiled and nodded. “It’s a big pile of dirt, it has ants going crazy all over it!” Katie said as Drew smiled and rolled her eyes at her mom before following the younger one into the yard.

“Mother. Dad.” Donda heard the soft whisper and turned quickly back in Rose’s direction. Now what?  Rose had the other journal open and her eyes were wide with wonder. She rubbed her thumb and first finger together, then delicately pulled at a tissue-thin sheet from within the book, holding it up. Donda looked on in amazement. That green glow… I’ve seen it before. “I’ve never seen a photograph like this, it’s almost glowing…” Rose murmured.  She shook her head in disbelief then blinked several times. “Would…would you like to see?” She carefully laid the image back into the journal, handing the book to Donda.

Donda stared down at the glowing picture.  It’s them… it all made sense now. That black box; the spirit-camera. All they needed was one picture, for her.  She couldn’t wait to show Drew.

Rose spoke again. “I’m beginning to remember now...” She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment and then looked at the ghostly image again.  “This is how they looked the last time I was with them, I’m sure of it.  It’s a memory I--I didn’t even know I had.” Rose wiped her eyes and spoke again. “I was blessed with a good husband for thirty-odd years, and a child of my own, and Katie here.  But I’m someone’s daughter too.”  

. . .

They sat quietly then, the two of them, watching their younger ones ahead in the bright day, in the colored grass. Drew turned then, smiling and waving to her mother. Donda waved back to her, her heart skipping a beat as it always did when it came to her daughter.  

THE END

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