1 comment

Fiction Horror

Marley loved marbles.

Four-year-olds are simple that way, tickled by things they can hold and collect. The promise of marbles was enough to get Marley to tag along with her parents on a never ending quest to fill their old Victorian home with period furniture. 

Once, at her mother’s favorite shop in Sandusky, the old woman working the cash register noticed Marley crawling on her hands and knees, reaching under an old dresser for something out of reach.

“What’s down there?” The woman asked.

“Marble,” Marley said. The woman reached her long, skinny arm under the dresser and scooped it up, handing the marble back to the little girl.

“Do you like marbles?”

Marley nodded.

“Come with me, then,” said the woman. She took Marley by the hand and led her to a section of the store filled with old lamps. On a table in the back sat a clear glass lamp with a yellow light shade on top. 

The woman lifted off the shade and unscrewed a gold lid from the lamp’s wide neck, popping it off to reveal that the lamp was hollow. She reached her hand in and set the marble inside. 

“Look,” she said. “This is a lamp you can fill with marbles.”

Marley beamed. 

“How many marbles fit in it?” She said. The old woman scratched her head for a moment and then smiled down at the girl.

“I’m not sure, to be honest. I’d guess about a hundred.”

A crash in the room beyond startled Marley and her companion. The little girl started walking toward the noise, curious to see what had fallen. 

“No,” said the old woman. “You stay away from that room. Lots of breakables back there. You break it, you buy it.” Marley shrugged and followed her back to the front of the store.

The old woman carried the lamp to the front of the store. Marley’s parents bought it, and Marley put it on her bedside table so she could look at books at night before bed. After that, each time her parents dragged her along to another antiques shop, they made sure she came home with another marble for the lamp. 

Her collection ranged from bright cerulean to milky white, and over time she acquired a slew of clear marbles with designs blown through the middle of the glass. Her favorite marble had a ribbon of teal and yellow woven together like hair ribbons. By the time she was five, her lamp was so full she could hardly screw on the lid anymore, and her parents had bought her a large flower vase for the overflow.

Her Grandpa Ronny bought her a Chinese checkers board for her fifth birthday. When he came over, they’d eat cheese and crackers and play a game or two, but Marley liked using the little divets on the board to organize her favorite marbles, arranging them in neat rows by color, or sometimes in order from least liked to most beloved. Other times, she grouped her collection by color and style — monochrome in one corner, clear marbles in another, and mismatched marbles spread throughout. Marley’s favorites were the clear marbles with ribbons running through them, and she especially liked it when she found ribbons in her favorite colors — purple, yellow, and red. 

It was the promise of more marbles that found Marley back at the antiques shop in Sandusky. 

“You again?” Said the old woman. “How’s the lamp working out?”

“It’s full,” Marley said. Her parents had wandered off, leaving Marley alone at the front of the shop. A cat jumped up onto the counter where the old woman was working. 

“This is Pete,” she said, and the cat wove itself around her arms before turning its attention to Marley.

“Go ahead, he won’t bite. Pete loves kids.” 

So Marley reached out a small hand toward the cat, who sniffed at her fingers.

“What's your name?”

“Dolores,” said the woman. “But most people call me Dolly. What's your name?”

The cat jumped off the counter and started heading toward the back of the shop. 

“Marley. Can I play with the cat?”

“Sure, if you can catch him.” Another customer came in, and Dolly rose from her stool behind the counter to greet him.

Marley turned and ran after Pete, spotting the old tabby cat as it bobbed in and out of well worn wicker chairs, underneath a pair of fine cherry writing desks, and through a forest of coat trees and bedposts until Marley spotted him in the room where Dolly had shown her the marble lamp, before the cat headed into the room Dolly said was full of breakables, which was blocked off by two heavy saloon doors. Marley flung them open and crept toward the cat. Kneeling down slowly, she extended a hand toward it, gaining permission to stroke Pete’s soft fur. The cat purred and let Marley pet him for a few minutes, then got up and trotted off to another part of the store. Alone now, Marley looked around the room. It was quiet, and she couldn't hear her parents or Dolly or anymore.

In a dark corner of the room, Marley noticed an imposing and ornate full-length mirror. Like the writing desks she’d run past earlier, it was made of a bright cherry polished to a high shine, and it stood over six feet tall. The frame was fringed with curves and curls that looked like vines, and the base of the mirror was thick and seemed rooted in place. Marley was, too, standing and staring in mesmerized silence a few feet away. 

A glass marble rolled over the bowed hardwood floor boards toward Marley from underneath the base of the mirror. She knelt down and picked it up. The glass was an opaque white with a red rose painted on it. The marble was covered in a shiny clear glaze, and it felt smooth and cold as Marley fingered it. She loved roses almost as much as she loved marbles, even when their thorns pricked her little fingers. 

She tucked the rose marble into her pocket and walked up to the mirror, lifting up the glass, which hung on a hinge, to see where the marble had come from, but all she found was a brick wall. She swung the mirror back into place and examined her reflection.

Marley smiled, and the Marley in the mirror smiled back. She held the corners of her dress in her hands and curtsied, and the Marley in the mirror curtsied back. Marley straightened up, and so did her reflection. Her cream dress fell back into place and Marley admired the delicate sunflowers her mother had sown at the waist. She stood there for a moment more, seeing herself fully as if for the first time, appreciating how tall she’d grown — big enough to reach crackers off the kitchen counter and turn on the faucet in the bathroom by herself. But the Marley in the mirror didn’t stay still; Marley watched as she turned around so that her back was facing outward. Marley could see her long chestnut hair hanging down, and peeked over her shoulder hoping to find something that made sense of what was going on in her reflection. 

When she turned back toward the mirror, a pale white face smiled back at her. It was a little girl, but not Marley, and her big black eyes looked like marbles. Her golden hair was tied back with red ribbons, braided into pigtails that hung over her shoulders. She wore a ruffled red dress with a white pinafore, and her hands were clasped together in front of her waist. 

Marley stared at the girl, taking in the too big smile and the bright red lips that seemed to glimmer with lip gloss or saliva. 

The girl broke the stillness by lifting up her right hand, pressing it against the glass from the other side. Her black eyes locked with Marley’s; she understood that the girl in the mirror meant to touch her. She began lifting up her own hand toward the glass, but as she was about to press against it Pete meowed behind her and the spell was broken. When she looked back, the girl still stood there, but Marley inched backward, almost stumbling in her haste to get far, far away from the mirror and the little girl who lived in it. She could see now that something was very wrong with the girl, whose smile had turned crooked and angry. Her brow had furrowed into an angry frown, and both of her hands were now pressed firmly upon the looking glass, which rocked back and forth on its rusty hinges. 

As Marley continued toward the saloon doors, the girl in the mirror began to scream. Her mouth moved and her chest rose and fell, her knees bending and her body convulsing from the effort, but no noise broke the surface of the glass. 

Marley reached into her pocket and took out the beautiful rose marble. She held it in the palm of her right hand and gave it one last loving look before chucking it at the mirror with all her strength. Marble and glass collided, and the girl was gone as the mirror shattered into a hundred tiny pieces before falling to the floor. Marley turned and ran.

Dolly was standing behind the counter talking to her parents, who turned to leave when they saw Marley running up to them. She stopped to catch her breath as her parents walked out the door — they knew she’d catch up.

“Well?” Dolly said. Marley stood looking at the old woman. “I warned you — you break it, you buy it.” The little girl in the red dress with the white pinafore appeared behind the old woman, smiling and waving at Marley. 

“This belongs to you now.”

November 25, 2023 03:36

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

1 comment

20:15 Nov 29, 2023

This was such a compelling story and I love the plot.

Reply

Show 0 replies
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.