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Contemporary Speculative

The antique store was packed with forgotten and discarded treasures, but it was the antique mirror that whispered to Sarah.

Me. You want me.’

She hadn’t come looking for anything in particular, she had no idea why she’d stopped at all. But once her gaze fell on the tall mirror, she wasn’t interested in seeing anything else.

It stood in the window of the shop, with various other pieces that might have been found in a long-ago bedroom. But Sarah only had eyes for the mirror.

The sinuous embrace of a dark, mahogany frame enveloped the silvered glass, its contours undulating like the graceful curves of an old-time movie starlet. The unadorned frame connected seamlessly to the base through two sleek swivel joints. Below, a drawer crafted from the same rich wood hovered above four petite wheels, poised to carry reflections across the floor with silent grace. Sarah had never been one for mirrors. She barely glanced at the one in the bathroom before she went out into the world. She worked from home and only rarely had to worry about how she looked for online meetings. So she found it curious that she was considering buying a large mirror.

“What’s the story with the mirror?” she asked the young man behind the counter.

He pushed a lock of sand-colored hair out of his eyes. “It used to belong to my great-grandmother. We’re moving next year, trying to reduce the amount of stuff we have to pack, you know?” He looked to be in his late twenties.

Sarah nodded silently. “What’re you asking for it?”

“Twenty-five seem fair to you?”

“It does, but…” Sarah glanced at her little car parked on the street nearby.

You want this,’ a voice whispered in the back of her consciousness.

“You live here in the city?” The young man asked.

Sarah nodded. “About three miles away. I really like it, but I don’t think it would fit in my car to get it home.”

He nodded toward a black truck parked across the street. “Throw in another twenty and I’ll deliver it tomorrow.”

He seemed eager to be rid of the mirror, but Sarah attributed it to the move he’d told her about.

“Can you turn it so I can see the front? Your window ripples a little…”

The young man nodded and stood up. He bent to grasp one side of the frame to turn it, jumped a little, and then stumbled. 

“Must’ve stood up too quick,” he said.

With the mirror fully exposed, and without a window to interfere, Sarah was able to see it was pristine and unblemished. She dug into her pocket and pulled out cash. “Got a piece of paper and a pen? I’ll give you my address.”

The next morning, the young man arrived with a friend and the mirror. They brought it into Sarah’s bedroom, as she’d asked, and set it in the corner she pointed at.

“Good luck,” the young man muttered as he and his friend left.

Curious about such an odd comment, Sarah admired her new mirror for a moment, then returned to the other room to get back to work - an article on growing watermelons.

Sometime later, her focus was interrupted by the sound of something dragging across the floor of her bedroom.

“What the hell?” She picked up an aluminum baseball bat she kept in the corner and headed for the other room.

At first glance, there was no explanation for the sound. Sarah went all through the apartment, checking closets, cupboards, and the bathroom for hidden intruders, but found herself most definitely alone. She tried to get back to her writing, but it was pointless - her concentration had been upended like a cart full of chestnuts. She gave up on watermelons and went into the kitchen to make dinner instead, uttering a small prayer that the storm outside wouldn’t knock out the electricity.

As she was putting the finishing touches on the pan of lasagna, she heard the distinctive and brassy tones of a trumpet from her bedroom.

She stood for a moment, transfixed by both the music and the mystery of why it was playing at all. It wasn’t her alarm, and her phone was on the counter nearby. Perhaps she’d left the window open.

Certain that was the explanation, Sarah put the lasagna into the oven, slid her phone into her back pocket, and went to close her bedroom window. 

No sooner had she stepped one foot into the room, than the trumpet stopped.

Her window was closed, and she could see no one in the park below. Not that she expected to find anyone foolish enough to be outside in the downpour and lightning.

She turned away from the window with a small shake of her head and went back into her office, thinking perhaps if she could edit the last page, she might find her flow again.

She was surprised to hear the oven timer chime forty-five minutes later. Where had the time gone? She’d reread the last page she wrote, and now…the article was complete.

Just like that.

She’d had work sessions before when she’d been hyper-focused and written more words than she expected but they’d been few and far between.

“If I could write like that more often, I might be able to get a manuscript accepted,” she mumbled to herself as she walked past her room to the kitchen. 

After dinner, she chatted happily with her uncle on the phone, took a shower, and read until she felt herself nodding off over the book. Sarah ensured her door was locked, and went to bed.

As night fell, her subconscious unveiled cryptic scenes: donning a black dress and pearls to the backdrop of brassy music. The sole semblance of familiarity — the mirror. But the woman in the reflection was not Sarah. She was brunette too, and of a similar build, but the resemblance went no further. 

The woman in the reflection locked gazes with Sarah, smiled, and said, “Hiya, Doll.”

Startled, Sarah snapped awake, her gaze immediately drawn to the newly acquired mirror. In that fleeting moment, a surreal glow emanated from the glass, casting doubt on the reality of her awakening. More curious than afraid, she pushed the covers aside and slid out of bed. She stepped slowly toward the mirror, bewildered as the reflection mirrored her every move with uncanny precision—yet the woman staring back at her was the same enigmatic figure from her dream.

“What the hell is this?” Sarah whispered as she stopped in front of the mirror.

“Hiya, Doll,” the woman in the glass chirped. Her dark hair cascaded in waves, framing her face with a mix of curls that flirted over her head and tumbled gracefully to her shoulders. The vivid sparkle in her bright green eyes accompanied a smile carrying a hint of mischief and a touch of cocky charm. 

Sarah felt a cold breeze chase across her skin. Her eyes widened as far as they possibly could before she blinked once. Twice.

“I’m still dreaming…”

“Nope, ‘fraid not, Sweetcheeks.”

“How is this possible?” Sarah reached toward the glass, but the woman inside did not.

“I don’t know how my Packard runs, but it does,” the not-reflection replied.

“You aren’t me, but you’re inside my mirror. Who are you?” Sarah’s brow furrowed.

“Alice.”

Sarah was silent for a moment as she considered possible explanations for this seemingly impossible experience. Then she said, “If I’m not dreaming, and not hallucinating, then you’re…a ghost?”

“More of a spirit,” Alice waggled her hand back and forth. “But either way, you’re not screaming, so that’s good. I seem to scare the others.”

“You’ve shown yourself to other people?”

“Sure, I winked at Andrew the other day and he almost fell over, remember?”

“Andrew?” Sarah asked. “Oh! The young man who sold me the mirror. I wondered why he stumbled.”

“I would’ve hoped that my descendants were made of stronger stuff, but neither he nor his wife wanted to share their home. Seems a little ungrateful, if you ask me.”

The puzzle started to come together in Sarah’s mind.

“You’re his great-grandmother.”

Alice made a face. “You make me sound so old.”

Sarah reached out and wheeled the mirror closer to the bed, and sat cross-legged on the end. “How did you end up in there? What’s the last thing you remember doing?”

Alice sat more primly on the reflected bed on her side of the glass. “Howard and I were getting ready to attend the funeral of one of his drivers when the baby woke up. The sitter hadn’t shown yet, so Howard volunteered to tend to her. He walked out of the room, and the next thing I knew, the window was exploding. I was on the floor with bits of glass everywhere. The baby was screaming, there were gunshots and tires squealing, and my side was burning.”

“You were shot?”

Alice nodded. “The last thing I remember seeing was the reflection of Howard rushing into the room with little Maggie in his arms.”

“Do you remember your last name?”

“Hill,” Alice replied simply.

Sarah stood up. “I’ll be right back. I want to check something.”

She wasn’t surprised to see Alice still sitting on the end of the reflected bed. Sarah settled into a cross-legged position, opening her laptop with a purpose. With a few keystrokes, she searched the digital realm, and in the span of a few heartbeats, the answers to her inquiries materialized on the screen.

“It says here that Howard was a …”

“A bootlegger, I know,” Alice replied with a nod. 

“Howard Hill was suspected to have stolen a significant amount from his mafia bosses,” Sarah read. “An act that was paid for with the premature death of his wife, Alice. She was shot to death by unknown gunmen while preparing to attend the funeral of Socks Lotoro. The murder of Hill’s wife sparked the beginning of a months-long war within the local Syndicate, ending only with the assassination of Howard himself.”

“Wow…” Sarah blinked as she set the laptop aside. “None of that seems to be news to you.”

“I’ve been in here a long time, Sweetie. Like I said, I don’t know how, I only know that this is the way things are now. But you’re different,” Alice cocked her head a little. “You aren’t afraid.”

“Should I be?”

“Nah,” Alice flicked a hand. “You’re stronger than the others, that’s for sure. They all wanted to get rid of the mirror.”

“And you?”

Alice nodded. After a moment she asked, “Why’re you so different from them? Why aren’t you afraid?”

Sarah shrugged one shoulder and looked toward the darkened window as lightning traced across the sky. “I’ve always enjoyed reading about things that can’t possibly exist. I remember having a conversation with my uncle when I was ten, trying to convince him unicorns were real. If there are sea creatures that can live at the bottom of the ocean and translucent frogs in the rainforest, why should unicorns and Windigo be so far-fetched? By extension,” she gestured toward the mirror. “Why should a spirit trapped inside a mirror be so hard to believe?”

“You’re pretty smart, ya know that?” Alice said with a smile. “Did I hear you say earlier you were a writer?”

“Not a very successful one. I have some success with non-fiction, but that’s about it.”

“You ever try writing a mobster story?” Alice grinned at her. “I always knew what Howard was doing, and I could tell you tales that would knock your socks off.”

Sarah thought for a few moments. “If I wrote a story with the mob boss being a woman, it might be different enough to stand out.”

“You should probably change the names to be safer, too. But you’d better get something to drink, and something to take notes with, Sweetcheeks, ‘cause I’ve got stories galore…”

One Year Later

As Sarah sat before her mirror, her fingers gently tracing the wooden frame, she marveled at the journey she’d taken since the day she’d stopped at that antique store. The once dynamic and lively woman in the mirror had become a cherished companion, a muse that cradled the echoes of a bygone era. In the quiet of her study, where she’d moved Alice’s mirror, Sarah took a deep breath and glanced at the desk, where the multi-book contract awaited her signature. She felt a surge of gratitude for the spirit that had guided her through the labyrinth of history, mobsters, and untold stories.

Sarah picked up her pen and signed the document she hoped would catapult her into the literary spotlight. As ink met paper, a profound sense of closure wrapped around her. The novels, born from the collaboration of two women separated by time yet bound by destiny, would find their way into the hands of readers over the next few years. She imagined them engrossed in the tales of greed, desperation, and resilience, blissfully unaware of the unique partnership that had given birth to the stories.

Sarah turned to the mirror. Alice had shared so many of Howard’s exploits, and those of the men he worked with, that she’d been able to write first drafts of five separate manuscripts. Sarah had pushed through long hours at her desk, transcribing Alice’s memories as fast as her fingers could fly over her laptop. Of course, she’d changed the tales enough to suit her main character, a steely and determined woman at the head of a crime syndicate. 

The night she’d finished the first draft of the fifth book, the lightning had split the sky over and over again. Sarah had slouched in her chair, triumphantly declaring the draft complete. Alice had smiled sadly out of her glass prison.

“It’s time for me to move on.”

“What? No! I still need you!” Sarah reached toward the mirror with a desperate hand.

“You’ll be okay now. You know what you have to do. Those stories are gonna make you famous one day, but don’t tell anyone I told ya so,” Alice had winked conspiratorily.

“But…”

Alice’s reflection had grown a little fuzzy around the edges. “Someone else needs me more, Sweetcheeks. One of my other descendants just had a baby, and she’s got a hole in her heart. If anyone needs whispers of encouragement, it’s that little girl. You’ll be fine.”

“Other descendants?”

“One of your extended relations, actually,” Alice grinned. “Remember, Doll, you can do anything you set your mind to.” She glanced toward the window of the study, fading now. “You make the family name proud, you hear me?”

“Family name?”

Alice only smiled and gave Sarah a wink as she faded completely from view.

In the days that followed Alice’s crossing over, Sarah had done some digging and discovered that she was indeed related to the famous mobster Howard Hill. It was hard not to tell anyone, but Sarah had settled for procuring portraits of Alice and Howard.

With a satisfied sigh, she whispered her thanks to Alice’s portrait. A profound stillness settled over the study as Sarah wheeled the now-ordinary mirror back to her bedroom. 

As she exited the room, Alice’s portrait rippled with a final, approving smile—a tale told, a destiny rewritten, and a bond everlasting.

November 23, 2023 12:54

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