Short Story: The Gilded Mirror


Photo by ihave3kids


As an appetiser before the main course, here are my #FridayPhrases from this week ;). For those of you who are new to this, check out @amicgood’s blog for the background and feel free to join in next week by using the #FP hashtag and re/tweeting a story or poem in 140 characters.

The small child wailed in his cot. Beside him sat his mother, rocking gently, her face a picture of eerie calm while her insides raged #FP

The magic carpet sped past, a trail of silver dust in its wake. She leapt from its threads into the lake, thrill seeker till the end #FP

I once loved your wicked ways

Barbed remarks & power games

Honeyed words in cafés

Flatterer, thief, scared little boy

You will never know joy #FP

The Gilded Mirror

The short story below was written for WEbook’s Halloween challenge. The deadline is the end of this month.  If you’d like to enter, check out their website and writing community while you’re at it.  For this month’s challenge, writers have the choice of three opening lines to follow on from: one from Hamlet (eek!), one from Harry Potter, and the one below from Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim.

There is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and something of its inconceivable mystery.  The air around me feels heavy with expectation as I trample leaves underfoot on my way to the gleaming white house in the middle of the woodland.  I try unsuccessfully to still my imagination as my mind conjures up ghouls and unrepentant hellsmen that lurk in the shadows, just at the periphery of my vision. Every six years on All Hallows’ Eve, one of our family is chosen to walk this path towards the great gilded mirror in the upstairs bedroom of our ancestral home. Tonight, it is my turn.

I hold my breath as I catch sight of a silver-tinged owl watching me, her dull eyes tracing every movement of my march into the mouth of hell. The recent rain has muddied the ground, leaving splatters on my gown. My newly washed hair is fanned across my shoulders, its scent overpowered by the fertile moonlit landscape underfoot.  There are no humans for miles around, yet the woods feel alive. As I approach the dilapidated building with its half-formed turrets, I can make out moss-covered gargoyles peering at me with knowing eyes. My heart pummels my rib cage as I squeeze past monstrous gates into a courtyard.  I know the way as if by instinct.  This journey is in my blood, an ancient ritual borne of a centuries old feud.  Yet hope has not deserted me. It has been foretold that one day a girl-child will return from the depths of the woods. Perhaps that girl is me.

The house creaks its welcome as I enter.  Fanged bats swarm past me and escape into the darkness. I hold my offering close to me with fingers that are blue with cold and begin my ascent up the circular staircase, my footsteps muffled by carpet thick with dust. With each step I draw on my memory bank to say goodbye to my loved ones: my father chasing me through the corn-fields; my mother the year before she was taken, playing the harmonica with butter smeared in her hair; my siblings pleading with me to tell them a story. Those who may live because I die.

Almost there. It is as if the connection between my brain and my feet is severed.  They are no longer doing my bidding, and hurry towards a door at the top of the stairs. It swings open and I enter, my breath coming in rasps as I take in the heavy velvets adorning a bed, and in the corner, the gilded mirror standing tall, its smooth surface marred by a single, long crack.  And then I am face to face with my mirror image except the eyes aren’t mine and there is not a mark on the gown.

‘So you come at last, Evangeline,’ my reflection says to me. ‘I have been waiting a lifetime to meet you.’

I am transfixed by what I see.  Bile rises in my throat and I force my fingers to loosen their grip on the prize. I must keep my wits. ‘This vial is for you. It contains the last of the essence of Christ.  It is yours.’

My image raises a sleek eyebrow.  ‘What need do I have of forgiveness?’ it says, showing a tongue that slithers forth like a serpent’s. ‘My only wish is the eternal damnation of your line.  Tell me, how many of you now?’

‘Three,’ I stutter. ‘My father, my sister Emmeline. And me.’

‘Queer. I can smell your fear, but something else too – hope?’

‘One of us shall escape and it will be the end of your reign. Perhaps it is me.’ I close my eyes. ‘Will you not accept the prize?’

‘You are the prize,’ my reflection says to me, pushing a hand through the glass that emerges as greening bone and shrivelled flesh.

It pulls me into the mirror and the vial shatters on the floor. As I fall into the void, joy bubbles up inside me, even as I long for the things I can now never have. My blood has bought my remaining siblings more time. Not one, but three strong girl-children, one of whom will break the curse. My mother’s spirit wraps itself around me as I tumble and twist, already unrecognisable from my worldly form, and then there is quiet. And I am nothing.

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