Dynamic is not how I’d describe my abilities to publish. This piece is an example of that. Written in 2016 and still requiring five chapters to finish.
Why this is the basis of the first BlogBattle prompt of the year is down to a Christmas movie called “Christmas She Wrote” starring Danica McKellar. Remember her? The girlfriend of Kevin Arnold in “The Wonder Years.”
In this movie she plays a romance writer whose column is axed just before Christmas. We then find out she started writing a book that never got finished. The upshot is the man who fired her, Trip, goes to find her after his boss threatens to fire him for sacking her. He then forges a friendship that becomes more.
Not a particularly cracking movie, but the resonance was his ability to make her finish that book. It got me thinking about mine. Looking in the mirror, so to speak.
“The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart.”St. Jerome
“I envy people that know love. That have someone who takes them as they are.”Jess C. Scott
This is another short story for this months
The Bequest: Archie’s Mirror
Emma Strickland’s late father was a professor of archaeology and modern day Indiana Jones, specialising in the occult. The family home, MarshBank House, fitted his interests closer than imagined. It collected the past, stored it and waited. His latest acquisition was a strange mirror.
Adrian “Ade” Johnston was a bright kid that mixed with all the wrong ones after his parents took their eye off the ball. Easy to do moving from toddler to adolescence. The former days are cute. Maybe not at the time, but looking back Pamela and Carl figured those preempted “Get out of my bubble” and “What do you know?” The omnipresent realisation every new teen cracks open. Older folk were always old and don’t know the minds of teenagers. How could they? They’re old.
Ade knew this to be true. After all his generation were the first to actually be sixteen ever. Thirty seemed past it, unreachable, never going to happen. People older than that were just wrong. They were the ones running the world and screwing it up. They should all be put into homes until they were too decrepit to have a say. Might be the rest would just get along fine then.
Only grandparents knew stuff. Well, they had when he was a kid. Tales of the war, real stuff from history that even the Internet knew about. Gramps had been in it. Really in your face, up to the eyeballs, proper in it. He had medals too and that way of avoiding details which, to an empathic minded child, said “Hey, you really were weren’t you.” As opposed to the hyperbolic crap most of his current mates said. Teens for you though. They all did it and they all knew they did it and that was just fine.
What was not fine, in his parents view, was how they had managed to watch good grades slump in the key years leading to examinations that counted. Ade knew though. Love was money. It bought him stuff as a surrogate. Bespoke room that, in fairness, was the envy of his mates, but when he needed help a new video game or bag of sweets didn’t cut the mustard. Then again they were in the age bracket that should be in homes to safeguard the planet.
When you looked at it like that then what could you expect? The age of got to have the latest gadget, car, or “just so” house. Any fool looking at 24/7 news could figure it out. Spend more get less, earn more do less. Wasn’t rocket science. Not to him and his mates at any rate. Politicians sucked, world leaders sucked and idiots that voted were sheep indoctrinated like religious folk. Dare to say something was wrong and boom. Off they went in the rhetoric of what the heck would Ade know at his age. They did though. Ade and his pals. They knew plenty. After all they were the first kids ever to be teenagers.
It started going off the rails when gramps passed away. Nothing sinister or untoward. He was just old. That didn’t make it hurt less because of all the people in his family who ever gave him any time to talk about stuff gramps was the only that chewed the fat. Ade thought that was a war thing.
When you saw that up front it was bound to change you. A mate blown to pieces right in front of you. One you had the crack with over breakfast, gone in seconds. There one minute, gone the next. Get your head round that people. The smell of fresh rain on mud, the chill of the air blowing a gale in wet clothes, boots full of water rotting your feet, the actual smell of flesh lacerated with bullets and screams of soldiers lying in the dirt waiting for medics that were just too damn busy.
If movies came with smell-o-vision punters would be chucking up all over the place. Ade saw it all in gramps eyes and the way a rustic index finger tapped the side of his nose when a question got too close. They were like a mirror into the past. Gramps remembered the carefree days before, then the bloodshed after. They were there. Ade felt it sitting in the living room when he visited.
Living room. That always threw him too. So quiet, bit like a morgue with just a clock ticking the time away until the moment to drop the coffin came. He often wondered if you could ever really come back after an experience like that. Yes, Ade sure missed gramps a whole heap of ways.
That was when Rowena the Goth found him. One afternoon after lunch at school when he was leaning on the railings at the furthest edge of the playing fields. Having some time out away from everything, lessons, mates, people. Space to just say “Cheers gramps and thank you for being the real parent, the one that cared.”
“Go on then,” came a soft voice behind him.
Ade took no notice. He was there to be alone. Besides girls didn’t speak to him outside class very often. The owner he couldn’t place anyway.
“Are you gonna jump the fence or not?”
“What?” Ade hoped that had some proper clear off irritation in it.
“I’ve seen you here everyday for the last two weeks at least. Figured you were working up to blowing this joint.” She was still behind him.
“Yeah, well I might just do that. Life’s a bitch then you die.”
Gramps cut him up there. Young un, t’aint her fault. It rolled round his head for a few before he replied. “I didn’t mean bitches as in girls. It’s just stuffs messed up a bit.”
He turned round and things changed. Rowena the Goth as he’d never seen her before. Well, he had, just not paid any attention to her in school uniform. Her reputation was after hours. The black gear with silver bangles and purple highlights. Not forgetting the nose stud. Here she was kinda normal, uniform in the uniform and, well, gorgeous.
“I know that one Adrian.” She smiled.
Damn, she knows my name. A freaking girl knows my name. Gramps tailed away. “What do you know about it?” Imbecile, why did I say that?
“This and that. Being the weirdo that everyone laughs at for a start.”
“Do they?” He was looking into her eyes. He liked the way they stared back. More than that though, they reminded him of the light in Gramps. The one that said I know more than I let on young ‘un. Hadn’t someone once said the eyes were the mirror of the soul? Or was that windows?
She laughed and he was hooked. “Yes they do.”
It may have been the glisten of tears in his eye that moved things on. Nobody cared before and Rowena the Goth was hope.
“I lost my grandad not long ago. Best friend I ever had.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude.” Except she moved closer. He saw her arms move in the way his mums once had when he was upset.
“No, don’t apologise. I’m glad you did. It’s just hard with parents that don’t give a toss.” There, he’d never told anyone that before. It felt good.
Next he knew she was hugging him. Rowena the Goth, weirdo extraordinaire was embracing him, Ade, by the railings at the furthest point from school you could get without going truant. He clutched her back. Get your head round this people. Me and a girl…a real live girl.
“If you ever need to talk Adrian,” she left it unfinished. Not that a sentiment like that needs terminating. It is what it is. An offer of friendship, maybe more. The school bell ended lunch. They walked back holding hands until they neared the main buildings where they separated. Not cool to be seen with a girl during school. That’s a tease job waiting to happen. Sixth form acceptable, but a year too early.
Sod the world, he thought, that’s crap too, like the lock up ages.
He reached back, took her wrist and slid his fingers back into place. Rowena smiled and schoolwork went out the window.
Archibald Cleethorpes hated his name so went by Archie Thorpes. That was, more or less, all he really did hate unless you counted a predatory urge to hunt. Not that Archie owned a gun, or had any interests in shooting, or fishing for that matter. Instead, he was a collector of antiquities. In particular anything to do with the occult. A fact that explained his residence on the east side of town and a solid friendship with the late Professor Benjamin Strickland.
Once upon a life ago they travelled the globe in search of rare objects, collecting anything. Granted Archie never had the financial clout to buy much and his friend was two decades older at fifty five when they met, but that didn’t stop him picking up the odd trinket.
The Prof, on the other hand, ran a business alongside his lecturing. He did have the clout, not to mention a mansion with a history befitting a fellow oddball. Archie had a garage. This was decked out with racking containing multifaceted drawers and boxes that were really useful. Each contained documents, trinkets, coins, tablets, a few bones, a variety of carvings and some masks that might have been fashioned from dried human skin. In fairness, as a collection, and to the right buyer, it was worth a small fortune. Maybe a six figure sum.
That would require selling. Archie was not, by nature, a seller. Profound hoarder yes, and besides there was a large attic that could do with a conversion first. Loads of space up there, not to mention the two bedrooms he never used. He once had a yen to populate these with children. Alas the urge to accumulate junk, ex wife’s words not his, overran this ambition and shortly after hooking up with the Prof there was an acrimonious unhooking with the former bride.
He’d done OK though and his bookshop was ticking over with collectibles that seemed there in high demand thanks to the Internet. Genius idea that. A bookshop with a website. Not that he was IT savvy, but his young assistant, Maria was. Straight out of school and dead keen on using computers. The rest, they say, was history. Including the raise the new found revenue stream was bringing in. He was, of course, stuffed if anything happened to her. Inheritance only lasted so long and Archie wasn’t a seller so the six figure sum would remain in hypothetical fiscal dormancy.
On one particular trip to Rome the duo came across a shop that specialised in bric-a-brac. Within this establishment resided a mirror. Neither Archie or the Professor were eager to embrace coincidence, but on this occasion a small plaque on the back raised a couple of eyebrows and a silence that would make rain hang in mid air until normal time started ticking again. Etched into this were the words,
Presented to Albert and Elizabeth Beechworth
To honour their wedding on
14 August 1863
The name below had been scratched out in entirety.
“Is that…” began Archie.
“Indeed it is,” said the Prof.
“Oh,” came a rather weak reply.
Time restarted and, had it actually been raining then, the drops would have ceased defying gravity and continued on their way to wherever destiny decided they would land.
For the uninitiated that short exchange was highly significant because the owners of MarshBank House, back in the day were also called Albert and Elisabeth Beechworth. Well, before it was gutted by fire in 1875 for reasons unknown. Except the Professor felt the stories of missing girls and a catalogue of unexplained phenomena suggested something more mysterious and worthy of deeper research. So he bought it.
Now, here in another country down an historic street they had stumbled upon something that belonged elsewhere. Of greater interest was the way Archie found himself staring at it. Although from his perspective it felt more like the mirror was staring at him. Showing him things. The fire, for a start, and a cloaked man running away down the street. This quickly turned to a reflection of a woman dressed in a corset with breasts heaving underneath as she combed her hair and smiled. Right at him. A come get me lilt and a smile. The sort thrown across a bar when two people catch each others eyes and say “Hello there.” At that moment he had an overwhelming urge to own that mirror. The predatory urge to own things was back.
The Professor was ahead of him and by the time the sultry chest let Archie go money had changed hands and the dealer was approaching to enshroud the mirror in brown Kraft paper.
No, no, no was the thought rattling round his head. That’s mine. But it wasn’t. The Professor was smiling.
“Befitting don’t you think?”
“What is?” Archie was miles away.
“An artefact in a backstreet in Rome that belongs in my house is now returning to the place this mysterious etched out person first bequeathed it to the the homes former occupants who came to an untimely end.”
“I suppose it is.” No, that’s mine.
“Just think Archie, the sights this has witnessed. The questions that are unanswered. Why is it here? When did it emigrate? How did it survive the fire? Who removed it? And why…” there was a pause as he savoured the last bit, “…is the name on the back entirely defaced?”
Archie knew he only needed to ask and the mirror would tell him everything. What he really needed though was the woman with the smile. A fleeting vision, but the damage was done there and then. It’s mine.
But here, today, he was leaning on railings staring at the back of MarshBank House. The Professor was gone and the vans had long ago removed a great deal of his inventory. Archie had scoured the auction lots both by catalogue and, with the aid of Maria, online as they ran their course. No mirror. He knew it had been in the house. In the Profs. office propped against the wall. More than that, the mirror knew he was there too. It had stared at him again. Just like in the shop in Rome. He’d caught a fleeting glimpse of a woman in a room out of time. Why he thought that he had no idea. It just popped into his head on a whisper. He gave that no thought though. Just to see it again was enough.
“That’s mine,” he said to himself.