The Paranormal Stories From The Wittegen Press Giveaway Games
Sophie Duncan and Natasha Duncan-Drake
Published by Wittegen Press
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Wittegen Press Giveaway Games 2012
Copyright © 2012 by Sophie Duncan
Copyright © 2012 by Natasha Duncan-Drake
Artwork by Sophie Duncan and Natasha Duncan-Drake
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
The Name Is The Game by Sophie Duncan
Cleave to Until Forever by Natasha Duncan-Drake
The Vampire Who Loved Me by Natasha Duncan-Drake
Girl In The Mirror by Sophie Duncan
Timothy by Natasha Duncan-Drake
During July of 2012 Wittegen Press gave away one short story, or story part per day.
Every morning a new short story was available at:
Each title was available for download for one day only.
These titles have now been compiled into a selection of anthologies. This anthology contains all the paranormal romance and paranormal fantasy stories written for the games.
The anthologies available are:
This story is paranormal fantasy.
Girl In The Mirror was published 21st July 2012.
For me there is a big difference between horror fiction and paranormal fiction. Girl In The Mirror falls into the latter category. Some people will groan when they hear a piece is in the paranormal genre, because, to them, that means Twilight and sparkly vampires. I'm not going to comment on Twilight, because I've never read it, but I will say, not all paranormal fiction falls into that bucket, although, I have written my share of brooding vampires (non-sparkly).
I like brooding vampires, I like the odd angsty werewolf and even randy ghosts, but this story isn't one of those paranormal romances either. Girl In The Mirror leans more towards magic, but not the fantasy kind. It may be paranormal, but it's not monster fic, well, unless we’re talking about human monsters, anyway. My heroine is not the gasping damsel in distress either, she's a capable, strong young woman.
Writing from the first person point of view was tricky, since there are things that I did not want the reader to know until the end, but that Penelope does know. The challenge was fun though, since I don't use this point of view very often. It also allowed me into Penelope's mind in a much more intimate way than third person point of view, which is my normal choice. I rather liked Penelope by the time I'd finished writing her.
I suppose before I tell you my story, I should introduce myself: my name is Penelope Beverly, otherwise known as Penny. I feel I should explain a little of my background to convey how I ended up alone and nervous on a deserted, windy station in the middle of flat, open country with nothing but a small carpet bag and my hopes. You see, I am an orphan, born and raised in London. I had never been to the country before, so the wide open fields in every direction reinforced my sense of isolation as the train chuffed away down the single branch line.
Ma Meg, the gruff, old washerwoman who had taken me in when I had lost my mother at six years old, had told me of her childhood in the woods and lanes of old England. However, she had told me of lush, tall trees and meadows of butterflies, not miles of stark, yellowing grass with only the occasional hedgerow and solitary oak breaking up the view.
Still, the wily old crone had brought me up to be able to look after myself, I was a strong worker and I never shirked a challenge. Thus I took my time, turning on the short, unsheltered platform to make sure I had my bearings, and then I checked the directions in the letter I had received from my new employer.
I was lucky, Ma Meg had been an intelligent woman, 'an old witch' some called her, but mainly because she could read and write, and she had taught me all she knew. That had stood me in good stead when the raucous old biddy had gone and died of apoplexy right over her wash tub in the middle of bawling out an old sea shanty. By rights, I should have had the laundry work, it was my patch, but there were others much more experienced than I who had been poised to steal Meg's trade once she was gone.
In truth, I did not wish to spend the rest of my days with my skin red raw from boiling water. Thus, I had conceded the laundry business and searched for another position in the pages of good newspapers.
Only a day of searching had revealed the notice,
'Wanted, companion for a lady - must be 16 to 18, 5'6'' and with dark hair, blue eyes and a pale complexion. Able to read and write. No references required. Apply to Miss E Verinace, Old Oak House, --, --shire.'
I considered the specifics a little strange, but the advertisement had been placed in a respectable magazine and I matched the requirements, so, duly, I wrote away and waited in hope. I received a short note of acceptance with directions by the very next post, and then I was on my way, my last few coins paying for my train ticket.
I had read the note many times on my long journey, with its beautiful flowing handwriting and elegant monogrammed letterhead and could not quite believe my luck. This was a real lady and I traced the artful loops of the letters that told me, 'Proceed to your right from the station, follow the lane until you reach a crossroads and then continue down the road to your left.' Simple enough instructions, and, with a final glance round at the empty landscape, I hoped they would be enough.
My hard-heeled boots clicked on the stones of the roadway as I walked, providing my only company in the chill, winter day, and I kept my head down, trying to avoid the wind that whipped unimpeded across the reeded landscape. It seemed, though, that my luck had been all used up in finding my fortunate position, since, as I travelled, the horizon darkened and it began to rain.
I pulled my coat around my body. It was my best coat, in truth, my only coat, and better for summer weather than winter, but it was well-mended thanks to the skills taught me by Ma Meg. No sharp wind, nor icy water would turn me away from my future. Maybe it would have been best if I had heeded the wind and the rain that day, but I must not regret, what is done is done.
I must admit to being somewhat anxious as I continued to follow the rutted track that passed for a lane. After what Ma Meg's battered old pocket watch told me was half an hour, I was still walking towards a flat horizon with very little to show for my progress save a large, ugly tree looming up ahead of me. Yet, the huge, gnarled thing proved to be the way-point of the very crossroads for which I was hoping.
I did my best not to look up at the dark, broken growth, since, in the stormy atmosphere, its twisted trunk and bare, winter branches made my heart beat faster. Turning my back to the monstrous thing, I took the left lane as instructed and found myself walking beside a wide, water-filled ditch.
The rain mercifully let up a few minutes after I began the second leg of my walk, but I was already chilled and shivering, so I barely noticed. The sky remained grey and thunderous, though, and, gradually, I began to realise, the world around me was growing darker. I had not seen the sun that day, neither in London, nor since, but I became very aware of it setting behind the clouds as the wide expanse drew closer in to me with every step and darkness took hold.
I had no means of lighting my way, so I was forced to stumble on, my eyes making the most of what fading light there was. In the daylight the country had seemed deserted and lonely, by night, however, it proved full of strange noises to take my breath away, from the whistle of the wind to the haunting scream of what I would only learn later was a vixen. Tired, I might have been, but I quickened my pace when surrounded by such unknowns and, it was with an incredible sense of relief that I first noted a flickering, pale light appearing in the distance.
The light grew more definite as I drew nearer and I was almost trotting with exhausted gratitude when I realised the light belonged to an upper window in a house so large I wondered how it had hidden from me in such a featureless landscape. I could make out little more than its size in the gloom, but I trudged quickly over a little bridge across another ditch that marked out a boundary to the wild land beyond.
The feel of gravel under my boots made me sense I had finally reached a small haven of civilisation and, knowing my place, I made my way round to the side entrance of the house and dragged down the heavy old metal bell-pull I found there.
Then, I waited. And I waited. No-one came. Wet, tired and shivering, I wondered pitifully if I could have made a mistake, if the light in the window had not been for me. Yet, with a howling wind and the wilds of open country behind me, I was not about to give in. I tried the door, it was locked, so, anxiously I made my way back round to the large, domineering entrance that should have been reserved for people of standing.
Knowing I shouldn't be doing it, I rang the bell and held my breath. Thankfully for my lung capacity, very shortly, I heard the clunk of a bolt drawing back and the massive door drew inwards. Immediately I caught sight of a satin skirt, I bobbed my best curtsy and, eyes down, babbled, "I am sorry to disturb you Ma'am, but there was no answer at the back door."
"Oh, you poor child!" came the exclamation that shocked me such that, when my wrist was taken and I was pulled inside, I just went. "That bell has not worked these twenty years. Come in, come in."
I came to a startled halt, dripping on the hallway rug as the woman who had greeted me, a tall, slender creature of advancing years wearing widow's weeds, closed out the night behind us. Then she turned on me, her face aghast, and she continued, "You must be Penelope. We were not expecting you until tomorrow. I am Mrs Granger."
"How do you do," I replied, on my best behaviour.
"What lovely manners," the woman gushed, clapping her hands together. "But, oh now, look at the state of you. I am afraid our winter weather can be cruel. You must have a hot bath before you catch a chill."
Thus it was, I found myself whisked up a set of dark-wood stairs and into a lady's sitting room where there was, to my joy, a roaring fire. Mrs Granger stood me right in front of it and told me not to move, so I happily obeyed, my clothes steaming as I soaked up the heat. She then disappeared for a few minutes, leaving me to look around at rows of books and country ornaments.
Being from the back streets of London, I had never seen so many books in one place before: Ma Meg had only had the one almanac from which she had taught me to read and I had known every page of that book intimately. The number of pages around me fair boggled my mind.
Shortly, Mrs Granger came hurrying back in, her long skirts rustling as she moved, and she took my hand again.
"Come along, Penelope," she urged with a bright smile. "We are most fortunate here that Miss Verinace has the very latest in water systems: pipes all through the house, a boiler in the cellar, running hot water."
I couldn't quite believe my ears. I had never lived in a building with running water, let alone hot, and when I was placed in front of a large, enamelled bath with two taps cascading water into it, I just stared at the clouds of vapour coming off the surface.
"Quick now, out of those wet clothes and into the bath with you," Mrs Graham urged and I was of no mind to argue.
I peeled off my sopping layers under Mrs Graham's watchful eye, handing over each garment to her waiting arms. Even as I stripped down to my slip, Mrs Graham remained by my side and noted when my progress slowed.
"Come now, child, no time for coyness," the woman tsched at me with another bright smile. "Give me all those wet things and I'll make sure you have something warm and dry to wear once your bones have been warmed."
I was too cold and too nervous to object, so I pulled off my undergarments quickly and stepped into the tub. The shock of the heat against my freezing skin nearly made my legs give out and I sank into the water with a shuddered sigh.
"There, nothing to be coy about with a lovely unmarked body like yours," Mrs Graham surprised me. "I am sure I have something to fit you."
Somewhat discomfited by Mrs Graham's forwardness, I was glad when she left with my things and closed the door after her, leaving me alone in the steam-filled bathroom. I ducked under the water, washing the chill out of my hair and then settled up to my neck in the wondrously hot water, just letting it warm me through for a while. However, there was soap and a flannel in a tray on the side of the bath, so, eventually, I picked it up and began to wash.
I hummed to myself as I cleaned my skin of London grime, a shadow of the habit Ma and I had had for singing as we worked. My sound echoed in the little room, doubling and redoubling my voice and I smiled to myself at the pretty tune. Yet, when I heard a note that was not mine, alarm daggered through me and I sat up, looking around the room for its impossible owner. A shadow moved at the corner of my vision and I looked up to the source, but all that was there was a mirror hanging on the wall, its surface layered with water droplets.
It was the chill air, rather than relaxing, that made me settle back under the surface of the water. I sang no more and I lay there, glancing around nervously until Mrs Graham breezed back into the room, a dress, petticoats and towels over her arm.
"Now, now, my pretty," she tutted lightly, "time for you to climb out before that flawless skin of yours prunes in the water."
I smiled at her and dutifully stood up, taking the towel that she offered me and wrapping it around myself. I climbed out of the bath and watched as my new clothes were laid out on the wooden chair in the corner and couldn't quite believe my eyes. The dress was the most beautiful I had ever seen, lace and deep blue silk.
"I think this shall fit you, even without corsets," Mrs Graham told me, looking me up and down again. "We can't have a young, healthy body like yours constrained by whalebone."
I blushed and then I blushed some more as this stranger then proceeded to dry my hair as I dried myself off and helped me into my new clothing. I was thankful when she struck up a conversation, because there was none in my head.
"Now, once you are dry and well again, you must have some supper, and then you will meet Miss Verinace."
"Have you been with her for very long?" I asked, unsure of myself as I slipped on one of several petticoats.
"Many years," Mrs Graham replied. "I was her governess before I became her nurse."
"Miss Verinace is, at times, an invalid, but she very much enjoys the companionship of youth."
"May I ask what my duties will be?" I checked, since the advert had not been specific, nor the letter.
"I and the day maid handle all the day to day tasks of the house, although I may call upon you from time to time," Mrs Graham began, patting me on the shoulder.
"Of course," I responded enthusiastically.
"But your main attention will be Miss Verinace. You will be her companion, reading to her, entertaining her and ensuring that she has all she needs."
I nodded, that sounded light work compared with the tasks to which I was accustomed.
After a light supper in the kitchen, a place where Mrs Graham seemed as much at home as the rest of the house, I was finally to meet my employer, and I was very nervous. Mrs Graham, who had been my shadow throughout my meal, encouraging me to eat well and 'stay strong', led me all the way to Miss Verinace's door, she even knocked for me. However, as a softly-spoken, 'Come,' reached my ears, my companion merely indicated to the door: it appeared I was to make this audience alone. Trying my best to keep my shoulders straight and my chin up, as Ma Meg had told me over and again that all the best ladies did, I opened the door and walked in.
I had a moment to notice a warm fire and a lavishly furnished bedroom-cum-sitting-room, but my eyes were quickly drawn to the room's occupant. Miss Verinace was standing by the window, looking out at the stormy night, but she turned as I came to a halt a few feet into the room and I was, frankly, stunned by her beauty. She was much younger than I had expected, twenty five at the most, and her long, dark hair fell in perfect ringlets in a sophisticated style over her fashionably pale complexion. A deep burgundy dress matched a fullness in her lips as she smiled at me and I was very taken with her blue eyes.
"Hello," she breathed, looking back at me in such a way that, for a moment, I felt somewhat exposed.
However, then my employer crossed the room quickly, holding out both her delicately gloved hands to me and suddenly, there were fingers taking mine.
"Welcome," Miss Verinace greeted me like a long-lost friend, taking both my hands up between us and holding me captivated by her warmth. "I have so been looking forward to your arrival."
"And I to coming here, Ma'am," I replied honestly, unable to hold back a smile, even as I failed to gauge how I should respond to such familiarity.
I found myself bobbing a curtsy then. Miss Verinace laughed, a pretty, glittering sound and, leaning in a little closer, told me, "Tosh, my dear, we do not stand on ceremony in this house. You are to be my friend."
Still not quite sure of myself, I smiled again. Then I found my arms thrown wide by my employer, she stood back like we were about to dance and looked me up and down once more.
"And my, don't you look a picture in that gown. It is an old one of mine, and when Mrs Graham mentioned your unfortunately damp arrival, I just knew it would fit you," Miss Verinace gushed.
"Thank you for allowing me to borrow it," I stammered immediately, quite shocked that I should be wearing my employer's clothing.
Miss Verinace politely ignored my nerves, releasing me and walking across to the fire. I followed her and she indicated to one of the two chairs that stood, one either side of the fireplace. I sat, so did she.
"You shall have another for the day as well," Miss Verinace added then. "I do like my companions to look their best and you are such a pretty thing."
"Thank you," I managed, grateful for such generosity, but uncomfortable with the compliments that seemed to come easily from both Miss Verinace and Mrs Graham.
I sat with my new employer for an hour or more, talking, I realised later, mainly about me. She wanted to know everything about me, where I came from, my friends, my family. I found her company charming and, by the time I was dismissed, I was considering myself the luckiest girl in England for having found myself such a wonderful position.
Mrs Graham, ever attentive to both myself and Miss Verinace, was waiting outside for me and showed me to my room. I had expected a sparse attic space, after all, I was a servant, but I found myself in a more modestly furnished version of the room I had just left not three doors down from Miss Verinace. Mrs Graham informed me she had the room opposite if I required anything.
Once alone, I must admit to whirling around on the rug at the end of my bed, quite elated by my good fortune. Then I looked at my little carpet bag sitting on the bed. It looked so ragged and unfit to be in such wonderful surroundings, but it held my life up to that point and, so, contentedly, I began to unpack it.
It was not until I pulled out my comb and went to put it on the beautiful dressing table in the corner of the room that my happiness slipped. I placed the battered, but precious item of mine on the table and then glanced up at myself in the mirror and there I froze for a moment, because, in the glass, standing behind my right shoulder, was a girl of my age, dark and pale like me and dressed in a beautiful, rose-coloured gown. Yet, it was the fear in her blue eyes that held me; it shot through me, a chill in the warmth of my arrival.
My visitor slowly reached out to me, as though she were going to touch my shoulder, and I turned to her. Yet, I found myself alone in my room. The shock of the moment growing, I looked back at the mirror, making sure I had truly seen her, but only my own reflection looked back at me.
I slept lightly that night, partly due to the newness of a soft bed and welcoming people, but mainly due to the image of the girl from my mirror. Ma Meg had started life a country woman, a believer in the power of the natural world, and she had taught me never to dismiss anything seen either by my heart, or my head. Thus, I was still thinking of her when I found my way down to the kitchen the next morning.
I found myself on the edge of a flurry of activity by a short, stout girl in a plain, grey uniform. She was running around from kettle to table, filling pots and cooking on the range, and it took her a little while to notice me. She immediately stopped and bobbed me a curtsy.
"Morning, Miss, I'm Tilly," she greeted, which quite floored me, no-one had ever shown me the slightest deference before.
"Hello, Tilly," I replied. "I'm Penelope."
"Breakfast will be up in a few minutes. Did you want something else, Miss?" Tilly asked, going back to her hectic, but clearly practised routine.
"I was looking for Mrs Graham," I told her, feeling somewhat useless in the face of such activity.
"She's up with Miss Verinace, Miss," the girl informed me over her shoulder as she turned bacon in a pan.
"May I help you in some way?" I asked, guilty at the way Tilly was running around.
"Oh no, Miss, thank you, Miss," Tilly dismissed me gently with a smile.
"I'm no miss," I pressed my point.
Tilly actually stopped again then and turned to look at me. She looked me up and down, a gesture to which I had become accustomed the night before and this time, I was well aware of the fine dress I had found in my wardrobe.
"Whatever you were before you got here, Miss, you're companion to Miss Verinace now and Miss Verinace is a real lady," I was told politely, but firmly. "You should be upstairs with her."
I took the advice, smiled and turned to leave. However, then the girl who had haunted my dreams came to mind and, before Tilly could return to her work, I asked, "Just one thing, Tilly, is there another young woman here?"
Tilly raised her eyebrows and then shook her head.
"No, Miss, hasn't been anyone for a few months, not since Miss Josephine left."
"Miss Verinace's last companion."
It should not have surprised me that there had been other girls before me, but coupled with the apparition in my mirror, I was interested to know more.
"It is so lovely here. Why did she leave?" I asked as lightly as possible.
Tilly glanced at the bacon that was sizzling away without her and I waved her on with her work, which meant she relaxed a little as she told me, "Well, a bit of a cloud that was. I don't know if I should be telling you this, Miss."
I smiled as warmly as I could at the girl who looked at me with a frown: I was not about to let this information slip by.
"I shan't tell anyone you told me," I assured her.
Tilly pursed her lips, but I maintained my smile and so, as she worked on her cooking, Tilly told me, "Well, Miss Josephine ran off with a man."
Ma Meg had always taught me to speak well and act 'like a lady', something she had told me would serve me well in life, but I had grown up on streets where the only job for some poor girls even younger than me had been selling themselves to men, so I was not shocked by the revelation as more polite society might have been. However, I schooled my expression properly so that Tilly, at a glance, knew to continue.
"Meeting him secretly, she was, though I don't know where she'd have found him round here. Takes me an hour to walk here from the village in the mornings," Tilly told me, waving her fish slice in the air. "Miss Verinace is too gentle, that's what I say. Let's these girls take advantage of her good nature."
Tilly caught up with what she was saying then and looked at me with a little worried 'oh' on her lips.
"I will not take advantage," I assured her, smiled and then decided I had heard enough.
I met Mrs Graham on the stairs on my way back up to the first floor.
"Good morning, Mrs Graham," I greeted with a smile.
"Good morning, Penelope," she replied brightly, but then glanced past me to the kitchen. "Have you seen Tilly, she is late with the breakfast?"
"I fear that is my fault," I took the blame immediately. "I interrupted her routine rather."
Mrs Graham relaxed then and clasped her hands together in front of her.
"Then I shall disturb her no more," she decided. "Miss Verinace enjoys company in the morning, but rises gently, so we breakfast in her room. We shall await Tilly's efforts there."
I dutifully followed Mrs Graham back up the stairs, quite happy to accommodate any habits my generous employer had.
Miss Verinace was sitting at her dressing table when we entered, a shawl over her nightdress and her lovely long hair cascading down her back. She was holding a brush to her hair, but as she saw me in her mirror, she turned and held it out to me.
"Good morning, Penelope," she told me warmly. "Come, brush my hair for me."
I crossed immediately to her and took the brush. The soft bristles slipped through her beautiful tresses with no resistance and I gushed, "You have such lovely hair."
"Thank you, my dear," she smiled at me in the mirror and, in the bright morning light streaming through the window, I noticed for the first time a little age around her eyes: maybe I had been mistaken about her being in her twenties. "I wish it had the curl of youth, like yours, though."
"Now, now, my sweet, we must not wish for things we cannot have," Mrs Graham interjected lightly and came up behind us both.
She handed a small rag doll to Miss Verinace, something quite out of place in the lavish surroundings, but the younger woman took it and held it to her lovingly. I looked more closely at its reflection and, in truth, even though it was no bigger than the palm of my hand, the doll was beautifully made with blue eyes and deep red lips in the most delicate embroidery and a lovely, pink dress. Miss Verinace noted my interest and held the doll up a little.
"I make them as amusements," she told me. "They are my little poppets."
I tried to smile and continued to brush Miss Verinace's hair, but Ma Meg had used the term 'poppet' and it had had nothing to do with amusements. Thankfully, before my employer or her nurse could notice my discomfort, there was a knock at the door.
I drew the brush through Miss Verinace's hair one last time as she called for entry and, as Tilly came in, cleaned the bristles of stray tresses. When Miss Verinace stood from her seat and began guiding me to the table under the window that Tilly was piling with wonderful-smelling food, I quickly returned the brush to the dressing table and slipped the hair hastily into my pocket.
I settled quickly into my comfortable new life at Old Oak House. I liked Miss Verinace, she was a charming woman with a great knowledge of literature and art, and I absorbed as much as she could tell me, which she seemed to enjoy doing. Mrs Graham, I became used to as a constant shadow, always there to help Miss Verinace if she became tired, or ill, totally devoted to the woman who was clearly much more to her than a mere employer.
I lacked nothing, I was happy and I did not wish anything to change. Maybe that is why I tried to ignore the visits of the girl to my mirror and I told no-one of them. She would appear infrequently, but always at night, when I was alone, her hands reaching out to me, but never quite touching me. Her fear became my fear, fear that the dream would end, fear that something lay hidden behind the luxury, but I was not ready to give it all up. I grew accustomed to gentility and I was actually glad that, each time I saw her, my visitor appeared less solid, fading away.
Yet, one night, a few months after I had arrived, my mind had settled back on the poppet my employer always carried close to her. She had hugged it to her that evening as we had talked, fingering the doll anxiously, picking at the stitching that was coming apart under her nails.
I had noted over the previous few days that Miss Verinace was looking less perfect, that she was smiling less and her anxiety worried me. My mirror visitor forgotten for a moment, I paced past my dressing table and I glanced into the reflective surface there (I rarely sat in front of it at night anymore). There she was again, my shadow girl, stretching out to me. I did not turn to check behind me anymore, even though the hairs on the back of my neck stood up as she tried to touch my shoulder.
"What do you want?" I finally asked what had been in my heart for many weeks.
"Leave," a wispy, shivering voice slipped into my hearing and I saw the effort of the communication on the young woman's face.
"Who are you?" I continued to question, since I did not want to hear the message she had to give.
"Leave!" she repeated and then, clearly in pain, my visitor faded away, leaving me to stare at my own haunted expression.
"May I have a few of the offcuts of this lovely green silk?" I asked Mrs Graham the next day as we sat at Miss Verinace's table, sewing a dress for our employer as we often did in the afternoons.
Both she and Miss Verinace, who was sitting by the fire, reading a book, looked up at me and I smiled winningly.
"I am making a little silk bouquet that I thought would go beautifully in the window," I gushed, pointing at the ledge, "and this green is just the perfect colour for rose leaves."
Mrs Graham deferred to Miss Verinace, as I had expected and, closing her book, the younger woman stood up. She crossed to the table, dancing her fingers over the rich fabric and I waited, continuing with the hemming I was currently undertaking. Eventually, she picked up a couple of small pieces and, holding them out to me, smiled and decided, "I do not see why not."
"Thank you," I began, taking the gift, but as I looked up at Miss Verinace, her pale complexion went grey in front of my eyes and I saw her begin to fail.
The cloth screwed up into my hand and quickly I reached for her as she descended towards the floor. Yet, Mrs Graham was faster, moving like lightning, catching her charge around the shoulders and pulling her back up. She held Miss Verinace against her body and quickly ordered, "A seizure; help me get her to the bed."
Dutifully, I obeyed and between us we supported Miss Verinace, who was moaning quietly into Mrs Graham's shoulder, to the bed and lifted her onto it. Mrs Graham put a palm to our casualty's forehead and Miss Verinace's eyes flickered open for a moment, but closed again.
"Do not worry, my sweet, all will be well," the older woman spoke kindly, but firmly to her charge and then turned to me once more. "Leave us, please."
I did not see either Miss Verinace, or Mrs Graham again that afternoon. I spent my time in my room, somewhat shocked by the sudden failing of my employer and I managed only a little sewing and did not eat any of the tray that Tilly brought me for my supper. Lost by the change in my happy routine, I even found myself sitting in front of my dressing table that evening as I prepared for bed, wanting to see my ghostly reflection. However, my visitor came from the real world, announced by a tap on my door. I swivelled in my seat and called, "Come in."
I was a little surprised to see Mrs Graham, but I asked immediately, "How is Miss Verinace."
"Resting," the woman replied, walking up to me and looking at me in the mirror. "She is weak, but will recover."
The determined look in Mrs Graham's eyes as she spoke fixed me into my seat and I believed her. I found myself staring back at her in the glass and I started when she laid her hands onto my shoulders.
"You must be strong for her, now, Penelope," she told me firmly and I nodded. "This is the time when she needs your youth the most, to lift her spirits and rally her strength."
I kept nodding.
"You have been a boon to us these past few months," Mrs Graham continued and stroked her hand down my cheek.
I had become accustomed to the woman being overly familiar from time to time and did not flinch, but a butterfly fluttered in my stomach at the gesture. I watched as she leant over and picked up my hairbrush, accepting the attention passively as she began to run the bristles through my hair.
"You are such a lovely girl: strong, but giving, and so beautiful," the praise kept coming, but I was losing myself in by attendant's gaze and didn't really care.
She smiled at me in the mirror, I smiled back and my eyelids grew heavy. I do not remember climbing into bed, only waking there the next morning after a dreamless sleep.
"...Out flew the web and floated wide- The mirror crak'd from side to side; 'The curse is come upon me,' cried The Lady of Shalott," I read as gently as I could and looked up as I finished the stanza.
Miss Verinace was lying in her bed, her head and shoulders lifted by a conglomeration of pillows, but her eyes looked out into empty space ahead of her and I could see she was barely responding. I could not really believe my eyes: my employer looked like she had aged some forty years in the space of one night, her beauty ravaged by the attack she had suffered.
Her breath came shallowly from her thin, drawn lips and I had seen enough death in my days to feel its weight around me then. Oddly, I found what I missed the most was her raven-black hair, now tucked carefully under a night cap and the few strands I could see, looked grey.
Miss Verinace's eyes flickered closed and I closed the book. I stood up, pulling the evening shawl around my shoulders: I would have sat in my day dress all through the night, but Mrs Graham has insisted I return to my room and change into my blue evening gown as Miss Verinace's protocols dictated. I had thought it strange, but did not wish to cause a fuss.
I walked to Miss Verinace's dressing table and found the little poppet sitting there. It was a ragged imitation of what it had once been, its prettiness gone, dress torn, one eye missing and the other unravelling. I picked it up and looked into the mirror. I barely believed my eyes when, before me, I saw the palest of shapes shimmer into view.
My mirror visitor stood before me, almost gone, and she was crying. As always, she reached out, but not to me this time, to the little poppet in my hand, transfixed by it, her eyes widening and her hands grabbing. I looked at the little thing again and I finally saw the pink dress, the dark hair, the blue eyes and Ma Meg's teachings rang true. I glanced back at my employer, sick in her bed, down at the poppet and then up to the phantom in the mirror.
"Very astute of you, my dear," Mrs Graham's voice surprised me and I spun around to find her standing in front of a closed door.
How she had entered without my knowledge, I know not, but once I had noticed her, her presence filled my attention. It was like I had never seen her before, not properly, but now, I felt her in my heart and I knew there was magic in the air. Still prim in her widow's weeds, she held her hands in front of her, another little doll held between them and I gasped as, with my new knowledge, I recognised myself, even down to my lovely blue dress.
"Josephine," I concluded as I looked down to the poppet in my hand.
Mrs Graham smiled.
"My lady must live, my lady must be beautiful, but the girls last for less and less time these days," the woman told me in such a matter-of-fact manner that I merely listened as she walked further into the room.
"Sympathetic magic," I murmured in disgust and put down Josephine's poppet.
Mrs Graham stopped then in front of the fireplace and looked at me again, more carefully. I slipped my hand under my shawl
"Well, you know more than I had given you credit for, child," she revealed, clearly impressed. "So you know what this is?"
She held out my poppet towards the fire and I tensed: I knew she had to have sewn some part of me into the doll and that if she burnt it, given the power in the air, I would burn too. She smiled and drew the doll back, but I did not relax. My fingers closed round the little sewing bag I had over my shoulder under my shawl and the small pair of scissors in the pocket in front. I took hold of them.
"How long has this been going on?" I asked, trying to decide what to do as my poppet remained dangerously close to the fire: that was clearly not Mrs Graham's ultimate intentions for me, but it was a sufficient threat.
"A few centuries," Mrs Graham graced me with a reply and took my breath away. "You would be surprised how easy it is. No-one notices a few orphaned girls disappearing, no-one asks any questions."
"And you use us, to keep her alive," I carried on, nodding at Miss Verinace as I took a step closer, "but you?"
The witch, for that is what I knew her to be, regarded me indulgently, taking my doll back into both hands.
"I have made my pacts, I need no additional lives," she explained and I had heard enough.
My poppet turned away from the fire, I took my chance and dived at Mrs Graham, swinging the scissors out at her. She stepped back, my poppet dropping to the floor and I dived for the precious thing, closing my hands around the soft body. I had it most of the way to safety, into my sewing bag when something sharp and cold caught me under the chin. I froze as I realised there was a knife at my throat.
"Move and you die now, my dear," Mrs Graham warned.
I looked up at her as she stood over me and I realised I was looking into madness.
"The poppet," she ordered.
Carefully, I reached into my sewing bag and closed my fingers round soft silk. I withdrew the little totem and passed it up to Mrs Graham.
"Thank you," she smiled victoriously at me and then dug the knife in a little. "Up."
I stood slowly, the knife ghosting my skin all the way, and then I found myself pushed backwards by the persuasion at my neck.
"Sit," the witch told me as we reached the dressing table.
Mrs Graham backed off from me then, brandishing the large, decorated knife at me and I recognised an athame. The doll in her other hand, she moved the blade in the air, tracing shapes, and began to mutter under her breath. I felt the power take hold in my belly, a feeling like the swing boats at the carnival, and anxiously, I tried to resist the sensation. Mrs Graham's eyes flashed and I stood, determined to fight her. Yet, the point of the knife flew in an arc, round to aim right at me and suddenly the unsettling turning of my stomach became a sharp pain.
I screamed, I think, but I can't be sure, because a rushing in my ears blocked out most sounds and my other senses tumbled away. They returned quickly, and thankfully the pain was no more, but as I blinked away the disorientation, I knew something was wrong. I was still looking at Mrs Graham standing before me, but her presence felt distant, separate.
I followed an instinct and glanced behind me, she was not there and when I looked back, she smiled triumphantly: she was only a reflection. Yet, I looked over my shoulder again and I noticed the hands of the clock on the mantel shelf. They were backwards. I was the reflection, and, as my senses settled, I realised I was looking out into the real world through a window the shape of the dressing table mirror.
"What have you done to me?" I asked and my voice shivered as I had heard Josephine's do.
"A useful cage while my lady lives through you, my dear," Mrs Graham told me, her voice muted and far away. "All I have to do now is bind you to her."
I watched then as she crossed to Miss Verinace's bed and held up the poppet over the failing woman. She moved the doll and the athame at the same time and muttered more unintelligible words over her charge. I could only stand there, part of me oddly fascinated as the binding began. Miss Verinace gasped as the power went to work, her frail fingers gathering up handfuls of blanket and I tensed as she began to writhe in time to Mrs Graham's invocation.
Blade and poppet danced to the evil rhythm, up and down, round and round as old magic went to work and the civilised life I had known for such a short time disintegrated in front of me. Hands reaching up and grasping towards the poppet, Miss Verinace snarled, an inhuman sound and I knew for certain that there had never been any humanity in this house.
I had been cared for and fattened like a sacrificial lamb. At last, the macabre dance came to an end as Miss Verinace grabbed the poppet from her witch. She snatched it down to her bosom, her eyes closing as she embraced the power. Yet, quickly, those blue orbs snapped open again and the woman screamed.
Miss Verinace looked down at the poppet in her hands and I saw her eyes widen in recognition.
"Green," she whispered, despair in her sound and then she looked to me.
I reached into my sewing bag and withdrew my own poppet, the precious little doll in the blue dress, and held her up for my would-be murderesses to see. Miss Verinace looked back at the poppet in her hands, the one I had made with scraps of material and the green dress fabric the previous afternoon, the doll with a curl of my employer's hair sewn inside the body. Then she screamed again.
You see, Ma Meg had not only taught me to read and write from her almanac, she had taught me everything in it, the old ways, the dangerous ways where one wrong move could mean your soul. I had learnt well and I had known how to defend myself.
I watched passively, Mrs Graham watched in horror as Miss Verinace began to convulse again, this time, not to the witch's magic, but to mine. The spell that had kept her alive for so long, that had murdered, now bound to itself. It could not be sustained and, though she fought it, the woman's flesh withered like parchment peeling off a book.
I did not relish the fear in Miss Verinace's eyes: I had done what I had to survive, but I bore witness to be sure there would be no more deaths. I watched the flesh die and retract, her face shrink in, her eyes and teeth fall away, all the time her long, gnarled fingers gripping the little poppet.
I do not know how long it took, seconds I expect, but every moment of it is etched into my memory. Yet it ended very suddenly, with another scream, only this was not from the corpse of Miss Verinace, but a maddened wail from her witch. Mrs Graham raised her knife and swung round, eyes blazing, all sanity, if there ever have been any, gone and she flew at my prison. I held my poppet tight and I murmured my own protection spell under my breath.
Mrs Graham slammed into the little portal between my cage and the real world and her yell died. I felt no impact, my world remained steady and the mirror did not break, but I stepped back in shock as wide-open eyes stared right into me for a few moments. Then, Mrs Graham, hellcat, fell away. I looked through my portal and saw her drop onto the carpet, athame rolling out of her hand and eyes glassy. Whatever magic she had tried, it had killed her.
My life is not so bad now. I remain in the mirror, but I have become accustomed to my prison and it to me. Time does not change for me, nor my little poppet, and together, we go on, watching the world outside go by from different rooms and, latterly, from different walls. My mirror cannot be destroyed, it merely changes use and, as I have learnt more about my comfortable home, I have discovered that, from time to time if my stamina is great enough, I may move between mirrors and see different parts of the world. Look for me when you stand in front of your own mirror, one day, I may visit you there.
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About Wittegen Press:
Wittegen Press is a small independent publisher of eBooks based in the UK. We publish on many eBook sites. To see our whole catalogue please visit our website.
Tasha was born and raised in rural Kent, England where she still lives with her husband Rob, just down the road from her twin sister and sometimes writing partner Sophie. Tasha has been writing since she was a pre-teen and chose to take it up as a full time career when her company downsized and made the whole software engineering department redundant. After setting up Wittegen Press with her sister as a brand for their books she has not looked back, publishing novels, novellas and short stories in a wide range of genres.
Before taking up writing professionally she was very active in the world of fanfiction and still believes it is a wonderful creative outlet, even though she doesn't have very much time to play anymore. She likes to maintain a lively presence online and welcomes new friends, readers and writers alike.
For more information about Tasha's books and where to find her at places like Twitter, please check out her profile at Wittegen Press, linked below.
Sophie was born with the writing bug in her blood, boring her primary school teachers with pages of creative writing and killing her first typewriter from over use when she was thirteen. She began publishing her work on line while at university where she discovered the internet and fanfiction. It took another decade for Sophie to realise her long-time dream of releasing her own original fiction.
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Realising his memories are his only hope of controlling his awakening instincts, Tom returns to, Coombedown, the sleepy, Cornish village in which he was born, unknowing that the night-breed in his veins will lead him into danger.
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This is the first story in the "Heritage is Deadly" Series.
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The Chronicles of Charlie Waterman is a set of YA style novels designed to be exciting, light reads for a crossover audience. They are filled with magic, adventure and a well developed sense of fun.
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