© 2018 Rebecca Wralstad. All Rights Reserved. Time-stamped by Beta Readers.
Meeting in the Mirror
The open door wasn’t an invitation; it was a gate to hell decorated with cheap orange streamers. A chill wind sent papery leaves past my rooted feet and over the welcome mat before me.
“You said you’d come. You can’t back out now,” Ronnie said.
She was right and I hated her for it. The same way I hated her determination to meet someone new. If she hadn’t bribed me, I would have stayed at home. I scowled down at my new necklace and followed Ronnie into the party.
The wind shoved the door and I grabbed the swinging handle. It slammed shut before I could stop it and everyone turned to see who would make such a dramatic entrance. I gave them all a limp wave alone; Ronnie was already at the punch bowl ladling through drifts of dry-ice.
I paused on the polished step between the elegant foyer and the party. The lovely old home’s tin ceiling was obscured with black balloons and rubber bats. Masking tape marred the gleaming hardwood floor with the crude outlines of bodies. I moved down into the living room, glad to be out under from the many-faceted menace of the old crystal chandelier. Beneath all the tacky terror, the Victorian’s gothic spirit still stirred.
“Try not to look so horrified,” Ronnie said. She handed me a plastic cup of bloody red punch.
“I am not in the mood for this,” I told her.
Ronnie flipped her spider-flecked hair. “You’re always so edgy on Halloween.”
I clutched my tiger’s eye pendant and tried to mingle. I felt something bad was coming but I forced the premonition down.
The hostess, Tanya, popped up in front of me with a sickly sweet smile. “Kiara! Nice to see you. Is Mike with you?” she asked.
“We broke up,” I said.
Tanya patted my arm with weak sympathy. “That’s too bad, but I’m sure you’ll meet someone tonight. I’ll be your fairy godmother!”
I cringed at her sudden determination and pulled back to avoid the pointy end of her glittered wand. “No, thanks. I actually think I might be cursed.”
“My cousin is in town; you should meet him.” It was obvious Tanya was hell-bent on setting me up.
“I’m not really ready— “
“Nonsense. You’ll love him. He came up with a great party game for us to play.” Tanya clapped her hands and called the attention of the party. “Listen up, everybody. Kiara is going to test out our first Halloween superstition.”
An unraveling mummy handed Tanya a jack o’ lantern full of folded scraps of paper and stayed to give me the creeps. Tanya poked her costumed cousin towards me, accidentally tearing some of his loose toilet paper wrappings with the end of her wand.
“Some people believe that if you look into a mirror while walking downstairs, you’ll see the face of the man you’re going to marry,” Tanya informed the party. “Ready to test it out?”
Ronnie saw I was the volunteer and she clapped the loudest.
Tanya vamped for the crowd, disappeared down where the ornate bannister was wound with cheap spider web cotton, and then she jumped up with a silver hand mirror. “Boo!”
The partygoers laughed and, when our hostess held the mirror out so everyone could see it was real, the crowd cheered again.
I had no choice. I climbed to the top of the stairs, past an oil-painted portrait of Tanya and her family, and turned around. The foot of the stairs was crowded with gossipy ghouls and I was annoyed at myself for trying to fit in.
I saw my own skeptical expression in the silver hand mirror and then a spark of light from my tiger’s eye pendant. My feet started to descend but my eyes were transfixed on the mirror. A man’s surprised smile glinted at me from its surface and I stumbled on the last three stairs, and crashed onto the floor of the foyer.
He was still smiling when I pried my eyes open.
“Am I dead?” I asked him.
“You can’t die of embarrassment,” he said.
He reached out a steady hand and pulled me up to sitting. I let go to untangle my long, black dress and he disappeared.
“That was hilarious!” Tanya howled where he had been standing. “And I got it all on my phone. Hang on, I’m posting it right now.”
Ronnie shoved her aside and yanked me up. “Are you all right? What did you see?”
“Just the portrait on the wall,” I muttered. “Her brother, I think.”
“You mean my brother Craig? Speak of the devil,” Tanya held up her ringing phone, “Craig’s calling right now. My brother’s driving all the way from Chicago tonight. I’ll have to post your video later.”
“Craig’s cute,” Ronnie said, peering up the staircase at the portrait.
“Nice smile,” I agreed.
Ronnie blinked, then pointed up at the portrait. “He’s not smiling.”
The party moved back into the living room and left me clinging to my friend. I knew the face I saw, Craig’s face, had not been painted, it was real in the mirror. It made no sense and I searched desperately around the room for an explanation.
“No, stop messing with me,” I dropped Ronnie’s arm. “He’s right there.”
Tanya’s older brother, Craig, stood by the bay window in the front of the house, just a few steps from where a knot of partygoers read the instructions for an Ouija board. He could have easily slipped in during the confusion of my crash.
“There’s no one where you’re pointing,” Ronnie hissed.
Craig’s forehead wrinkled with confusion. Behind him the glass was slashed across with trees and streetlights. They sped by as our eyes met again and he disappeared.
“Did someone spike the punch?” I asked.
Ronnie looked at her empty cup, then finished the one she had been holding for me. “Just in case,” she said.
I forced a laugh and let her lead me to a refill. I must have bumped my head when I sprawled into the foyer. I pressed my cold punch cup to my forehead as the rest of the group ringed around Tanya and her next victim. Her cousin fumbled to get his mummy-wrapped fingers on a small planchette next to her glittery purple manicure.
“Oh, great spirits, tell Edward when he’ll meet his love,” Tanya intoned.
The first ring of spectators called out letters as the planchette skidded itself across the Ouija board. “F-A-L-L.”
“Ooo, like right now,” one of Tanya’s friends cooed.
“Fall in love,” another interpreted.
Eyes flew to me and looked for a love connection tying me to Tanya’s toilet-paper wrapped cousin. I held my breath. Luckily the crowd groaned in disappointment as the planchette moved on and spelled a different message.
“Fall asleep?” Ronnie put it together then gave me a questioning glance.
I tried to answer even as my head tipped back against the bookshelf behind me. My eyelids dropped and I felt my mind dip into a doze. Just as I struggled to gather back my unraveling consciousness, I saw him.
“Hi,” he said with a curious arch of his eyebrows. Craig shifted his elbow to the window and drove with one hand as he studied me in the rearview mirror. “I’ve seen you before. Who are you?”
“Kiara,” I said.
“Kiara, what are you doing in the backseat of my car?”
“I’m not in your car.” I gripped the leather of a car seat. “You’re driving. I’m at your sister’s party.”
“And, what?” Craig asked. “I’m dreaming?”
His car drifted over the rough strips of the road’s shoulder, but he kept his eyes on me in the mirror. I felt the wheels swerve away from the paved road just as Ronnie tugged on my arm. Tall grass slapped his front bumper as his tires skidded along the edge of a sharp ditch.
“Wake up,” I screamed.
A backlash of shrieking partygoers ripped me from my trance. It was my scream that had frightened them. Tanya, her wand clutched against her chest in fright, couldn’t believe I had outdone her on the cheap scares. The other guests laughed in relief and went off in search of refills and snacks. Tanya stood up, her purple glazed eyelashes snapping at me. Just as she lifted her warped wand to curse me, there was a heavy knock on the door.
“Tanya, the police are here,” her mummified cousin called.
“Everything’s fine,” Craig claimed as he walked in, holding an icepack to his forehead.
The taller officer cleared his throat. “Fell asleep at the wheel. Totaled his car, but he’s all right. Lucky guy. He woke up just in time to slam on the brakes before the the river.”
The police officers gave him another warning before they left. As soon as the door was closed, Tanya slapped her brother’s shoulder with her broken wand. “Had to make a dramatic entrance.”
“Nice to see you again,” Craig said to me. His forehead wrinkled but he smiled.
Tanya paused. “Have you two met?”
I shrugged and gave a clumsy explanation. “I’ve seen you before. In the portrait on the stairs.”
“In the mirror,” Craig corrected me.
Tanya’s face went pale as Craig took my hands and drew me close. “Thanks, Kiara. You saved my life.”