Jason A. Kilgore
"It's beautiful," Hanna Walker proclaimed. The golden locket in her hands had fine filigree woven onto its surface, tangled into intricate patterns. The chain attached to the locket draped over her palm to hang like a lock of braided hair.
"It's for you, my dear," Gerald said, his crow's feet compressing into a smile. "I picked it up in St. Petersburg," he continued, his deep voice emanating from the thick, gray web of mustache and beard. "A Russian colleague of mine, Aleksandr Merkov, is having financial problems. He's from a very noble and respected family in Russia, but his business isn't surviving the legacy of Glasnost. I arranged for a rather substantial loan ... interest-free, and he repaid me with the locket."
David, Hanna's teenage son, leaned over and examined the locket. "Is it real gold?"
"Absolutely," Gerald answered. "It belonged to none other than Catherine the Great." Gerald paused, eyebrows raised. "It's true," he continued. "You're holding jewelry that graced the neck of an empress. And like all priceless artifacts, this one has a rather interesting story behind it."
"Tell us," Hanna said, beckoning. Her husband, Martin, sat next to her. A morning person, his eyes drooped. David, on the other side, sat forward on his chair. The gleam in his eye matched the sparkle of the fire upon his earring.
Gerald smiled and sipped at his brandy. The moment of silence accented the thumping of a wooden gate out in the garden. The winds of New Hampshire were strong that night.
"Well?" Hanna urged.
"Open the locket," Gerald finally said. Hanna did as told. The interior revealed a tiny gem encased in a depression.
"A diamond?" Hanna asked, her eyes alight.
"Wow, really?" David exclaimed. Martin's eyes opened wider.
Gerald smiled. "No, honey. Just glass."
Hanna sighed. Silly, she thought to herself.
"But don't be disappointed." Gerald beckoned. "There's a story about that little sliver. Catherine and her husband, Tsar Peter III, hated each other with a passion. He was dim-witted and despised his Polish-born wife. Catherine grew bored and lonely, so she had an affair with the handsome court chamberlain, Sergei Saltykov. Catherine would spirit away from the palace to be with him. Together they would go riding in the forest to end up at a smaller palace on the grounds called Mon Plaisir." Hanna leaned forward. "They would love each other in secret there," Gerald continued, "surrounded by intimate wood paneling and Dutch tiled floors. Perhaps it was the spell of the wind in the forest or the music of the fountains around Mon Plaisir, but she soon became pregnant with Sergei's child. Fearing their secret would be discovered, they parted. But the handsome chamberlain died a year later under mysterious circumstances, and the child he fathered was taken from Catherine by her husband's family."
"How tragic," Hanna whispered, breathless, "So how does that relate to the locket? Did Sergei give it to her as a present?"
Gerald shook his head. "Catherine was heartbroken after Sergei died. She took on many other lovers in her lifetime, but none would ever capture her heart. After she became empress upon her husband's murder, Catherine had a handmaiden contact a Gypsy medium. Meeting with the Gypsy at Mon Plaisir, she demanded the medium help her contact her dead lover. The Gypsy was said to have agreed, casting a spell on a mirror near the bed where they had loved. 'Whenever you wish to be with him,' she told the empress, 'you need only look in the mirror and see him watching over you.'"
"Did it work?" David asked.
Gerald shrugged. "She seemed to think so. She would often go to Mon Plaisir to gaze into it. Servants were afraid of the mirror, saying that ghosts would leer out of it, watching them from the other side.
"Years later the son, Paul, was being groomed to succeed his mother. He was raised as the son of her husband, Peter, but there were always whispers about his true parentage. He grew to hate the rumors. Anxious to erase all trace of Sergei, he shattered the mirror and had the servants cart away the remains. Catherine rushed to Mon Plaisir when she heard, but she was too late. The only remnant of the mirror was one tiny sliver of glass, overlooked in a corner the very sliver in the locket. It's said that she wore the locket whenever she became lonely for her long-dead lover."
The wind shook the shutters as Hanna carefully closed the locket.
"It's a riveting tale," Martin said.
Hanna nodded in agreement, wide-eyed.
"Well, it's a story, anyhow," Gerald answered, "I wouldn't put much faith in it. Russians are great at weaving tales! Aleksandr may have just picked it up at a market and pawned it off to me as something of value."
"Well, I think it's lovely," Hanna said. She hugged the old man, feeling bones pop in him as he returned the gesture. "Thank you,Uncle Gerald, I feel like an empress already." She gave him a peck on the cheek, watching as the light of the fire burned against the locket's golden surface.
Hanna turned the page of an old National Geographic. The slick paper smelled of plastic and solvent, new, unread. Catherine the Great's portrait lay next to a photo of the Winter Palace. A slender necklace ran down Catherine's neck to disappear under the ermine collar of her robes.
Hanna felt at the locket around her own neck, wondering if Catherine had felt its cool touch against her skin as she did at that moment. Hanna had worn it every day since Gerald had left, unable to part with it from morning to night, feeling an attachment to something stronger, more noble, higher in purpose than the dishes she washed or the work she did.
"What are you doing?" David asked as he stepped into the living room.
Hanna jumped. "You startled me." She stopped to take a breath. The fire crackled against the momentary silence. "I'm just reading up on Catherine the Great, seeing if I can find anything on the locket that Uncle Gerald gave me."
David looked over her shoulder. "Hmm." He plopped onto the sofa across the room and draped himself over it. "How come Uncle Gerald never stays long?"
"He's a busy man, David. He travels all over the world making big deals for oil companies."
"How come you got that necklace and all he gave me was a bunch of stupid wooden dolls shaped like bowling pins?"
Hanna closed the magazine. "Those are valuable too. Handmade. Russian nesting dolls are symbols of a very rich tradition in that country."
David shrugged again. "What I really want is a driver's license. When are you and Dad going to teach me to drive?" He rolled his tongue against his cheek and briefly stuck it out, exposing the brass-colored tongue ring.
Hanna closed her eyes and sighed, placing the magazine on the coffee table. "We've been through this before, David. We don't feel you're ready for the responsibility yet. You're only fifteen and you were in that fight at school last month ...."
David bolted upright and glared at Hanna. "I am too ready! Jeremy's parents are teaching him, and he's three months younger! I'll be sixteen in only a couple months. And you know I didn't start that fight!"
"The answer's no, David. We'll give it until your birthday and then we'll see."
David jumped up and stormed from the room. "Yeah right. You guys are always putting me off ...."
Hanna wanted to grab David's arm as he rushed by, but she stopped herself. "Not ready," she muttered and shook her head.
She sighed and opened the National Geographic back to the page with Catherine's portrait, bent over it, looked closer for a bulge in the robes where the locket would be.
Victorian gables and hand-carved trim, Hanna's house had been in the family for generations. Its steeply arched roof poked up humbly amidst the changing oaks. Below, Hanna and Martin raked up the fallen leaves. Each scrape of the rakes on the ground twanged like the forks of a music box. The rustle of the leaves added melody. Sweaty despite the chill in the air, Hanna stopped for a moment to wipe her brow.
"Time for a break," she said to Martin. "Care for some cider?"
"You go ahead. I'll be there in a minute," he answered.
Hanna set down the rake and walked the fifty yards to the house, absent-mindedly stroking the locket at her neck. She admired the house, remembering how meticulously her father had maintained it. "A happy house is a well-kept house," he would say offhand as he cleaned a gutter or applied a new layer of paint. They had put their handprints in the cement of the driveway when she was David's age. The imprints were still there, and she was always careful to clean the dirt and debris from them. Her father had died three years ago, linked to respirators and heart machines. A heavy smoker, he was fond of thick cigars and Lucky Strikes. Sometimes he would even roll his own filterless cigarettes like his father had taught him. What a shame, she thought, that he didn't value a well-kept body as well.
Hanna paused a moment at the stairs to the back door and looked back toward Martin. She sighed and smiled. Father never had it as good as I do. I've got it all. A cool breeze crept through her hair. She crossed her arms against the chill. She remembered the funeral, the wake, the months of depression.
Hanna turned and ascended the stairs, careful not to slam the screen door as she entered. She stopped in the bathroom on the way to the kitchen, opened the mirrored medicine cabinet for a jar of lip balm, closed the cabinet.
She gasped, dropped the balm into the sink basin with a clank. The mirror. A reflection of an older man. Balding. Cheeks sagging. His sad eyes pleaded for release as medical tubing ran from his nose.
"Daddy!" she cried, turning. But behind her was only empty space and the open door into the hallway. Holding her breath, she glanced again into the mirror. The apparition was gone.
Hanna went to the living room after supper was put away. Martin was watching a sitcom and David had gone to his room. The evening was quiet. Even the wind had died down. She took a seat on the couch across from Martin's recliner and watched him intently.
"You've been quiet tonight," he said after a pause.
Hanna nodded. "I had a strange thing happen today when I came in for cider."
Martin looked up in concern but waited patiently.
"You see," she continued, "when I looked into the bathroom mirror I saw.... Well, I thought I saw my father looking back at me."
Martin's eyebrows tensed. He exhaled sharply without speaking.
"I know. It's a little weird. But he was there, just as he had looked in the hospital. When I turned he was gone."
Martin raised his eyebrows, taking a moment to respond. "Honey, maybe you should take a couple days off. You've been working pretty hard, lately, and I think all that patent work of yours is getting to you."
"Yeah, I know," she replied, "Maybe you're right. I'll talk to my boss this week."
The living room grew quiet save for the hollow laugh track of the sitcom. But Hanna paid little attention to the TV. She stared, instead, at the decorative mirror over Martin's head. At her angle it showed only the ceiling. But she wondered, if she stood up, would she see her father staring back at her?
Most of a week passed, but Hanna still worried about the sight of her father. She purposely avoided mirrors, combing and fixing her hair by touch alone. Yet she knew she had to face her fears. She had taken Martin's suggestion and stayed home that Friday, calling in sick. She slept in while Martin and David went off. She cleaned house, ate a quick lunch, and took care of several little chores. Something about being home alone scared her, even if it was the spirit of her father haunting the house.
Hanna remembered back to age sixteen. The canoe trip down the Saco River. The canoe had overturned. She and a friend had nearly drowned in the rapids, crawling out of the river almost a mile downstream. "I'll never go in water again," Hanna had told her father. He sat her down in the living room, eyes focused, lips taut, and said, "Darling, you can't spend your life afraid of something. It'll haunt you, search you out, come to you in the dark. You get back on that river as soon as you can!" She followed her father's advice, and the fear subsided.
At one o'clock, Hanna took her place in front of the living room mirror, eyes closed and hands trembling. Fiddling with the locket out of nervous habit, she opened her eyes. All she saw was her ashen face staring back at her. The reflection showed oddly combed hair and wide brown eyes. She softened and took a deep breath. Laughing at herself, she moved away.
But the laugh caught in her throat. A different angle. The reflection of a figure by the recliner. Half-hidden by shadow, the man was tall and well-built despite a slight stoop.
"Daddy?" Hanna called to the reflection, her voice meek and squeaking.
The figure coughed soundlessly and looked toward the mirror. The deeply shadowed face was clearly her father's. He put his hand on the recliner as if to steady himself and smiled up at her. Baby, he mouthed, but no sound escaped the mirror.
Hanna's eyes welled with tears. "Daddy," she said, and turned to see. But there was no one where the reflection had shown. She looked back at the mirror, wishing this time that he were there. But the reflection looked quite ordinary. Hanna moved from side to side, getting different angles on the living room, but the vision was gone.
Hanna waited until bedtime to tell Martin, lying next to him in the quiet moments before sleep. The light of a waxing moon lay draped across the covers at their legs.
"Martin, I saw my father again today."
Martin moved in surprise but said nothing.
"I think it's the locket that Gerald gave me. I was wearing it both times I saw him. It's like what happened with Catherine the Great. You know?"
Martin nodded slightly. "And you saw him in the bathroom mirror again?"
"No. This time it was in the living room mirror."
There was a long pause as she waited for him to speak. The muted whispers of leaves blown by the wind called through the windows as she lay there watching Martin's half-shadowed face. He blinked and searched, gleaming in the moonlight, for some reason behind her statement.
"Well, I'm willing to believe you," Martin said. "So why do you continue to wear it?"
"I don't know," she answered, "I guess I want to see him. I miss him, you know?"
"I'm wearing it now, even," she added.
"Now? In bed?"
Hanna started to explain when the phone rang, startling them both. It took a couple of rings before Hanna got up and walked out to the hallway table to answer it.
"Hello?" she asked, unwrapping the phone cord from her purse strap.
"Is this Hanna Walker?" A man's voice. Deep. Authoritative.
"Yes," she answered. Other phones rang in the speaker's background.
"Ma'am, I'm Deputy Glenn Daniels with the Sheriff's Department. Do you have a teenage son named David?"
"Yes, I do."
"Who is it?" Martin yelled out, but Hanna ignored him.
"Ma'am, I'm calling from the county hospital," the deputy stated in a monotone. "Your son has been involved in an auto accident."
"But David's home tonight. You must have the wrong ...." But the car keys were missing from her open purse.
"Ma'am, according to a friend of his who was also involved, they decided to go on a joyride. They were hit from behind, and your son suffered serious head trauma. The ambulance reached the scene in only ten minutes, but .... you're going to have to come to the hospital...."
"Oh God ...." Hanna dropped the phone. She looked up, mouth open, unable to focus. How, Lord, how could this happen? A reflection in the hallway window. The figure of a boy, translucent and warped from the glass. Blood covered the front of his shirt and forehead. His badly cut face was pale white in the wan light of the moon.
Mom, the reflection of her son mouthed. His eyes and brow moved as if to beg forgiveness. He reached out a torn hand to touch a finger against the glass.
"David! David...." Hanna whispered and began to cry. She gazed at the reflection, longed to run and grab him in her arms, but David faded away like a fog burned by the sun.
"Honey?" Martin muttered from the bedroom doorway.
Sobbing, Hanna lurched forward to place her hand on the window where David's had touched it. The panes where his reflection had appeared were empty, and through them she saw the open driveway where the Buick had been.
The Harrow: Original Works of Fantasy and Horror. ISSN: 1528-4271
The Harrow is published by THE HARROW PRESSSM