Love the characters names.
There is no moratorium on the amount of trouble that any one child is allowed to get into while growing up, but maybe there should be. For every ex-kid there is at least one mildew covered skeleton hanging in a closet somewhere, just waiting to be discovered; However, it's the skeleton which never surfaces that one should ultimately be concerned about.
Hot summer rain pelted the windows of the old victorian two-story fervently. Talia Cooper and her parents had moved in just months before, but it already resembled a museum rather than a home. It was full of a large plethora of incredibly fascinating antiques and other such nostalgia from the Cooper's worldwide scavenger hunts. These things which usually intrigued Talia, today, merely depressed her.
She was alone in this ancient exhibit again.
Talia precariously balanced a plate piled high with juicy and sour pickles and a glass of lemonade while trying to open her bedroom door. She was not really supposed to have food in her room, but she broke that rule regularly when her folks were not home. And that was happening more and more these days, it seemed.
She got the door open, and her fuzzy purple phone began to ring as if on cue. She almost dropped the plate scrambling to answer.
"Hello? Oh hey Jana." She grabbed the phone and plopped herself into the lime green beanbag chair in front of the TV. "Now? Well OKay, I can do that.. No, mom and dad are out of town for a dealer's convention. Again. I'll be over there in a few, just let me pack some stuff."
Jana Munroe was Talia's best friend of five years and they had practically lived together every summer since they met.Talia scrounged in her messy desk and found some paper and a purple gel pen to scribble the note to her parents: Gone To Jana's, probably for a few days. Love, Me. Nothing new there- Talia had her own drawer in Jana's dresser and a toothbrush in the bathroom. She was there that often.
Folding the note, she went to the kitchen and tacked it to the message board next to the phone. Then, back in her room, she rummaged for some clothes that she haphazardly threw into a bag along with some CDs and a DVD. Snatching up the bag, she exited the room, slamming the door behind her. Coincidentally, she failed to notice the demise of the plate of pickles that had fallen to the floor.
It was then, that Talia heard the eerie noise emanating from somewhere above. It was a keening pitch that sounded much like the cry of a child- a desolate, lonely kind of sound. But she knew that couldn't be the case; Nobody was in her house- especially not upstairs.
The attic door was a plain door, not like the pull-down kind in her friend's house. Talia knew that behind that door, a rickety stairwell led up to attic storage. She'd been disciplined by her father to stay out of the attic- it just wasn't too safe up there, he'd warned her. She knew there were many valuable items stored in the attic that he had plans to sell, but the old floors just weren't too trustworthy.
The cries had ceased for the moment, and Talia had herself almost convinced she'd imagined them when they began again- even more desperate sounding than before. The wailing was certainly human, although any words were not distinguishable.
She had to know who or what that was!
Talia opened the creaky door and took the steps to the attic.A bone chilling breeze swept down the stairwell accompanied by an even more chilling silence. Whatever it was had stopped making the noise, and Talia found that almost as disturbing as the sound itself. A sudden pungent stench penetrated the stairwell, but it dissipated almost as soon as it was detected. Her heart pounded and her skin tingled as the hairs all over her gangly, twelve year old body stood on end.
She had reached the summit of the staircase. She looked around slowly at a collection of very old trunks and furniture, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. A large, ornately decorated dressing mirror stood in one dark corner, and movement in that area gave her cause to jump. Talia looked again and determined that the movement was her own reflection, and sighed, relieved.A sudden sob that appeared to have come from behind the remarkable mirror, startled her out of her reverie.
Nearing the corner that the mirror occupied, Talia stepped over a bunch of odd looking toys that lay strewn about the floor. They were definitely valuable and maybe her dad would let her try to sell them at the Antique Boutique.. so she picked them up and decided to head back downstairs. This was just too creepy, and she wanted OUT of this house.
"Hey, those are MINE." A tiny voice implored from the corner. "you can play with them, if you wanna, but please don't take them away."
Talia dropped the toys and looked frantically around the mirror for the source of the voice. Simply nothing."Where ARE you?" she called out.. and then, "Who are you? Why won't you come out? And what are you doing in my house?" Talia's search was in vain, however. She leaned against the mirror and closed her eyes. This wasn't happening! She was NOT crazy!
"My name is Charlotte." the little voice breathed into Talia's ear from behind. Talia spun around in a panic.
Her fear turned into amazement when she looked into the mirror and saw that the reflection in the mirror was not her own, but the somewhat blurred image of another girl! The mirror-girl appeared to be about 8 or so and wore a simple white frock. She sported long, bouncing blond curls tied up in pigtails with pink ribbons. She looked as if she were from another time completely!
"Are you a ghost? Did you die in this house? And why were you crying?" Talia stumbled over the words.. she wasn't scared anymore, simply fascinated. She could see INTO the mirror.. there was a children's playroom reflected back at her behind the white-clad girl. More toys much like the ones at her feet could be seen in the mirror-room.
Charlotte balked at Talia's forceful line of questioning and her image grew blurrier as she started the troubled wail again.
Talia lowered her tone in an effort to soothe the child. "Sorry," she said.. "But why are you so sad?"The little girl's hazy image pouted, "I want my toys back now. Give them."
Talia turned and picked up a ragdoll that lay limp on the floor... "but how did you get here?" The mirror girl interrupted her.
Charlotte's eyes seemed to light up, "My dolly!" She pleaded to Talia imploringly with her eyes.
"Tell me how you got here, and you can have her."
Charlotte's face grew dark as she spoke. "I got really sick and my mommy made me stay up here. She said I could come out when I got better. But I never got better."
Talia wasn't satisfied, she wanted to know how the little ghost came to be trapped in the mirror.. "but are you stuck inside the mirror?" she touched the glass and her skin tingled. "Can't you come out?"
The little girl shook her head, causing her face to distort again. "No. I try to but I can't. I am so lonely up here. I liked to play dress-up, but one day I laid down and took a nap in front of this mirror, but I was so so sick and I didn't wake up. My mommy must have been really sad when I didn't wake up."
Wow... Talia calculated. This poor thing had spent an eternity in isolation.. no wonder her ghost was so tormented!
"Can I have Dolly now?" Charlotte asked.
Talia stepped forward and pressed the worn doll up against the mirror, unsure of what to expect.. the ghost's fingers wrapped around the doll's arm through the mirror and the toy was pulled through the glass to the other side, where Charlotte snuggled it tightly.
"I'm sorry you are lonely, Charlotte. That is very sad.." Talia wiped a tear away. This little girl was much like herself- sad and alone. "But you don't have to be alone anymore.. I can be your friend.." Talia picked up another toy and pressed it firmly to the mirror for the ghost-child to take from her.
Charlotte's imaged un-blurred slightly, and Talia thought she saw the beautiful child smile for the first time. The two girls giggled together then and Talia knew that all that Charlotte's spirit needed was companionship. Now, maybe her ghost could rest!
"Oh I am so happy you came," Charlotte blurted out..."I always wanted a friend." She placed a perfect little hand on her side of the mirror, the palm was showing to Talia, who, in turn, placed her hand on the mirror, over Charlotte's. Her eyes brimmed with tears.
"Friends," the ghost whispered. "Friends, forever."The spirit's fingers melted through the mirror and interlaced with Talia's own, closing over her hand firmly.. But then Charlotte gave a vicious yank and Talia cried out in surprise. She felt her whole being slip away as she was pulled into the mirror-room and out of the reality that she had only just come to appreciate.
The Next Afternoon
Frank and Paulette Cooper arrived home to an empty house. While Paulette unfolded the note that her daughter had so thoughtfully left them, Frank marched into the attic to take care of business. He lugged the huge, dusty vanity mirror down the attic stairs and out to his antique broker's waiting truck.
Frank Cooper was oblivious to the frantic wails and the sounds of small hands banging on the other side of the looking glass as he accepted the five-figure check with a hearty hand-shake.
~Elizabeth Paige Leiby (2006)
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