We’ve reached Week 2 of Writer in Motion! My goal this last week was to take a fresh look at my short story and edit it. I had a few goals:
- Fix the tense to be consistent throughout.
- Rewrite any weird phrases or things that didn’t belong.
- Give my character a last name and fill in any other areas I skipped.
- Fix the pacing.
- Reduce the word count to meet the 1000 words or under requirement.
Most of the above items I did. However, I ended up not cutting out some of the backstory from the beginning. After letting the story sit for a few days and then rereading it, I actually liked the flow and thought the information that remains was fairly necessary for the reader to understand all of what’s going on. We’ll see what my critique partners think though when I receive their feedback on this story.
Trimming the word count down was actually one of the harder elements for me in this short story. I really wanted to add more, but there just wasn’t space to do and still meet the 1000 words or less requirement for Writer in Motion short stories. My first draft was about 100 words over that. Whoops!
The final thing I wanted to do this week? Give the story a name. So, without further ado, here’s the self-edited draft of “The Looking Glass.”
The Looking Glass – Self-edited draft
Sage clung to wood-paneled walls as if it could mute the tang of mother’s death. A foolish old tradition. If some part of her lingered here, I’d have felt it by now. But there was nothing of her here. Even her things were lifeless, empty shells that could have belonged to anyone.
I rubbed the lacey sleeve between my fingers, aching for some last connection to her that didn’t exist. With a sigh, I dropped the dress into the trunk with the others. Mama’s old room was spotless as the rest. Even the floors were polished to a shine, not a speck of dust to be found anywhere. Whatever illness took Aunt Alice and then her, it wasn’t for lack of a comfortable place to live.
My aunt had died in the room across the hall, not two weeks after Mama came to care for her. We expected her home then. She never came. Not even when I visited from university, only to find her green eyes dull and distant, skin wrinkled, and hair streaked with far more silver than I remembered.
Papa once said she died the day she came here to care for her sister. I hadn’t believed him. Not then. It was hard to watch someone you loved die. She just needed time.
I snorted air through my nose. Harder still to have them leave you, to stay in the cursed place and wither away for two years as if the world might crumble if they stepped off the grounds. Perhaps we had lost her then, long before I ever knew it.
And now the house was mine.
But I wouldn’t be staying. I hugged my arms around myself and scowled at the very walls. It wouldn’t take another Carroll woman. I’d see to that. Aunt Alice may have willed the estate to her next female relative, but there was no condition against selling it.
A whisper, too quiet to make out, teased my ears and sent a chill creeping down my spine.
“Hello,” I called toward the open hall door. The servants should be gone, off to enjoy their rare holiday while I packed the last of mother’s things. Or perhaps not so rare from the tales they told. Mother rarely left her room, they said, preferring her solitude—the very opposite of the laughing woman who commanded attention at parties in my youth.
The heels of my boots clicked across the polished wood as I ventured to the hall. “Hello?”
Landscape paintings and closed doors greeted me. No servants. No hum from the gas piping. No sound at all, as if the house were as dead as Mama.
“Foolish, Eloise,” I scolded myself as I ducked back into the room. “Of course, no one is here.” Hollow disappointment ached through my chest as I said it. Perhaps I wanted someone to be, though—hoped Mama’s spirit lingered and she could explain her odd behavior these last years.
The whispering came again, a string of words I couldn’t make out that coiled around my neck like spider webs. The invisible threads tugged my attention away from the door.
A tall mirror stood on its stand across the room, draped, as all mirrors are in a house that’s recently seen death, with a cloth of white. The edge of the linen ruffled in the wake of another whisper. Fine hairs along my arms stood on end. All the windows were closed, locked tight against the recent rains.
Who’s there? I tried to say, but a bubble of air lodged in my throat. When it cleared, all that came out was a cracked, “Mama?”
Tears burned at the corners of my eyes, but I wouldn’t let them fall. I hadn’t cried when she left us. I certainly wouldn’t now. You’re a woman grown, Eloise, and it’s but a mirror.
As if to prove it to myself, I notched my chin higher and advanced on the blasted thing.
“Just a mirror.” I fisted a handful of cloth—cold, so cold—and jerked it away.
Breath fled my lungs. Age clouded and discolored the edges. That, I expected, but in its center, the smears of grey seemed to move, to float like heavy fog in early morning light.
“Alice,” a voice hissed.
My hand flew to my mouth as I stumbled back, a silent screech clawing up my throat. Something moved in the fog. Large. Dark. As if a person strode through the mist.
That’s when I noticed it, the lack of my reflection in the glass. My calves bumped the bed, sending me tumbling back and that waiting screech careening into the silence.
“Alice,” the mirror whispered again. If death had a sound, that would be it. Air through clenched teeth. A faint, gasping rattle.
“Alice is dead,” I said, as if that alone would make the monstrosity flee. Alice. Mama. Both gone into the ground.
The fog stilled one brief moment. Then, an eerie laugh echoed from everywhere and nowhere at once. Tendrils of grey mist crept across the floor.
I scrambled across the bed, tangling the heavy bedspread, pulse hammering in my throat. Half my hair fell free of its pins. My boot caught the hem of my skirt. Fabric ripped. None of it stopped me from lurching toward the hall.
The door slammed. Unable to stop, I careened into it so hard my bones rattled.
There was no time to breathe, to think, before the voice whispered again, but this time solid, steady, right in my ear. “There must always be an Alice. And you are the next.”
A thing of fog and shadow bound me, firm as iron. No one heard my screams, nor my boots as they scrapped across the polished floors. All the trashing in the world couldn’t stop it.
I grasped the gilt frame of the mirror—one last anchor.
A nail cracked. I slipped.
And the fog within the looking glass took me away.
I’d love your feedback on this short story. What did you love? What did you hate? Is there anything that didn’t make sense? What should I change during my next set of revisions? Please drop your feedback in the comments, or hit me up via my comment form or on social media. Thank you!