This summer has flown by, and we’re nearing the end of Writer in Motion.
As part of the program, each writer is assigned a professional editor to review our story and provide us with feedback to help polish it up for that final draft. I was assigned to work with Elizabeth Buege. I’ve seen Elizabeth around in the writing community, but hadn’t had the chance to work with her, so I was excited for this experience and she did not disappoint! Not only did she help me clean up some of the wording, Elizabeth pinpointed the areas that I was still unsure about and gave feedback that helped me resolve some of the lingering uncertainty I had from past drafts.
If you remember from last week, there were two paragraphs I considering cutting. Well, after Elizabeth’s feedback I ended up partially cutting that information and using that space to clarify some details around the fates of Mama and Aunt Alice. Hopefully you’ll agree that this final draft gives a better sense of the “illness” that afflicted them.
I feel pretty good about my short story at this point. It’s the story I wanted to tell, and I managed to get it in just under the 1000 word limit. Will I make any more revisions? I dunno. Probably not, but we’ll see!
The Looking Glass – Final Draft
The scent of burned sage still lingered within the wood-paneled walls of Mama’s old room. A foolish old tradition, used to cleanse the space and usher the spirit on. But if some part of her lingered here, I’d have felt it by now. There was nothing. I rubbed the lacy sleeve between my fingers, aching for some last connection to her. Even Mama’s things were lifeless, empty shells that could have belonged to anyone.
With a sigh, I dropped the dress into the trunk with the others. Mama’s old room was as spotless as the rest of the house. Even the floors were polished to a shine, not a speck of dust anywhere. Whatever illness took Aunt Alice and Mama two years later, it wasn’t for lack of a comfortable home.
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.
It’d been the same with my aunt, or so I’d heard. As if time rushed on for them, ushering them into old age then death, much faster than the rest of us. No doctor could explain it. I thought it was grief, at first. It was hard to watch someone you loved die. Mama 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 years as if the world might crumble if they stepped off the grounds. It was Mama who crumbled, as if every day here sucked the very life from her until there was nothing left.
And now the house was mine.
But I wouldn’t be staying. I hugged myself and scowled at the walls. It wouldn’t take another Carroll woman. I’d see to that.
A whisper, too quiet to make out, teased my ears and sent a chill creeping down my spine.
“Hello,” I called toward the open door to the hall. The servants should be gone, off to enjoy their rare holiday while I packed the last of Mama’s things. Or perhaps not so rare from the tales they told. Mama had 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 into the hall. “Hello?”
Only 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—hoped Mama’s spirit lingered so 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 across the room.
A tall mirror stood on its stand, draped, as all mirrors are in a house that’s recently seen death, with a white cloth. The edge of the linen ruffled in the wake of another whisper. All the windows were closed, locked tight against the recent rains. The fine hairs along my arms stood on end.
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.
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. Within the mirror, smears of gray moved, floating 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 against the bedframe, 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 bowled into it so hard my bones rattled.
There was no time to breathe, to think, before the voice whispered again—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 was there to hear my screams, nor my boots as they scrapped across the polished floors. All the thrashing in the world couldn’t stop it.
I grasped the gilt frame of the mirror—one last anchor against the cold mist sucking me in.
A nail cracked. I slipped.
And the fog within the looking glass took me away.